A Fragile Truth

My four-week psychiatry rotation at Western State Hospital landed smack in the middle of peak general election season. And, oddly enough, these two experiences have yielded remarkable similarities. In both cases, I have been forced to entertain various versions of the truth.

Many of the patients here at Western State are psychotic. Our known and stated goal, then, is to return these patients to reality-based thinking. Only then might they qualify for discharge. This exercise has presented philosophical challenges. Certainly, sometimes, our job is easy. One of our patients, who signs her forms as Michelle Obama Prince Harry Elizabeth Queen Zealand, communicates with Russia, Germany, Berlin, Jerusalem, East Germany, West Germany, South Germany, and Russia, by radio, television, and satellite, including the satellite in the backyard of her palace, which she built, and in which we currently reside. Another patient, though, gave me pause. Continue reading


Electoral College

This article is part of a series entitled Everyday Game Theory. See also:
1. The Escalator’s Dilemma; 2. Electoral College; 3. Passing Curiosity; 4. Lesson Time

This article is a response to the article Voting Cartels are Anticompetitive.

“How do you solve a problem like Ben Carson?”

Jim Rutenberg posed this question, in the March issue of the New York Times Magazine, before beginning an in-depth profile of the Republican presidential candidate and his role in the upcoming 2016 election. Though Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and an oft-called “outsider” [1] is not likely to be elected — as Rutenberg would have it — he certainly might disrupt the plans of the establishment Right. “A candidacy like Carson’s presents a new kind of problem to the establishment wing of the G.O.P.,” Rutenberg suggests. [2]

Ben Carson, a former pediatric neurosurgeon, is seeking the Republican 2016 nomination for president.

Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, is seeking the Republican 2016 nomination for president.

The precise nature of this problem, though, depends on whom you ask about it. Ben Carson’s supporters might see things a different way. Negative claims about Carson’s electability – Rutenberg writes, for example, that “His chances of victory are miniscule” – could frighten Carson’s would-be supporters into the safer territories of the establishment. These threats could become self-fulfilling.

Ben Carson’s candidacy does exhibit a “problem”. The problem is unelectability. The solution is voter organization. Continue reading

Prophylactic Power

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

“For men commit injuries either through fear or through hate.” — The Prince, Ch. VII

Niccolò Machiavelli, in the blunt words of scholar Max Lerner, “taught the world to think in terms of cold political power” [1]. To the fifteenth-century Florentine’s credit, much of his political writing – including the famous political manual The Prince, as well as the longer, more thorough treatise The Discourses – explores merely esoteric matters, from “The events that caused the creation of tribunes in Rome” to “How the Samnites resorted to religion as an extreme remedy for their desperate condition.” One chapter is titled simply “How easily men may be corrupted.” [1]

Machiavelli did, though, also instruct in the ways of pure power (see, for example, certain portions of The Prince), and Lerner’s statement rings true. Machavelli’s lessons in power – and, more broadly, the philosophical paradigm introduced by his cold, realist realpolitik – have contributed most of all to the writer’s fame.

Power-chasing reminds us of dangerous things: of Raskolnikov’s infatuation with the Men of Bronze, and his subsequent torment; of Nietzsche’s eerie overman and Zarathustra’s flight to the mountains; or of, according to certain readings of Christianity, the devil himself. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “Pride… has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. … It comes direct from Hell” [2].

But the study of social competency can also promote equality. Continue reading

Home of the Brave

This article is part of a series on Our Grandparents. See also:

  1. Irving Diamond: A Neuroscience Great Left Big Shoes Behind
  2. Ilya Dreyzen: A Faded Russian Hero
  3. Viktoria Dreyzen: Home of the Brave
  4. Michelle Diamond: Washington Prom

Viktoria in Russia

“I started going to Curves gym,” my 88-year-old grandma told me last week. “And I asked them, ‘Which curves should I gain, and which curves should I get rid of?’ ” As long as I’ve known her, Viktoria Dreyzen has had her easygoing, almost child-like sense of humor.

She certainly doesn’t have a lot to worry about. A 20-year-old Ukranian student from Portland State visits regularly, to help with household chores and grocery shopping. She visits the senior center once a week, to get some exercise in a relaxed Tai-Chi class. “Tai-Chi is a martial art,” she said. “But we move so slow, there’s no way we could ever hurt anybody!” My dad visits her almost daily for tea, food, and the 6PM news; when my brother and I are in town, we join as well. Grandma lives an altogether relaxed life in her small, cozy Beaverton home.

All has not always been well, though. Grandma’s present is the culmination of a difficult and storied past, as a chemistry student in Russia and as an American immigrant. Her success is a testament to the continued vigor of the American dream.

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The Grand Contradiction

Why Libertarianism Cannot Last.


Can a government be too free? The Sicilian Mafia arose to fill the power vacuum left by a weak central government.

Liberalism is one of the oldest modern political philosophies, and is still incredibly influential today. It seeks, as its name might suggest, to provide a set of key freedoms to all those governed. These freedoms include those of conscience, speech, association, movement, opinion, and the press.

Those rights mentioned above are considered by liberals to be basic. Basic rights are fundamental—meaning that they should not be impinged upon for the sake of any other non-basic rights—and inalienable—meaning that they should never be taken away from someone, even if that person gives consent.

Libertarianism takes liberalism and “goes one further,” also considering as basic rights to property and contract (Freeman, 123). It seems like a good deal: libertarianism secures for those governed all the rights associated with classical liberalism—and then some! We’ll find upon further analysis, though, that libertarianism’s addition comes at a cost.

Samuel Freeman argues that prioritization of these rights renders libertarianism illiberal; in other words, rights to property and contract come at the expense of liberalism’s standard library of basic rights. For example, consider that a truly libertarian government would have to respect and enforce someone’s wish, confirmed by contract, to sell himself into slavery (Freeman, 110). The slave’s rights to movement, association, and so on, then, become alienable and therefore not basic.

My argument is broader than Freeman’s. I argue not only that basic rights aren’t preserved under libertarianism, but also that libertarianism itself isn’t preserved. In other words, a libertarian government, because of its prioritization of rights to property and contract, isn’t sustainable, and is liable to change into or be replaced by other governments in the long term. Libertarianism cannot last.

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The Appropriate Practice Scope of Chiropractic May Be a Political Question, Not a Scientific One

This article is part of a series on Health Policy. See also:

  1. Ground Control to Major Reform
  2. Hospital Salaries Could Cut Care Costs
  3. The Appropriate Practice Scope of Chiropractic May Be a Political Question, Not a Scientific One
Chiropractic isn't the only legal business with questionable scientific underpinnings

Chiropractic isn’t the only legal business with questionable scientific underpinnings

A Colorful History

At the turn of the 20th century, medicine was at a turning point. Unscientific practices like bloodletting, bonesetting, and magnetic healing still pervaded medical practice. On the other hand, trust in the scientific method was mounting. Darwin’s controversial Origin of Species, published several decades earlier, was gaining acceptance. Louis Pasteur proved that life, including bacteria, can’t generate itself spontaneously, and Robert Koch developed a testable set of postulates for determining whether a particular bacteria was the cause of an illness. A future of medicine could be envisioned in which medical intervention was chosen from the pages of science alone, rather than from the pages of history.

D.D. Palmer was, then, what one might call a conservative. Continue reading

Hospital Salaries Could Cut Care Costs

This article is part of a series on Health Policy. See also:

  1. Ground Control to Major Reform
  2. Hospital Salaries Could Cut Care Costs
  3. The Appropriate Practice Scope of Chiropractic May Be a Political Question, Not a Scientific One

When doctors are rewarded for throughput, the result is hasty care, and we all pay the price. Let’s reward our doctors for performance instead.


CT scanner overuse can tell us a lot about what’s wrong with the healthcare industry.

TIME article Bitter Pill tells of a 64-year-old woman named Janice S., who, upon feeling chest pains, was rushed to the hospital for diagnosis. After a few tests, she was told that she had indigestion; her pains resulted from mere heartburn. But her local Stamford Hospital in Connecticut slapped her with $21,000 worth of bills.

Janice’s case is just one example of an all too common phenomenon: Americans paying far too much for simple procedures. The ACA makes headway by requiring insurance for everyone, but even after its passing, inefficiencies still abound. Let’s take a look at what’s really driving up costs in American healthcare.

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