Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Win Ben Stein's Country

Ben Stein recently wrote an incredibly sharp column describing "How to Ruin American Enterprise." The key points were:

  1. Allow schools to fall into useless decay

  2. Encourage the making of laws and rules by trial lawyers and sympathetic judges, especially through class actions.

  3. Create a culture that blames the other guy for everything and discourages any form of individual self-restraint or self-control.

  4. Sneer at hard work and thrift.

  5. Hold the managers of corporations to extremely lax standards of conduct and allow them to get off with a slap on the wrist when they betray the trust of shareholders.

  6. While you're at it, discourage respect for law in every possible way. This will dissolve the glue that holds the nation together, and dissuade any long-term thinking.

  7. Encourage a mass culture that spits on intelligence and study and instead elevates drug use, coolness through sex and violence, and contempt for school.

  8. Mock and belittle the family.

  9. Develop a suicidal immigration policy that keeps out educated, hardworking men and women from friendly nations and, instead, takes in vast numbers of angry, uneducated immigrants from nations that hate us.

  10. Enact a tax system that encourages class antagonism and punishes saving, while rewarding indebtedness, frivolity and consumption.

  11. Have a socialized medical system that scrimps on badly needed drugs and procedures, resorts to only the cheapest practices and discourages drug companies from developing new drugs by not paying them enough to cover their costs of experimentation, trial and error.

  12. Elevate mysticism, tribalism, shamanism and fundamentalism--and be sure to exclude educated, hardworking men and women--to an equal status with technology in the public mind.

While I don't agree with every point he makes, many of the arguments are quite timley. The complaint about litigiousness is particularly noteworthy given the recent lawsuit against McDonald's and the New York Times Magazine article about the unequitable litigiousness-inspired Victim Compensation Fund.

A lot of the arguments also sound like the complaints my parents have about America. Based on my reading of Portnoy's Complaint and White Teeth this summer, such immigrant experiences are not unusual. And while their ethic is certainly not always right and their characterizations not always accurate, there are many social ills unique to America or the West that undermine the successes of our way of life. I'm not particularly conservative, but it is sad to witness how divorce runs rampant, how credit card debt piles up, and how high schoolers keep dropping out.

Sunday, December 15, 2002


As I get ready to fly to San Diego only a month after being home for Thanksgiving, I once again am wondering why these holidays are so close together. It seems fairly silly to me. Richard's mother told me that Roosevelt had tried to change it once. Although the justification - lengthening the shopping season - seems a bit suspect, the way people clung to the arbitrary tradition is depressing, and typical.

If we can't change Thanksgiving, I suppose my dreams of a 25-hour day will never be realized. Or people's hopes of making all holidays Mondays, making the week 8 days long, changing the calendar, or shifting the way time works.

Monday, December 9, 2002

Perceptions of safety

When I traveled to New York this weekend, I put some effort into finding a place to put my bag so I wouldn't have to leave it at somebody's apartment. Luckily, Madison Square Garden let me bring it in after all. But I discovered that in wake of September 11th, both Greyhound and Amtrak were not letting passengers check bags for the day (despite the misinformed opinions of some operators at Amtrak), and there were no lockers at Penn Station. When I called the New York tourism folks, they said that there was absolutely nowhere to leave a bag in Manhattan, not even at a storage company.

All of this is absurd. If you want to encourage tourism, you should at least give tourists a place to stash their stuff. Did everybody forget that 9/11 was caused by suicide bombers? We are trading convenience for the illusion of security. Just as we do at the airport. A ticket confirmation printout could be faked by a 5-year-old with a modicum of computer knowledge, yet somehow we consider this adequate for keeping unauthorized individuals from passing into airport terminals. On a recent flight that was running late, they did not even check identification at the gate. Similarly, at Penn Station, nobody should feel any safer because bag checking has been disallowed. A suicide bomber could quite easily walk in and wreak havoc. Or anyone could just leave a bag on the ground and walk out. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in the New Yorker, when we impose more stringent security rules, we may just escalate the nature of the violence.

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Hypocrisy: America's anti-drug

Sure, the ads linking drugs to terrorism were exploitative and silly, as has been ridiculed by Arianna Huffington.

But the newest anti-marijuana advertising campaign is even more absurd. The press release proudly explains how it plays on teenagers' fears:

The contents of the ads are a direct result of research conducted with teens of various ages and ethnic backgrounds across America. This research indicated that there is much ambiguity surrounding marijuana and its effects, and teens openly admitted a lack of knowledge about the drug. In focus groups, teens identified two major reasons to avoid marijuana: it can lead to stupid, sometimes tragic mistakes (such as driving with someone who is high, or having unplanned, unprotected sex), and it can get you into trouble with the law.

Never mind that alcohol produces the same consequences just as frequently, and often more tragically, than marijuana amongst teenagers.

Meanwhile, recent reports suggest that the gateway effects of marijuana and the growing potency of the drug have been exaggerated. Andrew Morral of RAND told Reuters, "If our model is correct, to a certain extent we are diverting resources away from hard drug problems....Spending money on marijuana control may not be having downstream consequences on the use of hard drugs."

The continued, unfounded, disproportionate vilification of marijuna by our government is well-documented. It is eerily similar to the fraud of the food pyramid. The government's credibility keeps slipping away.