Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children

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9780767924320: Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children
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When did we lose our right to be lazy, unhealthy, and politically incorrect?

Move over Big Brother! An insidious new group has inserted itself into American politics. They are the nannies—not the stroller-pushing set but an invasive band of do-gooders who are subtly and steadily stripping us of our liberties, robbing us of the inalienable right to make our own decisions, and turning America into a nation of children.
 
As you read this, countless busybodies across the nation are rolling up their sleeves to do the work of straightening out your life. Certain Massachusetts towns have banned school-yard tag. San Francisco has passed laws regulating the amount of water you should use in dog bowls. The mayor of New York City has french fries and doughnuts in his sights. In some parts of California, smoking is prohibited . . . outside.

The government, under pressure from the nanny minority, is twisting the public’s arm into obedience. Playground police, food fascists, anti-porn crusaders —whether they're legislating morality or wellbeing—nannies are popping up all over America. In the name of health, safety, decency, and—shudder—good intentions, these ever-vigilant politicians and social activists are dictating what we eat, where we smoke, what we watch and read, and whom we marry.

Why do bureaucrats think they know what's better for us than we do? And are they selectively legislating in the name of political expediency? For instance, why do we ban mini-motorbikes, responsible for five deaths each year, and not skiing, which accounts for fifty deaths each year? Why is medical marijuana, a substance yet to claim a single life, banned and not aspirin, which accounts for about 7,600 deaths?

Exhaustively researched, sharply observed, and refreshingly lucid, Nanny Sate looks at the myriad ways we are turning the United States into a soulless and staid nation—eroding not only our personal freedoms but our national character.

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About the Author:

David Harsanyi is a staff columnist at the Denver Post. In addition to a twice-weekly column, his writings on politics and culture have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, National Review, the Christian Science Monitor, and other publications. He has appeared on Fox News (The O'Reilly Factor, The Big Story), PBS, NPR, and dozens of radio talk shows across the country. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE
TWINKIE FASCISTS


The proverb warns that “you should not bite the hand that feeds you.” But maybe you should. If it prevents you from feeding yourself. —Thomas Szasz

Never trust a dog to watch your food. —Unknown
GUARDIANS OF YOUR GULLET

The fashionable eastside neighborhood of Oakhurst in Decatur, Georgia, is the last place you would imagine that an establishment like Mulligan’s could survive. The area, once teeming with drug dealers and home to some of the highest crime rates in the area, has undergone an astonishing gentrification the past few years. Today, Oakhurst is home to countless upwardly mobile couples inhabiting refurbished Craftsman bungalows with luxurious baby joggers sitting unattended on front lawns.

Mulligan’s, located at the end of a nondescript parking lot, is a restaurant, sports bar—and counterrevolutionary enterprise. Here, I imagine, patrons would be capable of coalescing into an armed insurgency should some squeamish busybody suggest mandating smaller food portions. Mulligan’s is perhaps best known for its glorious Luther Burger—purportedly named after a favorite midnight nibble of the late R&B crooner Luther Vandross. The Luther Burger is your standard bacon cheeseburger with a Krispy Kreme doughnut substituting for the traditional bun.

What’s not to like?

But there’s more. A lot more. Mulligan’s ratchets up the fun quotient by serving a nutritionist's nightmare known as the Hamdog. This treat begins as a hot dog, sure, but then that sucker is wrapped in a beef patty, which is then, for good measure, deep fried and covered with cheese, chili, onions, a fried egg, and a heaping portion of fries. If you want a side of deep–fried Twinkies and a large soda, go for it.

Mulligan’s fame—or perhaps you could call it infamy—has spread far beyond the confines of this neighborhood. During a Tonight Show monologue, Jay Leno described the particulars of the notorious Luther Burger, eliciting big laughs. The Krispy Kreme corporation has joined the fun, teaming up with an Illinois minor league team called the Gateway Grizzlies to create “Baseball’s Best Burger,” a thousand–calorie cheeseburger sandwiched between a sliced glazed doughnut.

* * *

Why am I hanging out here? To make a point. A free citizen exercising my right to eat the most sinfully unwholesome foods I could find in this great nation. Because, you know, not everyone finds the Hamdog as entertaining or as tempting as I do. Which is their prerogative, of course. But there are growing numbers of officious activists who would like to deny me the self-determination and pleasure of eating a Hamdog or Luther Burger.

This group of finger-wagging activists advocate enhanced government control over choice. Many folks call this particular breed of militant nanny the food police. Legendary radio personality Paul Harvey once referred to them as “the guardians of your gullet.” I like to call them Twinkie Fascists—among other less polite monikers. And though this movement is still in its infancy, the Twinkie Fascists are gaining momentum and influence at a startling pace.

As with all realms of nannyism, this attack on freedom and choice is fueled by good intentions. Nannies will do whatever they can to stop us from eating via city, state, or federal regulations. They’ll use litigation to limit our choices and engage in government–sponsored scaremongering, penalizing food manufacturers, restaurants, or consumers with specialized taxes.

With that in mind, I decide to go all out. I order a Hamdog. It’s perfect. Huge. Greasy. Impudently harmful to my health. Nicholas Lang, a professor of surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, once told the Associated Press if “you choke that [Hamdog] down, you might as well find a heart surgeon because you are going to need one.” But what does he know? Nannies are always so melodramatic. And sure enough, after that first bite my heart doesn’t explode.

Yet the truth is that despite the scrumptiousness of the Hamdog, I could only finish half. As a human being, it seems that I possess a certain level of self-control. I gather that if I, a dreadfully weak and easily seduced man, can control myself, most Americans can do even better. Most can still find pleasure in eating and reward in self-control. Two concepts that nannies, it seems, can't wrap their minds around.
PLUMP FICTION

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offices are, as luck would have it, only a short drive from Mulligan’s. The offices are more like a compound. This place is busy. When the CDC began as a single-floor operation more than forty years ago, it was responsible for investigating malaria and related maladies, but these days the organization deals with virtually all facets of public health, from preventing and controlling infectious and chronic diseases, to workplace hazards, to disabilities and other environmental health threats.

The CDC has a new agenda: the peculiar job not only of discouraging folks from engaging in avoidable habits but of becoming part of a propaganda war that shocks Americans. That’s what happened when the CDC held a well–publicized news conference in March of 2004 to announce a new troubling study that alleged overeating was responsible for an extraordinary death toll: 400,000 Americans in 2000—a 33 percent jump from 1990. According to the report obesity was well on its way to surpassing smoking as the nation's top preventable cause of death. “Our worst fears were confirmed,” claimed Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC’s director and an author of the study.

The significance of the study was bolstered by the presence of then-secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. “Americans need to understand,” he grimly noted, “that overweight [sic] and obesity are literally killing us.” As a matter of fact, the federal government promised to lend a helping hand to stop the madness to the tune of $400 million in research.

Imagine what sort of good that $400 million might have done in research on, say, cancer. Instead, the CDC had taken the first step toward creating an environment where intrusive public policy thrives. They vowed to revise food labels and to launch a public-awareness and education campaign to stop the mess—but that was only the beginning. Food was “literally” killing us by the hundreds of thousands each year, which called for more action.

To help perpetuate an atmosphere of panic, doom-and-gloom headlines blared across newspapers nationwide. (Leave it to the histrionic New York tabloids to excel at jolting the public: “Digging Graves with Our Teeth: Obesity Rivals Smoking as Killer” read the New York Daily News, and “Dying to Eat—Weight Woe Nears Cigs as Top Killer” countered the New York Post.) Journalists detailed the catastrophe french fry by french fry. The report sparked hundreds of opinion pieces that examined various ways the government—federal, state, and city—could step in and rescue us from this eruption of fat.

The problem was that the report wasn’t exactly true. And although Americans hear distraught commentary from pundits, nutritionists, and nannies, there were many scientists and statisticians who were more skeptical about the CDC’s extraordinary claims. Soon enough, these intellectually honest men and women began jabbing holes in the report.

The first salvo came in May 2004, in the pages of Science magazine. The investigative piece claimed that some researchers, including a few at the CDC itself, dismissed the report’s prediction, maintaining that the underlying data of the report were quite unconvincing. One detractor within the CDC characterized the core data in the report as “loosey-goosey.” Critics largely objected to the addition to the obesity category of deaths attributed to poor nutrition. It was a stat that, considering the vagaries of life, was impossible to quantify.

Even within the walls of the CDC, a source told Science, internal discussions could get contentious. Several epidemiologists at the CDC and the National Institutes of Health also had concerns about the numbers, yet before the publication of the report, some within the agency felt that the conclusions weren't debatable because of organizational pressure. One apprehensive CDC staff member went as far as to allege that he wouldn't speak out truthfully for fear of losing his job—not exactly the dynamic and transparent environment that scientific discovery thrives in. But then again, sometimes getting the right answer trumps discerning the prickly truth.

The second blow came, and it was even more damning. The Wall Street Journal published a front–page story in November of 2004, running a litany of errors that swamped the dramatic death number. The paper noted that the study had “inflated the impact of obesity on the annual death toll by tens of thousands due to statistical errors.” In a follow-up story, the Journal reported that due to additional troubles with methodology the actual number of obesity–related deaths might be less than half of the 400,000 originally estimated in the CDC study.

But that didn't stop many nannies from brandishing the dubious numbers until the CDC was finally forced to disclose their gross miscalculation. With a different team of CDC scientists and more recent data, they revised their numbers to 112,000 deaths a year. In April 2005, The Journal of the American Medical Association put the CDC out of its misery, publishing its own study on the impact of obesity, which revealed a radically revised estimation. It concluded that obesity actually was responsible for around 25,000 ...

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