Thursday, March 09, 2006


My life as a rock star

I am frequently asked by readers:
"Can you give us just a small glimpse into the rock-star-like life of Oscar Madison, famous law professor? What's an example of when you, like, recently nailed it to the wall and, like, really threw down?"
As it happens, just last week, I had just such an opportunity, having been invited by the social studies class of a local high school to speak on the question, "Should fast food restaurants be held responsible for their customers' health?"

The savvy high schoolers set this up as a debate, in which I was pitted against a lobbyist for the state Restaurant Association.

What exactly are my qualifications to debate a restaurant industry lobbyist on this question? Well, (1) I eat food, (2) I know some stuff about law and (3) I saw "Super-Size Me."

I have to say that the students were pretty smart, the lobbyist was pretty slick, and basically I think I may have debated him to a draw. My main theme was that the "personal responsbility" argument relied on by the restaurant lobby guy is a story that leaves a lot of people out.

"There's more than just McDonalds and the fat guy who eats four Big Macs at a time in this story," I said. "You're in the story too, and so am I." I tried to tell them that the health costs of people getting obese and developing ailments like diabetes from eating junk food are borne by society, that those costs are not included in the price of the hamburger, that we pay those costs in the form of private health insurance premiums and taxes to pay for social welfare programs, and that it's kind of like if I were to take up a collection to make a donation to McDonald's to help them pay for their beef cattle.

I don't know if my message got through. I think I may have lost them somewhat when I actually tried to explain the concept of "risk pooling."

And then, of course, the lobbyist stooped to making the ad hominem attacks on lawyers -- as if the only way to hold fast food restaurants responsible is through lawsuits that are nothing but a windfall for trial lawyers and their obese clients.

How do you make a case for trial lawyers to a bunch of 16 year olds? Foolishly, I didn't come to the debate prepared to respond to lawyer bashing.

Here's what I said. I asked the students to think about the first wave of pioneers who blazed a trail through the wilderness. And to think about the first frontier towns, with their muddy streets and their gun-toting inhabitants. These frontier types were probably pretty rough and tumble. And then I said, think about how what we think of as "civilization" -- cities and towns with laws and pavement and sanitation -- follow, and really depend on, the trailblazers.

Then I said: sometimes trial lawyers are like that. We're in a legal wilderness right now, because Mr. Lobbyist Guy over there has been so successful in blocking any laws that would regulate fast food companies. Trial lawyers may be rough and tumble, and you may not want to invite them to dinner, but sometimes we need them to blaze a trail through that legal wilderness.

I don't know whether I was persuasive, but I certainly felt like I'd earned a stop at the donut shop, which was right on my way home. And because I was coming from a public speaking gig, I was wearing a coat and tie and, coincidentally, that sharp-looking top coat. Before I realized it, there I was, face to face with the young donut gal. Didn't get "that look" this time.

You probably get "that look" and just don't realize it. I just don't think females are as obvious with their "looks" as guys are. Unless this is some other "look" that I don't know about yet. Maybe when I'm older.

But what do I know? I just ate half a pound of camembert.
Yeah, I second M.T.

I didn't eat camembert, though. I don't even know what that is.

Did I miss this week's WV winners?

jtfsfs--This is a good one. I can tell. I'm putting it in the ante, and raise you a "dfsilst".
Ever since the last winter olympics, as in 4 years ago, I have been in love with a cell phone commercial that showed an olympian warming up while listening to their e-mail being read to them by their phone. In a very robotic voice it said "i can't believe you made the olympics man. you are a rock star."

Ever since I saw that commercial, I have loved it. And now at least one person I know always call me a rock star.

This makes me feel like we have a bond. Welcome to the rock star club.

tubrb - (too-burb') How I just felt when I was told that I typed the last verification in wrong.
Hi Oscar,

The trail that the trial lawyers are blazing is called, "The Road to Serfdom".

So, your risk pooling argument is basically an attempt to make the fast food industry pay for the externalities that they some contribution on. Why stop at the restaurants? Why not a general tax on the public at large to pay for the large public?

I think you pulled a fast one when you started talking about how the price of hamburgers don't include all the costs borne by society when hamburgers (or other foods) are abused and try to claim that unless the fast food industry is made to pay for all of these cost then they are being subsisdised.

I think this train of tought is playing fast and loose with proper accounting and social princples of who should pay for what. I think it boils down to something more simple "I want them [business with money] to pay for me."

Re-reading your post, it sounds like what you want is a welfare system for people that can't/don't have "personal responsbility", and it should be paid for by the fast food businesses. Side question, who are these people that are "left out" of personal responsbility for their food choices?

If your answer is children, where is the parents, schools and local governments responsbility in this problem.
Want to chip in my two cents here, seeing as I actually work at a fast food restaurant. The vast majority of people we serve are, I would say, of average weight. Everyone who works at the restaurant I work at is relatively thin, even though we receive free food and often eat more than one meal there. However, there is that small percentage of truly obese people out there. I mean, we're talking Jabba the Hutt big. I don't think that fast-food restaurants are responsible for these people, because unless we're willing to make food a controlled substance, these people are going to find the seven thousand calories they ingest daily somewhere. Also, the problem is not caloric intake, it's lack of exercise. My friend Brian eats about four thousand calories a day, but is thin and fit because he works out all the time. I get the strong impression that none of the fat ones like exercise, because they never come in. They go through the drive-through. Let me repeat that: lots of people come in to the restaurant, but the fat ones always come through the drive-through. This is not a food problem. This is an exercise problem. The fat ones would prefer to go through the drive through in their cars than get out, walk twenty feet, and stand for thirty seconds to place their order.
There are a lot of different factors at work here.

People who are Jabba the Hut big don't exercise NOW because they are Jabba the Hut big, and it's too "difficult" for them to exercize. While some small percentage of these people may have actual glandular or metabolic issues, the vast majority of them have issues where discomfort is concerned. It's HARD to restrict your food intake and be hungry all the time.

That's what a diet is - restricting your food intake and being hungry all the time. It takes a lot of willpower to keep at it for months on end; especially when those around you aren't doing the same thing.

It's like being an alcoholic and staying in a bar, watching people drink, yet you can't have a drink yourself.

As far as overweight kids goes, it's a combination of video games, computers, and television (because all of these activities are sedentary) - and the foisting of non-nutritious foods in the schools during the day. Middle and High Schools have soda vending machines nowadays - even 35 years ago, when I was in school, I survived on ice cream sandwiches during the day (because I decided to spend my lunch money on records instead of food).
"Coincidentally"? While you were all spiffed up? You're much too smart to believe that.
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