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I hate MarketSpeak

I am so fed up with marketers, I can’t tell you. What brought on this particular fit was some nonsense quoted on the BBC.

The article is discussing a rule that’s gone into effect in the UK, requiring web sites to let users know about all the cookies they plan on storing and asking users’ permission to do it.

In other words, it’s opt-in, not opt-out. Needless to say, practically nobody opts in. Cue the moaning of the marketers in 3 …, 2 …, 1 …

“Plain and simple – this will kill online sales.”

Oh, really? Seems to me online sales grew from nothing to huge before all this tracking crap got under way.

But British Telecom has the solution. Revert to opt-out with this clever little bit of marketspeak:

The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to give you the very best experience. If you continue without changing these settings, you consent to this – but if you want, you can change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.

“To give you the very best experience”? “To give you the very best experience”?!

Is the feel of all those cookies tracking me supposed to make me all warm and fuzzy and less alone in the world?


They’re not talking about me, and they know it. The “you” having the “very best” experience is the advertiser paying the web site’s bills.

So, here’s the PlainSpeak change that’s needed: “The cookie settings on this website are set to ‘allow all cookies’ to provide us with the most revenue.”

There. Fixed that for ya.

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Our mutilations are good, yours are bad

I haven’t closely followed the story about male circumcision in Germany. A judge ruled that as an elective surgical procedure with permanent effects, it required the informed consent of the patient. Just about the most basic right is control over what gets done to your own body, and the ruling makes every kind of sense. Newborns can’t informedly consent, so suddenly circumcision of male babies was illegal.

Cue indignant protests by observant Jews. But it’s part of our religion. Cue protests by others. The Germans! Are telling the Jews what to do! Or rather not to do! Besides, circumcision helps prevent Aids.

Christ on a bike, people. You either agree to the principle that others can’t mess around with your body without your consent, or you don’t. If you do, there’s no difference — except that we in the West are used to it — between generally minor mutilation of male babies for the sake of Judaism or medicine, hacking away at the genitals of female children as is done in parts of Africa, or performing cosmetic surgery on a six year-old so she can win perversions such as Toddlers in Tiaras.

The judge was right the first time on this. Parental rights should not extend to reshaping the physical bodies of their children. Parents don’t own their kids. They take care of them. Or they should.

And religious rights can not trump human rights without running smack into a complete utter idiotic logical absurdity. What if my religion was to kill your religion?

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Climate Change Bozos

Remember the folks who said warming wasn’t a problem because plants use more CO2 when it’s hot?

Corn field drying up in southern Wisconsin, USA, July 16th, 2012. (wxmom on flickr)

How’s that working out for you?

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Who benefits from ObamaRomneyCare?

David Dayen has Obamacare / ACA summarized in a sentence. He’s been doing excellent work on the implications of the Supremes’ decision to sort of uphold it when individuals have to pay, but to let states opt out at will.

About that last, he’s pointed out repeatedly that there really is no reason to assume all states will go along with the Medicaid expansion because it’s free federal money. The career Democrats’ are taking it for granted that hospital lobbyists will twist Republican governors’ arms to take the cash already. But the hospital lobbyists “don’t sound confident about their magical powers of persuasion”

States can also opt out of the federally administered medical insurance exchanges and force their defunding. That would leave millions of very poor people without even the access to Medicaid that they have now and no access to the new subsidized-and-expensive insurance exchanges.[Update, Jul 7: the Urban Institute has a pdf with more detail.] Democrats don’t seem to expect much voter pressure about these issues. Again, “like the Medicaid expansion, Democrats are hoping that the industry will force these governors to comply, or force the appropriations through at the federal level.”

The crumbs that reach actual people from Obamacare are good, but they are crumbs. People aren’t going to get excited about crumbs. What’s interesting is that the Democrats know perfectly well who’s getting the loaf and who might actually push.

This persistent hope on the efforts of industry to force compliance actually tells us quite a bit about the Affordable Care Act itself.

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Humans are the only thing we can’t fix

So this is not actually good news:

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was the result of “man-made” failures before and after last year’s earthquake, according to a report from an independent parliamentary investigation.

A technical glitch, an unforeseen cascade of technical glitches, an accident exceeding design parameters, all those things can be dealt with, assuming money is no object.

But even if money can be spent like water (and if you have to, why use nukes to begin with when there are cheaper, better, cleaner alternatives?), but if you can spend no end of money, you still can never fix the fallibility of human beings.

We will always make mistakes.

It’s therefore insane to depend on a technology that must have perfection or else it kills us.

It’s unspeakably more insane when there are cheaper, healthier, and more effective alternatives out there. You don’t have to take my word for it. The evidence just keeps piling up (pdf).

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What Really Makes Us Fat

Let’s face it. People feel the fat-antifat kerfuffle is a struggle between good and evil. Gluttony is bad! It’s not gluttony. It’s a disease! It’s not a disease. It’s genetics. It’s okay. It is not okay. And so on and on.

Folks, we’re talking about biology. It could be all of the above and then some. “Then some” is actually my preferred answer and I’ll discuss it in a bit. But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that none of the above are mutually exclusive. The answers vary from person to person and there is no single thing that is true for everyone, or even for one person all the time. As they say on Facebook, it’s complicated. In that spirit, it’s well worth looking at research that tells us about parts of the answer.

Gary Taubes writes about a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Ebbeling et al., 2012) on What Really Makes Us Fat:

[T]he study tells us that the nutrient composition of the diet can trigger the predisposition to get fat, independent of the calories consumed. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the more easily we remain lean. The more carbohydrates, the more difficult. In other words, carbohydrates are fattening, and obesity is a fat-storage defect. What matters, then, is the quantity and quality of carbohydrates we consume and their effect on insulin.

Chalk one up for the Atkins Diet, but don’t therefore assume the American Heart Association is “wrong” when it tells you to eat a low-fat diet of whole grains, fruits and veggies. The AHA is trying to help your heart. Their advice is perfectly good for your heart. The Atkins Diet is trying to help you lose weight. This research says it does. It says nothing about your cholesterol or the kidney-damaging effects of long term excess protein, especially in people with borderline kidney disease they may be unaware of.

The research shows an interesting piece of the obesity puzzle, but unless fat storage regulation is the biggest reason for obesity, it’s not actually going to deal with the epidemic. And the biggest causes can’t be fat storage regulation gone awry. Human physiology hasn’t changed in the last few decades. We have the same fat-storage hormones we’ve always had. Likewise, people have always wanted to eat too much. Nor have our genetics changed a whole hell of a lot in the last few dozen years. And yet obesity (as medically defined and meaning more than mere overweight) has gone from being a rather rare issue to being a problem for a third of all US adults.

The thing that’s missing in too many current discussions of the obesity epidemic is environmental effects. This is not a comment on the research, because that wasn’t its topic. But every single discussion for the general public needs to beat that drum until we all get it. Environmental factors are the only ones that have changed recently. Plus, that explains why we have an epidemic. Epidemics are public health issues, and they’re all embedded in the environment.

The reason it’s so important for everyone to understand the biggest causes is because obesity really is an epidemic, and it really is destroying the health of millions. It’s causing and will continue to cause horrible suffering in people who go blind or need amputations due to diabetic complications, or who become paralyzed after strokes. This stuff is no joke. Nor is it just a conspiracy by the fashion industry (although it’s that too). To the extent that obesity damages health, it’s vital — literally — to understand and fix the real causes and not to waste time on sacrificial food offerings to gods who don’t care.

I think two environmental factors stand out like sore thumbs.

  • Advertising for fat-making food and drink
  • Endocrine disruptor environmental pollution

You may not think of ads as an environmental factor, but what I mean by that is it’s out there, in your environment, and not something you control. You can’t simply ignore ads, no matter how many people blithely tell you to. Ads have their effect whether or not you pay attention. Your only real choice is to turn them off. An individual can choose to eschew most media, but on a population level, that’s not going to happen.

So we’re in an environment saturated with unavoidable messages to have fun with food. At the population level, some proportion of people some of the time will find themselves wanting that food, wanting that cola, and taking it. At the population level, some proportion of people get more calories than they otherwise would. And some proportion of them get fat.

It’s important to remember that getting fat, being a biological process, is not a simple matter of balancing calories in and calories used. Nothing in biology is simple. Calories in is a factor, certainly. If it wasn’t, you’d see fat people among famine sufferers.

But how the body stores fat stands right between the two halves of the equation. That is a complicated, hormonally controlled process we’re only beginning to understand. Insulin is one of those hormones, but only one. Sex hormones are also among the messengers that carry out the regulation. The starkest example of fat storage gone crazy is rare genetic conditions where the body’s hormones that promote fat storage are so active, they don’t leave enough glucose circulating in the blood for metabolic needs. Everything goes into fat, there’s too little left over for the business of staying alive, and the person is literally starving while putting on weight.

A big contribution of Ebbeling’s and her colleagues’ research is demonstrating the subtle effect of fat storage regulation that’s within the normal range. And since hormones are part of that process, hormone disruption can be expected to have a huge effect on fat deposition.

Which brings me to the second big environmental factor: a whole group of chemicals. They’re called hormone disruptors and they come from some plastics, pesticides, hormonal medicines, and so on. Those break down into hormone analogues and get into the environment. As I said in an earlier post on the Obesity Epidemic, if hormones help regulate energy balance, and if we’ve flooded the environment with bad substitutes for hormones, is it any wonder that people are having trouble regulating energy balance?

So, you may be asking, what does it all mean? What are we supposed to do about it? I’ve said it before so I’ll just say it again:

Like all public health issues, nothing less than a population-level approach will work. Dysentery, cholera, and typhoid are never wiped out by drinking boiled water. They’re wiped out by building municipal sewers. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated by avoiding smallpox patients. It was eradicated by universal vaccination. The individual actions aren’t useless. They just don’t change the widespread causes of the widespread problem.

Modern health problems like cancer and obesity aren’t going to be wiped out by eating fresh vegetables. Eating veggies is good, but it doesn’t address the basic problem. That’s going to take nothing less than a change to clean sustainable industry.

It’s almost enough to make you wish a mere diet really was all that’s needed.

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