Sunday, August 27, 2006

Dead Meat

A lot of Europeans often go on and on about how much better healthcare systems are around here: they are so much more equitable as they are free and universal, while in the US, which is barbaric and inhumane, people die on the street and are turned away from emergency rooms if they do not have a credit card.
That's clearly a load of tosh. European healthcare systems are obviously not free, and as far as I know people are not turned away from emergency rooms in the US. Additionally European-style socialized systems also tend to be extremely inefficient. This creates somewhat hidden discrimination in two respects:
  • If you are relatively healthy you get all the care you need but as soon as something serious crops up things often go pear-shaped, and at that point,
  • If you are rich you can afford to go private (either at home or abroad), but if you're not you are as likely as not going to be stuck in a sometimes fatal waiting list.
I don't doubt that the US system needs to be reformed, but at least the inequalities of the US system (which are much less pronounced than what most Europeans would like to think) are transparent and recognize a reality which Europe has simply swept under the carpet.
For instance a while back, in Italy, my 83-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer (after various misdiagnoses), and was put on a waiting list of several months to get the operation needed to remove the tumor. The wait would in all probability have been fatal. As she could afford it she paid for the necessary procedure and did it immediately as a private patient, and now, thank God, it seems the issue has been resolved conclusively. In this respect I highly recommend watching a tragi-comic preview of an upcoming documentary, entitled Dead Meat. The producers say:
Dead Meat is a 25 minute short film which shows the reality of health care under Canada's socialized medical system: Canadians wait ... and wait ... and wait. ... And sometimes they die while waiting for free government health care.

The filmmakers are currently in production on a feature-length film addressing health care in the U.S. and Canada slated for release in late 2006. As an interim offering, they have produced this short film which debuted at the Liberty Film Festival in West Hollywood, CA on Oct 21, 2005.
Many Canadians who have never been really sick are supportive of their system. In fact, the system caters to the healthy majority with free primary care doctor appointments, flu shots, etc. while depriving the truly sick - often the elderly - of timely medical treatment that is often more expensive. Political expediency dictates that health care dollars are spent where the votes are: the healthy majority - while across Canada, hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people quietly languish in pain in their homes on long waiting lists for treatment.
Certainly there are pockets of excellence in the Canadian health care system - and not everyone waits. If a person is in the process of having a heart attack, they get immediate treatment. However, any treatment deemed 'elective' - meaning that possible death is not imminent - often entails a wait. Cancer biopsies, MRI scans, heart bypasses, cataract operations, and hip replacements all involve lengthy waits for many Canadians.
Please watch it! It is truly compelling. Incredibly there are still people who find something to brag about when comparing universal public healthcare to the US system. I wonder what these people would consider a failure...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is the electric car back?

Despite my profound indifference towards cars (and racing cars in particular), based on what I have read about it, I am quite excited about the prospected Tesla Roadster. Wired magazine enthusiastically reports:
The trick? The Tesla Roadster is powered by 6,831 rechargeable lithium-ion batteries -- the same cells that run a laptop computer. Range: 250 miles. Fuel efficiency: 1 to 2 cents per mile. Top speed: more than 130 mph. The first cars will be built at a factory in England and are slated to hit the market next summer. And Tesla Motors, Eberhard's company, is already gearing up for a four-door battery-powered sedan.
Now someone from Popular Mechanics (via Instapundit) has tried driving it and seems to be equally delighted.

As I am both an oil hawk and care about the environment, this seems to be an excellent development, particularly in the face of those who inanely claim that to save the planet we must go back to live like they did in the Stone Age.
In an interesting and thorough article that appeared in the September 2005 issue of Commentary (requires subs.; see free version here), the authors of The Bottomless Well come to the following conclusion:
The trick, then, is to figure out how best to collapse our bipolar energy economy into a single market, one in which non-oil fuels can more readily substitute for oil. Happily, we are already well on the way. During the crunch of 1979-85, utilities in the U.S. quickly shifted away from oil; today we depend on it for just 3 percent of our electric power. The huge opportunity ahead is to use electricity—and thus coal and uranium, principally—to displace still more oil. Doing this will depend on the price of oil, which we cannot control; on the price of electricity, which we can; and on the evolution of technology that will bridge the divide.
Do read the whole thing. The Tesla Roadster, and the technical specs it vaunts, particularly when adapted to more functional models (as seems to be the plan), increasingly looks like a significant step towards "collapsing our bipolar energy economy into a single market." After many false starts, and decades of work, it seems the time of the functional electric car has finally come...

Biased, as usual

It is truly a pity that Amnesty Interantional and Human Rights Watch have come to represent the positions of the international far Left, often abandoning any objectivity and therefore significantly damaging their effectiveness (and usefulness).
According to the Financial Times:
Amnesty International says attacks on civilian targets by Israeli military forces during the recently ended fighting in Lebanon look like deliberate war crimes.
In a report released on Wednesday, the London-based human rights organisation argues that the destruction of Lebanese homes and basic infrastructure "was an integral part of the military strategy".
Noting violations by both sides, Amnesty says it has asked the United Nations to open a "comprehensive, independent and impartial inquiry" about the 34-day war between Israel and the Lebanese-based Hizbollah militia.
David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy (via Instapundit) illustrates the absurdities of the report and also of the positions of HRW’s director, Kenneth Roth:
The idea that a country at war can't attack the enemy's resupply routes (at least until it has direct evidence that there is a particular military shipment arriving) has nothing to do with human rights or war crimes, and a lot to do with a pacifist attitude that seeks to make war, regardless of the justification for it or the restraint in prosecuting it [at least if it's a Western country doing it], an international "crime."
I also have to question the "high number of civilian casualties" that Amnesty is reportedly relying on. Any innocent civilian death are tragic, but 1,000 or so (alleged, we don't really know) civilians in a month of urban warfare against an enemy that based itself in the middle of cities and villages hardly seems excessive by any objective standard. The idea that Israel deliberately targeted civilians should be self-refuting to anyone with common sense, given the low level of casualties relative to the destructive power of the Israeli air force.
According to Roth's logic, Israel can only retaliate if it's retaliation will cost no more civilian lives in Gaza or Lebanon than would be caused by the terrorists if Israel didn't try to stop them. This is a formula that would paralyze not only Israel, but the U.S., Russian, India, and any other country that feels the need to pursue a military response to terrorism. Surely, the Allied forces inadvertantly killed more Afghan civilians than the number of Westerners likely at immediate risk from Al Qaeda and the Taliban! The type of "international law" and "human rights" activism that Roth and co. represent is scrupulously amoral in failing to consider that the aggressor should be held responsible for the deaths on both sides, as you can't expect any nation to allow its civilians to be attacked and not retaliate militarily.
Do read the whole thing, which mentions some other interesting points. One of the commenters mentions a short article in Capitalism Magazine (whose brashness I often find deliciously refreshing), which puts things in a, er, slightly different perspective from AI and HRW:
The primary purpose and moral obligation of any legitimate government is to protect the lives and rights of its own citizens. Hezbollah, a military wing of the Islamic dictatorship of Iran, had been explicit in its desire to destroy Israel and had been preparing to do so for the last several years from inside Lebanon, but Israel’s government did virtually nothing to pre-empt the recent attack.
When Hezbollah attacked, Israel significantly dampened its response in order to minimize the killing of "Lebanese civilians," thereby allowing many Hezbollah terrorists to live and kill Israelis. It was immoral for Israel's government to sacrifice a single Israeli soldier or civilian to save the lives of those Lebanese civilians who chose to remain in a region occupied years earlier by a terrorist organization.
Also see here, where this subject is expanded on. I had to almost laugh out loud as I was contemplating what the general reaction would be if this were the kind of strong condemnation of the Israeli government Amnesty and HRW felt impelled to make...

Post Scriptum:
I see that Instapundit has linked to an excellent Steven Den Beste post from 2003 which takes a more in-depth look at the faults and biases of Amnesty International and HRW. Do read the whole thing.

Post Scriptum II:
And the hits keep on coming!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to work

Despite appearances I have not dropped off the face of the planet: I have just gotten back from a rather long vacation (which was preceded by some busy times at work).
I had quite a lot of fun, by the way. First I visited my grandmother at her vacation home on the Adriatic coast, between Ancona and Pescara. A few friends of mine came along and we had a relaxing time. Her front yard opens directly on the beach (which, how shall I put it, is incredibly convenient) and she is an outstanding cook, which makes her especially popular amongst my friends... After that I visited my other grandparents in Trieste (which is where I grew up) for a weekend, and then joined the rest of my family on a small, quaint island in Croatia (called Ilovik), which is where my parents vacation quite regularly.
Nonetheless I was really happy to get back the other day, to the hustle and bustle of London, to the familiar comforts of my house and to regular phone and internet access...