Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Rabbit

Robert took Leo to the vet this morning, and they came home with all kinds of stuff - antibiotics for his infected eye, something for his immune system, and a painkiller for his arthritis (it's hell getting old, isn't it).

The most surprising thing was hearing about Leo's weight. In December 2007 (17 months ago), Leo weighed 4 lb, 9 oz. In December 2008 (5 months ago), at the time of his head-tilt problem, Leo weighed 4 lb, 4 oz. Today, Leo weighed 4 lb, 0 oz. That's a loss of 9 oz., or over 12%, of his body weight. Robert had noticed that Leo was skinnier a while back, and I agreed but didn't think it was very much. Wrong. We're supposed to try feeding him more and see if he gains any of it back. It feels quite strange to be saying all this about Leo, who historically has acted like a stomach with legs in the way of all Rex rabbits.

He is also shedding at an even more insane rate than usual right now. I just vacuumed his room this morning (which given the heaviness of the vacuum cleaner and the nap of the rugs in there is really hard and my wrist is sore right now from doing it), and with one very short pet / shed session a few minutes ago, huge drifts of white fur are already piling up.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Marketing Professor in the News

Of course, the story about the University of Georgia marketing professor who shot his ex-wife and two other people at a theater reunion this weekend was a popular topic of conversation at school today. I was in a meeting with three of our marketing professors, two of which knew him. Apparently another one of the profs at our school currently has an article in submission to a journal on which Zinkhan was a co-author (emphasis on was; the others have asked to have his name removed).

On Saturday, UGA still had his profile on their web site, which showed him to be the Coca-Cola Company Professor of Marketing. I'm sure the people at Coca-Cola are hoping that aspect of the case gets played up a lot. All publicity is good But it looks like he got fired over the weekend. I guess this gives one answer to the question: What does it take to lose tenure? I'm sure the dean of the business school is loving his job right now. I noticed that the UGA web site is quick to point out that this was an off-campus shooting; no Virginia Tech sort of stuff here, folks.

This all sounds really hard-hearted of me, but it's just too awful to imagine what the people who really care personally for Zinkhan, his ex-wife, their kids, or either of the other two murdered people are going through. I imagine it as a kind of implosion that seems like it should annihilate you, but instead, you keep living and experiencing and enduring it in an impossible-feeling way. I hope I never have to learn first-hand how short of the truth this description comes.

I had been wondering what they would do about his classes since we are quickly approaching finals, and one of the professors said she had heard that he had already told his students that they would not be taking the final. I have no idea whether this is accurate or not, so I pass it on as gossip that can be used to interpret his actions as perhaps a bit premeditated. Consider this my way of helping you be disqualified for sitting on the jury in the event he is found, taken into custody alive, and survives to be tried in court.

It's interesting that he at least had the presence of mind, or whatever, to drop his kids off at a neighbor's house before taking off, but it is pretty creepy that they were sitting in the car while he was inside shooting their mom. (Better than bringing them inside, of course, but still not a great thing.) And if the detail I've heard is true, that he afterwards explained the gunshot sounds to the kids as "firecrackers" - that's going to basically make every Fourth of July for the rest of their lives an extra-special reminder of this horrible experience. I wonder where those poor kids are right now.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Begging For Inclusion

While watching a movie this morning, I paused the video for a moment to take in the silent plea from the face frozen on the screen.

It can't be easy for him. He was Stephen Fry's sketch comedy sidekick. He was George on "Black Adder." He was Bertie on "Jeeves and Wooster." But approximately 47.8 gazillion Americans would see his visage on Stuart Little and, if they recognized him at all, say, "Hey, it's House!"

Look at those eyes. I know a cry for help when I see it.

Hugh Laurie, despite your ability to do such a convincing American accent and your super-stardom on US television, to me you will always be officially one of the 50 British Actors.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's Called "Analytical" Writing For a Reason

One favorite past-time of grad studies applicants and students everywhere (or at least online) is griping about why their GRE scores do not reflect their overwhelming brainpower. Yep, I do it, too. But one thing I do not ever complain about (no doubt at least in part because I got a perfect score) is the analytical writing (AW) section. However, I may be the only one who doesn't.

Many people rightly note that the GRE writing section does not give them the opportunity to show what a good writer they really are. This is especially important in humanities programs that actually care about writing ability. (Based on published work, it appears that economics programs, for instance, actively recruit for low verbal skill, ahem.) But of course, these departments don't use your GRE AW as a measure of your academic writing ability; that is what the writing sample is for. (The writing sample is from what I have read usually a 10-20 page paper or excerpt from a paper, preferably written on a topic relevant to the course of study you are applying for.)

People complain that the grading of the AW rewards "simple grammar," adhering to a "dull format," "dumbing yourself down," etc. (real quotes). Well, I've only taken the test once, but I did not find it necessary to write in some kind of Super Basic English For Communicating With Morons or use a Fill in the Blank Automatic Essay Generator in order to get a 6.

I suspect that a big part of the problem is that many people are simply not successful at writing a cogent, well-organized essay on a topic outside of their area of expertise (e.g. an English lit major facing the topic of analyzing a mayor's proposal to increase tax revenue in the town) under strict timed conditions and with no resources (factual or writing-related). This is a different thing from writing a thoroughly researched and massaged 30-page paper on Jane Austen. The AW section is the new "analytical" section of the exam. While it does grade you for your ability to write with good grammar, spelling, etc., it is also looking for an ability to write a brief persuasive essay or analyze an argument. I think some of these people might freak out less if they put more emphasis on the "analytical" than the "writing" in the name of the test. Though clearly, nobody wants to believe that they have poor analytical ability, this may be less of an identity threat to a humanities student.

Of course, there's no better way to deal with the problem than to say that the test is utterly bogus, so maybe I don't have anything to add after all.

Maybe Not Even 50 British Actors

After finishing watching Longitude last night, and the "Midsomer Murders: The Fisher King" episode tonight, I was so overwhelmed with the all the familiar actors that I compiled a list of the ones I recognized.

Longitude (2000)

* A random dude in a wig = Brutus from "Rome"

* The astronomer Dr Bliss = the newsreader from "Rome" / a doctor from "Midsomer Murders" / Harkonnen from Dune / a monk from "Cadfael" / an officer from "Horatio Hornblower"

* The Reverend Maskelyne = an officer from "Horatio Hornblower" / a character (don't remember which) from "Inspector Lynley" / St. John from Jane Eyre

* Lord Sandwich = Bill Nighy (from e.g. Hot Fuzz)

* Irwin = Lord Percy from "Black Adder"

* Obviously Jeremy Irons was in this movie, but I don't quite think that actors so easily recognizable from Hollywood careers count

"Midsomer Murders: The Fisher King" (2004)

* Gareth Heldman = Desmond from "Lost" / a character from "Sherlock Holmes"

* Dr Lavery = the head monk from "Cadfael" / the French guy who was murdered in the locked room mystery on "Jonathan Creek" / a police officer from "Prime Suspect"

* David = the King from Longitude [YES! Back-to-back programs]

No doubt these actors were in yet other programs that I have seen, but didn't recognize them at the time.

Stay tuned for more 50 British Actor updates. Who will show up next? Any bets? My money is on Julius Caesar from "Rome" - I've seen him already in "Sherlock Holmes" and a film in the last couple of months; perhaps he will grace an episode of "Midsomer Murders" with his presence.

You know, apparently, I watch a good deal of British television.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Evil Spam

I got what I have to assume is a fake email, supposedly from my bank, warning me that due to repeated attempts of someone to sign into my account, they believe that my account is not secure and that it has been suspended pending my clicking on a link in the email to get it straightened out. The ostensible url on the email looks like my bank, but when I hovered my mouse over it, of course it was a completely different, unfamiliar one.

I went to a new browser window, attempted to log into my account as normal, and encountered no difficulties. I logged out and closed the window.

So this is just a general purpose friendly reminder: Don't ever trust any kind of email like this, ever. Never click on the link given in such an email. I know you know this. I know this, too. All the same, these emails can look pretty legit on the surface, and it's easy to let the potential of rising freak-out from the content overwhelm good judgment. Don't let yourself screw up in that moment between "WTF?" and "Oh, it's spam. Bastards."

I really hope my grandfather didn't get this bogus email, too, and if he did, he had the sense to do nothing until he asked my mom about it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

2 Things I Enjoyed

(1) The movie The Third Man, an English film noir written by Graham Greene.

My favorite parts:

* Several wonderful images - a huge balloon-man's shadow on the wall, fingers grasping up desperately through a sewer grate, a cat cuddling up to a large man's shoe.

* Orson Welles. The man is on. Apparently, he wrote the little Italy/Switzerland speech for himself.

* All the German that doesn't get translated for us unless somebody translates it for our non-German-speaking American protagonist. I had fun trying to make sense of it.

(2) The book Timbuktu by Paul Auster. I have liked several of his books - Book of Illusions and Leviathan (according to my BookBag software) - but this one was different. The book seems more felt than thought. It is about a dog. (Well, actually, it's about loneliness.) Now I didn't realize this would be the case when I checked it out of the college library. Typically, centering a story around a dog's-eye-view of the world does not grab me as a great premise. I'm not much of a dog person in general, though I suspect that's more due to that certain kind of self-flattery many people have in believing themselves to be akin personally to a cat (a creature of mystery, independence, and disdain) than my not liking dogs. Well, that and the drool factor. But using the dog allowed the writer to develop his themes with a tone of sadness, not melodrama.

Best part: Mr. Bones demonstrates the depths of his confusion about the Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

Honorable (or dishonorable) mention: The author himself makes an appearance with a name that the dog doesn't quite get right, "Omster or Amster" he thinks.

Worst part: It really is kind of bleak. Definitely no Max the Dog That Refused to Die triumph against all odds stuff going on here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

50 Actors

It sometimes seems that there are only about 50 British actors working at any given time, and I am always spotting someone familiar from one context in another:

Oh look, the murderer is the woman who first played Inspector Linley's wife. (I hated her then, I hate her now.)

Hey, that's the same woman who was killed on the last episode of Midsomer Murders I watched.

And the cast of the series Rome shows up everywhere. The most recent sighting: two nights ago, Robert and I caught a quick glimpse on Longitude of the actor who played Brutus. I still have not come across the actors who were Antony or Atia's daughter, but really, it seems only a matter of time. (Yes, I could google them, but where's the fun in that.)

Today, I watched the 1945 movie version of the Agatha Christie story And Then There Were None. While this film was nothing special, I was basically overjoyed to find the actor who is the voice of the Caterpillar from Disney's Alice in Wonderland in the role of the butler. That nasal, pompous, comical, oddly compelling voice he used as the Caterpillar? He sounded exactly (or should I say, "exacitilly") the same in this movie and was hence immediately recognizable. I think I liked the movie better than I otherwise would have simply because of the Caterpillar association. (Move over, Joe Camel. Nobody else makes smoking look this cool. It's probably a good thing that smoking a hookah is not any kind of common practice in the US.)

The word "caterpillar" starts looking implausible about the second time you type it in a short period of time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PSA: Word Choice

Though I would have thought this an obvious point, I discovered while grading papers today that there is at least one person who is unaware of it, so I thought I would post this public service announcement:

When critiquing an advertisement as part of an undergraduate marketing course assignment, there is no situation in which referring to the product showcased in the ad as a "pussy of a [whatever]" is a good idea.

Yes, this is true even if you are a woman.

Yes, this is true even if the product in question is a cat.

Yes, this is true even if the product in question is actually related to female genitalia.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Storytelling Pet Peeve

Earlier, I didn't think of one thing that I really hate: dependence on people being semi-implausibly stupid as a means of driving the plot of a story forward. There are a lot of situations in which stupidity or just poor decision-making on the part of a character is used to further the story, and I'm okay with a lot of them. But sometimes, the stupidity is so egregious, or the dumb behavior so inconsistent with the way it seems a character must be, that I just detest it.

I was reminded of this disfavored plot device this weekend when I was reading a children's fantasy novel in which the (adult) caretaker of a preserve of magical creatures (both neutral and malevolent) left the future of the world in the hands of his 11-year-old grandson who had already twice demonstrated a complete inability/unwillingness to do what he's told. On a special night when the creatures are allowed to roam widely and cause all kinds of havoc, he says to the boy, "Whatever sounds you hear going on outside, don't get out of bed, don't look out the window, and don't open the window!" The boy and his 14-year-old sister are thus left on their own to wait out the dangerous, mysterious-sounding night. Of course the boy hears noises, is overcome with curiosity, looks out the window, and is outwitted by an evil demon that tricks him into opening the window. Thus are the adults in the house rendered vulnerable to the demons and immediately abducted.

Hello? What kind of adult, esp. one with this kind of responsibility for managing evil beings and protecting humanity from them, tells a kid "hey don't look out there" and expects that to happen? I would have covered those windows with wood and a thousand nails. Hell, after the other stupid shit the kid had pulled by then, I would probably have tied him to his goddamn bed. The kid was just being a (particularly annoying, in my opinion) kid, but his grandfather was a total moron.

The grandfather also modeled extremely bad parenting technique by initially threatening the child with being stuck in his room for the duration of the vacation if he disobeyed and went into the restricted areas of the preserve, then backing down. (Argh! Thereby goes your credibility forever you idiot!) The second major disaster, when the kid captured a fairy, turned it into an imp (accidentally), and precipitated a falling out between the humans and the fairies, was also met with zero punishment.

If that demon had ended up killing the grandfather, I would not have been disappointed. The man is clearly too stupid to live.

Does this kind of thing drive you crazy, too?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Quote of the Day: Arithmetic Edition

"A news story provides a vivid example of the illusion of control (and the confusion of skill and chance). One year, the winner of the Christmas drawing for the Spanish National Lottery, El Gordo, was interviewed on television. He was asked, 'How did you do it? How did you know which ticket to buy?' Our winner replied that he had searched for a vendor who could sell him a ticket ending in 48. 'Why 48?' he was asked. 'Well, I dreamed of the number seven for seven nights in a row, and since seven times seven is 48...'"

Winner's Curse, Richard Thaler, 1992, p. 138

It's always such a pleasant change to see an example of innumeracy from someone who isn't an American. (Of course, one could argue that a relatively advanced level of innumeracy is necessary for one to shun expected value calculations to such an extent as to play the lottery at all.)

I hereby award this mathematically-challenged individual, who has possibly blown through his winnings by now and is considering entering other lotteries, the following prize so that he can keep expected value considerations in mind (or at least, serve as a reminder to others):

Friday, April 3, 2009

Favored Themes and Settings

There are several aspects to books and movies that I enjoy well out of proportion to the overall quality of the story:

* Taking place on a boat or ship (e.g. Master and Commander, the Horatio Hornblower series)

* Following the difficult coming-of-age of a young character (e.g. Dickens)

* Taking place in a boarding school or, especially, a college campus (obviously Harry Potter has this element; I loved a mystery that was set in a young women's gymnastics/physical education college)

* Dragons (in movies because they look so cool - not such a fan of them in books)

* Involving the theater (e.g. several Ngaio Marsh mysteries)

I have recently decided that I am also very interested in stories that feature bureaucratic afterlives, in which dead people take their place in The Organization and work in some capacity. The TV show Dead Like Me had this quality.

I am also interested in the hierarchy of angels. I guess I am still waiting for the perfect book or movie incorporating this element.

Clearly, the perfect series for me would be one in which our young protagonist (male or female) is forced to leave home under difficult cirumstances, gets put into a boarding school that stages a quite novel production of Macbeth, is befriended by a dragon, runs away to join the Navy, dies during a pirate attack, and after a bizarre organizational mix-up gets assigned to a job in the afterlife as personal assistant to the Chief of the Powers rather than to one of the Authorities.

There are probably others that I am forgetting right now, but these are major interest-triggers for me. Do you have any?

Closet Cleaning

This morning, I went through my clothes closet and put a bunch of stuff away to take to Goodwill. I still have a lot more to look at (shoes, both dressers, coat closet) but at least this was a start. Knowing that I'm leaving Austin this summer does give additional motivation to getting rid of things, since the relevant issue is not simply "do I want to keep this (given that I have to store it)" but "do I want to move this halfway across the country." Because I am well-aware that I am only able to eliminate a certain (too low) percentage of my stuff at a given time, I will be going through everything at least one more time prior to packing. I still have way too many clothes. I cannot hope that I will fix that problem entirely, but would like to get it down to the range of just too many and not way too many by the time I move.

5 Wal-Mart shopping bags of clothes may not seem like a lot, and unfortunately it did not make a noticeable difference to the huge quantity in the closet, but it does probably amount to one box that won't be going with me to NC.

Goodwill, take me away...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

One-Ingredient Recipe?

Robert emailed me this article "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity" from Reason magazine. Last night, I asked him: So, what was the point of that? He wasn't sure, and neither was I.

"We’re fat. Really fat. And it’s not just us—it’s our kids, too. Have you seen them? They’re enormous."

Well, this is true. About 60% of American adults are overweight, though only about 40% believe that they are. 19% of American children ages 6-11 are obese and other 14% are at risk for obesity. But a major problem is that so many parents are blind to their children's weight problems. Studies in the United States and Britain have found that between 50% and 80% of overweight or obese children have parents who believe them to be of a healthy weight or underweight.

One thing that frequently strikes me, when looking at photographs of me, my sister, and our classmates/friends when were young, is how very skinny kids (used to) look. I wonder if too many parents are looking at their children, seeing that they look a lot like adults miniaturized (a kind of "Mini Me" appearance), and think that their weight must be just about right. But a healthy weight kid should look really thin by adult standards. Other parents are probably just oblivious to their children's size. And since people are likely to be influenced in their perceptions of their children's weight by the size of kids around them, the commonality of overweight probably normalizes it to a certain extent.

"And because it’s their fault, these restaurateurs, we must give them their due regulatory dickens. Help is here, America. Trans fat bans. Menu-labeling here, there, and everywhere. More help is on the way, too. Caffeine and sugar and salt be gone. It’s for the children."

Although I am sympathetic to the position that restaurants are being unfairly demonized as the culprit behind the "super-sizing" of the American child, and am not quick myself to look immediately to government regulation as the solution to every problem, I do have to wonder: How is it that paternalism must be considered an inappropriate position to take for children? It's one thing to say that a grown adult is fully responsible for their own actions and must suffer the consequences of whatever bad decisions they make, but we (rightly) empower the government to act on behalf of children all the time. Yes, the overuse of the phrase "for the children" by cynical politicians to justify meddling in markets is annoying, but this doesn't de-legitimize the basic concept for all situations.

"In some alternate universe, one that actually assigns blame to deserving people, it might be your fault, not theirs. Maybe it is your fault your kids are fat, since you feed them. Maybe the food that parents supply to their kids—and demand restaurants feed their kids—is making the kids fat. Which means parents need to do a better job of making sure their own kids eat healthy, and get some exercise. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing message?"

So is the writer suggesting that he would get behind the government programs and legislation to promote such an effort? Great, the social marketing people will appreciate his support (financial and otherwise) because despite the bizarre, starkly dichotomous way he is painting things, people who support government intervention in regulating fast food restaurants do not believe that such efforts are a full, simple solution to the problem and that parents doing a "better job" is not necessary. One of the articles this person cites quotes the author of a federal menu labeling bill as saying, "This bill is not going to magically solve our obesity problems." The issue (as I see it) is that even parents who are attentive and focused on helping their kids eat healthy do not have the information needed to make good decisions in restaurant environments. (Neither do we adults who may be concerned about our own health, by the way.)

And what does he propose to do about the kids whose parents do not "get the message" that they need to do a better job? Nothing? What about situations like school lunchrooms, where parents have very little control over what their children do and administrators are clearly working in their own interests (generating money from soda machine and snack vending machine sales) and not those of the kids?

"To learn whether home cooking might be a chief culprit behind America’s portliness, Wansink and Payne pored over seven decades of The Joy of Cooking, one of America’s most popular and durable cookbooks. After identifying recipes for 18 foods that had appeared in each edition of the book, the authors examined the calorie counts and serving sizes for those food [sic] over the years [1936 to 2006].

'If you look at all the common recipes, their calories and serving sizes, there’s about a 43% increase,' Wansink told Reason. 'About two-thirds can be attributed to ingredients—more butter, more sugar, more use of sauces, nuts, and raisins—but the other third can be attributed to increases in portion size.'"

I'm a big fan of Brian Wansink's work, and this is a pretty interesting little study. I had wondered when the increase had occurred -- was it linear since 1936 or whatever -- and the journal article indicates that a lot of it happened between 1997 and 2006. The average calories per serving was mostly stable from 1936 to 1997 (268 to 289) but jumped in 2006 to 384, a 33% increase from 1997.

This conforms with observations Robert and I have made when looking at the suggested recipes on the back of canned and boxed food packages also. Just last night, we were making my mom's classic mac and cheese recipe and Robert compared the ingredients and quantities to that of the on-box recipe; the box recipe called for fewer noodles but more milk and cheese (yielding a higher calorie allotment per serving, I suspect, and certainly a higher percentage calories from fat -- not that they reported the nutrition information for this recipe, of course!).

In general, the servings suggested by these on-box recipes seem larger and frequently less healthy from a macronutrient standpoint than recipes I have from other sources. I cook from a combination of "healthy" recipes gathered online, from magazines like Cooking Light, and cookbooks, old family recipes, and recipes from older editions of classic cookbooks like Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens. I haven't looked at a new, non-"healthy" cookbook in a very long time, and it's depressing to see that new cooks turning to The Joy of Cooking are being offered recipes with higher calorie servings.

But it does make me wonder -- they looked at 18 recipes that have been in the cookbook since 1936. What do the newer recipes look like? It is possible that the calories of some of these "classic" dishes has increased but that there are also new recipes that present a more favorable calorie-per-serving number and better overall nutritional profile. I don't know what these 18 dishes were, but if they were foods that people would consider special luxuries in the modern era (e.g. home-made chocolate brownies), the calories very well could have gone up for this select subset of recipes that represents a kind of outrageous indulgence. Also, I suspect that The Joy of Cooking does not occupy the same place in American homes that it did in 1936 (and for all I know, 1997) that it does now. How many people today do any significant amount of their cooking from the current edition? What is the relative contribution in the average American's (esp. American child's) diet from fast food versus these 18 recipes or any Joy of Cooking recipes?

Ah, this LA Times article talks more about the specific recipes that were used in the analysis: "In addition to beef stroganoff and waffles, recipes chosen for analysis included macaroni and cheese, goulash, Spanish rice, brownies, sugar cookies and apple pie."

Of course, that the calorie content of these Joy of Cooking recipes has gone up since 1997 does not mitigate the fact that fast food and table-service restaurant meals continue to be overwhelmingly huge and unhealthy compared to what they used to be and to what current home-cooked meals are. Even at a "higher" average calories-per-serving of 384, these recipes are much lower in calories than many (most?) restaurant dishes. With the possible exception of Spanish rice and sugar cookies, I doubt that any of those dishes could be eaten in a restaurant for anything close to 384 calories. Remember my 1200 calorie piece of chocolate cake? The evil 220 calorie mini-muffins at Jason's deli?

I would love to know whether restaurant meals have increased in calories by more or less than 33% since 1997 as a point of comparison.

"But what about those menu-labeling and trans fat bans? Aren’t those efforts making kids healthier? Again, Wansink says the data doesn’t support that conclusion. 'They’ve either been ineffective or disturbingly counterproductive,' he says. 'All the data we’ve seen about menu labeling doesn’t show a consistent answer at all.'"

From my reading, I agree with Wansink that the data on menu labeling is inconsistent. However, I think much of the variation comes from how and what things are labeled; it appears to me that the effectiveness of such efforts is in the details. (Sorry, I am not going to elaborate because I do not want to scoop my own journal article on this topic.) Of course, it's quite possible that menu labeling will not have a large influence on people (children's) weight overall. But I would say that it is too early in the research stream to say one way or another whether it is effective or to what extent; there has been surprisingly little academic research done on the topic. I (and others) suspect that a lot of proprietary market research has been done by restaurants, however. I would guess that the continued resistance from industry to providing the data has more to do with (justifiable based on their research?) fear that people will rebel at the mind-bogglingly high calorie content of the foods they serve than to the costs of making the nutrition information available at point of sale.

Also, there is some evidence from previous research that menu labeling can have an effect on a segment of the population, and there may be a reasonable cost-benefit to requiring this labeling even if the majority of people are not affected by it.

One of my own issues with the push toward mandatory menu labeling (apart from the fact that insufficient research has been done to demonstrate its effectiveness or to provide guidance on the best way to display the information so that people will attend to it, understand it, and act accordingly) is that I believe it is quite unfair to demand that fast food and full-service restaurant chains provide nutrition data while other restaurants do not. Is the food at Olive Garden higher in fat and calories than the stand-alone Italian restaurant down the street? I seriously doubt it. (And of course, I can't compare them because even though chain restaurants frequently disclose the nutrition information on their website where it has the least possible impact on people's purchase decisions, individual restaurants basically never provide the data at all.) If the mandatory disclosure is required of Olive Garden, it should be required of its competitors as well on the simple basis of fairness. I do recognize the fact that Olive Garden as a company can pay once to have its menu items analyzed and then provide the information to all its franchises does lead to a lower cost of regulation compared to a stand-alone restaurant. (This is true of a lot of things.)

But back to this article -- I suppose the "one-ingredient solution" to the childhood obesity problem provided by this writer is parental responsibility for what their kids eat. Um, okay. I don't think the recognition of the influence of parents on children's eating habits comes as a surprise to anyone. But seeing it as a "one-ingredient solution" is taking this way too far. I would be willing to say that parental responsibility is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient one, for ensuring that children eat a healthy diet. (Perhaps the most obvious example being that good intentions amount to about squat when families do not have safe, affordable access to healthy food.) I mean, adults view themselves as basically responsible for their own eating habits and it's not like this responsibility has magically resulted in successfully eating healthy diets. Even adults who are consciously attempting to manage their weight and eat for health frequently fail.

This being said, I do basically agree that parents need to wake up, recognize that their kids are fat and in increasingly poor health, and do something about it. But this doesn't mean that people will not also being looking to external changes to make this easier to do. It's like if I said that parents should take more responsibility for their children's education -- this doesn't suggest that the government should stop funding schools, stop requiring school attendance for kids under a certain age, and so forth.

Fundamentally, libertarian arguments about "freedom" from government oversight are not particularly strong when children's interests are at stake, and I think many libertarians even realize it themselves. When the moral argument fails, there is a major motive for them to switch to arguments about efficiency or effectiveness. And in many ways, this is actually a good thing. It's important to have people who take the position, So you think this is a good idea, well, justify it! (And I don't think I only believe this because it could result in funding for people like me to do research.) But too often, the proposed action is treated as obviously ineffective, either by definition (government action = can't work) or by cherry-picking the evidence that exists. (In other words, libertarians are biased like every single other person on the planet.) But at least in the case of childhood obesity, they are willing to admit that it actually is a problem. Where adulthood obesity is concerned, a lot of them are of the opinion that being overweight is a revealed preference.

And god, reading the comments of Reason-ites (and those on libertarian blogs) justifying that their own fatness is not unhealthy is priceless reading. It's an issue where the chubby libertarians and the left-wing fat acceptance people can join together to agree that that one (deeply flawed) study that found that, among elderly people, being slightly overweight was better for life longevity than being "normal" weight validates every unhealthy habit and extra dozen pounds they have.

On this note, I am going to have a bowl of macaroni and cheese for lunch. Because of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, I was able to calculate its nutritional profile and deign it a reasonable thing to eat.