Posted by: bkivey | 12 April 2013

Supply, Demand, and Choice

The local paper employs a columnist whom I rarely read, because he’s a professional whiner. Most of his columns focus on ‘the little buy’ getting screwed in some fashion, but if you read the column, most of the time the people he writes about are where they are due to poor decision making. The column Sunday is no different.

The column, titled Fifty pounds of grease and sugar in the print version, describes a high school freshman who gained fifty pounds between August and February while enrolled in a fitness program sponsored by a locally – headquartered sneaker manufacturer. It seems the high school attended by this child has a number of fast food outlets nearby, and a couple of donut shops. I have to admit that the prices quoted in the column would be attractive to a teenager: $1 for a box of six day-old donuts, or $5 for a bucket of day-old baked confections.

When the lad’s mother noticed his weight gain, she took action. She changed his diet, talked to a school PE teacher, hired a personal trainer, and forbade him from going to the donut shop. All reasonable actions, and all ineffective, as he continued to gain weight. His mom found a ‘smoking gun, an empty donut box, in his backpack after the bakery ban was in effect. Now that she has evidence that her son ignored her directive (he’s a teenager), his weight gain has morphed into other people’s responsibility.

She tried to get the bakery outlet to close during the school’s lunch hour. The bakery staff may have been tempted to laugh in her face, but I imagine they were a little more respectful, and just said no. My favorite quote from the column comes from the bakery’s marketing director, who noted that the proximity of a cut – rate donut store next to a high school put them in ‘a sticky situation’.

The columnist trots out the Person with a Cause. That would be Linda McLellan, the director of the school’s fitness program. Between her and the columnist, they don’t miss a trick. Comparing cheap, fatty foods to drugs? Check.

“We have drug-free zones within 1,000 feet of schools,” McLellan said. “But cheap, high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods are legal and available only blocks away.”

Misusing the concept of  ‘addiction’? Yep.

The majority of these items, I might add, aren’t baked on the premises. They’re just addictive to the neighborhood kids.

When De La Mare asked Franz to stop fueling her son’s daily doughnut fix, . .

Tag – teaming on indicting society for an individual’s choice? You betcha.

And McLellan is asking the hard questions: “What community responsibility are we willing to take to help kids be healthy? Are we targeting areas of poverty with reduced prices on day-old items?

I’d say the community is taking more than it’s share of responsibility by funding an extra – curricular school fitness program, helped along by a grant from a local company, that, by the way, donated some pricey equipment to the program.  Then there’s the usual health classes taught in school,  funded by the community. And then there’s your job, Ms. McLellan, also funded by the community.  To suggest that the community isn’t taking sufficient responsibility for what is ultimately the parent’s concern sounds more than a little disrespectful. Taking care of some else’s child isn’t my, or anyone else’s, responsibility.

‘Targeting areas of poverty’? Really? Does she imagine that some old, fat, white dudes are sitting around in a smoke – filled room going “Hey, let’s target areas of poverty by selling day – old donuts for a buck!”? I understand that as a public employee, Ms. McLellan may not entirely grasp the purpose of business. Businesses are in business to make money. Baked goods have very limited shelf life, and if bakeries can sell day – old stock rather than throw it away, that’s what they’re going to do.

Nowhere in the column is there any mention that this kid’s problems might possibly stem from his decisions. Yes, he’s a kid, and kid’s don’t make good decisions. And to his mother’s credit, she’s done everything she can reasonably do, short of having the store ban him from the premises. But this is a family problem, not the result of nefarious forces conspiring against an innocent child.

As a society we have failed people by removing negative reinforcement. A few decades ago, fat people were uncommon, because fat kids were shunned and laughed at. Sure, it wasn’t great if you were fat, but there was great social pressure not to be fat, so there was powerful incentive to lose weight, or not gain it in the first place. Like many societal norms, it was simple, effective, and didn’t require a government program. Western society has removed the connection between actions and consequences, so most social normative  behavior has been eliminated. Now if someone has problems, they’re taught that it’s due to the actions of some evil ‘other’.  This has led to a society that gives lip service to certain ideas, but has no effective way to implement them, short of an overbearing nanny state that requires increasingly restrictive and expensive methods to do what used to be done for free.


Nike is one of the sponsoring companies for the fitness program at the school, and donated a device called a FuelBand, which looks to be a high – tech pedometer. On the official page, Nike notes that:

The Nike+ FuelBand uses a sports-tested accelerometer to measure your movement in NikeFuel, a universal metric of activity.

All I could find in a search for ‘activity metric’ was a summation equation from an Irish government agency, and general discussion of business activity metrics. Neither used ‘NikeFuel’ as a unit of measurement. It may be that the term is specific to physical activity, but I’ve never heard anyone say “Man, burned 150 NikeFuels on my run.”

The Cuban ‘Hood

Rapper Jay – Z and his wife Beyonce generated some controversy when they took a trip to Cuba. Travel to Cuba is restricted for most Americans, and people were wondering if Mr. Z’s friend Barack Obama may have greased the wheels for the trip in direct violation of regulations. I took a moment to write a rap verse about the kerfuffle.

Here I am in the worker’s paradise
Smokin’ a stogie and drinkin’ rum on ice
Average dude can’t sample the local flavor
But homie in the White House did me a favor


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