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Posts Tagged ‘risk’

I was surfing the web aimlessly when I came across this sad news:

Swedish mountaineer and professional skier Fredrik Ericsson died Friday while trying to summit K2 in Pakistan, his friend David Schipper told CNN in a telephone interview.

The incident occurred between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. as Ericsson was attempting to become the first man to ski from the summit to base camp, said Schipper, who said he learned of the accident on the world’s second-tallest peak in a satellite call from fellow climber Fabrizio Zangrilli.

[...]

Ericsson, along with his climbing partners Trey Cook and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, had begun the summit push between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. in low-visibility weather.

After several hours of climbing, they approached the bottom of the bottleneck. At this point, Cook returned to Camp 4, leaving Kaltenbrunner and Ericsson to continue their ascent.

As Ericsson was attempting to fix ropes to the snow and ice along the route he “lost his purchase and was unable to arrest his fall,” Schipper said.

Ericsson’s body, resting at about 7,000 meters, will remain where it fell, Schipper said on Ericsson’s website.

“His parents have requested it remain in the mountains he loved,” he wrote. “Retrieval would be exceptionally dangerous.”

Such incidents are of course not uncommon — many climbers die similarly each year.  The comment thread to this news report was also fairly predictable. One user wrote: I never understood poeple that would do a suicidal activity then call it sport! Another was full of scathing sarcasm: At least he died for a cause. Oh thats right he didn’t!

But what really caught my eye was one particular comment that I post below. It was in response to the derisive “Oh that’s right he didn’t” comment, and it is the reason why I am writing this post. It expresses exactly what I feel about such activities and says all that’s needs to be said to those who don’t get it.

“He didn’t even die for a cause”…

Yes he did; he died doing what he loved. He died pushing himself to his personal limits. He was in better shape than all of you combined. He didn’t rant on web sites, he was living life to the fullest for… (God forbid), HIMSELF. How many of you will die for a “cause”?

Ericsson isn’t a martyr. He isn’t a hero. He is just a man who went ahead and pursued his particular passion. How would the world look like if everyone else did the same?

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest is an interesting organization. Ostensibly, its purpose is to be a “strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science”. It publishes a health newsletter and has several programs to educate the public on various issues related to science, nutrition and public health.

Scratch deeper, and a frightening picture emerges. The CSPI is one of those entities that believes in science but not in freedom. It believes in equating the nutritious and the safe  with the universally good, and is happy to enforce these value judgements on others by any means at their disposal.

Their latest target is “alcoholic energy drinks”. This is from their website:

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest today filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks. The product has more alcohol than regular beer and contains unapproved additives, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit is asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys general.

Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become injured, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks, according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.

Sparks products contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks’ appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent of SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. (Sparks Light also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose). In October, MillerCoors plans to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent alcohol by volume.

They have already stopped Anheuser-Busch from selling a similar product. Shockingly, they do not have an action project to ban the serving of coffee to a customer who has had a glass of wine — yet.

The rest of their website contains arguments in a similar vein. They go on about how the raising of the drinking age has saved lives, how alcohol is a terrible drug that deserves to be severely restricted from just about every place imaginable, how the trans fat ban will save fifty thousand lives a year and so on. They want to employ every coercive technique imaginable to stop such horrors from happening.

It always surprises me when I read this kind of analysis.

In the CSPI worldview, the only negative costs are those that are directly measurable, such as death and disease. Any action that reduces these figures is good. But clearly extending this reasoning to everything leads to absurdities. For instance, ban all cars today and the number of speeding related deaths will become zero. No one advocates such a thing because the costs in terms of inconvenience, quality of life and — may I mention it — freedom will be too high. How is it that when they rile against unhealthy or unsafe foods and drinks, they completely neglect the intrinsic cost of taking away from millions of users something that they enjoy? How is it that they put absolutely no weight in their analysis upon the fact that they are taking away my basic right to live my life the way I deem fit?

It is possible that CSPI is acting in good faith and in their moral code, these intrinsic costs are negligible or at any rate, low enough to merit coercive regulation.

But everyone has a core, inalienable ethical belief and here is mine. There’s only one word that accurately describes actions such as those of CSPI. That word is “evil”. It is irrelevant to my moral code that they may not view things the same way. There is simply no other way I can think of people who believe in imposing their personal choices on others. And unlike bandits or robbers who commit crimes for their gain, the evil that such organizations do never stop.

(Hat Tip: Reason Hit and Run)

Also read:

Jacob Sullum’s old article on CSPI and their pseudoscience.

My post on smoking bans in San Francisco.

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From the SF gate report:

Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies, including Walgreens and Rite Aid. The city’s public health chief said the proposal is modeled after rules in eight provinces in Canada but has not been tried anywhere in the United States.

Supervisor Chris Daly has proposed legislation that would vastly limit areas where people can smoke.

Gone would be smoking in all businesses and bars, which now make an exception for owner-operated ones.

Gone too would be lighting up in taxicabs and rental cars, city-owned vehicles, farmers’ markets, common areas of apartment buildings, tourist hotels, tobacco shops, charity bingo games, unenclosed dining areas, waiting areas such as lines at an ATM or movie theater, and anywhere within 20 feet of entrances to private, nonresidential buildings.

Mitch Katz, director of the Department of Public Health, said he strongly supports both measures – even if they are angering business owners who say it’s one more example of San Francisco City Hall overstepping its bounds.

“Tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the U.S. – period,” he said. “It’s government’s responsibility to protect people from obvious risks.”

To paraphrase a comment at the Reason blog, whose responsibility is it then to protect people from tyranny?

Indeed, it’s scary listening to these public-health fanatics. By their logic, speed limits should be lowered to 10 mph, burgers and cokes banned and motorcycles outlawed. Gambling and extreme sports ought to be banished from the face of the earth. And did I forget to mention unprotected sex?

Its a simple enough principle but some don’t get it. Costs and benefits are different for different people. An act that one person views as self-destructive is completely worth the risk to another.

As Jacob Sullum eloquently put it:

Maximizing health is not the same as maximizing happiness. The public health mission to minimize morbidity and mortality leaves no room for the possibility that someone might accept a shorter life span, or an increased risk of disease or injury, in exchange for more pleasure or less discomfort. Motorcyclists, rock climbers, and sky divers make that sort of decision all the time, and not all of them are ignorant of the relevant injury and fatality statistics. With lifestyle choices that pose longer-term risks, such as smoking and overeating, the dangers may be easier to ignore, but it is still possible for someone with a certain set of tastes and preferences to say, “Let me enjoy myself now; I’ll take my chances.” The assumption that such tradeoffs are unacceptable is the unspoken moral premise of public health. When the surgeon general declares that “every American needs to eat healthy food in healthy portions and be physically active every day,” where does that leave a guy who prefers to be fat if it means he can eat what he likes and relax in his spare time instead of looking for ways to burn calories?

It’s true that, as the anti-smoking activist William Cahan pointed out on a CNN talk show several years ago, “People who are making decisions for themselves don’t always come up with the right answer.” They don’t necessarily make tradeoffs between health and other values in an informed or carefully considered manner. Sometimes they regret their decisions. But they know their own tastes and preferences, and they have access to myriad pieces of local information about the relevant costs and benefits that no government regulator can possibly know. They will not always make good decisions, but on balance they will make better decisions, as measured by their own subsequent evaluations, than any third party deciding for them. Leaving aside the question of who is better positioned to decide whether a given pleasure is worth the risk associated with it, there is an inherent value to freedom: When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them.

Now the smoking ban of course goes beyond nanny-statism. It is also about protecting other people from the risks of second-hand smoke. That’s a laudable intention and as a libertarian I have no quarrels with the underlying principle. But my point is this — how does preventing the sale of cigarettes from certain shops or preventing their use in private bars designated for smoking serve this goal? People who enter such a bar or restaurant usually do with the intention to smoke — those who do not can always choose not to enter.

And whats this about banning smoking in rental cars? Second-hand scent? WTF?

Ultimately, we must recognise these type of bans for what they are – an act of those who are pompous enough to believe others’ well-being is their business and deluded enough to think they are in a better position to make these value judgements than the individual involved. The result is a further expansion of government power in an era when the threat to civil liberties and personal freedom from such intrusions gets bigger every day.

And just so that no one ascribes imaginary motives – I have never smoked, do not ever intend to and hate the smell of second-hand smoke as much as any regular guy. (I do however believe in respecting others’ choices.)

(Hat-tip: Reason Hit and Run)

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One of the dangers of publicly funded healthcare is that it increases the likelihood of the government micromanaging your health and other private affairs. Jacob Sullum wrote an excellent article in Reason last year about the totalitarian implications of public health. The Japanese government is the latest to prove him right.

Under a national law that came into effect two months ago, companies and local governments must now measure the waistlines of Japanese people between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups. That represents more than 56 million waistlines, or about 44 percent of the entire population.  

Those exceeding government limits – 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women – and having a weight-related ailment will be given dieting guidance if after three months they do not lose weight. If necessary, those people will be steered toward further re-education after six more months.  

Here is the link to the above article.

And while you are at it, do read Sullum’s article from last year. It is full of truths that are obvious but often not recognized by those in power.

Maximizing health is not the same as maximizing happiness. The public health mission to minimize morbidity and mortality leaves no room for the possibility that someone might accept a shorter life span, or an increased risk of disease or injury, in exchange for more pleasure or less discomfort. Motorcyclists, rock climbers, and sky divers make that sort of decision all the time, and not all of them are ignorant of the relevant injury and fatality statistics. With lifestyle choices that pose longer-term risks, such as smoking and overeating, the dangers may be easier to ignore, but it is still possible for someone with a certain set of tastes and preferences to say, “Let me enjoy myself now; I’ll take my chances.” The assumption that such tradeoffs are unacceptable is the unspoken moral premise of public health. When the surgeon general declares that “every American needs to eat healthy food in healthy portions and be physically active every day,” where does that leave a guy who prefers to be fat if it means he can eat what he likes and relax in his spare time instead of looking for ways to burn calories?

It’s true that, as the anti-smoking activist William Cahan pointed out on a CNN talk show several years ago, “People who are making decisions for themselves don’t always come up with the right answer.” They don’t necessarily make tradeoffs between health and other values in an informed or carefully considered manner. Sometimes they regret their decisions. But they know their own tastes and preferences, and they have access to myriad pieces of local information about the relevant costs and benefits that no government regulator can possibly know. They will not always make good decisions, but on balance they will make better decisions, as measured by their own subsequent evaluations, than any third party deciding for them. Leaving aside the question of who is better positioned to decide whether a given pleasure is worth the risk associated with it, there is an inherent value to freedom: When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them.

Indeed.

(Link via Reason Hit and Run)

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