Perhaps We Should Eat More Bacon

BaconI am on record saying that I do not care what nutritionists tell me. In general, it seems to change over time. And I’m just not willing to change my behavior about something as integral and enjoyable as eating in order to live a couple years longer. I might think differently if all I wanted to do is eat ice cream. But I have a varied diet, because I like it that way. There have been many problems with how I live my life, but eating is one of the few that seem to be in order. Still, when people start telling me that bacon is as bad for me as cigarette smoking, I can’t help but pay attention.

Of course, if you believe that bacon is as bad as cigarette smoking, I hope you are very rich and interested in some incredibly rare “diamonds” that I have for sell. But bacon causes cancer? I can’t say that I find this surprising. The question is how big the effect is. I think I’m like most people: a little danger would make it even more delicious. So where are we on the goodness scale for bacon and cancer? Apparently, all the World Health Organization is saying is that “the links between processed meat and certain types of cancer are clear and well-established.”

The good news is that bacon gives you colorectal cancer. The survival rates are quite good if it is caught early: 92% if in stage I. Even at stage IV, it is 11%. Compare this to lung cancer, where the stage I survival rate is 49%, and the stage IV is 1%. So if you have to get cancer, it is better to get it in our bowels than your lungs. But still: who wants to get cancer? And I don’t like the idea of doctors going down there and cutting.

Another way to look at it is how likely different kinds of cancer are. We all have a 4.84% chance of getting colorectal cancer in our lifetimes. That’s pretty common kind of cancer. But we have a 7.43% chance of getting lung cancer in our lifetimes. So that’s over 50% higher a chance of getting lung cancer. But it gets more stark than that. According to the WHO, eating bacon increases your risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. So instead of a 4.84% chance of cancer in your lifetime, you have a 5.71% chance. It’s still about the same.

Meanwhile, smoking makes you 25 times more likely to get lung cancer. Let’s have a little fun with this. (Note: that means math!) Between 10% and 15% of lung cancer deaths are non-smokers — let’s be as charitable as we can be to smoking and use 15%. By combining the equation that comes from this and the data from the paragraph above, we see that the chance the getting lung cancer if you aren’t a smoker is just 0.35% in your whole life. If you are a smoker, it is 8.68%. That’s shocking! If you smoke, please stop! Unless you are Antonin Scalia, in which case: puff away!

So what we see here is that not eating bacon lowers your risk of cancer — but not by a whole lot. But not smoking decreases your cancer risk enormously. But this study is with regard to eating two slices of bacon per day. That strikes me as excessive. I know there are people who eat that much bacon, but that is not me. I pretty much only eat bacon for one thing: BLTs. And I have them perhaps once a month. And I wonder about this. I suspect that someone who smokes one or two cigarettes per day doesn’t have much of an elevated risk of cancer. The problem is that nicotine is highly addictive and everyone I know who smokes, smokes a lot. Is the occasional BLT going to hurt you? I doubt it.

But this all comes back to my approach to eating, which is that you need to mix it up. This comes naturally to me. I get bored — generally after obsessing over something. But I am willing to increase my lifetime risk of colorectal cancer by 0.87 percentage points for the sake of bacon. In fact, I now think I’m not eating enough.

Balanced Budget Amendment Would Increase Booms and Busts

John KasichMartin Longman had the right reaction to last week’s Republican debate, Why We Can’t Have Sanity. It’s not about the crazies at the debate; it’s about the one guy there who seems to hearken back to the Republican Party when it wasn’t totally crazy: John Kasich. He did indeed come out of the gate strong with his (implicit) attack on Ben Carson with his absurd notion that a 10% tithe is all that we need to find the government. But as Longman pointed out, “There’s a bigger problem than the one that Kasich outlines. And that problem is that even Kasich is out of his fucking mind…”

The issue at hand is the “balanced budget amendment” that is so loved by the economically illiterate. The fundamental problem with it is that it is a recipe for making the business cycle even worse than it is. But people like the idea of it. In 2009, even Obama used this incredibly stupid analogy, “All across America, families are tightening their belts and making hard choices. Now, Washington must show that same sense of responsibility.” It’s a moral argument not an economic one. And it isn’t just wrong; it is evil. It does exactly the opposite of what should be done.

Paul Krugman puts the issue this way: my spending is your income. So in the macro-economy, my not spending money causes you to have less money to pay down your debts. This is the paradox of thrift. And it has only be understood since about the time that we’ve had economies. So consider what would have happened in 2009 if the government had indeed balanced its budget. That would have meant a huge reduction in spending because so many people were out of work that tax receipts were low. The reduction in spending would have thrown even more people out of work. This, of course, would have required that the government spend even less money, throwing more people out of work.

Conservatives and libertarians will claim that this is okay. The money that the government is not borrowing would be available to the private sector to borrow. In a depressed economy, the private sector does not want to invest. This is more or less the definition of a depressed economy. But you don’t have to think about it this way. Ever since 2009, the government has been able to borrow at incredibly low rates — often at lower rates than the inflation rate. (That right: investors were paying the government to hold on to their money!) Right now, the US government can borrow money for 30 years for just 2.86%.

What all this means is that the private sector is not borrowing money. If it were, then interest rates would go up. And because of the paradox of thrift, if the government cut its spending in a depressed economy, there would almost certainly be less private sector demand for money, and interest rates would go down even further. The only argument that conservatives have in this case is that the private sector would be so encouraged by what the government had done that they would have “confidence” and start spending. But this just doesn’t happen. Look at Europe over the last five years.

The other side of this is that when the economy was doing well, the government could spend more. Obviously, this is a recipe for disaster in terms of what things would be spent upon. Clearly, there are more needy people during a bust. During a boom, there isn’t. So what would the spending go to? I’m thinking ExxonMobile. Regardless, more government spending during a boom would just accelerate the boom and probably be inflationary.

So the balanced budget amendment would do exactly the opposite of what the government should do from an economic standpoint. But people like John Kasich push it because it sounds good. So he can come off as the reasonable candidate, even though, as Longman pointed out: “a constitutional amendment to compel Congress to pass a balanced budget is the stupidest goddamned idea in existence.” Of course, it is an idea that all the other Republicans are in favor of. And one that New Democrats like Bill Clinton also love. But this is an idea that the press will never counter because all the right kinds of people are for it.

Morning Music: Grammar School Music

Mormon Tabernacle ChoirWell morning music fans, I have bad news for you! I came up with a theme for this week that is not going to generate a lot of great music. But I still think it is a good idea. What’s more, I’m out of town for five days, so I’m not going to have the amount of time that I normally give to these posts. On good days, I spend more time on this post than anything else. You’re welcome!

I was remembering back to grammar school where once a week we would all sing songs out of these textbooks. I remember the songs being mostly from wars, but it turns out that a lot of them are explicitly religious too. And so I’m going to start with one of those, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” This is a song so well known to young people that it has a standard parody, “My eyes have seen the coming of the burning of the school; we have tortured all the teachers, we have broken all the rules.” Now rather than have you listen to some terrible rendition of the song, I encourage you to click over to This American Life and listen to Sarah Vowell’s history of the song, Teacher Hit Me With A Ruler. I would embed it here, but it isn’t working on my computer.

Since we can’t have Vowell, we might as well have the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform it. It is surprisingly good. I’m not that into this kind of thing, but there is no doubt that it works.

Anniversary Post: National Geographic Breasts

Zulu MarriageOn this day in 1896, National Geographic printed its first ever image of a bare female breast. That’s of some interest because when I was young, that seemed to be the whole point of the magazine: to provide boys with the opportunity to see what breasts looked like. It was only later that I realized that it actually did some of the best photojournalism ever. The last time I checked, it was still a great magazine.

But I do find the disconnect strange. It is certain that the people at National Geographic understood this. There is no question but that most societies don’t have the breast phobia that we do. So breasts are not usually hidden away. And it would be deceptive to present these women covered up. But I suspect that the reason that the society was okay with it was almost entirely racist. It was all right to have partly naked people because they were somehow less than human — in the sense that the apex of humanity was Victorian dress and behavior and mores.

For the record, the image is of a Zulu bride and groom on their wedding day. They don’t look any more happy than people getting married today. I really do think that people should get rid of photographers in their weddings. I don’t think I’ve been to a wedding where a photographer was not staging reality rather than chronicling it. At least this couple was made miserable for a good cause.