There! Are! Four! Lights!

It seems CIA torture is back in the news again.

This is a point I’m pretty sure I’ve made before, but I still don’t get why the administration and CIA decided to turn torture into a matter for public debate, by publicly coming out and saying they were torturing, and defending torturing, and whatnot. I’m pretty sure the longstanding CIA policy was just to torture people but not talk about it or admit it. I was fine with that, everyone was fine with that. Was it not working or something?

The only thing I can think of is that this was a calculated move to signal to our enemies that yes, indeed we tortured people. Whereas previously some of them might have harbored some doubts or something.

I presume that the recent controversies and threats of prosecution mean that we’ll revert to the policy of just torturing people (when we need to) in secret, and not admitting it, like we’ve always done and like any civilized country does. So, no harm no foul I suppose. I just hope the controversy wraps itself up sooner rather than later; if I have to read a lecture by one more lefty commentator who has convinced himself that “torture doesn’t work” – a “fact” that most people under the age of 40 have learned primarily by watching the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Jean-Luc Picard is captured by that Cardassian a-hole who strips him naked and shines four lights at him but tries to get him to say there are five lights – but he doesn’t because everyone in the future knew that “torture doesn’t work” – I think I’m gonna puke.

Morality = Theocracy Unless It Doesn’t

Everyone remembers the dark, theocratic Bush Years when the right-wingers decided it was okay to use government to impose their morality on the rest of us. I thought this was supposed to be a free country. But we had no freedoms under Bush, what with him imposing his morality on all of us. (Don’t you remember? When we had no freedoms? Man that sucked). Theocracy came to America. Just like the Taliban.

On an unrelated note, NewsReal has some fascinating excerpts from an interview between Bills Maher And Moyers:

Maher: And he never really effectively has yet anyway, made it a moral issue.

Moyers: He started just recently, a few days ago. He talked about health care as a moral issue. But it is a moral issue! It’s not an economic issue.

Yes, it’s about time President Obama “made it a moral issue”. (Gotta love that “not an economic issue” – this is what someone says when they know they’d lose the argument on economic grounds…)

Anyway, I sure hope you get the message: Morality imposed through government policy? Really really bad and fascistic. Except when lefties happen to agree with the policy. In that case imposed morality is great and something to be proud of, indeed it’s apparently the best argument lefties can think of.

Access

Health care “reform” advocates are fond of claims that such-and-such number of people don’t have “access to” health care.

Effective phrase, and sure seems to support their case. But what does it even mean? What is “access”? It’s a pretty slippery notion to anyone who actually takes the time to, well, think about what it might signify.

At one extreme end of the spectrum, one might say that “access” must be free and unfettered to be true “access”. If you have to fork over money for entry somewhere, you don’t have access to it. If you had access to it, you’d be able to go there, and do the thing, without someone forcing you to fork over money. By this reading of “access”, it almost necessarily entails “free”. So if people “not having access” to health care is a valid complaint, and this is what “access” means (free), the complaint is essentially a demand for health care to be free. For everyone, I assume. (After all if it’s free for you what’s the argument that I should pay anything? There isn’t one.) In other words it’s an argument for fully socialized health care.

The other possible meaning, of course, is that “access” doesn’t quite mean “free”, it just means “affordable” – there may be some cost, but it isn’t a cost that exceeds one’s ability to pay. This definition of “access” is superficially appealing (according to it one might say I have access to a Toyota, but not to a Lamborghini, which sounds right). The problem is that by this definition, there will always be some subset of humans who “don’t have access” to any good or service you could name. There’s no such thing as a good or service that (a) isn’t free but (b) every single human can afford. Whatever price X you can name, there will always be some humans who can’t afford to pay X – and thus, “don’t have access”. So if this is what the complaint about “access” means, it’s not a valid complaint.

In summary: if the complaint has merit, it’s a veiled demand for socialized health care. If it’s not a demand for socialized health care, it’s a complaint without merit.

There is another dimension to the ambiguity surrounding “access” though and that is simply the fact that “health care” is not an unambiguously-defined service. What exactly is “health care”? To some people “health care” means “set my bone when it’s broke”. To other people “health care” means “I feel a twinge in my elbow so I made an appointment with my doctor”. There is often no simple, easily-defined concept of The Health Care Stuff Someone Needs. Instead there’s a fuzzy continuum of possible Health Care Treatments that may (or may not) work on someone’s ailments. When trying to ensure that everyone has “access” to “health care”, how high exactly must one climb this spectrum before “no access” becomes “access”?

Let me illustrate with an example. Cancer is often treated with external-beam radiation (XRT), and has been for some 50 years now. But within radiation therapy of cancer there is a specialized technique, a special form of XRT, called Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT). IMRT was invented in its current form in the 1990s, more or less. It requires special software to optimize one’s treatment, and the radiation machine (linear accelerator) needs to be equipped with the right add-on gear and whatnot to be able to deliver it.

The difference between XRT and IMRT is sort of like the difference between attacking your cancer with a shotgun and attacking it with a sniper rifle. That exaggerates things, but you get the point: IMRT is more focused, and hones the radiation more tightly right where you want it (cancer, not health tissue). As a result IMRT can be expected to lead to fewer side effects, and by the same argument, using IMRT one might expect to be able to zap cancer more with no higher risk.

I should add that last time I was keeping up with these things, the reimbursement (from Medicare, if it covered it, or insurance companies) for getting a course of XRT was measured in the low thousands, whereas for IMRT it was in the low tens of thousands. Those numbers are highly approximate and I may be remembering it wrong (and these numbers may have converged in recent years) but it was definitely the case that IMRT is some multiple more costly to deliver than XRT.

With that setup, let’s try to apply this example to the issue of whether someone has “access” to “health care”. Say someone is a cancer patient. They need treatment. Cancer treatment is “health care”, and obviously, that’s what they need. And we are very concerned with ensuring that this person has “access” to it (the “health care”).

But wait: what IS “health care” for this person? Ask the radiation oncologist and he says a standard treatment for this cancer would be XRT. Or, one could opt for IMRT.

Which treatment is “health care”? Are they both “health care”? Suppose this person (or his ins. co.) will pay for the $2000 XRT treatment but would have trouble affording the $20,000 IMRT treatment. So he ‘only’ gets XRT. Does he have “access to” “health care” or not? Maybe he does (because at least he got XRT). But wait, look at that dude over there, his ins. co. shelled out for the IMRT. That’s not fair! He’s getting “access to” that health care which other people are not! But keep in mind, IMRT didn’t even exist prior to the 1990s. There was no such thing as IMRT. When exactly does it join the ranks of Treatments That Must Be Applied To Everyone Or We Have An “Access” Problem?

And it doesn’t end there, either. Because hold everything. IMRT, you say? That’s sooooo 1998. The new thing is Stereotactic Radiosurgery.

Wait! The new thing is Tomotherapy.

Wait! The new thing is proton therapy.

…..

If we don’t subsidize proton therapy for every single human in the U.S. who has vaguely proton-therapy-treatable cancer, isn’t that an issue of “access”?

Surely you can see the slippery-slope here. It’s not at all well-defined to anyone who knows even a little (as I do – a little) about how these things work. There’s no simple cookie-cutter treatment you can slap the label “health care” on. The answer is obviously they’re all “health care”. It’s just that some treatments are Toyotas while others are Lamborghinis. Which one are the health care “reform” advocates insisting we must buy for everyone? Where do they draw that line (if they’re even aware of it)?

But if they were aware of these issues, they wouldn’t oversimplify things or speak in terms such as “access” in the first place. In other words, they wouldn’t sound as ignorantly propagandistic as they do. So in a sense, my questions here are moot. They answer themselves.

Three Greats

I tend to like most movies I see nowadays (with the help of internet recommendation software, Netflix, etc. – I probably won’t even start to watch a movie I’m not likely to like).  But it’s still pretty rare to see a movie that blows me away.  Well here are three recent movies that blew me away.

1.  Sorcerer, which I had only really known from modern pop movie-history as the quintessential “1970s movie that was buried by Star Wars ushering in a new era of blockbuster”, but finally made it to the top of my Netflix queue after what must have been a long and hard struggle through mud and over rickety bridges.

Brutal, depressing movie.  But great and deserves to be remembered for more than opening the same time as Star Wars.  It’s almost a story of redemption of man through hard work and knowhow, kind of the male equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada.  But..um, okay, not quite.

2.   A Little Romance.  Not even sure how I came across this gem but damn I’m glad I did.  The first movie of (13-year-old) Diane Lane, and one of the last with Laurence Olivier.  Probably the best teen romance that I have ever seen.  And it’s so sweet and innocent as well.  A pure pleasure of a movie.

3. Inglourious Basterds, which I just saw today in a theater seemingly packed with senior citizens.  Unbelievable, mindbending experience.  Tarantino’s Star Wars, in my view (which is just a gut vibe I’m getting, not something I can fully explain).  I know this movie will be analyzed to death in the years to come, but it’s almost better to just let the whole thing sink into you, unanalyzed, undissected, as a whole and pure specimen of a kind of movie I have never ever seen before or even imagined in my life.  I’ve probably already thought about it too much in fact.   Here is what I wrote about it to Pastorius (who often has to bear the burden of hearing the first-draft of my reaction to this sort of thing).  I can’t wait to see it again.

It will probably be a very long time before I see three movies in succession that blow me away like this.  (Well, I do have high hopes for Hellboy II: The Golden Army…)  ;-)

Tomato, Tomahto

There are some things my brain just refuses to assimilate permanently, and one is the iconography of the Rotten Tomatoes website.  Next to each review, you see, they place one of two symbols

1. A red tomato

2. A green thingy

One means the review was positive, and the other means it was negative.

I can never remember which was which!  (Without thinking about it for a ridiculously long time)

See, okay, I guess the concept is that if the review is good, the tomato is “fresh”, thus red.  If the review is bad, the green thingy is supposed to make us think of a rotten tomato.

But I always second-guess all that and think:  wait a minute.  Tomatoes are what angry audiences throw at things/people they dislike.  If a performer is bad he’s liable to get a bunch of bright red tomatoes thrown at his face.  Splat!  Hence, red tomato = bad.
Meanwhile, the green thingy?  Looks like a bundle of leaves.  Leaves like on a tomato plant.  Like someone just planted a nice fresh baby tomato plant.  How nice.  Nice and green and fresh.  Green = good, therefore.

All of which is backwards of course, and I do always realize that.  But I have to think about it.  Either this is because there’s just something wrong with my brain, or the Rotten Tomatoes symbols aren’t as effective as they could be.  Stars are effective (more means better).  You could imagine using a plus or a minus, a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, a smiley face or an unhappy face, a guy applauding in his seat or snoring in his seat (SF Chronicle).  But this whole thing with the red and the green just isn’t working for me.

Okay, there’s probably something wrong with my brain.

Just Pay Me With Money. I’ll Buy My Own Stuff With It, Thanks.

One of the things I keep coming back to in the health care debate is how stupid and antiquated it is that the government encourages companies to pay their employees partially in Health Plan rather than in Money.

As a general rule, can’t I please just have the Money instead?  Why is the government deciding for me what I want to spend my own Money on?  If you pay me Health Plan, I’ve got some Health Plan, which is fine, but which I may or may not want or use.  But if you give me the Money, I can buy whatever I want with it, which may or may not be Health Plan.  Why is it so difficult for so many people to understand that the latter is better than the former?

As a holdover from the Soviet Union, I imagine, my mother-in-law gets some free Circus tickets through her job every year.  This was probably some commissar’s idea of how to keep employees happy.  “Let’s allocate them some Circus tickets.”  (I suppose this may have solved some sort of unemployment issue on the Circus side of the equation as well.)  So every year, like clockwork, she gets Circus tickets.   Still.  Sometimes I guess they go.  Sometimes she gives them away.  Sometimes they probably go unused.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with the Circus per se.  It’s pretty cool in fact.  Especially in Russia.  But what if the Circus wasn’t your first choice?  What if you’d wanted to do something else instead?  Do you have Money, that you can use for any number of goods and services?  Sorry.  Bzzt.  You’ve got Circus tickets.  Which are only good for – you guessed it – going to the Circus.

I’m having trouble getting the words out because it’s so frustratingly obvious to me that THIS IS NOT THE DIRECTION WE WANT TO MOVE IN.  Less Soviet, not more, damn it!

Yet everywhere I look are people who are saying in effect “give me more circus tickets.  Give EVERYONE circus tickets.  That sounds like a good idea”.  So circus fans, they campaign for and get their circus tickets.  Health Plan fans, campaign for and get Health Plans.  We’re all stuck with the result, and everyone is campaigning for getting less and less Money and more and more Other, Particular Stuff in exchange.  Stuff that’s decided on by other people.

When you get Money, you don’t have to go with the decision of those other people.  You get to choose.  This is better.  Period.

Whatever busybody scheme or proposal or tax break you’ve got in that clever head of yours for having people paid with Other Stuff rather than Money, just shove it.  Please.  Is it really so objectionable to just let me have my fucking salary paid to me in Money so that I can decide for my own fucking self what I want to do with it?

In fact, I think I want to go to the Circus.

The Unmeasured Dimension of Health Care

There is a touchy dimension to the health care debate, which is simply that not all people use health care equally, or in equal amounts.  Not simply because they “can’t” or can’t afford it – although that’s obviously true, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the cultural tendency to use health care more… or less.   There is a gender dimension to this (women use health care more than men) and, more touchily, there is probably a cultural dimension as well (some cultures probably use health care more than others – I do not care to speculate).

I’m not sure I ever see anyone point this out.  Maybe it’s too subtle.  Or maybe it’s just too touchy, or not polite enough for mixed conversation.  But since all proposals for health care reform are in effect proposals to tax us more and pay/pool our health care costs via  a more government-involved method, I figured someone should point out that in effect this would necessarily result in transfer payments.  Obviously it’s no secret that there will be (yet more) transfer payments from the young/healthy to the old/sick.  But it would also mean, in effect, transfer payments from one gender (men) to another (women).  And – though this would be more difficult to measure – transfer payments, probably, from some cultures to other cultures.  Some social classes to other social classes (and not necessarily the ones you think).  And some races to other races (not necessarily the ones you think).

Imagine, for example, a 45-year-old woman within whose social group, social class, and culture (whatever those are) – and also due to her personality – it’s perfectly normal to visit her doctor like every six weeks.  To be on all sorts of various drugs (not for life-threatening reasons, but for aches and pains and sadnesses of various sorts).  And to make an appointment with her doctor when she gets the flu or sprains her ankle (instead of just toughing it out, like – oh, to name just a random example – I do).  And each time she does this she has a co-pay.  So this woman already pays $X/year not because she “needs” to but because according to her culture and personality, it’s the norm, and thus she feels like she needs to consume health care to a degree that other people – such as myself – would not (even if I had the exact same ailments!)

Is it any surprise that this woman favors “health care reform”, i.e. higher government taxes and more wealth-spreading in order to defray and uniformize health care – and thereby, lower the co-pays she’s already paying (because she feels like she needs to)?

At the margin, this woman is saying “this is stuff I already spend money on.  Sure would be nice if the government would step in, garnish other peoples’ salaries more, and offset this ongoing cost of mine, so I can keep it up”.

By the same token, however, imagine being someone on the other end of that equation?  Someone who doesn’t call his doctor for every ache and pain.  Someone who doesn’t have a lifestyle built around doctor appointments (heck, hasn’t even seen a doctor in years).  Someone who would be very interested in catastrophic-only insurance but doesn’t see a need for the “payment-plan” sort of insurance we have, and would gladly embrace a system where regular doctor visits and the like were just an out-of-pocket thing.

To such a person (i.e me), “health care reform” is just a disguised way of saying “gimme”.  Gimme more of your money.  The result will be to codify into law the health-care consumption patterns and lifestyle of the first sort of person (her) at the expense of the second sort of person (me).

This is a cultural battle as well.

Just worth pointing out.  Carry on.

What Risk Is Not

Basic concept about risk:  A risk is unknown.  If it’s known, it’s not a “risk”.

Take someone with a known health condition that will almost-surely cost $X/year to treat (give or take).  That person is not a “risk”.  There’s this naive notion that somehow you can mix that person’s costs in with a bunch of other people and magically reduce the risk through the magic of ‘risk pooling’, which – incidentally – is believed to somehow be magically obvious and beneficial.  (Kinda like mortgage bonds and CDOs?, I want to scream out…)

No.  Actually, that person’s health care costs have pretty much no risk attached to them at all to begin with.  They’re just known, large, costs.  “Pooling” that person with other people doesn’t reduce any risk or enable anyone to “manage” any of the risk away.  All it does is spread the cost:  i.e. everyone “pooled” with that person is, in fact, pitching in to out-and-out pay for that person’s health care.  There’s no benefit from this, there’s no “well, but by being ‘pooled’ with that person we’ve magically [something]ed the risk and that helps us too”.  No.  It doesn’t help us too.  It’s just a transfer.  A handout.  A charity in disguise.

Now, that may or may not be a good idea.  But I can’t sit on the sidelines and watch amateur risk managers use the terminology of risk in these idiotic ways to try to justify it.  They don’t know what they’re talking about.

My Food Care Plan

I needed to buy some milk yesterday, but I forgot my Food Care Card.  My Food Plan covers milk so I’m very happy with it (I can get milk for a $2 co-pay – if I had to pay for milk out-of-pocket it would be $4.50!  Ridiculous!).  I’m just kicking myself for forgetting my Card though.  How silly of me.  I didn’t have milk yesterday.  My fault.

It was a long and hard battle but we finally convinced our employer to sign us up for a decent Food Care Plan.  The old one was terrible!  Luckily, the government gives my employer a tax break if they pay me partially in Food Care Plan rather than in cash.  So it made sense to their bottom line.  My salary went down by $400 a month but at least I’m on a decent Food Care Plan.  Such a relief.  A load off my mind.  I’d hate to think what my life would be like if I had to think about how I’m going to pay for my own food all the time.

The plan covers milk (with the co-pay), it covers a certain amount of food per month (after which I have to pay out-of-pocket – so I never do), and steak three times a year.  I make sure to use that one up, or I lose it and then I can’t possibly get steak any other way.

Now the truth is, I’m pretty unhappy in my job.  It’s a terrible job with no potential for advancement.  I don’t like where we live either.  But let’s face it, I can’t leave the job, because then I’d lose the Food Care Coverage.

Editor’s note:  Just kidding!  I don’t really have my salary garnished to put me on a complicated ‘Plan’ that partially defrays basic human services/needs in lieu of just giving me the cash to purchase those basic human services/needs myself, and moreover, I surely wouldn’t like it if I did.  What kind of idiot would think up such a thing?  That would just be nuts!

On How “Healthcare” Affects The Human Mind

More observations from the “healthcare” debate:

  • The less a “reform” advocate actually knows about the “reform” he favors, the more passionately he believes in it.  One reason being that, not knowing very much about it, he/she is free to just make stuff up.  Similar phenomenon to that lady who thought that when Obama got elected she “wouldn’t have to worry about her mortgage”.
  • People feel they are owed these complex services by busy strangers.  Think about it, you walk into a hospital, walks directly up to some strangers, and say “work on me.  Care for me.  Right now”.  The strangers don’t know you from a hole in the ground.  The strangers are professionals.  They have families and mortgages and housework to take care of.  But you are owed services from this stranger, aren’t you?
  • For free.  You are owed these services for free.  I know this because any cost, any expense you are asked to pay in return is “too much”.  It’s strange.  If I hired a PhD to, like, tutor my children, I’d pay some high per-hour cost. That’s because the PhD is a highly-trained person whose time is valuable. I know this in advance and I either do it or I don’t.  If I don’t like the cost, I don’t.  But you want an army of M.D.’s and PhD’s and R.N.’s to work on you, and if they ask 50 bucks in return, it’s onerous.  And health is more important than tutoring, too!  I thought health was like the most important thing.  Yet everyone begrudges having to pay anything for it – as if it’s the least important thing.  Four bucks for a Starbuck’s coffee?  Sure.  Fifty bucks at the hospital?  HORRIBLE

One possible hypothesis to explain all this is simply that something about “healthcare” just makes people stupider.  Will continue to investigate.

UPDATE:  More,

  • “Reform” advocates believe in the power of the Magic Phrase.  The Magic Phrase is a phrase so powerful in its impact and surface meaning that you don’t have to actually explain what it really means in any detail – indeed, you may not even know yourself.  (See also “campaign finance reform”, “stimulus” – but this also pops up in other areas, e.g. “net neutrality”)  For example, a zillion and one people are now in favor of something called a “public option”.  They are very keen on the “reform” bill including a “public option”.  That’s very important to them.  Opponents of the “public option” are stupid, say the “public option” people.  Who – incidentally – often don’t have the faintest idea what “public option” means!  When pressed for details, they stammer and improvise – “um, it’s an option!  an option that’s public!”  ROFLOL
  • It is fantasized (or at least claimed) that the cost of whatever is being proposed can automatically be defrayed by magical cost-savings in vague areas such as “reducing paperwork”.  Apparently there is ten billion dollars’ worth of “paperwork waste” that Obama can cut.  Indeed, it is fantasized that he already knows how to cut it.
  • On a related note, any concern or objection anyone might raise is fended off by simply intoning:  “Obama already has a plan for that.”   It is assumed that Obama has a “plan” for any objection.  He may or may not have any such “plan” at all (the person saying this certainly doesn’t know), but no matter.  The important thing, clearly, is to get critics to shut up.

UPDATE 2 (8/17):  More,

  • Health care is the same as health insurance.  Someone who doesn’t have health insurance “doesn’t have health care”.  There is literally no difference between the two in peoples’ minds.
  • On a related note, “having health insurance” is perceived as the be-all and end-all goal toward which all efforts must be pointed.  Not actually giving people the health care:  getting them “insurance”.  So solutions (like the free market) that don’t involve getting everyone on “insurance” just don’t interest people.  To some extent this is viewed as so important that if we have to deny/constrict peoples’ health care to do it (which is what the current ‘reform’ is all about, of course), that’s just dandy.  In the extreme case one could imagine a situation where everyone was “insured” but no health care treatments were approved by the “insurer” (i.e. the government):  seemingly, this would be fine.
  • As I’ve explained before, nobody in this debate uses the word “insurance” correctly.  In the context of health care, for some reason “insurance” means “complicated payment plans for everyday items”.  Which is not really what insurance is supposed to be about.  Car insurance covers extreme repair work, not oil changes; home/fire insurance covers disasters, not paying the neighborhood kid to clean out the gutters; but for some reason health insurance is expected to cover and set up a payment plan for the doctor putting a wooden stick on your tongue and having you say aaaaah.  Instead of just paying the fricking 45 bucks or whatever this would cost by itself, you get on a “plan” where you pay a “copay” of 25 bucks and then spread out the other 20 bucks (or more? or less?) by having your paycheck garnished in a way that you’ll never ever be able to unravel whether you’re getting a good deal or not, and meanwhile you have to see a doctor in your “network”, carry a little card, fill out zillions of forms, etc.  Left unexplained is why the hell anyone wants “insurance” to be this way for health care.  Convenience?

UPDATE 3: More,

  • If any person, anywhere, for any reason, can’t get insurance for a reasonable cost, this is taken as ipso facto proof that the market in health insurance is failing and probably that insurance companies are being too greedy.  Like, suppose someone has some sort of serious condition that requires $500,000 worth of fancy treatments per year.  Everyone seems to think this person should be able to “get insurance” for like less than $1,000 per year or something.  Or maybe $5,000-ish (like almost $500/month), but no more than that.  If no insurance company is willing to insure this person (i.e. promise to pay $500,000 per year in exchange for receiving $5,000 per year), this is PROOF that insurance companies are “greedy” and that the insurance market doesn’t work.  Silly me, I view it as proof that the insurance market is working as it should.  What sort of idiot would take on a $500,000/year liability in return for a $5,000/year payment stream?  Why would we expect anyone to?  An insurance company which “insured” such a person at this rate would probably not be in business for long.  The issue here is that insurance is supposed to be about spreading and managing risks.  But someone who has a known expensive condition is not a “risk” (unknown liability with measurable/predictable statistical behavior), they are just a known liability.  The idea that we should expect these companies to take on known liabilities at well-below-cost because they’re insurance companies, and every single person should be able to get insurance at the same cost, is just nuts.  Does this mean I think the person with the condition shouldn’t get treatment?  Hell no.  It just means that “insurance” per se is not a reasonable way of expecting to pay for the cost of that person’s treatment.  This is where charity and/or government safety nets come in, not “insurance”.  Another possibility of course is that the insurance company could quote the person a true market rate that they think would balance their payments with liabilities – a rate like, well, $500,000 per year.  Obviously the person would have no incentive to buy that insurance contract, because that’s what he’s already paying.  Which is exactly the point!, and goes back to the fact that it’s silly to expect every single human to “have insurance” and be sad that they don’t.  But either way, there’s nothing magic about “insurance” which somehow makes insurance companies able to write individual contracts on which they know they’ll pay out more money than they take in.  And there’s no magic way to “pool” such a person with other people to “spread” his risks (which – again – aren’t risks, but known costs), either, unless the person is being pooled with people who are <i>predictably</i> not going to cost $500,000/year (i.e. not risks either), and all those other people are charged higher rates to compensate.

How My Health Care Is Funded

I was asked “how my health care is funded” in some blog comments section by some “healthcare” “reform” advocate going on a particularly-desperate fishing expedition.  I’ll repeat what I said here (best I can from memory), figuring if it’s really going to be an issue I may as well get it down on the record

My health care is funded the same way as that of most other people:  The U.S. Government gives my employer a fiscally-irresistible tax credit for garnishing my paycheck and giving it to some insurance company.  Another way to say this is that if my employer paid me my full salary, and didn’t garnish my paycheck and give it to some insurance company, the U.S. Government would slap my employer with an extra punitive tax for hiring and continuing to employ me.

I really, really wish they wouldn’t!

Indeed I wish I could keep as much of my full salary as possible (and spend it how I preferred, rather than how the U.S. Government preferred).  If that were so, I might indeed choose to spend the difference on an insurance policy for myself.  Or, I might not.  (Or I might choose to buy a cheaper policy for emergencies only, I might choose to shop around for some other company that hadn’t cut a deal with my employer, or whatever.)

Imagine that.

Is That A Promise?

Some folks are ‘threatening’ to boycott Whole Foods because they didn’t like its CEO’s expressed political opinions about something.

I sure hope so!  Whole Foods is a freaking zoo (especially in New York).  The fewer pale-skinned vegeterian-pizza-buying organic-chocolate-scarfing giant-carrot-cake-carrying water-in-plastic-bottle-they-carry-in-a-mesh-attached-to-their-backpack-guzzling white-girl-dreadlock-having nose-ring-sporting lesbian-till-graduation-participating Whole Foods fanatics I have to wait in line behind just to buy my kombucha, the better.

(Yikes.  Did I actually write this?)

In Her Own Hand

I’m absolutely stunned to see that people are still paying attention to Sarah Palin.  Sarah Palin posts something on freaking Facebook and it’s the talk of the nation.

I’ll say it again, the left must be absolutely terrified of her.

In case I’m the first to notice, by the way, Palin may be consciously following in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps here.  Reagan too was a state governor, was viewed as ‘extreme’, and then had an abortive attempt to enter national politics.  After 1976 he had a radio program on which he stated his views on a huge, huge array of public matters in tightly-written two-minute essays.  They are gathered in a book which is an amazing must-read, especially to people who viewed Reagan as some sort of affable dunce.  I don’t quite recall what happened to Reagan after that, as he seems to have drifted out of the public spotlight and retired to a quiet country life on the sidelines for Carter’s second term and then the Mondale-Ferraro years.  Once he was out of the state governorship and then his hopes defeated in 1976, you see, Reagan was never the same….

Well, Palin has updated what Reagan did (Facebook, not radio) but the function and effect seems to be the same:  state her views concisely, stay in the public eye, get on the record about various problems of the day.  It almost has to be conscious on her part.  And from what I can tell, it’s working.

If history is any guide, then, the left has good reason to be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Reminder

There’s no such word as “healthcare” in the English language.  When you put those ten letters together you are not making a word.

There’s a word called “health”.  There’s another word called “care”.  And there’s a phrase called “health care”.

Just because there’s a phrase doesn’t mean you can smoosh the words together.  We don’t have a word “nationaldefense”, we don’t have a word “frenchfries”, we don’t have a word “coffeecup”.

No, not sure why this always bugs me so much.  IT JUST DOES.

The Missing Favorite Part

When discussing politics with a lefty, my all-purpose rejoinder to practically any left-wing proposal:

“What’s your favorite part?”

Because after all, whatever the proposal is, they haven’t read it and don’t know what’s in it.  So they can’t possibly have a “favorite part”.  I enjoy reminding people of this, and observing their puzzled looks (“what do you mean favorite part?  I’m for it isn’t that enough”)

See, most people haven’t the first clue about the things they’re so passionate in favor of.  Isn’t that strange?

This rejoinder works for whatever the “health care reform” package is.  It worked for the “stimulus”.  It worked for the climate change bill.  It worked for “campaign-finance reform”.

It worked for the Kyoto Protocol.  It worked for the Land-mines treaty.  It worked for Hillary Clinton’s health care reform in the ’90s.

For all intents, practically all the people who wanted these things – and I’m even talking about the activist, politically-involved people who fervently, passionately wanted these things – didn’t know what the hell was in them.  They couldn’t tell you the first thing about any of these things they wanted.  Not really.  Not more than a soundbite, a phrase, as in “um, well it’s a climate-change bill.  Duh!”  or “dude, it’s single-payer.  Sheesh.”  That’s a sufficient level of detail for the passionate activists of the world to make up their minds about something and become passionate about it to the point where they feel absolutely free to demonize anyone who dares disagree with their progressive viewpoint.

Why is that?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that all citizens need to read all bills before forming viewpoints.  Obviously that is why we have a republic, not a pure democracy.  We have representatives to do that for us.  (Theoretically.)  What I’m talking about are the passionate viewpoints that people form in favor of these things they know nothing about.  Yes, I too  might have a position on this or that item, without learning very much about it (let alone reading it), but the difference is I don’t become passionate about something without at least becoming pretty versed about it – about its ramifications and details.  When I don’t have those details, I’m likely to hedge and phrase my support carefully:  “From what I have heard, it’s a good idea.”  But this is a sort of humility that is unknown to your typical ‘activist’ ‘progressive’.

Take someone who supported the Kyoto Protocol and thought anyone who didn’t was a Neanderthal, and thought President Bush was an evil cretin for tabling it.  Where does such a person get off?  Such a person has not read the Kyoto Protocol.  Such a person does not even know what the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol are.  For all Kyoto Protocol fanatics know, the Kyoto Protocol might have set up concentration camps in Indonesia.  How would they know?  Now, sure, they could say:  “if it had something like that in it, I’d have heard about it”.  Well maybe.  But isn’t that an admission of studied ignorance?  An admission that one is speaking from a position of ignorance and relying on others – authorities, trusted spokesmen – for their opinions?  Which is fine, in its way.   But here’s the thing:  if you’re relying on authorities, and trusted others, for your opinions, then what sense does it make to make the leap from there to having passionate opinions?  Such passionate opinions that people who disagree are evil?

In most modern political debate, what is lacking is humility.  Most people participating in political debates don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.  Literally.  They simply don’t know.  Yet they form beliefs, and argue for them, and demonize those who disagree.  Why is this?

It is because politics is mostly tribal, I’m afraid.  It’s about choosing a tribe and signalling your alliance to that tribe in front of others.  Sure, if people were forming their political views based on sober rationalism, they’d have the appropriate humility of people who haven’t read the bills they’re favoring.  But that’s not why or how people form political views at all.  People form their political views so as to align themselves with the Good Side against the Bad Side.  And that’s why no one needs to actually know what the hell they’re talking about or arguing passionately for.  All they really need to know is that the Good People are in favor of something.  That’s enough.

So try asking a lefty:  “What’s your favorite part of President Obama’s health care reform bill?”

Well, I’ll just go ahead and answer:  Peoples’ favorite part is that it involves President Obama, and other Good People.  Good People are for it, so they are too.  A close second:  Bad People (like Republicans) are against it.  That’s their second favorite part.  A third favorite part, related to the first, is that lefties in history and throughout the world have long clamored for socialized medicine.  Lefties, and foreigners, are also Good People.  So if we had socialized medicine that would align us with all sorts of Good People, present-day and historic.  A fourth favorite part is that if you argue for socialized medicine, you get to show off to other people the fact that you’re passionately in favor of socialized medicine.  This automatically makes you, too, a Good Person, at little cost.  (People like showing themselves to be superior to others at little cost, using only rhetoric.  Who wouldn’t?)

Stuff you don’t need to know to favor “President Obama’s” health care “reform”:

  • What’s actually in it
  • How much it would actually cost
  • What negative side effects it may have
  • Any level of detail regarding its provisions and implementation
  • Who wrote it and based on what
  • How it would affect them, personally
  • What critics say about it.

Who needs to know that stuff?

The answer, basically:  no one.

The Vestigial Obsession

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that even some of the most intelligent supporters of government health care don’t know why they support it.

When someone can’t articulate why they support something, and can’t connect the logical dots between the reasons they give for supporting it, I’m entitled to conclude they don’t actually know why they support something.  Indeed, this is the most charitable conclusion available to me.

The typical argument in favor of goverment health care goes along these lines:

  1. State something bad that occurs in the area of health care, under status quo.
  2. ???
  3. “Therefore, we must have government health care.”

This is an “underpants gnomes” argument.  It is not a real argument.  Nothing of this form is a real argument.  There is nothing of any substance in it for me to even attempt to address.

The urgency for the federal government to “reform” (i.e. take over/monopolize even further) health care is simply not apparent.  It is not argued for.  It is not supported by any facts or logical conclusions from those facts.  It bears all the hallmarks of some sort of bizarre political obsession, some vestigial remnant of a long-ago political goal whose adherents can’t even quite remember why it is so important to accomplish.  As with Japanese soldiers hiding out on some Pacific island for the glory of the Emperor 50 years later, whatever original purpose this bizarre planner-fetish may have served is long since dead – but the fight goes on.

And on and on.

I would love to see some lefty, somewhere, articulate why it is so important for the government to do this thing, and why this thing is a good idea, enough of a good idea that President Obama should spend his first year in office obsessing over it, in the middle of a recession no less.  As of yet, I have not.  Not anywhere.

Is no one up to it?

John Hughes RIP

Amazing post by someone who was John Hughes’s pen pal.

How The Left Learned To Stop Worrying And Love (Some) Military Occupations

Matthew Yglesias got me thinking in a post about “metrics” in Afghanistan, when he said this:

I don’t think we have to “leave” Afghanistan right now

Why not? I wondered.

Why doesn’t Matthew Yglesias think we need to leave Afghanistan ASAP? Why doesn’t the left protest about The Afghanistan War? Why don’t they want to “end” it? President Obama has even sent more troops to Afghanistan – a “surge”, if you will? – and most of the left thinks that’s just fine.  In fact they’ve been wanting (or pretending to want) us to “focus” more on Afghanistan for years now.

I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that it was evil, diabolical, and horrible for us to invade and occupy Iraq, but it’s basically okey-dokey for us to invade and occupy Afghanistan – for a greater length of time, at that.  Why are Iraq and Afghanistan thought of so differently by the left?

Up until recently, the left could answer this by saying that Iraq was a more deadly place for our soldiers to be. But is it? icasualties.org came in handy here, although I had to work on the data a little bit. Here are deaths by year since 2003:

US Fatalities
Year Iraq Afghanistan
2003 486 48
2004 849 52
2005 846 99
2006 822 98
2007 904 124
2008 313 163
2009 110 145

And here’s a focus on 2009 by month:

US Fatalities
Year Iraq Afghanistan
2009 110 145
Jan-09 16 15
Feb-09 17 13
Mar-09 9 6
Apr-09 19 12
May-09 25 25
Jun-09 15 45
Jul-09 8 12
Aug-09 1 17

Would you look at that?  Afghanistan has been slowly but surely gaining on Iraq as the most deadly place for our soldiers to be.  It achieved par with Iraq in May and has only been getting worse since.

And no one seems to know it!  People still talk and think about this issue as if Iraq is a “meat grinder” whereas Afghanistan is basically the good, worthwhile mission that is safe even for some of the most pacifist lefties to support or at least tolerate.  Not only that but we have fewer soldiers in Afghanistan than Iraq (last I checked our presence in Iraq was four times as large), so the death rate in Afghanistan is even higher than these numbers illustrate.  Someone who cared only about our soldiers’ lives would surely be freaked out by all this and clamoring for us to exit Afghanistan ASAP!  (In fact, he’d probably want us to relocate troops from Afghanistan to Iraq.)

Yet Matthew Yglesias doesn’t do that.  The left doesn’t do that.  Obama just sent more troops to Afghanistan.  The left?  Applauds!

In the face of these numbers, the supposed motivation of protecting soldiers’ lives simply falls apart as an explanation for why the left takes the positions it does here.  So what is the explanation then?  Why was the invasion of Afghanistan treated with grudging shrugs (and even some faux-hawkish support in some cases), while the invasion of Iraq was greeted with shrieks of horror and a five-year demonization campaign to paint it as the most evil and despicable thing any group of humans had ever done, and it was an immediate moral imperative to end the occupation of Iraq as soon as possible?

You know what I think it is?  (You knew I was gonna tell you, right? :-) )

I think:  ultimately, it boils down to cultural elitism. Iraq is to at least some extent a modernized place, you see, with cities and suburbs and colleges and normal people who have the internet and some are even probably kinda like Matthew Yglesias. Afghanistan, meanwhile, is a backwater no one knows about except from that National Geographic photo of the green-eyed girl, that old movie with Sean Connery and Michael Caine, and one of the Timothy Dalton Bond movies.  As far as most Western lefties know, it’s filled mostly with agrarian opium farmers and mountain goatherders.

The contrast between all that and Iraq is pretty stark.  Therefore, for the US to have invaded/occupied Iraq offends the left in a way that invading/occupying Afghanistan never can. The left can identify with a city-dwelling Iraqi, but a hut-dwelling Pashtun?

Whatever.  Yeah, if the hawks really wanna put troops somewhere, and we can’t stop them, at least let it be there.

To the left, it’s like the difference between using the military in a place like Buffalo, New York, and using the military in a place like – oh, let’s pick a random backwater place – Waco, Texas.

You see?  It’s really no contest.    To even contemplate the former is scandalous.  But actually doing the latter?  No big deal – in fact, probably the right way to go if you need to put on a show of being “hawkish”.

Ignorance Is Bliss?

I’m not the first to observe that Barack Obama’s strongest, most passionate supporters tend not to know very much about Barack Obama or what he has done, before becoming President or after. Something tells me this is the true source of his popularity: he enables people to feel comfortable/happy in their ignorance. They don’t have to think or know anything about the President or what he is doing. Barack Obama is President! That’s all they need to know. And that’s great! When Bush was President, they had to think and learn all sorts of stuff about all the evil deeds Bush was up to. Now they can forget about all that. Good job President Obama. Keep it up.

To be fair, however, I don’t really know very much about what the President is doing either. In fact, I probably couldn’t name a single (real) thing (of any substance) that President Barack Obama has actually done as President. He, um, nominated Sotomayor to fill an empty SC seat – but any (D) President would have nominated her (or someone like her). Doesn’t really count. He gave the Queen some DVDs (or something). There’s lots of phony/fake/rhetorical substantive-sounding things Obama has done, of course: he “closed Gitmo”, he “ended the Iraq war”, etc – various verbal/rhetorical Announcements he has made that haven’t substantively changed any facts on the ground. So like I said, I really don’t know much about what Obama has done either.

So why aren’t I as blissfully happy as a Barack Obama supporter? It’s just not fair.

Cycle

I tend to think I’m pretty perceptive when it comes to other peoples’ feelings and the vibes they give off. This would include the feelings/vibes they give off towards me, of course. In particular, I feel like I can pretty much tell when a person doesn’t like me.

Also, I tend not to like people who don’t like me, or want to make much of an effort to be nice/friendly/social towards them. (Why bother? They don’t like me.) So, I probably don’t.

This probably makes those people not like me. (If they didn’t dislike me already.)

I wonder if I’m wrong about that first part though. Maybe I’m not as perceptive as I think I am. That would be ironic. Don’cha think?

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