Try an experiment next time you’re watching an old movie—say, one from the 40’s: Count the fat people.  In Casablanca, for instance, you’ve got roly-poly Sydney Greenstreet.  That’s it for corpulence.  Bogart?  Paul Henreid?  Conrad Veidt?  Straight up and down, like two-by-fours. Not even the short guys—Peter Lorre, Claude Rains—can be called overpastured. Ingrid Bergman? Likely a trim size six by today’s modes of measurement.

Where are the fat folks?  They were, so to speak, around in the war and postwar years.  They simply hadn’t yet become omnipresent—a phenomenon meriting the diligent attentions of the mayor of New York City.

As most Americans surely know by now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, dismayed at the spread of obesity in his city, proposes banning the sale of sugary drinks, 16 ounces or larger, in restaurants, on street carts, and in city-owned stadiums.  Forbidden to undermine their health, New Yorkers, the mayor reasons, will make more healthful purchases—fruit drinks, perhaps.

They may or may not. This is in any case where we came in. Why so many thin-to-ordinary-sized folks in the recent past, and why so few now? And what’s all this got to do with government and its alleged duty to put the nation on a diet?

The nonscientific explanation for Paul Henreid’s and Bogey’s ability to make the ends of their waistbands meet in the middle is that they, and people like them—excepting the occasional Sydney Greenstreet—ate less than is the custom now, and probably walked more as well. They ate—I presume—what they wanted; only they wanted less than Mayor Bloomberg’s constituents.  If temptation arose to eat more and more and more, they pushed their chairs back from the table.

I know this to be extrapolation from results. Was I sitting at the table as Bogart and Bacall put away whatever it was they ate—sirloins, lobsters, mashed potatoes?  Not quite.  The general tendency in times past, nonetheless, was to control weight by controlling intake.  There is no such tendency today.  Confronted by the endless gastronomic opportunities now available, fewer and fewer turn away.  Hence Mayor Bloomberg’s mission: to make them turn away, durn their overcaloried carcasses.

The obesity problem isn’t pleasant to contemplate, either philosophically or visually.  The mayor is right about one thing: Obesity drives up health costs.  Many of these people can’t even walk right.  They—I hope I may be pardoned for putting it bluntly—waddle.

The mayor’s intended reliance on coercion is, all the same, absurd and reductive.  People who have the right kind of parents don’t need mayors, hasn’t Bloomberg heard?  The problem seems to be that too few people now have the kind of parents who oversee their children’s, and their own, eating habits, reserving indulgence for special occasions, enforcing as well as rewarding restraint, and likely shooing the kids out of the house with regularity, away from Battlefield 3 and Virtua Fighter 5.  Conrad Veidt and Paul Henreid, I would surmise, had the old-fashioned type of parents.  I couldn’t guess what Sydney Greenstreet’s parents were like.  Maybe as a family they just grooved on gastronomy.

Has Mayor Bloomberg not considered in any case how many gaping holes ventilate his little scheme?  OK, no 16-ounce sugary drinks at the movies.  What about perfectly legal 15-ounce sugary drinks at the movies?  Or a pair of 8-ounce sugary drinks?  Speaking of sugary drinks, can the mayor even demonstrate the efficacy of his plan?  According to his constituent Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, president of the New York City-based American Council on Science and Health, “Research actually shows that there is no correlation between per capita soda consumption and weight.”

Bloombergism—defined as “your government always knows best”—takes no account of the personal measures and remedies and actions and restraints that underlay modes of life in the pre-Bloomberg era, before every problem was public, the business of bureaucrats and policymakers.

It was, at that—the old era—a time when demand for bureaucrats was comparatively low inasmuch as Americans had some sense of their own obligations: to country, to family, to themselves.  It’s amazing to contemplate how much simpler, and nicer, things were before the mayor of New York decided it was time he took matters in hand, telling you how big your sugary soft drink should be, because he knew—see?—exactly what was right for you.  Say thanks to the nice man, everybody.