Processed meat and cancer

I don’t think of myself as a big processed meat eater, but I imagine all those slices of pepperoni pizza add up.  That said, the latest research reporting that processed meat causes (not correlates with, causes) cancer is not about to have me give up my pepperoni pizza. Vox’s Brad Plumer puts it in proper context:

In the United States, a person’s lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer is roughly 5 percent. The IARC says that eating 50 grams of processed meat per day (about one hot dog or two bacon strips) will boost that to around 6 percent, on average. If you chow down even larger helpings of processed meat, then your risk goes up even more. But that should provide some sense of scale here…

So keep this all in mind whenever you hear that the WHO has classified some new substance as “carcinogenic” or “probably carcinogenic.” It’s one thing to establish causality. It’s another thing entirely to tell us what the risks actually look like.

And Drum’s take:

In other words, the WHO took care to explicitly say that processed meat didn’t rank alongside smoking when it comes to cancer risk.

Colorectal cancer is fairly common as cancers go, but it still affects only about 4.5 percent of the population. What’s more, an increase of “18 percent” does not mean your cancer risk skyrockets from 4.5 percent to 22.5 percent. It means that if you eat a few ounces of processed meat—bacon, bratwurst, ballpark franks, spam1every day, your lifetime risk of getting colorectal cancer goes up from 4.5 percent to 5.3 percent.

That’s not nothing. You’re probably better off taking it easy on the spam. Nevertheless, not everything in the category “causes cancer” is created equal. If you’re really worried about cancer, cut out the smoking, the drinking, the overeating, and the city living. Once you’ve done that, then it’s time to decide if you also want to skip the bacon.

So, yeah, you may not want to eat bacon every day, but the occasional amount– as I assume most people consume– certainly doesn’t seem worth worrying about.  And even the every day there’s probably a lot of other things to worry about more.

Money and politics

Nice post from Megan McArdle on what money in politics can and cannot buy:

Where are all those shadowy billionaires we were warned out? The ones subverting American democracy with their ill-gotten lucre? The lucre is being spent, in vast amounts. But $200 million in PAC funds is no match for a billionaire openly campaigning to get a hold on the levers of political power, and a neurosurgeon on book tour. No wonder Larry Lessig’s single-issue campaign to get money out of politics isn’t going anywhere.

How are Trump and Carson doing it? It’s that free media. While campaign ads may work (campaigns are certainly convinced that they do), they’re no match for getting your face on the nightly newscast. People tune out advertising, even when they haven’t gotten up to get a snack or go to the bathroom. It’s much better to have your candidate talked about on the program itself. And boy, we’ve certainly been talking about Donald Trump…

This doesn’t quite mean that money doesn’t matter. It tells us that money is at best an amplifier. It cannot make a terrible candidate into a winner, and it cannot overcome broad and strong democratic preferences. [emphasis mine] And frankly, I don’t find that surprising, because it’s consistent with what I know about lobbying. Ask a lobbyist, and you’re apt to hear that money can get you in the door of a lawmaker’s office but is not getting you out with much unless you can also explain to this politician how your proposal is going to a) make people better off and therefore b) encourage more people to vote for that politician. In Washington, the ultimate currency remains votes, not cash…

Meanwhile, we should also count the cost of some of those campaign reforms: They’ve helped sideline the political parties’ establishment leadership, and helped create the current partisan gridlock that so many people lament. People keep asking why John Boehner can’t control his caucus, even though the answer is obvious: He has neither carrots nor sticks with which to keep them in line. He can’t use earmarks to give anything, and he can’t take anything away, because parties no longer control either ballot access or fundraising the way they once did. What’s left? Jawboning them about the good of the party, which he has tried, endlessly, with little success. At this point, both the Democratic and Republican parties look more like heritage brands than the powerful institutions they used to be.

One by one, we’ve stripped away the means that parties used to control their membership: replaced party bosses with primary elections, limited the ability of big donors to directly fund and influence campaigns, cracked down on earmarks and other pork-barrel policies, torn down the congressional institutional structures that used to let a few powerful politicians essentially control what bills made it to a vote. Each step was hailed as a progressive move toward a more flourishing democracy, and perhaps they were. But the more perfect our democracy gets, the more it seems to tend towards chaos. Witness the astonishing longevity of Trump as an electoral force.

So far this election season, the good news seems to be that all that outside, unregulated money isn’t nearly as powerful as people thought. Oddly, that may also be the bad news.

I would not at all conclude from this that unregulated, non-transparent, outside money is somehow a good thing.  Not as horrible as some fear is not the same thing as good for our democracy.  And many political scientists– myself included– would like to see more of the money power actually centralized in the parties.  Among other things, parties are accountable institutions in the way Super Pac’s are not. Anyway, overall some good points on the limits of money in politics.

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