The Relative Risks of Being Alive

  • The latest scientific studies of the effects of alcohol have concluded that the best amount of consumption is as little as possible, and how this is best understood through statistics about all kinds of risks;
  • Robert Reich’s take on Trump as treasonous;
  • A compilation of the lies of Tucker Carlson, and wondering why they work.

Slate, Tim Requarth, 23 Apr 2023: Pour One Out, subtitled “The boozy story of how we decided alcohol was a health boon in the ’90s—and how it all fell apart.”

Those who are cynical about science will point to this as another example of how science can turn out to be wrong, or at least, change its mind. This is the black/white simplistic take about any particular scientific conclusion. Nothing is black and white; all conclusions are provisional, and when a conclusion changes, or rather is modified or mollified in some way, it just means that the truth has turned out to be more nuanced than previously thought.

The context here is the previous decades of supposed evidence that a certain amount of alcohol might be good for you, especially red wine, as evidenced by lower rates of cardiovascular disease among the French that was attributed to red wine, despite their high-fat diet. That was the so-called ‘French paradox.’ It became news in the early ’90s and led to Americans drinking more red wine. And changes in dietary guidelines. (Details in the article.) So what’s changed now? A new study “rounding up nearly 40 years of research in some 5 million patients, concluding that previous research was so conceptually flawed that alcohol’s supposed health benefits were mostly a statistical mirage.” Also part of the story: the influence of the alcohol industry.

But the reason I’m linking this article is for its conclusions about relative risks. Shifts in dietary advice like this one are often posed as either/or: is it OK to eat eggs or not? Red meat or not? Red wine or not? Or any alcohol? But, as I keep saying in this blog, nothing is completely good or bad, black or white. This article finishes:

OK, but maybe you clicked on this piece because you really do want to know if you should dump your martini down the sink. My read of the literature is that very light drinking (think half a drink a day) might slightly reduce the risk of a heart attack in older adults, but even then, the negative effects on overall health outweigh the benefits. The truth is that as little as one drink a day increases the chances you’ll die sooner, and heavier drinking leads to various other health and behavioral issues—making alcohol the seventh-highest cause of death and disability worldwide. From a public health perspective, reducing per capita alcohol consumption saves lives, full stop.

But from the perspective of an individual drinker, it’s less dire. The reason is that the absolute risks we’re talking about are somewhat small. To put these risks in perspective, Hartz, the Washington University researcher, crunched some numbers for me. A middle-aged man’s baseline risk of dying of any cause in the next five years of his life is 2.9 percent. If he upped his drinking from a few drinks a week to a few drinks a day, this risk would rise to 3.6 percent, or an absolute risk increase of 0.7 percentage points. What this means is that if 143 middle-aged men drink once a day, there might be, in the near-term, one additional death, while the remaining 142 men would be unaffected. Or take breast cancer. As the physician Aaron E. Carroll calculated in a New York Times article, if 1,667 40-year-old women started drinking lightly, an additional woman would develop breast cancer before turning 50, while the remaining 1,666 women would be unaffected. These are risks to take seriously, but they aren’t death sentences. On the flip side, the chance of a heart benefit from light drinking, if it exists, would be pretty small too. And any risks likely vary from person to person: An older man with a history of heart problems conceivably could benefit from very light drinking, whereas a woman at high risk of breast cancer might not. Yes, these numbers might add up to a lot of deaths and disability when we’re talking about the global population, but they aren’t reason for any individual person to panic.

And much could be said about any risk in life — driving, flying.

“The main message is not that drinking is bad. It’s that drinking isn’t good. Those are two different things,” Hartz said. “Like, cake isn’t good for you. Getting in a car isn’t safe. Life has risks associated with it, and I think drinking is one of them.”

The best good thing would be to stay at home and eat and drink abstemiously, like monks. But almost no one does this; we choose what risks we are willing to take.


Following up on the Robert Reich talk earlier this week, here’s a brief essay published that same day outlining Reich’s argument that Donald Trump, as someone who committed treason, shouldn’t be allowed to run for president.

Robert Reich, AlterNet, 24 Apr 2023: ‘Treason’: Robert Reich explains why Trump shouldn’t be allowed to run in 2024

Remember? Donald Trump lost reelection but refused to concede and instead claimed without basis that the election was stolen from him, then pushed state officials to change their tallies, hatched a plot to name fake electors, tried to persuade the vice president to refuse to certify Electoral College votes, sought access to voting machine data and software, got his allies in Congress to agree to question the electoral votes and thereby shift the decision to the House of Representatives, and summoned his supporters to Washington on the day electoral votes were to be counted and urged them to march on the U.S. Capitol, where they rioted.

This, my friends, is treason.

But he is running for reelection—despite the explicit language of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits anyone who has held public office and who has engaged in insurrection against the United States from ever again serving in public office.

The reason for the Constitution’s disqualification clause is that someone who has engaged in an insurrection against the United States cannot be trusted to use constitutional methods to regain office.

Ending with:

Filing deadlines for 2024 presidential candidates will come in the next six months, in most states.

Secretaries of state—who in most cases are in charge of deciding who gets on the ballot—must refuse to place Donald Trump’s name on the 2024 ballot, based on the clear meaning of Section 3 of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

My comment: I’m certain secretaries of state in ‘red’ states will never do so.


That same day, last Monday, was when it was announced that Fox News had fired its popular conspiracy-theorist evening host Tucker Carlson. For no single particular reason, that anyone can tell even days later.

The Atlantic, Megan Garber, 25 Apr 2023: Tucker Carlson’s Final Moments on Fox Were as Dangerous as They Were Absurd, subtitled “The host spent some of his last minutes on the network mocking a cult. He did not seem to appreciate the irony.”

(Of course Carlson didn’t know, on that previous Friday, that that would be his last show.)

Sample passage:

Carlson’s lawyers have argued that he is not a journalist but instead, effectively, an entertainer—that anyone who might see him as a reliable purveyor of facts is making a foolish category error. His show’s appeal, though, depends on its gaudy adjacency to journalism: Carlson’s segments look like the news and act like the news, even as they regularly distort the news. But his Heaven’s Gate rant defied that logic. The cult’s deaths took place in 1997; as far as I can tell, they have no explicit connection to the current moment. Except, that is, for the cultish commands that Carlson treated as abiding dangers to his viewers: Surrender your gender. Castrate yourself, and your children.

The host shares a skill set with the man he once called “a demonic force” and a “destroyer.” Both Carlson and Donald Trump have a way with words. They wield them not simply as tools of meaning but also, often, as simple punctuation. What Trump does in his writing—the repetition, the ad hoc capitalization—Carlson does in his speech. He turns the core message of every segment he airs—they’re coming for you; be afraid—into a rhythmic proposition. Like a jingle rendered in a minor key, Carlson’s show turns fear into music.


Politifact, Madison Czopek and Amy Sherman, 25 Apr 2023: Here are falsehoods we found in Tucker Carlson’s final Fox show

In Tucker Carlson’s final show on Fox News, he covered topics that might make any of his 3 million viewers anxious.

More Black people will be selling weed in the nation’s cities, he said. Democrats are inviting immigrants to pour across the border to help them win elections, he said. Low-income housing is being forced on American suburbs, he warned.

Carlson seemed to have no knowledge the April 21 show would be his last, but he reprised themes viewers who have watched “Tucker Carlson Tonight” over the last seven years would recognize: Crime. Race. LGBTQ+ topics. He portrayed a United States under attack and falling into mayhem under the leadership of Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

The writers focus on three specific false claims in this last show.

1, That there’s no evidence of racism in home appraisals;
2, That the Biden administration’s job training program includes getting Black people to sell more weed in the cities;
3, That fentanyl is here “because our southern border is open.”

The writers dismiss all these claims, which might at best be taken as overly-simplistic, exaggerated takes on issues that are far more complex than Carlson is willing to admit, to the point of outright lying. His audience doesn’t care, apparently; they eat it up. (See my post about demand and supply.)


Madison Czopek also has this piece on 24 Apr: Tucker Carlson parts ways with Fox News. These are some of his most consequential falsehoods.

The items fall into four groups:

1, The Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol (claims: police were tour guides; it was peaceful; no one in the crowd was carrying a firearm; it was a pretext to strip Americans of their rights; it was orchestrated by the FBI; it had nothing to do with white supremacists);
2, On election integrity and security (claims: electronic voting machines didn’t allow people to vote; there was voter fraud in Fulton County, Georgia);
3, On COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines (claims: the vaccines weren’t effective; they led to thousands of deaths; that masks didn’t work and people who wore them caught COVID-19 anyway);
4, On race (claims: Biden’s administration looks less like America than any in history; that he Carlson didn’t know what the “great replacement” theory was; that the US ended slavery around the world).

All of these claims were rated false, some of them grossly “pants on fire” false.


To conclude, my fascination with Tucker Carlson isn’t political, specifically. It’s about why so many people support him, and Donald Trump, despite their documented accounts of lying and misrepresenting the truth. (In contrast this week, Don Lemon was ousted from CNN, apparently for his comments some weeks back about women’s prime ages; demeaning to women perhaps, but magnitudes away from the lies of Fox News and Tucker Carlson.)

But I’ve posted my speculations about this before, and will not repeat them just now. Time for dinner.

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