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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
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Things I Don't Understand


There are things that really puzzle me. Some life insurance companies charge lower premiums if you haven't made a life-shortening lifestyle choice. Being a nonsmoker is one of them. Actuarially, that makes sense because the life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than for nonsmokers.

Insurance company policies charge higher premiums to those who are obese. The National Institutes of Health reports that those with a body mass index greater than 40 have a six- to 14-year lower life expectancy. Again, actuarially, that makes sense. Indeed, there's a strong advocacy for higher life insurance, as well as health insurance, premiums for those whose lifestyle choices impose a greater financial burden on society, which obesity does. But there's one important exception.

According to the International Journal of Epidemiology, life expectancy at age 20 for homosexual and bisexual men is eight to 20 years less than for all men. That's a lifestyle shortening of life expectancy greater than obesity and tobacco use. Yet one never hears of insurance companies advertising lower premiums for heterosexual men. You say, "That would be discrimination." You're right, but why is it acceptable for insurance companies to discriminate against smokers and the obese but not homosexuals? After all, they are all Americans and protected by the Constitution. It's really a matter of politics, as seen by the journal's publication of an article titled "Gay life expectancy revisited" ( The publication had to soft-pedal its study results because of complaints that pointing out life expectancy differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals had become fuel for homophobia. The bottom line is that homosexuals have far greater political power and sympathy than smokers and the obese.

Sticking with medical issues, Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, "Ebola poses little risk to the U.S.

general population." If one cannot contract Ebola, as the CDC claims, except through exchange of bodily fluids, then why were millions of dollars spent transporting Ebola patients Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol from Liberia to a U.S. hospital under extreme isolation procedures? The CDC's Ebola claim strikes me as fishy. To use a line spoken by Marcellus in William Shakespeare's "Hamlet," "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

There are warning labels that puzzle me, engendering considerable disrespect for my fellow Americans' intellect. How about the warning, "Do not hold the wrong end of a chain saw." On packaging for a clothes iron is the warning, "Do not iron clothes on body." A Superman costume contained the warning, "Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."

Then there are the "do not take internally" warnings. Most often, the product containing this warning isn't something one reasonably takes internally, such as butter, soda or cough syrup. The warnings are on products such as paint, bleach and other cleaning fluids. I'm wondering how many grown Americans actually took a swig of something like Minwax, bleach or paint thinner. Then there's a warning label that appears on some automobile windshield sun screens, which people purchase to keep their cars cool: "Do Not Drive With Screen In Place."

Here's my take. The warning labels are all a waste. A person dumb enough to drink Minwax, bleach or paint thinner or drive with a sun screen in place is probably also too dumb to read. Speaking of warning labels, there's a debate about whether mother's milk is good or bad for infants — a preposterous debate, considering the historical success of nursing manifested by a world population of 7 billion. If government authorities, such as the Food and Drug Administration, conclude that mother's milk is hazardous, I'm wondering where they're going to put the warning label.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



5 Comments | Post Comment
Most of the "don't drink" or "don't eat" labels are the results of lawsuits.
I suspect that the point of bringing the Ebola victims home was as much to get a firsthand look at live cases, and making sure there was no cross-contamination of their guinea pigs, as an interest in healing Americans.
Comment: #1
Posted by: partsmom
Fri Aug 29, 2014 5:37 PM
Putting on my tinfoil hat, I suspect that the ebola victims were brought to the US to 'prove' that it could be cured here, lest any bad players contemplate setting it loose here.
Comment: #2
Posted by: SporksPerson
Sat Aug 30, 2014 7:04 PM
I've always advocated that they should place appropriately located signs in every delivery room in the world saying: "CAUTION! LIVING MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!" Let the baby decide as soon as he pops his head out if he wants to climb back into the womb for safety.
I've also designed a bureaucrat trap. Bureaucrats love signs. They expect us to obey them so they must obviously obey signs religiously themselves. Right? So, to trap bureaucrats one takes an inside closet that has no other doors or accesses, on the outside of the door place a large sign reading "BUREAUCRAT ENTRANCE ONLY" and on the inside of the door another sign reading "NO EXIT." Soon, the closet will be filled to overflowing with bureaucrats. Go merrily on your way, whistling, knowing you've done your small part to help rid the world of blight.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Swordmaker
Sun Aug 31, 2014 7:31 AM
Sir;... There are many things you have no understanding about. Most of us keep our ignorance safe, put our best foot forward, and advertize our strengths. You seem determined to offer weekly illustrations to you want of understanding, and make a fetish of it.
Yes; Ebola is contagious. Yes, it takes an exchange of bodily fluids. Do you have any idea how many active particles of bodily fluid there are in a single sneeze? I have heard upwards of 20,000. If you sneeze into your shirt, there is as much bodily fluid there as there was in the air, and still much that gets into the air. All of this is common knowledge, but what makes you think even for the split second your mind may grasp an idea, that we can keep this disease out given the priority of needs that Capital demands satisfied?
Rather than fear Ebola as we all should, Capital takes the positive view. It was international trade, still in it infancy that brought us the black plague, and no other single event is as responsible for the rise of capitalism. When a third to a half of the population suddenly turns up dead; think of the capital that is then freed. And while it was possible, as the legal record shows, to pass laws to limit the exploitation of the need for labor by workers demanding higher wages, still, the need for labor was so absolute, that people began to look within their own imaginations, and in the wisdom of the ancients for labor saving devices. Within less than a hundred years the protestant reformation clearing the moral impediment to outlaw capitalism was in full swing, and America was discovered and taken as a capitalist sanctuary.
From the perspective of the capitalist looking at capitalism as an abstraction, nothing could be better than pandemic; though war follows a close second. What if a capitalist dies in war or pandemic? Those capitalists who remain alive will look at that fact as simple misfortune, while a worse misfortune awaits those societies which have blown all the capital they can while the people eat the rest. Kill the people and all they own is yours. The bad players that Sporks Person talks of are certainly present, and if they are not thinking of weaponizing Ebola internationally, they are thinking of weaponizing it against the masses here. They can read history as well as I. They can certainly see that no great social advance, no advance of freedom followed on the heels of the technological advances driven by the black plague. The great social revolutions were incidental, and not directly caused by the plague, and were as shallow as they were fragile. Rights are under attack. Democracy has always been in jeapardy.
The lives of humans and of humanity have never been more certain than their ability to resist being labeled and objectified. The people can be led to believe that the injustice they suffer can be exported; and deprived of their own wealth, that they can take the wealth and lives of others. Any sort of weapon under those circumstances seems justified, and look at what our did to help us take this place, and we were not the first people to use disease to serve our goals, but we have done it here consciously, and it decimated many of the nations in this state.
Sporks Person has the sense to realize that if this state will do some evil to others, it will do that evil here. We see from Waco and Ruby Ridge how little regard has the government for the lives of innocents if they stand in the way of some perceived threat. They will drone us, and they will assassinate us, and they will starve us out. Total war is never total war until it is civil war; and the powerful mean to have peace on their terms alone.
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Sep 1, 2014 5:49 PM
Mr. Williams is inaccurate. The study he distorts to talk about the supposed life span of gay man was not created by the National Journal of Epidemiology but six researchers in 1997. In 2001, THEY were the ones who went on record complaining about how their work was being distorted by anti-gay groups and folks like Williams. And there was no political pressure put on them. In addition, several of them have gone on record several times since their original complaint to make more complaints about how their work was being distorted. If Williams has any proof that they were forced to change their views, I would like to see it.
Comment: #5
Posted by: a.mcewen
Tue Sep 2, 2014 4:35 AM
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