Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to slay the hobgoblins of health care

The debate over the new U.S. government health-care monolith all came down to something H.L. Mencken wrote quite a few years ago now. How individuals proceed from here depends on recognizing that ultimately, our lives depend on ourselves.

The political arguments of the past few years have been a perfect illustration of what Mencken meant when he wrote:
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
What are the supposed hobgoblins that have menaced America of late? Hard-hearted insurance companies. Greedy drug companies. Cold-blooded hospitals. Ambulance-chasing lawyers. Doctors more devoted to earning a Beemer than saving lives. Lest we forget, the rampaging hobgoblins include power-hungry big-government Democrats and heartless corporate-serving Republicans. The most frightening hobgoblins of them all: On the one hand, the prospect of a catastrophic medical event with no safety net. On the other, the specter of a totalitarian, brutally intrusive government.

I don't purport that these hobgoblins are wholly imaginary. The players of the political game have marched out far too many anecdotes for anyone to deny that sick people are thrown roadblocks by insurance carriers, that prescription medicine costs can be unreasonable, and that politicians have goals that do not involve the good of the folks who elected them.

However, I do suggest that there is an important question to ask whenever someone appeals to your darkest fears, a question that must be answered before you willingly relinquish your freedom:

Why does this person want me to be afraid?

What possible gain could this politician, this advertiser, this seeming friend achieve by making me alarmed and clamorous to be led to safety? More often than not, the fear-maker offers a way out of your anxiety that not coincidentally involves a personal profit to himself. A politician offers a bill. An advertiser offers a product. (And in the interests of full disclosure, even I offer you something: I am writing a book called Refuse to Be Afraid that I hope to sell you someday soon.)

The person who wants you scared proposes to lead you to safety. The politician asks only that you surrender a bit of your liberty. The advertiser asks only for a bit of your cash — but keep in mind that money misspent deprives you of the liberty to spend it wisely.

And here's the most important underlying fact in Mencken's words, the fact that's hard to remember when you are sufficiently alarmed: You have the power to lead yourself to safety.

No one can deprive you of your freedom without your permission.

For years the U.S. government has been moving to replace the unwieldy and unresponsive private-sector bureaucracy that is the health insurance industry with an unwieldy and unresponsive public-sector bureaucracy like those of many federal government agencies. Politicians have matched insurance-claim or hospital horror for Medicare or Veterans Affairs horror. Now the power grab has been passed and signed into law, but one essential hasn't changed.

Whoever controls the unwieldy and unresponsive bureaucracy, you have always had control of your health decisions. No one cares more about your health than you do. That was true 10 minutes before this abominable law was signed, and it's true today. So take control. Take the steps you are still free to take — you'll find that most of the hobgoblins holding you back were imaginary. It's a scary thing, assuming control of your life. But if you refuse to be afraid, the benefits are enormous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Coming Soon: Ten Thousand Days

The guitar is back in my hands, and my fingers are rusty. But it feels good.

Last year, Barry McGuire and John York brought their Trippin' the Sixties show to Green Bay, and the next afternoon Barry spoke and sang a few songs at the Cup O'Joy up the street. It was a weekend that changed my life, and not just because he led the Cup crowd in singing me "Happy Birthday."

That Sunday night, I pulled out the guitar for the first time in ages and wrote a song for the first time in ages. I had chuckled with Barry as he described writing "Greenback Dollar" with those trusty old chords, G and C, and an Em thrown in for good measure. Out came "Back Where I Belong," which begins with words that listeners of Uncle Warren's Attic #57 might recognize:

"I was dead and gone, but now I'm better ..."

That was just the start. For the next month songs came pouring out of my brain, almost like a dam had burst and emitted tunes. By the end of May — April, really, just one song came out in May — I had a pile of songs that fit together so well I was pretty sure I had an album in hand.

Almost 12 months gone now, and those tunes have been percolating in my mind. It's long past time to pick up the guitar, confront the microphone, and start sharing them.

And so ... watch this space. And make sure you're still subscribed to the Uncle Warren's Attic RSS feed, because that's where the first versions of these songs will be coming.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Anti-Wildflower Man (and Woman)

A couple in California is being harrassed by the lawn police. No, it's not the scenario I wrote about in "Wildflower Man," where a fellow let the flowers take over his yard; just the opposite. Read the news here.
Some Southern California cities fine residents for watering their lawns too much during droughts.

But in Orange, officials are locked in a legal battle with a couple accused of violating city ordinances for removing their lawn in an attempt to save water.

The dispute began two years ago, when Quan and Angelina Ha tore out the grass in their frontyard. In drought-plagued Southern California, the couple said, the lush grass had been soaking up tens of thousands of gallons of water -- and hundreds of dollars -- each year.
And so the family has been charged with a misdemeanor by the city for failure to have at least 40% land cover on their property. Oh wait, did we say "their" property? If it's a crime to keep the land in the condition you think is best, who really owns it?
"It's their yard, it's not overgrown with weeds, it's not an eyesore," said (neighbor Dennis) Cleek, whose own yard boasts fruit trees. "We should be able to have our yards look the way we want them to."
Something in human nature just seems to make certain people force their ideas about The Way Things Ought To Be on the rest of us. Or, to put it another way:
"Compliance, that's all we've ever wanted," said Senior Assistant City
Atty. Wayne Winthers.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Don't let anyone scare you

Fear may draw a television audience. It may generate cash for an advocacy group. It may support the legal profession.

But fear paralyzes us. It freezes us. And we need to be flexible in our responses, as we move into a new era of managing complexity.

So we have to stop responding to fear: Is this really the end of the world? Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods? No, we simply live on an active planet. Earthquakes are continuous, a million and a half of them every year, or three every minute. A Richter 5 quake every six hours, a major quake every 3 weeks. A quake as destructive as the one in Pakistan every 8 months. It's nothing new, it's right on schedule.

At any moment there are 1,500 electrical storms on the planet. A tornado touches down every six hours. We have 90 hurricanes a year, or one every four days. ... Violent, disruptive, chaotic activity is a constant feature of our globe.

Is this the end of the world? No: this is the world. It's time we knew it.
— Michael Crichton