Sunday, August 30, 2009

The heresies of Stewart Brand

For the most part Brand's new heresies are pretty good. His fear about global warming, in our humble opinion, is wrong. But his support for nuclear power is not. His understanding of the dynamics of informal cities and markets is spot on. His notice of the plethora of private schools in the slums of the world is important. His support for genetic modification is good. Brand seems to be channeling Hernando deSoto, James Tooley, Petr Beckman and Ron Bailey. About 17 minutes. Mr. Brand will, no doubt, be viciously attacked for speaking the truth.

Labels: , ,

A few thoughts on the idea of intelligent design.

If one takes the conventional theological view of existence you end up with a story like this: Once upon a time there was a deity. This deity existed for all of eternity. At some point that deity created a universe, apparently for the purpose of making humans the central point of it.

I admit to not buying that story at all. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t contemplate the story and consider the ramifications of the theory. Doing so raises some interesting questions.

If a deity existed for all of past eternity, but he only created the universe and our species at some relatively recent time in the past, what was he doing for the rest of the eternal past? In terms of the eternal— whether you take the Creationists seriously, and accept that humans are a few thousand years old, or whether you take the scientists and accept that the universe is billions of years old—creation is a relatively recent event. So, for the blink of the eye the universe has existed and before that was an endless eternity of void, with a deity hanging around somewhere, though where is not exactly clear.

So, what was that deity doing for the billions and billions and billions of years before he acted to create all that is? And, whatever it was he was doing for all that time, why stop doing it in order to create a universe?

The most logical explanation, given the premises of theism, is that the being was perfect and hence had no need to do anything. He merely existed, content in his own perfection for all that time. That certainly would explain the lack of activity prior to existence coming into being. But it raises another difficulty. If this being were content in his own perfection, then why suddenly act to change existence?

The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises argued that every conscious action is taken to improve the actor’s satisfaction or well-being. This doesn’t apply to things acted upon, such as leaves being moved by the wind. Nor does it apply to unconscious entities like plants. But for life forms, animals or human, the being acts to improve its own condition.

If a deity existed in his own perfection then what sort of dissatisfaction could cause him to act in any manner? Surely, the perfectly content being has no reason to act at all. All action, in a state of perfect satisfaction, can only lead to less satisfaction, not more. Perfect satisfaction is that above which no greater satisfaction can exist. So no action can increase the perfection and it can rightfully be argued that every action must reduce it. There is no other possibility.

Such a theory of a perfected being may explain the inactivity of god for eternity, but it cannot explain his sudden need to act. What dissatisfaction could possible have existed to cause this deity to suddenly fling galaxies into existence?

A perfect being would not act. An imperfect being would act. Yet, theology tells us that the perfect being acted. In Genesis we are told he created all that exists and proclaimed it “good.” Apparently before it was created it was not good, he existed in an imperfect state that he acted to improve. But, can a perfect being, upon whom all that is depends, ever exist in an imperfect state? The whole thing seems to be one massive contradiction.

If a perfect being existed he would have no need to act. He would simply exist in his own perfection. The mere act of creation implies an imperfect being or a completely unintelligent source for the universe. Considering the contradictions of the theistic position I can only hold to a natural, explanation for all that is. A deity who acts is a contradiction in terms.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Calling all porkers, your trough is ready.

“Soo-eee, soo-eee, calling all porkers.” Yes folks, its that time again, when Congressvermin line up with their earmarks to buy favor from the locals in their districts.
And once again, conservative Ron Paul, is passing out the pork like a dyed-in-the-wool politician. Here are just a few of the projects Paul has requested using tax payer funds to finance. As far as I know none of them are within the Constitutional scope of government.

Bayside Community Hospital – $20,000,000 due for being “adversely impacted by huriccanes Rita and Ike and by the displacement of individuals by Hurricane Katrina.” Adversely impacted is a very all-emcopassing term.

TecGen - $2,800,000. As best as I understand it TecGen is a private company that produces fire protection gear. They want Texas A&M to test their gear and Ron Paul is happy to have the taxpayers, through earmarks, pay for what appears to be a subsidy to a private company. His justification is it “will also provide protective materials for law enforcement and homeland security operators” and can be used in Irag and Afghanistan. The fibre is produced in Texas and also sold on the basis that the Texas “will benefit from job creation.” Surely Paul knows that is not the case.

Revelation Missionary Baptist Church - $2,500,000. The purpose is to build a “community outreach center” for the church. Remember Paul says that separation of church and state is a fiction. But he also said that separation only applies to the federal government, not to the states. So precisely how is $2,500,000 in federal pork, for a church, not violating the separation of the federal government from the church?

Wharton County Youth Fair - $4,500,000 to build them a “new facility.” Which part of the Constitution authorizes that?

Wharton County Jr. College - $220,000 to help train students for work in the nuclear power industry. I’m pro-nuclear myself, but I’m not sure the federal government should be subsidizing the production of staff members for that field.

Trinity Episcopal School -- $1,000,000. This is put in as to help the school due repairs from hurricane damage. I should say that this church seems relatively decent and sane, from what I can see. I’m not into the god claims but these aren’t fundamentalists and bigots. Quite the contrary. But I find no mention of hurricane damage on the school’s web site. However, the church is raising money for damage to the church. Is this a fast one, where the school is being substituted for the church, because it will be easier to get funding? And while this church and school seems relatively decent, is it a constitutional function of the federal government to fund local religious institutions?

Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership - $4,000,000 to train small business on how to use “knowledge and technology from the US Space Programs to commercial use.” Sounds like a business subsidy to me, with all the defects of subsidies.

Kendleton RV Park - $1,000,000. For an RV park to “enhance tourism to retain and expand job opportunities.”

Victoria Channel – $7,000,000. “Designed to protect jobs and economic activity.” Hmm, how does that fit with Austrian economics again?

Those are a few of the sort of Pork-barrel projects that Ron Paul proposed to the budget. He really outdid himself this year. A quick tally shows his pork projects totaling almost $395,000,000. Last year he only managed to line up only $96 million for the little piggies in his district, making him the biggest spender in the Texas delegation in the House of Representatives. He clearly outdid himself this year.

The Rondroids, however, won’t see these pork projects as a bad thing, at least not when St. Ron of Paul is proposing them. These things are only bad when other Congressvermin do them. I’ve even seen comments on the Rondroid sites praising Paul “for taking care of his district.” Yep, that’s a good libertarian view, get your Congressman “to take care of you.” I guess when it comes to pork-ridden earmarks he’s Dr. Yes Please.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 24, 2009

How nationalized health care victimizes immigrants.

Evangeline Stanner is a victim of nationalized health care. As is her husband and two children.

Evangeline, 35, was born in the Philippines. She is married to Richard Stanner of New Zealand. The couple, who met over the internet, have been married since 2006, together they have two children, a two-year-old and a six-month old infant.

After her marriage in 2006 Evangeline was given a work permit in New Zealand so she could be with her husband. That work permit was renewed twice but is due to expire in January. You would think that as the legally married spouse of a Kiwi that she'd be able to stay in New Zealand. And Kiwis are allowed to sponsor their spouses for citizenship—something Evangeline and Richard have put into motion.

But the Stanners were told that Evangeline must leave her home, her husband and her children and return to the Philippines. Evangeline says: "Immigration is tearing our family apart." But she is wrong. It isn't actually immigration that is doing it, it is nationalized health care.

Evageline's only crime was that she got sick. New Zealand has a nationalized health care system and immigrants are not allowed into the country if they might impose costs on the system. It doesn't matter that Evangeline only became ill while in New Zealand. Immigrants are allowed in provided they fund the system, as Evangeline did with the taxes she paid from employment, but they must not collect from the system into which they are forced to pay. Their only purpose is to keep the system funded for aging Kiwis who don't have private insurance, thanks to the crowding out that happens when government provides this care.

During her first pregnancy, with son Josh, she developed a slight kidney problem. With the birth of her second child the condition became much more severe. Her application as the mother of two Kiwi children was scrutinized by medical bureaucrats who wrote her "that you do not meet the acceptable standard of health... on the basis that you are likely to impose significiant costs or demands on New Zealand's health services."

Evangeline has until January 10th to be with her children and then she will be exiled for the crime of being ill.

Immigrants going into New Zealand are taxed for the health care system. Many immigrants simply can't afford to purchase private insurance on top of the heavy taxes they pay for the "free health care" which they better not use. So, if they use the national health system they may end up getting deported, but they can't purchase private care either since the national health system eats up a good portion of their income. Its a case of damned if your well, double damned if your sick.

On top of kidney problems Evangeline has to cope with the stress of being exiled from her husband and children just so the illusion that "nationalized" health care is cheap can be kept alive.

Evangeline, and other immigrants, are not allowed to forgo the nationalized health system, the purpose of such a system is to guarantee "equality" not improve people's lives. So while many would find a better life in New Zealand, even without the socialized health care, they aren't allowed to have it. That would undermine the real principle at work, equality of outcome. So to pretend that the system grants equal access to health care, anyone who might get sick is deported.

You will also find that older people are also routinely discriminated against by New Zealand Immigration, even if those people are quite capable of funding their own health insurance. The system is set up so that nationalized health care trumps everything so anyone who could conceivable use that care is forbidden from moving to New Zealand.

Oddly this has nothing to do with a Kiwi fear of people taking advantage of the welfare state. People can immigrate and join the welfare rolls, that isn't the problem. The problem is that health care is a more precarious situation. Most Kiwis will never be on welfare, so the government can tax them to pay for those people who are on the system. But everyone eventually needs health care and the Kiwi system, like all socialized systems is costly with demand exceeding supply. So anything that strains this already over-strained system has to be cut out.

The result is the rationing which I have spoke about on numerous ocassions. Some medines simply are forbidden. Some procedures are simply banned. Hospital beds are rationed, as are doctors and health care in general. And, some people are simply banned from having health care. If you ban enough people then you can offer "universal health coverage" albeit not very honestly.

Evangeline Stanner had the misfortune of becoming ill under nationalized health care before her residency was approved. So, for that, she will be deported. Chances are also good that she will die in the Philippines because of her illness. She did pay into the health system for three years, her husband paid in for his entire life, but under socialized health care rationing takes place. Nameless bureaucrats decided where to draw lines over who is, or isn't allowed to have care. They drew the line and Evangeline was on the wrong side of it.

Of course, it is possible that lots of negative publicity will ge the politicians to step in and change the ruling. But that won't change the system. All it will mean is that lots of other people, good people who won't get the publicity, will still be excluded because the national health system is only looking for immigrants that can be plundered, not immigrants who may need health care.

In a rational immigration system health, in the sense of communicable diseases, may be an issue. But Evangeline posed no threat to the health of others. I would suggest her presence, with her children, would lessen risks they may have in life. But she was a "liability" not an "asset" to a system that she had no choice in joining.

National health care systems impact on freedom in more ways than meet the eye. It won't just be the reduction of freedom of choice in medical care, and it won't be just a reduction in the amount of the wages you earned which you are allowed to keep. It will also mean greater restrictions on freedom of movement between countries. Nationalize health care makes it harder for would-be immigrants to find a better life. And that means that they, and everyone else, is made poorer because of it.

Under nationalized health care immigrants are an invisible victim of the system. Evangeline is one of those victims, albeit one that has managed to received some publicity.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Socialized health care: the equal right to wait, and wait, and wait.

While Americans were debating the Obama administrations attempt to have government grab the health care sector no one was paying attention to the news from Canada. Canada is one of those state-controlled health care systems that is lauded and praised by those who want a form of health care fascism in America.

The article in question appeared in the Vancouver Sun and mentioned a document that was leaked from the local Health Authority. In Canada, health care is run by the provinces on behalf of the federal government. I should mention that a couple of years ago the Canadian Supreme Court legalized private health insurance, which had been banned by the government, saying that the government was doing such a poor job of providing care, that banning private care on top of what they were doing, was a violation of the rights of Canadians. Since the state was unable to provide decent health care as promised it could not also ban private care as that put the lives of people at risk.

The document that the Sun mentioned was a report from the health authority on the number one problem of socialized care: the inability to pay for it. The problem is that once you announce care is “free,” by which they don’t actually mean free, just that payments are divorced from consumption, the numbers of people wanting more and more care explodes. The demand for care exceeds the supply of care. That is how it is with any good or service that people desire: demand will always exceed supply.

AS the demand explodes so do the costs. But the big slogan of the advocates of nationalized care is that they offer “cheaper” care. So, with exploding demands they have to ration the care to keep costs down. Unfortunately, as they keep trying to reduce the supply of medicine the demand continues to escalate. That leads to budget shortfalls. They don’t have the funds to pay for it.

The Fraser Health region in British Columbia is facing a $160 million shortfall so they were trying to figure out what health care they could end. The document discussed included more rationing of care. A representative of the New Democrat Party (socialists) said this indicated cuts to: “Diabetes clinics in Delta and Mission, regional maternity and pediatric services, and seniors’ aid and mental health programs….” The bureaucrats admit the report is genuine but say it is misleading to allow the public to read it. They admit discussing “a potential 10-per-cent drop in the number of elective surgeries… and longer waits for MRI scans.” Remember, that under government health care programs they decide what is elective surgery not you, not your physician.

Canada’s Health Minister Kevin Falcon said “We’re in the situation right now where there is no more money” and that cutting care is necessary to keep the system sustainable.

The article mentions one hospital that will be forced to close its emergency ward entirely requiring patents to be taken to hospitals another 20 minutes away.

One way that the state health systems keep costs down is to limit the number of people who can have care at any one time. The result is waiting lists, patients are told they are on the list for treatment or surgery and that in some week’s time they will get the care. If you only have one MRI machine, which is expensive, then only so many people can use it in a day. Reduce the capital expenditure on health care, which socialized systems do, and you end up with patients waiting, and suffering longer, in order to get that care.

In Canada the Wait Time Alliance monitors the waiting lists that result from rationed care. The WTA is not a batch of “right-wingers” or “tea party activists” or whatever other stereotype one may use to describe opponents of nationalized care. It is an alliance of groups like the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, Canadian Association of Radiologists, the Canadian Medical Association and ten other associations of health care professionals.

In their June, 2009 report, Unfinished Business: Report Card on Wait Times in Canada, they attempted to measure the average waiting time for patients. Under the Canadian system an individual must first see a family physician. That physician acts as a gatekeeper, you don’t get see a specialist unless you are recommended by your physician. The waiting period includes the time period between seeing your physician to get permission and the time you actually see the specialist. In addition a second layer of waiting is then measure: that is the period between seeing the specialist and having access to treatment. What is not included “is the wait patients may experience to access their family physician or the fact that nearly 5 million Canadians do not have a family doctor.” (p.3)

In particular they tried to measure the waiting time in comparison to “benchmarks” set by the government. WAT, however, notes that the government benchmarks for waiting periods “represent maximum acceptable wait-time targets and should not be viewed as desired wait-time targets.” In other words, the benchmarks the government set for itself are absolute minimum possible before getting a failing grade completely. Sometimes, what the government considers “acceptable” wait-times, are considered highly undesirable by the actual physicians involved. WTA and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society argued that, with cardiac bypass surgery, no more than six weeks should pass from the initial doctor’s visit and surgery. The government is quite happy with a target of 26 weeks. (p. 4)

Even with somewhat loose targets the government system fails: “Based on the… target of 18-weeks from initial referral by a family physician to start of treatment, a majority of patients had wait times that exceeded the 18-week target.” For cancer patients “the median wait for radical (curative) cancer care was 46 days or nearly 7 weeks… the majority of these treatments exceeded the CARO [Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology] benchmark for curative cancer treatment of 4 weeks (2 weeks for the consult wait and 2 weeks for treatment). This is troublesome given the clear link between delay in radiation therapy and a chance of cure.” (p. 7)

This sort of waiting is routine even for emergency treatment. The report said that “the media wait time for patient [in emergency care] presented at the ED to the time they were admitted to an inpatient bed was 19 hours (average is 23.5 hours or nearly one full day,) which is substantially higher than the CTAS [Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale] thresholds (e.g., more than three times the 6 hour guideline for high-level acuity patients). The longer wait for patients to be admitted is often due to the inability to find an available hospital inpatient bed.” That inability is because hospital beds are expensive to maintain (not just the bed but the care that goes with it) and one way to reduce costs is to limit availability to that care by limiting the available of hospital beds.

These wait-times are critical. Whatever flaws the US system has, and most of those are due to political interference, the US stacks up quite well for actual treatment needed and received, compared to Canada. A report by June O’Neill and Dave O’Neill, Health Status, Health Care and Inequality: Canada vs. the U.S., investigates the percentage of people, with particular conditions, receiving care for those conditions in the United States verses Canada. As previously reported here:
In Canada 84.1% of those with high blood pressure were receiving treatment for it. In the United States the number was 88.3%. Those with emphysema or related illnesses are far better off in the US where 72% are receiving treatment versus 52% in Canada. In the US 69.6% of individuals with heart disease receive treatment while in Canada the rate is 67.2%. When it comes to coronary heart disease 84.8% of American sufferers receive treatment as compared to 88.9% of Canadians with the problem. Out of eight conditions they investigated Americans have higher treatment ratios in six categories with Canada leading in asthma and angina. These were for individuals age 18 to 64.

But these differences remain fairly consistent for individuals over the age of 65 as well. The only change was for angina where the U.S. now has a higher treatment rate than Canada: 77.7% to 73%. The report noted that “the U.S. generally performs better with respect to treatment of all conditions except that of asthma.”

What about preventative procedures like PAP smears, mammograms and PSA tests for prostate cancer? Again higher percentages of the American public receive such tests than do Canadians. In the U.S. 88.6% of women ages 40 to 69 have had a mammogram. For Canada it was 72.3%. In the U.S. 74.9% of the woman had the test within the last two years where only 54.7% of Canadian women had a recent test. For PAP smears the rate was, over the last three years, was 86.3% for American woman versus 88.23% for Canadian women. The men get a worse deal in both countries when it comes to testing for prostate cancer. In the same age group, 54.2% of men have been tested while in Canada the rate was an abysmal 16.4%. And testing for colorectal cancer is done, both for men and women, about six times as often in the United States as in Canada.

When the study looked at survival for cancer in both countries they also found that Americans were slightly better off. They looked at the ratio of the mortality rate to the incidence rate for cancers and found that Americans are ahead. They concluded, “in terms of the detection and treatment of cancer, the performance of the U.S. would appear to be somewhat better than Canada’s.”

The use of MRIs and CT scans are also much, much rarer in Canada. Canada has 5.5 MRI scanners per million people as of 2005. The US, in 2004, had 27 per million. When it came to CT scanners the US had 32 per million in 2004 while Canada, for 2005, had 11.3.

Considering that one of the alleged virtues of Canada’s health system is the “equality” factor it is interesting to see that more individuals in the US, with specific conditions, are receiving treatment than do their counterparts in Canada. The report also found that the poor in the United States reported as much, or more health care, than those in Canada did.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Witch burning is good for the soul.

In Illinois there is an organized group of loons known as the Illinois Family Insitute. If you speak "fundamentalist" you know that "family" is their word for hate. "Family values" means valuing hating some people. The targets of these loons varies. One thing about witches and hunting them is that what is chic changes over time. It used to be very chic to lament the presence of Jews and our fundamentalist brethren and sisterns could hate Jews with the best of them. At another time in history hating blacks was perfectly acceptable, and the fundamentalists, of course, discovered that God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost and the Bible all sanctioned such hate. Many of them flocked to the Ku Klux Klan during that period.

Unfortunately some hatreds have gone out of style thus limiting the choices of bigotries that the born-againers can exhibit. They lament this loss of freedom quite loudly—after all, if God wants them to hate then, by golly, they are going to hate with all the life in their body. Ninety percent of the reason that people are fundamentalists is so that can pretend to be superior to someone, something that is almost impossible for them if they had an accurate appraisal of the situation. So accuracy is not imporant, hence the need for divine revelation. One of the virtues of divine revelation is that it doesn't have to be true to be useful.

The Illinois Family Institute has a witch in their sites and they won't be happy until they manage to rile up the villages to grab a pitchfork or two. That witch is Hermant Mehta. Mehta is in their sites because he is an atheist and a teacher.

If you read their attacks you will quickly discover one thing. At no point do they claim that Mehta, who teaches math, is promoting atheism in the class room the way fundamentalist teachers repeatedly are known to do. Mr. Mehta's great sin is that he is an atheist and expresses his views about fundamentalist loons on his blog. That is the reason that are pushing for parents to storm the school offices and demand that their children be removed from Mr. Mehta's math classes.

Now, were they to say that Mr. Metha was a bad teacher I might have sympathy for them. But they don't go there at all. Their entire fanfare is because he privately, outside school, expresses view which they claim are offensive. Reason is always offensive to the unreasonable. And in a world populated by irrationalists of various stripes, to not be offensive is to fail at being human.

When Henry David Thoreau was arrested for refusing to pay a poll tax he was visited in jail by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson asked Thoreau: "Henry, why are you here?" Thoreau responded "Waldo, why are you not here?" Similarly, if one were to ask me about offending fundamentalists my response would similarly ask: Why aren't you offending them? The reality is that these people are so crazed with their fanatical beliefs that mere human decency is enough to offend them. If you haven't offended a fundamentalist Christian then you have failed to be a decent human being. I am not saying we should go out of our way to act offensively, or to say offensive things. Such clownish tactics don't work. But in the process of daily living, and the expression of compassion for others, and a fervent believe in equality of rights, and equal freedom for all, you can not escape from offending such people.

I guess this is what bothers me so much about the faux "libertarians" like Wayne Allen Root, who bend over backwards to never say anything that fundamentalists would find offensive. They think this maximizes votes. It doesn't. It merely isolates them further from the mainstream public which is relatively decent and makes them appear to be pandering to the most intolerant bunch of assholes in the country. Pandering to assholes merely makes you look an asshole yourself -- though Mr. Root accomplishes that in a myriad of ways.

The loon at Illinois Family Institute leading this witch hunt is Laura Higgins, who as might be expected is a born-again fanatic. And she sent out an email urging people to complain about the evil influence of Mehta. As she wrote in an open letter to Metha: "If students search your name and come upon your blog, they will be exposed to your endorsement and promotion of ideas that some parents may find deeply troubling." It gets worse: "If students have you as their teacher, like you, and develop a relationship with you—as happens often in high school—they will be more likely to look favorably on and be influence by your ideas than those students who have little or no personal connection to you."

So, the problem is that students may like Mehta. If he were the stereotypical atheist, in the eyes of fundie loons, that would be one thing. But if people actually like him, and think him "cool" (the world Higgins used) then they may be more favorable to reason and logic and look down on the faith method of "knowledge."

Higgins is a bit dishonest in what she is doing. She insists that she isn't after Mehta's job. She just wants all the parents to pull their kids from his class and demand that that the school allow this, again not because of anything he has done in class. If the parents got upset by Higgins, and followed her instructions, and Mehta lost his students, how long would it be before his job followed? Consider a boycott of a business. The organizer says to the business owner: "I don't want you to go out of business. I just want people to stop buying from you." You don't get the one without the other. If you know the two are intimately linked together, to demand the one is to demand the other.

Mehta doesn't endorse fundamentalis "moral values." He completely fails to hate gay people. So that means he is unfit to teach children. In the mind of Higgins the loons who blame bad weather in Maine on gay marriage are fine, upstanding, moral citizens who should be emulated by children. A teach who teaches the logic of math is unfit because he, in his private life, doesn't hate those people that God wants hated.

One point I have tried to make is that the fundamentalist are inclined to hate. Right now gays are their convenient target and the one they think they can hate the most and gain the most. But, if they succeed, or clearly lose, they will turn their hatreds elsewhere. People inclined to hate always find scapegoats. What I find amusing is that the scapegoats they may turn to are currently allied with these people in the Religious Right movement. Ask a fundamentalist what he really thinks of Catholics or Mormons and sit back and enjoy the fire works. The only reason conservative Catholics and right-wing Mormons are allied with fundamentalists right now, is that they are united in their disdain and disgust for other scapegoats. Win that battle, or reach the stage when it is a lost battle, and the haters will need to turn on other witches. And that may well mean turning on each other.

I can hardly wait to watch the drama of it.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 21, 2009

More from the Dark Ages

A few days ago I commented about the fundamentalist loon in Maine who wrote that the cool, wet summer they have had was due to the state allowing gay couples to marry. Consider this the sequel.

This loon, like the last, is also a fundamentalist Christian minister, credentials which indicate voluntary lobotomy—all the critical faculties of the brain have been shut down intentionally. Our most recent loon is Rev. Jon Piper of the Bethlehem Baptist Church of Minneapolis.

A very minor tornado, so minor it barely qualifies as a tornado, touched down in Minneapolis yesterday. It hit various places in the town. But, one place that had some minor damage was the local convention center where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was holding a convention. At this convention the ECLA was discussing their view on the rights of gay people. So, of course, that means God sent the tornado to warn the Lutherans against the sin of tolerance.

Piper quotes an unnamed friend who reported:
On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected...a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis. The tornado happens on a Wednesday...during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's national convention in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention is using Central Lutheran across the street as its church. The church has set up tents around it’s building for this purpose.
A few problems with the report are obvious. Take how the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported the story: "It was a tornado after all that hit Minneapolis, but it was a weak enough one that 19 minutes elapsed before the first warning sirens were sounded..." In fact two tornadoes hit different parts of town and four hit the entire state. Of the two in Minneapolis: "The Weather Service gave both tornadoes its lowest strength rating, EFO, noting winds ranged from 70 to 85 miles per hour."

So, the Baptist loons are reporting it as a severe tornado that came up unexpectedly while the Weather Service and local newspaper seems to think it was barely strong enough to be a tornado and part of a weather pattern in various parts of the state, thus not unusual.

The Baptist loons are convinced that reason the convention center, and a neighboring Lutheran Church, were hit was because Lutherans were considering a more liberal approach to gay people. As Rev. Piper wrote:
The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.
If God was punishing Lutherans for the sin of tolerance then why the other three tornadoes? One of those hit a middle school—obviously the school was a center of sin and sodomy. There was very little damage at the Lutheran's event, just a broken cross on the steeple of the church really. But at the school "the roof caved in." Three families had so much damage to their homes that they can't stay in them and the Red Cross was helping them. So, clearly those families were extremely bad sinners who upset Jesus. A music and gift shop was also damaged—clearly they sold ungodly music.

This whole idea that the God of the Baptist loons is out there sending tornadoes to punish people for not hating gays enough is fascinating. I wonder though, about the following incidents.

Yesterday God sent a tornado that destroyed the Williamsville Christian Church in Illinois. Earlier this year he destroyed the Ardmore Adventist Academy, a Christian school, in Oklahoma. In Mississippi he had a tornado flatten the Corinth Baptist Church. St. Matthew Catholic Church was visited by the angry deity in March when he used a tornado to destroy the parish hall. God also blew down the Wichita Community Church in Anadarko, Oklahoma in May.

And apparently God sends hurricanes through the Bible-belt at an amazing pace. Every year he knocks down congregations throughout the South. Tornadoes don't seem to hit the secular New England states that often however.

Maybe God wasn't attacking the Lutherans for liking gays. Maybe he really is Jewish (or Muslim, or whatever) and simply doesn't like Christians. He sure does destroy a lot of their sanctuaries every year. Or maybe, just maybe, shit happens, bad weather happens, there is no plan, there is no punishment, just random bad things that are part of nature. But that's too rational for the believers, isn't it?

Photo: The loon himself, Rev. John Piper counting down the time to the next Godly tornado sent to destroy someone.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Accused, convicted, assaulted, raped, but innocent all along.

Witch hunts are ugly things, and people do really get hurt. As a budding writer back in the 1980s, I was horrified by a series of hysterical sex trials that cropped up, almost at random, around the United States. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent people were charged with the sexual abuse of children—abuse that, in almost all the cases, simply did not happen. It was clear to me then that the cases in question were bogus.

What we saw was the combination of several forces. First, we had power-hungry prosecutors wanting to make a name for themselves with high-profile cases. Second, we had the politically-correct agenda of radical feminists who had concocted a theory of male sexuality and abuse that, while consistent with their premises, did not correspond with the facts. These feminists, in cooperation with the political classes, had created an entire “abuse industry” whose only purpose was to sniff out abuse. The problem was that the premises of this industry were such that abuse was always found.

Consider what was termed the Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome: any child who says they were abused, was abused because children don’t “disclose” unless it really happened. Children who were abused may also be terrified and afraid to disclose. Such fear of disclosure, revealed by denials, is thus an indication that the child was actually abused. So, a child who claims abuse was probably abused, and a child who denied abuse was also the likely victim of abuse. The purpose of the therapist in such cases is to bring the child to full disclosure, no matter what is required to do so. Thus anyone accused of abusing children was presumed guilty, all children were presumed victims, and the entire “therapy” program was geared to convince the child to disclose.

The reality is that such therapy sessions ended up being indoctrination sessions where the goal of the therapist was to convince a child of abuse that the child didn’t believe happened. This was done in numerous ways. Children who denied abuse were insulted, interrogated for hours longer, ridiculed and promised gifts if they “told the truth.” Each denial of abuse resulted in negative feedback, any time a child would parrot back a comment made by the “therapist” the child would be praised and rewarded. It didn’t take long for children, subjected to this real abuse to begin repeating the script that the witch hunter had prepared for them.

Worse yet, many of these children, actually came to believe the stories themselves. There are classic symptoms of child abuse, symptoms that these children were remarkable free from until the therapists in questions were able to convince the children they had actually been abused. Children who didn’t wet the bed, or suffer from nightmares, suddenly exhibited these classic traits of abuse. The therapist had succeeded in creating, though their intensive, exhausting questioning, the very abuse that they claimed to be curing. And that was just the beginning of the horrors that these ideologically-driven monster created.

Once the child had submitted to the therapists the arrests began. Many of these witch-hunts took place at day care centers. The most famous was the McMartin case in Manhattan Beach, California. There the McMartin family suffered through one of the longest trials in America history. As the trial endlessly dragged on it became apparent that the therapists, led by one Kee McFarland, had concocted the entire abuse scenario out of their own warped imagination. McFarland, and her untrained band of social workers, inflicted trauma on the children, discovered that the children were now traumatized and pointed their fingers at utterly innocent people—people who then lost years of their lives, and everything they owned, fighting to establish their own innocence. (One of the McMartin children apologizes here for his lies in court.)

In other regions it was entire communities that were disrupted and dozens of people, most of whom had no connections with one another, were rounded up as “Satanic child molesters” by out-of-control cops. Horrified townsfolk who saw through the bogus charges, and spoke up in opposition, soon found themselves under suspicion and in jail facing molestation charges as well. In the world of witch-hunting anyone who “defends” the witch does so because surely they too are a witch.

Two case in particular caught my attention, perhaps because the accused were themselves so child-like, so young and facing such horrific charges. One was the sad case of 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje who faced prison for child abuse charges brought by Janet Reno, who later became Attorney General of the Unites States. Reno prosecuted this boy on bogus charges of being a Satanist who abused children. Jurors, who found the boy innocent, wrote Reno complaining about the “the failure of the police to tape the questioning of the defendant on the day he was arrested. The failure of a stenographer to record and have the defendant sign a written confession. The clearly leading and suggestive questioning on the part of both child psychologists while interviewing the two children involved… [and] the contradictory testimony on the part of the children themselves….”

Bobby recounted how, without even knowing what the charges were, a cop took him to a squad car and told him: “Before I knew you, I knew that you were guilty, but not that I see you, I definitely know you’re guilty.” Bobby said: “I had no idea what was going on, the scope of what was going on. What that meant. I just started hysterically crying. I didn’t know what was going on.” It was almost two years before Bobby was finally out of custody, after having his name smeared by Reno, who was yearning for higher office. And what’s the life of a mere boy when your political career is at stake.

Fijnje was one of the lucky ones. He was found innocent. In the midst of witch hunts rarely is a suspected witch exonerated. No one wanted to be accused of being “soft on witches” so even those with doubts joined in the chant, “Burn the witch, burn the witch.” The media, always looking for sensationalistic stories that sell, helped fan the flames. It was the perfect politically-created storm. Feminists loved it. The Left-wing media was making money off the misery they helped spread. Politicians were building careers on the accusations. Vast new departments were created to “address” the problem, creating an entire abuse industry. Hundreds of millions flowed from taxpayers to these new organizations. Prosecutors and police found they were handed vast new powers. Conservatives were thrilled as well. They could blame the problem on “the decay of the family” and pornography and any other thing they disliked. Religious leaders said that God was the cure to the problem. Everyone benefited except the victims, the children and the taxpayers who paid for it all. Out of this crisis came a new plethora of horrific “sex offender” laws that plague us to this day.

The second case that caught my attention was that of Bernard Baran. Of the dozens and dozens of case histories I had compiled at the time, Baran’s most upset me. Perhaps to my shame, he was the only victim of the hysteria, who I wrote to in sympathy. Hundreds of others deserved encouragement as well. But Baran was so young and looked so vulnerable that his case upset me more than the others. Awash in a sea of such false accusations I had built up a tougher exterior to avoid the mental anguish of watching so many innocent people suffering needlessly.

While it was true that much of the hysteria was directed against men, not all men were equally suspect. Baran was doubly cursed by the system. Not only was he male, he was gay. Photos of Baran, taken at the time, showed a slight man, who looked like a typical high school student, desperately trying to grow a mustache—just to prove he could. Baran didn’t finish high school, he dropped out. But he wanted to work and he liked helping people. He worked with autistic children, but that was only temporary, so when a full-time job opened up at day-care center he jumped at the chance.

Baran was only 13-years-old when he told his mother he was gay. She wasn’t very accepting of the idea. It was her long-time partner, Stanley Sumner, who pointed out to her how Baran was so caring and attentive to anyone who needed him. He told her: “If that’s being gay, then I hope all my children are gay.” Of course, this was two decades ago and not everyone held he same view. And that’s why the trouble started.

Two of the parents with children in the day care began to complain. The mother said: "I had a feeling that if they’re gay, they shouldn’t be with kids. They shouldn’t get married. They shouldn’t have kids. They shouldn’t be allowed out in public.” These paragons of virtue were druggies and had a history of domestic violence, but they could still feel superior to the awful faggot down at the day-care center. And they seemed determined to save the children from these immoral influence and, as it turns out, make a few bucks in the process.

They reported that their son came home from day care with a bloody penis and had said that “Bernie did it.” The problem was that the day-care center reported the boy was not at the school that day. Baran couldn’t have done anything as he didn’t see the boy. But stories of the complaint spread and panic-stricken parents, worried about a rampaging queer decided to interrogate their children. Under parental questioning, none of which was recorded of course, one small girl allegedly said she was fondled. By now a full fledged inquisition was in motion and the witch in their site was Bernard Baran, still a teenager himself. Parents were urged to question their children, though none of them really knew how a proper interview should be conducted. Most believed that abuse had happened and by now they merely wanted the children to say it had, so they could move on.

Baran was arrested. He posted bail after two days and returned home only to be rearrested almost immediately, with more and more charges being thrown at him. That was last time Baran was a free man. The prosecutor, to make sure he had something that would stick, threw 24 charges at the confused Baran. The boy was offered a plea bargain if he would just admit guilt to some charges. Knowing he was innocent Baran decided to fight, he had faith in the American justice system, a faith that was clearly misplaced. Baran was sentenced to two life sentences in prison, all for a crime that didn’t take place.

In this case the prosecutor didn’t just use the dodgy “interview” tactics that led to other false convictions. He also hide evidence from the defense. But they also spent weeks rehearsing the children to respond to questions. And that rehearsal paid off. Jury members said it was the way the children testified that convinced them of the guilty of Baran, not because any actual evidence existed.

The only conclusive evidence that a child had been abused was with the boy whose parents made the initial accusation. He was found to have gonorrhea of the throat. Radley Balko, at Reason, notes the problem with this, and the dishonesty of Prosecutor Daniel Ford:
When that child later tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat, Ford used the test against Baran at trial, even though A) the child never accused Baran of forcing him to perform oral sex, B) the child, in fact, specifically denied having sexual contact with Baran on the witness stand, C) Baran tested negative for gonorrhea, D) the boy had told his mother two months prior that his stepfather had orally raped him, and E) on the very day Baran was convicted, charges against the stepfather were turned over to the D.A.'s office for possible prosecution. Baran's counsel was never informed of the allegation against the stepfather. Addressing the gonorrhea issue in his closing arguments, Ford implied that Baran's "lifestyle" made it probable that he contracted gonorrhea at other times and knew how to quickly eradicate it to cover his tracks
Ford sounded like an evangelist for the Religious Right. In his eyes Baran simply had to be guilty, he was gay. Like the pogroms of Russia that convicted Jews of crimes, merely because they were Jews, Ford convicted Baran of serious crimes merely because he was gay. A friend of Baran’s received similar treatment from Ford and the local police. He gave an affidavit saying that the police had come to his home and told him “Bernie must have had a partner because it took more than one person to do what he did. They said Bernie was driving around with kids in a car. They accused me of going to school and of bringing children to my house… I had never been in the school, ever. Nor did I even own a car at that point.”

Police demanded to know if this man were “Bernie’s lover.” He said: “Mr. Ford kept going on about my relationship with Bernie. He called me a ‘fag’ repeatedly. He asked if I was a ‘homosexual’ pronouncing the word in a derogatory way and he demanded to know if I was Bernie’s lover. Mr. Ford accused me of being involved in sexually abusing children. When I denied that I had ever molested children and said that I had no knowledge that Bernie molested children, he accused me of lying. He said he would come after me next.” The police would follow this man and routinely pulled him over on the slightest pretense.

By coincidence, years later, this victim of the prosecutor was working in a project with various students. One of the students was the boy who started the accusations, though now he was much older. One day in class this boy gave a presentation “about suing for money. Another student started asking questions. Peter bragged that his mom got money because he, Peter, had a gay teacher in day care. He said it was easy. All he had to do was say that this teacher did something to him to get the money, even though nothing happened. He said the person who really abused him was his father.” The girl who allegedly made claims against Baran, several months after his conviction “told her therapist that nothing had really happened and that her mother (a drug-addicted prostitute and a friend of the initial accuser’s mother) had told her to say that it had so they could get a lot of money. …The two mothers sued the school for several million dollars.” An investigation by the insurance company turned up this evidence, which the government had but never gave to Baran’s attorney.

Four days after his conviction, the slight boy, was raped for the first time in prison. Over the years he was assaulted and raped numerous times, all the while knowing he was innocent of any crime.

Baran’s family and friends continued to fight for him. As an appellate court ruled the efforts of Baran’s friends and family,
...yielded, among other things, certain documents and materials that trial counsel had never seen as well as information and documents, not part of the trial record, that were known to but not used by trial counsel. By way of example, among the materials not seen by trial counsel were five lengthy unedited videotapes of interviews conducted by the district attorney's office in October and November, 1984, of children A, B, C, D, and F(3); the district attorney ultimately turned these videotapes over to motion counsel in September, 2004. Also among the materials unknown to trial counsel were documents generated by police and the Department of Social Services (DSS) concerning contemporaneous accusations made by Boy A and Girl E that they had each been molested by their respective mother's boyfriends; these documents, never produced by the district attorney, were discovered by motion counsel in the civil case files. Among the materials known to but not used by trial counsel, thus not becoming part of the trial record, was a pediatrician's report of her examination of Girl E referencing the prior molestation of Girl E by the mother's boyfriend.
The court also found that unreliable evidence had been admitted in court and “there had been multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct.” Included in this was the prosecutor showing only edited taped versions of interview with the children. The court found that the versions of tapes shown in court edited out “statements in which the children deny that Baran had done anything to them and statements where they accuse others at ECDC [the day care center] both of abuse and of witnessing abuse. The unedited videotapes show the behavior of the children, the extent to which they were distracted and nonresponse during the interviews, the degree to which their parents participated in the interview process, and the range of interviewing techniques used.” The court said it could “not settle the question whether the unedited videotapes were deliberately withheld by the prosecution, [but] there are indications in the trial transcript consistent with that contention.” They also found that the full tapes “evaluated in the context of the entire record, are exculpatory and materials insofar as they “create a reasonable doubt that did not otherwise exist.” These tapes provided “considerable material from which it could be inferred that the children’s testimony was coached. Particularly powerful are the numerous instances in which various complainants deny that the defendant had engaged in any misconduct. At a minimum, these tapes would have provided significant grist for impeachment of the children's testimony as well as those who had interview them.”

The court said that the prosecutor’s “closing also contained a number of passages apparently designed to inflame the juror’s passions” including making claims that Baran “could have raped and sodomized and abused these children whenever he felt the primitive urge to satisfy his sexual appetite.” He said Baran “was like a chocoholic in a candid store, and indeed, for him perpetrating these despicable acts was like taking candy from a baby.” He told the jury in closing “I beseech you, I beg you, think of those children and bring back a verdict of guilty on each and every one of these charges.”

The appellate court also found that Baran’s attorney had no experience in criminal law, that Baran’s mother had quite literally hired him by accident. The attorney provided inadequate and defective counsel throughout the trial, including allowing inadmissible and faulty evidence into consideration. The court said that Baran’s own attorney “facilitated the speculative, stereotypical and deeply insidious links between homosexuality, gonorrhea, and child molestation.” These bad calls by the attorney “likely had a material effect on the jury and gave rise to substantial risk that justice miscarried.”

Baran continued to insist on his innocence and that meant he was ineligible for parole. He was put in treatment as a sex offender where “confession” is considered a sign of “healing,” while refusal to confess is proof that one is resisting treatment. In 2006 a court ruled that Baran did not get a fair trial and the was incompetently represented. The appeals court upheld that ruling as well, only a couple of months ago. New prosecutors were then left with the decision of whether or not to refile charges against Baran, who was now out of jail but forced to wear a tracking device. And only a few days ago they decided that the evidence didn’t warrant refilling the charges against Baran.

When Bernard Baran was arrested he was a 19-year-old kid. He spent the next 21 years of his life in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. He was victim of a sex abuse panic that swept the nation. He was also the victim of bigoted attitudes and found guilty largely because he was gay. Because he insisted on the truth, insisted he was innocent, he was denied parole when eligible for it. Because he wouldn’t confess he was kept in a more dangerous prison and classified as a “sexually dangerous person.” He was punished for telling the truth and bribed to lie, a bribe he refused.

In the Southeastern Correctional Center three inmates beat him and gang raped him. To be eligible for a safer prison all he had to do was confess. In Norfolk prison he twice tried to take his own life. When he was finally sent to a mental hospital (which is still a prison no matter what they call it) he had to endure therapists who “attempt to ‘heal’ those with sexual illnesses,” including his alleged illness. Today, he is free. Today, the cumulative evidence shows he was innocent all along, just as he said. He was not a criminal; he was a victim.

To fight the sexual hysteria that periodically grips the American people opens one up to risks, to accusations, to what John T. Flynn called the smearbund. So why do it? In response I offer up the story of Bernard Baran. That's why.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How England Saves Money on Health Care

I have argued that the main method by which nationalized health care systems, such as the National Health Service in the UK, saves money is simple: deny health care. Care is bureaucratically rationed out. Some people get it, some people don't and it often depends on the whim of untrained bureaucrats or by which "health district" you reside in. This story illustrates NHS health savings in action.

Expectant mother Carmen Blake had sudden and unexpected contractions indicating that her fourth child was about to be born whether she liked it or not. The contractions were strong enough that Carmen realized that she had virtually no time left and called the hospital for an ambulance. The hospital refused her an ambulance and told her to walk. Under normal circumstances that is not too unreasonable as she did live close by. But she was already in labor when she called. Blake recounts: "They said they were not sending an ambulance and told me I had nine months to sort out a lift."

Blake, with some friends also on foot, tried to walk to the hospital as instructed. But she didn't make it. The woman couldn't move any further. A passing woman, Helen Ivers, who is a physio-therapist ended up delivering the child on the sidewalk. Worse yet the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby's neck so she wasn't breathing. Ivers said when she got there she shouted: "Where are the paramedics." Ivers said "When the baby's head came out I realized the cord was around its neck. Its all a bit of a blur but I think instinct kicked in and I just pulled it over the baby's head."

The friends had called the hospital which, now realizing that Blake was giving birth on the public sidewalk, thanks to their cost-cutting, finally sent the ambulance she had previously requested. The communications manager for the ambulance company said: "This was clearly a traumatic eperience for all concerned." I suspect it was more traumatic for Blake because she was refused an ambulance and then traumatic for Ivers who had to do the hospital's job on the sidewalk because the NHS was saving money.

A spokesman for the state-run hospital said: "We are disappointed that Ms Blake was not happy with the advice and care she received and will of course investigate any complaint." Wow! How compassionate! Note that they didn't apologize for telling a pregnant woman to walk to hospital. Instead they said they are disappointed that she isn't happy. And they again pretend they offered care, which they did not. Blake wasn't disappointed by care she received but by the absence of care requiring her to give birth in front of traffic.

At roughly the same time another expectant mother, Rebecca Molloy, turned up at an NHS hospital. She was 38 weeks pregnant and having contractions. The hospital told her that she wasn't ready and to go home, they were unwilling to admit her. (Too costly you know.) Three hours later Rebecca found herself on the floor doubled up in pain from contractions.

Husband Tony called the hospital for help but "could not get any response." (Perhaps the NHS staff were busy writing letters in defense of state-managed care in England because the criticism they received from opponents of Obamacare.) Left hanging by the hospital, Tony ran out and got the car to rush Rebecca to hospital.

When he returned she told him it was far too late and the baby was being born. Tony Molloy began delivering his daughter. The infant was ashen gray in color and not breathing. It too was born with the cord around its neck. Remembering birthing videos he had watched Tony removed the cord from the child's neck and slapped her on the back to start her breathing. Tony said: "She was grey and not breathing. I was talking to her, saying 'come on little one, breathe for daddy."

When the NHS hospital was asked by the media about their sending a very, very pregnant woman home, without being helped, the hospital spokesman said: "We would encourage the family to contact our patient advice service if they have any concerns over the care received." Actually wouldn't that be "over the care NOT received?"

There is no magic in cutting health care costs—just cut health care. That is how it is done in England and that is how it can be done in the US. You do get what you pay for. Pay for less, get less. It's not that hard to understand. So why does the Left believe that Obama is some messiah who can magically take "a loaf of health care," bless it, and pass it around so that everyone has as much as they want at no additional cost? When government controls health care it saves money by denying treatments and services to people.

Consider poor Ms. Blake. Had she lived in the US, she would have called the ambulance saying she was in labor. It would have showed up and the cost of that would be added to America's health care costs. She would have gone to hospital where she would have had the child, again racking up costs toward the US health care total. All that care, in the current debate, would be counted AGAINST America's health care costs and would be considered a bad thing.

In contrast, in the UK, she was told to walk to hospital, to save on ambulance costs. She delivered on the sidewalk with care given by someone not being paid by the NHS to deliver that service. All that added up to health care savings for the NHS. And, based on the tenor of the debate over Obamacare the costs show that NHS service is superior to health services in the US precisely because the NHS doesn't cost as much. Imagine how efficient the NHS would look if it had patients perform their own heart bypass at home! (Sort of the way NHS patients were forced to pull their own teeth because the government rationed dental care.)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name: Rose Friedman 1910-2009

It is my sad duty to report that Rose Friedman, the widow of Milton Friedman, died earlier today of heart failure. Her exact age remains a mystery but it is believed that she was born in 1910.

Rose was born in a Russian village in a region that is now part of the Ukraine. She and her family escaped Russia to the United States and all her birth records were lost in the process. The family had to flee threats of violence because of their Jewish background.

Rose Director attended the Univesity of Chicago where she was seated alphabetically next to Milton Friedman. The two hit it off and were married and had two children, Janet and David.

Rose was a collaborator with Milton on his books. She took Milton's lectures and turned them into the books Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose.

Rose, like Milton, was always gracious and friendly. Her gentle manner serves a stark contrast to the vile hate that the bigoted Left has already begun spewing out about her. Unable to refute the arguments these hate mongers resort to smears and lies. (Be forewarned, no such vile statements will be posted in the comment section of an obituary. Common decency at a sad time is expected.)

I meet Rose on two occasions. It was clear to me that she and Milton were more than just married, they were soul-mates. My impression, however, is that Milton was more libertarian in thinking than she was. Our sympathy goes out to daughter Janet, son David, grandson Patri and three other grandchildren as well as three great grandchildren. In accordance with her requests she will be cremated with her ashes scattered at sea.

Note: DVD sets of the Free to Choose television series can be ordered here.


Conflicting stereotypes

The above video is of interest only because I was amused by the announcer's clear problem with stereotyping people. Worse for him, he had two conflicting stereotypes and didn't know how to resolve it. When you watch the video notice what happens.

A man shows up at a protest to Obama's attempts to grab more control over medicine in America. The man is carrying a rifle. Immediately at play with the media's mind is "right-wing crazy who hates Jesus Obama for wanting to heal the sick and raise the dead." Easy-peasy except for one conflicting stereotype. The man in question in black and the media just knows that black people all support Jesus Obama and worship the water he walks upon.

So, with both stereotypes running around in his little brain the announcer is trying to ask questions and make sense of it all. At one point the gun indicates to him that the man must be protesting Obama but then he focuses on the fact the man is black so he assumes he must be a "counter-protester" doing it because the anti-Obama crowd can carry weapons in Arizona.

I have no idea who the man is. I don't know what side he was on. I wouldn't hazard a guess. He could well be a black man who opposes Obama or a gun-owner who likes Obama. I neither know, nor care to know. But, since the media preaches against stereotyping (although only of some people) they certainly engage in it frequently, especially of anyone who they can't pigeon-hole into neat categories: us versus the evil.

By the way, while open carry doesn't offend me or worry me I do think showing up outside presidential rallies armed and showing is just stupid. It doesn't actually win anyone over to whatever viewpoint they are promoting. It just makes people look wacko. If I see people carrying a handgun I don't worry, certainly 99.999 per cent of the time I'm safer because they are nearby especially since I don't own a handgun myself. I benefit by the presence of peaceful citizens who are armed in my vicinity.

But this kind of thing doesn't carry out well when carried out in this sort of setting. It focuses the media which will engage in the usual stereotyping. And it doubly annoys me when libertarians engage in these sorts of stunts (and I have no information that the man is a libertarian but these days it doesn't appear to take much to qualify.) Such stunts generally make libertarians appear like buffoons. And I suspect the opponents of liberty enjoy every such image as it makes it easier for them to convince people to ignore liberty. That said, I was totally amused by a befuddled media clown tripping over his conflicting stereotypes.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Just to put things in perspective.

And then there's this take on the amazing expanding universe.

Who says you need a deity to stand in awe? I also believe in miracles, man-made miracles. The miracle of making the blind see, the lame walk and the deaf to hear. We see those who heart stopped beating brought make to consciousness. We see those sentenced to death with cancers given new life. Infants, who not many years ago, would have been doomed, live. We take seeds that nature gave us and redesign them so they bloom in deserts, resist pests, and return a harvest far more plentiful than ever thought possible. Our species has no wings, yet millions of us fly each day. We are born without claws yet no wild beast can conquer us. We have eyes like all other species, but with our abilities we can see molecules and watch galaxies billions of light years away. And what made all this possible?

It wasn't faith. It was reason. All this is possible because of one thing; the thinking mind. We have the choice to think, or to avoid thinking. Thankfully for our survival we only need the best minds to think and give us what we all enjoy. Just imagine what would be possible if those committed to irrationality and faith joined the Enlightenment and choose to think as well.

Labels: ,

Cop files bogus charges, lies and tasers Mom.

Deputy Tasers Mom In Minivan

A New York mother has filed a law suit against the Onodaga County Sheriff's department because of the actions of a violent deputy who pulled her over in traffic stop. Audra Harmon had just picked up her 15-year-old son from wrestling practice and was driving home. Also in the car was her five-year-old daughter. (Video of the incident is above, but read to the end for context first.)

Deputy Sean Andrews pulled Harmon over claiming that she had been using her cellphone while driving and said he was going to ticket her for that offense. Harmon was baffled as she had not been using a cell phone and told the officer she could show him the phone log with would indicate no calls had been made in the previous two hours.

Trapped by the evidence Deputy Andrews changed his story and now claimed that Harmon was being ticketed, not because of driving while using a cell phone, but because she was speeding. Harmon knew she was not speeding as well. So she asked to see the radar report that would show she was speeding. Andrews began walking toward his vehicle and Harmon assumed that he would then show her the evidence that she was speeding. So she got out of the car to follow him and take a look. In fact Andrews had no evidence that she was speeding. He claimed to have eye-balled her speed, that is determined it merely by looking at her. No radar was used.

Deputy Andrews went apoplectic and ordered her to get back in the car. He apparently had no intention of showing her any proof at all. She tried to ask for the evidence again and did get in the car. Her horrified son yelled to her to get back in, he apparently realized the officer was dangerous. As soon as she did get back in the car Deputy Andrews changed his mind again and demanded that she exit the vehicle instead. In this confusing situation Harmon is not sure what to do since she was ordered to stay in the vehicle and ordered to get out of the vehicle by the same cop who first claimed she was on a cell phone, and then pretended that wasn't the issue at all. Apparently Deputy Andrews has problems determining the facts and sticking to them.

Harmon's young daughter, witnessing this violent attack on her mother started screaming hysterically. She said: "Afterward, my son said she [the daughter] was really crying hysterically, wanting to know what happened to Mommy." Six police officers now arrived to help arrest this woman. An ambulance came and EMT technicians removed the taser barb from Harmon's chest and took her to the hospital. Deputy Andrews followed and issued four traffic tickets to the woman. Included was one for talking a cell phone (though she wasn't), speeding (based on his eye-ball evidence), resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Police officers left the two children in the vehicle when they took Harmon to the hospital. They did not attempt to bring the children home, where Harmon's husband, who worked a night job, was sleeping. Instead they went to the house, woke Mr. Harmon and told him to go get his children. Harmon says that they children were left in the car, alone, for about 40 minutes.

Andrews' own police report "said Harmon refused his request to get back in her van, then refused to get out when he said she was under arrest." Get in, get out, make up your mind! Andrews yanks the woman out of her vehicle and tells her she is under arrest. Please note that she did nothing wrong to this point. She did not threaten a police officer. She asked for evidence of a traffic offense which the officer was refusing to give her.

Harmon is confused by the violent officer and his contradictory commands and his changing stories. She is also afraid of him—with good reason, police officers are violent and can not be trusted. Andrews pulls out his taser and tasers the women. The reason was that she started begging him not to do this to her in front of her children. Like wild animals do when they smell weakness the officer ratcheted up the attack by tasering her.

He claimed she resisted arrest. She did not. He had claimed she was on the cell phone. She was not. When she could prove that was a lie the Deputy changed his story. He then claimed she was speeding—his actually accusation was that she was going 50 mph in a 45 mph zone. He claimed she was obstructing traffic and filed charges. Note that she did not obstruct traffic. She stayed next to her car. However, the officer did grab her by the arm and flung her down into the street so that she was practically in the middle of the road. He obstructed traffic by flinging a non-violent women into the middle of the street.

All the made-up charges against Andrews were dropped when the evidence was investigated. But Deputy Andrews, while reassigned, is still a police officer and no action has been taken against him by Sheriff Kevin Walsh.

Walsh has his hands full with officers in his department. Two deputies were "discplined" because they were on guard duty in the jail when a 19-year-old committed suicide in his cell. They had both claimed on the records to have patrolled the area during the time period that they would have seen the dead youth. In other words, they said they had patrolled when they hadn't. Deputy Sheriff Christopher Pierce, another employee under Walsh, was recently arrested as well.

Deputy Pierce was on-line talking with a Deptuy Sheriff from Ulster County. Pierce did not, however, know he speaking to another police office. He thought his conversation was with a 14-year-old girl when he engaged in very explicit sexual talk. Unlike Andrews, Pierce at least had the decency to resign as a sheriff immediately following his arrest.

The unfortunate thing about the Harmon lawsuit is that the taxpayers, not Andrews, will pay the price. I still believe that when officers act like criminals and thugs, and they are sued, that they should be held personally liable for penalties along with the department that hires them. If an employee of Wal-Mart, in the course of work, attacks a customer Wal-Mart can be sued, as can the employee. And they will pay, not the taxpayers. A deputy who acts like a criminal should be treated like a criminal and held financially responsible for damages they inflict. The department, if sued, should pay penalties out their budget, not out of the taxpayer's funds. I can assure you that if violent cops threatened the budget the department, and the salaries of other cops, that this problem would be solved over night.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Life expectancy and infant mortality: a rerun

Because the hard Left, who favor state control of medicine (and almost everything else) are conducting a bogus campaign in favor of nationalizing care, I want to rerun a piece I wrote some time ago. The proponents of bureaucratic control of medical care insist on using bogus statistics to prove their case. They continue to resort to two numbers. One is the life expectancy rate and the other is infant mortality. Both measure many factors completely outside the control of the health system. Here is something I wrote almost two years ago to the day—so it was written long before Jesus Obama walked across the reflecting pool to the White House. Everything that follows is from the older article. A few minor typos were corrected but the article was not changed.

Life expectancy is the result of dozens of factors. At best it is a general indicator of life in a specific area. In and of itself, it does not tell you much about any specific policy.

I am convinced that life expectancy is only tangentially connected to health care, with the exception of birth. Once an infant survives the first year or so of life, health care is almost secondary. Prime factors include diet, safety, clean water and sanitary conditions, and lifestyle choices.

If you look at the history of the rise of life expectancy it was basic improvements in life that caused much of the increase. The problem our ancestors had was to survive birth and the first year or two of life, and then to have food to eat, clean water and to avoid disease. Get that out of the way and life expectancy shot up.

The second great advance in life expectancy was when we discovered how to immunize people against diseases like flu, polio, measles, small pox, etc. It should be noted that the great advances in this field predated nationalized health care systems for the most part.

Most of the major medical expenses in the world today actually have little impact on life expectancy. While for some people we are talking about adding a few years to the life of a person, for most we are talking of adding weeks or months at best.

The reality is that spending a bit less on expensive care, and a bit more on basic, preventative care and check ups, will do a lot more good. Americans could reduce their health spending dramatically without having much, if any, of a negative impact on their life. Individuals could easily repriortize their concerns. It isn’t that health care is too expensive as much as it is that Americans are over buying expensive care and under consuming basic, preventative care. A major factor that puts US spending, per capita, above that of Europe is that Americans tend to prefer to solve problems with expensive care rather than taking cheaper precautions in advance. That is a problem of individual choice, not health care systems.

Americans, no doubt, do overspend on health care for the benefits they receive. On the other hand the nationalized systems intentionally under spend on care. They brag they are cheaper but they are cheaper because they deny care that people want and often need. Cheaper is not necessarily the determinate of good care any more than more expensive is. Both could be serious misallocations of resources.

This said, I should get back to the main point, which is the role of health care on life expectancy. Life expectancy is only a general indicator regarding the qualify of life. It is not an indicator that says much about specific policies. And that is where some advocates of nationalized care get dishonest. They will argue that Americans have a slightly lower life expectancy than do people living in nations with nationalized health care.

Normally they are very selective as to which countries they choose. The truth is that Americans live, on average, longer than people in many countries with socialized care, but not as long as people in some countries. If one were to compare the EU average life expectancy to that of the average American the difference is only a matter of weeks.

But that small difference is used to champion socialized care. Somehow turning health care over to the people who run the post office is supposed to add a few weeks to our life expectancy, and this is supposed to be a vast improvement.

But are the differences in life expectancy between the US and some European countries (and not others), actually the result of different health care systems? Or are there other factors that directly lower US life expectancy?

Everyone knows that obesity, a result of affluence, is rampant in the United States. And this problem is worse in the US than in Europe. Having lived on both continents I can verify that observation personally. The size of some Americans is astounding to me. Micheal Moore is becoming far more the norm than the exception. This is having a major impact on life expectancy. Americans are still living longer than ever, but the rate of improvement has slowed allowing less obese nations to surpass the US average. This is a personal choice issue, not a health system issue.

Another cause for lower life expectancy can be crime. This is especially true for one group of American -- black males. The average life expectancy of black Americans is five years shorter than that of white Americans. And crime is a major reason. One study showed that a white male of 15 years of age had a 1-in-345 chance of being murdered before he turned 45. For black males those odds were 1-in-45. And in Washington, DC, the city in America with more politicians than any other, the odds were 1-in-12.

This study says that ending the criminal carnage in the black community would bring the average life expectancy of black males up by three years. This is not a health system issue. Yet, it severely impacts US life expectancy rates which is then used to “prove” nationalized care is better. In addition, the African-American community has higher rates of various unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as drug use, smoking and consumption of alcohol. All these factors drag down the life expectancy in that community and reduce US rates as well. While some European countries have similar communities with similar problems they are a smaller percentage of the population and thus have less impact on the life expectancy average.

A study out of Harvard says: “young black men living in poor, high-crime urban America have death risks similar to people living in Russia or sub-Saharan Africa.”

One study I looked at recently, from the Commonwealth Fund, showed that if you reach the age of 60 your life expectancy, in the US is another 17 years. Under the nationalized health systems in the UK and New Zealand the remaining years are also 17 years. No difference. Canada was higher at 18 years but there are still various factors that impact this, which are outside the health system -- as already mentioned.

MSNBC repeated an Associated Press report stating that “A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.” What they refer to is the infant mortality rates. Again this is slightly dishonest since different nations define infant mortality differently.

The U.S. has a much broader definition of "live birth" than does other nations. They aren’t measuring the same thing. US News & World Report explained the differences:
First, it's shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless. And some countries don't reliably register babies who die within the first 24 hours of birth. Thus, the United States is sure to report higher infant mortality rates. For this very reason, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which collects the European numbers, warns of head-to-head comparisons by country.

Infant mortality in developed countries is not about healthy babies dying of treatable conditions as in the past. Most of the infants we lose today are born critically ill, and 40 percent die within the first day of life. The major causes are low birth weight and prematurity, and congenital malformations. As Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, Norway, which has one of the lowest infant mortality rates, shows no better infant survival than the United States when you factor in weight at birth.
Infant mortality rates are also connected to many factors not related to health care. For instance, teen mothers are more likely to give birth to sick infants. Mothers who smoke, or are obese, or simply lack education, have riskier pregnancies. And the U.S. has more of these problems than some other nations, yet these are not directly linked to the health system.

Nationalized health care won’t reduce crime rates. It won’t reduce obesity. The Harvard study indicates this. The main reason some communities, in the U.S., have lower life expectancy is due to injuries and some chronic diseases “including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. These killers, in turn, are a consequence of well-known and largely controllable risk factors such as smoking, alcohol use, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In high-risk urban black communities, male mortality is increased by homicides and exposure to AIDS.” These are “largely controllable risk factors”. Controlled by whom? By the individual at risk, not by the health system.

The Harvard study looked at eight distinct groups of Americans and concluded: “"The variation in health plan coverage across the eight Americas is small relative to the very large difference in health outcome. It is likely that expanding insurance coverage alone would still leave huge disparities in young and middle-aged adults." Universal coverage, as envisioned by advocates of socialized care, will have little direct impact on U.S. life expectancy. But cheaper, if not free, individual changes in life style can have a major impact.

Another Harvard study found that Americans could add 6.7 years to their life expectancy by following healthier guidelines for living. Europeans could add only 5.5 years, implying that 1.2 years of the current difference in life expectancy rates between the US and Europe is due to lifestyle factors, not to health care systems. That difference would put US life expectancy on par with the UK and Germany, indicating that the differences in life expectancy rates is due to lifestyle choices not health systems.

Another indicator that health systems are not the main issue is that Hong Kong, not known for socialized health care, or much of a welfare state at all, has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, at 80.2 years. That exceeds all the European socialized states. Switzerland also has a high life expectancy, yet most health care is provided privately and covered by private, individual insurance policies. Recently, Swiss voters rejected a single-payer health proposal.

Singapore also has a high life expectancy yet they have little in the way of nationalized health care. Individuals in Singapore are expected to establish their own private, health accounts which belong to them or their heirs when they die. These private accounts pay for most care in the country. Out of these accounts citizens purchase catastrophic insurance to cover major problems and draw down the account for minor problems. About 10% of the population is deemed impoverished and are directly helped in health care by the state, but the bulk of the population pays for their care out of their own resources. They also have health care expenditures that are far lower than any of the nationalized systems.

Some countries, often with very little in the way private or public health care, have life expectancy rates that are still rather impressive. Costa Rica has a higher life expectancy than Luxembourg. And two U.S. territories, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, have higher life expectancies than the U.S. mainland. Yet, I know of no one who attributes this to greater access to health care, socialized or not.

Another indication that life expectancy is only tangentially tied to health systems is that every nation in the world, no matter their health care system, sees dramatic differences in life spans between men and women. And much of that is due to life style differences tied to biology. Men are more violent, on average, than women. That means they get killed more often. They also tend to be risk takers, more so than women, and that also means they are more likely to die young.

In most socialized health systems women live five to seven years longer than men, on average. Yet this is not because women receive superior health care. At least I’ve yet to hear that claim.

Life expectancy is primarily a matter of factors outside the health care systems. As such it can not be considered evidence, one way or the other, that nationalized care is superior to private health care.

Labels: , ,