Thursday, January 26, 2006


This is the title of an op-ed article published in the New York Times on Sunday, January 22nd. The article (, is written by Javier Marias, the author, most recently of "Your Face Tomorrow"

Mr. Marias tackles the issue of the invasion of private rights by governments, in this case Spain, when trying to protect citizens' health, in this case through antismoking laws. He concedes that nonsmokers should not be subjected to secondhand smoke, but objects to unjustified paternalism that prohibit smoking in private offices or in all bars and restaurants. In fact, the laws in Spain are far less draconian than those in some U.S. cities.

One of the main points made is that some interventions in private lives can be found in democracies that are just as invasive as those in totalitarian dictatorships. A second point, forcefully made, is that absent danger to others or overriding public interest, people should be allowed to make their own health decisions and risk decisions, such as mountain climbing. This second point was made in my post of July 27, 2003, reproduced below. But, of course, no one read what I wrote.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has signed into law legislation that exempts most motorcycle drivers from the legal obligation to wear helmets when riding.

While many consider this a liberating move, giving bikers freedom of choice, others protest that that involved here is a serious safety issue that the state should regulate. The protestors liken the helmet requirement to the wearing of
seat belts in cars, mandated by the state. The argument is that, even though only the user's safety is jeopardized, the user's safety is a matter of public policy since any injury burdens our health care system.

This argument has prevailed in may instances, but does that possible burden justify regulation of individual decisions by Big Brother government? Such beliefs have led to edicts such as Mayor Bloomberg's smoking ban in New York City. The point is made that this ban removes the secondhand smoke risk for restaurant workers. True, but no one is forced to work in restaurants, just as no one is forced to work as a roofer or scuba diver.

Many activities create a risk of burdening our health care system. Just the act of driving presents a major risk. Swimming, boating, skiing, skateboarding would all be banned if we base legislation on possible increased health care costs. There is no logical place to draw the line. So let us hope that federal, state and local governments follow Pennsylvania's example and not unduly tamper with a citizen's right to make individual choices.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Some of the News
That may be True

News Item: Russia accuses four British diplomats of spying with the use of a rock
located near Moscow. A grainy, black-and-white video - broadcast on
state television - purported to show a British diplomat picking up a
watermelon-sized rock concealing a communications device used to
download and transmit classified information through hand-held computers.

Comment: It is heartening to learn that British Intelligence has responded
swiftly with its usual skill and creativity. Intelligence Chief Sir
Rufus Campbell announced that the service had apprehended and
quarantined two of the stones at Stonehenge suspected of harboring
secret Russian listening and transmission devices.