Monthly Archives: August 2008

The futile war on smoking

When a habit brings intense short-term sensual pleasure but saps your vitality and eats away at your body it’s time to quit. I refer of course to the war on tobacco.

Tuesday’s Citizen reported a StatsCan’s finding that smoking has not declined in the past three years and a Canadian Cancer Society spokesman’s irritated response, “The reason the smoking rate stopped going down is because of the serious contraband situation. It’s completely undermining the progress we’d otherwise be seeing in reduced smoking.” Once again bad assumptions lead to bad policy.

First and foremost, the reason smoking declined for so long is that people decided to stop, and the reason it’s not falling now is that more people aren’t quitting. Yes, people. Apparently one cannot say often enough, in public policy, that individuals insist upon weighing alternatives and making decisions for themselves.

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The esthetic offence of government handouts

Apparently I am the victim of an enormous, constitutionally prohibited outrage. I have never received a single art subsidy.

In days of yore this complaint might have been rejected by galleries, granting organizations and the general public who would apply to my oeuvre the antiquated technical critical term “bad.” And I concede that my still lifes have a zombie-like quality of inanimate mobility while my stick men resemble neither sticks nor men, my abstracts are concrete and my concrete is behind the shed. As for my music, remember the old ads about how “They laughed when I sat down to play”? Well, I assure you I soon had them in tears.

On those grounds I would at one time have had a better chance of breaking into the art world as an easel than as a participant, while even Picasso would have rejected me as a model. But I am pleased to say that as progress levels everything worth having, an indignant editorial in the Globe and Mail this week denounced the federal Conservative government’s decision to cancel some art subsidies because “To control access to those grants on the basis of ideology or centrally determined notions of good taste is censorship, plain and simple.” I’m old enough to remember when people knew the difference between free speech and free money. But that was in the dark days, before the Charter.

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Why your health isn’t your own business

How much is your life worth? Oh dear me no. I don’t mean to you or your family. I mean to the Finance Ministry.

You see, news out of Britain informs us that their government just isn’t willing to spend that much to save lives. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (known scarily as NICE), which has already rejected various expensive drugs available in the U.S. and elsewhere in Europe, has now formally declared that “There is a powerful human impulse, known as the ‘rule of rescue’, to attempt to help an identifiable person whose life is in danger, no matter how much it costs. When there are limited resources for health care, applying the ‘rule of rescue’ may mean that other people will not be able to have the care or treatment they need. … The Institute has not therefore adopted an additional ‘rule of rescue’.”

Of course government health providers should try to control costs, especially when medical care now consumes, not untypically, 46 per cent of the Ontario budget. And they have been trying in Canada, since at least the ill-fated 1992 decision to cut medical school enrolment by 10 per cent to reduce the number of doctors treating people and submitting bills. One is tempted to file it under “Be careful what you wish for.” But the crucial point is that you didn’t wish for it. They did.

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Riding the bus of life

No one ever said life would be easy. So if you haven’t been horribly murdered on a bus I say you should feel lucky.

Of course such incidents, narrowly defined, are extremely uncommon. And so far we haven’t had any annoying lectures about the human tendency to overestimate rare risks, although I wonder how many people have slept on buses in the past week.

We’ve also had relatively little annoyingly off-key political whining. One MP called it a “wake-up call” about mass transit security while another rejected armed guards on buses but called, in a most unfortunate phrase, for security experts “to put their heads together.” But buses are actually surprisingly safe, and if you really want to improve security further you could simply arm the drivers.

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Lessons from a bad movie

Would it ruin your long weekend barbecue plans if I mentioned that 35 years have passed since we were warned that “Soylent Green is people”? I’m not so much worried about giving away the plot as spoiling your appetite with memories of the phrase “starring Charlton Heston,” one of many things that could never happen and yet was frequently discussed in the 1970s. Like that we were all going to starve and choke amid general gloom.

Some younger readers may be perplexed by the foregoing since Soylent Green was a truly bad science fiction film without attaining the exquisite awfulness that makes Attack of the Killer Tomatoes a classic.

Today it’s just unwatchable. Nevertheless, as you head for the cottage or the backyard, it is worth scraping up memories of the dark side of the 1970s. Or rather the insufficiently lit side; the truly dark side had to do with the Khmer Rouge and the descent of 1960s hippie idealism into drug overdoses and Charles Manson. I’m thinking instead of the “Limits to Growth.”

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