American Elephants

Did You Ever Stop to Consider the Differences Between Fact and Opinion And Why it Seems So Hard to Find the Truth? by The Elephant's Child

Daniel Boorstin was an American historian at the University of Chicago, who became Librarian of Congress in 1975 and served for the next 12 years. He was a prolific author and was awarded most of the prizes ever offered to authors, the Pulitzer, Bancroft, National Book Award for Nonfiction and National Book award for History. The book I have in hand is Democracy and its Discontents, and he writes of odd things like: what is Opinion, and do we have too much of it.? To which a good many people would immediately shout “Yes!”

But that’s not really true because we are constantly looking for more opinion, but we’d prefer some that agrees with us. And opinion has taken something of a nasty turn in the wake of the “can you top this” leftist hatred of Donald Trump. Boorstin begins, “in the beginning “opinion” was a synonym for uncertainty—for a notion grounded in personal preference (rather than fact)”

Until the rise and triumph of liberalism in Europe, “opinion” was closely identified with error, and to say that something was “mere opinion” was a way of saying the notion was hardly worth taking account of.

Then, by the late eighteenth century, when representative government, Protestantism and modern liberalism had taken firm root in Western Europe, “Opinion” acquired different overtones. “Opinion ” was frequently qualified by such words as common, general, or public, and shifted from its uncertainty or error-prone quality to something else—to its power. Here was a hint, too—in the age of the Baron de Montesquieu, David Hume,Adam Smith, and Edward Gibbon—a hint of the rise of the new social sciences, which were less intent on moralizing than on describing the forces at work in society. Gibbon, for example in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, traced the currents of public opinion as forces in ancient history. In that descriptive age, writers began to characterize this force as if it were something newly discovered and perhaps only recently created. Accordingly, Christof Wieland, the German man of letters, in 1798 wrote that public opinion was

oo0an opinion that gradually takes root among a whole people:  oooespecially among those who have the most influence when they ooowork together as a group. In this way it wins the upper hand to
ooosuch an extent that one meets it everywhere. It is an opinion that ooowithout being noticed takes possession of most heads, and even
oooin situations where it does not dare express itself out loud it can be ooorecognized by a louder and louder muffled murmur. It then only ooorequires some small opening that will allow it air, and it will break   oooout with force. Then it can change whole nations in a brief time and ooogive whole parts of the world a new configuration.

I had never stopped to consider “opinion” as a separate entity, for today the “news” and “opinion” are mostly one and the same thing. Yet often what we search for are “facts”– something solid, proved to be true. And so we have “fact checkers” whom we cannot depend upon anyway, because what they say has probably been politicized. Boorstin died in 2004 at the age of 96, but I wonder what he would say about opinion today.

With the proliferation of websites, blogs, social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and all the others, and space offered on most websites to comment on the opinions featured, and on the opinions offered in other peoples comments – there’s a lot of opinion out there, much of it vulgar, scatological and insulting. I do read comments, and I’m often startled by the public fury, and the need to give the worst possible insult to a stranger. I’m troubled by a lot of it, of the Nazi, racist, sexist, white supremacist type, and a little puzzled by those who take such violent, vulgar exception to what a stranger thinks in a country where free speech is treasured.

The Newest Dietary Advice — Bacon and Eggs Are Good For You! by The Elephant's Child


After a major rant about the “food police,” perhaps I should revisit the reason why I rant. Reposted from May of this year.

All those things the federal government told you that you must not eat—nevermind! Butter is fine; bacon is good; steak—wonderful if you can afford the rapidly climbing price; cheese, salami, hamburger, great. Ice cream— fine; nuts, hot dogs and fried chicken all o.k.. It’s the complex carbohydrates that trigger the release of insulin. A high fat diet has been shown to be better for you, and we have been in error about shifting our diets so dramatically away from meat, dairy and cheese, shifting our calories to carbohydrates instead. For breakfast, instead of oatmeal go for bacon, eggs, sausage and whole fat yogurt.

We have recently learned that those vitamin pills we scarf down in hopes of health don’t do a lick of good, and we should save our money.

Organic foods only advantage is that they are usually about 30% more expensive. They are not more nutritious, nor better for you in any way. They are still grown with pesticides— just “natural” ones like those made from pyrethrums (very poisonous). The term “organic” is merely a marketing ploy, and farmers agree to use all “natural’ stuff like manure in growing their crops—which take about a third more land to grow.

Like most other things, the government doesn’t know best about what you should eat or what your children should eat. Michelle Obama’s decree about what children should eat in the National School Lunch Program is leaving kids hungry, angry, and with dumpsters full of rejected food. More than 500 schools have pulled out of the federal lunch program as a result of the Obama regulations. Kids have taken to Twitter to post photos of the meager burgers on sorry buns and sorry little skim milk cartons, mystery meat, and a few straggly cheese shreds on a massive tortilla. Schools are losing money on the program.

Mrs. Obama was surely well-intentioned, but dependent on the ideas that carbs were good, meat and cheese should be limited, fruit is always good and cherry tomatoes and catsup are excellent vegetables. But a healthy lunch remains what Mrs. Obama says it is so far.

And all the gluten-free stuff? You don’t need that unless you have coeliac disease. Feel better now?

Farm Kids v. Labor Department. Kids Won. by The Elephant's Child

An article appeared in the Daily Caller about the Obama administration proposal to prevent farm children from doing anything that might be dangerous, like doing farm chores. That had been revised down to not doing chores anywhere but on their parent’s property. City newspapers didn’t notice, but the proposal, in all its variations, struck a sour note in farm country. The general response could be described as — “Are they nuts?”

The best thing for the children of America would be to spend some time on American farms and doing farm chores. When I was growing up rural, we often got a high school age kid from a disgruntled city parent, with the request to place him on a ranch to work for the summer, so he could learn some life lessons.

Child labor laws were passed in the U.S. starting in 1916, but were not firmly established until the Great Depression. The Fair Labor Standards Act placed limits on many forms of child labor. According to Wikipedia, Human Rights Watch in a 2009 petition claimed:

Hundreds of thousands of children are employed as farmworkers in the United States, often working 10 or more hours a day. They are often exposed to dangerous pesticides, experience high rates of injury, and suffer fatalities at five times the rate of other working youth. Their long hours contribute to alarming drop-out rates. Government statistics show that barely half ever finish high school. According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the United States. However, current US child labor laws allow child farmworkers to work longer hours, at younger ages, and under more hazardous conditions than other working youths. While children in other sectors must be 12 to be employed and cannot work more than 3 hours on a school day, in agriculture, children can work at age 12 for unlimited hours before and after school.”

This may be true for migrant farm workers, but applied to all rural children on all American farms — it is ridiculous. It may have helped some children who were forced to work, but was tough on thousands of children who no longer got to pick berries or apples.

But the Daily Caller piece was this morning. This afternoon, the Labor Department withdrew their “proposed rule dealing with children who work in agricultural vocations. The withdrawal statement was interesting as well. AllahPundit at Hot Air contributed an alternate headline:

Obama administration decides against picking pointless, hugely politically perilous fight in election year.

The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.

As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.

The decision to withdraw this rule,  including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption,’ was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.

Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H  to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.

The press release apparently said: “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.” (translation,Hot Air added: please forget this).

Sentenced to Death on the National Health Service. by The Elephant's Child

Today’s  headline reads:  “Sentenced to death on the NHS: Patients with terminal illnesses are being made to die prematurely under an NHS scheme to help end their lives, leading doctors warn today.”

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

But this approach can also mask the signs that their condition is improving, the experts warn.

This is Britain’s National Health Service.  Somebody said something about “Death Panels,” and I hasten to add that the words “Death Panel” do not appear in the U.S. House Bill 3200.

They don’t need to appear in the bill.  Bureaucratic control of what treatment you may have already appears in H.R. 1, The Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the Stimulus Bill which contains $1.1 billion to fund the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research.  This was the brain child of former Health and Human Services Nominee Tom Daschle.

Well, of course Tom Daschle had tax problems and lobbyist problems and did not become Secretary of HHS; but he did venture that health-care reform “will not be pain free.”  Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them.

President Obama’s chief medical adviser is now Ezekiel Emanuel M.D., the brother of the President’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.  Both Tom Daschle and Dr. Emanuel are very interested in the fact that costs at the end of life are especially high (perhaps because people are often near the end of life because they are ill).  Young, healthy people don’t make such demands on a health care system.  Which is the kind of observation that people who are more interested in statistics than in human beings are apt to make.

In the British National Health Service (NHS), a government agency approves only those expensive treatments that add at least one Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) per £30,000 (about $49,685) of additional health-care spending.  If a treatment costs more per QALY, the health service will not pay for it.

Dr. Emanuel is a bioethicist.  He has written extensively about who should get medical care, who should decide, and whose life is worth saving.  Dr. Emanuel is also a communitarian. He belongs to a school of thought that redefines a physicians’ duty, believing that it means working for the greater good of society rather than focusing on an individual patient’s needs.  Many physicians find this view dangerous.

According the Betsy McCaughey, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says Dr. Emanuel said:

Vague promises of savings from cutting waste, enhancing prevention and wellness, installing electronic medical records and improving quality of care are merely “lipstick” cost control, more for show and public relations than for true change.

True reform, he argues, must include redefining doctors’ ethical obligations.  In the June 18, 2008, issue of JAMA, Dr. Emanuel blames the Hippocratic Oath for the “overuse” of medical care. … In numerous writings, Dr. Emanuel chastises physicians for thinking only about their own patient’s needs.

This may be why Dr. Emanuel doesn’t do doctoring, he does thinking about doctoring.

Strict Youngest-first allocation directs scarce resources predominantly to infants.  This approach seems incorrect.  The death of a 20-year-old woman is intuitively worse than that of a 2-month-old girl, even though the baby has had less life.  The 20-year-old has a much more developed personality than the infant, and has drawn upon the investment of others to begin as-yet-unfulfilled projects…  —  Lancet, Vol 373, Jan. 31, 2009.  p. 425

Adolescents have received substantial education and parental care, investments that will be wasted without a complete life.  Infants, by contrast, have not yet received these investments…. It is terrible when an infant dies, but worse, most people think, when a three-year-old child dies, and worse still when an adolescent does.   — Lancet, Vol 373, Jan. 31, 2009, p.428

Comparative Effectiveness Research is designed to have a panel of bureaucrats in Washington decide what treatments are most “effective” by looking at statistics from across the country and send that information to physicians, which doctors will be required to follow.  This ignores the fact that people are not building blocks, all alike, to be moved this way or that.

These may not be “death panels” as such, but they are deciding who gets what treatment, and it is not you and your doctor who would make that decision.  At the very least, it is cold.  Very, very cold, and I want no part of it.

Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty of Just What It’s All About. by The Elephant's Child
August 29, 2009, 2:01 am
Filed under: Economy, Freedom, Health Care | Tags: , ,

The problem with economics is that there is never enough of anything.  Resources are constrained, we can’t have everything, so someone has to make the cost-benefit decision.

Capitalism works by, say, a brand new offering of giant TV screens.  Wow, gorgeous picture.  Real movie theater in your own home, and you don’t even have to pay an exorbitant price for the popcorn.  But the cost!  Everybody wants one, but how long does it take to pay for one and is it worth it?

What usually happens is that those who can easily afford the cost will promptly buy one.  That income to the manufacturer allows the next batch of giant TV screens to be larger and cost a little less.  As quantities grow, the manufacturer can make more money by selling  larger quantities. You make more money by selling 10,000 at $10 profit each than by selling 100 at $100 profit each.  Before too long the price has really come down and way more people can afford to buy one.

Those who rail at the wealthy man who buys the first, highly prized product as being somehow “unfair” are missing the point.  It is the people who are willing to shell out for the originals that make the later low price possible.

Keith Hennessey focuses today on a very basic health care question:  “Who should decide whether additional medical care is worth the cost.” Most of the health care debate boils down to this question. Mr. Hennessey has a wonderful ability to frame questions in a way that makes you think through the problems.  We have to understand the trade-offs and the decisions involved.  His portrayal of the debate is short, but reading the comments  is also useful.  Don’t miss this one!!

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