Thursday, February 28, 2013

Healthcare’s rape of the American wallet

Imagine:  You’re in a small town miles from anywhere when your car breaks down. There’s only one repair shop. Your repair bill includes three diagnostics — one at the beginning, a second to make sure the first one was right, and a third after the repair in case the mechanic replaced the wrong part — plus charges for the mechanic’s overalls, grease rags and each tool used to fix it. The part he replaces, which you could buy at Pep Boys for $49.95, is billed at $495 plus separate charges for each bushing and bolt that came in the box with it. The labor includes a second charge for the coworker who looked at the engine briefly while the mechanic was in the loo. And there’s a separate charge for the repair shop itself. Thank God you didn’t drink any coffee while you were there.

This is just a taste of what hospital billing is like.

David Catron chortles in The American Spectator over the success of Circle Holdings in turning around Hinchingbrooke Hospital, near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire, the poster child for everything people say is wrong with Britain’s National Health System and socialized medicine in general. “This is the first time such a company has been given control of an NHS hospital and the results will not come as a surprise to anyone who understands free enterprise.”

It will also come as no surprise to those who believe the market provides the most efficient health care delivery model that, in addition to dramatically improving the financial prospects, privatization has improved patient satisfaction. Before Hinchingbrooke was taken over by Circle Holdings, patients had a very low opinion of the hospital and the care it provided. Now, this perception is dramatically improved: “Patient satisfaction has risen to 85 per cent, placing Hinchingbrooke in the top six of the East of England’s 46 hospitals.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Has the papacy become “just a job”?

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had quite a bit of silliness inflicted on us by the incessant noisemakers well described as “the chattering classes” concerning Pope Benedict’s decision to step down from the papacy.  Yes, I know I belong to that group, and that I’m fully capable of saying silly things too; witness my arrogant confidence that Mitt Romney would beat Barack Obama.

All papal reigns at their start are fraught with promise, and have potential for dramatic acts.  The cardinal electors can’t elect a “caretaker pope” without the possibility that said pope, theoretically picked to keep the Chair of Peter warm for a better successor, will suddenly take it into his head to do something climactic … like call an ecumenical council.  And even a pope widely regarded as an empty cassock (e.g. Ven. Paul VI) can drop an atomic bomb on everyone’s expectations (the prophetic Humanae Vitae).  In this respect, the upcoming conclave is no different from previous conclaves, even with the off-stage presence of a Bishop Emeritus of Rome. 

Those hoping, advising and demanding that the Church change its moral teachings, as I’ve written elsewhere, will most likely grumble of the next pope, in the words of Pete Townsend, “Meet the new boss /Same as the old boss.”  But more irritating than those who expect some kind of dogmatic dive to the left are those who claim that B16’s resignation introduces a fundamental change to the Petrine office, that it either makes or proves the papacy “just another job”.  “And by so doing,” Giles Fraser of the Guardian, who styles himself a “Catholic Protestant”, exults, “it rightly challenges some of the cult of personality that has built up around that office, as if the job affords the office holder some special proximity to God.  It doesn’t.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Jon Huntsman’s tepid conservativism

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
—Revelation 3:15-16

Jon Huntsman (R-UT), empty suit.
Jeffrey Lord’s “E. C. Cupp and the Freezing of the Conservative Mind” should be read in tandem with Peter Hitchens’ “The Right’s Reefer Madness”.  The first describes the disease; the second diagnoses the cause.

Once you’ve read these two articles in the American Spectator, then you can tell what’s wrong with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman’s American Conservative piece, “Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause”: To put it bluntly, Huntsman has conflated being a Republican with being a conservative.  The two identities are not identical, though they’re often treated that way.

What’s the difference?  The Republican Party exists to get its members into elective offices.  That’s all.  The party has never had a fully articulated ideology; rather, it’s had a preference for economic opportunity, a legacy of the free-soil movement.  The GOP does have a general conservative thrust, but more because the Democrat Party has developed an ideology than because of anything else.  It may be an exaggeration to say that conservatives and some libertarians are Republicans because they don’t want to be or vote for Democrats, but not by much.  But there have been liberal Republicans just as there have been conservative Democrats; sometimes the deciding factor isn’t “Which party represents me better?” but “Which party is better placed to get me into office?”

Conservativism is a political ideology, often approaching a philosophy of life.  Or, if you prefer, it’s a meta-narrative concerning human social relations, law and the functions of government.  There are different strains of conservativism; mainstream American conservativism generally falls under the description “liberal conservativism”, as it combines classic economic liberalism (read laissez-faire) with concerns for the preservation of traditional social institutions.  Without going into further subdividing, it’s fair to say this: There’s more to conservativism than economic and commercial policy.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What’s so funny here?

A Protestant friend of mine decided to tweak me publicly on Facebook.  I was reading Tony Layne’s blog the other day and it reminded me of this bit from The Meaning of Life which Tony took me to in the theaters.”  (Yes, yes, I did.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.)

© 1983 Handmade Films
The bit in question?  The musical number, “Every Sperm is Sacred”.[1]  Two minutes later, he added, “I would be remiss in not posting the proper response to my last post,” to which he appended the sketch that follows the song, in which a Protestant man (the late Graham Chapman) waxes rhapsodical over the Reformation and condoms, unaware that he’s arousing his seemingly proper wife (Eric Idle).

My favorite exchange comes near the end:  Chapman says that Martin Luther may not have been aware of the full implications of his ninety-five theses in 1517, “but because of him, my dear, I can put anything I want on my John Thomas.”  To which Idle replies pantingly, “Well, then, why don’t you?”  But alas, Thomas Cranmer is too wrapped up in thundering self-righteously against the hidebound Catholic morality to pick up on her hint.  Protestants, the message seems to be, can do whatever they want … but they don’t.

Of course “Every Sperm is Sacred” is a hideous exaggeration of Catholic teaching about sex; it wouldn’t be satire if it weren’t.  Catholic teaching places great emphasis on the sacramentality of the marital act; in its proper context, sex is man’s participation in God’s act of creation.  And the Pythons unwittingly tell us precisely what’s wrong not only with contraception but with the Protestant Reformation: the inordinate, isolating emphasis on the individual will.  But you neither expect nor even necessarily want nuance from a comedy film … even one made by a very erudite British comedy troupe.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Progressives: Don’t hold your breath waiting for Vatican III

What are Ukrainian feminists doing in Paris, anyway?

As is to be expected when the Chair of Peter is vacated, encomiums for the departed pope are quickly replaced by speculation about the next.  This is a game anyone can play, whether you’re Catholic or not.  The only difference now is that the departing pope can read the speculations along with the rest of us.

As is also to be expected, at least since the dual conclaves of 1978, much of the speculation will follow the lines of secular politics, taking absolutely no account of the Catholic Church’s peculiar imperatives.  By that, I mean that you’ll read a lot of silly talk about prospects for the Church changing its “policies” on various action items, as if a change in pope meant a change in doctrine.  That there might be a reason for the Church to teach the same things in 2013 as it did in 1013 or AD 113 seems not to occur to certain people.

One thing that is different from eight years ago: various self-styled progressives have not only greeted the news of Benedict XVI’s renunciation with glee — almost a “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” attitude — but are almost certainly convinced that, with “God’s Rottweiler” out of the way, the Spirit of Vatican II will finally sweep away the last vestiges of the homophobic, patriarchal “old Church” and blow in a kind of “Catholic spring”.  “The church has such influence worldwide that it would be great to see a Vatican III!” gushed Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, while Rainbow Sash opined, “The new Pope will have an opportunity like Pope John XXIII to open wide windows of the Church so that fresh ideas may fill the Church by calling for a new Ecumenical Council of the Church, Vatican III.”

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The hollow men

In Book 3 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, we find a version of the story of Narcissus. Son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope, Narcissus was stunningly handsome but haughty, breaking the hearts of many women by refusing them his attention, including the unfortunate Echo. In Conon’s Narrations, the unrequited lovers are all males, one of whom commits suicide on Narcissus’ doorstep. In both, at least one such heartbroken person utters the wish that Narcissus learn the pain he has inflicted on others … a wish Nemesis hears and grants.

So one day, while Narcissus is out hunting, Nemesis leads him to a pool of particular clarity and reflectivity. Stooping to get himself a drink, Narcissus sees his own reflection and falls desperately in love with himself. Ovid portrays him as initially deceived into thinking the reflection is of someone else; nevertheless, eventually, he learns the truth, yet can’t stop gazing at his mirror image. Eventually, he either wasted away or committed suicide; not much to choose between the two.

There is another story about Narcissus [writes Pausanias in the second century], less popular indeed than the other, but not without some support. It is said that Narcissus had a twin sister; they were exactly alike in appearance, their hair was the same, they wore similar clothes, and went hunting together. The story goes on that Narcissus fell in love with his sister, and when the girl died, would go to the spring, knowing that it was his reflection that he saw, but in spite of this knowledge finding some relief for his love in imagining that he saw, not his own reflection, but the likeness of his sister.[1]

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The president’s say-so is not enough

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”Benjamin Franklin, 1775

Now assassinating a citizen near you?
If you’re not bothered by the DoJ “white paper” outlining the Obama Administration’s rationale for executing American citizens without trial as part of the war on terror, you ought to be.

This is actually not the first time Constitutional protections have been dismissed by executive order.  The first time came in the early days of the Civil War, when as part of his escalation in the wake of the Union defeat at First Manassas Abraham Lincoln declared the right of habeas corpus “suspended”.  Since Lincoln is the nearest thing we Americans possess to a secular saint, many people are loath to criticize this action, murmuring about the exigencies of the time and protesting that he exercised the resulting power very lightly.  And, in fact, when Congress did finally meet in its emergency session, it gave his action a firmer legal basis by passing the appropriate legislation.

Nevertheless, it was the move of a dictator—a benevolent dictator, to be sure, but still an autocrat.  By failing to gainsay Lincoln’s order, Congress allowed him to set a precedent for future chief executives to learn from and emulate.

Habeas corpus is more than a Latin tag.  Under habeas corpus, the executive power has to prove to the reviewing bench that it has both cause and right to hold a person imprisoned, that the imprisonment is in compliance with the form and customs of law.  The writ demands that the custodian produce the living body of the prisoner because, should the imprisonment be found illicit, the prisoner can then be set free without further delay.  The executive’s say-so is not sufficient ground to deprive a person of liberty.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Five secular reasons to stay chaste — UPDATED

Lolo Jones, athlete and virgin. (©Ian Walton)
Comedian Steven Crowder has written a pretty good article in FOXNews: “A man’s top 5 reasons to grow up and get married”.  In it, Crowder makes the key points that: 1) married couples tend to make and save more than do singles and cohabitants; 2) the children of married couples tend to do much better in many areas of life than do the children of single parents, 3) married people’s sex lives tend to be much better, 4) married people are more productive economically, and 5) they live longer, healthier lives.

All of this is true, and the post itself is certainly less of a gloat-fest than was his post on waiting until the wedding night to get busy with your loved one.  But Crowder has been married for the Hollywood eternity of six months: not enough time to really understand the challenges of making a marriage last “’til death do us part”, and therefore not enough time to develop something I like to call “empathy”.  But not even when chastity was much more common (and divorce much less quotidian) did marriage automatically bring these benefits to all and sundry.  So if people take issue with the self-congratulatory tone of his writing, I can’t say I blame them.

Nevertheless, we need more couples to get married and stay married, the latter even if just for the sake of the children and avoiding that messy, traumatic and costly process called divorce.  Even more, though, we need people to get married for the right reasons, and not just to socially validate their sleeping together.  We also need people to get over the idea that the three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs and combined six-figure income somehow precedes and insures successful marriage and childrearing — it just ain’t so.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The myth-takes of myth-busters

Maggie Fox of NBC News writes about a group of researchers who published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine exposing seven myths about diet and exercise.  The researchers, Fox says, “don’t want people to stop trying [to lose weight], but they do fear there are some misguided policies out there.”

The first myth the group attacks, one promoted by government agencies, diet books and the web, is that doing a little something every day will add up to pounds lost over the years.  It doesn’t take into account laws of physics and biology, the researchers argue.
It’s the idea that if someone burns even 100 extra calories a day, he or she will lose a pound every 35 days.  This is what the researchers call the 3,500 calorie myth — that burning 3,500 calories burns off a pound for everyone, every time.  Over five years that person should lose 50 pounds, but studies have shown the true weight loss over five years is 10 pounds.
What it doesn’t take into account is that as I lose weight, I get smaller and it takes less energy to push my mass through space,” Allison says.  In other words, the body will compensate.

 Here we have a serious disconnect between the “myth” that (according to Fox) the researchers supposedly busted and the explanation for its presumed falseness.  It’s not the only counterargument that sounds iffy; a couple of other “myth-busting” explanations give you the impression that the researchers were either attacking straw men or just missing the point.

As the “myth” is stated above, a person at weight w performs activity a, which burns 100 calories, once a day every day should lose 1 pound every 35 days, because it takes 3,500 calories of energy to burn 1 pound of adipose tissue.  Allison’s counter-argument is that, when the person drops to 0.8w, activity a only burns (say) 95 calories rather than 100, because “it takes less energy to push … mass through space”.