Thursday, October 22, 2009
I have been interested in the constant comments being made about the increasing cost of health care. Like many similar comments, this fails to take into account what we buy with that money. In short, we buy our lives and our good health, where that has become possible. A notable example was the carping we heard a few years ago about the cost of MRI diagnosis. It would seem that the complainers would rather that we were without that machinery, with all its costs. What many fail to take into account is that many of the uses we put MRI to are investigations that we would never have made before, because the cost, pain and danger of the investigative diagnoses would have kept us out of the picture in certain cases. I had an instance myself where such an investigation revealed an edema in my femur, a condition that was unknown until the investigations of a certain physicist from Columbia made possible the deep picturing of the inside of the human body without cutting into the flesh. Indeed, in this case I might have taken on an investigative surgery. And it would have done no good even then, as no reputable surgeon would have cut open the bone to find the cause of the pain. It was never heard of until the invention of the machine based on Prof. Rabi’s investigations into a never-before suspected phenomenon called NMR. And now it costs some money, where before all it cost was bearing the pain of the illness. In addition, we now make some medical coverage available to people who formerly had to bear the pain without recourse, a supposed disadvantage that conservatives think we could get away with by pretending not to notice the suffering of the victims. As in many other things, it is time we were paying the cost of our new blessings. And it is well worth the cost, so let’s all stop that particular complaining.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Much verbiage has been expended in the past week over the enthusiastic and (some say) excessive way in which the Nobel Peace Prize Committee received the nomination of Pres. Obama for that Prize. Lots of jokes, some pretty bitter, and much laughter, almost hysterical, attended that announcement. And almost everyone, including Obama’s friends and supporters, commented on the apparent haste of the action. To put it in its proper place, we must remember the position of America in the political and intellectual life of the world, and especially of Europe, over the past 250 years. It was the first nation to embody the (mostly French) thinking of the Enlightenment, and while France joined in shortly afterwards, was highly successful for the first century of its incorporation. Those who believed in the thinking of the Age of Reason could look over the ocean and behold it in operation, more or less, and yearn for its triumph. Meanwhile, France tumbled from republic to empire to monarchy throughout the XIX century while fighting its wars of imperial domination on the European continent. The Germans had a small revolution of their own that was put down quickly and many of the survivors fled to Wisconsin to found the Progressive movement. Meanwhile the dreams of the American founders were compromised by Jackson and their moral integrity tested by the ordeal of slavery. But in all of this, the Dream of the Enlightenment burned in the New World and bore the hopes and wishes of the cream of humanity. But in the past 50 years it has been growing harder for the rest of the world to swallow the Empire of London transplanted to Washington and New York. There was no substitute site for the impeccable moral leadership of the Enlightenment discarded by the American empire. So the resurrection of the illusion of the City on the Hill signaled by the election of Obama was hailed with millennial enthusiasm. Halleluiah!
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
The news these days concerns the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to be no-win, in which the only choice seems to be between 2 unacceptable routes. Yet it is possible to expand the suggestion about buying Afghanistani poppy resin as a means to stem its use in the illegal drug trade and at the same time to provide low-cost morphine for medical use, in both the industrial and developing world. A bit of additional thought might be given to further methods to accomplish even more. It involves making Afghanistan a trading partner by paying more for the agricultural material than the illegal trade can match. A basic thought in that trade is that the heroin powder, so expensive in the supply to addicts, is far cheaper in the raw, and represents the asset that enables the Taliban to afford its costs in the arms trade. Despite the great wealth of some of their underwriters, it is hard to believe that they can keep a competition with America, especially in light of the costs of the illegal operation. If America bought the bulk of the crop and manufactured the opiates in legal factories, we should easily be able to keep ahead of the drug barons. Into the bargain, we might have found a reason why the Afghanis would want to be on the right side of US. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, we have tended to put all our reliance in discouraging antisocial conduct on the practice of extracting punishment if people don’t do things the way we think we would want, rather than by socializing them to see the benefits in voluntary cooperation. It might be, after all, that we get more favorable response from the Afghani farmers as trading partners, even at some cost to us, than in trying to force them by what we imagine is our overwhelming power to live the way our puritanical nation wants them to.