Well, that was interesting

I recently praised PZ for finally looking to shed his extra pounds. Aside from his lack of health being disrespectful to his own body, he runs the chance of leaving his loved ones behind too early – and for no good reason. I stand by that praise, and even though I am fully aware that it comes across as if I am just trying to insult a fat guy, I do genuinely mean it.

Unfortunately, PZ doesn’t see it that way. In the comment section of the post that inspired what I wrote, things took an ugly turn. I presented my argument that it is wrong to not try to be healthy. The first reaction – and it is always the first reaction – is to say I think it is wrong to be fat. I don’t. The issue is with putting forth an honest effort to be healthy. The results are not important, morally speaking. And just as I did in my post about obesity, I allowed for a huge swath of caveats. Some people have conditions which prevent them from putting forth the same effort as others. Other people work long hours and have to take care of children at the end of the day. Still other people have limited access to healthy food. It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be able to put forth the same effort. That doesn’t mean, though, that it is magically impossible for people to attempt all they can – there is almost always a better choice available on the grocery store shelves – but I fully acknowledge that it can be difficult. I always have.

This, unfortunately, led to an extended discussion on poor people and food stamps. Apparently I hate them all because I don’t want to subsidize lobsters. The truth is, welfare funds are a limited resource. If we allow people to spend money on expensive items, they will have less for what they actually need. I saw this first hand while working at a grocery store in high school. People would use the last of their food stamps regularly on $30-70 worth of lobster. I can think of far better ways to use those funds.

The “counter” (if you can call it that) to this argument is that people get X amount of dollars and so it doesn’t matter how they spend them. (Oh, and I don’t think poor people deserve nice things, apparently.) This is a patently stupid argument. If I am given $200 a month for food and I need $300, $100 is coming from my pocket. However, if I buy luxury items, that eats into what I have been given. That means I will get one nice meal, but that might add another $30 to what comes out of my wallet. This does not help the poor; it allows some people to abuse their funds, forcing them to stay on welfare longer. That is, nobody is going to get back on their feet by spending money on things they don’t need at the expense of things they do need.

And, of course, this all means I must be a Ron Paul-loving, Reagan-blowing libertarian Republican. Right. No, my position is a utilitarian one. Welfare funds are not unlimited. It doesn’t make sense to allow them to be used to buy anything under the Sun. In fact, PZ and co are in the minority in what they think. Most states restrict the use of food stamps on some items (such as expensive energy drinks), and certainly no state allows the funds to be used for restaurants. And the states are right to do so. But what’s really interesting about this is that PZ and everyone else, once we get past the government intervention, is kicking into uber-libertarian mode. “Who are YOU to say what people should buy?!” Right. I’m the libertarian here.

The end result has been a ban. I suppose I’m okay with this. After all, throughout my Maloney troubles, PZ never responded to a single email or request for help. He, of course, is not required to do so, but let’s not be coy. I have disagreed with his rampant sexism in recent months, so he has no interest in helping me fight junk science. Emotion overrides logic here; if I never commented on his site, he would have been the first to help me. Besides that, the majority of his posts have nothing to do with atheism anymore. Sure, he has those spammy “Why I am an atheist” posts that have given my scrolling finger a good workout, but he mostly writes about feminism and stupid Internet polls. Overall I have still enjoyed him, but that is happening less and less each day. Without the writing he had as of a few years ago, I don’t care for much of what he has to say anymore. I’ll stick with Jerry Coyne, Friendly Atheist, and Starts With A Bang! for my big name bloggers.

At any rate, I hope PZ does manage to lose the excess fat he has. He’s older and has had health issues, so I don’t expect fantastic results, but I’m happy he is at least trying. After all, that’s all that matters.

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12 Responses

  1. There was no good way to work this into the post, but I want to note it. Before the days of food stamp debit cards, people were given paper stamps. However, there were no coins, so when someone spent $72.84 on groceries, 16 cents had to come back in US currency. This wasn’t such a big deal in and of itself, but it did allow for abuse. Commonly I would see people intentionally spend just over a dollar in food stamps. They would then give me 2 food stamp dollars and I would give them 95 cents or so in change. They would then turn around and use that money to supplement their desire for cigarettes. PZ supports this. I find it pretty trashy. First, I am not subsidizing cigarettes for anyone. Second, cigarettes cause cancer and other health problems. This costs money – something poor people don’t tend to have. By encouraging smoking, people like PZ are hurting the poor. Third, the commercial sale of tobacco should be outlawed anyway. That isn’t a rich/poor thing (though the poor would benefit the most). Cigarettes serve no legitimate purpose and bring significant harm to society. (And guess who takes the libertarian position on this one. Here’s a clue: it isn’t me.)

  2. I’ll come out of the woodwork to relate this experience.

    I have two housemates w/ their 4 mo baby leaving at the end of the week and good fucking riddance. Because when they, literally, buy lobster w/ their food stamps they come up short and start eating my food. I’ve now taken a dormitory fridge out of storage and the food in the cupboard and sequestered it behind my door which I went out and bought a lock for. Yes, they can buy whatever they want, but when they run out of food and stamps, stay the hell away from my food. I’m not on food stamps, however I’m between jobs on a strict budget. Their dinner tonight was something from a plastic bag that crunched when they ate it, Dennison’s chili, Campbell’s cream of chicken and mushroom soup, and Mountain Dew. I had a pork chop with sauteed onion, sweet potato, steamed broccoli, and water. We probably spent around the same amount. People can make healthful food choices even on a tight budget if they make an effort. Neither one of them drive so I’ll schlep one of them along when I go to the store and I’ve seen the crap they buy. Again, that’s their choice. At least when they’re gone I won’t be subsidizing them twice.

  3. In Southern Maine there’s a local dairy, Smiling Hill Farm, that has been using glass bottles for years. The bottles have a deposit of about $1.50 each and there’s always been problems with people buying them with food stamps, dumping them out, then returning the bottles.

    I have to get going for work, but I’ll comment on the rest soon. It’s ironic that PZ got that upset over you having a liberal view – that being fat is a bad for the person and for society. If I was a national health care supporter, I would have to see obesity as a public matter, not a private one, and encourage Pigovian taxes or food bans.

  4. From the tarmac at Hanscom AFB in Mass:

    Negative Income Tax.

    That is all.

  5. Michael and Nate, this will interest you. One of the people in the comment section mentioned that a relative of his doesn’t have a lot of income (as if my moral/health argument doesn’t take that into account). Another user chimed in and said something along the lines of, “And I bet his employer doesn’t let him work full-time because benefits would kick in?” The answer was yes, of course. I then asked that second user if he would favor allowing the employee to waive his rights to benefits in order to get more hours since he needs more money and is effectively blocked. Apparently saying that makes me the biggest asshole in the world.

    That said, it got me thinking about that idea to allow children to work for less during Maine summers. I still think that is an awful idea because it treats teenagers as second class citizens, but I could see an alternative to that working: Allow people under 18 to work for less, but take nothing out in taxes. Make it work out so that their take-home pay is roughly the same as it would be if they worked at a regular rate. They get their jobs with their due compensation and employers save on labor.

  6. You would be surprised at how much it actually costs to employ someone over what they are actually paid. Even being my own employer, if I want to pay myself 10 dollars it costs me almost 15, and I don’t pay for unemployment or health insurance.

    That would be a good idea with the exception of SSI taxes, which will effect the number of quarters worked later on.

  7. Alternately, we could just ditch the corporate income tax, go to a flat tax over a certain wage level, say $50,000 and save a few hundred billion dollars from being squandered looking for ways to avoid/prepare taxes every year.

    I don’t want to be sensible or anything, but that’s what we call a ‘compliance tax’, boys and girls, and it’s wicked big.

  8. For a bunch of bloggers claiming to be scientific and skeptical, it is incredible to see you all trotting out the same old, utterly worthless “eat less and exercise” advice with respect to obesity. Exercise has got almost nothing to do with weight gain or loss (except where is stimulates apetite and makes the situation worse and demoralizing) Get thee to garytaubes.com, get some dietary science into you and then call PZ in the morning. The main problem for you sweetie-pie, is the fructose in the sweetie-pie.

  9. Ironically, Len, I listened to an entire interview with Gary Taubes last week at http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2011/11/taubes_on_fat_s.html

    He makes some interesting points, and I enjoyed the interview, but by no means is that statement you’re reiterating proven by science. As Harriett Hall said, it’s ironic how much he’s guilty of the same thing he accuses his opponents of – making statements that outpace the evidence.

  10. How long is the ban for? Do you get listed on the Pharyngula evil list, or do you have to insult P.Z.s daughter for that?

  11. He put me in the “Dungeon” because he has the right to be offended and censor.

  12. I’m writing a post that links to this one, so I just reread this. As an update, I should note that I believe energy drinks aren’t included on food stamps because they’re classified as a nutritional supplement or some such thing. I don’t think it has to do with their cost.

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