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Mark Steyn on the perils of bringing Bulgarian rice paper plaster medicine to America.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

HH: It’s Thursday, and every Thursday when we are lucky, we begin with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn, whom I learned today from his latest magazine article at Commentary Magazine is an old chum with Lionel Bart, the author of Oliver! I never knew that, Mark Steyn.

MS: Oh, no, he was a wonderful man. He ended up broke pretty much, because he wound up giving up all his copyrights after squandering so much money in the 60s. He once said to me, we were talking about the 1970s, and he said well, basically, I did so many drugs in the late 60s that I have absolutely no memory of the 70s at all. And I said…he said to me did he miss anything? And I said no, not really. If you’re going to skip a decade, that was quite a good one to skip.

HH: So the author of Oliver! ended up broke? That’s sad.

MS: Yes, he did. He spent so much money. He had a castle in Tangiers, and in fact, Princess Margaret, the Queen Elizabeth’s sister, he was invited to stay with her in the Caribbean a few years before he died, and he was, so he was on her private island of Mustique in the West Indies, and he came down after being up late at night drinking, and he sort of came down late in the morning. And he saw Princess Margaret there with spectacles on her nose poring over a ledger. And he said to her, what are you doing? And she said I’m doing my books. If you’d done your books, you wouldn’t be in the mess you’re in, you silly old sod.

HH: (laughing) I wish I had a friend about whom I could say he had a castle in Tangiers. That’s a wonderful line. Mark Steyn, you reference him in a very troubling article, Israel Today, The West Tomorrow. I toured the great synagogue in London about ten years ago with my wife, and I told the Fetching Mrs. Hewitt at that time that I thought it was a very odd neighborhood and somewhat ominous, because there were many, many, this was before 9/11, but many, many mosques and Muslims surrounding it. And I thought it had always been a quintessential Jewish neighborhood. Evidently it’s become a dangerous neighborhood for Jews.

MS: Yes, that’s right. It was the neighborhood where Lionel Bart and a lot of other prominent British Jews grew up. And it is now a Muslim neighborhood. London is presently the 13th biggest Jewish city in the world, but the median, the highest percentile of that Jewish group is over 55. On the other hand, when you look at the growing Muslim population, the highest percentile there is the age of 4 and under. The Muslims are the demographic future in London, and I don’t think there’ll be many Jews in London in ten, fifteen years time. I think there will be Jews in America, and Jews in Israel if Ahmadinejad doesn’t get his way, but I’m not, I don’t think there’ll be Jews in many other parts of the world by then.

HH: Well, I don’t want to try and summarize it, but I’ve linked it at, and urge people to read Israel Today, The West Tomorrow, Mark Steyn’s new piece in Commentary Magazine on the rising anti-Semitism, the almost routine anti-Semitism in Great Britain, now in London, very, very troubling. Mark Steyn, in terms of, I wanted to ask you about health care today, because it occurred to me there are probably only a few dozen journalists who have lived under Canadian health care, British health care and American health care. You’re one of them, and you’re probably the only one who’s funny. Compare and contrast the three systems as we approach Armageddon for American medicine that is the negotiations underway on the Hill right now.

MS: Well, Canadian health care is basically, that’s one of the few countries in the world where private health care is actually illegal. There is a private health care system in Canada. It’s called America.

HH: (laughing)

MS: If you get sick and you want urgent treatment, head south. If you head south from Montreal on what turns into I-87, just south of the border they’ve got a big, new hospital on the New York side pointing north toward Montreal, with a sign on it saying Canadian checks accepted. That’s for patients who can’t get treated under their own health system. For the amount of money they pay in taxes, you should be entitled to three or four terminal illnesses a year. But in fact, when you actually do have a serious illness, you wait and you wait and you wait and you wait, and eventually, the province of Quebec ships you down to Fletcher Allen in Vermont, or Dartmouth Hitchcock in New Hampshire to be treated in a foreign hospital. I think that is, that’s the old joke about the Barack Obama reforms. Where are Canadians going to have to drive to once America gets government health care?

HH: And how about Great Britain compared to Canada and America?

MS: Well, I think Britain does have a functioning private system, but unfortunately, its public hospitals, I think, would strike most Americans as being like 19th Century workhouses. They’re like Lionel Bart’s Oliver! They’re something you expect to see Dickensian urchins being given bowls of slop and gruel in. If you look at the way what happens when the government runs a health care system, the British government a couple of years ago introduced targets. When you checked into emergency, you were supposed to be treated within, I think it was 45 minutes. Now what happened obviously once you institute a policy like that is the bureaucrats figure out a way around it. What they did was they had the ambulances idling in the parking lot for hours.

HH: Oh dear.

MS: …and not delivering the patient until they got him, until you were near the 45 minute mark. So in other words, so not only couldn’t you get treated for emergency health care, you couldn’t get an ambulance if you called 911, either.

HH: Now Mark Steyn, Victor Davis Hanson has told the story on this program about being, having appendicitis in Libya, and the difference there. Have you been sick anywhere other than Canada, Great Britain and the United States that required medical care?

MS: Yeah, I actually had a skiing accident in Bulgaria of all places.

HH: Oh dear.

MS: And so I had my leg put in plaster by the Bulgarians. And when I got back home and it came time to have the plaster torn off, taken off, the guy got the saw. He sawed through my leg. I was howling in pain, and he was going what are you going on about, you big, sissy, big, great, girly, blowsy, Nancy-boy, pull yourself together. He got the cast off me…

HH: (laughing)

MS: …and there was a huge gash down my leg from, basically from my thigh to my ankle. And he said oh, he goes, I guess the Communists don’t use very thick plaster.

HH: (laughing)

MS: He basically sliced my leg. They use some kind of rice paper plaster that they got cheap in Bulgaria. So the guy had basically carved my leg up taking it off.

HH: What were you doing in Bulgaria skiing? No one was allowed to ski. Didn’t they shoot people skiing? Weren’t you trying to escape? Or was this after the wall came down?

MS: No, I think that’s Roger Moore in one of those 1970s Bond films. Unless…if you haven’t got the Bulgar Secret Police on your tail as you’re skiing off the edge of a cliff and the Union Jack parachute opens, if you’re just sticking to the regular trails, the Bulgars, skiing vacation in Bulgaria is about as cheap as it gets, I think.

HH: Well now, this all is a roundabout way of coming, because I’m trying to figure this out, I’m spending the month of May on American medicine, asking doctors, posting their e-mails at, why do the Democrats want to do this? We have no evidence that it works anywhere. They call it a government option, but it’s really single payer, and it really means rationing. Everywhere you try it, you just mentioned Bulgaria, Great Britain and Canada, it is a disaster. Why do they want to do it?

MS: Well, what is does is, if you’re a Democrat, what it does is it changes the relationship between the citizen and the state. It alters the equation. If you provide government health care, then suddenly all the elections, they’re not thought about war and foreign policy, or even big economic questions. They’re suddenly fought about government services, and the level of government services, and that’s all they’re about, because once you get government health care, the citizens’ dependency on government as provider is so fundamentally changed that in effect, every election is fought on left wing terms. And for the Democratic Party, that is a huge, transformative advantage.

HH: Oh, that’s very interesting. Now in Canada, though, don’t people get mad at their quality of health care? Don’t they throw the bums out and perhaps urge a return to American style medicine?

MS: No, because the strange thing is that when people, even when people have really bad experiences, you see this in the British press all the time whenever they have one of these horror stories about someone who goes in because they’ve got a bad case of, they’ve got a case of pneumonia, and they wake up and find their left leg’s been amputated because the wrong memo went around. All those horror stories are always followed two days later by someone writing a fawningly, groveling letter about having received mediocre, third world care, but being eternally grateful for it. It really does, government health care is really the ditch you want to fight in, because once you surrender that, I think it’s very difficult to have genuine self-reliant citizenry every again. It really fundamentally changes the equation.

HH: Then where’s the AMA? Where is business? Why hasn’t this battle been joined even as the ink is getting very dry on the big Obama rewrite of American medicine?

MS: Well, because I think most of the spokesmen for the conservative argument in Washington do not make the case. And they don’t understand that once you’ve got a government system, it becomes like any other government program. On Friday, you have to pay the doctor, you have to pay the nurse, you have to pay the janitor. So your only way of controlling the cost is to restrict access to the patient, to the customer. And that’s why once you’ve got a government health care system, everything is about waiting lists and waiting time. It’s about waiting two years for a hip operation. It’s about waiting 9 months for an MRI. It’s about waiting, waiting, waiting.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure,, America.

End of interview.

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