Thursday, November 18, 2010

Starship Troopers

Starship TroopersStarship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the reasons I like Heinlein's earlier works is because of its clear-eyed youthful skepticism and sense of wonder. Starship Troopers integrates general science/engineering principles and math in a way that is interesting and inspiring for the young teenager. I do wish more books like these were suggested to high-school students.

Heinlein is also quite political in his writings, and uses philosophy to enrich the social context of the book. Here, Heinlein introduces a principle that only those people who are willing to sacrifice, to "put one's body in between one's home and the war's desolation" are deserving of The Franchise (the right to vote and serve in public office). I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, although I don't think it's a viable replacement for the American basis of Franchise--however, it did make me think about how detrimental franchise imposition in places like Brazil and Australia where people are required by law to vote might be since it would probably sway politics towards demagoguery and lessen the influence of people who are genuinely motivated to vote and participate in public life. Heinlein is no strict ideologue, though. He makes a point that certain political philosophies are designed to meet the needs of a people or society, and that society generally deserves the political systems that it enacts. If that society has no morals or civic virtue (e.g., like those of our founding fathers' society), then we can't expect an American-style political system to 'work' in such a society.

It was an interesting book and I understand it is very different in many important respects from the movie (which I have not seen). For example, there is no reference to coed showers and bunking for soldiers, and the male-female relationships very much reflect the respect for sexual differences of the time in which it was written (late 1950s); although it does vary in its idea of gender roles in the economy (e.g., women were pilots because they were inherently more qualified to be pilots then men because of certain womanly characteristics such as gentleness, etc.).

View all my reviews

Book Review: Fortress NHS

Fortress NHS: A Philosophical Review of the National Health ServiceFortress NHS: A Philosophical Review of the National Health Service by David Seedhouse
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a probing look into the philosophical underpinnings of the British National Health Service. It fairly treats the subject from the perspective of potential intent of the original framers to the end result; revealing the arbitrary nature of socialized medicine with its eventual intrinsic self-interest to emphasize supposed basic foundational principles such as Need, Quality, Equality, and Cost (the latter being more of a concern to the ministers of health than those ministered to), and on the other hand to obscure the methods or end-results of those philosophies in practical application through an opaque leviathan bureaucracy that is blind to the vision of its mission and stone-deaf to any criticism of the outcomes. The former occurs through the inherently arbitrary ‘eye-of-the-beholder’ nature of the foundational principles, and the latter is achieved through a system that is designed to “stop up all channels through which protest are meaningfully heard” (hence the book’s title). The unhappy consequence of such squelching of information is brazen corruption and naked exploitation that is veiled by pseudo-technical happy-talk that is targeted to frustrate Reason and meaningful reform. This is not an unpredictable result of any kind of organization that has been entrusted with a large proportion of a nation’s wealth and has a strong self-interest to retain control of that wealth.

One core economic principle guiding the NHS is the concept of a cost per Quality-Adjusted-Life-Year (QALY) that is designated by the Orwellian “NICE” (National Institute of Cost-Effectiveness) Counsel; which currently rests at around $U.S.35,000. Fortress NHS identifies the necessity of a QALY for this type of controlled health economic system to function, but reveals that outside of The Fortress such concepts as a ‘QALY’ do not exist. It is no more rational to speak of a ‘cost per QALY’ than it is rational to speak of a ‘cost per unicorn’. This concept of a QALY also has important implications in areas outside of a person’s health status since other factors (e.g., employment or social status, eating habits, etc.) can influence a QALY; thereby justifying even more intrusion into the personal choices of individuals and more arrogation of wealth and power to The Fortress.

Reading this book gave me renewed appreciation for the care with which we should reform our social systems in ways that concentrate enormous power and wealth into fewer hands because that power will inevitably be used to resist any meaningful change and always tends to primarily serve the self-interest and preservation of the mother-organization rather than the interest of those whom it was originally intended to serve.

View all my reviews