Archive for December 2014

Writing in a Neo-Victorian Age

Elizabeth Nolan Brown writes for Reason on the return of Victorian-age sensibilities in modern life, “(I)t’s taken the form of fighting to shield delicate sensibilities from “offensive” ideas, limit the parameters of free expression, and return women to the realm of dainty dolls needing special protection.” The assault on freedom is particularly acute to those of us who came of age in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the attacks came primarily from the conservatives and right-wing, although one shouldn’t forget that Tipper Gore, wife to then senator Al Gore and co-f0under of the PMRC, lead the charge against rock music lyrics making censorship a bi-partisan effort. Today’s attacks however come primarily from the Left and appear under the guise of “rational for banning/criminalizing hate speech is that it’s so emotionally traumatizing it serves, even in the absence of any incitement or physical consequence, as a form of violence, and this trumps free speech concerns.”

As a professional writer (not here) self-censorship comes with the job. Self-censorship for a writer is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s an editing tool that can help a writer get his or her point across. But I find myself censoring myself more these days outside of the professional realm to avoid trouble. In fact I just did it in the previous sentences, replacing a short and visceral reaction to living in a neo-Victorian prison with more palatable fare. Worse, I did it without thinking and a careful review of my writing here confirms that even though I argue against such censorship, I capitulate to it more than I should have to as a free-born human being living in a free society under legal protection.

Fuck that. It’s one thing to have to self-censor on the job, it’s another thing completely to do so on an online journal. Nevertheless fighting against self-censorship has consequences, and a writer must decide whether the exercising of  expression is worth it. Unfortunately today those penalties become increasingly harsh as Culture continues its crawl towards authoritarianism making the choices more difficult and painful.

Here’s a reminder of simpler times from Burke Breathed’s classic comic Bloom County.

Council Submissions: December 31, 2014

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The Dagger In The Heart of Socialized Medicine in the US

Megan McArdle has an excellent post-mortem on the death of Single-Payer Healthcare in Vermont. In it she points out some of the difficulties the single-payer advocates face in implementing the solution in the United States. The main issue isn’t the explosive growth of health care costs in the United States today; it’s the growth of costs in the past. “The problem, as I wrote previously, is that America doesn’t have a health-care cost-growth problem; we had a health-care cost-growth problem. Right now, our health-care cost growth is right in the middle of the OECD pack. Our spending is indeed high compared with the rest of the world, but that’s because it started high.”

To put this another way, imagine you rack up $35,000 in credit card debt over a period of time. You finally wake up and realize that you can’t keep spending that way so you start using the card more carefully. You cut back to the point where you only purchase about $650/month – roughly the monthly average credit card spending of Americans. But doing so there is no way to reach the average American credit card debt of $7,500 because in the past you didn’t spend like an average American; you spent like a 16 year rich girl handed her daddy’s plastic. So while you may spend like an average person today, there is no easy way to achieve that $7,500 average by spending cutbacks. You’d have to cut spending to zero and hope for a bailout from the parents or the government.

As McArdle notes, in order to reach the level of health care spending that would allow us to consider a single-payer system like the Europeans have today we would need to cut entire swaths of health care system employment, and doing so would be politically impossible. “Health-care jobs are steady and well-remunerated compared to whatever else those workers could be doing. And that’s not just true of the much-derided “specialists” who do too many procedures and charge too much; it’s true of everyone in your hospital and doctor’s office, from your beloved family physician to the woman who draws your blood. All those people have spent long years working to get where they are. If you suddenly change the rules and take that all away, their rage will burn with the righteous fire of a thousand suns,” McArdle writes.

In 2014 the US spent 17.9% of its GDP on healthcare according to the World Bank. The UK spent 9.4%, France 11.7% and Canada 10.9%. If the US wanted to institute a Canadian-style single payer system, it would have to cut it’s health care spending by roughly 40%.

Think about that. Every doctor, nurse, and medical assistant would receive a 40% pay cut. Every paramedic, home health worker and dietician would do the same. Ditto every insurance claim processor, HMO CEO and malpractice attorney. Every worker who received at least part of their salary due to health care would see that part cut by 40%. And this wouldn’t be a one off event, no. It would be a permanent pay cut.

Nurses wouldn’t be able to pay their mortgages. Insurance claims reps wouldn’t be able to pay for their kids’ tuition. Physicians wouldn’t be able to repay their student loans. The ramifications would reverberate through our economy like an economic earthquake as banks failed, service industries collapsed and other businesses that relied upon that income from the healthcare system evaporated. I have no idea how much GDP would be lost through kn0ck-off effects of such a change. Of course our economy would suddenly have 7% of its GDP freed up, a massive amount of wealth that could eventually lead to some amazing things in our economy. Just hope you don’t get sick during the first several years of adjustment.

Anyone who claims that they know how to fix our system is either an idiot or insane. As someone who both consumes health care, and is married to a health care provider who works long hours under the constant threat of lawsuits dispensing health care to the entitled then laboriously documenting the encounter in electronic medical record systems designed by lawyers and health insurance bureaucrats, I have no idea what the solution is.

We need one, but single-payer isn’t it.

 

 

The Council Has Spoken: December 26, 2014

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Why I Say “Merry Christmas” Even Though I’m not a Christian

For the same reason I wish my Jewish friends a “Happy Hanukkah” during Hanukkah even though I’m not Jewish.
For the same reason I wish my Muslim friends “Eid Mubarak” during Eid al-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha even though I’m not Muslim.
For the same reason I wish my Hindu friends a “Happy Diwali” during Diwali even though I’m not Hindu.

Because I like them and I respect them, and even though I don’t share their beliefs I want to show them that I care about them and value their friendship.

That’s true tolerance, and I don’t need a bullsh*t bumper sticker on my car to proclaim it.

Council Submissions: Dec 24, 2014

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Unwelcome Visitors: Ghosts from the Past

The fact that the older one gets the more history one has is self-evident. As the years pass the distance between the Past and the Present lengthens. Most of what we experience isn’t new, which is why those suffering dementia will forget the face of someone they just met but remember in vivid detail the faces of those they knew in the distant past. Most of the time when the present races into the past it is trapped there forever.

But not always. There are people, places and events that stubbornly refuse to be so consigned. Instead they fight their entrapment even as they lose their physicality and are relegated to the shadows of the present. Yet being mere shadows does not mean they are completely powerless. After all even a shadow can momentarily blind and cause a hunter to miss his quarry. The further in the past they go only seems to strengthen their resolve, and they struggle even harder to achieve relevance. What begins as a single missed shot becomes another and another until finally one is either forced to go home hungry or confront the past.

But how? The world has changed. Everyone and everything is different; only the ghost remains unaffected by the passage of time. It does not belong in the Present which is why it has been stripped of its corporeality and relegated to the shadows. Yet it refuses to accept this punishment.

How does one end the haunting?

I need to know because the ghosts are piling up on one another, and the older I get the more reality flickers with their presence. It becomes more difficult to see the fabric of the present which in turn leads to even more mistakes that then beget even more ghosts. I’m beginning to wonder whether if one lives long enough reality is lost completely behind the misty veils of forgotten dreams, mistakes and the well-intentioned paths not chosen. Perhaps senility is a manifestation of Divine Mercy, allowing the ghosts to embody themselves in the minds of those so stricken so that they are happy and no longer torment their victims.

 

The Council Has Spoken: Dec 19, 2014

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Council Submissions: Dec 17, 2014

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Limousine Liberals and Faux Populists

I’m a big fan of philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb, writer of The Black Swan and more recently AntiFragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. In AntiFragile Taleb warns:

 

Never listen to a leftist who does not give away his fortune or does not live the exact lifestyle he wants others to follow. What the French call “the caviar left,” la gauche caviar, or what Anglo-Saxons call champagne socialists, are people who advocate socialism, sometimes even communism, or some political system with sumptuary limitations, while overtly leading a lavish lifestyle, often financed by inheritance – not realizing the contradiction that they want others to avoid just such a lifestyle…

A former client of mine, a rich fellow with what appeared to be a social mission, tried to pressure me to write a check to a candidate in an election on a platform of higher taxes. I resisted, on ethical grounds. But I thought the fellow was heroic, for, should the candidate win, his own taxes would increase by a considerable amount. A year later I discovered that the client was being investigated for his involvement in a very large scheme to be shielded from taxes. He wanted to be sure that others paid more taxes.


 

Just something to consider as Elizabeth “Stands with Fistfuls of Corporate Cash” Warren grabs the limelight as the “New Hillary” of the Left. Former Congressman Barney Frank said in a recent Huffington Post piece that the Democrats are closing ranks trying to protect large corporate banks to wrest campaign contributions from the GOP. She’s following the path set by Old Hillary who has become well-known for her Goldman Sachs speeches. Shikha Dalmia wrote in a September 29, 2014 USA Today essay, “(I)t appears the woman [Warren] who went to Washington to vanquish the corporate powers-that-be has become a classic Washington insider serving those powers.”

The Council Has Spoken: Dec 12, 2014

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Council Nominations: Dec 10, 2014

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Rolling Stone Rape Fiction An Affront to Rape Victims

My first year in college I got way over my head in a relationship. As many first relationships are, it was at times sublime and other times horrific, and what stands out now almost 30 years later is its brutality. It scarred me, and one of the experiences that came out of it has come to mind with all the talk about rape on campus. One night long ago in Chicago my girlfriend and I had one of our many rows. She left the dorm and disappeared for several hours. When she returned she was bloody, bruised and crying. She had gone to the beach to cool off alone and while she was there she was gang-raped by two black men.

I remember her best friend and I taking her to the hospital, and the police laughing as they interviewed her. I screamed at them for their insensitivity and was held against the wall with an arm on my throat and threatened with arrest for my trouble. For days after that our lives were turned upside-down. There is nothing like having a loved one recoil from your touch, or waking up in the middle of the night screaming. It shredded me, and made me feel powerless. It became the beginning of the end of our relationship, one that gradually spiraled down into a pit of loneliness and despair. She took to cocaine to forget; I took to cheap vodka. Eventually my mother had to mount an all-night rescue mission where she drove non-stop from St. Louis to Chicago, put me and the few things I had left (that my girlfriend hadn’t pawned) into her car, and headed the 333 miles back home.

Whenever I read stories about rape, whether of women or men, I am touched by them. I’ve seen the damage the violence causes first hand, and as a man who has held a woman screaming in his arms as she relived her rape, I’ve been damaged by it. All these years later the scars are still there and they still hurt, but as I get older I’ve learned that as one ages the pains of aging and Life increase. You just suck it up and keep living.

Rolling Stone’s recent piece detailing the gang-rape of a freshman at the University of Virginia received a lot of publicity when it was published, followed by scrutiny. Now the story is falling apart and it appears likely that the protagonist “Jackie” was not raped as she claimed to have been. There have been other cases where women have gone public with rape claims only to later have them proven lies. The most horrific case was the Duke Lacrosse Rape case where a stripper’s lie ruined the lives of three students she accused of the crime. There’s a kind of masochistic sainthood that comes with claiming to have been raped when you haven’t, an ego boost that doesn’t come to those who actually were raped. In my girlfriend’s case she buried the event under the sedation of alcohol and cocaine; the last thing she wanted to do was talk about the rape.

I grew up with four older sisters and a mother who ran the financial affairs of the house. I was taught to respect women by the same women in my life who value me as a man. The girlfriend survived. Last I heard she was happy living in the Midwest, having put her drug abuse and her rape behind her.

But “Jackie” and her enablers do women like her a disservice by lying about rape. It belittles the real victims of rape and those who have been injured in the aftermath. There is nothing good that comes out of rape. There’s nothing heroic or noble about surviving it. The only thing worse than claiming to have been raped when you haven’t is to be falsely accused of rape. That’s something the Duke Lacrosse players and an entire fraternity on the UVA campus have experienced first hand. Will Rolling Stone do an in-depth article on the hell they’ve gone through? I’m not holding my breath.

Jann Wenner’s Rolling Stone has brought this disaster upon itself, proving once again that the best days of that rag lay at least two decades in the past. Peter Suderman at Reason.com writes, “And by failing so thoroughly to corroborate so many essential details of Jackie’s account—and by insisting, even after reasonable questions were raised, that the story had been verified to be true, they have made life much harder for the same victims of assault and advocates of awareness that a story like this ought to help.”

Nice job assholes.

The Council Has Spoken: Dec 5, 2014

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Council Submissions: Dec 3, 2014

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