Friday, April 04, 2008

Stupid food Fascism

Inadvertent leaders in economic research, public school officials seem dedicated to discovering again and again just what it is that sparks the creation of a black market. What have they found? Restricting goods that school kids want inspires many of them to foray into the world of underground entrepreneurship.

California school officials have discovered -- surprise! -- that banning "junk food" creates economic opportunities for kids willing to take a few risks in smuggling and peddling contraband. The lesson comes courtesy of the drive to promote healthy eating, or else, among the nation's pudgy youth. Golden State officials have cracked down on unapproved foodstuffs and put their official weight behind healthier -- but less popular -- alternatives.
"It's created a little underground economy, with businessmen selling everything from a pack of skittles to an energy drink," said Jim Nason, principal at Hook Junior High School in Victorville. This has become a lucrative business, Nason said, and those kids are walking around campus with upwards of $40 in their pockets and disrupting class to make a sale.

The results could have been predicted by an economist or student of history who has paid even cursory attention to repeatedly thwarted efforts by government officials to restrict people's access to goods and services that they want. The situation in California (and in Boulder, Colorado, earlier) not only emulates the reaction to Prohibition and drug bans -- it directly reflects students' response to junk food bans elsewhere. Says the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph:
The situation echoes that in the UK where a similar drive to promote healthy eating sparked a playground black market in junk food with pupils trading snacks and fizzy drinks and the most organised staging lunchtime runs to local shops and McDonald's to fill junk food orders.

British officials shocked by widespread resistance to their efforts are considering barring students from leaving campus at lunch, and even preventing fast-food restaurants from opening near campuses -- schemes intended to further restrict the flow of contraband. Considering, though, that flat-out outlawing marijuana and heroin has failed to cut off the supply, it's hard to see how tighter restrictions on legal products can do anything more than slightly raise prices (and profit margins) on goods smuggled through school doors.

Oddly enough, surreptitious peddling of cokes and candy may offer public school students the best economic education they're likely to receive in tax-supported institutions. School officials may barely be able to teach kids to read and write, but they're offering an excellent lesson in the hurdles faced by any effort at prohibition and the inevitability of the underground economy.


'Lung cancer' gene discovered

Nice to see medical researchers debating the pathway of causation -- instead of just assuming that it is obvious

A CLUSTER of genes that influence the risk of developing lung cancer has been found, offering insights that could lead to new treatments and ways of helping people to quit smoking. People who inherit a particular genetic variant are 30 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer than those who do not; in those who inherit two copies of the variant, the risk rises by up to 80 per cent.

However, the link between the disease and a genetic region that holds three nicotine receptor genes has divided the three independent teams that have identified it, which disagree over its relationship with smoking. The largest of the studies, from deCODE Genetics, an Icelandic company, found that the increased risk occurs entirely because the variant makes smokers more likely to become addicted and to smoke more heavily.

A French group, however, found that the raised risk applies to people who have never smoked as well as to smokers, suggesting that the gene may have a biological effect independent of its impact on tobacco use.

The third study, led by Richard Houlston, of the Institute of Cancer Research in Sutton, Surrey, also found an independent effect, though this was studied only in current and former smokers. Further research will be needed to settle the issue.

Whatever the explanation, variations in a region of chromosome 15 appear to be sufficiently important to account for nearly one in five cases of lung cancer, and for one in ten cases of peripheral artery disease (PAD) - a circulatory disorder also linked to smoking. That is because while the variant adds only slightly to individuals' risk, it is very common. About 44 per cent of people of European descent carry one copy and another 11 per cent have two copies. As well as its effect on the risk of lung cancer, each copy raises the risk of PAD by 20 per cent. Even if the variant does affect non-smokers, however, all three studies agreed that its impact will be far outweighed by that of smoking.

Paul Brennan, of the French National Institute of Cancer, said that before genetics are considered, smokers have a lifetime risk of lung cancer of about 15 per cent, compared with 6 per cent for former smokers who quit by middle age, and less than 1 per cent for non-smokers. The risk rises to 23 per cent for smokers with the most vulnerable genetic profile, but hardly falls at all for smokers with the least susceptible genotype, who still have a 14 per cent lifetime risk.

This is still about ten times greater than it is for people who have never smoked, but who have two copies of the variant, according to Dr Brennan's results. "If people don't smoke, the background risk is so low that having one or even two copies really doesn't make a difference," he said.

One of the most interesting aspects of the findings, which are published in the journals Nature and Nature Genetics, is that they show how a disease that clearly has a strong environmental component can also be affected by genetics.

In a commentary for Nature, Stephen Chanock, of the US National Institutes of Health, and David Hunter, of Harvard Medical School, said that the results could have important medical implications. "We may be able to evaluate smoking-cessation treatments informed by knowledge of a person's genetic predisposition to start smoking or to nicotine addiction, and thus add new weapons to the anti-smoking arsenal," they said.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It's created a little underground economy, with businessmen selling everything from a pack of skittles to an energy drink."

I don't know if you have the same effect in Australia, but most public schools in the USA are still in what is called "suburbia", which by the way was a sort of Disney-inspired urban planning, back in the day, thus the national highway system. Quite utopian, actually.

But though I have lived my adult life in NYC, the confession I make is that -=DrNikFromNYC=- was really born in the "Little Apple" (get it,"MinneAPPoLis"?). The exact reason I reject my real origin due to the boredom of SUBURBIA.

Juvenile delinquency wasn't the norm because of any other reason than that there, literally, was NOTHING ELSE TO FUCKING DO!!! So I made a master key to the school. So we stole gas by sucking it out of other cars, then spitting out our mouthful of gasoline once the syphon started. Car stereos were just sport. We stole chainsaws and shotguns from open garages. For what? To throw them away, eventually. What do you DO with a chainsaw and a shotgun? I tried to attach a chainsaw to my skateboard, but not having a grinder, the teeth of the chainsaw merely dug into the tarmac of our perfectly tarred streets, and the thing went in circles, or lost traction completely.

Our favorite sport was using high quality "long bows" to shoot arrows straight up, so see how close we could get to them landing back to us. They often ended up across the street, stuck in our neighbor's roof.

So, after gunpowder pipe bombs got boring, even though they echoed for almost a full minute (!) despite the lack of mountains, we turned to drugs. Pot was too wimply. Boring. We wanted LSD but didn't have any. Beer was MUCH too hard to get. So we set out to make psychedelic "club drugs" but didn't know what we were doing, no thanks to our poor state high school science classes that made us feel stupid in college classes full of Asians and Eastern Europeans.

So, "across the highway", in the industrially zoned area around our little slice of suburbia, we robbed a full train box car full of "Pop Tarts" and we didn't even think of selling them, but they had a long shelf life, rapped three to a box in foil bags, so we gave them out to anybody, just to be popular. They were cherry flavored.

How times have changed. From days immemorial, kids acting up in non-violent rebellion, during the late stage of grade school, is now merely treated as CRIME, with high seriousness.