Monday, March 31, 2008

Phil the Greek didn't have Diana whacked, BBC reports

The inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, has concluded that she was not, in fact, assassinated by an MI6 "wet works" hit squad on the orders of His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a.k.a. "Phil the Greek".

Everybody who really needed ten years of delays, a six month-long inquest, and about $15M to discover that, please raise your hand. Anybody?

Of course, some people will point out that what the coroner actually said is not that it didn't happen, but that "there is not a shred of evidence" to support the theory -- which just goes to prove what a good clean-up job MI6 did, right?

The only remaining question then is why, of all the possible headlines the BBC could have chosen for this story, they chose to go with this one...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Culture What?

One of the strangest things about being an Englishman in America is understanding the so-called "Culture War". It's not the "culture" part that throws me, it's the "war" part. Now I know that American politicians like to throw the "war" word around lightly -- cynics might allege that you can hide a multitude of sins when there's a war on -- but at least the war on terror and the war on drugs involve actual violence and real harm.

My issue with the Culture War is this: in order to have a war, you need to have two sides fighting. Each must be determined to the death to impose its goal on the other. The Culture War doesn't: it has one side fighting, and one side that just wants to be left in peace.

One side -- for the sake of argument let's call them, oh, Conservatives -- disapproves of other people's choices of lifestyle: how they dress, who they date, what movies they want to watch or games they want to play, what opinions they express, how they have sex... In fact, they disapprove of some of these things so strongly that they want to make them illegal or even unconstitutional.

The other side -- let's call them Liberals -- doesn't. It doesn't mind if conservatives wear suits and ties and skirts and stockings (even the men...), but it would like kids who wear baggy pants to be left in peace. It doesn't mind if conservatives watch "The Passion of the Christ" but would like the same freedom to watch "The Last Temptation". It doesn't disapprove of men and women marrying, but it would like men and men or women and women to be allowed to marry too. It doesn't want to deny Conservatives the right to live as they see fit, it just asks for the same freedom for itself. And when it does want to change the law or constitution, it wants to do so to permit things, not forbid things.

(Ronald Reagan is supposed to have once said in reply to Gorbachev's claim that the USSR, just like America, was governed by a constitution: "The difference is, your constitution tells the people what they can do. Our constitution tells the government what it can do." Hmm, to my surprise I find myself wishing that Conservatives paid more attention to what their great hero actually said...)

However, for Conservatives to make a "war" out of this, they can't acknowledge the asymmetry. They have to claim that the other side also wants to impose its values on them. That fundamental deceit is the only way that the leaders of the Culture War can maintain the War Fever necessary to motivate their followers. It's the kind of logical contortion that, for example, leads people to advocate laws and constitutional amendment that forbid some people from getting married, and then label those laws "Defense of Marriage".

What then should we call such a situation, if it isn't a war? Historical examples suggest we could call it the Culture Repression, the Culture Opression, or the Culture Intolerance.

But where my people come from, we know what to call it when other people are unwilling to let you live harmlessly in peace according to your own beliefs and standards, want to discriminate against you, make up lies about you wanting to pervert their traditional and sacred way of life, and are willing to go to extreme lengths to impose their own beliefs and standards on you.

We call it a pogrom.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Only in America (part #912)

I was at somebody's office the other day and while I was waiting for my appointment the owner tried to make small talk. And he came out with a remark that I hear a lot from Americans, and I have no idea what the appropriate response is. It goes: "You're from England? My sister's cousin lives in Ipswich!" Am I supposed to know her?

If you're American and wondering why this is funny, imagine the reverse scenario. You go to Britain and somebody says to you "American, eh? I have a distant relative in Toledo." Exactly.

The most bizarre part of this is, it has apparently been going on for decades. I recall British comedian Jasper Carrott doing a bit about this exact topic back in the 1970s after his first trip to the US: "British, huh? Do you know a Mrs. Jones in Southend?" "Maybe. Two eyes? Legs? Hair? Yeah, I think I do know her!".

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Why healthcare is so expensive in the US

Some people say its the malpractice liability insurance. Some say its because one third of the money gets burned up by admin costs. Some blame pharmaceutical companies for pressuring consumers to demand prescription meds for marginal irritations ("Do you worry that you blink too often? Or not often enough? Are you thinking about blinking right now? Ask your doctor about prescription Xyzzyor.")

My theory is that a lot of it is down to bored doctors messing with patients' minds. Like this conversation in the doctor's lounge:

Bob: Hey, Ted. I just sent that guy for an MRI on his head.
Ted: Really? What does he have?
Bob: Ear infection. But he looked anxious so I decided to screw with him.
Ted: Hah! And did you tell him "It's probably nothing" and then do that face?
Bob: Yep. And then I said "There's a small chance that the scan itself can induce brain cancer. But of course, it's your decision."

At least, that's what I'd probably do if I were a doctor...