Thursday, July 19, 2012

Twentieth Anniversary of the Great Bike Ride Across America: July 14 -- August 9, 1992

Twenty years ago, Connie and I, newly married (well, less than 2 years) decided (or I decided and she pretended to think it was a good idea) to challenge ourselves and to see this great country. I took a leave of absence from work and we flew to Denver, Colorado with our bikes to ride from Denver back home to Ithaca, NY. The above map shows our trip; we only made it as far as Peoria, Illinois before our time was up, around 1200 miles. I'm going to upload pictures and notes from this epic trip.
Permalink 8:13 AM

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NY Times on Austerity

Just a little quote:

Austerity is a political ideology masquerading as an economic policy. It rests on a myth, impervious to facts, that portrays all government spending as wasteful and harmful, and unnecessary to the recovery. The real world is a lot more complicated. America has no need to repeat Mr. Cameron’s failed experiment.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Conversation about free markets and the good society

I believe that most people are kind-hearted, and do not enjoy the suffering of others. So let's take as a starting point that we all have the same sort of goals for our society:
  • It should always be possible for those who desire it and would benefit from it to get an education.
  • Even the poorest among us should be able to attain the essentials of food, shelter and medical care.
  • Even the poorest among us should be able to attain sanitary living conditions, without living in filth and stench.
  • We should protect the earth, so that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can continue to enjoy its beauty and its resources.
  • The norm should be that we are not sickened by the food we eat and the water than we drink, are not poisoned by the medicines we take.
  • Innovation, creativity and talent should thrive.
  • It should be possible for a bright, hardworking individual to succeed, regardless of the circumstances of his/her birth. Not everyone will succeed, not even all those who are talented and work hard at it, but it is important that there not be a permanent underclass from which there is no hope of escape.
Before I go further, I have to consider that there could already be a certain divergence of opinion about these goals. Perhaps some believe that the threat of being reduced to a life of misery is necessary to motivate some people to exert any effort toward improving their lives. But I think there is substantial agreement that we don't want people to lack for any of the basics described above; we certainly don't want those who are willing to work hard and play by the rules to suffer.

Now, the question I have for conservatives & libertarians is this: What basis is there for believing that the free market alone will insure *ANY* of those goals? I don't think it will.

What economic theory tells us is that free markets evolve towards improved efficiency at producing goods and services. What it doesn't tell us is that the improved efficiency will benefit the population as a whole. One of the ways that goods and services can be produced more efficiently is by not "wasting" so much money on the workers producing them. Cutting salaries, cutting workforce, getting the workers to work harder, longer hours for less money are ways to improve the bottom line and become more efficient. Those techniques benefit the consumers, who can get their products at lower cost, but it doesn't benefit the workers who lose their jobs or who suffer salary losses.

Now, in an egalitarian society, the consumers and the workers are the same people. So there is no tradeoff between making consumers happy and making workers happy. But there is nothing in the economic laws of the free market that guarantee this happy outcome. As far as the free market is concerned, there is nothing (as far as I know) that prevents the outcome in which there is a tiny minority that owns everything, that gains the benefits from all innovation and all improvements to efficiency, while all others lead lives of misery, making just enough to survive and no more.

I will go further; it's not just that the free market allows such an unhappy outcome, it seems to me that free market forces tend to that outcome, if there are no counterbalancing forces. From the point of view of a business, if a worker is paid more than it takes to survive, that reflects an inefficiency. The existence of a middle class, people who are not wealthy, who do not own the businesses that employ them, but who enjoy the benefits of society beyond mere survival, reflects an inefficiency in the marketplace. And the "miracle of the marketplace" works to eliminate inefficiency.

There is no reason, as far as I can see, to believe that market forces will eliminate poverty. Those forces may greatly expand the total wealth of society, but there is no reason to believe that the expansion will necessarily "trickle down" to those who need it the most. And if there are large numbers of the poor, there is no reason to believe that market forces will provide education, shelter, sanitation and medical care for those poor. Markets go where there is money to be made, and there is no money to be made catering to the poor. As for the other items on my list of desirable goals for society, I do not see any reason to believe that market forces will see to any of them. There is no market incentive for keeping the Earth livable and unpolluted, there is no market incentive for keeping resources intact for future generations. So what basis is there for believing that market forces will accomplish the goals that I began this essay with?

Now, I do know that even the most gung-ho free marketers believe that there are forces besides market forces. In particular, there is charity. People don't want for others to suffer, and so those who have so much will want to use their wealth to alleviate the suffering of others, through charitable giving, founding public institutions, scholarships for the poor to go to school, etc.

I do not at all want to minimize the power of generosity or the principle of charity. Many great things have been done by rich philanthropists, and the world is a better place because of them. However, I do not believe that relying on generosity of the fortunate is sufficient to address the problems that I see with free markets. For one thing, wealthy people tend not to hang out with the poor; even if they are inclined to be empathetic, they have no reliable means of knowing the problems facing the poor. For another, there is always a "I gave at the office" limitation to charitable impulses; people decide that they have "done enough" based on how much they have given already, rather than on the actual needs.

The final obstacle to the use of charity to alleviate the failures of the market is that inclinations toward charity is actively discouraged by sound business practice. At the level of a wealthy corporation, the decision to divert corporate wealth toward good causes is "selected against" by competition. Except when it can be justified as a form of advertising, as an investment in public goodwill that will pay off monetarily in the future in terms of increased business, charitable giving is a waste of money that could better be spent in improving efficiency or acquiring more property. It's even possible that the CEO who gives away too much could be sued by the company stock-holders, since their profits are his/her first obligation.

So, for those who are committed to "free market solutions" to a country's problems, I ask sincerely, not as a rhetorical question: How do you think that the free market is compatible with the goals of a just society that I listed at the top? I can imagine three types of answers:

  1. Through some mechanism that I have missed, or misunderstood, the free market will take care of the poor, the environment, the Earth's resources.
  2. There are voluntary, non-market forces that will address these concerns.
  3. The goals I listed might sound nice, but they are a fantasy, they are incompatible with freedom.
Permalink 10:12 PM

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Review of The Blind Side

Connie has been trying to get me to watch "The Blind Side" for a long time, and I've successfully resisted. I don't like football movies, and I don't like "feel good" movies. I mean, I don't want to, anyway. But I sat down and watched it with my famdamily last night and I found it very moving.

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow description of the movie, but just this capsule summary that you probably have already heard: A rich white family (Sandra Bullock is the mom) in Memphis, Tennessee take in a homeless, really big, and big-hearted black kid named Michael. They believe in him when nobody else does, and against all odds they see him through high school, into college (thanks to enormous football talent) and into pro football.

I'm not one who can just take a movie at face value and enjoy it for whatever mood it imparts on its audience. I have to pick at it, and think about it. I can't really say that I liked a movie until I've thought about it a long time. (I know now that I like "Groundhog Day", which came out in 1993).

Here are some random thoughts about the movie, in no particular order:

Taking a chance on a stranger:
This family takes in this kid without knowing anything about him, other than that he needs a place to stay. It turns out that he's a really sweet kid, but it occurred to me that things don't always turn out that way. There's a saying, "No good deed goes unpunished" for a reason.

Race relations: I felt a little bit uncomfortable with the racial issues at the heart of the movie. The white family truly comes to love Michael, and he comes to love them. So race is no barrier to love. But on the other hand, I wonder about the idea of white people "rescuing" poor black kids from their fates. That seems a little condescending to me. This is a more difficult issue for me, personally, because some people might think that Connie and I rescued our adopted kids. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that way, but then I'm ashamed of myself for it. We certainly have gotten so much from having them in our lives--it's a two-way thing. But certainly the idea of becoming adoptive parents was motivate partly by wanting to help poor kids who needed families. Maybe it's all simpler for birth families?

The other aspect of race relations was about the different sections of town. The neighborhood that Michael was from was a poor, crime-ridden area that pretty much only black people lived in. The white people of Memphis never set foot there. Except of course, Sandra Bullock's character, who doesn't back down when it comes to fighting for her family. (She's a Mama Grizzly type, I guess). When she is threatened by some guy, she tells him that she's personal friends with the Memphis DA, and that she belongs to the NRA, and that she's always packing heat.

Every child can learn: Michael, who was believed to be very low IQ, turned out to be able to do well in school, given a good tutor. The rich family was VERY rich (I'm not sure what they did for a living) and they hired a full-time tutor (played by Kathy Bates, who I love) to turn Michael around, academically. His GPA soared from below 1 (0.26 or something like that) to 2.5, which isn't great, but is above the cutoff for being able to participate in sports, and is good enough to get into college (if you are 6 foot 5 and weigh 290 pounds).

The message of this might have been that Michael was actually a pretty smart kid, and just needed somebody to believe in him and someone to help him out. But it occurred to me that EVERY kid could do a lot better if he or she only had a full-time dedicated tutor. That made me think that the "crisis" in education in America is really about money. We can't afford to give every kid a private tutor, so the issue isn't really how to educate our children, it's how to educate the most children for a reasonable amount of money. There's nothing wrong with that--you have to make decisions based on what you can afford. But when people argue about education policy and they insist that it's not about money---well, yes it is.

Feel good movies: In spite of all my cynicism, I got a little moist-eyed during this movie. It was a good movie. It was based on a true story, which probably made it more acceptable, because if it were complete fiction, it would definitely be too schmaltzy to take.
Permalink 7:13 AM

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Core Truths of Conservatism

It's not that I am incapable of understanding the point of view of those who disagree with me. I believe I have a good grasp of the core truths of conservatism. I see them as the following:

  1. Centralized decision-making is inefficient and ineffective. Society is too complicated for a top-down plan for how to improve things. It works much better to decentralize power, and give lots of people little bits of power, and the opportunity to try things out, see what works and what doesn't, and change plans in light of new information.

  2. Helping out those in need can backfire. First, it can create a culture of dependency, in which people don't learn to do for themselves. Second, it can encourage people to "play victim", pretend to be in worse shape than they are in order to get free handouts.

  3. Progressive taxation can discourage hard work and risk-taking. If you take from people based on how much they have earned through hard work, innovation, and risk-taking, you discourage those qualities. People may feel that it isn't worthwhile to try to accomplish great things because they won't reap the rewards, anyway.

  4. Government bureaucrats have an incentive to work to justify their own existence, rather than to improve things.

  5. Free enterprise naturally directs activity toward those things that people value. The fact that people are more willing to spend money on X than on Y means that they value X more. When you let government decide how the people's money is spent, there's no guarantee that it is being spent on things that people really value (as opposed to thinking they should value it).
Permalink 1:44 PM

I Have Anger Issues

I find myself angry all the time about politics, and I don't know what to do about it. Now, I can perfectly well accept honest differences of opinion about what goals the country should be pursuing, and what's the best way to pursue those goals. What burns me up is that we aren't HAVING any honest discussion about such things. One party, it starts with an "R", has made tremendous progress through dishonesty. In 2010, they got into office by lying to people. They lied about the origins of the deficit, they lied about the Democrats' health care plan. They spread malicious lies about Obama not being born in America, about his being a secret Muslim, about his wanting to institute "Death Panels" to decide who deserves to live or not. They raised fears of Obama instituting "Sharia law" in the US. They complained about Obama bowing to foreign heads of state. They accused Obama of wanting to brainwash children when he spoke to them in schools. They have accused Obama of wanting to set up internment camps for political dissidents. They have accused Michelle Obama of being totalitarian for trying to get children to eat healthily and exercise. They complain about Obama not making a proclamation about Easter. Lying, innuendo, propaganda, slander. These have become the primary tools of the Republican Party.

It really burns me up. And it upsets me that so many people who I respect go along with it, and say nothing in protest. I don't know what to do with this anger. I really don't.
Permalink 1:41 PM

Dear Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners: I have a number of good friends and loved ones who support a political philosophy that I believe will bring misery to untold millions, ravage the natural environment, and rob our society of hope for the future. It seems to me that adherents of this political philosophy tend to be mean-spirited, vindictive and contemptuous of both compassion and truth. Should I say anything?

Gentle Reader: I know how frustrating it can be to see one's friends participate in the destruction of all one holds dear. But the power of one person to change the beliefs of another is unfortunately limited, especially when those beliefs touch on politics or religion. You must weigh the very small likelihood that your words will change the world for the better against the much greater likelihood that those words will cause ill feeling among your friends without changing their minds in the slightest. Enjoy your friends and don't try to improve them.
Permalink 12:40 PM

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Optimistic and Pessimistic Conservatism

There are two different worldviews behind economic conservatism: an optimistic worldview and a pessimistic worldview. Interestingly, although these worldviews are diametrically opposed in their assumptions, they lead to the same conclusions about policy.

Optimistic conservatism holds that the world provides boundless opportunities for prosperity. Anyone willing to work at it can become a success. From this point of view, organized government programs to help the unfortunate are not only unnecessary but counter-productive: they breed dependency, which just delays the recipients from taking the steps necessary to achieve lasting prosperity. Optimistic conservatism also views efforts to manage the environment and natural resources as a waste of money and effort: nature is boundless, and we will never exhaust its riches; if we run out of some resource, we only need to look around to find a suitable replacement. Optimistic conservatism is the attitude of an idealized pioneer exploring the American West: endless land for farming, bountiful game for hunting, plenty of gold in the hills and streams to make anyone rich who would but put in the effort.

Pessimistic conservatism, on the other hand, has a much darker view of the world. The world is a brutal place, and misery is the lot of most of its inhabitants. Poverty, hunger, violence, ignorance are the norm for most of the people. We cannot hope to change their plight. The best that we can do is to work to insure that there is a chosen few who escape from the misery. We can work to build havens in which it is possible to practice a civilized life, to enjoy prosperity, to participate in civilized arts, sports, religion and politics. Pessimistic conservatives differ on exactly who the chosen should be, and what type of havens should be preserved: Should it be at the level of individuals, or families, or communities, or nations? Should the chosen be determined by merit (the brightest, hardest-working, most virtuous), or should it be determined by circumstance (what family you were born into, what country)? The pessimistic conservative objects to institutionalized efforts to help the unfortunate, because such efforts are doomed to failure (the poor will always be with us) and worse run the risk of taking everyone down. It's better to have a few people who are able to enjoy the fruits of civilization than it is to have everyone equally miserable.

So conservatism naturally inhabits the two ends of the pessimistic-to-optimistic spectrum. Liberalism is appropriate for those in the middle. We believe that we can have prosperity for all, we can have a healthy natural environment, we can have enough resources for all. But these things are only possible if we work together for the benefit of our planet and all its inhabitants. It's not going to happen by accident, it's not going to happen magically as a result of everyone pursuing their own selfish ends. It requires cooperation.

I think that there is a compromise possible between liberalism and conservatism. I don't think that there is anything wrong with forming havens of like-minded people who are only concerned with the well-being of their own people, provided they follow one commandment: Keep your hands off of other havens! If your way of helping your own involves exploiting others (clearing their forests, taking their resources, diverting their workers towards your own needs, rather than theirs) then it's not okay with me. If you want to be self-contained and mind your own business, like the Amish or isolated tribes around the world, go ahead. But if you are going to be an internationalist---getting resources from all over the world, getting laborers in distant countries to manufacture your goods for you---then I think you have to be internationalist in your notion of who "your people" are. Anyone who works for your benefit is one of your people, and their needs are as important as yours.
Permalink 11:17 AM

Thursday, June 03, 2010

What more needs to be said?

Remarks by President Obama on the Economy at Carnegie Mellon University:

It’s a belief that government has little or no role to play in helping this nation meet our collective challenges. It’s an agenda that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.

....As November approaches, leaders in the other party will campaign furiously on the same economic arguments they’ve been making for decades. Fortunately, we don't have to look back too many years to see how their agenda turns out. For much of the last 10 years we've tried it their way. They gave us tax cuts that weren’t paid for to millionaires who didn’t need them. They gutted regulations and put industry insiders in charge of industry oversight. They shortchanged investments in clean energy and education, in research and technology. And despite all their current moralizing about the need to curb spending, this is the same crowd who took the record $237 billion surplus that President Clinton left them and turned it into a record $1.3 trillion deficit.
Permalink 1:01 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Isn't it ironic... (Talkin' 'Bout Tyranny)

Warning: this note is the kind of venting that I keep promising myself that I will not do on Face Book, but I keep getting sucked into. So here's the deal: I'll post this, and then I will remove it tomorrow. So if you want to make a comment, get it in while you can.

My comment is this. There have certainly been actions done by the United States government that I would consider tyrannical. Some examples off the top of my head are these: (1) The Indian Removal Act (trail of tears). (2) Slavery. (3) Jim Crow. (4) Japanese internment in World War II. (5) The McCarthy-era communist witch hunts. (6) Various military and CIA actions, including the overthrow of Allende in Chile, the overthrow of Mosaddegh in Iran (and the installation of the Shah). Now, I don't consider these horrible acts to mean that the US is an evil country. Everybody and every country makes mistakes; the key is to recognize mistakes and try as much as possible to make amends.

There are people who are offended when other people bring up these examples. They say things like: "Get over it! If you don't like America, then leave. Why do you hate America so much? If you loved your country, you wouldn't be bad-mouthing it."

What I find ironic is that the people who would accuse me of being anti-American or unpatriotic for bringing up these very real instances of tyranny are some of the very same people who are screaming that America is turning into a totalitarian dictatorship because of the health care reform bill, or the stimulus package, or whatever. I cannot make any sense of this.
Permalink 8:38 AM

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tea Partiers: They don't know what they are mad about

To give just one example, 95% of all Americans received (small) tax cuts as part of Obama's stimulus program. But among people who identify with the tea party movement, 46% believe that their taxes are unchanged, and 44% believe that their taxes have gone up. Only 2% know the truth.

Other examples: they don't like the way that terrorists are given civilian trials under Obama, although that was the norm under Bush as well. They are outraged at the mounting federal debt, although historically it soared most under Ronald Reagan and GW Bush. They don't like bank bailouts, although that was initiated under GW Bush. They are outraged at possible cuts to Medicare, although Republicans have ALWAYS been in favor of cutting or eliminating Medicare.
Permalink 9:07 AM

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Republican Hypocrisy

Friday, January 29, 2010

(Political) On the Republican Response to the State of the Union Address

With all due respect to my friends and loved ones who are Republican, I am at a loss when it comes to understanding how anyone can take the Republican Party seriously. Their responses to policy questions have no content whatsoever. It's a joke. Unfortunately, not everyone gets that it's a joke.

A case in point is the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address. Governor McDonnell of Virginia delivered this response. He said: "In the past year, more than 3 million Americans have lost their jobs, yet the Democratic Congress continues deficit spending, adding to the bureaucracy, and increasing the national debt on our children and grandchildren." What in the world is the word "yet" doing there?
He's complaining about spending too much on stimulus, and he is also complaining about not doing enough to increase employment. These two complaints are contradictory. The only power the government has to increase employment short-term is stimulus spending. Nothing else comes close in effectiveness, in the short-term. Tax cuts have a stimulative effect, but much reduced, since only a fraction of the money refunded goes to increasing demand for labor. Tax cuts cost more and do less (at least short-term).

Republicans pretend to be concerned about the deficit, but the deficit ALWAYS soars under Republican control. The federal debt, as a fraction of GDP was astronomical during World War II, but declined steadily under Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. Under Reagan, it skyrocketed. It started declining again under Clinton, and then shot up again under G.W.Bush. Unless you are willing to make massive cuts in the most expensive programs (principally, the military budget---we spend as much on military as all the other countries in the world COMBINED), then there is basically no way to decrease our deficits except through tax increases. Which is exactly what Republicans have vowed never to do.

They have no coherent approach to solving any of the problems that they claim to care about. Their proposals would make all of our problems worse: the deficit, unemployment, lack of coverage of health care. It's a travesty. But it sounds convincing to too many people.

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Permalink 8:59 AM

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Another Post on Media Bias

I just finished this survey from (My personal results are in green.)

One of the things that stand out here is that conservatives tend to place a higher value on loyalty, while liberals tend to place a higher value on fairness. I find that significant, because--unlike the other values on this chart--fairness and loyalty are inherently at odds. Fairness, or impartiality, means treating everyone the same—without favor, while loyalty means treating your favored person, group or organization better—with favor. Showing one means sacrificing the other.

Tying this back to media bias: a chart of these values, as they relate to journalism, would look very much like the chart of a liberal. It would probably be even more exaggerated—with fairness having an even higher premium, and loyalty, authority and purity being even lower. Fairness, balance, impartiality... these are supposed to be the guiding principles of journalism. “Without fear or favor” is not just The New York Times' motto, but the motto of journalism itself. Journalism also places some premium on harm, specifically on reporting harm and not causing harm, with significantly less emphasis on purity, authority and especially loyalty. Again, loyalty is the antithesis of impartiality. It is impossible to show loyalty without showing bias.

Respect for authority is also at odds with journalistic ethics—that “without fear” portion refers to not fearing the people in power and authority. And of course purity is a very difficult area for journalists. What does it mean? And who's idea of purity should they adopt, when some of the most contentious issues of our time center on opposing views of purity? So the “unbiased” media is stuck in a catch 22. In order to be unbiased, they must adopt the liberal viewpoint—always asking: “is this fair?” and often “is it harmful?”, but eschewing the questions: “is this pure?”, “is it loyal?” and “is it respectful?”

But here's the rub. This moral profile of journalism may appear liberal, and it may even be a liberal quality of journalism, but it must not be mistaken for a pro-liberal bias. Being unbiased may imply being liberal, but it should be obvious that being unbiased does not imply being biased. Ironically, even a medium with a pro-conservative bias may appear liberal if it strives for, or even gives lip service to, these journalistic ideals. Compounding the irony is that both liberal and conservative values, in the media, tend to benefit conservatives. Conservatives in the media (and in Congress, for that matter) prove their virtue by showing how loyal they are. Liberals prove their virtue by showing how unbiased they are—often by sticking it to their own side. This is why liberals have no counterpart to Rush Limbaugh; their consciences won't let them.

A case in point is the recent “General Betray Us” controversy. Democrats felt compelled to vote for a resolution condemning the Move On ad: “See how fair we are. We condemn our own allies, when they misbehave.” But Rush Limbaugh (and a host of other conservatives) use that kind of language all the time, without a peep of condemnation from the Republicans—much less a congressional resolution. In fact, he used the exact same language—calling senator Haggle “Senator Betray Us,” shortly before the Move On ad. Far from condemning his rhetoric, Republicans praise it—at least as long as it's directed at liberals. In 1994, congressional Republicans even named him an honorary member of Congress! Of course, in those days he was aiming his vitriol at “FemiNazis” and “Hitlery Clinton”--a smear he continues to use today.
Permalink 6:37 PM

Friday, March 09, 2007

Iran Looms on the Horizon: (Speaking of Smokers)

Not that Scott Ritter has any special insight into Bush's brain, but in a speech in Durham, North Carolina, the former UN weapons inspector says that the President is already planning for another war. From Chris Outcalt in the Portsmouth Herald:
The United States is going to war with Iran, according to Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for the United Nations.

"He says all options are on the table," said Ritter, "but the president has already made up his mind."...

According to Ritter, President Bush's use of weapons of mass destruction as a reason to invade Iraq is now happening with Iran.

"We're doing it all over again," he said. "The policy in regard to Iran is regime change; a nuclear weapons program is simply an excuse to rally support around the confrontation of Iran."

Ritter again stressed the importance of education at the end of his talk.

"We are collectively grasping for solutions in Iraq when we haven't the foggiest idea what we're doing in Iraq," he said. "Don't believe the BS that you get out of Washington. Be good citizens; a good citizen thinks for his or herself."
What's especially ironic about this is a line that Mort Zuckerman used to praise Bush before the war with Iraq:
We are fortunate to have in George W. Bush a president who recognizes the forces of darkness for what they are. For him, the war on terrorism is an intrinsically moral cause. As he put it, "Evil is real, and it must be opposed." This is the only tolerable response in a world where the enemy is not merely unrestrained by civilized values but glories in their debasement...
The first target in the war's next phase, clearly, will be Iraq. The West's lackluster efforts at nonproliferation have done little more than delay the inevitable-a Baghdad with nuclear weapons. So Bush and his team are determined to rid the world of Saddam Hussein. This, after all, is a man who uses poison gas on his own people, invades his neighbors, and dabbles with weapons of mass destruction. He is as close to a psychopath as we have ruling any country in the world today. The late Hafez Assad of Syria, no slouch of a dictator himself, once compared the tyrant of Baghdad to a chain smoker: "He cannot help lighting another one before he has finished the first. Only with Saddam, it is wars, not cigarettes."
Let's see...Bush started the war with Afghanistan, and before that was over, he started a war with Iraq, and before that is over, he's thinking about war with Iran. So who's the chain-smoker here?
Permalink 7:17 PM

Monday, February 05, 2007

Anti-smoking ads directed at parents of teens backfire (guess who sponsored them?)

From WebMD:
Oct. 31, 2006 -- What's the best way to convince a teenager that smoking is a great idea? Tell him his parents want him to stop.

That's the rather disturbing suggestion of a study of teens who had watched tobacco-industry-funded television ads urging parents to talk to their children about smoking. The study shows that these teens were more likely to have smoked in the past month and more likely to say that they planned to smoke in the future.
There are three important points to get clear about the ads:
  • These ads were not ostensibly aimed at teenagers, instead they were aimed at parents of teenagers, encouraging them to talk to their kids about smoking. (Ads directly aimed at teenagers apparently have no effect on teen smoking.)
  • Teenagers who saw the ads were more likely to smoke afterwards. (Presumably on the theory that anything your parent's are against must be cool...)
  • These "unfortunately" counterproductive ads were paid for by the tobacco industry.
Joseph Califano, former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and the current director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse says that these results are pretty predictable:
Califano urges tobacco firms to resume funding the National Public Education Fund, which sponsors the "truth" campaign of antismoking ads. Those hard-hitting ads portray teenagers confronting the tobacco industry for marketing a deadly product and lying about its effects. In one well-known "truth" ad, kids piled body bags outside of a tobacco company's headquarters as part of a protest.

Studies show that it's the most rebellious teens who are most at risk of smoking, says Joseph Martyak, marketing chief for the American Legacy Foundation, makers of the "truth" ads. The "truth" ads "speak to that rebellion" by encouraging rebelliousness toward the tobacco companies, Martyak tells WebMD.

By contrast, the "Talk, They'll Listen" ads, "by telling parents to tell the child not to smoke, draw a line in the sand for kids who are looking for a way to rebel."
This is a big issue for me at the moment because my teenager smokes and I really don't know what to do about it.
Permalink 9:27 AM