Sunday, March 24, 2013

Deeeep Rifffftz!!

Man! Carrying on a conversation on Twitter, especially one in which participants feel passionately, is hard. The restriction of 140 characters, the lightning-speed at which replies come and go - an old fogey like me sometimes finds it very difficult to engage in a meaningful exchange. Take this morning, for example.

I have communicated with the person behind the twitter-handle @SpokesGay in various fora, and Xe has always come across as eminently sensible, as well as passionate about social justice and humanity. Therefore, when I found them discussing Mayor Bloomberg's policies in the NYC with someone else, I decided to look in - because y'know, NYC, a city I absolutely love. A statement @SpokesGay made seemed to me a tad confusing, because I hold a different viewpoint on this:
So I decided to ask @SpokesGay:
Following is the stream of replies:
I had hoped to get back to the flow of conversation, referring to @ingdamnit's point about ban on SUVs and fatty foods and so forth, but was a bit late with my Twitter-finger, and so that next part of my message appeared later than one from @ingdamnit.
I could not understand this dichotomy of Bloomberg-pushing-poor and Bloomberg-banning-soda:
The conversation just went south thereafter:
And this was reply to my question about policy disagreements:
To which I was told -
In the end, I was no wiser about @SpokesGay's opinions on why Xe thought Bloomberg's Big Gulp soda ban to be regressive classism. I have taken recourse to this blog because I hope I can request @SpokesGay to elaborate more on this here. Let's see.


  1. Pt. 1

    Thanks Kausik,

    I like and respect you (I hope you know!), but I think you're unintentionally badly wrong about some of these issues. In now way do I mean to insult you, please know, but I have to be direct to make the point. I think you have a very surface understanding of "public health" campaigns about things like obesity. *Most* people have these surface understandings; it's not that you're stooopid. But they are surface, and not examining them perpetuates
    some real bullshit that gets well-meaning liberals carrying water for moral punishment.

    I've seen you tweet wholly uncritically and enthusiastically about efforts like Bloomberg banning big gulps. I know why you want to be optimistic. When I say "uncritical", I mean that you have not examined the actual implications of these things. They sound good, they trip the right liberal caring-about-human-welfare emotional buttons. I get it. But if you have not been a smoker, a fat person, poor or working class consistently, you simply do not get it. You can't get it because you don't see it from the position of the target.

    For more than 20 years I watched the war on smoking turn into a war on smokers. It was never enough. First we had to tax cigarettes to fund prevention campaigns. Then we weren't pushing enough people off cigarettes, so we had to tax them more. Then, strangely (irony), all that tax money started going into the general funds of cash strapped states, wholly unrelated to health. And this has continued to the point where a pack of cigarettes costs an actual 2 dollars, while 6 dollars more goes to state and federal taxes (in my state). Every year it goes up, even though *honest* people would recognize we've hit the wall in terms of what taxation can do to decrease smoking rates.

    The truth is the health industry as a whole, along with politicians, doesn't give a shit. Smokers are a cash cow. They're politically acceptable to spit on in public discourse, and most of them are so ashamed of their "dirty" "failure" that they will not speak up in public. They've been effectively co-opted to be complicit in their own demonization.

    These smoking taxes disproportionately hit poor and working class people. No, stop right there- *do not* even begin to say "well they could spend their money on better things." First, it's none of our business what people do with their money. Second, you can't treat something like an addiction for one purpose but a "you totally could just like, not recreate that way" when you want to extort tax money. It's appalling.

    Check out this paper from the NIH:

  2. Pt. II

    Still don't think it's class-based punishment? Then why is it that states have gone so far as to ban smoking in private, member-only clubs, where even the employees are members and likely smokers themselves? Why are universities banning smoking on entire campuses, anywhere outdoors? No, it's not about health. You cannot claim you believe a whiff of cigarette smoke from a patio 20 yards away is a serious health risk (no one who claims that actually believes it but they're quite willing to lie so that no one has to be "aggravated" by the slightest hint of smoking ever).

    Guess what tobacco products don't get taxed as highly? Guess what clubs are more likely to get smoking loopholes? *Cigars and cigar clubs*. Who smokes cigars? Not poor white trash or people of color (those are dirty cigarette smokers). Mainly rich white men. That liberal people who are so good on so many of these issues are blind to this infuriates me, and it should embarrass them.

    Cigarette smokers have been funding your public schools, roads, and budget shortfalls for decades. You knew that, didn't you? No? Oh, you're welcome. I was happy to pay a disproportionate share so that your upstanding middle class family didn't have to.

    On the soda ban---I'll lift my comment from the ones I left at Ophelia's place. I'll have to do it in another comment as this system tells me I've written too much.

  3. Pt III (comments from Ophelia's blog that I made):

    Sorry, but they do have a point. If chains are exempt this will, in fact, have a disparate impact on minority-owned and small businesses. This is the same thing that happens when cities start modifying the terms of the sale of cigarettes (or ban their sale at XYZ places) but exempt large chains.

    One cannot reasonably expect the local corner grocer to willingly accept being put at an economic disadvantage against big box stores and chains. Why would we expect the corner grocer to say, “Oh, yes, for the health of my community, I’ll take hit even though those who can afford to do so more will not have to”? Why would we look down on that small (maybe owned by, yes, a real honest to goodness mom and pop) business for caring about their livelihood in a rigged system that disadvantages them and gives corporate big boys an unfair advantage?

    This is a serious blind spot (and a moral failing) on the part of well-meaning liberal public policy people. Systemic problems need systemic solutions, but when they fall disproportionately on the backs of those who can least afford it that’s not “liberal” at all. Any more than it’s “liberal” or “kind and compassionate” to tax the fuck out of smokers past the point where people quit and all the way into punitive taxation that only further harms low-income people.

    Please re-think this.


    Besides which-the idea of banning the sale of certain sizes of soda as a meaningful fix to obesity is just stupid. Maybe we can instead about ensuring that people have affordable access to healthful foods, the equipment and skills (and time, for working families) to prepare it, things like that?

    Seriously—as someone who grew up in a poor family I have some idea what it means to manage a household economy with very little and also an eye to nutritious and sufficient food for children. Banning super sized sodas is a near-pointless exercise whose major dividend is giving public figures a Meritorious Gold Star of Compassion.

    Arrgh. I’m sorry, but this is where liberals completely go down the rabbit hole, every single time. It’s insulting, and it vexes me no end how few people see it.


    What I meant to say about an eye to nutritious food was that solutions to affordable nutrition (in every sense; time, transport, sufficiency, etc.) are so much bigger than the presence or absence of big sodas that I find it ridiculous that such gestures get so much publicity. Nay, I find it offensive.

    I’m certainly not arguing that soda is nutritious. I’m arguing that it’s so far beside the point.

    Fat people are the new smokers, but that's a post for another time.

  4. I got mad because you started peppering me with questions regarding things I didn't say and seem annoying gotcha tactics.

  5. For example I never said soda was healthy. I said Bloomberg has a history of hammering the lower classes with policy while ignoring or dismantling actual practical systems.

    His policies look like he's doing something but amount to trolling. He acts like the lower classes are animals that need to be leashes. See stop and frisk for another example of policies made just to harass people