Monday, August 31, 2009

Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group

There is a new organization in Ottawa called the Ottawa Taxpayer Advocacy Group.  As you might guess from the name, they're not big fans of paying taxes.  The Ottawa Citizen reports that they want to purchase ads on OC Transpo buses claiming that the city is committing extortion through taxation.  As a result, one of their representatives will be debating Alex Cullen on September 15.

If their aim is to get city spending and taxation under control, I'm on board, but what I'd like to know is, who are these people?  There are no individuals noted on the web site.  All press releases are attributed to the organization.

I have contacted the organization asking who is behind it and if it is affiliated with any other organizations.  I'll try to keep my eye out for more news about them.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lockerbie Bomber Deal?

I hope this isn't true:
The British government decided it was “in the overwhelming interests of the United Kingdom” to make Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, eligible for return to Libya, leaked ministerial letters reveal.
Gordon Brown’s government made the decision after discussions between Libya and BP over a multi-million-pound oil exploration deal had hit difficulties. These were resolved soon afterwards.
 270 lives for an oil deal.  It'll be nice to see Gordon Brown's government voted out.

Obama, China and Trade

The U.S. International Trade Commission has recommended new protectionist measures be imposed against China.  I comment about it over at ThePolitic; check it out here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sacrificing a Blog Post to the God of Reasoned Argument

Over at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Freddie evicerates a post by Matt Steinglass, which supposedly takes up the debate about a CDC report on circumcision (warning: salty language in both posts, and the excerpt beolow).  Freddie's post is an absolute How To on the subject of taking apart a blog post, point by point.

When I first read Steinglass's post, I thought it seemed like ignorable tripe.  Some reasonable points, but a bit of a rambling mess.  Well, Freddie read closer than I and shows that it was ignorant ignorable tripe.  Here's a taste:

6. Assert! Assert as if your life depended on it!
Steinglass: “But the main point is that if the guy who wrote the email were circumcised, he wouldn’t have written the email.”
Oh! Well then! You’re right, nothing to see here. I’m sure “my dick” guy will be pleased to know that. If he asks what evidence you offer for that wild claim, I’ll tell him to put a sock in it.
Steinglass: “There may be some vanishingly small number of guys who are upset about the fact that their parents circumcised them.”

I’m gonna go ahead and guess that Matt Steinglass has not been out in the field taking some sort of foreskin census.
Seriously, read the whole thing; it's great (and bonus points for the use of the term "foreskin census").  I certainly hope Freddie never finds fault with anything I write.

By the way, there seems to be alot of buzz around the circumcision debate.  This is a good thing; this is a debate that the West should have had a long time ago.  I may comment on it later, but in the meantime here are some links:

David Harsanyi at Reason on "Circumcision Panels".

Hannah Rossin, sitting in at The Daily Dish at The Atlantic, supports the snip.

Again at The Daily Dish, Chris Boedner writes about circumcision and sensitivity.

Freddie, again, with a pretty great post on circumcision and the CDC report.

The Runt of the Literati

It has been a long time since I have thought of Michael Harris as a serious commentator of social and political events. Consequently, I usually choose to ignore him. However, the other day he wrote an Op-Ed in The Ottawa Sun about the piglets left, in the hot sun, outside Datlon McGuinty's constituency office (which I wrote about here). Here's a sample:

It caused a big stir. The politicians were shocked and appalled. Animal rights activists were squealing like ... well, you know. Luckily, the “abandoned” piglets were sent to a “foster farm.” Everyone likes happy endings, even if in a few months time these adorable porkers will be in packages not pens.

As is so often the case these days, decorum has become an indispensable component of making your point.

Be against the war, but don’t burn the flag; denounce the inaction from various seats of government, but don’t dump a load of manure on the front lawn of the legislature.

I say rev up the John Deeres. It is said that every society is seven missed meals away from chaos. So you would think that our governments would pay more attention to the men and women who provide our food. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not produced at the grocery store.

So we can either denounce the invasion of the piglets or ask a question King George might have asked when they began throwing tea into Boston Harbor: Why are the loyal subjects flipping their wigs?

What the h*ll is he talking about?

It is this line, "[i]t is said that every society is seven missed meals away from chaos", that seems the most convoluted. I understand that Michael Harris long ago gave up reasoned argument in favour of spouting catch phrases ("those who seek vengeance dig two graves!!!!", "lets out fox the fox!!!!"), but this one doesn't even make sense; aside from suggesting that an all pork diet is the epitome of health, there is no reason to believe that the closure of local hog farms will bring the world agriculture market to its knees, thus starving us all. Even if we accept that we need to artificially prop up this industry (despite the fact that it will make us all poorer), how on earth could a McGuinty-directed fatwa agaisnt the term "swine flu" have saved these anemic farms?

If hollow rhetoric will sustain us all, Michael Harris is the boy offering his loaves and fishes.

Starting today, I will be contributing to Don't worry, it doesn't mean the end of Canned Goods & Ammunition; I should be able to supply sufficient content to both sites (there will probably be more posts here, as I doubt I'll address local or provincial issues over there, nor will I tend to delve into minor details of a debate [see all my posts on IVF], and I highly doubt I'll be posting videos of '90s alterna-super groups or old SNL ads).

My initial commentary is up there now. Please go and visit and be sure to read all the other great writers that I am joining. My post addresses Australian health policy vis-a-vis midwife-assisted homebirths. That's not too obscure, is it?

I promise to try to give links here for any posts I have over there. Well, I can't promise I'll try, but I'll try to try.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jerk It Out, Resume Building Edition

Back in 2005, The Caesars came to Ottawa and put on a fantastic show at Zaphod Beeblebrox. I went to the show, got "kinda" intoxicated, and made my way to the front of the crowd. When Jerk It Out (the song from the iPod ad) came on, the roadie (who spent most of the show sitting at the side of the stage swigging vodka from the bottle) knocked the keyboardist's tambourine into the crowd. I picked it up and went to hand it back to the guy, but he waved me off and went back to his bottle. Subsequently, I spent the entirety of the song in the front row, playing the tambourine.

So what's my point? I used to play tambourine for The Caesars, that's what.

Anyway, here's a clip from Conan:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Nudge and a Wink

Writing in The Mark, Christy Luo delves into the idea of "libertarian paternalism" as she reviews the book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The article is a very interesting mess (and I mean that, I can't get on board with the argument, but I enjoyed reading the article). Ms. Luo puts forth plausible arguments in support of this hybrid philosophy while adhering to no consistent definition of paternalism, and dancing around the issue of information assymetries and the role of experts in people's decision making processes.

She quotes Thaler, who says, "By 'paternalism,' [sic] we mean caring about people's outcomes. We want to devise policies that will make people better off - choices that they themselves think are better."

The idea is to present people with sufficient information to be able to make optimum choices. There is no disputing the notion that information is required in order for people to be able to make good decisions. As such, I see no problems with things such as safety regulations or food labeling. The libertarian position tends to argue that people should be free to make choices without coercion or fraud. Restricting information or providing misinformation can be considered fraud.

So, yes, the government has a role to play in our lives, and part of that role is to facilitate the flow of information. However, just as we do not want one party to a contractual agreement to be the gatekeeper of information, we should not want the government in that role, either. By defining paternalism as leading people to optimum choices, it means that the government has already made the decision as to what is the optimum choice in a particular situation, and, thus, has decided what information is relevant to the decision making process. Suddenly, I'm finding myself farther and farther away from libertarianism.

Ms. Luo makes the suggestion that a libertarian paternalistic policy might be to place fresh fruit, rather than candy, at eye level at a school cafeteria. Seems quite reasonable, but let us take that to a realm that captures more adults and fewer minors. It would seem that another libertarian paternalistic policy would be to place fruit, not candy, at eye level of grocery stores. It's a subtle trick to lead us to the healthier decision (putting aside whether or not we might enjoy the candy more - the government has already decided that we wouldn't). What happens in less clear-cut cases? What happens when the policy makers only think they have the proper information to make an informed decision for consumers? If the grocery store customer cannot be expected to be a rational actor, why do we expect more of the legislator (who, no doubt, occasionally shops at a grocery store)?

Further, though we may not, technically, be limiting choice (the candy hasn't been outlawed, it's just on a really low shelf), we are, potentially, providing erroneous information to consumers. If we begin instituting the 'eye level shelf' policy, we are taking responsibility away from people. No longer need they worry about the nutritious value of their food, as they always buy products that are placed at eye level. Certainly, the government would never let something unhealthy appear on such a shelf.

(There is a fantastic episode of King of the Hill, Trans-Fascism, in which the town of Arlen outlaws trans fats. Bill is overjoyed. He can eat now anything he wants, because the government is making sure everything is healthy.)

It seems to me that, rather than truly building a new libertarianism, proponents of libertarian paternalism are attempting to fundamentally alter libertarianism to fit 21st century liberal/progressive policies. It is an interesting thought experiment, and one that was done quite well by Julian Sanchez (a libertarian), who writes:
I can pretty easily construct the shortest path (consisting of the fewest significant belief-change “moves”) from my own worldview to one that would count as genuinely conservative or progressive. It’s probably worth stressing that this would not necessarily just be a very libertarian-sounding progressivism or conservatism, since the shortest path might be to push on a tentatively-held stance fairly high up the ladder of abstraction, with dramatic downstream consequences.
Though I haven't read Nudge, I would not be surprised if this is a fair description of the steps to constructing libertarian paternalism.

Ms. Luo also presents us with a quotation from Tony Blair (apparently the British are more in tune with the philosophy of libertarian paternalism... though perhaps they're just more comfortable with the philosophy of noblesse oblige):
“[C]hoice isn’t an end in itself. It is one important mechanism to ensure that citizens can indeed secure good schools and health services in their communities. Choice puts the levers in the hands of parents and patients so that they as citizens and consumers can be a driving force for improvement in their public services.”
If I may be permitted to conflate choice with liberty, I sincerely disagree with Mr. Blair; liberty is an end in itself. It is better to live a struggling life free, with autonomy and responsibility, than it is to live a happy life subordinated, for such a life is a hollow joy.

Where There's Smoke, There's... Incoherence

For eight years, Ottawa's bars and restaurants have been smoke-free, pushing smoking patrons to find other venues to light up. The natural inclination was for these people to head out to a patio. According to The Ottawa Sun, now that is being targeted:

A doctors' group wants the city to take its smoking ban a step further and make it illegal to light up on restaurant and bar patios.

Cynthia Callard, the executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, said she's "disappointed" the city hasn't moved to ban smoking on patios because "it's a real health hazard" for those who wait on tables and for patrons.

"It's about time. If it annoys you it means you are smelling it and if you are smelling it, it means chemicals are reaching inside," said Callard, whose organization is preparing to lobby city councillors to take the smoking ban a step further. "We're hoping council will see the good sense of it."

As a good little libertarian, I was quite outraged by the intrusion of the government into private spheres back when the smoking police came on the scene. I even "bought" a membership to a smoking club at a bar (Puzzles) that was fighting the by-law (Puzzles is a dive... if anything, a nice haze of smoke obscures the otherwise unpleasant surroundings). Now, though, I can't get particularly worked up about the issue. I'm at the point of not really caring at all (admittedly, the enjoyment of smoke free bars has probably aided that). However, this new proposal is going too far.

Let's put aside notions of private property, personal choice and personal responsibility for now. Let's tackle the nuisance issue of smoking. Ms. Callard details for us why smoking - even outdoors - is bad for everyone. Beyond the aesthetic issues regarding smoking, there's the whole second hand smoke = cancer thing. However, if our concern is with the carcinogenic externalities of smoking, then the last thing we should be doing is forcing all smokers into the street.

The smoking by-law may have been great for creating smoke free bars, but it had the unfortunate effect of forcing all these smokers onto the sidewalk. A walk through downtown Ottawa on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night will demonstrate that it is near impossible to travel through the core, anywhere near a bar, and not be assaulted by someone's nic habit.

(Further, walk through the core during a weekday, and you get the pleasure of second hand smoke wafting from just about every office building entrance and sidewalk.)

The very fact that some bars are nice enough to open part of their property to smoking patrons should be heralded as a reasonable compromise between eliminating the nuisance of smoking in bars and limiting the nuisance of smoking in public.

During the public debate surrounding the original ban, there was much hand-wringing about everyone's right to go to a bar without having to deal with second hand smoke - as if there was a reasonable expectation to be able to use another's property for your own preferred activities. It appears that not enough thought is given to what is truly a reasonable expectation - to be able to use the sidewalk without being subjected to a cancer gauntlet.

IVF Comment and Reply

In the comments section of my last post on IVF, Charles Anthony writes:
As far as I am concerned, the only people who should get IVF treatments are the people who pay for it all themselves.
(I'm guessing that this might be the same Charles Anthony who writes so ably at ThePolitic.)

I know that I have a tendency to be little long-winded (long-keyboardes?) in my blog posts, so it is useful to have people make succinct points that are right on target. On principle, I tend to agree with Charles.

I don't think, generally speaking, that the government should be funding IVF treatment, and I agree that people should pay for it themselves. However, in most "advanced" economies, the manner in which we tend to pay for such medical treatments is through insurance. In the case of Ms. Ilha and Mr. Attaran, the Ontario (and Canadian) government is working against them. With OHIP, we have so perverted the health care/insurance market, we have restricted access to this method of payment. If people are forced by law to fund and be covered by a public health insurance plan, it seems reasonable of them to expect that the treatments they need (loosely defined) will then be covered by that plan.

It's true that in Ontario we are allowed to buy supplemental coverage, but, again, the incentives in place discourage people from taking such action. If we view health care as "free" in Ontario (it isn't, but that's how people think of it), the rate of increase in the cost of health insurance when we buy supplemental coverage approaches infinity. That doesn't seem like a reasonable purchase. Further, we are tacitly saying to people, don't worry, the government will take care of all your health care needs. It should be obvious that it can't, but the signals in society lead us to another conclusion.

All that being said, I still can't come out and support this initiative to fund IVF treatments for all women under 42 years of age. What I'm saying in this post is that I don't see this as a simple question, considering the state of health insurance in Ontario. Thus, I'm willing to be persuaded to the opposing view.

However, if we look at the bigger picture, this issue should demonstrate that we are not the bastion of wonderful health care/insurance that we like to claim to be. We fail our citizenry in terms of treatment options and delivery times, and we fail our taxpayers by confiscating more and more of their wealth to bolster an inefficient and, sometimes, undesirable system. Perhaps if we were to move in the direction of Health Savings Accounts and more freedom and individual choice, we could work our system away from such dilemmas. It is possible to maintain sufficient health care for all through a public insurer, and still work in some components of the free market (not to mention freedom in general).

Unfortunately, in Ontario, we seem to have a love affair with our current health care system. Sober analysis never seems welcome.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

IVF Report: Fund 'Em All

According to The Ottawa Citizen, an expert panel has decided that everyone in Ontario should get IVF treatments, well anyone 42 years old or younger (it says "women", so I imagine there is a lower boundary, also - maybe 18?). If you follow the link, you won't find a whole lot of specifics about the report, but maybe I'll comment on it (and the issue on the whole) later, as more information comes available.

One positive that seems to have come out of the report is a re-evaluation of adoption procedures. From a casual observer, it does seem like the adoption process is pretty messed up, so reform would likely be beneficial (though, again, it would depend on the specifics of the reform).

For more reading, here's a lengthy story in the National Post about Ana Ilha and Amir Attaran's case.

Who regulates the regulators?

So, a report from CTV tells us that Cambrian College in Sudbury ON hasn't really been on the up and up with its Health Information Management program. It turns out, despite the fact that students might spend as much as $17 000 to study at Cambrian, the program wasn't actually recognized by the certification body for the profession.

Students are ticked, rightfully, and the politicians are ticked. The governing Liberals say there's nothing they can do to right the situation for those already scammed. The NDP argues that these people should be compensated. Cambrian College, bastion of integrity, has offered each student two grand.

Putting aside any potential recourse the students have against the college (a lawyer would probably be able to better address that than I), there is the question of whether we, the public, should compensate these people.

First off, my sympathy goes out to these people. They were trying, earnestly no doubt, to lay the foundation for a productive career. They trusted Cambrian College, and they were taken. Generally, my response might be, caveat emptor. Obviously, the students did not know for what they were really enrolling. They did not know what they were actually purchasing. When consumers make mistakes, even monumental and sympathetic ones, we, as a society, tend not to re-imburse them. Generally, this makes sense. Beyond the issue of moral hazard, we generally think that its not fair to take money from some people to pay for other's mistakes. We do not absolve people of responsibility merely because we feel bad for them.

This situation is not quite as simple, though. What expectation do students have of the colleges and universities? These schools are overseen by the government. They, essentially, have the government's stamp of approval. With such an assurance, does caveat emptor still apply?

When we impose vast amounts of regulation on many aspects of life, we work to take the sense of responsibility away from the citizenry. We breed the mentality that if something is legal, it must be safe, because, otherwise, the government would not allow us to have it. It's sometimes difficult to fault people for falling into this trap. If the government treats us as infants, it's not that surprising when we turn into infants. This is the reason that choice, responsibility and liberty are so important.

An argument could be made that these students had a reasonable expectation that their program was worthwhile, and that they have actually been failed more by the government than by the school. This is a very attractive opinion, if only because it allows us to root for the little guy. Still, I'm not totally buying it.

These aren't people getting a basic liberal arts degree. We're talking about Health Information Management. This seems like a fairly specialized, and somewhat involved, field of study and career. It seems that a student who would do their due diligence in selecting a school and program to attend would determine if the school/program was certified and respected in the field. Rolling the dice on a program like this seems irresponsible.

Further, regardless of what forces are working against the sense of personal responsibility, we must not fall into the trap of absolving people of their mistakes. Adults must be assumed to be adults, and the results of their actions must be assumed to be their responsibility (this goes out the window if Cambrian College committed fraud of some sort). Treating people in this manner is better for them; it is better for us; it is better for society.

Cambrian College wronged these people, and regardless of what legal responsibility they have, they should make things right. Unfortunately, if Cambrian College does not step up, it is not the government's duty to take on their responsibilities.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Because the best way to garner support for your cause is to torture animals.

According to The Ottawa Citizen, seven piglets were abandoned outside Premier Dalton McGuinty's constituency office in Ottawa. There were posters at the scene complaining about McGuinty's government's handling of the swine flu (H1N1) pandemic. The argument is that the use of the term 'swine flu' has beaten the hell out of pork sales, thus making it impossible for farmers to feed their livestock or their children. As a result, they have started to put down pigs (no word yet on whether or not they'll be putting down their children).

The Humane Society is not pleased, nor should any of us be pleased. I understand the need for shock value and attention-grabbing stunts, but I'm not sure abandoning pigs in the hot sun in suburban Ottawa is really the way to go.

If the stunt were not so cruel, the incoherence would be quite funny. In what way can the naming of the swine flu be attributed to Dalton McGuinty? Further, I haven't heard anyone in the media refer to 'swine flu' in months. Everyone seems to have switched over to the much more clinical sounding 'H1N1'.

So, their protest against the name 'swine flu' seems to have achieved three things:
  • Painting themselves as perpetrators of animal cruelty;
  • Showing themselves to have not fully thought through the issue; and,
  • Bringing the term 'swine flu' back into the news.

He may be 'The One', but he sure ain't 'The Prince'.

Richard Albert has a column in yesterday's Boston Herald. He argues that Obama's inaction and neutrality at the beginning of the debate on health care/insurance reform doomed the endeavour and hurt Obama's standing. Richard believes he should have taken direction from Machiavelli's The Prince.

He writes:

Some lauded Obama’s approach because it would allow him to claim credit for renewing the promise of the American welfare state without risking the kind of personal defeat that had befallen the Clintons and led to the Republican revival in the 1994 midterm elections.

But we now know that the White House should have done as the Clintons had - dive right into the details of the debate, champion a specific health care proposal and marshal his hard-earned good will in the service of a sustainable solution to the national health care crisis. Had Obama led - instead being content to be led - the nation would have been much closer today to resolving the most complex domestic social problem in contemporary American history.


Everything in politics comes at a price. Even, and often especially, the inaction of neutrality. In this case, the cost of the president’s neutrality may well amount to more than the cost of the failure of health care reform under the Clinton administration - and that is a terrible price that Americans cannot afford to pay.

I can't argue that there is much wrong with Richard's analysis (though I think we might disagree as to what is the best form a health industry can take). Obama stepped aside and let the Congressional Democrats take the lead in crafting health care legislation, and the result was a complete mess of a bill (well, bills, as no one ever seemed to agree on any particular wording). Obama certainly should bear some responsibility for that.

Further, though, I would say that when he did speak, he was not coherent in his objective and gave no issues or specific policies around which people could rally. If he had taken a leading role at the beginning, but had no different tone or message as he settled upon this summer, I'm not sure it would have made much of a difference.

Monday, August 24, 2009

At Least They Got Trade Right

The Ottawa Citizen has two articles that tell us that, despite all of their problems, at least the Conservative government still gets trade issues right.

First, we learn that they are working with the U.S. to fight the ridiculous "Buy American" stipulation in the U.S. stimulus bill:
OTTAWA — Trade Minister Stockwell Day hopes to begin negotiations "at the earliest possible date" to secure access by Canadian firms to government contracts in the U.S. by trading a guarantee that U.S. firms will have access to provincial and municipal contracts in Canada.
This is good for everyone. If we are truly in the grips of a world wide depression, it's nice to know that there are people on both sides of the 49th working to facilitate wealth development. It's too bad that there are still some politicians who think economy-tanking protectionism will actually help their citizens.

Also from The Citizen, we learn that Stephen Harper has no intention of forcing himself into the the sale of Nortel. The article reads:

PANAMA CITY, Panama — Prime Minister Stephen Harper steered clear of the debate into Nortel's auction Tuesday, saying his government has no plans to "increase protectionism" in foreign investment while it touts the virtues of open trade on the world stage.

Harper said his government will "respect" the review process under the Investment Canada Act, which requires that foreign takeovers represent a "net benefit" to Canada.

May I ask, why is this news? Why would the government have any role to play in the sale of Nortel? I don't really care if they employed a lot of people; I don't really care if they were once - a really long time ago - a source of pride for Canada as the flagship for Silicon Valley North. They are a failed company that has been hemorrhaging cash and employees for quite some time now. A failed private entity needs to be sold (even if only for parts); that doesn't strike me as a public matter.

Of course, Canada has the Investment Canada Act. The perfect economic tool with which to bolster xenophobic paranoia. The introductory sentence on the Investment Canada Act web site reads:
Non-Canadians who acquire control of an existing Canadian business or who wish to establish a new unrelated Canadian business are subject to this Act, and they must submit either a Notification or an Application for Review.
I know, we, as Canadians, have some sort of complex about other people coming here spurring along the creation of wealth. It's really too bad. If only we learned the elemental economic lesson that wealth is the flow of goods and services, not the desperate clutching of loonies so that those who do not know the secret Canadian handshake can never, ever, ever get their grubby little alien paws on our sparkling coins.

We complain when other countries are more competitive than us in economic policy, drawing away investment and businesses, but then when someone wants to come here and spend some money, we treat them like the first rat entering Europe with the plague.

"Do they represent a 'net-benefit' to Canada?" we are told to ask. We would do well to remember that freedom, whether it be speech, religion... or trade, is a net benefit to Canada.

If the Investment Canada Act were judged by its own metric, it would fail.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

One Last IVF Post

Okay, there is one last aspect to this story, and it might be the worst:
One course of IVF and $6,300 later, Ms. Ilha and her husband have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging that the provincial policy is discriminatory, and should be changed.
Human Rights Tribunals are a sham, and they certainly have no place setting public policy. We hold elections and choose people to make these decisions. We have courts that were created to adjudicate any disputes, even those between an individual and the government. There is no reason to bring an HRT into this; they are bullies and they are unaccountable.

Though it might not be fair, the very fact that they have chosen this route makes me all the less sympathetic to their cause.

IVF Follow Up

I should note that even though the "leading fertility expert" made no mention of the moral implications of IVF, Ms. Ilha and Mr. Attaran do, however superficially:

But here’s the sour cherry on top: this discriminatory, hazardous system that needlessly sends couples running to the bank, that sickens mothers, and that kills babies is also costing the taxpayer a fortune. Why? Because whenever there is an adverse medical outcome, OHIP must pay to treat it. Some of the adverse outcomes are increased 1,000 per cent by our current system. Ontario is throwing away millions of dollars this way.

If Caplan wants to stop this lunacy, he need look no further than Quebec, where the government recently announced it will switch to free IVF (within clinical limits, of course). Quebec got the idea from Europe, after studies in Britain, Finland and Holland proved that when governments switched to free IVF and clinical guidelines to reduce the costliest and most dangerous multiple births, more healthy babies were born to more happy families — and the taxpayer saved money.

Although they gloss over the nebulous "clinical guidelines to reduce the costliest and most dangerous multiple births" (selective abortion, anyone?), at least they address some of the other issues. Of course, their complaint that the government is currently making a mistake by being the arbiter of IVF availability doesn't really jive with the idea of the government setting "clinical guidelines". Oh well, couples in desperation shouldn't be counted on for a whole lot of intellectual consistency.

There is one more thing that sticks in my craw: the notion that Quebec is switching to "free IVF". I know what they mean; they mean government funded IVF, but the sloppiness of their language perhaps belies any depth of thought on this issue. No matter what the costs to the patient, IVF will not be free. Someone is going to have to pay for it. I guess they're not complaining about the unfair treatment of socialized health care, they're just annoyed that the rest of us aren't picking up the tab.

It's understable, but it's not persuasive.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Public Funded IVF?

There's a new issue finding its way into public discussion. Ana Ilha and Amir Attaran feel OHIP (Ontario's public health insurer) should cover their IVF treatments. As the National Post writes, they have spent $6300 on treatment, and think that it isn't fair that others receive this treatment on the public's dime:

At 37 years old, Ms. Ilha suffers from a medical condition that results in a low egg count. Her doctor advised in-vitro fertilization, a treatment that is funded in Ontario for some conditions, but not all - and not for Ms. Ilha.

One course of IVF and $6,300 later, Ms. Ilha and her husband have filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging that the provincial policy is discriminatory, and should be changed.

This couple has a point. We have created a monopoly in health insurance - a legally enforced monopoly. There seems to be little justice in forcing these people into a system that refuses to meet their needs (this isn't a failure of the system, per se, it's a decision). I have great sympathy for those trapped by our public health system.

However, we are not talking about a starightforward health care issue. IVF treatment is more complicated than that, no matter what experts say:
"Infertility is a medical condition," says Arthur Leader, a leading fertility expert at the Ottawa Fertility Centre. "You have to understand that, for example, there are more men who suffer from infertility than diabetes. So, you wouldn't say to somebody who has diabetes, which is a medical condition, we'll diagnose it, but you go and pay for it. It's a medical condition for which this is the appropriate treatment."
Put aside how shocking it is that a "leading fertility expert" would think IVF should be paid for by the government, Mr. Leader's statement is ridiculous and insulting. In 2005, about 8.8% of people in Ontario have diabetes. Is it Mr. Leader's assertion that anything that occurs at a rate higher than that constitutes a medical condition for which OHIP should be relied upon to correct? Rate of incidence has very little to do with any moral imperative of the government to intervene (and it could be argued that because infertility is such a grand problem, it cannot be addressed - if the demands were minimal, the cost of covering might be little more than a rounding error in OHIP's budget).

Further, to assume that IVF is little more than a medical concern demonstrates a complete ignorance about the moral implications of the procedure, and the ensuing controversy. Hell, I bet more than 8.8% of people have heard of Octomom or Jon & Kate

Just as we can say that it is wrong to force Ms. Ilha and Mr. Attaran into an insurance system that won't fit their needs, we can also note that it is wrong to force the rest of us to pay into a system that covers what can be considered morally dubious, elective procedures. I think it is fair to make the distinction between medical care and health care. I firmaly believe this case certainly falls into the former; I'm not so sure that it falls into the latter.

The Ottawa Citizen one-ups the National Post. They actually have an Op-Ed written by the couple, which includes:
But the minister believes, despite all medical evidence and the obvious parallels, that treatment is not necessary when ovaries, testes or anything else goes bad — so the second and third (or fourth and fifth) couples are left to pay for exactly the same treatment.

Discrimination? Obviously.

Certainly, it is discrimination, but where does that get us? Is it undue discrimination? Does it violate our principles as a liberal democratic nation? Or does it just make us feel bad for them because they are having so much trouble conceiving?

If we are to get into a discussion of all the treatments that OHIP does not cover, I cannot believe that we would begin with IVF. I would submit that the biggest hole in OHIP (if we are to approach discussions about OHIP with the philosophy that it is the government's duty to cover all health issues) is dental coverage. It seems ridiculous that we would have some sense of "social justice" that leads us to pay for this couple's IVF treatments, but ignores every child's need to visit the dentist. I mean, come on, gum disease has been linked to heart disease; it truly is a health issue.

Moving from dental care, wouldn't we then concern ourselves with drug payments? Is it "fair" that people who need drugs to live have to secure those drugs on their own (either paying out of pocket, or through a private insurance plan)? Is the argument that trying to get pregnant is more important than not dying? Colour me unpersuaded.

I'm not a huge fan of IVF, at least not the way it has often been used in North America. I know, personally, that it can help people who are struck by tragedy (cancer in his mid 20's, in a friend's case), but we have to draw lines. We cannot fund these things indescriminately and maintain any expectation of solvency within the system. Through private insurance, we have addressed (perhaps inadequately) the issues of dental coverage and drug coverage. If we were to allow more freedom in medical care and insurance, perhaps couples would have more options to address fertility issues - options that do not involve paying for costly procedures out of their own pockets.

In the meantime, though I can offer my best wishes to Ms. Ilha and Mr. Attaran, I cannot offer support for the larger goal of unlimited coverage of IVF.

If Only We Had a Way to Stop Illegal Grow-Ops.

An Alberta court has ruled that the police cannot monitor a citizen's power usage without the blessing of the court (wow, judges think other people should defer to judges; I'm shocked). From the National Post:

CALGARY -- Alberta's top court says police use of a digital recording amp-metre without judicial authorization, to determine if there is a marijuana grow operation in a home, violates the homeowner's privacy rights.

In a split, 2-1 decision released on Friday, the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Calgary police should not have requested Enmax to install the device to create a record of when electrical power was being consumed at Daniel James Gomboc's southwest home in January 2004, before obtaining a warrant.

Generally, I'd be inclined to agree with the court in this sort of situation, though I'd actually welcome a utility accurately measuring how much power I use, rather than sending me estimates that bear no resemblance to my actual usage, but this case is stupid.

We should not be concerned with marijuana grow-ops, because marijuana use, sale and production shouldn't be illegal. In this case, we have wasted police resources; we have tied up the courts; we have thrown money needlessly at lawyers, and we have wasted a whole lot of time.

Why does this make sense?

Backbeat Band - 1994

For no reason at all, here's the Backbeat Band in what is probably the greatest awards show performance of all time.

So, what was better, Dave Pirner's pants almost falling off or Thurston Moore jumping on Greg Dulli?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Delayed is Health Care Denied

Do you know Shona White? She's from Waterdown; she had a brain tumour, and she had to go to the United States for treatment. We now find her in an ad against socialized health care in America.

In The Mark, Liberal MP Bob Rae objects to the use of Ms. White's non-treatment in Canada as part of an argument against health care reform in the U.S. The article, titled "Keep Canada Out of the U.S. Health-Care Debate", reads:
Watching the debate in the U.S. about health care has been a fascinating, if depressing, experience. In particular, the fact that a Canadian woman has played into the hands of the Republican lobby because of her understandable anxiety about her medical condition doesn't make me mad; it just makes me sad.


No one should demonize Shona Holmes. The health-care system we have in Canada has challenges – we all know people who are frustrated by delays. But that is hardly unique to Canada.

And the fact that she has weighed in with her story is not something we should fear or denigrate, though we are at a bit of a disadvantage, not knowing "the other side of the story" for privacy reasons.

Let's not forget the other stories we all know: the people who've been diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively without once being asked about their coverage or their income; the success we've had in dramatically reducing wait times for heart surgery and cardiac care.


Keep Canada out of the U.S. debate. We've never suggested exporting our system. We have our own debates and our own issues, and because of the moral choices we made 40 years ago they are different from the American paradigm.

We should be proud of what we have, but we need to keep the focus on how to improve it, how to combine access, excellence, and innovation. We shouldn't treat health care as some kind of taboo subject. We should keep what we have and make it better. And hope our friends in the U.S. will find their own answers to the questions that lie at the heart of health care everywhere.

I'm not a huge fan of this ad, either; arguing by anecdote is never terribly enlightening. However, I can't get on board with the rest of Mr. Rae's comments.

The idea that the U.S. should keep Canada out of their health care debate is ludicrous. Of course America should look to our system, just as they should look to European systems, just as we should look to their system, just as the Brits should look to us. Everyone’s health care system is kinda screwed up; it does no one any good to ignore the experiences of others when trying improve the lives of the citizenry.

Too many commentators that I've read get their backs up the moment anyone criticizes their country's health care system. There seems to be some sort of patriotic duty to bury your head in the sand and pretend that your country's health care system doesn't risk people's lives. But, obstinacy in the defense of pride is no virtue.

Mr. Rae writes:
Shona Holmes is a Canadian insured by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. She says she was made to wait months to get a diagnosis for her benign tumour. Once diagnosed she wanted an operation right away, so she went to the States for the procedure. Now she wants OHIP to pay for the cost of her U.S. treatment, which she paid for out of her own pocket. She has a public insurer, and wants a refund on her private treatment, which she decided had to happen right away.
So, Mr. Rae thinks it's inappropriate for Ms. White, after purchasing treatment OHIP declined to cover, to seek re-imbursement. To an extent, this is a reasonable belief. Few insurers would pay out to a customer for something they had already told a customer wasn't covered. I'm a little surprised to hear, though, that Mr. Rae is defending OHIP by claiming it acts like any other insurer. Is that really an argument for socialized medicine?

Still, there's a whole lot of chutzpah here from Mr. Rae. The argument, apparently, is that because the insurer wouldn't cover it, Ms. White is out of luck - but things aren't that simple. In this situation, the insurer is the government, and they have not only made it difficult to access other treatment options, they have made it illegal. Ms. White had absolutely no recourse in this matter. She never had an option to purchase her own health insurance. She isn't even allowed to pay for the treatments herself. It has to go through OHIP, and OHIP refused to let that happen.

I've asked before, why is it that "health care is a right" means you don't have the right to get health care on your own? In our system, one's health care desires do not register as singularly important. They are but one factor in an intensely complex equation.

Notice the last two lines in the previous paragraph I cited:
Now she wants OHIP to pay for the cost of her U.S. treatment, which she paid for out of her own pocket. She has a public insurer, and wants a refund on her private treatment, which she decided had to happen right away.

Let's put aside the paternalistic scolding administered to Ms. White for her refusal to wait until someone else decided it was an appropriate time for treatment. Instead, note the description of the public insurer and the private treatment. It would seem to be the very nature of a public insurer to ignore the needs of the private individual when it suited the desires of the public entity, i.e., the state - at least that is what I am being taught by Ms. White's story and Mr. Rae's argument.

But let's not ignore the juxtaposition with private treatment. Apparently, by going to the U.S. and making her own arrangements, the treatment qualified as private. Had she waited in line, like a good little Canuck, her OHIP covered treatment would have qualified (at least according to Mr. Rae's analysis) as public. This is a more wretched thought than the idea of the public insurer.

The idea that our medical care - our health - is the domain of the government is ludicrous. It is an abhorrent violation of personal sovereignty and human dignity. It is not a mentality that aligns with classical liberal principles. We can decide that health care needs to be paid for by the state; we can decide that health care needs to administered by the state, but to appropriate ownership of the very treatments that we receive - potentially invasive measures - is one step too far if Canada is to retain any claims of liberalism and liberty.

According to Mr. Rae's analysis, anything that is covered by OHIP - every visit to your doctor, every surgery you require, the birth of every child you have - belongs to the state.

Tell me that's not horrifying.

More on the Muhammad Cartoons and Yale University

Writing at The News Blog of the Yale Alumni Magazine, Carole Bass attacks critics of Yale University Press's decision not to publish any images of Muhammad in a book about the impact of Muhammad:
Most of the conservative outcry over the Yale University Press’s Muhammad cartoon censorship has accused the university of cowardice (though we haven’t seen many of those accusers bravely replicating the offending illustrations).
Well, I displayed an image of Muhammad here, and posted a link to the cartoons a couple of times, but it's true; I've never posted any of the cartoons. So here's one (chosen not quite at random, but because it was the first one on the page I found):

Now, maybe Ms. Bass will still call me a coward. I'm pretty sure only a handful of people have ever read this blog.

Perhaps there's no concern that any reprisals will occur in Canada. Maybe we're too civilized for that.

Or, maybe not...

(H/T: Michael Rubin.)

Banning Books in Brampton

Apparently, in one Brampton high school, a complaint about a seminal American novel can rob an entire grade of the enjoyment of reading it.

Werner Patels reports:
A high school in Brampton, Ontario, recently made headlines when its principal decided to ban Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird, following a complaint from one parent about the use of racial epithets in the book.


Attacking a literary work, as this parent has done, is symbolic of the ignorance that has come to affect such large numbers of people in our midst. It is this ignorance that will prove either our biggest challenge or our downfall.
It pretty much goes without saying that this is a wretched decision, and Principal Kevin McGuire (who made the decision at the end of last year - no doubt hoping the issue would slip by unnoticed) should be horribly ashamed. It should be generally understood in a Western liberal society that words and thoughts cannot be summarily shunned from public life; that classic works of 20th Century literature will likely address some unpleasant topics; and that those who demand such censorship should be instructed on the meaning of liberty. At the very least, we should not be wilting in the face of such illiberal demands.

Interestingly, I read through Werner's post expecting to see him lay out the moral case for free speech, or the typical practical case for free speech (that unpleasant speech needs to be addressed head on, rather than shoved out of sight). Neither was there. Instead, Werner wrote a thorough post on how this sort of thing makes us, collectively, dumber.

For all the standard ills associated with banishing literature from the public spheres, he laments that those students will not have the opportunity to enrich their minds reading Harper Lee's classic. Sure, they can still read the book on their own time, but if we acknowledge that most people will only do so much reading - and school-assigned readings will dominate this time for students - then we have severely reduced the odds that students will read this book. This is the reason that curriculum choices are so important.

Further, as Werner notes, we lose some of our shared knowledge and experience. A joy of classics (whether it be novels, plays, short stories, movies or what have you) is that it is something we can share. It can be easy to get separated and isolated from the rest of the world these days, but these common cultural (or pop cultural) reference points can help to keep us bound together (the whole, where-were-you-when? type question). If a new generation does not read To Kill a Mockingbird, how will they understand who Boo Radley is?

Thankfully, we can be comforted by the fact that these censors will, no doubt, be haunted eternally by the ghost of Gregory Peck.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Well, it's only kinda rape.

Apparently forcing yourself on a women, kissing her and "not the most serious" penetration only deserves two months house arrest.

From The Ottawa Citizen (emphasis mine):

OTTAWA — An Ottawa taxi driver found guilty of sexually assaulting a female passenger has been sentenced to two months of house arrest.

Hassan Jabar Majli, 36, stood with his arms behind his back as Ontario Superior Court Justice Denis Power sentenced him for the June 23, 2007 sexual assault in the lobby of a west-end apartment building.


Power, who said he had "considerable difficulty" arriving at a conditional sentence, said a term of incarceration in jail was not out of the question, but he took into account that the sexual assault Majli was convicted of was "not the most serious" and that Majli's myriad of health problems would be better treated in the community.

Majli, who has since lost his taxi licence, was found guilty of sexual assault in May after court heard testimony from the victim, a teacher, about how the driver followed her into her apartment building and kissed her on the mouth as she tried to get on an elevator.

The victim, who can't be identified because of a publication ban, testified the driver then put his hand up her skirt and digitally penetrated her as she tried to flee through a stairway door.

It matters not that the man has health problems. It matters not that the woman had been drinking. It matters not that she had been pleasant with him. It matters not that she had attempted to speak Arabic. It matters not that he only used his finger(s). It is still rape, and this man should receive a sentence that better reflects his crime.

Further shame belongs to the prosecutor, who only asked for two months jail time. Yup, just two months - for rape.

As a society, we cannot protect every citizen who winds up in a vulnerable situation. It's unfortunate, but it's a fact. However, we should be able to offer justice when that vulnerability is preyed upon.

Be at Peace, Rose

Rose Friedman has left us; a great mind and, from all accounts, a great person.

Inane Series of Questions of the Day

Over at The Atlantic, Chris Good writes:
What's so bad about a government takeover of health care? Are/should opponents of the Democratic reform effort be more worried about taxes and spending, a threat to capitalism in the health care industry, or government intrusion into people's lives? And if the system is broken, what's wrong with taking it over?
Has Mr. Good even been paying attention?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Half Way to a Good Idea

The Canadian Press reports that Canadian doctors think that introducing aspects of the free market into the health care industry isn't a bad thing (H/T: Kathryn Jean Lopez):

The pitch for change at the conference is to start with a presentation from Dr. Robert Ouellet, the current president of the CMA, who has said there's a critical need to make Canada's health-care system patient-centred. He will present details from his fact-finding trip to Europe in January, where he met with health groups in England, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands and France.

His thoughts on the issue are already clear. Ouellet has been saying since his return that "a health-care revolution has passed us by," that it's possible to make wait lists disappear while maintaining universal coverage and "that competition should be welcomed, not feared."

In other words, Ouellet believes there could be a role for private health-care delivery within the public system.

He has also said the Canadian system could be restructured to focus on patients if hospitals and other health-care institutions received funding based on the patients they treat, instead of an annual, lump-sum budget. This "activity-based funding" would be an incentive to provide more efficient care, he has said.

Now, I'm all for introducing private health-care delivery into Canada's system (I think it's pretty ridiculous not to do that), but I don't think Dr. Ouellet quite hits the mark.

He's absolutely correct that annual lump-sum budgets are a poor method of payment. Further, I agree that switching to "activity-based funding" would be an improvement - but it is no panacea. We will be switching from one set of problems to another. One of the biggest obstacles to an efficient health care system is doctors, and, specifically, the phenomenon, "supplier-induced demand". Basically, this means that if a doctor suggests a course of treatment to a patient, the patient will probably follow suit. If we tell doctors that they will be paid on a basis of the activities/services they actually provide to patients, they will have an incentive to provide more services, more treatments. They will have a stake in the amount of intervention that they proscribe.

(Think doctors don't respond to economic incentives? According to Steven Levitt they do. In Freakonomics he notes that obstetricians will conduct more c-sections when they don't have as many patients.)

So, if we can't pay them by treatment, what about by patient, then they have no incentive to suggest unnecessary procedures. Well, the obvious problem with that is that they now have an incentive to see as many patients as possible. Anyone who has been ushered in and out of a doctor's office as fast as humanly possible can guess what the result of that will be.

Okay, I realize I've just crapped on three different payment systems, so, you may ask, what do I recommend. Well, I think an activity based model is the way to go, but we have shift some of the responsibility back to patients - the consumers, if you will. One way to achieve this is through Health Savings Accounts. This will put some of the onus on patients to avoid costly and inefficient procedures. If doctors are going to respond to financial incentives, you can bet patients will as well. (Logistically, there are some issues with these accounts, and a nuanced implementation is probably best.)

This solution, though, is only one aspect of a larger solution. Unfortunately, this larger solution is far more difficult. Empowering patients to make proper decisions will take more than just shifting economic incentives. We will need a cultural shift, as well. People need to learn not to unconditionally trust doctors. Even the best doctor can have an unfortunate response to a perverted incentive. It is up to us to determine what advice we take from doctors.

We need to learn to rely on ourselves rather than just relying on experts. We need to seek out information, weigh options and do our best to make a rational choice about our health care. We cannot merely trust experts and politicians to tell us what is best, what is appropriate and what information is relevant when making these decisions. Sure, doctors are generally going to know more about health care than the rest of us, but that doesn't mean we don't have a role to play.

Further, we need to re-assert our personal sovereignty. It matters not what doctors want to do your body. It matters not what treatments they think are best. It matters not what study they just read. We are the arbiters of what is done to our bodies. If I demit, and merely do whatever the doctor tells me to do, then I am responsible for all that is done to me. (Granted, when health care workers lie, bully or otherwise coerce me into doing something, the blame gets shifted.)

Sadly, this is not easy to do. Doctors and nurses will bully you, and they will lie to you. Hospitals can be intimidating, and the practitioners can exert undue influence on patients. Hell, sometimes they'll just try to do stuff without even consulting the patient or guardian (I've experienced this with my daughter). Standing up for yourself, your rights and your personal dignity is difficult in such a situation (I admit it; I didn't do enough to protect my daughter from these assaults... and assaults they were, no matter how minor others may view them).

Choice, responsibility, personal sovereignty - so many things really do come down to liberty.

Anyone remember that Czars aren't actually a part of democracy?

My God.

It's bad enough that Obama has to have a Czar for seemingly everything, but now we have jump on the band wagon? Come on.

From The Canadian Press:
Canada needs an independent health czar to co-ordinate the country's response to the swine flu pandemic, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said Monday.

In an editorial signed by editor-in-chief Dr. Paul Hebert, the journal called for the appointment of someone who would serve as an independent "national champion" with the necessary legislative powers to be able to facilitate the response across provincial and territorial boundaries.

Yes, that's exactly what we need - unelected officials with legislative powers. Does Dr. Hebert even get what it means to be in a democracy?

Oh, but it's okay, he's a doctor.

Pork by any other name...

Well, actually, this time it's really pork. From The Globe and Mail:

With the worst hog market in 60 years draining a nest-egg that took him almost as long to build, Bill Vaags was in the mood for some good news when he attended a Winnipeg press conference Saturday.

He joined several other pig farmers in the audience to find out what kind of lifeline Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz would toss their ailing industry.


The federal package is a three-part plan: launch a $17-million marketing venture to sell Canadian pork internationally; offer government-backed loans to farmers with viable hog operations; and set aside $75-million to buy the worst-off farmers out of the business.
So, Harper's been bailing out the auto industry and the manufacturing industry, and now he wants to bail out the pork industry? That's awesome.

Ya know, it's great that they're going to help out "viable hog operations", but isn't that what banks are for?

(H/T: Charles Anthony.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Does the NDP Matter?

Richard says yes.

I tend to agree, but I don't think the scenarios Richard plots out will come to fruition. His proposals make sense... that alone should tell us that they won't happen.

I will say that I am skeptical about the NDP capitalizing on this relevance (especially if they're spending a lot of time arguing about their name). I think Layton has done a decent job, and a far better job than I thought he would, but I don't see him leading the NDP too far into the mainstream. Even if he is able to put forward a reasonable platform in a reasonable manner, I don't see him then advancing it in a reasonable way.

I think he'll continue to keep the NDP (or whatever they wind up calling themselves) strong and somewhat relevant, but he'll probably always keep them just slightly on the outside looking in... and I think that's what they'll prefer.

Of course, if he shaves the moustache, all bets are off.

Just Because I'm Against Prohibition Doesn't Mean I Support Your Acloholism

So, this weekend, the wife participated in some panel discussions regarding the play, Birth (as noted in an earlier post). One aspect of birth that the "birth reformers" (for lack of a better term) evangelize is "informed consent". Basically, that means pregnant women (and couples) should be able to make choices about the way their birth will go. Naturally, this kind of jives with libertarian thought.

The wife sees a bit of a conflict in this; she fully supports the notion of informed consent (and, thus, free choice), but she finds it difficult to support certain choices that women will make.

I've heard similar thoughts about libertarianism - if I support people's freedom, how can I denounce their actions? Yesterday, I began to write a really long post about my particular libertarianish views - making a practical case for choice, abhorring coercion, etc, but now I think I'll just try to tackle this one issue.

This conundrum brings to mind a similar question regarding Christianity - a question we've all, no doubt, heard before: why do bad things happen to good people?

This, very roughly speaking, comes down, once again, to choice. If only "good" things happened to only "good" people, it seems a pretty easy to envision what would happen: everyone would be "good". In a discussion with an intelligent, faithful friend, he asked, rhetorically, would you really want to live in a world like that? My natural response was, yes... yes I would. But that's not really the point.

Basically, in a world where God bribes everyone to be good, is anyone actually a good person or would we merely be acting good?

For me, this equates to the macro-level moral case for libertarianism (the micro-level moral case would be that, to over-simplify, no one should be bossed around). The exercise of one's freedom isn't an inherently good or defensible thing, but, to paint with a bit of a wide brush, in order to wind up at a good result, people have to be able to make choices that bring them to that result. The value lies as much in the journey as it does in the destination. We cannot realize a good and just society without liberty.

Basically, without choice, there can be no virtue.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh, That's Just Fantastic.

So, earlier in the week I did very minor examinations of Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff. Both were found wanting, but I still had hopes for Stephen Harper. At the very least, I hoped he wouldn't be terrible.

Well, according to The Globe and Mail, Mr. Harper felt there wasn't enough disappointment in my life:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is launching a regional development agency for hard-hit southern Ontario.

The agency, which was previously announced in the federal budget, will be headquartered in Kitchener.

Mr. Harper says minister of state for science and technology Gary Goodyear will be responsible for the agency and will embark on a tour of the region in the coming weeks.

The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario has a $1-billion budget over five years.

Great. About a year ago, the world financial systems were on the verge of collapse. Ever since, we've been worried about economic growth, jobs and, at the risk of hyperbole, not starving to death.

Now Stephen Harper is shoveling one billion dollars into a dying industry. But it's okay - I wasn't looking forward to having a robust economy any time soon.

Here's a little tip for everyone: it's not a good sign if Dalton McGuinty lauds your economic proposal.

Do You Believe in Freedom of Speech? YUP, umm, I Mean Nope.

Via Andy McCarthy, the New York Times reports that Yale University Press (YUP) is banning the publication of images of Muhammad, at least that's what they're doing with a new book that is coming out about the infamous Danish cartoons. Here's what they write:
So Yale University and Yale University Press consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous: The book, “The Cartoons That Shook the World,” should not include the 12 Danish drawings that originally appeared in September 2005. What’s more, they suggested that the Yale press also refrain from publishing any other illustrations of the prophet that were to be included, specifically, a drawing for a children’s book; an Ottoman print; and a sketch by the 19th-century artist Gustave Doré of Muhammad being tormented in Hell, an episode from Dante’s “Inferno” that has been depicted by Botticelli, Blake, Rodin and Dalí.
So it's not just the cartoons, but other works of art as well, including:

Again, you don't have to agree with what Jyllands-Posten did, but they had every right to do it.

There is nothing respectful in what Yale University Press has done. This is a blow against free speech, and we should all be quite saddened. If YUP is scared of what reprisals might be in store if they printed the cartoons, well, that's quite understandable, but at least have the courage to come out and say that you have been intimidated into abandoning free speech.

(By the way, Mrs. CG&A spent years studying Dante, and included a reading of his work in our wedding service, hence the obligatory inclusion of a recreation of a scene from La Commedia.)

The play's the thing...

Birth is being performed this weekend at St. Paul's University in Ottawa (on Main St.). The play is about birth, but you probably already guessed that.

Performances run Friday night, Saturday afternoon and night, and Sunday night. There will be panel discussions after each performances, and a "Red Tent" event between the two performances on Saturday. If you happen to attend a panel discussion on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, you'll be in for quite a treat, as Mrs. CG&A will be a participant.

Here are the times:
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Matinee at 2:30 p.m.
Here's some more info:
Presented by: Coalition for Breech Birth with Three Sisters Theatre Group and A Company of Fools
Venue: St. Paul’s University Auditorium, 223 Main Street, Ottawa

Advance Ticket Prices: (DOOR PRICE: add $5)
Adults: $20
Student/Seniors: $15
Children/Volunteers: $10


Note: While children are welcome, this play is not written for children. Some parts may be frightening, confusing and parents should know that there is swearing throughout the play. Discretion is advised.
So, it you're in the capital this weekend, you might want to check it out.

This Stuff Bugs Me

On The New Republic's blog, The Plank, Jonathan Cohn attacks those attacking President Obama's health insurance reform proposals. He doesn't like the dishonesty nor the arguments of those on the other side of the debate. He writes, in part:
Writing in the New York Post, Betsy McCaughey suggested that Emanuel wanted to ration care so that a "grandmother with Parkinson's or a child with cerebral palsy" couldn't get care. Soon Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and right-wing websites were piling on, calling Emanuel "Doctor Death." All of this about a man who, rather than using his considerable talents to get rich, has devoted his life to healing individuals--and improving the human condition. Oh, and did I mention his sister has cerebral palsy?
Notice anything about that paragraph, in which he quotes one writer, attributes actions to two others and pulls out the bogeyman of "right-wing websites"? Yup, that's right, no links. There's no easy way of checking Cohn's references or reading through the source material yourself.

Don't worry though, he does add some links in his post. Of course, they're only for people and sites that agree with him.

This sort of thing really bugs me on blogs (and other types of websites); if you can, you should provide links. Granted, I know my posts are sometimes pretty link-heavy, and sometimes the links seem pretty random, focusing too much on pop culture references, but come on, it's not that difficult to site one or two people whom you are confronting. Otherwise, it kinda looks like you're trying to hide something.

I'd also address the continued mis-use of the term, Swiftboating, but Ramesh Ponnuru does that better than I could.

(By the way, I agree that there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding health insurance reform, but I don't happen to think that one side is much more of an offender than the other.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

For Poppy and Liberty

Richard Albert has a new column up at The Mark, For Country and Legacy, regarding the upcoming Afghanistan election. It's a fine little essay - Richard is definitely on his game on this one - and it covers a fairly significant topic. I'm not an expert on Karzai's administration (or much else for that matter), but I can't say that I've had a net favourable impression. So, I will echo Richard's call for Karzai to withdraw.

And now, thankfully, back to some libertarian-ish commentary (you know, the whole purpose of this blog). Richard writes:
Karzai’s presidency has been less than stellar, and his character has often seemed even worse. The drug trade, mounting civil violence, and poor public services have all conspired with allegations of government corruption to envelop him in a cloud of criticism.
Ahh yes, the drug trade. It's bad enough that our neo-puritanical impulses are doing so much ill on this continent, but we've also spread the paternalistic drug war to developing nations as well.

Anne Applebaum writes (H/T Andrew Stuttaford):
Yet by far the most depressing aspect of the Afghan poppy crisis is the fact that it exists at all-because it doesn't have to. To see what I mean, look at the history of Turkey, where once upon a time the drug trade also threatened the country's political and economic stability. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey had a long tradition of poppy cultivation. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey worried that poppy eradication could bring down the government. Just like Afghanistan, Turkey-this was the era of Midnight Express-was identified as the main source of the heroin sold in the West. Just like in Afghanistan, a ban was tried, and it failed.

As a result, in 1974, the Turks, with U.S. and U.N. support, tried a different tactic. They began licensing poppy cultivation for the purpose of producing morphine, codeine, and other legal opiates. Legal factories were built to replace the illegal ones. Farmers registered to grow poppies, and they paid taxes. You wouldn't necessarily know this from the latest White House drug strategy report-which devotes several pages to Afghanistan but doesn't mention Turkey-but the U.S. government still supports the Turkish program, even requiring U.S. drug companies to purchase 80 percent of what the legal documents euphemistically refer to as "narcotic raw materials" from the two traditional producers, Turkey and India.

Why not add Afghanistan to this list? The only good arguments against doing so-as opposed to the silly, politically correct, "just say no" arguments-are technical: that the weak or nonexistent bureaucracy will be no better at licensing poppy fields than at destroying them, or that some of the raw material will still fall into the hands of the drug cartels. Yet some of these problems can be solved by building processing factories at the local level and working within local power structures. And even if the program only succeeds in stopping half the drug trade, then a huge chunk of Afghanistan's economy will still emerge from the gray market, the power of the drug barons will be reduced, and, most of all, Western money will have been visibly spent helping Afghan farmers survive instead of destroying their livelihoods. The director of the Senlis Council, a group that studies the drug problem in Afghanistan, told me he reckons that the best way to "ensure more Western soldiers get killed" is to expand poppy eradication further.

Besides, things really could get worse. It isn't so hard to imagine, two or three years down the line, yet another emergency presidential speech calling for yet another "surge" of troops-but this time to southern Afghanistan, where impoverished villagers, having turned against the West, are joining the Taliban in droves. Before we get there, maybe it's worth letting some legal poppies bloom.
Civil unrest in Afghanistan is tied to the drug trade; as is economic prosperity (or, at least, not starving to death). If the bad guys will let the poor farmers grow poppies and, thus, feed their families, while the good guys won't, guess who the farmers will side with.

Hell, who would you side with?

(Note: In my reading of Richard's column, I did not think he was coming down on one side or the other of the issue of how to deal with the drug trade in Afghanistan, but that he was noting that it was a failing of Karzai's administration. Regardless of our respective positions on drug laws, I agree with him on this point, so this post should not read as an attack on Richard's column. I was merely using it as a jumping off point for a typical libertarian bug-a-boo.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Valentine to Michael Ignatieff, or, In which I stop totalling ignoring the guy.

Regarding my post about Stephen Harper and the Honduran 'coup', commenter Lilknitter, who is totally 'not' my wife, writes, "[n]ever thought I'd see the day when you started saying complementary things about a Grit..."

I didn't actually mean to shower praise on Ignatieff; I just meant I'd make more of an effort to consider him and his policies. Of course, we already knew that his desires for EI are less than desirable and economically illiterate, but let's see what we can find out about his opinion of the situation in Honduras.

Well, first off, here's the only thing that comes up in a search for "Honduras" on the Liberal party site:

OTTAWA – The Honourable Bob Rae, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic, added his voice today to those strongly condemning the coup d’etat in Honduras, saying:

“The ousting and detainment of President Manuel Zelaya this weekend is a serious blow to the democratic process.

“A return to this style of military coup is a real step backwards for Honduras and the region. It is a disservice to the Honduran people to return to the days where military coups are the norm – the people of Honduras have engaged wholeheartedly in the pursuit of accountability and transparency in governance through their democratically elected government; it would be a shame to see them lose all they’ve accomplished.”

Rae also called for all parties involved to respect the democratic governance of the country and engage in dialogue that moves towards a peaceful and democratic resolution, saying:

“It is Canada’s responsibility as a member of the Organization of American States to urge Honduras to support the democratic process and the rule of law, including the Honduran Constitution, and above all else to resolve any lingering tensions peacefully and constructively.

“The Liberal Party of Canada will continue to monitor the evolving situation in Honduras and will persist in hoping for a swift and peaceful resolution.”
Granted, the statement is coming from Bob Rae, but if Ignatieff's Foreign Affairs Critic and his party's web site say this and only this about the situation, I'm inclined to attribute this stance to Iggy, as well. Nonetheless, I tried to find some more information. Unfortunately, a Google search of "Ignatieff and Honduras" brought nothing to counter the Liberal Party's stance.

I'd say the Party's statement is even less respectful than Harper's. It's somewhat disappointing.

(And, no, I don't plan to check out Jack Layton's or Elizabeth May's positions on the subject.)

I Hate to Have to Do This

Over at The Corner, Professor Stan Liebowitz writes:
The headlines say “job losses decrease” and “unemployment falls.” But these are contradictory statements since any net job losses, even if the number is smaller than the month before, imply a decrease in employment.
Well, to pick a nit, I must disagree with the Professor (noting that he is, no doubt, smarter than me, better at economics than me, and better at math than me).

Stating that "job losses decrease" does not necessarily contradict "employment falls," as neither of these statements explicitly address the creation of new jobs. If you lose 50 000 previously existing jobs, but you gain 100 000 newly created jobs, then in fact, you have both lost jobs and experienced less unemployment.

Now, Professor Liebowitz goes on to state that any net job loss is incongruous with falling unemployment (except when you consider all those poor unemployed souls who gave up looking for a job within the past month, and are, thus, no longer officially unemployed), and, in the context of the current economic climate, I'll agree (though this does not take into account retirees, but let's ignore them for now).

Still, the reason I feel that it is important to note this is that numbers and math are thrown around a lot in the news... and very often carelessly. I would prefer that the good professor not fall into that trap.

...especially when the point of his post was to decry the innumeracy of much of the media.

"You too, snitchy."

(Note: I know, I know; I'm late to the game on this one. I started working on this post last week, but life has gotten in the way.)

It looks like Obama's White House has set up a, er, email address, just in case you felt like ratting out anyone who sent you an email about health care reform that contradicted the administration's talking points.

At The American Scene, Alan Jacobs has this post and this post addressing the situation. His posts and the associated comments are worth the read (well, most of the comments are). There's lots of people decrying this development, and there's lots of people saying there's no there there. Professor Jacobs identifies what is likely the most reasonable sort of response:
Well, Alan, I hardly think we’re in for another Night of the Long Knives or a re-run of the McCarthy era — that’s not what you’re suggesting, is it? — but that really wasn’t the smartest thing for the White House staff to say. They should have known that a request to report to the White House anything “fishy” was bound to get spun as the first steps towards totalitarianism.
Anyway, here's what the original White House blog post says:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
The White House certainly made a mistake initiating this, but there can't really be much malice behind it. It's not as if Obama's people have made a habit of this sort of activity.

I mean, it's not like they've ever set up an online propaganda tool to try to avoid political debate... oh wait.

Okay, I know, everyone propagandizes a bit, but it's not like they've ever sent out talking points and marching orders to try to get people to bully and silence political opponents... oh wait.

Well, astroturfing isn't great, but it's not like they'd ever try to get the Department of Justice to silence political opponents... oh wait.

Granted, that one's bad, but it's not like they actually got law enforcement officers to form truth squads in order to 'dispel' misinformation... oh wait.

Let it be clear that I do not think that the United States is lurching towards 1984, or facing some new form of neo-McCarthy-ism, but it is unsettling that the "leader of the free world" seems to have insufficient regard for freedom of speech. Barack Obama's history does not afford him much benefit of the doubt (if any). A former constitutional law professor and Harvard Law Review editor should better understand why it is incredibly inappropriate for the President (or his agents) to set up this sort of snitching system. Of course, professors and "experts" often disappoint me.

Byron York at The Washington Examiner presents us with a new wrinkle to this story (H/T: Jonah Goldberg):
In addition, the lawyers say the collected emails likely will be covered by the Presidential Records Act, which requires the White House to preserve and maintain its records for permanent storage in a government database. Phillips' request suggests that whatever information the White House receives on health-care reform "disinformation" will be used to further the goal of passing a national health-care makeover, which is, of course, one of the president's main policy initiatives. Such material, and whatever the White House does with it, would qualify as presidential records. Only after more than a decade would such records be publicly available.
So, they will not only keep tabs on those spreading 'misinformation', but also those helpful souls who forward the information to I'm glad to see they've taken the Rev. Lovejoy approach to policing:
Lovejoy: I know one of you is responsible for this. So repeat after me: If I withhold the truth, may I go straight to Hell where I will eat naught but burning hot coals and drink naught but burning hot cola –
[all the kids recite in unison]
Ralph: [scared] …where fiery demons will punch me in the back,
Bart: [bored] …where my soul will be chopped into confetti and be strewn upon a parade of murderers and single mothers,
Milhouse: …where my tongue will be torn out by ravenous birds.
[a crow outside looks right at him an squawks]
Bart did it! That Bart right there!
Bart: [angry] Milhouse!
Lovejoy: Milhouse, you did the right thing. Bart, come with me for punishment. [goes back for Milhouse] You too, snitchy.
Thankfully, all this talk about keeping lists gives me a reason to post one of my favourite Saturday Night Live commercials:

In case the video doesn't work, here's the transcript:

- A Tradition of Excellence -

On Wall Street, Trendy investment fads have come and gone over the
years, but not at Grayson Moorhead, where we've always stuck to the
basic principles set forth by Arthur Grayson nearly 80 years ago.

Arthur Grayson:
Our clients must be our first priority.

- The Tradition Endures -

We will take our client's money and invest it. Part of the profit
we will keep for ourselves; the rest we will give to the client.

- A Tradition of Security -

We will make a list of our clients and how much money each of them
has given us to invest. We will keep this list in a safe place. If
we have time we will make a copy of the list in case something happens
to the first list.

- A Tradition of Listening -

Listen to your client. It's the only way to know what he's saying.

- A Tradition of Trust -

If a client is talking and you're not listening and he notices and
he accuses you of not listening, just say, "Sure I've been listening,
I've heard every word you've said." If he then says, "All right, tell
me what I've been talking about," just say, "You've been talking about
your investments. Which stocks to buy and so on." That way the client
will think you've been listening even though you haven't.

- A Tradition of Integrity -

We will invest only in white-owned businesses.

- Not all of Arthur Grayson's principles are followed today, but at
Grayson Moorhead we still believe in the basics. -

Don't leave the client's money lying around. Keep it in a safe place.
For example: where we keep the list.

- To Arthur Grayson, there was no substitute for knowing the market. -

Clients will rely on us for market expertise. If the day ever comes
when a client knows more about the market than we do, copy him. Do
what he does.

- Writing Brokers' Names on Slips of Paper -

Once a year, we will write each broker's name on a slip of paper and
then place the slips in a hat. Each broker will then draw a slip of
paper from the hat. He will buy a gift for the broker whose name he
his drawn. He will be that broker's Secret Santa.

- Drawing Again -

If a broker draws his own name from the hat, he will draw again.

- Taking Special Care -

We must take special care of the list with each client's name and the
amount of money he has invested. If we were to lose that list, we
would be ruined.

- If My Wife Calls -

If my wife calls white I'm in shagging my secretary, tell her I'm
at a board meeting. That way I'll be able to continue shagging my
secretary without my wife knowing about it.

- the tradition continues... -

If my wife were to find out about me and my secretary; that would be bad.
As bad as losing the list.