Thursday, 10 September 2009

Green Day, the English Language, and US Debate

Among other somewhat eccentricities, I'm a fan of the band Green Day. Sort of clashes with my instinctive, right-wing politics and only-feel-comfortable-in-a-suit-at-work personality, but there you have it.

Some years ago, they had a song called "The Grouch," which has catchy riffs and amusing lyrics. Among them, the singers bemoan "Oh my God, I'm turning outlike my dad."

Truer words never were spoken.

My father, who has been gone now for 15 years, used to be somewhat a curmudgeon with respect to the King's English, and most particularly, its grammatical rules. And by "somewhat," I mean that if you dared confuse, e.g., the subjunctive, you would be met with a pained, dismissive stare.

I was thinking of this whilst looking over what passes for a debate about health care reform: the raucous town-hall meetings. The petulance of Nancy Pelosi. President Obama trying to rescue his top domestic policy with a pretty purple speech last night. In all the sturm und drang, the first casualty has been the English language.

What, pray tell, would Professor Higgins, who would have had Eliza Doolittle "taken out and hung (sic)?"

No one seems to know what words mean anymore.

The NYTimes, who have become little more than a lap-dog to the Obama administration, chastise opponents of the President's plan for calling Mr Obama a 'socialist,' saying that there is little resemblance between his plans and the authoritarian raj of the Soviets. Oh, how the mighty have fallen (William Safire is an alum). Surely, they know that socialism is an economic system, and the totalitarian regime of the old Soviets was a governing system. And that ignores the fact that much of our current health care system - Medicare, for example, IS socialist both de facto and de jure.

We have the spectacle of the failed former VP candidate talking about "death panels" when she speaks of the rather mundane task of deciding how scarce resources will be allocated. Whether you know it or not, your insurer, whether private or public, makes decisions every year about what treatments it will re-imburse and what treatments it will not, using cost effectiveness models. Surely, as a Republican, Mrs. Palin understands that the allocation of finite resources to attempt to cover infinite demand is the very definition of economics.

And finally, we have the President of the US and too many others talking about getting "insurance" to cover "pre-existing conditions." Now, the term "pre-existing conditions" is itself so Orwellian as to conjure up an image of a boot stomping on a human face forever, but that's only half the whopper here.

In point of fact, you cannot buy "insurance" to cover a condition you already have. Insurance is a bet that you make, against yourself, that something is going to happen. You make your wager in the form of a premium, and if, by God by grace, you get sick, THEN you collect. The premium is a fraction of what the cost of treatment will be, and you are able to do this because you are pooling your risk. If 100 people pay the premium, perhaps one will "win" the bet.

Buying "insurance" for an illness you have is about the same thing as walking into a casino, sitting at the roulette table, watching the ball land in red 26, and then asking to be allowed to put a bet down on red 26.

That isn't insurance; that is welfare.

All in all, our "leaders" (hmmm, am I guilty, too?) are betting on the fact that the average man on the street is simply too dim to catch the abuse.

A bet that, to paraphrase Mencken, is a sure thing.
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