None the Wiser

"Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think." --J.S. Mill

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Wednesday, June 04, 2003
What's Up With Me

This weblog actually serves as something of a peek into my head, albeit a small one. My brother and sister sometimes look at it to see what's going on with me, so it occurs to me that I practically never mention any personal anecdotes on NTW. I'm just a private person, I suppose. If you want personal, go check out Lileks, where you can get a really fascinating blow-by-blow of the minutae of his life as a stay-at-home dad/writer/collector of assorted Americana.

Were I as gifted a writer as James Lileks, I might be able to make the hours I spend working for the information technology division at Indiana Univeristy seem interesting. But I'm not. So, John, Terri, just for you I'll start updating you and whomever else might be interested what I'm reading, listening to, and so on. Say, once a week.

Books currently off the shelf:

Norman Davies' God's PLayground: A History of Poland, vol. II.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago.

Music on tap:

Leonard Cohen's The Future has been making a regular appearance lately. It seems somehow appropriate, invoking the cataclysm with all the yearning and revelry that so commonly occasions it. Sample lyrics from the title track:

There'll be the breaking of the ancient
Western code.
Your private life will suddenly explode.
There'll be phantoms,
There'll be fire on the road,
And the white man dancing.
You'll see the woman
Hanging upside down,
Her features covered by her fallen gown,
And all the lousy little poets
Coming round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson.

Give me back the Berlin Wall,
Give me Stalin and St. Paul,
Give me Christ
Or give me Hiroshima!
Destroy another fetus now,
We don't like children anyhow.
I've seen the future, baby:
It is murder.

OK, so it's not very cheery. I'm not very cheery these days, though, so I'm channeling Cohen in an effort to make friends with my own melancholy temper.

I'm making for South Carolina tomorrow, which I suppose is home. It's where I grew up, anyway, and where my mother still lives. I'll be staying with the in-laws, which is not the bad thing that phrase so often portends. They're good people, and treat me like blood, so it really is like going home. On the other hand, it looks to be a short trip, which is a bit of a let-down, but such is life in student poverty.

I really am going to try to blog on my vacation, at least once. We'll see how that works out. Maybe when I'm back I can turn this blog into something a little more interesting, with Sienfeldian observations on the follies and foibles of my daily life.

Or not.

The Real Crisis in Health Care: Government Nannyism

A topic I haven't blogged much is the increasingly totalitarian character of government health initiatives. I recently had a pretty heated debate with a friend who insists that "socialized medicine" is not only workable, but preferable to the current system. Though I pointed out that to believe this is to reject all evidence available to us in both the historical and contemporary record, he was not to be swayed. And while he even suggested that drug companies ought to "consider themselves lucky to be allowed to operate at all," he also regards himself as pretty much a centrist.

Terrifyingly, his assessment of where he sits on the political spectrum is about right. Giving government life and death power over all but the wealthiest citizens (the inevitable result of rationing medicine) is now considered a moderate position, so long as it can be dressed up by some or other heartfelt concern for the children, the poor, or one's latest bout of self-pity. The vast, all-important political center of American politics is notoriously susceptible to promises of free shit, impervious to all evidence that shortages, delays, and various human catastrophes will inevitably result.

In fairness, my friend is a very bright and reasonable fellow, in spite of the fact that he considers his time cheap enough to waste on me. It isn't malice, or stupidity, or anything of the sort, that drives the desire to hand one's health and well-being into the care of people who have no proven interest in caring for it. The government, though, is everybody and nobody, so it never comes in for the kind of blame it ought to. This same friend is deeply, viscerally, almost irrationally outraged by corporate dishonesty, but is happy to hand over tens of trillions of dollars to offenders far worse in magnitude, that is, the federal government--even in the knowledge that no accountability for that money is at all possible. It is a level of trust in government power I'll never quite grasp, really, unjustified as it is by any prior experience.

At any rate, I am increasingly worried about the state's obsession with my physical well-being. "Click it or ticket" campaigns are now ubiquitous, particularly in the presence of record-setting budget shortfalls. The war on drugs continues unabated, and now threatens to extend to tobacco. The "war on fat" has begun in the civil courts, but my wife, a graduate student in public health, has to endure ceaseless nanny state propaganda of near-Soviet proportions.

So it is with some dismay that I bring the following food (ahem) for thought:

The Surgeon General is on record as supporting a total ban on all tobacco products in the United States. [courtesy] The hostility to individual rights intrinsic in any such ban need not be expounded upon, unless you're an idiot.

Meanwhile, in Great Britain, a physician is making headlines by calling for the prosecution of parents whose children are sunburned. In typical Doublespeak fashion, Dr. Rachel Morris-Jones concedes that, "I know we risk the dangers of the 'nanny state,'" but that's to be disregarded since "it is neglect to allow a child to burn severely and in extreme cases, and where it was a recurrent thing, I think I would be in favour of prosecution." How many times constitutes "recurring"? Every summer, as in my experience? Do Irish and Swedes get special consideration? What's "extreme" anyhow? She doesn't say, parents won't know, and only the courts will arbitrarily be able to decide this after the fact.

And just in case you're wondering what the connection is between these proposed measures, actual existing health care initiatives, and socialized medicine, links to a chilling but predictable story in a perfectly-titled post: The price of "free" Britain's Labour government, facing crippling care and budget shortages in its system ("the envy of the free world!"), is proposing to integrate "contracts" according to which recipients of care would be bound to sign on to healthier lifestyles--as defined, of course, by government bureaucrats whose overriding preoccupation has lately been to introduce increasingly draconian methods of shortening waiting lists by unburdening them of all those pesky sick people (all of whom pay ever-more-exorbitant sums in taxes for their "free," increasingly unavailable, medicine). From the article:

"This type of agreement would not be legally binding. It would take the form of a joint statement of `mutual intent'," the Labour policy paper says. A Labour spokesman said: "We are consulting on setting out clearly what you can expect as a patient in the NHS...We also want to set out responsibilities people would have, for example not to abuse NHS staff. Say, by aggressively criticizing a broken and failing system?

In all seriousness, such a proposal seems unlikely to succeed--right now. But as the crunch becomes worse and worse, and with the UK soon to subsume its authority to regulate its own health care system to authoritarian and unelected "legislators" in Brussels, this kind of thing will eventually becomes legally and practically necessary, and by that time there is every reason to believe that the British will have no recourse available. Think of this as a peek into the year 2030.

It is inevitable that when the government is granted responsibility over a problem, that the allocation of funds to that problem becomes a matter of public interest and concern. Already, the rationale for banning smoking is that it costs the public too much money in smoke-related health care costs. When "the public" is paying for all your health care needs, it will follow that "the public" has a direct fiscal stake in everything you do--the amount of sleep you get, the foods you eat, the people you're screwing, the number of children you have--everything. Similarly, and more fundamentally, it is only because the state is assumed to have both the means and the duty to protect us from crime that some seek to ban or seriously restrict personal firearms ownership.

Never mind that the state has no such power or responsibility in the first place. In the face of a state monopoly on the means of mere survival, a people is completely and utterly helpless, subjugated, powerless to resist the dictates of their omnipotent caretakers. They become as defenseless as children, who must rely on luck and the grace of God to be blessed with benevolent parents--without which they are mere victims. Withholding either protection from thugs or medicine is a powerful weapon in the hands of any government, one used to ghastly effect in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, just to take a recent example.

People much greater than me have been toiling ceaselessly to hold the Leviathan at bay, but I'm despairing of the efficacy of their efforts. With such abdication of personal responsibility for one's own well-being so widely and so eagerly embarked upon, what hope remains for an ostensibly free people?

And, One More Time...

Charles at LGF links to this bit in Yahoo! News:

"Hamas, Jihad Say Won't Disarm, Defy Palestinian PM"

PM Abbas and his fellows have vowed to fight terrorism. I'm reminded of a recent rerun of Futurama. Bender is discussing a movie deal with some big-shot actor, whom he is trying to con into accepting a bum screening gig. After wavering a bit, the actor finally is swayed by Bender's promise that an Oscar will be forthcoming. Somewhat dubiously, the actor asks if Bender is certain he can really guarantee an Oscar.

"I can guarantee you anything!" comes the answer.

And so it is with Israel. Once again, an American victory in the Middle East must be sheepishly and apologetically followed by coerced, painful political concessions by the Jewish state. Abbas makes promises he has no will or even authority to keep, and Sharon in return must take actual, concrete measures designed to A) publicly humble Israel, and B) reverse any strategic gains made in their fight against those who spend their nights dreaming up new ways to slaughter Israeli civilians.

Just the thought that more Palestinian kids are going to be manipulated by that horrific death-worshipping ideology, and that more Israeli innocents will be senselessly massacred, all so that the Arabs can be allowed to save face from another abject military defeat--it makes me sick.

It's official. Bush has lost my confidence.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
Calpundit Gets a Raw Dog Austrian Skool Econo-fisking

Ramesh Ponnuru in the Corner has located a damned good free-market blog from the Austrian school of thought. I'm a big fan of F.A. Hayek, so this post struck me as absolutely brilliant, in which he gives Kevin Drum what-for in concise form. Watch out for Catallarchy--this one could be a real winner.

The Reason I'm Studying Poland

This is an article in Opinion Journal by Radek Sikorski, explaining why Poland is our most valuable European ally. Reading this also gives you a hint why the European Union will never work, and is probably nothing more than the historical context for another general European war. The Poles, for their part, will never trust the Central European bloc; the Central Europeans, meanwhile, will never really respect them as equal partners.

Sunday, June 01, 2003
An "Empire for Liberty"?

I'm not so certain I accept that there is such a thing. It has a deserate flavor, a quality of oxymoronic sanction--something like "libertarian socialism."

That is, however, the term that historian Paul Johnson has chosen to resurrect in his column, "From the Evil Empire to the Empire for Liberty," to be found in the latest New Criterion. This is another stab at the "Is America an Empire per se?" debate. Johnson's answer seems to be "Yes, in fact it is, and it's a good thing too."

I'm undecided on the particulars of his thesis, but for the record I believe America can be fairly described as an empire, albeit of a very recent species. As long as America dominates the seas, she will always be an imperial creature. What this means, quite naturally, is that the U.S. must have an explicit direction or an historical mission, and Bush, whatever his faults, recognizes this much. Whether that's a good or bad thing depends upon your politics, but I for one believe that in the nuclear age, for a lone superpower to remain adrift and lacking in constructive works would be a mad folly.