Tuesday, 4 December 2007


I leave you this fine evening with a review of Theodore Dalrymple’s new book.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

As a devoted reader who agrees with Paul Krugman 99 percent of the time, I urge him to rethink his stand on health insurance mandates.


¶We mandate car insurance because of the damage a half-ton of hurtling steel can do to others, but we don’t mandate that a car owner insure himself or herself.

¶If health insurance coverage were mandated, it would be like setting up a parallel taxation. While a single-payer system would be far more efficient, it now seems even more unattainable.

¶If Senator Barack Obama points out why Republicans will defeat the plans of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton or John Edwards, he’s not “echoing right-wing talking points” but rather anticipating Republican criticisms.

We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, particularly when perfect will be defeated. Good policy is useless if it’s also bad politics.

Mr. Krugman’s policy recommendations may have some merit, but his political advice, in this case, is flawed.

Peter Quince
Ashland, Ore., Nov. 30, 2007

Note from KBJ: Your health is not my responsibility.


Will Nehs has some advice for Barack Obama: Wear a cup.

Addendum: Given how acrimonious and personal the battle between Hillary and Obama has become, there is no chance in hell that they will form the Democrat ticket. This is good for conservatives, for the two of them will not hold back in their criticism of (read “attacks on”) each other. There is already a great deal of dirt on Hillary. Imagine how much there will be by the time Obama gets done with her.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then Jimmy Carter was our best president.

Addendum: Check out this live version of “Cliffs of Dover.” Here is the studio version.

A Modest Proposal

Someone (was it Will Nehs?) suggested a one-on-one debate format. I like the idea. Take the top four Democrat presidential candidates. Candidate 1 and candidate 2 have a two-hour televised discussion, during which they ask each other questions. The following week, candidates 3 and 4 do the same. There would be six discussions: 1 & 2, 1 & 3, 1 & 4, 2 & 3, 2 & 4, 3 & 4. No journalists; no stupid YouTube videos; no live audience; no rules. Just a two-hour, free-wheeling discussion. Which topics the candidates choose to discuss will itself give the American people a sense of who the candidates are and what they believe and value. The Republicans could do the same, for a total of 12 discussions. The whole process would take three months. Can you imagine anything more productive, interesting, and useful? But that pretty much sinks it, doesn’t it?

Politics and Human Nature

Human beings are complicated. They yearn for both solidarity and liberty. They want to be part of something larger than themselves, yet insist on being viewed as individuals. If you doubt me, look at teenagers. They dress alike, talk alike, and act alike. But each wants to stand out. Kids who must wear uniforms to school find ways to express their individuality, even if it’s something as simple as rolling up their sleeves. Because people value more than one thing, they create different types of political system. The United States emphasizes individual liberty, but other nations emphasize solidarity or security or equality. This op-ed column by Bret Stephens is a sobering reminder to Americans that not all people want our cluster of goods. Some want more security than we have, even if it means giving up liberty. I’m glad I’m an American. I was born at the best time in the best place. Then again, if I had been born and reared in some other country, maybe I’d feel differently. What do you think?


The long hot summer
Is now but a memory
Cool dry autumn air

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John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography, Paragraph 25

It is evident that this, among many other of the purposes of my father’s scheme of education, could not have been accomplished if he had not carefully kept me from having any great amount of intercourse with other boys. He was earnestly bent upon my escaping not only the ordinary corrupting influence which boys exercise over boys, but the contagion of vulgar modes of thought and feeling; and for this he was willing that I should pay the price of inferiority in the accomplishments which schoolboys in all countries chiefly cultivate. The deficiencies in my education were principally in the things which boys learn from being turned out to shift for themselves, and from being brought together in large numbers. From temperance and much walking, I grew up healthy and hardy, though not muscular; but I could do no feats of skill or physical strength, and knew none of the ordinary bodily exercises. It was not that play, or time for it, was refused me. Though no holidays were allowed, lest the habit of work should be broken, and a taste for idleness acquired, I had ample leisure in every day to amuse myself; but as I had no boy companions, and the animal need of physical activity was satisfied by walking, my amusements, which were mostly solitary, were in general of a quiet, if not a bookish turn, and gave little stimulus to any other kind even of mental activity than that which was already called forth by my studies: I consequently remained long, and in a less degree have always remained, inexpert in anything requiring manual dexterity; my mind as well as my hands, did its work very lamely when it was applied, or ought to have been applied, to the practical details which, as they are the chief interest of life to the majority of men, are also the things in which whatever mental capacity they have, chiefly shows itself: I was constantly meriting reproof by inattention, inobservance, and general slackness of mind in matters of daily life. My father was the extreme opposite in these particulars: his senses and mental faculties were always on the alert; he carried decision and energy of character in his whole manner and into every action of life: and this, as much as his talents, contributed to the strong impression which he always made upon those with whom he came into personal contact. But the children of energetic parents, frequently grow up unenergetic, because they lean on their parents, and the parents are energetic for them. The education which my father gave me, was in itself much more fitted for training me to know than to do. Not that he was unaware of my deficiencies; both as a boy and as a youth I was incessantly smarting under his severe admonitions on the subject. There was anything but insensibility or tolerance on his part towards such shortcomings: but, while he saved me from the demoralizing effects of school life, he made no effort to provide me with any sufficient substitute for its practicalizing influences. Whatever qualities he himself, probably, had acquired without difficulty or special training, he seems to have supposed that I ought to acquire as easily. He had not, I think, bestowed the same amount of thought and attention on this, as on most other branches of education; and here, as well as in some other points of my tuition, he seems to have expected effects without causes.

Note from KBJ: This paragraph shows, as clearly as anything could, that in life generally, and not just in specialized contexts such as economics, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. To cultivate his son’s mind, James Mill had to let his son‘s body and spirit atrophy. There simply isn’t enough time in a day to cultivate all three aspects of the self, at least to the extent that James wanted his son’s mind cultivated. To be honest, I’d rather have less mental cultivation and more cultivation of the other sorts. In fact, I can’t imagine a better childhood than the one I actually had, and it wasn’t planned by my parents in any way (so far as I know). I cultivated my mind by reading and by being an attentive student; I cultivated my body by playing outdoors, participating in organized sports, and doing chores; and I cultivated my spirit by listening to and playing music (among other things). If you told me, now, that I could trade the childhood I had for the one Mill had, I’d respectfully decline. Having said that, I should point out that my practical skills are not much better developed than Mill’s were! I come from a family of handymen, but when it comes to household maintenance, I’m a klutz.

A Year Ago