Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obesity, Euphemisms, civil service.

I see that Sir Liam Donaldson has bumped into objections over the term obesity. It is thought to be unacceptably and inappropriately value laden.

Etymology of Obese:
Latin obesus, past participle of assumed obedere "eat until overweight".
Declension: Oboe, Obese, Obit, Obama, O'Bartis, Obunt.

Fer goodness' sake! This is a diversion of effort from a real health problem. It is euphemisationism: changing the word in an attempt to make a problem go away by magic.

Look at how many changes have happened to the humble bog: toilet, lavatory, little boy's room, cloakroom, house of easement, call it what you will, it is still a bog, and it is still a smelly place if you go in too soon after someone else has used it. That's life: food smells nice, poo doesn't. Get used to it.

The real problem of obesity has to be addressed in all its aspects: not just the quality and quantity of food, but also through exercise, which takes us right through to transport policies. If a reasonable fraction were to be taken from the road building programme and channeled to footways and cycle paths, with more cycle training programmes, we could become a happier, healthier nation. Now is the ideal time to do this, as people cannot afford to drive cars anyway.

But will they?

The trouble with committees is that they always seem to arrive at the lowest and "safest" level of intervention. Someone said that the highest ambition in life for a Civil Servant is to have a quiet flop. I do not mean a flop in a sun-lounger, because they are hard working people, but they are constitutionally averse to anything radical. They are also unduly affected by business interests. So their interest is business as usual. Any Minister who comes along will have her plans and ideas listened to, then characterised as "brave", which kills them. If the Civil Service cocks up, their Minister resigns, and they get a fresh new one to mould to their way of thinking.
Which is a case of Moral Hazard.

Clive Ponting, the Civil Servant who was sacked over leaking material relating to the Belgrano scandal, said we are very badly governed. I wonder what Clive is up to these days? I see he has retired, and is only 61. We need more Clive Pontings in the Civil Service. He wasn't obese.

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