From the monthly archives: "February 2013"
  • ob2Horrible hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham says that “we” have killed 4700 people with drone strikes. 
  • Said Obama on February 4: “weapons of war have no place on our streets.” Said the internet…
  • Neither Obama nor Jeffrey Tucker said this, but it is still beautiful.
  • This year in Students for Liberty booing awful Stossel guest: Ann Coulter! She believes that libertarians care about the drug war in order to “suck up to… liberals.” See the next bullet point for important liberals mostly don’t give a shit news!
  • Okay, but before that there is important beard news.
  • I don’t really suggest that all white people run around calling other people people their “nigga,” but I still dislike the tone of this Jezebel blog. Lena Dunham had no obligation to respond to this this “thing,” but she did it in a classy fashion. Probably don’t call everyone “nigga,” but also, blog about something else. Say, how about the drug war, progressives who seem to care a lot about race?. Except not that, because then there are so many awkward moments what with the fawning over Obama thing that Jezebel just can’t stop doing.
  • Yes, this is infowars, but it’s a mostly-credible follow-up to Mike Riggs’ Reason blog on horrifying police practice targets.
  • Cato’s new map of defensive gun use incidents
  • Go whine about it on “The Facebook.” [H/T: Bruce Majors]
  • Not everyone was down with prohibition, you’ll be shocked to learn.
  • “Cows in Pants”
  • My cousins and I already invented Choose Your Own Glorious Adventure To Celebrate the Party, Comrade. That was, however, 2008, in Montana, and only in our imaginations. Jesse Walker notes that someone else has had a similar idea
  • Rookie mag, I adore you, and I adore the idea of a “too painful to listen to anymore” song playlist. But, people, one of those songs is “Butterfly” by Crazytown. “Butterfly.” Look, I kind of enjoy like six Taylor Swift songs. Whatever floats your boat or breaks your heart, but holy shit, “Butterfly” by Crazytown. I need a moment to stop laughing.
  • I am going to see La Plebe tonight in San Francisco. This is what it looked like when I saw them open for Jello Biafra in San Francisco in 2010.

Steven Brill rolled out an 11-part epic in Time to break the news to us that the U.S. health care system sucks.

In just 20,000 words, Brill supplied repeated examples of hospital CEOs who make 7-figure salaries (that’s 1 million or more for us 5-figure proles). And he provided countless examples of  poor citizen schmoes who went broke beyond measuring because they had to pay the list prices of things like cancer cures or hospital blood work out of their own pockets, not the pockets of their fellow citizens (Medicare).

I read Brill’s tome, and so did Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, who discussed it — and came to the predictable conclusion that Brill’s “brilliant” work was ultimately a flop because he didn’t come to the predictable liberal conclusion: Which, as all brainwashed Slate readers know, is that we need still more government in government health care.

Yglesias, who impersonates an economist in his blog MoneyBox, complains that Brill didn’t explain why medical costs are so high. Then Yglesias proceeds not to explain why, either. Hilariously, studpidly, he says the solutions to high health care costs are either universal care (Medicare) or price controls.

I didn’t pick on Yglesias, because he’s a person who writes about economics without knowing anything about how economics works. But here’s what I wrote about Brill’s piece to Slate:

Brill’s Time piece was lousy journalism. He took 11 parts to redundantly/repetitively prove that the health care system is horrible. Consumers and taxpayers get screwed. Doctors and hospital czars have obscene salaries and drug companies make huge profits and buy off politicians to write laws that make health care the bloated, wasteful criminal enterprise it is. He proves that health care is not a free market. But he never talks about/explains why it’s not a real market: It’s because government regs and mandates and subsidies and distortions make a real market impossible. Prices are meaningless and impossible to determine or know by consumers who don’t pay them anyway. Could Brill or his editors have not found half a part of his epic to address the idiocy and damage done by third-party payment schemes? (Send my bill for my new knee to those nice taxpayers in Nebraska and Iowa, please, and make sure I get the most expensive new knee medicine can provide.) Plus, how about the effect on prices of our sacred-cow doctor cartel/union, which uses government laws and licensing to keep the number of doctors down and their fat salaries up (and often obscene). It also would have been nice if somewhere in those 11 parts Brill had found a few paragraphs to bring forth an economist (not Paul Krugman) or free-market health care wonks like John Goodman (not the corpulent actor) or Regina Herzlinger of Harvard to explain why and how government (and political) intervention makes a free market in health care impossible. Has anyone not noticed that when governments run things or design things they are always costly and irrational and backward, plus they suck? Our financial crisis. Our war in Afghanistan. Our Post Office? Our war on _____. If we had government Autocare, we’d have millionaire auto mechanics, $20,000 front-end alignments and no one could afford car insurance or repairs unless they were dirt poor or stinking rich. We’d also have the same idiots calling for universal Autocare because of “market failure.”

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2013/02/20/sound-off-are-medical-bills-too-high-tell-us-why/#ixzz2LfgcdWRN

557796_10150978453319886_2000035062_nYesterday afternoon my Aunt Soozy demonstrated heroic effort in order to find me a 3G-able phone spot so I could do a HuffPost Live segment on kids today and big government. We were, I might add, wandering through Northern California’s Avenue of the Giants (redwoods!) when I got the very last-minute email. But hurray, hurrah technology! It worked, thanks to my new phone!

Also present for the satisfyingly shouty encounter was Reason 24/7’s Jerry Tuccille, who I have never met in real life, but is clearly a dear human, based solely on internet interactions and conference calls quips. After I hung up I realized that the token lefty (yes, she was outnumbered, with two libertarians, one conservative  and a seemingly conservative host! So strange, that.) had been none other than Moe Tkacik, long ago of Jezebel when it was better, and more recently of this libertarian-frenzy-inducing Gawker hit piece on Dorian Eletra, the maker of everyone’s second favorite song about Hayek (and there’s really no shame in second place, mind). So that was bizarre.

Still, it worked. I, as a Hit and Run commenter helpfully noted, botched the first question (and I have never been given the first question on anything!) for which the host read an idiotic quote by an Alternet writer full of every libertarian slur-cliche possible. But it — and I — got better, more comfortable, and more argumentative as it went on. Of course, Jerry tended to just underline my stammering points by being more articulate  but the winner there was liberty, dammit.

Watch away, lovely readers. I would have combed my hair a little, but the aim is to be Moynihan on camera. Still working on that.

I don’t get too many emails about my expose of Steinbeck and my debunking of “Travels With Charley,”  but most of them are pretty smart and supportive.

Then I get really silly/dumb emails like this one:

“You sad, sad man. Why couldn’t you leave it alone AND us with our reading pleasure ?  What’s next, the REAL invasion of Poland or the TRUE story of the Omaha Beach landing? It’s history and doesn’t need the bones laid bare.”

I hope this is from a 12-year-old, but if not, here’s my annoyed response.

“Perhaps you don’t mind if famous writers make up books and pass them off as true accounts; perhaps you don’t think there’s anything wrong about a major publisher, Viking Press, making tens of millions of dollars selling a book under false pretenses; perhaps you would rather remain ignorant of the truth about “Charley” so that you can continue to believe your romantic notions about a book that is not only full of fictions and lies but is not a very good book; I’m a journalist who set out on a mission to faithfully retrace Steinbeck’s route but quickly learned that his book was mostly fiction and a lot of carefully crafted lies. There’s nothing sad about what I did or who I am. In the real world, this is what honest journalists do — follow the facts as they find them/see them and report the results honestly. If you can’t take the truth on this silly book like a man/woman, what do you do when you find out the truth about things that matter. Unless you’re about 12, I’d say it’s time to grow up.”

 

 

I have an obvious interest in reading what Amazon’s readers have thought of “Blue Highways” and “Travels With Charley.”

Most people liked “Blue Highways.” I thought it was pretty good — much better than “Charley” — though the first time I picked it up 20 years ago I couldn’t get through more than 30 pages.

After I forced myself to read “BH” in 2010 as prep for my road trip, however, I changed my tune.

William Least Heat-Moon, who is really English prof William Trogdon and is only about 1/16th more Indian than I am, is a fine writer and good journalist with superior descriptive abilities and the ability to meet regular people and capture their charms.

Trogdon, naturally, given his profession, carried the usual East Coast left-liberal baggage with him on his late 1970s road trip — America was too commercialized, homogenized, franchised, etc., etc.  If his book wasn’t excerpted in the New Yorker, it should have been.

Overall, I’d give  “Blue Highways” four stars on Amazon’s rating scale. But my favorite review is this great hatchet job from 2000 by “A Customer”:

12 of 74 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer

(Make that star rating up there NEGATIVE 5 stars) I can’t believe I’m actually taking the time to write this for such an awful book, but I read all of the other reviews here and I can’t understand why everyone thinks this book is so incredible. I thought it was the most uninteresting, torturous book I have ever read. If this book is any indication of what Heat-Moon’s personality and his English classes were like, I understand why he was laid off (and why his wife cheated on him!). 400-something pages of grueling, thick, unconnected text ruined my entire summer and destroyed any previous desire that I might have had to travel cross-country. I would not recommend this book to anyone; I think it should be destroyed.

I hope “A Customer” has died by now so he doesn’t get a chance to take his axe to “Dogging Steinbeck.”

 

Getting emails from smart, satisfied but critical readers of “Dogging Steinbeck” — whether it’s travel master Paul Theroux or an Everyreader — is gratifying.

This one, from a Missouri man who’s teaching English somewhere in the vastness of China, is one of the best-written pieces of correspondence I’ve  received in my journalism career — and I’ve gotten probably a thousand of them. I’ve deleted his last name at his request.

Dear Mr. Steigerwald,

My name is Randy and I am writing concerning your book, Dogging Steinbeck. I will begin by telling you that I enjoyed it very much and admire you for your effort and your reporting. Your book came to my attention as I was browsing and downloading books for my Kindle.

Although I had not read “Travels With Charley” for many years, I remembered enjoying it as a kid — I am now 63 years old — and was intrigued by your concept. I hope you don’t mind if I raise three points which came to mind after reading your book.

Perhaps it would be relevant to tell you at this point that, since 2004, I have been living in China, working as an English teacher in a strange combination of semi-retirement and self-exile. However, most of my life was spent in a much more conventional setting of a small town in central Missouri.

Now, except for brief trips each summer back to visit my parents in Missouri, all of my knowledge of current events and trends in America comes via the Internet — principally from Yahoo news when I go online to check email. That leads to my first point…

One of the great pleasures in reading your book is that you found so many friendly and interesting people in your travels. Certainly the mass media does not spend much time talking about nice people; the weirdos, extremists, instant celebrities, and truly dangerous are far more likely to be in the news that I see. It was nice to be told that the vast majority of average Americans were still pleasant and helpful to a traveling stranger.

I was also very pleased to be repeatedly reminded by you of the many ways that our daily lives have vastly improved over the past five decades. It happens that my small town in Missouri is on old Route 66 so I have personal knowledge of just how dangerous those highways were 50 years ago. Likewise, our medical technology, self-educational opportunities, and personal comfort today are incomparably superior to that of our youth.

Do you recall that old saying, “Don’t go looking for trouble… for you will surely find it.”? It seems to me that most people, most days go through life in a responsive mode. If we approach them in a friendly and respectful manner, they will respond in kind. (If, on the other hand, you act like a jerk, you will quickly encounter obstacles and reciprocation.)

Perhaps your book is like another more famous volume, Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” in that the book also tells us a great deal about the writer. If you encountered many nice people, maybe it is because you expected them to be nice and that you impressed them as being a nice guy yourself.

Still, compared to the shallow, ungrammatical characters that Steinbeck wrote about in his book, you probably met more interesting people and had more fun — not counting his lavish expenditures at high-end hotels and with his wife’s rich Texas friends.

The second point I would like to mention is about the controversy that your book has apparently created. I have to say “apparently” because I was not aware of this literary turmoil until I read your book.

Frankly, I am not a huge Steinbeck aficionado. In my younger years, I read several of his books and enjoyed them but I have not thought of them (or him) for many years. Therefore, before I read your book, I also downloaded the original “Charley” at the same time and read it again — for probably the first time in 40 years.

Immediately after I finished it, I began your book. It was interesting to me to read about how the Steinbeck establishment went into damage control mode and, indeed, even attacked your credibility, truthfulness, and motives. What now seems incontrovertible was that Steinbeck did wholly manufacture entire episodes and characters.

I am willing to accept an explanation of “artistic license”; indeed, I have no problem with that. What I found more disturbing was your revelation that, rather than being a lonely, thoughtful old man taking a meandering, low-budget trip, Steinbeck was not roughing it at all. Your conclusion that he spent only about five nights in his entire journey actually sleeping in his camper greatly diminishes the aura of Steinbeck, the common man.

My third point is that I wish to take exception with your conclusion that “Charley” was not a good book. I am willing to grant you that this is more a work of fiction than a travel book but I still maintain that it is wonderful reading. I had forgotten just how good it is until I read it again last week.

Okay, finding an itinerant Shakespearean actor/vagabond drifting across North Dakota strains credibility now that you have brought it to my attention. But, honestly, I don’t care; he was an articulate, warm character. If Steinbeck used these literary creations to make his point… well, that is what novelists do — and he did it rather skillfully, I thought.

A big part of the writing challenge is in creating a picture that the reader finds understandable. In browsing through many of the books available to download on my Kindle, a great many authors are far, far less adroit with such literary devices than Steinbeck.

In conclusion, if you somehow managed to tarnish the reputation of this American icon, to show his literary feet of clay and expose his wealthy lifestyle and attitudes, so be it.

I have a great many concerns about our society, many of which you addressed in your book. However, one of the brightest aspects of our current and near-future condition as a nation is the transparency made possible by our new technology in all of its forms — Internet searches, viral news (even if mostly fluff), and self-publishing, among others.

If our business and political leaders begin to realize that their “good ol’ boy” network is being carefully scrutinized — even, as in this case, 50 years later — they may curtail some of the more outrageous behaviors and deceptions.

In closing, I send you best wishes from China for your continued literary success. I hope it is a commercially successful future also.

Best regards…