When Films are Ruined by “Special Features”

My latest post at PJM — something non-political this time around:

When Films are Ruined by “Special Features”

A teaser:

“Recently I rented a DVD of the award-winning 2003 documentary Winged Migration. Famed as one of the most unique and beautiful films ever made, Winged Migration literally takes the viewer up into the sky as it follows birds on their long-distance seasonal flights around the world. Somehow, seemingly as if by magic, the cameras are right there amongst the migrating birds, and you feel as if you are flying thousands of feet in the air with your fellow avians over landscapes which range from the picturesque to the breathtaking. When the film was over, all I could say was “Wow!”

Making Winged Migration.

And then, I made the terrible, terrible mistake of clicking on “Special Features” in the DVD menu. Ten minutes later, I realized retroactively that I didn’t like the film after all. In fact, I hated it.

Why? Because among the special features was one of those short “The Making of…” mini-documentaries which divulged the secrets of how they filmed Winged Migration. And it revealed that the film was all a lie. A beautiful lie, but a lie nonetheless.

The filmmakers had not documented any actual migrations. Not only were the birds not migrating, they weren’t even wild birds! They were basically trained actors, with wings. The “making of…” documentary showed, step by step, how they had hand-raised some migratory birds from the moment they hatched and had, using the “imprinting” techniques of Konrad Lorenz, tricked the birds into thinking that the cameramen were their mommies. As explained in wikipedia, “The filial imprinting of birds was a primary technique used to create the movie [Winged Migration], which contains a great deal of footage of migratory birds in flight. The birds imprinted on handlers, who wore yellow jackets and honked horns constantly. The birds were then trained to fly along with a variety of aircraft, primarily ultralights.”

So to film the birds “migrating” somewhere, the director actually just attached a camera to a motorized hang glider (called an “ultralight”), then let the birds out of their cages and started filming as the birds followed the ultralight around on a short flight, after which they all landed and were put back in cages. To make matters worse, the birds didn’t follow the ultralight from region to region on long-distance flights, as the viewer was led to believe. No, as revealed to my shock in the “making of…” documentary, the filmmakers packed the birds away in shipping containers and actually trucked them around the world (on vehicles or in jetliner cargo holds) and then unpacked them only when they were at some pre-determined spot chosen by location scouts for its natural beauty. At which point, the ultralight would again take off, and the “migrating birds” would follow it around for a few minutes, before landing and getting back in the cages. …”

Read the rest here.

Now at PJM:

The Elitism and Racism of “Local Food” and the Edible Schoolyard

“Eat local” is the latest intellectual fad on the Left Coast. These “locavores,” as adherents like to call themselves, want you to eat only food grown near where you live — say, within 100 miles of your home. The goal, in theory, is to foster “sustainable agriculture,” to lower the carbon footprint of your food (which generally travels thousands of miles from farm to kitchen table), and consequently get that warm-and-fuzzy back-to-the-earth type feeling.

Oh, did I mention that the locavore movement is most popular in California?

This little detail is significant because California is just about the only state in the entire union that has the climate and the soil to grow such a wide variety of produce that it could even theoretically support its current population with “locally grown” food.

While food is grown in every state, most of that food is not sold directly to individual consumers — it is sold to food manufacturers around the country and around the world. So even if you lived right in the middle of a Kansas wheat field, you probably couldn’t “eat locally” because you would have no retail access to that wheat, which will instead probably end up in a bagel at Coney Island.

And don’t miss the hidden second page of the essay, which is actually a full-fledged photo report on its own, with pictures like…

Read the rest here!

My latest up at PJM:

Wine Train Stimulus Scam Gets Even Uglier With No-Bid Set-Aside Swindle

Fiscal conservatives have been howling in protest over the $54 million earmarked by Obama’s Stimulus Package to finance something called “The Wine Train” in California’s scenic Napa Valley. The notion that the government was squandering millions of taxpayer dollars to prop up a private tourist attraction seemed to epitomize everything that was wrong with pork-barrel politics masquerading as sober economic policy. I mean, while we’re subsidizing tourist traps, why not give a couple hundred million to Disneyland to build a new “Pirates of the Potomac” ride?

But the howls are about to get a lot louder. Because an investigation just published by California Watch and reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle shows that the Wine Train scam was far worse than you imagined. The $54 million wasn’t just spent on an overpriced not-a-thrill ride for tipsy tourists: it was thrown down the toilet on a no-bid contract handed to a shady Alaskan front corporation which deviously abused race-based “set-aside” laws to land a vastly overpriced deal — which they then proceeded to subcontract at a much lower rate to a different company, while pocketing a cool $20 million for doing no work whatsoever.

Read the rest here.

Front-row seat at the iPad media circus

My latest, at Pajamas Media:

Front-row seat at the iPad media circus.

Here’s a teaser:

Want to know why newscasters are generally only shown from the chest up while doing broadcasts? This is why.

Big new zombie report up at PajamasMedia — you won’t want to miss this one:

Pro-lifers outnumber pro-choicers 500-to-1 at massive S.F. abortion rally

With lots of juicy photos like…:

New zombie post at Pajamas Media:

Gay voter remorse as McCains step up where Obama fails

Here’s a teaser:

Cindy McCain’s new ad promoting gay marriage.

Shortly before the 2008 election I asked a gay friend which candidate he supported. When he replied “Obama,” I asked why, and my friend said that he was a single-issue voter (the single issue being gay marriage) and Obama was obviously going to legalize gay marriage nationwide, whereas McCain was a stodgy old conservative and therefore self-evidently an enemy of gay rights. I pointed out that Obama was all over the map and had made conflicting statements about his attitudes toward gay marriage, telling gay groups that one day same-sex marriage will be seen as normal, while on the other hand giving an interview for a mainstream paper in which he said, “Marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

My friend instantly dismissed Obama’s anti-gay-marriage statements: “That’s just something he’s gotta say to appeal to Middle America. Once he’s in office, you’ll see!”

Well, over a year later, I certainly do see. And the result is the exact opposite of what my friend and millions of other gay voters who chose Obama and rejected McCain on this basis had predicted. Turns out Obama has been a major disappointment for the gay community, while the McCain family has emerged as unexpected supporters of gay marriage.

Yesterday, two unrelated news events perfectly illustrated this unexpected ideological contrast. …

Read the rest here!

New zombie post at Pajamas Media:

Soylent Pink: In Vitro Stem-Cell Pseudo-Pork on the Menu Soon

The future of food has arrived:

Scientists turn stem cells into pork

Call it pork in a petri dish – a technique to turn pig stem cells into strips of meat that scientists say could one day offer a green alternative to raising livestock, help alleviate world hunger, and save some pigs their bacon.

Dutch scientists have been growing pork in the laboratory since 2006, and while they admit they haven’t gotten the texture quite right or even tasted the engineered meat, they say the technology promises to have widespread implications for our food supply.

21st-century cuts of pork.

“If we took the stem cells from one pig and multiplied it by a factor of a million, we would need one million fewer pigs to get the same amount of meat,” said Mark Post, a biologist at Maastricht University involved in the In-vitro Meat Consortium, a network of publicly funded Dutch research institutions that is carrying out the experiments.

Post describes the texture of the meat as sort of like scallop, firm but a little squishy and moist. That’s because the lab meat has less protein content than conventional meat.

Feeling queasy yet?

To dispel any notions that this is some sort of hoax, check out the very real and very sincere Web sites of The In Vitro Meat Consortium and the Orwellianly-named “New Harvest,” a man-made “cultured meat” advocacy group which insists,

Arguably, the production of cultured meat is less unnatural than raising farm animals in intensive confinement systems, injecting them with synthetic hormones, and feeding them artificial diets made up of antibiotics and animal wastes.

Personally, I’m a level-5 vegan — I won’t eat anything that casts a shadow — but even I get the dry-heaves just thinking of the possibility of test-tube meat. …

Read the rest here.

Five Luxury Cars

“Traffic thug Roland S. has five luxury cars in his garage.”

New from zombie at PJM:

Learn how Eurotrash super-villain Roland S. and his five luxury cars threaten the American way of life! :

From Each According to His Ability: “Progressive Pricing” Coming Soon to a Nation Near You

A sampling to whet your appetite:

“…Turns out that such astronomical speeding tickets are commonplace in Europe now. Finland bases its fees on the payer’s income, including one infamous case in which the son of a wealthy sausage-making family had to pay 170,000 Euros for driving 50mph in a 25mph zone. The Norwegians take it even one step further, sentencing wealthy people to intentionally humiliating hard labor as well, such as the drunk driver who not only had to pay a $85,000 fine but also chop wood for 30 days.

The idea is catching on. Pundits in Wales want the same variable pricing scheme to be enacted in their country. And yes — inevitably — some writers have already suggested bringing similar laws to the U.S., making all fines and fees be not a fixed amount but rather a percentage of your annual income. …”

Comment here or at PJM, whichever you prefer.

CodePink’s War on Drones

CodePink serves a useful function in American politics: if you want to know what the sensible political position is on any topic, just look at what CodePink opposes, and that’s what you should support. They operate as a sort of all-purpose Antipodal Political Indicator, invariably occupying the point exactly opposite the sweet spot on the political sphere.

It is therefore noteworthy that over the last couple of months CodePink has turned its rosy attentions to something unexpected: drones. Not the stingless little honeybee kind of drones, but the pilotless aircraft the military uses — and these can carry quite a nasty sting indeed.

Though it has received very little (if any) attention from the media, since November CodePink has waged an all-out anti-drone campaign, embarking on protest caravans to drone control centers, staging hunger strikes outside Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert from which many drones are remotely piloted, and hanging anti-drone banners off freeway overpasses in Berkeley and elsewhere.

And in one way CodePink’s assessment is correct: The U.S. military has indeed taken to using drones with ever greater frequency — and efficacy. Just today, two American drones attacked and killed 13 Islamic militants in Pakistan, possibly in retaliation for the suicide bomber who killed several CIA agents in Afghanistan last week.

Of course when I say the drones “attacked and killed” the militants, it wasn’t really the drones doing it autonomously; an Air Force pilot was undoubtedly controlling each drone, with our military command structure giving the go-ahead for each strike. The drones are just the weapon; it’s still people who are pulling the trigger.

And this recent attack is no fluke; exactly as CodePink fears, the military is amping up its development and use of drones. As reported at the Belmont Club and at Wired, the Air Force has recently completed development of and has possibly already started deploying a tiny drone that’s straight out of a futuristic novel:

The Air Force Research Laboratory set out in 2008 to build the ultimate assassination robot: a tiny, armed drone for U.S. special forces to employ in terminating “high-value targets.” The military won’t say exactly what happened to this Project Anubis, named after a jackal-headed god of the dead in Egyptian mythology. But military budget documents note that Air Force engineers were successful in “develop[ing] a Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV) with innovative seeker/tracking sensor algorithms that can engage maneuvering high-value targets.”

Special Forces already make extensive use of the Wasp drone made by AeroVironment. This is the smallest drone in service, weighing less than a pound. It has an endurance of around 45 minutes, and line-of-sight control extends to 3 miles.

It might seem limited compared to larger craft, but the Wasp excels at close-in reconnaissance. Its quiet electric motor means it can get near to targets without their ever being aware of its presence.

The Air Force’s 2008 budget plans described the planned Project Anubis as “a small UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that carries sensors, data links, and a munitions payload to engage time-sensitive fleeting targets in complex environments.” It noted that after it was developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Anubis would be used by Air Force Special Operations Command. The total cost was to be just over half a million dollars.

No official announcements have been made since then, and the Air Force did not return a request to comment on this story (hardly surprising for a weapon so likely to be used covertly). But the current Air Force R&D budget does mention the effort, briefly. This newer document refers to Project Anubis as a development that has already been carried out. According to the budget, $1.75 million was spent to reach the goal.

The current state of Project Anubis is unknown. It could be one of tens of thousands of military research efforts that started, made some progress and ended without a conclusion. Or Anubis could now be in the hands of Air Force Special Operations Command.

Currently, most if not all drones are controlled by pilots safely ensconced in bases on the other side of the world, but one can easily visualize the day not far in the future when each soldier or Marine deployed in a hostile environment will have a MAV (micro-drone) kit included as part of his or her standard-issue equipment, for deployment in the field. Instead of lobbing mortars at random in the general direction of enemy positions, or firing blindly, soldiers could launch MAVs and control them in the field, targeting and taking out enemy positions with unerring accuracy — at no risk to our side.

So what, pray tell, is CodePink so upset about? The ever-smaller and ever-more-accurate new drones not only eliminate risk for U.S. forces, but they also prevent any accidental “collateral damage” on the battlefield — something which one would think would be good news to the anti-war crowd. In fact, that’s the whole reason these drones exist: so we can carefully target just the bad guys, and leave innocent bystanders unharmed. Isn’t that commendable?

No. CodePink is not satisfied. Their anti-drone manifesto declares,

We urge everyone who cares about protecting human life and the future of this planet to seriously consider how many hours a day you are willing and able to dedicate to this campaign to GROUND the DRONES.

We can NOT ignore these exponentially growing weaponry terrorizing people around the world from their bright blue skies.

We MUST end this violence against all life, this violence perpetuated by our military in our name. We must NOT tolerate this another moment.

All of our weapons of war are heinous and insufferable for any and all human beings. DRONES are not merely the newest horror:

DRONES are the most egregious component of recent war ‘toys’ and should incite public furor comparable to initial reactions against nuclear bombs.

DRONES are unmanned aircraft that are remotely controlled by US soldiers sitting at a computer console in Nevada or New York, operating a joy stick and pushing buttons that direct the DRONE to spy and kill thousands of miles away in someone else’s country.

Some DRONES are armed with bombs; some ‘only’ spy. Companies are racing to make DRONES that can drop biological and chemical weapons; utilize nuclear, lazar, microwave weapons.

Some fit into the palm of your hand; others are so big they fit into an airplane hanger on an angle. Some can be programmed to fly on their own; others are controlled by the soldier in this country while they are killing in another country.

It seems that the basis of CodePink’s antipathy toward drones as a concept is precisely the very fact that they are so efficient and accurate. Setting aside the laughable hyperbole about “biological, chemical, nuclear and lazar” weapons launched by drones, CodePink is pissed off because no U.S. troops are endangered by the operation of drones.

One might reasonably assume from this that CodePink — and the innumerable leftist groups who echo CodePink’s positions — wants U.S troops to die. But I take a more charitable view. I think CodePink and their ilk believe in the theory once expounded so convincingly on an old Star Trek episode: That if you make war bloodless and antiseptic, then the public will shrug its shoulders and allow wars to continue forever; but if you bring home the horror of war by purposely ensuring that it remains brutal, horrific and random, then mankind will rise up and banish war forever. A peacenik’s wet dream.

But the continued development of drones and other high-precision remote-controlled weaponry raises a conundrum that perhaps hasn’t occurred to the CodePinkers yet: If war evolves to become completely surgical, with essentially no casualties on our side and minimal civilian casualties in the battle zone; and if only the bad guys get killed and no one else; then what’s so horrific about this new kind of war at all? Why does it need to be banished along with our memories of trench warfare and hand-to-hand combat?

I propose to CodePink and their fellow travelers that drones and similar weapons are exactly the solution you’ve been looking for: a way to banish bloody warfare forever.

Imagine sitting in at an anti-war meeting during WWI or the Vietnam War, and someone says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in the future, instead of having massive campaigns with tanks and guns and battleships and bombers and dead soldiers and massacred civilians and entire generations lost to violence, we could simply press a button that would kill only the warmongers automatically, thereby preventing even the need for a full-scale war in the first place?” The room would erupt in cheers.

Well, that’s exactly what drones do: Someone sitting safely at an Air Force base in Nevada presses a button and it launches a missile from a drone which takes out an Al Qaeda leader or a Taliban chieftain — the very warmongers who are causing the problem and the very ones who declared war on us.

Shouldn’t CodePink therefore be protesting in favor of drones? That would make more sense.

Then again, Antipodal Political Indicators that they are, CodePink naturally does the exact inverse of the sensible thing, even when by so doing they negate their own goals.

But I’ll take my cue from them, and from here on out become a pro-drone activist. It’s the least I can do for our soldiers, and for civilians around the globe.

This post also appears on Pajamas Media:

CodePink’s Head-Scratching War on Drones

I watch the debate over health care with amazement. A million words are spoken on the topic with every passing minute, and as far as I can tell no one has ever addressed the real issue that’s upsetting everyone.

So, rather than wait in vain for someone else to finally speak the honest truth about the single-payer system, I’ll just have to do it myself.

Let’s Get Blunt

America should listen to Dr. Earl Sunderhaus. ASAP. Because he holds the key to the health-care debate.

Who? you might ask. Never heard of him.

    Dr. Earl Sunderhaus

I hadn’t heard of him either until I saw a brief article last month in the Raleigh News & Observer with the unsubtle headline “Blunt doctor gets in trouble.”

The article detailed the travails of an elderly North Carolina eye doctor named Earl Sunderhaus who opened a 21st-century Pandora’s Box when he poked a patient in the thigh and informed her that she was too fat. Insulted, the patient complained to the state medical board, and now the doctor might lose his license.

But Sunderhaus was not about to back down:

Sunderhaus notified The News & Observer that he was about to be “screwed” by the medical board. He admitted he told the patient that thick eyeglasses would not cause her to go blind “but her thick thighs and diabetes would.”

“I poked her thigh to emphasize that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness,” he said Thursday. “People have got to accept criticism without getting their bowels in an uproar.”

He then upped the ante by threatening to counter-sue the medical board.

A follow-up article in the Asheville Citizen-Times gave more details about the eccentric doctor, who has notions that range from the kooky (disband the DEA, compulsory vasectomies) to the enlightened. Turns out Dr. Sunderhaus wasn’t merely poking this one patient in particular, but rather poking an entire nation of patients just like her:

“They are chastising me for telling her she should lose some weight because it is raising the cost of health care and it is also bad for her children and she is going to end up with diabetes,” Sunderhaus said. “I had to take three days out of my practice and go down to Raleigh, losing income, just because somebody didn’t like that I told her that she was fat.”

The patient complained that Sunderhaus poked her thigh and told her she was fat, and scolded her as irresponsible for being unemployed and relying on taxpayers to pay for another pregnancy.

“I told her the thick glasses were not going to blind her, she would go blind because of her thick thighs because diabetes is the No. 1 cause of blindness in this country,” Sunderhaus said.

Sunderhaus said he feels it is his responsibility as a physician to tell his patients to live healthier lives and that obesity and diabetes are costing the country millions of dollars.

“Telling this lady that she is fat is the truth, and it’s for her own good health,” Sunderhaus said. “She should be taking better care of herself, and it will be cheaper for us as a society.”

And to drive home his point, he poked the North Carolina Medical Board too,

“I’m the type of guy who can tell them to stick it up their butt because I am 77 years old, and if they don’t let me practice, I’ll just quit.”

Eccentricities aside, Dr. Sunderhaus has spoken the unspeakable, and by so doing has changed the frame of the health-care debate.

Because millions of Americans are secretly thinking the exact same thing as Dr. Sunderhaus and I: Why should we be forced to pay for the costs of other people’s irresponsibility?

Proponents of the single-payer national health plan can’t understand why anyone would want to oppose the faultless idea of universal health care. It’s completely egalitarian, it’s altruistic, and it’s free, they say. What’s not to like?

“Free” is an illusion — but that’s not the point

Well, opponents of universal health care have focused on one particular objection to the idea, conclusively demonstrating that it’s not free at all. It’s “free” only in that the government inserts itself as a middleman into the payment system, so that you pay for your health care indirectly in the form of higher taxes to the government which then turns around and gives the money to doctors and hospitals — rather than individuals paying the doctors and hospitals directly. It just looks “free” on the surface. But someone has to pay for the medical care, and under the single-payer concept, that someone is Uncle Sam. But since Uncle Sam gets all his money from American taxpayers … you end up footing the bill anyway, and also footing the bill of a vast new government bureaucracy.

The argument then devolves into the minutiae of which system is more efficient and cost-effective: The current cumbersome HMO system, which still feels overpriced despite the theory that “market dynamics” should keep costs reasonable; or a new system dependent on government red tape, which long experience suggests will be even more cumbersome, less efficient, and ultimately more expensive overall than the flawed free-market system.

And that’s pretty much where the discussion over health care has stalled: If we have to have a middleman unnecessarily taking a cut of our doctor payments, should that middleman be a private company like an HMO — or should it be the government?

To my mind, that question is actually irrelevant. Because there’s a much deeper philosophical objection to “socialized medicine” that is so un-PC that it is rarely if ever voiced in public. And for that reason, the opponents of socialized medicine never even mention the real flaw in the concept that nags the unconscious of most Americans:

Not all ailments are equal.

Blame: the final taboo

A built-in false assumption with the health-care debate is that sickness is always no-fault sickness. It’s never socially acceptable to assign blame for people’s medical problems — especially blame on the patient.

But I’m not afraid to confess that I’m a judgmental person. And I’m pretty confident that most Americans who oppose socialized medicine share this same judgment: that some people are partly or entirely to blame for their unwellness.

I’m perfectly willing to provide subsidized health care to people who are suffering due to no fault of their own. But in those cases — which, unfortunately, constitute perhaps a majority of all cases — where the unwellness is a consequence of the patient’s own misdeeds, bad habits, or stupid choices, I feel a deep-seated resentment that the rest of us should pick up the tab to fix medical problems that never should have happened in the first place.

I’m speaking specifically of medical problems caused by:

• Obesity
• Cigarette smoking
• Alcohol abuse
• Reckless behavior
• Criminal activity
• Unprotected promiscuous sex
• Use of illicit drugs
• Cultural traditions
• Bad diets

Now, I really don’t care if you overeat, smoke like a chimney, hump like a bunny or forget to lock the safety mechanism on your pistol as you jam it in your waistband. Fine by me. And as a laissez-faire social-libertarian live-and-let-live kind of person, I would never under normal circumstances condemn anyone for any of the behaviors listed above. That is: Until the bill for your stupidity shows up in my mailbox. Then suddenly, I’m forced to care about what you do, because I’m being forced to pay for the consequences.

Reluctant busybodies

What I don’t like about the very concept of universal health care is that it compels me to become my brother’s keeper and insert myself into the moral decisions of his life. I’d rather grant each person maximum freedom. I’d prefer to let people make whatever choices they want, however stupid or dangerous I may deem those choices to be. Just so long as you take responsibility for your actions, and you reap the consequences and pay for them yourself — hey, be as foolish or hedonistic or selfish or thoughtless as you like. Not my business.

But if the bill for your foolishness shows up in the form of higher taxes on me, then I unwillingly start to care what you do. And, trust me on this, you don’t want me turning my heartless judgmental eye on your foolish lifestyle. Because I’d have no qualms criticizing half the stuff you do.

Do you want that? No. Do I want that? No. And that’s the point. Instituting a single-payer universal health-care system, or even a watered-down version as the government is now proposing, compels me to become a meddlesome busybody in your personal choices. And it will compel you to become a meddlesome busybody in everyone else’s personal choices. It forever douses the beautiful flame of individualism — freedom to act without interference, just so long as you are ready to accept the consequences, whatever they may be.

The sickening truth

My list of unhealthy activities above requires a bit of explanation. Let’s briefly look at each “health sin” in turn:

Yes, I know that in some cases obesity can have a genetic component — that some people simply have a tendency to get fat. But the majority of obese people are overweight merely because they eat too much and exercise too little. Simple as that. And as a result, they are mostly or entirely to blame to for their own obesity. Now, there are all sorts of excuses offered up in defense of the overweight: They never learned proper nutritional guidelines; their eating is a symptom of underlying psychological problems; they were raised by parents who fed them unhealthy foods; and so on. To which I reply: I don’t care! Grow up already. Get over your immature problems and cut back on the potato chips. Is that so hard? It actually costs less to eat more healthily. And since being overweight is the #1 medical problem in this country, with countless ailments caused or exacerbated by obesity, making people become personally responsible for their physical conditions is the quickest route to solving the issue. If we made all medical treatment completely free, then people would continue to ruin their bodies with food and just let the free doctors deal with the resulting mess. Hey doc — fix me!

Cigarette smoking
Smoking kills you. Slowly. Expensively. Everybody knows that by now. Want to pay for your own medical bills as you lie in the hospital dying of emphysema or lung cancer? Fine. If you’re willing to pony up the cash, then smoke all you want. But if you want me to shell out millions of dollars to pay for the treatments and care you’ll require, then I’m going to come over there and yank that cig out of your mouth right now.

Alcohol abuse
Destroyed livers, car accidents, pancreatic failure, brain problems — the medical effects of alcohol abuse are well-known. The question is: Can we assign “blame” on the long-term alcoholic for his or her behavior? Contemporary psychology tends to give alcoholics and other addicts a free pass on responsibility, but I am less charitable. Every time you pick up that bottle, it is a conscious decision. And once again, under normal circumstances I just wouldn’t care, but if I’m compelled to pay for the expensive reconstructive surgery of a drunk who smashes his car into a tree, then yes, I care, and I blame the drunk.

Reckless behavior
Stupid people do risky things. Teens who imitate pro wrestling or the Jackass movies in backyard stunts. “Extreme sports” fanatics who jump off cliffs wearing flimsy parachutes. Leaning over the rail and taunting the tigers at the zoo. Eating mysterious mushrooms you found while out hiking. Playing “chicken” in drag races. Car surfing. Auto-erotic asphyxiation. Playing Russian Roulette. Using a hairdryer while in the bathtub. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Me? I don’t do stupid things. I spend my whole life trying to minimize risk. But those who consciously take risks often end up with injuries. Hospital emergency rooms are constantly filled with such people. Now, why should people like me who rarely if ever experience preventable “accidents” have to fund the foolishness of those who throw caution to the wind?

Criminal activity
Crime is dangerous. Not just for the victim, but for the criminal too. Gang members are constantly fighting with each other. Criminals often get injured during the commission of a crime, either while fleeing the scene or during apprehension by the police. Every minute of every day somewhere in this country, drug dealers are shooting at each other and stabbing each other in turf wars or deals gone bad. Doctors and hospitals in poor urban areas spend much of their resources treating gunshot wounds on victims who refuse to reveal how they got injured. And once again, the taxpayer is expected to pick up the tab. When was the last time you heard of a drug dealer diligently paying off the $100,000 hospital bill for the reconstructive surgery he received after being injured in a gun battle?

Unprotected promiscuous sex
AIDS. Chlamydia. Syphilis. Gonorrhea. Human papillomavirus. Herpes. Preventable. Preventable. Preventable. Preventable. Preventable. Preventable. Cover your peckers, people! The problem with discussing STDs is that the discussion always gets muddied with moral issues. But let’s try to set that aside for the moment. On a purely cost-analysis level, STDs are a significant unnecessary society-wide medical expense. Luckily, most STDs are now treatable or at least don’t require costly long-term care. With one noteworthy exception: AIDS. I realize full well that it’s totally un-PC to say this, but why should those of us who go to great lengths to ensure that we never get AIDS have to subsidize the astronomically expensive long-term care of those who through their own cavalier voluntary actions contracted AIDS? Once again, the responsible are expected to pay for the costs incurred by the irresponsible. If I stuck my hand in a blender, should I present my hospital bill to a guy with AIDS and expect him to pay it? And this gets to down to the core of why I oppose the notion of socialized medicine: If left to my own devices, I really don’t care about people’s private sexual practices, risky or not; but if compelled to pay for the treatment of people’s STDs, then suddenly I must become a nanny-state moralist, monitoring and criticizing any activities which might lead to an HIV infection. I don’t want to be in that role.

Use of illicit drugs
The social and medical costs of drug abuse are ruinous. Meth, heroin, crack and other drugs cause a plethora of serious medical problems, both short-term (overdoses, risky behavior) and long-term (rotting teeth, heart failure, malnutrition, immune system collapse, etc.). Drug-users fill our emergency rooms and treatment centers, incurring incalculable expenses. Because even under the current system some of these costs are already borne by the taxpayer, I already feel resentful of having to subsidize drug abusers. But under universal health care, my (and most other taxpayers’) resentment would go through the roof. Because I choose to not abuse my body and brain, I incur no costs for others to bear. But addicts give absolutely no thought to the social effects of their actions, and their thoughtlessness has become one of the main reasons to oppose socialized medicine.

Cultural traditions
All sorts of American subcultures have standard behaviors which increase the risk of medical complications. And I’m not talking about primitive tribespeople walking on hot coals. Instead, I’m talking about upper-class socialites who lie on tanning beds and give themselves skin cancer; street kids who engage in late-night “sideshows” of cars spinning and flipping in crowds of drunken teenagers; immigrants who fish in polluted harbors and feed their kids mercury-laden flounder; congregationalists who try to cure a disease by means of an exorcism; and all sorts of unwise activities specific to different cultural enclaves. Normally, including right now, I tend to think of such things as merely part of the rich tapestry of American society; but if compelled by the realities of socialized medicine to consider the long-term medical ramifications of such traditions, suddenly I become judgmental, condemning these practices and their practitioners solely because I have become partly responsible for paying the bill after the party’s over.

Bad diets
Who among us hasn’t looked on in horror at the grotesque dietary intake of the average American? Donuts, white bread, lard, Coca-Cola, pork rinds, preservatives, sugar, grease and artificial coloring. Little toddlers drinking sweet sodas instead of milk. Teenagers eating junk food instead of brain-building food. Nary a fresh vegetable in sight. Health nuts like me spend our lives trying to treat our bodies like temples, and provide good examples for everyone else; but it’s hard to compete with intense cultural pressure to eat the worst imaginable foods. As above, under normal circumstances I would sigh in mystification and let other people go their merry way, killing themselves with bad food. Yet once I start to ponder the overwhelming society-wide medical costs of keeping millions of unhealthy people alive for decades and decades, my anger grows. I want to ban advertisements for unhealthy foods on TV. I want to outlaw donuts. I want to tax McDonald’s to cover the full environmental cost of their products. I want to do all sorts of quasi-fascistic things that normally I would never advocate.

Because that’s what socialized medicine does: it turns each of us into a little fascist. A nagging nanny who tells other people what to do and how to live.

    Criminal activity often leads to injuries.

Do we want that kind of society? I don’t. If you look at other countries with socialized medicine, Great Britain being the most glaring example, these invasive and oppressive government dictates have already started to circumscribe people’s freedom, with every kind of potentially dangerous activity or unhealthy comestible being declared forbidden — for the good of society as a whole.

We call it “socialized medicine,” but in the end it pushes us toward fascism.

Freedom vs. empathy: the final dilemma

Which brings us back to Dr. Sunderhaus. On one hand, we’re headed toward a totalitarian nanny state whereby your freedoms are constrained for the good of others. But at the exact same time we’ve entered the Era of Hurt Feelings where it’s taboo to tell anyone they’re doing something wrong. The solution proferred by the universal health-care advocates is to expand the circle of responsibility to include all of us. So, rather than insult an individual by telling him or her to get healthy, we all have to pretend we’re all equally in need of self-improvement, and we all endure the restrictions and hardships and costs which by all rights should be reserved exclusively for those who earned them.

The attitude of people like Dr. Sunderhaus perhaps offers a way out of this dilemma. Drop the pretense of decorum. If someone has grown obese eating chocolate, the do-gooders would respond by banning chocolate entirely for all of us — to avoid offending the sensibilities of the individual who abused it. Dr. Sunderhaus would just tell the abuser, “Lady, put down that Hershey bar — you’re too fat!” Horrors, horrors!

But if we had a nation of Dr. Sunderhauses, we wouldn’t need socialized medicine. Because each person, at last, would assume complete individual responsibility. And I’d rather that the doctors do the bullying in private to the people who deserve bullying than me being forced to intervene in other people’s private business myself.

Since it’s nearly impossible to sort out who is personally responsible for which ailments, the only logical solution is to let each person pay for their own care, because that way there’s nothing left to argue about. But if we share costs, we share blame, and that’s the origin of resentment and anger that the average American feels about socialized medicine.

Instead of bankrupting the country to pay for foolish people’s foolish decisions, I want to take a giant Sunderhaus finger and poke each American in the thigh and shout: “Shape up!”