Bloomberg Versus Giant Sodas: It's Not the Nanny State, It's Democracy At Work
Mayor Bloomberg's latest anti-obesity proposal—ban sales of giant flagons of sugary drinks by next spring—has been criticized as bad politics in support of good policy. In fact, it is the opposite: Such a ban will do almost nothing to lower obesity, but it is an example of democracy working the way it should.
The plan won't achieve much because it's premised on the notion that the entire population drinks too much soda, and that this contributes to the general rise in obesity in the city's population. As Trevor Butterworth nicely explained here, though, general statistics about per capita soda consumption disguise reality. Most people don't consume vast amounts of sugar water. But those who do, well, they really do. Most of the population, then, won't be affected by the regulation. And what's to stop the other 20 percent from just buying two or even three cups at the new 16-ounce maximum size?
But Butterworth also castigates the Mayor for political tone-deafness, saying he has turned soda into "a symbol for intrusive, meddlesome, government." In other words, the Mayor has set back the cause of health-promotion by linking it to the dreaded imagery of the Nanny State.
The assumption here is that there is some fixed boundary between private life and public affairs. In fact, this boundary moves over time, with changes in societal circumstances and scientific knowledge.
For example, in 1900, millions of people around the world were outraged at the thought that the government could force them take a vaccine for smallpox—what could be more private, and sacrosanct, than the individual's right to control his own body? How could the government force anyone to offer herself up to "pollution and filth and disease"? Clergy preached that "medical liberty'' was vital as freedom of religion. Doctors protested the trampling of their professional dignity. In Great Britain, anti-vaccinationists were strong enough in Parliament to win a personal-conscience exemption in the 1898 mandatory immunization law. It gave birth to a new legal term: ``conscientious objector.''
But the germ theory of disease had laid bare an undeniable connection between the private life of the body and public welfare. When a forced-vaccination case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905, the libertarians lost, 7-2, as the Court held that individual rights are outweighed by the community's "right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease which threatens the safety of its members.''
In other words, the turn of the last century saw a redrawing of the boundaries of private life, in the name of fighting infectious disease. Today, as the Bloomberg initiative illustrates, we're arguing about whether to redraw those boundaries again, in the name of fighting chronic disease (diabetes, heart ailments, stroke, kidney failure and so on). The reason: Your likelihood of coming down with one of those appears to depend on small, habitual, daily choices about what you eat and do with yourself.
That's the case for seeing these private choices as public business. Maybe the result of today's ongoing political debates will be to leave the definitions of public and private life as they were in 1980. But I wouldn't count on it.
In any event, the right thing for a democracy to do is to have the debate. This is my second problem with the "Nanny State" caricature. In announcing his ban, is mobilizing the angry public and attracting argument against it (and a few in favor). If he succeeds short-term (likely, as he needs only the approval of the Board of Health, which he appointed) then we, the sugary-drink-constrained hordes, might adapt to a new landscape, as we have with smoking in bars and restaurants. If we decide instead this ban was stupid, we will vote in a new Mayor sworn to oppose it, and/or get the City Council to overturn it. This is how it's all supposed to work—debate, persuasion, votes, majority rule.
This noisy and messy process seems to me entirely preferable to the other game in town, which is to get people to change their behavior by insidious means. Set up the organ donation system so that people unthinkingly check "yes." "Nudge" them to put more into their retirement IRAs by changing the forms a little. Tell them they should cut down on soda, even if, for many people, it isn't true.
I'm referring here to the mentality embodied in this reaction to a recent study suggesting that regular exercise can be harmful to some healthy people: "There are a lot of people out there looking for any excuse not to exercise,” William Haskell, emeritus professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, told Gina Kolata. "This might be an excuse for them to say, 'Oh, I must be one of those 10 percent.' "
Think about that for a moment. Professor Haskell doesn't dispute the merits of the research; he's simply saddened that people will learn about it. Because people, pfffft, you never know what they're going to go off and do with information.
I've seen a fair amount of this attitude toward fellow citizens, summed at one wellness-promotion conference a few years ago as "how we can minimize consumer irritability while extracting their cooperation in improving their health and wellness." It is as undemocratic as you can get. Yet governments are increasingly interested in it.
So, two cheers for Bloomberg's soda proposal. In a time when public-health officials are increasingly attracted to hidden, unnoticeable persuasion, at least he wants to play fair.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.
Quantum Mechanics, Onions, and a Theory of Everything<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="036ae7b8dd661df2d125a3421a0299ba"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bcVruA0AJ-o?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."
Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.