Questions of Kagan, the WHO, and Your Right to Eat Pizza

Kagan Court

The blogs are abuzz with ridiculous discussions of Ms Kagan’s sexuality. For example, Andrew Sullivan is his normal self. Even conservatives are taking great pains to say that it doesn’t matter.

But I don’t know what the question is. Yesterday, I heard on WOR radio that “Elena Kagan is the second straight New York Woman to be nominated to the Supreme Court.”

So what’s the controversy?

Pollution Causes 40 Percent Of Deaths Worldwide, Study Finds

Reader James Erlandson sent in this juicy item: the World Health Organization says that “an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation.”

The paper says that the “the prevalence of human diseases during the past decade is rapidly increasing”, and that this increase has been caused by “the pollution of water, air, and soil.”

The study’s author, David Pimentel, also said that a lot of people in the world go hungry and that empty stomaches contributes to disease susceptibility. But malnutrition is not pollution. However, Pimentel argues, pollution causes a decrease in the food supply.

That’s surely true, but Pimentel makes a fundamental statistical mistake of attributing the observed rate of increase in diseases like diarrhea and tuberculosis to actual increasing numbers of humans infected with those diseases. Say what?

The problem is that these diseases are increasingly diagnosed, and available to be diagnosed, and are diagnosed more accurately.

For example, if you have a place, unfortunately like many in Africa, where until recently people dropped dead from who-knows-what, and then you introduce technology that shows that that “who-knows-what” was actually diarrhea, then you will see in the official statistics an enormous spike in the diarrhea rate. But the rate of actual diarrhea infections has not increased.

In short: an increase in the diagnosis rate does not directly translate into an increase in the disease.

Anyway, to get “40% of deaths from pollution” stresses the math beyond endurance. Since most of us in the States, Europe, Australia, Japan, urban China and India, and other modern nations are not dying from “environmental degradation”, and we contribute our fair share of dead bodies, to reach that “40% of all deaths” figure requires that nearly every death in non-modern nations be directly attributable to pollution. Which is silly.

Tax Noxious Textbooks

Professor Barry Popkin doesn’t like the idea that you might overindulge in foods he wouldn’t himself eat. To stop your potentially offending him by noshing a piece of pizza in his face, Popkin would tax his hated foodstuffs.

Popkin, and many other cultural elitists, care about you. They care deeply. So deeply that they have appointed themselves your medical guardians. Because why? Because, they have decided, you aren’t intelligent enough to decide for yourself what to eat!

To these ever-anxious folk, health is the most important thing there is. So I find that, once more, we have to remind ourselves, and Popkin, of the wisdom of Mark Twain:

There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.

Another professor, Don Boudreaux, has a solution to limit the spread of Popkin-like earnestness. It is the most ingenious idea we’ve seen in many years:

I propose that all articles and books advocating that government intrude into people’s private choices be taxed at very high rates. Socially irresponsible producers of such “junk” scholarship churn out far too much of it. As a result, unsuspecting Americans consume harmfully large quantities of this scholarship – scholarship made appealing only because its producers cram it with sweet and superficially gratifying expressions of noble goals. These empty intellectual ‘calories’ trick our brains – which evolved in an environment that lacked today’s superabundant access to junk scholarship – into craving larger and larger, even super-sized, portions of such junk.

San Francisco Isn’t New York

Speaking of pizza. While in SF recently, I went into a pizzeria called “Escape from New York”, which boasted that it was a genuine New York-style pizzeria. This was not so. For I said to the lady, “I’ll have a slice, please.” And she replied, “A slice of what?”


  1. Bernie

    Tax the noxious textbooks? This does not go nearly far enough. We should have a tax on all those who engage in public policy advocacy. We should follow the great State of New Hampshire and pay all our representatives (Federal, State and local) a stipend of $100 per year. In addition, given the money grubbing track record of many of our august politicians, we should tax them (and their immediate family members) at double the highest marginal tax rate on any increase in their net worth above the average increase in net worth for the area they represent while they are in office and 5 years beyond that. Of course, there would be no pensions for public service except for Social Security.

  2. Ken

    RE: deaths … could it possibly be that there’s more deaths — in addtion to more accurate reporting, as discussed — due to more people surviving beyond infancy due to various interventions? After all, with more people breeding more people must die.

    RE: Escape From New York Pizza … maybe Briggs needed to ask more precisely for what type slice of the many slices of various items (including pie) offered to get a more responsive response. On the other hand, that place doesn’t get very good reviews overall:

    RE: Popkin & coercive inducements to healthy choices … after reading the article his objectives aren’t so bad as reduced obesity reduces other social costs. But rather than coerce people into good behavior, or impose what amounts to a “sin tax” on those that persist anyway, why not regulate food producers by denying them from introducing artificial substances into so many foods to create enticing smells, flavors, etc. where they really don’t exist? Its not that I’m advocating either approach, or any for that matter, its that so many foods are so, literally, unnatural due to chemical adjustments that it seems particularly hypocritical of the “do-gooder” ilk of which Popkin is a member to totally ignore the overt chemical manipulation of foods to entice attraction.

    But then, maybe those “do-gooders” really don’t care about overall health as their real objective is to assume the ability to intervene among & take control over others — power & control is their real objective & noble sentiments/assertions are the camouflage they employ to further their nefarious objectives. They are little more than sophisticated bullies driven by neurotic insecurities that make them feel threatened by anyone that can both think for themself, and, confront & cope with the unpleasant realities that go with life.

    Again, all discussed in detail in the book, “The Liberal Mind…” by Dr. Lyle Rossiter; available at:

  3. Dennis

    In another life one of my jobs was to oversee maintenance of a compound housing over 100 employees. Part of that oversight involved testing the water once a month. this was done by collecting samples from various living quarters and submitting them to the local county sanitarian. All went well and we typically had results well within OSHA standards and all was right with the world. Then, all of a sudden, the samples began to come back with sharply elevated coliform counts which caused a panic among the residents (even though the results were still well within OSHA guidelines). All sorts of remedies, each more expensive than the last, were demanded. I called the sanitarian and he recommended we not worry about it. It seems that he had begun using a new laboratory and their equipment was much more sensitive than the previous lab’s. A call to that lab confirmed that fact and that there was likely no change at all in our water quality.

    Of course the person in overall charge of our operation began buying bottled water for everyone and set about trying to find funding for a water purification unit for our small site at a large increment to our operating budget.

    Need I say that this was a government operation?

  4. Pat Moffitt

    Malnutrition has increased from 20% in 1950 to 76% today? This is a paper I have to get. 1950 saw not malnutrition but starvation (maybe starvation doesn’t count) through much of Asia. China’s Great Leap forward in the 50’s starved 20 to 50 million people. Malnutrition was rampant in India and Pakistan’s until the advent of Norman Borlaug’s new wheat varieties in the 60s.

    And how does pollution cause new breeding grounds for mosquitoes? The author claims that 1 million die worldwide from mosquito borne diseases and would have us believe this is an increasing number. In 1793 Yellow Fever killed 5000 of Philadelphia’s population of 45,000 In 1933 some 30% of Al Gore’s home state had malaria which was endemic throughout the US until 1950.

    Who pays for this “research”?

  5. Doug M

    I would suggest the polution has been the leading cause of death since at least the dawn of civilization. Particularly, polution in the form of our own exrament.

  6. Speed

    Re: Counting the dead.

    A 2004 WHO report says that the top ten (about 50%) of human deaths worldwide were caused by …
    Coronary Heart Disease
    Stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases
    Lower respiratory infections
    Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    Diarrhoeal diseases
    Trachea, bronchus, lung cancers
    Road traffic accidents
    Prematurity and and low birth weight

    Causes vary markedly by “broad income group.” There is no mention of “pollution” although like tobacco and hunger it could be a contributing factor. Collecting and analyzing population health statistics may be one of the most challenging, interesting and valuable services that a competent statistician can undertake. And one of the most damaging for an incompetent one.

    Anyone interested in big-picture health projects should look at the Gates Foundation Living Proof Project — all lives have equal value.

  7. Ken

    Here’s an interesting summary by a U of Mich. prof that analyzed gravestones & related data in Illinois for the period covering about 1840-early 1900s:

    Mortality among 5yrs & less was almost 25 percent; about half to 45% of those 10 or less died. A sizeable number died the day they were born or in their first year.

    The author cites increased survival rates on a variety of improvements such as better food, shelter, sanitation, government programs (e.g. innoculations), etc.

    Reviewing the data shows just how harsh & deadly life was in the “good ole’ days” when pollution & other evils of mankind were essentially nonexistant.

  8. Speed


    It is infant mortality and early death that has the greatest influence on an oft quoted statistic — a nation’s life expectancy at birth — not heroic measures that may give us a few more months at the high end.

  9. Mikey

    Ah. Ordering food in NYC. Upon moving there after a life spent entirely in the SW I entered a deli to order a sandwich. As I was looking for the menu of pre-selected sandwiches from which to choose, the guy yells “Next!” and it was my turn. I said, “Uh…” and about a half second later he yelled “Next!” After the line disappeared, he was happy to school me on ordering just the sandwich I wanted from the list of ingredients. Now I found the prepackaged menu’s in non-NYC deli’s to be quite annoying.

    Ken, to order a slice in New York, as Briggs was pointing out, is to order a particular item that needs no further explanation.

    I do miss New York.

  10. Briggs


    Baconeggonarollnocheese. My favorite breakfast.


    Nobody liked the Kagan joke?

  11. Demesure

    “an estimated 40% of world deaths are due to environmental degradation.”
    I crave to know what % the scam scientist has found for world deaths **before** “environmental degradation” took place, when life expectancy was around 40 years.
    Knowing such junk science has been funded by world taxpayers is sickening.
    Now, I suspect 100% of world deaths are due to life, may I get some finance to carry further research ?

  12. j ferguson

    On water quality: Some years back, friend went to Katmandu on a UN mission in connection with hepatitis research. They brought a still with them. When they got there, they bought a case each of the various brands of bottled water. None met even the most basic standard. They were better than drinking water out of the tap, but not much.

    One brand likely was water out of the tap – assay was quite close.

    The still was kept busy for the duration of the mission.

  13. j ferguson

    Environmental degradation? Grandfather who lived from 1885-1973 believed best invention in his lifetime was automobile. It got rid of the horses and thence, their byproducts. He said that in Minneapolis when he was a kid the stuff got up to the level of the curbs and you had to wade through it to cross the street.

    He was one of four siblings who made it to 21 out of eleven births. Typhoid and cholera got the others.

    When was this golden era of the environment that has now become so degraded?

  14. Doug M

    The New York pizza in San Francisco isn’t very good. We are caught up in this local food movement. When the pizza recipe has to travel 3000 miles, it looses something. California pizza isn’t so bad, but it is likely to have arugula or similar ingredients which offend the New Yorkers.

  15. Speed

    Re: Kagan joke

    I liked the Kagan joke. Clever. Subtle. Requires some knowledge of current events. Before yesterday I wouldn’t have gotten it.

  16. Doug M says:

    I would suggest the polution [sic] has been the leading cause of death since at least the dawn of civilization. Particularly, polution [sic] in the form of our own exrament [sic].

    I’m having an Andy Rooney moment here, Doug M. Why is it OK to fertilize our food crops with cow manure but not human manure?

  17. Rod

    I liked the Kagan joke. I’m guessing that the first straight woman was nominated straight after the previous straight man.

  18. j ferguson

    Is it two women straight? or two women, straight?

  19. Rod

    Maybe one of the straight women is actually the straight man of a double act.

  20. gcb

    I thought the Kagan joke was funny, although I was unaware of any potential controversy there until you mentioned it, so it took me a minute to get the required background. I’m more perplexed by the idea that an individual can be appointed to SCOTUS without ever having actually worked as a judge.

  21. Doug M


    A Supreme Court justice doesn’t even need a law degree.

    Too much judicial experience is a negative, as controversial decisions will be used against the nominee.

  22. john

    “I’m having an Andy Rooney moment here, Doug M. Why is it OK to fertilize our food crops with cow manure but not human manure?”

    Because Human Manure potentially harbors the eggs of human infectious parasites, or other human pathogens.

    For example – cisticercosis. If you eat pig flesh with Taenia larva, they will grow into tapeworms in your GI tract, but it’s not a huge problem.
    If however, you manage to ingest the eggs from the tapeworm that come out in your manure, the larva will hatch from the eggs, bore into your muscle or central nervous system and really mess you up.

  23. john

    gcb – here is a list of all 40 Supreme Court Justices without prior judicial experience before becoming justices

    Name of Justice Prior Occupations Years On Court Appointed By President:
    1. William Rehnquist Asst. U.S. Attorney General 1972-2005 Nixon (Assoc., 1972),
    Reagan (Chief, 1986)
    2. Lewis Powell President of the American Bar Ass’n,
    Private Practice 1972-1987 Nixon
    3. Abe Fortas Private Practice 1965-1969 Johnson
    4. Byron White Deputy U.S. Attorney General 1962-1993 Kennedy
    5. Arthur Goldberg U.S. Secretary of Labor 1962-1965 Kennedy
    6. Earl Warren Governor of California 1953-1969 Eisenhower
    7. Tom Clark U.S. Attorney General 1949-1967 Truman
    8. Harold Burton U.S. Senator 1945-1958 Truman
    9. Robert Jackson U.S. Attorney General 1941-1954 F. Roosevelt
    10. James Francis Byrnes U.S. Senator 1941-1942 F. Roosevelt
    11. William O. Douglas Chairman of the S.E.C. 1939-1975 F. Roosevelt
    12. Felix Frankfurter Asst. U.S. Attorney, Asst. Secretary of War,
    Prof. of Law at Harvard 1939-1962 F. Roosevelt
    13. Stanley Forman Reed U.S. Solicitor General 1938-1957 F. Roosevelt
    14. Owen Josephus Roberts Special Counsel in “Teapot Dome” investigation and trials 1930-1945 Hoover
    15. Harlan Fiske Stone U.S. Attorney General 1925-1946 Coolidge (Assoc., 1925),
    F. Roosevelt (Chief, 1941)
    16. Pierce Butler County Attorney, Private Practice 1923-1939 Harding
    17. George Sutherland U.S. Senator 1922-1938 Harding
    18. Louis Brandeis Private Practice 1916-1939 Wilson
    19. James Clark McReynolds U.S. Attorney General 1914-1941 Wilson
    20. Charles Evans Hughes Governor of New York,
    U.S. Secretary of State 1910-1916,
    1930-1941 Taft (Assoc., 1910),
    Hoover (Chief, 1930)
    21. William Henry Moody U.S. Attorney General 1906-1910 T. Roosevelt
    22. George Shiras, Jr Private Practice 1892-1903 Harrison
    23. Melville Fuller Private Practice 1888-1910 Cleveland
    24. Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar U.S. Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Senator 1888-1893 Cleveland
    25. Joseph Philo Bradley Private Practice 1870-1892 Grant
    26. Salmon P. Chase U.S. Treasury Secretary 1864-1873 Lincoln
    27. Samuel Freeman Miller Private Practice 1862-1890 Lincoln
    28. Noah Haynes Swayne U.S. Attorney for Ohio, Ohio Legislator 1862-1881 Lincoln
    29. Nathan Clifford Maine & U.S. Attorney General 1858-1881 Buchanan
    30. John Archibald Campbell Alabama Legislator 1853-1861 Pierce
    31. Benjamin Robbins Curtis Massachusetts Legislator 1851-1857 Fillmore
    32. John McKinley U.S. Senator 1838-1852 Van Buren
    33. Roger Brooke Taney Maryland & U.S. Attorney General,
    U.S. Treasury Secretary 1836-1864 Jackson
    34. Henry Baldwin U.S. Congressman 1830-1844 Jackson
    35. Joseph Story Speaker of Mass. House of Reps., U.S. Congressman 1812-1845 Madison
    36. John Marshall U.S. Secretary of State 1801-1835 Adams
    37. Bushrod Washington Virginia House of Delegates,
    Reporter for Virginia Court of Appeals 1799-1829 Adams
    38. William Paterson Governor of New Jersey 1793-1806 Washington
    39. John Jay President of the Continental Congress,
    U.S. Secretary of Foreign Affairs 1789-1795 Washington
    40. John Rutledge Governor of South Carolina 1789-1791, 1795 Washington

  24. john

    While the 40% deaths due to environmental degradation may or may not be supported by the facts or statistics presented, you can’t just say

    “Since most of us in the States, Europe, Australia, Japan, urban China and India, and other modern nations are not dying from “environmental degradation”

    without backing it up, or your argument is less credible than the one you are discrediting.

  25. John Galt


    You’re right on about the diagnosis thing. Have you heard all the debate about the increase in autism? It turns out that they’ve broadened the diagnosis, which caused the precived increase.

  26. Briggs

    John Galt,

    Yep. It’s not just that, but when some people hear about the disease, they rush out to have it checked. Many of these folks would not otherwise have been diagnosed.

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