Quick Roundup 198

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Downsize Me My State

Instapundit reader Wagner James Au, whom Glenn Reynolds excerpted from email, mentions the medical costs associated with obesity, and claims that "one of the biggest costs on US health care is... people like Michael Moore." Reynolds follows up with a quip: " Maybe Moore's next film can be called Downsize Me!"

I am just as happy to make fun of Michael Moore as the next guy, but this post has things just as backwards as Michael Moore himself does. For the sake of argument, let's supersize Au's estimate of the costs associated with obesity and say that his figures underestimate the costs associated with obesity by half.

But what difference would this make to me if I didn't have the state reaching into my pockets -- be it through taxation or regulation of industries related to medicine -- every time someone who didn't take care of himself needed medical care. Indeed, I would suspect that without the implicit assumption that there is a social safety net -- which might falsely appear to many to be capable of infinite expansion -- that more people would be far more careful about their own health. These costs would shrink overall, and would be borne only by those who incurred them.

Obesity -- like any number of other myriad risk factors in personal health -- is "our" problem only because the bloated welfare state is making it into anyone else's problem besides that of the afflicted individuals. The solution isn't to increase government involvement in the medical sector of the economy or to have the government dictating to us what to put into our own mouths. It is for the government to stop separating us from the effects of our own actions by underwriting -- and hence rewarding -- everyone's shortsightedness.

Having said that, it is useful in many contexts to consider medical costs in aggregate. The problem arises when we forget that, like any other tabulation, we are looking at the economic behavior of numerous individuals.

Rachel Carson's Genocide

Keith Lockitch of the Ayn Rand Institute has a fitting thought for how we should commemorate the centenary of Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring.

But Carson's centenary is no cause for celebration. Her legacy includes more than a million deaths a year from the mosquito-borne disease malaria. Though nearly eradicated decades ago, malaria has resurged with a vengeance because DDT, the most effective agent of mosquito control, has been essentially discarded--discarded based not on scientific concerns about its safety, but on environmental dogma advanced by Carson.


In the few minutes it has taken you to read this article, over a thousand people have contracted malaria and half a dozen have died. This is the life-or-death consequence of viewing pestilent insects as a "necessary" component of a "vibrant biosphere" and seeking a "reasonable accommodation" with them.

Rachel Carson's birthday should be commemorated, not with laudatory festivities, but with the rejection of the environmental ideology she inspired. [bold added]
If only half the people who read Silent Spring would read this editorial, we'd be far closer to undoing the damage to our habitat accomplished by the banning of DDT.

Texas Close to Allowing Courses on Religious Texts

The Texas legislature is not done by a long shot with this year's assault on freedom in the Lone Star State. The latest bad idea that will probably soon be codified into law is a provision that will permit groups of students to demand the teaching of courses about religious texts at government expense.
The Senate easily passed and sent to the governor a bill Wednesday to teach Bible classes to high school students, but lawmakers immediately disagreed on whether the measure would make the courses mandatory.

Legislative leaders differed on whether school districts may offer the religion studies course, or whether they are obligated to do so if 15 or more students sign up for it. Both "may" and "shall" show up in different sections of the House bill that the Senate passed 28-2 without changing.

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, said his legislative intent clearly is to require school districts to offer the Bible course if at least 15 students sign up for it. [bold added]
And if you wonder why the "secular" Democrats were AWOL, blame pragmatism and multiculturalism:
However, Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, noted that the House Public Education Committee specifically removed "shall" from the original legislation, House Bill 1287, which, he said, allows local school districts to decide whether to offer the course, intended to give students a fuller appreciation of religion's role in society.


Estes and other supporters got little disagreement from critics that people could benefit from more knowledge about Hebrew scripture, the Christian Bible and the Islamic Quran.

"People need to know both the good things and bad things that have happened in history in the name of religion," Estes said. "There's lots on both sides to go around, and an elective course like this is a wonderful forum to discuss those issues."

And it would be nearly impossible for students, he said, "to understand the writings and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." without a basic knowledge of the Bible.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked Estes whether the legislation would obligate school districts to offer a study of the Quran if at least 15 students requested such a course.

Yes, Estes answered, explaining that non-Muslim students may want to study the impact of the Quran "because of the present problems that we have with the war on terror because of people's misrepresentation of the Quran." [bold added]
Notice the Republican -- they're pro-victory, right? -- shamelessly pandering to the pro-Moslem left in that last paragraph so he can have the Bible introduced into public schools.

There is nothing inherently wrong with teaching courses about religion. In fact, I agree that some study of religion is a necessary compliment to the study of history and of philosophy. The problem here is the obvious potential for these classes to become indoctrination sessions coupled with the fact that the state should not promote religion.

We see, once again, another reason to get the state out of education entirely. If some parents want their children to have religious instruction, fine. Just don't make me pay for it or make me send my children to a school where they might feel pressured to take such classes. Unfortunately, this bill opens the door wide open for both such abuses and, in doing so, once again exposes the Republicans as enemies of capitalism, who are willing to sell out freedom whenever the opportunity to promote religion arises.

Searchable Ayn Rand Archives

Via HBL, I learned of a commercially-available CD compilation of the published works of Ayn Rand packaged with a browser and search software. Harry Binswanger is quoted at the site's information page:
Phil Oliver has made and is selling a CD-ROM containing all of AR's published writings, Dr. Peikoff's two books, plus Journals of Ayn Rand and Letters of Ayn Rand. I have been using his "beta-test" version of the CD for a couple of years, with great pleasure, and I have now installed the commercial version, which I highly recommend. At last--the entire corpus of Ayn Rand's writings, including the novels, on one CD. Through a super-speedy search facility, I can find any half-remembered quote in about two seconds. For instance, where is that passage in which Dagny reflects about the clarity of a thought named in words? I searched for "thought named in words," and, within a second, I had the page of Atlas on-screen, with the key-words highlighted"She did not know whether he understood it with that full, luminous finality which is a thought named in words; but she knew that what he felt in that moment was understanding."And, at the top of the screen it shows the source--in this case Atlas Shrugged, Part II, Chapter 1, The Man Who Belonged on Earth. The page number (347) of the paperback edition shows up in brackets in the text. Another example is there any discussion of philosopher Willard v. Quine in the Objectivist literature? In two seconds, I found the only reference page 284 of The Ominous Parallels. Or where is integration discussed in relation to the subconscious? Just searching for "integration" would give far too many hits, mostly about conscious conceptual integrations. So I searched for subconscious NEAR integration, and came up with hits from Journals of Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto, The Art of Nonfiction, and The Ayn Rand Letter. This CD is a "must have" tool for anyone seriously interested in Ayn Rand. [minor formatting changes]
Related, be sure to stop by Noodle Food for Diana's announcement regarding a treasure trove of materials recently made available online by the Ayn Rand Institute.

-- CAV


Darren said...

I second the recommendation of the Objectivism CD-ROM, I can't remember studying Objectivism without it.

Jim May said...

I'm a bit confused -- is Phil releasing an updated version of the CD-ROM, or did you just find out about this now, Gus?

I've had a copy since 1999, and the CD-ROM is indeed absolutely invaluable, especially for the way I tend to remember things (by wording).

In a related note, the CD-ROM does NOT include "Philosophy: Who Needs It" for reasons I have yet to look into.

Gus Van Horn said...

This is probably the one you already have. Somehow, I'd never heard of the CD-ROM until HB posted about it last night. Since I hadn't, I figured that others probably would like to know about it, too, so I posted about it.

Mark said...

I've been studying healhcare on and off since doing so professionally a few years back. You make a vital point here, one that seems to resonate with (even non-Objectivist) people when it's made clearly and concisely. Most people--even studied people like Glenn Reynolds--fail to make the distinction that it's up to the individual to live his life as he pleases, be it in a healthy or non-healthy fashion, so long as others aren't forced to pay the price.

Michael Moore can stuff his face with hot dogs to his heart's content. Just don't force me to pay for his bypass surgery. Once that point is made to otherwise intelligent people, it's often an "Aha!" moment for them. And so, again, good post!

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for the kind words, and for letting me know I got that point across effectively.

Sid said...

There are many diseases that are caused for no fault of the person, e.g. congenital diseases. So even if you live responsibly and healthily you may still be stricken with a serious ailment. This isn't 100% in your control.

Gus Van Horn said...

This is certainly true, but Au's point, by bringing up risk factors that can be influenced by individual behavior, is that "our" rising medical costs are due at least in part to the irresponsible behavior of some.

The implicit question is, "Irresponsible? To whom?" Since so many people take for granted that medical costs are communal, this assumption leads us immediately to calls for the government to regulate the behavior that appears to be exacerbating the problem. (Just look at all the anti-smoking laws for a more fully-advanced case.)

To be fair, Au may not have been calling for (let's call it) "anti-obesity legislation", but if he wasn't, he would have surely caused most people to draw such a conclusion.

A point you caused me to think of, WRT personal medical misfortunes is that even for some of these, personal responsibility could help lessen some of the disadvantages of having the disease.