Friday, December 02, 2005

You Must Be Healthy: For British health officials, liberty doesn't count

(From Theodore Dalrymple)

The place of liberty among political desiderata is a matter of philosophical dispute. No doubt, we must occasionally curtail liberty in pursuit of other ends; but I nevertheless find alarming the creeping authoritarianism of the medical journals, which seldom recognize liberty as an end worthy of the slightest consideration in the making of public policy.

The British government is proposing to ban smoking in all pubs that serve food but not in those that don't. You might think this a sensible compromise, allowing for separate public places for smokers and non-smokers. But a recent paper in the British Medical Journal attacks the proposals, on the grounds that they might well increase the differential in the life expectancy between the rich and poor, which has stubbornly refused to yield to 60 years (so far) of profound social engineering.

The reason the proposals, if implemented, might increase the differential is that there are more pubs that don't serve food in poor areas than in rich, so the poor would be subjected to more passive smoking in pubs than the rich. The authors therefore propose a total rather than a partial ban of smoking in pubs. For them, a widening of the differential would be undesirable, even when everyone's life expectancy was rising.

Now clearly there exist threats to public health so severe that we must curtail liberty to meet them, as with quarantines. Whether passive smoking is such a threat that it justifies such curtailment is a matter of opinion and not yet susceptible to definitive answer supported by a knockdown argument. But the authors of the article in the British Medical Journal do not even recognize the need to justify their proposal to curtail liberty, because they do not value liberty.

Perhaps it is only natural that considerations of public health should seem all-important to public health doctors (the authors), such that anything that will lengthen the public's life span appears to them justified without further argument. But I still find it disturbing that they should be unaware of other desirable ends other than health and a prolonged life span that is equal between all social classes. Monomania is never good.

Besides, in practice not every activity that threatens the public health leads to a call by public health doctors for prohibition. The British Medical Journal once published a news item stating that 17 million sports injuries occurred in Britain every year-17 million! They ranged from the trivial to the fatal, of course; but no public health doctor called for the prohibition of sport to protect human life and to avoid the waste of medical resources on what were essentially self-inflicted injuries.

This is because they regard sport as morally good, while smoking is the nearest people can come these days to sin. I hasten to add that I have no shares in tobacco companies, and I abhor tobacco smoke.


It's discriminatory, not "inclusive"

When a commotion erupted over the fact that the 48-foot white spruce installed on the Boston Common -- an annual gift from the people of Nova Scotia -- is identified on Boston's official website as a "holiday tree," the city's commissioner of parks and recreation sided firmly with the critics. "This is a Christmas tree," Antonia Pollak declared. "It's definitely a Christmas tree."

At least that's what she told the Boston press. According to CBC News, on the other hand, she took a rather different line with the Canadian press: "A lot of people celebrate various religious holidays but also enjoy the lights, and we're trying to be inclusive."

Meanwhile, Pollak's boss said he intends to call it a Christmas tree, no matter what it says on the City Hall website. "I didn't write the website," Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the Boston Herald. "If I had, it would have said Christmas tree." He must not write the mayor's weekly column, either. The current one is about the lighting of Christmas trees all over Boston -- yet not once does the word "Christmas" modify the word "tree."

And so it begins again -- the annual effort to neuter Christmas, to insist in the name of "inclusiveness" and "sensitivity" that a Christian holiday celebrated by something like 90 percent of Americans not be called by its proper name or referred to in religious terms. We all know the drill by now. Instead of "Merry Christmas," store clerks wish you a "happy holiday." Schools close for winter break. Your office throws a holiday party.

Sometimes the secularizing impulse goes to laughable extremes, as when the elementary school play is titled "How the Grinch Stole the Holidays" or when red poinsettias (but not white ones) are banned from city hall. Sometimes it springs from clanging ignorance, as with the New York City policy that prohibited the display of Christian nativity scenes on public school grounds, while expressly allowing such "secular holiday symbol decorations" as Jewish menorahs and the Muslim star and crescent. And some of it is fueled by anti-Christian bigotry or sheer misanthropic bile.

But mostly, I think, this attempt to fade Christmas into a nondenominational winter holiday stems from a twisted notion of courtesy -- from the idea that tolerance and respect for minorities require intolerance and disrespect for the majority....

"We're trying to be inclusive," says the Boston parks commissioner, explaining why the white spruce that was sent from Nova Scotia under a giant banner reading "Merry Christmas, Boston" became a "holiday tree" on her department's website. But suppressing the language, symbols, or customs of Christians in a predominantly Christian society is not inclusive. It's insulting.

It's discriminatory, too. Hanukkah menorahs are never referred to as "holiday lamps" -- not even the giant menorahs erected in Boston Common and many other public venues each year by Chabad, the Hasidic Jewish outreach movement. No one worries that calling the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by its name -- or even celebrating it officially, as the White House does with an annual "iftaar" dinner -- might be insensitive to non-Muslims. In this tolerant and open-hearted nation, religious minorities are not expected to keep their beliefs out of sight or to squelch their traditions lest someone, somewhere, take offense. Surely the religious majority shouldn't be expected to either.

More here

Fast food tells all: Washington Times by Elizabeth M. Whelan "McDonald's has decided it's time to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the caloric content and nutritional value of the burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and other delectables they serve at 13,000 establishments around the country. Starting next spring, the leading fast-food chain will print in clear, basic language and symbols the fat, calorie, carbohydrate, and sodium count -- right on the wrapper. This is both a good move for consumers (it will help them make informed food choices) and for McDonald's (by protecting the company from legal charges of withholding information from consumers, causing them unwittingly to get fat). The new full-disclosure policy could be seen as successful industry 'self-regulation' -- where progress is made without the heavy hand of government regulatory involvement. But instead of extending wholehearted congratulations to the Mcfolks in Oakbrook, Ill., the regular suspects -- specifically, the Center for Science in the Public Interest 'food police' -- complain that McDonald's has not gone far enough."

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