Saturday, September 29, 2007

Common Sense on Health Care

John Stossel has been listening in on my conversations. Or we have both been consulting with the same common sense on health care.

Why has health insurance become such a big issue for everyone? Paying for it is hugely expensive...and that is the "discount" price. The health insurance company pays the rest. And the situation is getting worse all the time.

At some point it became clear to me that at least a large part of the answer to this problem lay in the word "insurance." You buy insurance to protect you against the unlikely possibility, but nonetheless the possibility, of a ruinous disaster. If your house were to burn down, if you were to wreck your new car, or if you were to require extensive treatment for a serious and debilitating illness, you would be ruined financially. But though these things are unlikely to happen, and because everyone faces and fears the same possibility, everyone pays a small amount into what becomes a large pool and agrees to compensate any contributor who might find himself in one of these unhappy circumstances. We call this "insurance." It's a prudent way of managing risk communally.

It is of essence of insurance, however, that it pertains to risk and rarity. Your home insurance does not cover leaky faucets, lawn care, or even replacing your shingles. These are common and predictable expenses. Roofs are even expensive, but you know that they last only 20 years so you save accordingly. So too, your car insurance does not cover gas, oil changes and scheduled maintenance visits. You don't buy insurance for clothing and groceries. Even though these are necessities, it is the responsibility of neither your employer nor the government to provide you with insurance to cover these things. You pay for all of these expenses out of your regular income. It is why you have income. If you have difficulty in paying for one or a number of these these things, you have to prioritize, budget more wisely, generate more income, and so on.

So why do we treat medical insurance differently? We demand that it cover not only reconstructive surgery and cancer treatment, but also vaccinations, check ups, eye glasses and dental fillings. And people get angry if these things are not covered. One's employer is considered evil for providing "lousy" health coverage that does not cover these minor benefits. But what should be minor expenses have become quite expensive precisely because everyone is paying for them through insurance instead directly of out of their own pockets.

Stossel does a great of job of explaining this:

Almost daily, we're bombarded with apocalyptic warnings about the 47 million Americans who have no health insurance. ...America's health care problem is not that some people lack insurance -- it's that 250 million Americans do have it. ...

Insurance is a lousy way to pay for things. Your premiums go not only to pay for medical care but also for fraud, paper-work and insurance-company employee salaries. This is bad for you and bad for doctors.

Read his brief column, "A Move in the Wrong Direction," which reflects on Hillary Clinton's proposed new national health care plan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Alone with Bill? Interesting Prize.

He's at it again!

The Clintons fill my inbox with these requests. I find them very needy. Don't you?

This one is disturbing in a different way. It's from Bill. (I call him Bill.)

Dear David,

There are two things in this world that I love more than anything else -- my family and politics. So you can imagine just how fired up I get when Hillary is on the stage debating the issues that matter to our country.

So here's an idea: why don't you and I share that excitement together during an upcoming debate. Hillary's campaign will pick three people -- each invited with a guest to watch one of the upcoming presidential debates with me. We'll sit down in front of a big TV with a big bowl of chips, watch the debate, and talk about the race. If you enter before the Sunday midnight deadline, you and a guest could be the ones to sit down with me to watch a presidential debate.

Join me for a debate. Make a contribution today.


Bill Clinton
What do you bet that the three people selected are young women -- only by chance, of course -- and that there is no chaperon. Just Bill and three lucky winners with Hillary's distant location monitored at every moment. It makes you wonder -- and with good grounds, I might add -- just what he means when he says: "When I tell you I like watching Hillary debate, I mean it."

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Reflection: The Indispensable Christ

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones was easily the greatest preacher of the 20th century in Britain. The Lord used him to preserve orthodox Protestant Christianity in that land, but also to revitalize it in America.

He says this regarding the place of Christ in Christianity:

"There is no such thing as Christianity apart from the Person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That does not mean that the Lord Jesus Christ is a 'bearer' of good news from God. No! It means that He Himself is the good news. It is the Person and what the Person has done. It is not merely that he is one of a great series of prophets and of teachers who have been raised up by God. No! There is an absolute uniqueness here -- He Himself. And He Himself is absolutely vital, and must always be central and in the most prominent position.

"Now that is what constitutes the uniqueness of the whole Christian gospel. Take any religion that you like; you will generally find a man's name associated with it; but in none of these can it be said that the particular man is absolutely essential. You have Buddhism, but you can have Buddhism without Buddha. You have Confucianism, but you can have Confucianism without Confucius. It is more or less and accident that a particular man happens to put forward the teaching. But here, when you come to the realm of the Christian faith, the whole position is absolutely different. Take away the Person and there is no message at all. There is no teaching. There is nothing. The connection, in other words, between our Lord Himself, as a Person, and Christianity is obviously something which is of central significance."

(Taken from the first volume of Lloyd-Jones's exposition of Paul's Letter to the Romans, pp. 98-99.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 a Far Left Farce

As you surely recall, back on September 10, coinciding with General Petraeus's report to Congress, those zany madcap fellow citizens over at published an "over the top" ad in the always obliging New York Times. has published a spoof. Touché. Here are both.

General Petraeus or
General Betray Us?
Cooking the books for the White House

General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts. In 2004, just before the election, he said there was “tangible progress” in Iraq and that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward.” And last week Petraeus, the architect of the escalation of troops in Iraq, said, “We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress.”

Every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed. Yet the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. The Washington Post reported that assassinations only count if you’re shot in the back of the head — not the front. According to the Associated Press, there have been more civilian deaths and more American soldier deaths in the past three months than in any other summer we’ve been there. We’ll hear of neighborhoods where violence has decreased. But we won’t hear that those neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed.

Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows: Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. We may hear of a plan to withdraw a few thousand American troops. But we won’t hear what Americans are desperate to hear: a timetable for withdrawing all our troops. General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years.

Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us.

Some statements do not merit a reasoned response, for example when a statement demonstrates that the speaker is closed to civil, rational discussion. In such a case, mockery is the suitable response. Here is such a response to from RedState response. Notice that it did not come from a "blue state" source, such as the Clinton campaign.





General Eisenhower is a man constantly at war with the facts. He believes that Nazi Germany is a direct threat to the United States. It was Japan that attacked us, not Nazi Germany.

Most importantly, General Eisenhower will not admit what everyone knows: America is in an unwinnable war on two fronts that are thousands of miles away. Even if America could win, we could have to keep thousands of troops in Europe for decades.

General Eisenhower has become General Lies and Power for not retreating and sending our troops home.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hillary's Luncheon Lottery

The more I think about that Hill and Billary luncheon pitch, the more it bothers me.

I was describing it over breakfast to my wife (a much better table companion by far, and with no need for a donation), and what angered her about it is that this Democrat who claims to care for the poor is exploiting the poor with a lottery.

This is a particularly odious form of fundraising. It is not a straight donation, as in: if you support me, send in $100. It is not a standard "pay up and you get close to the candidate" donation. That would be the $1000 a plate dinner. Wealthy people go to those things, and they know what they are getting for their money. You pay your $1000 and you know that you will get a nice meal, a relatively exclusive audience with the candidate, and the status boost for having been there.

Hillary Clinton is running a lottery, however. Lotteries take advantage of the poor. They take money from people who can ill afford to spend it, but who spend it anyway in the vain hope of easy wealth or, in this case, a brief encounter with fame and power.

On top of that, she adds the deceitful hook. She addresses me personally, asking me to get together with her informally. You have to scroll down to find out that it's a lottery that requires a donation. (Of course, as I read it I'm skeptical. Where's the catch? What's her angle? But you respond this way to people whom you suspect are conning you.) And that line about Hillary popping out to pick up groceries for the meal? Whatever.

Then the letter from Bill as though he just "heard about it" and wants in on the pleasant conversation. He gets so little time with her...and there's also you! None of this is presented as a joke. There is no tongue in cheek, no wink. They are preying on the silly dreams of "the little people." It seems that P.T. Barnum is on the payroll. There's a sucker born every minute, and these emails trolling for them.

Then to complete the hard sell, they send out this email from Patti Solis Doyle, Hillary's campaign manager.

Dear David,

Here at campaign headquarters we can't stop talking about the response to Hillary and Bill's latest messages -- it seems like everyone in the country wants to sit down and have lunch with the two of them. And I know Hillary is looking forward to meeting the winner!

If you haven't participated yet, you haven't missed your chance to have lunch with Hillary and Bill -- there are still a few hours left. If you make a contribution to the campaign by midnight tonight, you could be having lunch with the Clintons at their home in Washington.

Click here to make a contribution.

...You have until midnight tonight. Make a contribution, and you could be coming to Washington, DC for lunch with Hillary and Bill. Why miss this chance?

Thank you for everything you do!

Patti Solis Doyle
How often have you been pressured to "take advantage of this deal now because quantities are limited and the sale ends at midnight?"

Does this provide us with insight into how she views the people she proposes to govern and how she would conduct her presidency?

Hillary's problem is that most people see her as inhumanly cold, selfishly ambitious, and fundamentally dishonest. This stunt, part of her "national conversation" theme which is here reduced to the level of personal chit chat with the common man or woman, is perhaps designed to address the first problem. Humanize Hillary. (If you have to be "humanized," you have a problem from the start. Remember John Kerry, Al Gore, Mike Dukakis? Do you see a pattern here?) Convince people that she just like one of them. (News: Almost no one in Washington is like "one of us." Hillary Clinton even less than most.)

But that appeal will fail unless the campaign first addresses the credibility problem. People's perception is that she is so "up there" and "into herself" that you cannot trust a word that she says or anything that she does. But the Hillsters will not address this problem because Hillary doesn't see it, and no one around her has metal to tell her.

Update: I got another email from Hillary today. She's so sweet. It looks like "Julie" from Milford, Ohio, will be shooting the breeze with the Clintons over tofu bulgar salad and (no doubt) home baked cookies. Even though she's hugely busy, she takes time to tell me personally who won the luncheon lottery. All is forgiven.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I Get Invited to the Clintons'

I got an email from Hillary the other day. Yes, Senator Hillary Clinton! It was really nice. We're on a first name basis. She invited me over to her house to hang out and talk about just whatever. I was so excited. I thought to myself, perhaps she has read my blog or some of my work on Francis Bacon. But then I read on, and whammo! Her offer was not what it seemed. My ideals were exposed and mocked, and my trust was shattered. I’ll never love again.

Read this and feel my exhilaration...and my pain.

Dear David,

Let's do lunch. Let's talk, you and me -- about whatever you'd like. Our hopes. Our goals. Our work. The weather. Maybe even politics.

I think it would be fun to have you over for lunch, at my table, in my home in Washington. You and I both know that we need a serious change of direction in this country. So let's sit down for a meal and talk about exactly the best way to make that change a reality.

Of course, that change can't happen if we don't win. So I'm asking you today to demonstrate your commitment to real change by supporting my campaign with a contribution. We're going to choose one supporter to come to my house in DC, along with a guest, to share lunch and talk. And if you contribute between now and midnight Friday, September 7, it could be you.

Click here to make a contribution.

...I'm really looking forward to this conversation. I'll pick up the groceries before you get there. Let's sit down and talk about how to change America!


Hillary Rodham Clinton

Well, as though that were not enough. Today, I got an email from Bill Himself!

Back on the emotional rollercoaster.

Dear David,

I hear you might be having lunch with Hillary -- do you mind if I drop in?

I've met some of the greatest people of our time from every walk of life. But of all the people I have ever shared a table with, I still learn the most when I sit down to a meal with Hillary.

There's no one smarter, no one better informed, and no one whose conversation I enjoy more. So if you have the chance to sit down and talk with Hillary -- like you do right now -- you don't want to miss it. That's why I'm going to join the two of you.

I know Hillary would be the best president, and you know she's ready to change America. So why not help her win today? The campaign will choose one supporter to have lunch with Hillary and me -- along with a guest -- and if you make a contribution by midnight Friday, September 7, it might just be you.

Click here to make a contribution.

...Thirty-six years ago, Hillary and I started a conversation, and it hasn't stopped since. I hope you'll join our conversation for a day. If you make a contribution by Friday and help Hillary's campaign make history, you might just be sitting down to lunch with the two of us soon. Trust me, you don't want to miss it.


Bill Clinton

It seems that they are serious about pitching this intimate, nationwide tete-a-tete with Hillary, the open-minded, prospective philosopher-queen who even at this late stage in her life and campaign will not settle on a plan of government without first dialoguing with the people on what justice is, as well as the good, the true and the beautiful.

Of course, when I get these personal emails I'm just swept away every time. I am such a sucker.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Hypocrisy and Just Plain Human

In addition to giving us good laugh, part of which I shared in my previous post, Mark Steyn, in "A Measure of Hypocrisy" (New York Sun, Sept. 4, 2007), also makes a serious point about the principled life. "A measure of hypocrisy is necessary to a functioning society." He does not quite identify why it is necessary, but I would agree that it is at least inevitable, being a function of our human, all too human, condition even under the best circumstances...indeed, I would say precisely under the best circumstances.

There are those on the left who would recognize no standards when it comes to this sort of personal behavior. "The left gives the impression that a Republican Senator caught in a whorehouse ought immediately to say, 'You're right. I should have supported earmarks for hookers in the 2005 appropriations bill.'" They forget (or suppress the fact for political expediency) that there is always a gap between principle and practice -- in a nation, in a political party, and in each one of us. "Your inability to live up to your own standards does not, in and of itself, nullify them." Anyone with with even marginally serious moral standards who isn't simply self-righteous can see this.

It is the nature of principles that they are never fully realizable because it is the nature of human beings, fallen as we are, to miss the mark which they establish, even by a soul crushing distance. But that does not necessarily either discredit our principles or identify us as hypocrites (and here I depart from Mr. Steyn). Samuel Huntington once described what he called the American IvI gap -- American ideals versus American institutions, or the distance that always exists, to some degree or another, between the principles we hold as a nation and our faithful practice of them. Huntington sums it up: "Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope."

Cynics like to seize upon these human failings to deny the validity of any such principles. Flags of our Fathers, a particularly cynical film, is an example of such debunking on a political level. It presents the Battle of Iwo Jima, the flag raising, the use of the memorable photo to promote war bonds, and various falsehoods and tragedies that underlay and surrounded the event. "There are no heroes" is the explicit moral of the story. Assuming the accuracy of everything the film reports, the film's conclusion does not necessarily follow. The world is not ideal. We know this. But that does not mean that there are not true ideals.

The particular circumstances of Senator Larry Craig's arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom -- the tapping foot, the baggage against the door -- seem inconclusive on their own as evidence of guilt. But judging by his "sad and pathetic" post-arrest interview as well as other reported incidents, Craig certainly appears to be guilty, though I have learned to reserve judgment even in seemingly obvious cases. Life is complicated. Nonetheless, Steyn is likely correct in saying that "he should disappear from public life as swiftly as possible and embrace full time the anonymity he cherishes in his sexual encounters."

As to how sincerely Larry Craig has held his moral principles in the course of his double life, I cannot say. I don't know what's lurking in the dark subterranean passageways of his soul. But I do know that many of the principles that he advocated are true, regardless of his or anyone's inability to honor them. Is this record of failure evidence that the standards which these principles set are inhumanly high? No. The problem is not the principles, but the humanity. The solution is not in defining evil away by removing the principles. The solution is partly political and ultimately spiritual: a political system such as the Founders gave us that takes into account both the nobility and the frailty of those involved, and, on a personal level, a divine administration of grace, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bathroom Humor

Part of the sadness of conservative and Republican sex scandals is that the press serves up all the revolting details of matters we would be happier not knowing exist. (Liberals and Democrats are involved in the same dark deeds, but it is not considered a scandal and so we are spared the details.) But Mark Steyn's "A Measure of Hypocrisy" (New York Sun, Sept. 4, 2007) brings out the hilarious absurdities of the matter.

Sergeant Dave Karsnia is paid by the police department to sit in a stall in the men's room all day, like a spider waiting for the flies. The Baron von Richthoven of the Minneapolis Bathroom Patrol has notched up a phenomenal number of kills and knows what to look for -- the tapping foot in the adjoining stall, a hand signal under the divider. Did you know that tapping your foot in a bathroom was a recognized indicator that a criminal act is about to occur? Don't take your i-Pod in with you!

As an aside, Steyn adds this reflection on public restrooms:
As it happens, I passed by the very same men's room at the Lindbergh Terminal only a couple of months ago. I didn't go in, however. My general philosophy on public restrooms was summed up by the late Derek Jackson, the Oxford professor and jockey, in his advice to a Frenchman about to visit Britain. "Never go to a public lavatory in London," warned Professor Jackson. "I always pee in the street. You may be fined a few pounds for committing a nuisance, but in a public lavatory you risk two years in prison because a policeman in plain clothes says you smiled at him."
The rest you really must read for yourself.

Monday, September 3, 2007

You Been Farming Long?

With Iowa recently in the news for the Straw Poll and soon the caucuses, I am reminded of my seven years there in rural Buchanan County, north of Cedar Rapids. These two Little Farmers in their bib overalls might be any two guys you see at the grain elevator in any little Iowa town.

Here (edited) is the story behind the picture, which I know to be true because I found it on the internet.

When I took this picture of my twin sons, Matt and Chris, in September, 1978, they were only 1-1/2 years old. At that time, we lived on "the mesa", just across from a little town called San Miguel, CA (northern San Luis Obispo County). An overnight visitor was on her way home that morning and wanted a couple pictures of the boys before she left. So, I got my camera out and took a few also. After all, they had their brand new Osh Kosh overalls on!

When the photos came back, there was that one extra-special shot--the lighting was just right, the focus just right, and the expression was priceless. I decided to enter it in the San Luis Obispo County Fair (now known at the Mid-State Fair). Well, it came in 3rd place! But, so many people liked it that they were looking up my name in the phone book in order to ask if they could buy a reprint.

Over the next couple of years the photo was used on a Guernsey cow breeders magazine, a Babson Bros. dairy equipment company calendar and then a Saturday newspaper supplement cover that was syndicated across the U.S.

One day in 1982, I got a telephone call from a man named Roy Reiman, a publisher of magazines mainly geared to "country" type people. He had an idea for using the picture on the first issue of a new magazine he was about to publish--Country Kids. When I received the offer, he had decided he wanted to do a poster instead of the cover and then he would offer one poster free for each new subscription to Country Kids. The poster came out with the caption "You been farming long?" on it and that seemed to be exactly what it took for people to love it.
For a good book on this American farm life, a fine novel is Farm: A Year in the Life of an American Farmer by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes. Sadly, it is currently out of print.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Accountability a One Way Street in NYC Schools

Here is an interesting insight into how public school teachers think...perhaps just in New York City. "Schools Wait, Teeth Gritted: Their Grades are Coming," by Julie Bosman (New York Times, Sept. 1, 2007). It seems that New York's Mayor Bloomberg is holding schools accountable for their job performance.

Making good on a promise to hold educators more accountable for student performance, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will oversee the distribution of report cards for each of the city’s schools next month. Each school (and by extension its principal) will receive a letter grade in the mail, and the grade and the data that led to it will be posted on the Web, where parents can see and possibly stew over them.
Of course, you cannot expect a complacent, inefficient and ineffective bureaucracy to cooperate supportively. If teachers and administrators were doing all that they could to provide the best public service, these measures would never have crossed anyone's mind (as in earlier times they didn't).
Judith Menken, the outspoken principal of the small Muscota New School in Inwood, Manhattan, is bracing for the moment when she will receive a stark appraisal of her school’s performance, a letter grade of A through F. She is still debating whether or not she will read the report.
Why would she not read the report? She's a school principal. Assessing and grading people is what her own institution does. Does she see no value in it for herself? Perhaps she sees no value in it for her students. Is that the problem?
“I guess I’ll probably look at it,” said Ms. Menken. She expects a B, at best, she added. “I’m sure I’ll feel bad. People are going to be very hurt and demoralized. It’s like a public embarrassment.”
Yes, that's an aspect of accountability. Public schools are a public trust. They should be publicly accountable. When they fail, they fail publicly. When held to account, they should be held to account publicly. Furthermore, public humiliation is a good incentive for avoiding it in the future by improving performance.
Back at the Muscota school, Ms. Menken, who has seen countless changes and reorganizations over the years, is holding out hope that Mr. Klein will eventually abandon the grading system. “It’ll be like everything else,” said Ms. Menken, who has worked in the New York City public schools for 36 years. “It won’t work, and they’ll chuck it.”
Principal Menken appears to believe that nothing can improve the public school system in New York. And she's comfortable with that. On the theory that if something does not work you chuck it, perhaps that is the only practical and publicly responsible thing to do with the New York public schools. I have no doubt that private initiatives would far outperform what we have now. As a businessman, the mayor must secretly know this. (My children are thriving at a classical Christian school.)