Thursday, February 28, 2019

Can You Help?

I don't have a clue.  Maybe you have some ideas.

On the other hand, don't worry Jake, it's just Russia.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Williamson Reader

Kevin Williamson writes for National Review and, occasionally, other publications.  He's one of the most thoughtful and provocative political and cultural writers around; even when I disagree with him he makes me think.  He was also, very briefly, a writer for The Atlantic.  That stint abruptly ended because of his views about abortion or, more accurately, because some of his fellow writers on The Atlantic felt physically threatened by him because of those views.  Yes, you heard that correctly.

Williamson is pretty vociferous in his opposition to abortion, writing of its origin in his birth to an unwed teenage mother in Texas in the early 70s when he was given up for adoption.  Those events took place the year before Roe v Wade became the law of the land and Williamson, not unreasonably, thinks it the case had occurred a year earlier there would be no Kevin.  While I don't share Williamson's abolitionist position on abortion, being more inclined to look at Europe for another approach - in most countries permissive until 12 to 18 weeks after conception and then very restrictive after that - it is a logically and morally consistent position and it was absurd for those who believe differently to demand his expulsion.  It bespeaks a lack of confidence in their position.

Of course, the real reason for the objections was to deplatform an articulate writer of politically inconvenient views.  It is safe to confine Williamson to the ghetto of conservative publications where no one whose views might be swayed would venture.  It is a shame that publications like The Atlantic which once took pride in presenting a wide range of views now voluntarily intellectually stifling itself.

All of which is by way of letting readers know that Williamson has been on quite a roll recently at National Review.  Here are links to a few of his recent pieces, along with some excerpts.

Health Care Is The Opposite Of A Right:
If you have twelve children and six cupcakes, the possibilities of division remain the same even if you declare that every child has the “right” to an entire cupcake of his own. Goods are physical, while rights are metaphysical, and the actual facts of the real world are not transformed by our deciding to talk about them in a different way.
By the way, progressives don't actually think healthcare is a right - see, for instance, the Democratic Senators who just voted to oppose legislation requiring health care to babies born alive after an abortion procedure.

Senator Sanders points to the Scandinavian model as an example of what it means to have health care as a right. Senator Sanders has traveled widely in his life — he found much to praise in the Soviet Union while honeymooning there, and said so — but he is, like many American progressives, almost completely parochial. As is the case with the United Kingdom and much of Europe, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark are in the 21st century markedly different from the countries they were in the 1970s, when Senator Sanders’s awareness of the world seems to have congealed into the impenetrable clot of ignorance on such ghastly display in his current political career. A generation of reform — including tax cuts and reductions in the scope of the public sector — have left the Scandinavian countries with lower public-sector spending than such European standard-bearers as France and Belgium.

As it stands, the U.S. system retains much of what people dislike about private care while incorporating much of what’s undesirable about state-dominated systems: insecurity and relatively high costs plus sclerotic bureaucracy and cumbrous regulation — hooray for us.

Swedish economist Tino Sanandaji links the social organizing principle behind the Scandinavian welfare states to what the Swedes refer to as duktig — loosely translated, “competence.” Citizens are understood not as baby birds with open beaks being fed by the state, but as having primary responsibility for themselves. “It has the connotation that you have the social obligation to be competent,” Sanandaji says.
Not a right, but a duty.

As a matter of national rhetoric, this is strongly emphasized in countries such as Switzerland and Singapore. That is one reason why the individual mandate to carry health insurance is uncontroversial in Switzerland. “We consider the health insurance mandate to be a form of socially responsible civic conduct,” former Swiss health minister Thomas Zeltner told Health Affairs. “In Switzerland, ‘individual freedom’ does not mean that you should be free to live irresponsibly and freeload from others.” 
The War In South Asia

The time has come to cut Islamabad loose and recognize Pakistan for what it is: a state sponsor of terrorism. That the Pakistani state (and some Pakistani territory) is not entirely under the control of the Pakistani government and its elected leaders does not change the facts of the case. The United States should give Islamabad a date certain by which to get its act together or face sanctions under the relevant statutes.

The Trump administration should offer this to Modi in exchange for keeping India’s troops — and India’s missiles — on India’s side of the border.
If, in turn, Imran Khan and his government require international help in doing what needs doing, then a good-faith effort by Islamabad would certainly enjoy broad support, and not only from the United States. But Pakistan’s troubles run very deep: They are bred into its institutions and, to some extent, into its national political foundation, which is rooted in the belief that Muslims can truly flourish only in a polity in which Muslims predominate. The very different evolutions of Pakistan and India since 1947 give the lie to that belief, but Pakistan would not be the first nation to be governed by a lie.

The question is not whether there are American interests at stake. The question is whether we will pursue those interests on our own terms and under our own initiative rather than react to events beyond our immediate control.

Reparations For Slavery
The proposals are not intended to mitigate evil. They are intended to make Elizabeth Warren . . . or Kamala Harris, or Kirsten Gillibrand . . . president of the United States.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, formerly promoted by her employers as a woman of color, has ’fessed up to being as white as Rachel Dolezal waltzing with the ghost of George Plimpton as snow falls gently on Vienna, has endorsed the payment of reparations to African Americans, a position held by Senator Kamala Harris but forsworn by other Democrats, Barack Obama notable among them, and rejected by Senator Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate and who is seeking the Democratic nomination even though he does not belong to the party. 

This is, needless to say, another case of symbolism-over-substance Democratic politics. Democrats who gave a good goddamn about the lives of black Americans have had a great many years to do something about the schools in Philadelphia or the police department in Chicago, the so-called war on drugs, and a passel of economic policies that help to keep blacks poor — including such Democratic favorites as the Davis-Bacon Act, which explicitly was designed partly for that purpose — “superabundance of Negro labor,” and all that.

But doing the hard work of responsible governing doesn’t have the juice these hustlers are after.
Nor is it obvious that African Americans such as Barack Obama, who is not descended from slaves, has a valid claim. Indeed, the term “African American” is increasingly useless as a meaningful social signifier as well-to-do immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean slide easily into the upper ranks of American society while black citizens of more ancient American ancestry continue to founder. The American sense of fairness is prickly and defensive — and central to our political culture. To present reparations as a means to justice, from that point of view, is to beg the question.

And then there are the Republicans.

The deformed political alliance that still enjoys proclaiming itself the “party of Lincoln” from time to time suffers from its own deficiencies on this matter, some of them more obvious than others. On the one hand, it rightly rejects on classical-liberal ground the politics of collective categorical racial guilt and entitlement. On the other hand, it is the partisan home of the politics of white resentment and white anxiety. Mostly, the Republican party has since Thaddeus Stevens’s departure from the political scene endeavored to identify a date or an episode at which point it might declare the issue of African Americans’ social and political status concluded and return to its preferred full-time agenda of cutting taxes. But the question is far from concluded.

If our project is the full integration of African Americans into the main stream of American society — meaning a situation in which slave ancestry correlates no more exactly with socioeconomic position than does Italian ancestry — then we owe it to ourselves and to our fellow citizens to admit that a program of simple cash transfers is not going to get that done. It would almost certainly lead to an even uglier and bitterer species of racial politics than the one we already have. Reparations would likely prove to be as effective in incorporating African Americans as Indian reservations have been for incorporating Native Americans. “But reservations weren’t meant to bring Native Americans more fully into American life,” you might respond. “Just the opposite.” And, of course, you’d be right. Think on that.

There are a million and one things that could and should be done in the cause of justice and prosperity for African Americans as such — not simply as people who just happen to be over-represented among the poor, the incarcerated, and the murdered. (Here, the tragedy of the subordination of the NAACP and other like-minded groups, which effectively have been reduced to mere organs of the Democratic party, is terribly apparent.) Pursuing that reform agenda would be a blessing to the nation as a whole, and it is to the nation as a whole that national politics must in the end address itself, even as we take into account the unique situation of African Americans.

Merciless Sympathy

Merciless sympathy is the stratagem by which our natural solicitous feeling toward those who have suffered some wrong or some injury is forcibly reconstituted into support for a particular political agenda grafted onto the unhappy episode. Those who don’t support the politics are treated as though they were victimizing the victim (genuine or hoax) rather than disagreeing about a policy question.

Merciless sympathy is how declining to oppose Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court is transmuted into callousness toward rape victims, how support for the Second Amendment is recast as contempt for the children killed in Parkland, how doubting the breathless accounts of the Covington Catholic matter becomes racist hostility to an elderly Native American veteran. As rhetorical stratagems go, it is obvious, shallow, and stupid — and therefore effective in the era of Twitter-dominated discourse, in which shallowness and stupidity are weaponized.

The plague of phony hate crimes on college campuses, often coinciding with controversial political events, isn’t the product of coincidence. It is a strategy. Fictitious, politically charged stories of rape — Lena Dunham’s encounter with “Barry” the College Republican, the lies published by Rolling Stone, etc.—are not the products of coincidence. These things happen in clusters for a reason. That is not to say they are being centrally directed as part of some kind of well-tempered conspiracy, but rather that they are the natural result of a certain kind of politics attached to a certain worldview.
Merciless sympathy is used not only to silence doubters but to silence dissent

Republicans Pounce
From a New York Times article headlined, “Republicans are demonizing Democrats as left-wing radicals on the economy, abortion and Israel” and “Republicans Already Are Demonizing Democrats as Socialists and Baby Killers.”
Republicans amped it up, seizing on a Twitter post by a freshman representative, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, which even some Democrats condemned as anti-Semitic, and ridiculing the “Green New Deal,” an ambitious economic stimulus plan unveiled by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist.
I.e., “Republicans pounce!”
Is not Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, a radical on Israel, as well as an anti-Semite? Of course she is. Is not Representative Ocasio-Cortez, also a Democrat, a socialist as she says she is and a left-wing radical on the economy? Are not Democrat-controlled states passing laws that allow for the killing of babies while they are being born? All of these things are true. They aren’t even really debatable.

The issue isn’t that “Republicans pounce.” Of course they pounce on this madness. They should. They must. The problem is the madness, not the opposition to it.
Williamson doesn't mention that when there is a scandal or something else potentially negative regarding Republicans or conservatives the Times covers it as a straight news story focusing on the facts, or at least the facts most amenable to making those on the Right look bad, whereas when it involves Democrats the story is always about how the Republicans are trying to make it a story.

Regular Order

What if these are not extraordinary times -- or, at least, not extraordinary in the way our activists and media entrepreneurs would have us believe?

Everybody has an emergency to peddle. They always appear at the most convenient times and in the most convenient places. President Trump has just suffered a humiliating defeat in his confrontation with Congress about funding for his beloved wall — and losing a political contest, or having a disagreement about spending, is not an emergency. President Trump has been in office since January 2017, and if illegal immigration is an emergency now, it was an emergency then, but he has only now got around to declaring a state of emergency. The variable isn’t the level of illegal immigration — it’s Trump’s getting steamrolled by Nancy Pelosi.

The fake hate crimes tend to crop up in the places where real ones are least likely to happen but where people are most eager to have them happen in order to affirm their own petty hatreds, which means the socially segregated spaces occupied by the social-justice Left, college campuses prominent among them. In November, Goucher College was convulsed by a series of threats against black students and racist graffiti, which turned out to be the work of a hoaxer, Fynn Arthur, a black student and member of the lacrosse team who was charged with a criminal offense in the matter. These things have the feel of inevitability: The closest thing to a genuine hate crime to happen at Goucher College was the school’s decision to admit young Jonah Goldberg as an undergraduate.

Likewise, the “epidemic” of sexual assaults on college campuses is a myth, an urban legend that shows up nowhere in the actual crime statistics, which suggest that college women are in fact less likely to suffer a sexual assault than a member of the general population. (The women most likely to suffer sexual assault are poor, nonwhite, and non-college educated, especially those residing in relatively insular or isolated communities.) Campus feminists invent these stories for reasons of cultural politics, as we have seen over and over: Lena Dunham and “Barry” the College Republican, the Rolling Stone fiction, etc.

Informed by Randolph Bourne’s admonition that “war is the health of the state,” socialists have long used every war — or “moral equivalent of war” — as a pretext for insisting that the state take over the commanding heights of the economy: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Paul Ehrlich’s fanciful Malthusian prophecies regarding overpopulation, the 2008-09 financial crisis, the “inequality” panic, and now, under the dotty inspiration of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, global warming — a dozen different maladies, the same proffered therapy in every case.


What to do about Adolf Hitler is a different kind of question from what to do about Donald Trump or what to do about the illegal immigrants employed by such firms as Houston-based Waste Management of Texas. But if you can convince yourself that Trump is the moral equivalent of Hitler, that illegal immigration is a sudden existential threat to the republic, that our nation’s allegedly atavistic redneck culture has us on the verge of a Kristallnacht for homosexuals, or that all life on Earth will become extinct if Field Marshal Sandy doesn’t have her way every time she stamps her foot, then you can justify — to others, and to yourself — measures that are extraordinary. Among those extraordinary measures is the lie in the service of “a greater truth.”

But what if these are not extraordinary times — or, at least, not extraordinary in the way our activists and media entrepreneurs would have us believe?
The “greater truth” is this: The United States of America is a relatively peaceful, extraordinarily prosperous, and fundamentally decent society. Americans are greedy and violent, but we also are generous and brave. Our country is home to flat-Earthers and world-changing geniuses, both of them in unusual numbers. It’s a package deal. We have a relatively ineffective and dysfunctional federal government, and we have social differences that have put the two main modes of American life (and the political tendencies related to them) at odds with one another, and that more bitterly than is necessary. Those are real problems.

We’ll sort them out — if we allow the excellent institutions we have painstakingly constructed to do that perform as necessary. These include the separation of powers, the rule of law, due process and the presumption of innocence, models of guilt and entitlement that are individual rather than racial or otherwise corporate, freedom of speech, open discourse and inquiry, adversarial political parties, and — this is almost lost — a meaningful distinction between public and private things. The purpose of emergencies — and, especially, phony emergencies — is to empower partisans and advocates and people with power to overrule those institutions in the pursuit of their own immediate parochial goals, whether those include a wall along the southern border or a mandatory seminar on “rape culture” at Yale. Conservative budget nerds often speak of their desire to see Congress return to “regular order.” But it isn’t just Congress that needs to return to regular order — so do the presidency, and the courts, and the people.


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Smells Like A 14-Year Old On Ukelele

This is 14 year old Feng E with his interpretation of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.  The playing and arrangement is brilliant bringing out the beauty in the song's melody and brooding bass line.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Trabant

The 1981 Trabant, manufactured in East Germany.  A hysterical introduction to communist cars.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Washington's Birthday

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732.

Excerpt of Letter from Moses Seixas, warden of the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island; August 1790, on the occasion of President Washington's visit to the town.
For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Angel Eyes

The greatest of Frank Sinatra's Torch Songs (yes, even surpassing One For My Baby, In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning, and Only The Lonely), Angel Eyes was composed in 1946 by Matt Dennis and Earl Brent.  Recorded many times by many artists but none match this 1958 version from the album Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely, which hit #1 and spent 120 weeks on the charts.  With its vivid, confessional lyrics, blues tinged melody, Nelson Riddle's perfect arrangement (listen for the harp at the end), combined with Sinatra at the peak of his interpretive powers, this is American popular music at its finest.

First up below is the recorded version, followed by Sinatra performing the song live.  It's in the live version you can see how the song matches Sinatra's theatrical sense - watch him walk away from the mic into the darkness as he tosses off the last lyric.
Hey drink up all you people
And order anything you see
Have fun you happy people
The drink, and the laughs on me

Try to think that love's not around
Still it's uncomfortably near
My old heart ain't gainin' any ground
Because my Angel Eyes ain't here

Angel Eyes, that old devil sent
They glow unbearably bright
Need I say that my love's misspent
Misspent with Angel Eyes tonight

So drink up, all of you people
And order anything you see
Have fun you happy people
The drink, and the laugh's on me

Pardon me, but I gotta run
The fact's uncommonly clear
I gotta find who's now The Number One
And why my Angel Eyes ain't here

'Scuse me, while I disappear


Thursday, February 14, 2019

Three Quick Ones

Much of Jethro Tull's 1971 album Aqualung has not aged well, many of the tunes now sounding bombastic and pretentious.  What has retained its power is the immortal guitar solo on the title tune, and three short (1-2 minute) acoustic guitar based songs with lovely melodies and sentiments.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Peoria Speech

Yesterday was the 210th anniversary of the birth of our 16th president.  

After serving one term in Congress as a member of the Whig party, Abraham Lincoln returned to Springfield, Illinois in early 1849 to resume the practice of law, returning to active politics five years later amidst the controversy over the Nebraska-Kansas Act, which ended the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opened up new territories for the potential expansion of slavery.  Opposing any expansion of the peculiar institution, on October 16, 1854 Lincoln spoke at Peoria, Illinois, an event which began his elevation into the national spotlight.

At Peoria, Lincoln made a moral case against slavery, and a pragmatic and legal case against its expansion while accepting its continuation in the states where it currently existed.  The entire speech can be read here.

He was unequivocal in his condemnation:
This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world---enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites---causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty---criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Yet he was also at pains to discuss the practical problems attached to slavery's elimination, a problem he saw no easy answer to.  His words resonated at the time, and the tragic inability to find a solution short of war, and then to postpone for so long attempting to integrate the former slaves into American society, continue to do so today.
Before proceeding, let me say I think I have no prejudice against the Southern people. They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not now exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. If it did now exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up. This I believe of the masses north and south. Doubtless there are individuals, on both sides, who would not hold slaves under any circumstances; and others who would gladly introduce slavery anew, if it were out of existence. We know that some southern men do free their slaves, go north, and become tip-top abolitionists; while some northern ones go south, and become most cruel slave-masters.

When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Political Science

The Classical Greeks identified three types of polities, each subject to degeneration over time.

Monarchy ("rule of the one") would transform into Despotism and Absolutism.

Aristocracy ("rule of the few") became Oligarchy.

Democracy ("rule of the many") transitioning, via Demagoguery, to Tyranny and then Monarchy, starting the cycle all over again.

Having a realistic assessment of human nature, Greeks saw each form with its advantages and disadvantages.  And human nature has not changed in the last twenty four centuries.

As to Democracy in that era, one is reminded of the last decade of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), in which the Athenian mob in a series of impulsive, frantic, and self-destructive acts exiled or condemned to death many of its best military commanders, weakening the state and leading to Sparta's victory.

Or, as the noted philosopher Tommy Lee Jones summed it up more recently:

The framers of the Constitution of the United States sought to author a document designed to remedy the weaknesses identified by the Greeks in an effort to create a stable and sustainable form of national government constrained in its powers and with the rights of minorities protected.

To do so they employed a variety of techniques - creating three branches of government; separation of powers; defined limits of authority for each branch; federalism; and a reservation of all powers not otherwise explicitly delegated to the national government, to the states and the people.

The going has been tough at times but the result is unique, a society not just based on racial, ethnic, or religious solidarity; a society that can, at its best, cooperate voluntarily as we often see in emergencies (see for instance the 9-11 Boatlift).  Maintaining what we have achieved requires constant vigilance and its continuation cannot be taken for granted.

A Constitution is only as good as the understanding and will of the people to sustain it.  It is possible for the words to remain the same, yet have them hollowed out of their meaning, as has already happened in some instances.  And it is also dangerous when new meanings threaten the unique aspects of our society.

Where on the spectrum of polities we head next depends on how well we can preserve what is left of the Constitution.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Art Of The Biographer

Robert Caro is working on the fifth volume of his monumental biography of Lyndon B Johnson, a project he started more than 40 years ago.  The fourth volume ends in mid-1964, prior to Vietnam and The Great Society, the debacles that ended LBJ's presidency (for more on Vietnam and its connection to The Great Society read the THC post Dereliction of Duty).

I've read the third and fourth volumes.  Master of the Senate tells the tale of LBJ's rise to power, becoming the most powerful majority leader in its history while still only in his mid-40s.  If you want to know how to utilize power and manipulate others this volume is a must-read.  While the reader can see Caro is appalled at many aspects of LBJ's personality he can also admire, at times, his use of power.  It's also fascinating to see how Caro, a true liberal, interprets events, so it is important for the reader to have some independent base of knowledge from which to judge his policy preferences.  I found it particularly interesting when Caro reports that the primary criticism of the Senate by political scientists before LBJ's rise to power was the chamber's lack of ideological divisions, something we have an excess of in the 21st century.

The Passage of Power takes us through LBJ's failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1960, his reluctant acceptance of the vice-presidential nomination, and the humiliations he suffered in that role at the hand of the Kennedys.  The mutual hatred between Robert Kennedy and LBJ burns through the pages.  We all know the events of November 22, 1963 yet Caro is able to write of them in a fresh and shattering way.  Once President, LBJ comes alive again as a perpetual motion machine driving the passage of his greatest triumph, the Civil Rights Act, which had been moribund under JFK.

Caro is a fine writer, which is fortunate, since he exhaustively covers every aspect of LBJ's life.  In the hands of a less accomplished author the volumes would become tedious.

The January 28 issue of The New Yorker contains a piece by Caro. "The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson's Archives", which anyone interested in the art of biography should read.  The title does not do the piece justice, this is how a skilled biographer does their research, how they pierce through the myth to the reality, how they prod and yes, manipulate, those with first-hand knowledge to reveal the truth.  Caro even moved to the Hill Country of Texas for three years to insinuate himself into the close-knit community protecting the LBJ legacy.

Why write the piece now, even as Caro works on the final volume of his masterpiece?  He tells us at the end:
Which leads to a final question: Why am I publishing these random recollections toward a memoir while I’m still working on the last volume of the Johnson biography, when I haven’t finished it, while I’m still—at the age of eighty-three—several years from finishing it? Why don’t I just include this material in the longer, full-length memoir I’m hoping to write?

The answer is, I’m afraid, quite obvious, and, if I forget it for a few days, I am frequently reminded of it, by journalists who, in writing about me and my hope of finishing, often express their doubts in a sarcastic phrase: “Do the math.” Well, I can do that math. I am well aware that I may never get to write the memoir, although I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided that, just in case, I’d put some of them down on paper now.
We should all be glad he did.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Pantheon In The Rain

One of the most impressive buildings in the world.  Built under the direction of Emperor Hadrian 1,900 years ago the Pantheon remains the largest unreinforced concrete dome anywhere.  It was saved from the damage incurred by other monuments of the Roman Empire by its conversion to a church in the 7th century.

  For more details on the construction techniques used by the Romans watch this.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Things To Wonder About

I recently received bills for surgery I underwent in November.  According to the summary total charges were $45,473.60 of which Medicare paid $3,413.65, my supplement insurance paid $870.84, and I paid all of $20.  My claim summary triumphantly proclaims "patient savings" as $41,189.11!

What a deal; collectively we only paid 9.2% of the sticker price!  Try this next time you buy a car.
What I think it really says is that the charges were not real.  No real business could run that way.  It's an example of the dysfunction in our entire medical system pricing scheme.

The underlying problem is if I had gone to the hospital directly and asked them to quote a price it is more likely to have been closer to $45,000 than to the $4,200 actually paid between Medicare, my insurer, and myself. 

Since turning 65 I've had the benefit of Medicare coverage.  However, a rough calculation of what I've paid, and expect to pay in the future, in Medicare taxes leads me to conclude that Medicare is likely to make money off me in the long-run.  It would have been better for Mrs THC and I to instead put all our Medicare tax payments into a tax-exempt investment vehicle and use it to pay for our own care post-65.  Instead, we are helping others pay for their medical costs.  I still await someone to thank me for this.

The hospital charges point out the problem with the magical thinking Medicare For All solution advocated by progressives.  Medicare and, even more so, Medicaid payments are well below those of private insurance companies.  Higher private insurance payments subsidize Medicare and Medicaid by allowing hospitals and doctors to recoup their costs.  If Medicare payments were to remain the same under Medicare For All many hospitals and doctor practices could not make a go of it.  If Medicare payments were to increase to close the gap, the alleged cost benefits of Medicare For All would vanish in the wind.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Beyond Wrong

"That is not only not right; it is not even wrong."
- Wolfgang Pauli (1900-58)
The quote refers to something being asserted or claimed that is not only in error, but demonstrates such complete misunderstanding and ignorance by the person making the claim that it would be a waste of time to seriously discuss. I am sure many readers can identify ideas and people falling into that category.

Pauli, one of many European theoretical physicists who immigrated to the United States after 1933, was known for his blunt comments. The closest contemporary description of a version of the quote is from a colleague's remarks shortly after his death:
Quite recently, a friend showed him the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly ‘It is not even wrong.’
Pauli was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of what is known as the Pauli Exclusion Principle, which should not be confused with the Principle By Which Paulie Was Excluded.

I believe it the same point the philosopher Trey Parker made in his tome, The End Of An Act, when he wrote,
I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark
When he made Pearl Harbor
I miss you more than that movie missed the point
And that's an awful lot