Ask Matt Labash

Ask Matt Labash: Deadly Diet Coke, artificially-sweet lies, and blinding me with ‘science’

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Matt Labash
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      Matt Labash

      Hi, welcome to “Ask Matt Labash.” I’ll be your host, Matt Labash. The idea for this column – if idea isn’t too strong a word – is that it is not a column at all. Rather, it’s a conversation. One in which I do ninety-five percent of the talking. If you did most of the talking, you’d have to watch my eyes go dead and my attention wander until it was my turn to talk again. So trust me, it’s better this way.

      For those unfamiliar with me from my day job at The Weekly Standard, I’ll give you a capsule bio by way of introduction: I have the gift of wisdom. Does that sound arrogant? I’m sorry, that wasn’t my intention. I didn’t choose wisdom. It chose me. If I had my druthers, I’d have chosen another gift, perhaps the untold riches of Lil’ Wayne, whose teeth are made of actual diamonds, or to be the sexiest man alive, like Rachel Maddow. But wisdom is what they gave me, so wisdom is all I have to give back to you.

      This is not, you should know, a mere advice column. If you need advice, I’ll give it. But the only rule here is that there are no rules. You can ask me a question about anything that’s on your mind: current events, pop culture, media, theology, string theory, fishing tips, wicker repair. The only limits we have are those of your imagination. And those of my knowledge base. Which is considerably limited, truth be told. So try not to ask me anything that requires research. Though they tell me I have access to Google on this computer if we need it.

      If all goes according to plan, ours will not be a traditional writer/reader relationship. It’s more complex than that. I might empathize or cajole. I might educate, instruct, or inspire. I might pretend to answer your question while actually reporting you to Social Services, since you’re a dangerous person who should not have contact with children. I might tell you to climb up on my shoulders, that you’re not heavy, you’re my brother. Or I might tell you that you are heavy, and that you should hop down until you lose a few pounds. I might just sidle up behind you, put my big strong man hands on the small of your back, and whisper in your ear the words of the poet, Kenny Rogers: “We’ve got tonight, who needs tomorrow?”

      To which you’ll say something like, “I can’t, I’ve got to go home and wash my hair.”
      To which I’ll say something like, “Shhh. We’ve got tonight babe, why don’t you stay?”
      Wherever this takes us, our journey begins now:

      <i>Matt Labash is a senior writer with The Weekly Standard. His first book, <a href="">Fly Fishing with Darth Vader: And Other Adventures with Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys</a> will be published next month by Simon & Schuster.</i>

EDITOR’S NOTE: Have a burning sensation? Consult your doctor. Have a burning question for Matt Labash? Submit it here.

Your essay on the fickle nature of dietary guidelines reminds me of a question regarding my caffeine delivery vehicle of choice. I don’t drink coffee (denying myself society’s most convenient means of expressing misplaced superiority) or tea (denying myself soda’s most convenient alternative) and energy drinks, of course, are for dim people. But I am a Coke guy. Formerly the real thing, now the wretched diet version. I’m not one of those worriers, compelled to wear a crash helmet for anything more adventurous than sitting atop a bar stool, but I suspect that on balance I’d be better off without all the aspartame and whatever else they put in there to make it taste like metal shavings. Since the medical community has a harder time making a decision than Sir Galahad at the Bridge of Death, I’ll ask you: Concerned about artificial sweeteners? – Muhtar in Atlanta

First of all, I’m flattered that you assume that everyone, like you, follows my essays that appear in places other than in this space. Or as I prefer to call them, “pieces,” since my primary objective in life is to not be the kind of finger-sniffing tool who insists on calling his pieces “essays.” (Also, these  “word pictures” as a twee essayist might call it, tend to reflect little “pieces” of me. Though I strive not to be as pretentious as self-identified essayists, I am clearly every bit as solipsistic.)

The piece/essay you are referring to is one I wrote a few months back for my home pub, The Weekly Standard, in which I questioned the reliability of the schizoid health-science that comes down your homepage pike each day in the form of take-it-to-the-bank health squibs announcing new medical studies, the intended purpose of which seems to be to scare the bejeezus out of us. That is, until a future health squib touting a new study tells us that the polar opposite is true. (Alcohol kills! No, alcohol prolongs life!)

I don’t mean to suggest I’m anti-science. It’s not that I’m some kind of mouth-breathing denialist, immune to the charms of fossil records or carbon-dating. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as being descended from higher forms than monkeys. (I like to think I’m fashioned in the image of a deity – due to my Messiah complex.) But I’m completely prepared to admit that Darwinian-style evolution isn’t such a stretch either, since plenty of people I could name clearly have ape-like properties – Ben Stiller, for starters. (And please do not write in to lecture on the differences between apes and monkeys – those are the kind of pedantic fine points essayists might appreciate, but we piece-writers will delete before reading.)