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John Simkin

Changes in Society: The Nanny State

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Several of these threads concern the role the state should play in the lives of its citizens. Critics use the term the “nanny state” to describe this activity.

Last week Margaret Hodge, the children’s minister, made a speech where she made a defence of state intervention. This involved an attack on the opponents of the “nanny state”. It is about time the government did this.

As Hodge says:

For me it’s not a question of whether we should intrude in family life, but how and when… Good nannies don’t just tell you what you can’t do… or must do. They are about ensuring that you can make real and informed choices for yourself…

The right still promotes the absolute privacy of the family. What happens behind closed doors in the intimacy of the family is to them a matter of private concern. But for the left, we want to promote opportunity for all and we want to enable every child to develop their full potential… The state can be a powerful force for good in families and communities and we should celebrate, not denigrate, its role.

If we seek equal opportunity for all, we must logically act to support parenting in the home. Some may call that the nanny state, but I call it a force for good…

Yesterday’s nanny state has become today’s accepted social mores. We all now raise an eyebrow if somebody is drinking when they intend to drive.

Theresa May, the shadow minister for families disagrees.

Mrs Hodge has admitted what many have been saying for years, that the government is intent on interfering and controlling every aspect of our lives. Whether it is telling you what to eat, whether to smoke or drink, if you should place a bet or how to look after your own children, there is a government minister ready to voice their opinion.

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It is also possible to be left wing and opposed to the "nanny state" :blink: .

The thought of well meaning but misguided middle class "Fabians" mothering us all and every aspect of our lives is really quite oppressive.

Tony Blair is a truely dreadful example of the "nanny knows best" mentality of the Labour Party. The problem is that nanny frequently doesn't!

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It is also possible to be left wing and opposed to the "nanny state" :ice .

The thought of well meaning but misguided middle class "Fabians" mothering us all and every aspect of our lives is really quite oppressive.

Tony Blair is a truely dreadful example of the "nanny knows best" mentality of the Labour Party. The problem is that nanny frequently doesn't!

I do not agree that you can be left-wing and be opposed to state intervention. Virtually all of the benefits that the people have obtained over the last 300 years have been obtained via state intervention (universal suffrage, trade union rights, factory legislation, progressive taxation, unemployment benefits, child benefits, state pensions, etc.).

All these measures have been attempts to create a more equal society. Left to its own devices, the capitalist system generates inequality. It is of course this state intervention that has undermined Marx’s theory that capitalism would eventually lead to a socialist revolution.

An important feature of those seeking social reform has been the desire to help protect people from themselves. This dates back to the late 18th century. Robert Owen is a good example of this development. At first he attempted to use his own power to protect his workers from the impact of industrialisation. However, he soon came to the conclusion that he could have very little influence on his own and put his energies into persuading the government to pass legislation to protect the most vulnerable from the capitalist system. Some historians have argued that because of this campaign Owen deserves the title "the father of socialism".

When Owen suggested that the government should pass legislation to prevent very young children from working in factories he was told that this measures would restrict the freedom of the individual. Of course it did. Market forces had persuaded working class families to send their very young children to work in factories. There was no shortage of working class people willing to testify before parliamentary committees that their families would starve without the income brought in by child labour. However, these objections were eventually overcome and parents did lose their freedom to send their very young children to work in factories and mines.

During the last 100 years the state has attempted to protect its citizens from a wide variety of dangers. As Margaret Hodge points out, this has including things like wearing seat-belts in cars. This was of course a very unpopular measure when it was first introduced. So were the restrictions on the amount people could drink when they drove a car. These measures clearly restricted individual freedom. However, they are now accepted as good things because these measures have resulted in saving the lives of thousands of people. It is now clear that people do not always make sensible decisions. Therefore they need to be protected from themselves. Other people also need to be protected from these people who appear to be incapable of making sensible decisions. For example, the victims of drunk drivers.

Tony Blair's government has not used state intervention to create a more equal society. In fact, most of its measures have had the opposite impact (for example, its taxation policies). It has also been reluctant to introduce legislation to protect people from their poor decisions. For example, their decision to smoke.

Although this is often dressed up by this government as an ideological decision (freedom of choice) in reality it is an economic decision. That is to say they receive a great deal of money from the taxes imposed on smokers. There is also another economic factor in this decision. The present Labour Party also receives considerable funding from industries threatened by government legislation. Since attempting to distance itself from the trade union movement, New Labour has become increasingly dependent on this type of funding.

This is why the Labour Government is so reluctant to introduce legislation that would restrict people smoking in public places. The same is true of its unwillingness to regulate the food industry. It constantly urges “self-regulation” although all the evidence suggests that this system does not work.

There have been several reports published recently (interestingly, the government has attempted to suppress these reports) that point out that there are good economic reasons for introducing this legislation. This usually refers to the financial costs of smoking and obesity to the national health service. Privately, the government accepts this argument but is still afraid of upsetting this multinational companies. This situation is made worse by the government by the Conservative Party opposing these reforms. They always use the argument that they are concerned about the freedom of the individual and the increasing power of the “nanny state”. They do not seem to be concerned about the freedom of those non-smokers who are having their health endangered by the maintenance of the status quo. Of course, in reality, they are not concerned with the freedom of the individual but the freedom of multinationals to make maximum profits.

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John paints a picture of a truely inegalitarian vision of 'socialism' - one in which the ignorant and poor are to be guided to a better world by their self appointed "betters".

It is in my view spurious to suggest that this essentially elitist approach has ever resulted in much of worth other than the 'elastoplast' effect I think John is referring to in the following quotation

It is of course this state intervention that has undermined Marx’s theory that capitalism would eventually lead to a socialist revolution.

The central premise behind the Fabian view of the world is that an elite know better than the majority and need therefore to 'lead' the workers to an improved world through the wisdom of the elite's reforms.

More recently, as even elitist statism has become too much to stomach for the labour party, the same attitude has been re emerged but now applied only to working class habits and lifestyle choices. The logic flows that the workers being too stupid to realise that fatty foods, strong drink and tobacco are bad for them should be wrenched away from these habits by interfering legislation introduced by 'those who know best'.

Interesting the view that the working class are incapable of understanding and therefore demanding and organising for real change themselves led to not only the self defeating statism of British and European "social democracy" but also to the despicable and oppressive dictatorships of Lenin and Stalin.

I very much fear this new English-style dictatorship which will apparently outlaw nature's healing cigar and ban the restorative malt in the name of a rather puritanical but still unequal 'better world.'

Most significantly there is much more important work for socialists to be engaged in. The promoting of the real socialist vision of an egalitarian, moneyless, propertyless society of free access to all goods and services produced by freely given labour would be a good place to start. Significantly such a vision implies an absence of elites.

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I agree with Andrew; many of the changes listed by John in his reply were the result of e.g, the working classes taking to the streets or in Germany founding their own socialist party and threatening a revolutionary change of the then still authocratic German state and system.

One of the most important German socialists, Rosa Luxemburg, strongly relied on the action of the proletarian masses to bring about revolution and change and eventually to run their own affairs with the help of workers'/people's councils.

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I do not agree that you can be left-wing and be opposed to state intervention.

But John, doesn't it really depend on what the state's intervening in... Your list:

universal suffrage, trade union rights, factory legislation, progressive taxation, unemployment benefits, child benefits, state pensions, etc

is a bit selective. One could also add child labour legislation, mines safety, public health, etc, etc.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be quite so happy about the state telling me which books I should read, whom I should marry, the clothes I should wear, the political parties I should be able to join, etc, etc.

I think it's a pretty fundamental division between two different views of the left, one of which is fundamentally of the sort of "directive" mentality which believes that the "vanguard of the people", having achieved a greater level of "class consciousness" is obliged to intervene in the lives of the less enlightened. The other view is more in line with the JS Mill liberal view which suggests that protection of individual liberties should lie at the heart of government.

I'm sure both "wings" would accept the sort of intervention you cited, John, but isn't Margaret Hodge suggesting we need to go a bit further than that?

On a purely tactical level, I think you would agree that examples of "nanny statism" like banning conker fights or tree climbing or, indeed, Christmas trees only serves to provide the right with a stick with which to beat progressives...

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We have the same battles here in Canada, ranging from the sublime

The Smokers in New Brunswick who insist that it is their 'right' to smoke in public - well legally it is no longer thank goodness- whilst the non-smokers hve to sit in silence and breathe their effluent. Whether passive smoking causes cancer or not I think any non smoker will agree that having to smell the smoke, have it sting your eyes and stain your clothes is simply unacceptable when you are trying to enjoy a meal in a restaurant. Smoking has not been banned. Smokers can smoke all the cigars they like in the privacy of their own homes. This to me is the 'Nanny State' at its best.

to the ridiculous

We have 'Hot-Rod' gatherings in Moncton once a year and this year these hot rods and a bunch of local 'men' decided to drive their cars at high speeds through the middle of town, performing skids and U-turns and narrowly missing gathered crowds of pedestrians who were cheering them on. According to their representatives they had the 'right'to drive as fast as they wanted and the police should butt out! Certainly the crowd seemed to enjoy the show. However, had one of the onlookers been hurt, hell would have broken loose. Once again, the Nanny State is there to protect excitable young people from themselves.

Canada is an interesting country in that it has strong socialists tendancies coupled with a certain 'hunter gatherer' mentality. I still find it hard to place side by side 'Medicare' and seals being clubbed to death on the ice.

I do think Canada has taken some great steps in the right direction in terms of protecting people from themselves because if the government doesn't step in to say 'cigarettes are bad for you' then all the people have to listen to is the cigarette manufactureres telling them that they are not. Its about redressing the balance. In the past the cigarette manufacturers had the upper hand. Now the Government of New Brunswick does.

In a typical school canteen chips are on the menu EVERY DAY of the the week. They are the cheapest foods on offer along with Pizza and so many children eat them EVERY DAY of the week. These children are then going to grow up thinking that these eating habits are normal and that if they want vitamins and minerals all they need to do is pop pills and this will produce another generation of fat kids. Every day on the TV fast food manufacturers tell you how convenient and cheap their foods are and there is no-one saying that if you eat them everyday it they will kill you. The government HAS to step in at times like there because life long habits are formed in childhood when the child does not have all the information at their disposal and wouldn't know what to do with it if they did.

In terms of banning books etc etc well take a look at the US. A land of so called freedom where text books are taken from school reading lists or censorred under pressure, not from the Nanny State but right wing pressure groups and corporations.

We have to take into account that not everyone is capable of going to univeristy or even attaining 'A' levels and these are the people who believe that advertisments speak the truth. As a kid my grandmother used to sneak feed me Mars Bars because 'they give you energy'.

There are plenty of people in the world who believe that they can drive safely after drinking 10 pints of beer (or indeed drive better), that they don't need to wear a seatbelt, that a baby is safer sitting on their mums lap in the front of a car than restrained in a car seat, that your average joe is perfectly capable of owning a gun, that you can drive as fast as you like as long as you are a 'good driver' that a MacDonalds happy meal is healthy for kids, that the big corporations care about the helath of their workers and the communities they are based in (Bhopal), that smoking is no-ones business but their own, (that Iraq was responsible for 9/11) ....I could go on for ever. The role of the 'Nanny State' if to protect people not only from their own ignorance, but from other peoples ignorance. I can't imagine how awful the Canada would be without that kind of protection.

Sincerely,

Rowena

Edited by Rowena Hopkins

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The role of the 'Nanny State' if to protect people not only from their own ignorance, but from other peoples ignorance. I can't imagine how awful the Canada would be without that kind of protection.

Sincerely,

Rowena

If there is anything more likely to keep people in a state of ignorance it is "Nanny" making all the important decisions for them.

The distinction on the Left between those paternalists who wish to guide the majority along the path to true enlightenment (viz agreement with and obedience to themselves) and those who wish to help create an empowered and conscious majority capable of taking an active part in creating and sustaining a more humane world is much more than a question of emphasis. It is the difference between the anti democractic and democraratic preference.

George Orwell once said something along the lines that the worst advertisement for socialism were the socialists. I think I know which ones he was referring to :blink:

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John paints a picture of a truely inegalitarian vision of 'socialism' - one in which the ignorant and poor are to be guided to a better world by their self appointed "betters".

It is in my view spurious to suggest that this essentially elitist approach has ever resulted in much of worth other than the 'elastoplast' effect I think John is referring to in the following quotation

It is of course this state intervention that has undermined Marx’s theory that capitalism would eventually lead to a socialist revolution.

The central premise behind the Fabian view of the world is that an elite know better than the majority and need therefore to 'lead' the workers to an improved world through the wisdom of the elite's reforms.

More recently, as even elitist statism has become too much to stomach for the labour party, the same attitude has been re emerged but now applied only to working class habits and lifestyle choices. The logic flows that the workers being too stupid to realise that fatty foods, strong drink and tobacco are bad for them should be wrenched away from these habits by interfering legislation introduced by 'those who know best'.

It is true we still have a deeply flawed society. It is also true that reform of our system is managed by a political elite (although it most cases this action comes as a result of pressure from mass organizations). This is true of the most important reform achieved by the masses, universal suffrage. Without that, these other reforms could not have taken place.

As I have already said, the reforms that have taken place have ensured that Marx’s predictions have not come true. Marx’s theories were in themselves elitist. He believed that capitalist control over the mass media, education, etc. meant that the vast majority of the population would suffer from false consciousness. According to Marx, it was only an intellectual elite who could fully understand what was happening. It was therefore the responsibility of this intellectual elite to do what they could to bring about an egalitarian society. In reality, Marx was just as much as an elitist as the Fabians (or George Orwell for that matter).

This does not mean that Marx’s was against state interference. In fact he believed that state interference played an important in the development of political consciousness. For example, he knew that the Chartist demands for universal suffrage would not lead to socialism. However, he did believe that the struggle for these reforms would increase political consciousness. He also thought that the limited nature of the reforms introduced would also help people to understand how the system worked. It also emphasised the contradictions in the system. In fact, it was through these reforms that revolution would be achieved. Of course, this is where he made his big mistake. He had failed to grasp the full impact that reform would have on the masses. The reformed system had a psychological impact on people. On other words, a more sophisticated form of false consciousness was developed. It has been said that the main problem for Marx was that he was writing before Freud and was therefore unable to take account of his insights.

There is a very small group still in existence that still believe in the possibility of a revolution that will lead to a truly communist society. However, history does not help them with these beliefs and therefore they have to rely on a faith that is not unlike that possessed by Christians.

Most people on the left believe that the best way to a more equal society is through the parliamentary system. This involves pressurizing our elected representatives to pass legislation that will have the impact of reducing that inequality. I am not just talking about economic equality. I mean equality in terms of education, health, etc.

So far you have not actually criticised any of the reforms that have been brought about by state inference. I assume you accept that these were good things. You seem to be against those things that are currently being discussed. For example you say “logic flows that the workers being too stupid to realise that fatty foods, strong drink and tobacco are bad for them should be wrenched away from these habits by interfering legislation introduced by 'those who know best'.”

I would not put it exactly like that but I do believe that the capitalist system produces “false consciousness”. In fact, its very survival depends on that being the case. The most important aspect of this “false consciousness” is to enable the capitalist to make profits. As we all know, this desire for profits can have an undesirable impact on society as a whole. You mention reformers concern about “fatty foods, strong drink and tobacco”. Why is this? It is because some people see that this these things are causing serious health problems. You may describe these people as an elite, but if it is an elite, it is quite a substantial elite. They are aware that these problems are not only impacting on the individual themselves but on those around them. As Rowena has pointed out, non-smokers have had over the years to inhale tobacco smoke in public places. As we have considerable evidence that passive smoking can damage their health, they understandable want our legislators to protect us from this danger. People also have the right to be concerned about the impact that smoking and eating fatty foods is having on the health service. We only have limited resources. It is clear that the behaviour of these people is having an impact on the quality of health-care of those who do not smoke or are careful about the food that they eat.

Therefore, I believe the state has a duty to pass legislation that favours the interests of the majority. It is for that reason I am in favour of legislation that will result in the decline in the number of people smoking, eating poor food, drinking too much alcohol, etc. If that makes me an elitist, so be it.

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According to Marx, it was only an intellectual elite who could fully understand what was happening. It was therefore the responsibility of this intellectual elite to do what they could to bring about an egalitarian society. In reality, Marx was just as much as an elitist as the Fabians (or George Orwell for that matter).

You are confusing Marx with Lenin here John. Lenin indeed believed that the working class under their own efforts could only reach a "trade union" consciousness - "objective class consciousness" was therefore to be brought to them from without. Marx was a good deal more optimistic about the working class and its abilities - indeed the materialist conception of history is based on the premise that history is moved by classes not individuals.

We all know the tragic consequences of Lenisit elitism in the history of Soviet Communism. The consequences of elitist statism in European social democracy is tragic also in terms of wasted opportunities and class betrayal.

It is this very theoretical confusion which in my view has blighted the case for socialism for the last 200 years.

Socialists should be talking about socialism not fatuous issues like the fat content of hamburgers or how to put across the complex message that alcohol when taken to access can lead to drunkeness. Only then can the ideological stranglehold capitalism has on debate begin to be undermined.

I do not therefore believe you can create socialists by "nannying" them.

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All this talk about Marx and Lenin is very interesting but I think it just boils down to whether the needs of 'I' are more important than the needs of everyone else, and whether 'I' am capable of making sensible decisions in my current environment.

Whilst I believe that educating people about the risks involved in certain behaviours is important I also believe that there have to be distinct legal boundaries as well. My reasoning is anecdotal.

1) when at school we all watched a lovely video about why smoking was bad for us. This included the disected black lung and the man with no legs. We were all shocked and agreed that smoking was bad. 10 minutes later the usual suspects were out smoking behind the bushes.

2) in Africa the majority of students can tell you what AIDS is, how is is spread and how to avoid contracting it. However, many still particiapte in risky behaviour because what is taught in the classroom does no apply to their 'real lives'.

3) People here in Eastern Canada all take Young Drivers courses before taking their driving tests. They learn how speed and alcohol are key factors in accidents. However, the majority of the population speed and a significant minority drink and drive.

In all of the above cases the people involved have listened to the facts and have chosen to believe what they want to believe - what fits their lifestyle.

Last night there was a documentary about the brewing industry which spends a fortune on funding research into why drinking alcohol is good for you. This is then published on their website so that people have 'access to the facts so that they can make the right decisions'. However, they do not include ANY negative factors. Drinking is good for you full stop. This then gets into the mainstream media and when interviewed the majority of people believed that alcohol in moderation was a good thing and only outright alcoholism was bad for you. If they had read the studies by the Centre for Addicition they would have learnt that according to their own (less biased) research the health risks of drinking, even in moderation, outweight the gains. However, even if they had, would they have chosen to listen to this information or that which supports their own lifestyle?

Even my own mother quotes studies about the benefits of tea (being an avid tea drinker) when that information relates to green tea and not Tetley! We are selective in what we choose to take on board and respond to. For Andy I get the impression that the occasional cigar or whiskey are not a problem. For me its tea and icecream. (though not at the same time!) for my husband it is speeding. For others it is drinking and driving, smoking heavily or living on caffeine. All of us feel that given all the information we are perfectly in control and doing 'the right thing' and no-one likes to be told what to do, least of all by the government.

My grandmother still refuses to wear a seatbelt because 'she is not a baby'. My mother and I would never consider going anywhere without wearing one and get quite panicky when we get into vehicles that lack them in the passenger seats. This change in mentality was not achieved solely by education, but by backing it up with sensible laws which ultimately protect people. Most people wear seatbelts because they don't want to risk a hefty fine, and of course its also dangerous not to. If this had not become law people would have had to choose to wear a seatbelt, which will protect them IF they have an accident, but then they aren't going to have an accident because they are 'good drivers' so why wear one.?

In most cases education makes people protect their kids but not themselves. A case in point is in the UK I believe cyclehelmets are still not mandetory, so you will see families going out with the kids protected and the parents helmetless (because obviously being grownups they can magically prevent themselves from getting brain damage) leading the kids to think that when they grow up they don't have to wear them anymore. Here in Canada it is mandatory, so all wear them. and the next generation wont fight about it becasue it will be completely normal.

If we were all healthy, sensible, non-risk taking people then maybe we wouldn't need this additional protection but in a world where most people are fat, unhealthy and ultimately selfish I'm not sure we can always trust the individual to do the right thing. The power of 'I am, I want, I will do what I want' still being stronger than 'I should, I ought to, I will do right by others'.

Rowena

Edited by Rowena Hopkins

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Scotland has appointed a health tsar to oversee Hungry for Success, the Scottish executive’s £63.5m campaign to improve the quality of school meals, says the government in England needs to put pressure on food manufacturers to improve their products.

The Scots now dictate that oily fish should be served at least once a week and processed meat products only once a week; that brown bread should always be on offer; and that there should be two helpings of vegetables and two of fruit on every menu each day. There are product specifications for levels of sodium and fat in processed meat, fish and some other products such as pizza.

For example, schools in Scotland have been told to drop Turkey Twizzlers from school menus. Twizzlers have 21.2% fat when cooked, more than twice the 10% maximum recommended for processed meats under Scottish guidelines. Yet this processed meat appears on the menu in schools all over England. As Gillian Kynoch, the health tsar pointed out, if the UK government was willing to put pressure on the manufacturer of this food, Bernard Matthews, he would be forced to take it off the market (he has already promised to redesign Twizzlers in order to get it back on the menu in Scotland).

The same happened to McCain’s Smiley Faces. They were banned because they were too high in salt. They were reformulated very quickly and are now back on the menu.

An example of the nanny state? Yes, but as a parent I welcome this move by the Scots. They seem to take their responsibility of looking after the health of the children in their care more seriously than their English counterparts.

The government of course take more care over the meals provided to those in prison. According to a recent survey the government spends 35p a head on each school meal and 60p on each prison meal.

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An example of the nanny state? Yes, but as a parent I welcome this move by the Scots. They seem to take their responsibility of looking after the health of the children in their care more seriously than their English counterparts.

The government of course take more care over the meals provided to those in prison.  According to a recent survey the government spends 35p a head on each school meal and 60p on each prison meal.

Surely in a free society it is better for schools to offer a selection of food which reflects the choices children will later be confronted with as adults.

Education should be about empowerment rather than nannying.

Schools should certainly "teach" about healthy eating. They should teach both about the importance of freedom of choice and also the consequences of eating unhealthily every day.

The problem I have with structuring choice in the way John seems to be proposing is that the recipients will either become totally reliant on Nanny and unable to make rational decisions for themselves, or revolt against such busy bodyism and fail to appreciate the validity of some of the message. They will also tend to vote with their feet and feed at a source where there are no healthy options. After all in a market economy children can always get their lunchtime fix of fat and salt from the local shop :)

Is John suggesting that the government should try to kill off the excessive prison population with fatty foods? There would perhaps be fewer prison riots if the incarcerated population were all bloaters... there may well be other advantages to such a policy - fewer cases of "going over the wall" (though 'through the wall' may become an issue), escape tunnels would have to be wider and would be more difficult to dig, bars on cells could also be wider making for real savings for the tax payer on metal to name but a few

:) .

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Yes menus should reflect more of what is available to adults which means that there should be something other than pizza, chips, breaded animal offal and other such disgusting things on offer. And if you are a vegetarian, well there is always chips, or some soggy lettuce....

I eat out in town and always manage to find somewhere that will serve me with soup and a sandwich, or a curry, or falafel... when was the last time you saw any of that on a school menu?!

The "Nanny state" already exists in the school canteen and she is an evil nanny who 'protects' schools from providing children with less profitable foods.

Rowena

p.s. There is a school in Canada (just one!) which employs a professional chef to serve up all sorts of delights to the kids and after the initial rebellions (but I WANT fries) they decided that they actually preferred his food. Eating patterns are established in childhood. these children will in all likelyhood go on to become foodies, whilst their counterparts at other schools will just be fat and dead at 40.

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Reminds me of what I used to call the 'Stockholm curve' on the E4 just north of Härnösand in Sweden (before they rebuilt the stretch and made it safer).

On the old E4 you had about 70 kms of narrow, twisting and sometimes urban road, after a relatively wide-open 350 kms from Stockholm. Then the speed limit went back up to 90 km/h for about 10 kms. And then you came to the Stockholm curve. First the limit dropped to 70 km/h, despite the fact there were two lanes, then to 50 km/h, despite the fact you started going downhill in two lanes … and then there was a very sharp left-hand bend, with a 200 metre drop down a cliff, if you missed it.

Stockholmers on their Sports Holiday (middle of February) would reach this curve, in the dark, in the ice and snow, about 7 hours after leaving Stockholm on a stressful Friday afternoon, if they really pushed it … and of course they did, because they were driving modern, 'safe' cars, and they really knew how to drive. There were one or two every year who went over, and locals learned to leave the E4 northbound alone on the Friday evening before the Stockholm Sports Holiday.

Damn the nanny state and the National Roads Administration for interfering with a man's god-given right to drive as fast as he wants! Who are they to come along with their ridiculous speed limits? By the way, we still all want excellent hospital care, insurance premiums driven up by the behaviour of such drivers, rehabilitation and pensions for those affected, etc, etc.

I've always been fascinated by the signs telling you not to smoke in different countries. In the USA, it often says something like "According to Federal law #XXX, the fine for smoking here is $50" (i.e. if you've got $50 to spare, go ahead and smoke). In Britain, it's the authoritarian "No Smoking". In Sweden, you'll often see "För allas trivsel, röker vi inte här" (So that everyone can feel good, we don't smoke here!). Or, to put it another way, 'might is right' (USA); 'we know best' (UK); 'don't break the social contract' (Sweden).

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