Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"It's not a democracy if you die before you're old enough to vote"

Stockholm is a beautiful city.

And here was I, walking down the street with an intelligent, articulate, highly educated (and gorgeous) woman (she looked a lot like Ingrid Bergman did in Casablanca. Sadly, I look nothing like Bogart, but then again, I am almost as cool in spite of that) who I had been spending a great deal of time with, and who had taken it upon herself to make sure I experienced her city in a way that would do it justice.

We were discussing all manner of interesting things as we strolled arm in arm down Vasagatan toward the metro station after a truly wonderful summer's day on the town.

Summers in Stockholm are quite amazing, it is light out for something like twenty hours out of twenty four, the weather is usually quite balmy and no one wants to stay inside.

Stockholm is built on a series of islands, so the city is crisscrossed by canals, it's a bit like Venice, but without the bad smell. As a matter 0f fact it is both one of the most delightful, and one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in.

We were returning home from a day of wandering the city, exploring it on foot, by bus and ferry.

She had decided that morning that we had to visit the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, a rather unique place. The city had planned to build an underground parking lot near Parliament, but when they started digging, they discovered a section of the original city, houses, artifacts, streets, a longboat, part of the city wall and much, much more. Rather than doing what we do here when a builder finds an archaeological site (try to hide the fact, destroy the site before anyone knows about it, complain about how much money it's going to cost you to let people come in and preserve the artifacts, and pour concrete over it as soon as you can) the city did something interesting. They built an underground museum instead of a parking lot.

To get in, you went through a rather nondescript door in a little cul-de-sac, down a narrow flight of stairs, and into a HUGE underground chamber.

It was truly amazing, to walk streets that were laid in the thirteenth century, peering into the buildings, touching the stones. The fact that we were in a giant man made cave with lights strung like stars across the sealing gave it a dreamy, surreal quality.

After prowling about for a while, taking in the atmosphere of Medieval Stockholm, we decided to move on.

We cut through Parliament, which is nothing like going to the houses of congress here. It is just sort of open and people walk through. No guns, no secret service, no guards. It was even more surreal than the museum for an American used to US government paranoia about the intentions of its citizens.

Coming out this entrance, there were almost always street musicians, often from South America, playing native flutes, Charango and drum. We were on our way to one of my vary favorite parts of Stockholm, the Gamla Stan (Old Town) for lunch.

The Gamla Stan is a tourist attraction to be sure, but a rather nice one. It was in fact one of my favorite parts of the city. I love the narrow, cobblestone streets, the shops, outdoor cafes and buildings that have been standing since before America was a country.

After grabbing lunch, we headed over to Skansen.

Skansen is an outdoor museum, and it's huge. It includes a zoo, houses and other buildings from every part of Swedish history as well as other exhibits. I suspect you could spend a week there ans still not explore everything the place has to offer.


As you may have figured out by now, I have an enduring fascination with history, and since most of my mother's family came from Sweden, I found my trip to Skansen to be particularly engaging.

I loved tins little house from Sami land. It reminded me of something out of fairytale.

And this house looks very much like the one my Grandfather was born in, before his family upped and moved to the States.

There was also a zoo that had many of the indigenous Scandinavian animals, wolves, and wolverines, moose, reindeer, European bison, and this fellow,
The Swedish lynx. Don't think bobcat here, he was about sixty pounds, the size of a small cougar. I was impressed. I had not realized that the European lynx was a large as that, or that they had managed to survive as well as they had.

After a good day's wandering, we headed to the Hötorget (the hay square).

This is an indoor-outdoor market, sort of a farmer's market on steroids. I had promised my friend that I would cook her a real southwestern meal, and this was one of the few places I might be able to find the required ingredients. (chilies were not common in Sweden, nor are some of the other spices we take for granted here)

We managed to find everything I needed and we headed off to the metro station to catch the Blue Line home.

As we walked the conversation drifted to some of the differences between Sweden and the US.

"We are a social democracy" she said. "We understand that the government's job is to serve the collective needs of the people, the US seems to think that it is government's job to rule the people as if they were all slightly naughty children". I of course protested this characterization.

She pointed out that our government seems determined to use our tax money for thins that do not in fact serve the people who give the money, but rather to benefit those dubious, sociopathic pseudo-entities called corporations. (note: "sociopathic" is defined as behavior that is antisocial and lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience). She explained that "Social Democracy" means having a conscience as a people, and acting on it for the benefit of ALL citizens. She pointed out two major differences between our countries. The first was in education. She said (and she was a school teacher, so I suspect she knew what she was talking about) that the quality of education was uniform across the country. You would receive the same high quality education in a big city school and a rural one room school house. This was why Sweden had near universal literacy, and such a low crime rate according to her.

The other area wan health care. She said " We think that it is not really a democracy if you die before you are old enough to vote because you were denied necessary health care because of money". She pointed out that America's health system was a parasite that preyed on the citizens of my country taking more and more money and doing everything it could to not give value for what was taken.

She pointed out that Sweden had universal health care that was quite good, that Swedes , had one of the longest life expectancies in the world, and were in much better health in general than Americans. That was, she said because the people all had access to the same health care as part of the social contract of her country. She thought commercial health care was an insane proposition, much like commercial air for breathing. She said she didn't understand why we put up with people being denied health care in the States when spent more money for less value than any other industrialized nation.

About this time we arrived at Näckrosen station, which was just a couple blocks from where I was living.

The Stations for the Metro, especially the blue line, were quite lovely. they were all decorated with different themes, and often left with the walls "unfinished". Näckrosen means "water lily" and as you can see, the station was decorated with water lilies painted on the naked rock.

We had a very fine dinner (if I do say so myself) and a delightful evening, a fitting end to an adventurous day.

Over the years I never forgot our conversation on education and health care. She made some telling points. The proposition that commercial health care is somehow better than universal care that a whole nation provides for all its citizens if just a flat lie. I have experienced both, I know this for a fact.

I was reminded of this conversation when I ran across this video on YouTube.



Think about it. Does it really do us as a nation to not look out for each other, but rather trust corporations who have a "fiduciary responsibility" to maximize profits above all else?

6 comments:

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Is it just me, or does that house in Sami land look like Baba Yaga's house, with the chicken legs?

Mushtaq Ali said...

No, it isn't just you. I had the same thought the first time I saw it. The Sami do range into Finland, so who knows?

mordfliege said...

Regarding universal health care in the context of a welfare state, of course there are benefits, but there is a price to be paid. Some think that the price is too high.

A government that has the power to provide universal health care also has the power to implement a range of other invasive policies, all in the name of the "collective needs of the people". It is no coincidence that Sweden's enlightened social democracy had an active eugenics programme up to 1976 (it started in 1936. Hmmm). The policy involved forcibly sterilising women considered "socially unfit", and approximately 63,000 women were sterilised over the 40-year period.

These included: women released from prison, the mentally ill, people with learning difficulties, the poor, epileptics, alcoholics and women of "mixed racial quality".

Some women were forced to undergo the operation in order to get out of prison, to qualify for certain welfare benefits or to avoid losing custody of their children. Several of the people sterilised were themselves children!

The last forced sterilisation was in 1975. I don't know if it's a sign of old age, but that really does not seem that long ago.

Just to say: if you want to go down that road, beware of what comes with it.

PS. Sorry if I've ruined the tone of the post; I also think Sweden is a beautiful country, and I'm really not trying to knock the Swedes.

Mushtaq Ali said...

mordfliege,

Your argument is full of enough holes to qualify as a sieve.

I did not mention a welfare state,which is a pejorative term used by people who support corporate control of health care, and Sweden is not one by my estimate.


I have heard the claim of Sweden practicing eugenics. but have not seen the data, can you site some sources?

Even so, Government has the power to abuse people regardless of whether it is in charge of providing health care. The US has been guilty of things like forced sterilization at various time in its history up to the early seventies, though we have not had anything resembling universal health care.

We all get the government we allow. so if we don't want our government to do things we don't approve of it is our job to keep an eye on them. That being the whole point of a democracy.

Now explain to me why it is better to have a private corporation, who's first responsibility is to maximize profits for its shareholders would be better at attending to health care.

So far this does not seem to be the case. It would take weeks to write out all the ways private insurance has used to screw over policy holders and drop the very people who are most likely to need it from their services.

I notice from your blogger profile that you live in England. Do you carry private health insurance?

mordfliege said...

Mushtaq,

I was posting in haste, so my explanation was perhaps rather unclear.

There are several possible models of universal health care; however, your post specifically mentions universal health care in the context of Swedish social democracy, so I will limit myself to this specific topic.

First, a minor point regarding my use of the term "welfare state": in the UK and Europe this is commonly used as a descriptive term, and does not carry the negative connotations it may have in certain circles, esp. in the US. And, even in the US, the term as used in academic circles is not necessarily pejorative (see references below). I am quite happy, however, to use some other term, if you prefer, to describe a state which is responsible for the provision of such services as universal health care for its citizens.

The Swedish social democratic model has often been touted as a superior, more caring social arrangement, one that other societies should aim to emulate. At the core of the idea of Social Democracy, as your interlocutor explained, is the active promotion of the collective well-being of the population, in areas that include health & education.

As you point out, eugenics was popular in other places, and was in fact an extremely fashionable idea in several Western countries in the early part of the 20th Century, especially among the intelligentsia; indeed, the most committed opponents to the idea were generally religious traditionalists, notably the Catholic Church, who were often disparaged as reactionary obscurantists --which might be a valid view in many other respects, but as the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day ;-)

You are also correct in stating that eugenics is not *directly* related to the provision of universal health care, in the sense that universal health care is some sort of necessary precondition for the existence of a eugenics programme, and mention that the issue is one of state power.

I agree with this, although I would add that the deployment of state power in favour of a eugenics programme crucially involves the notion that the state is entitled, or even *obligated*, to promote the collective health of society.

This is precisely the assumption that underlies social democracy, as practised in Sweden. Swedish social democracy was a prime agent behind the enactment of the sterilisation laws in 1934 & 1941, and these bills became firmly entrenched in the Swedish social policy of the time. While it is not necessary to be a social democrat to be a eugenicist, the social democratic model provides the crucial motivator for the deployment of state power in favour of programmes of eugenic & social engineering.

Not only does a social democratic model confer the required motivation for such programmes, but the dependency on the state for the provision of such things as health care has the added effect of increasing the hold of the state on the life of its citizens. You reach a stage where a middle class with small economic margins is dependent on social security in some form; naturally, if you are dependent on the government, you are hesitant to reduce its size and cost; what's more, you also become vulnerable to blackmail, in the form of the threatened withdrawal of services. Several of the "volunteers" for sterilisation agreed to the procedure only after they were threatened with withdrawal of benefits.

There are several articles on this topic, both in the general press and academic publications, of which the following are a sample:

-- C. Webster (1997), "Eugenic sterilisation: Europe's shame", Healthmatters 31, pp. 14--15,

available online at:

http://www.healthmatters.org.uk/issue31/eugenicshame

-- G. Broberg & N. Roll-Hansen (1996), "Eugenics and the Welfare State: Sterilization Policy in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland" (Michigan State University Press, East Lansing MI)

http://msupress.msu.edu/bookTemplate.php?bookID=226

-- A. Spektorowski and E. Mizrahi (2004), "Eugenics and the Welfare State in Sweden: The Politics of Social Margins and the Idea of a Productive Society", Journal of Contemporary History 39 (3), pp. 333--352

PS. You ask whether I have private health care. On the basis of my own and my family's experience with universal health care in at least 3 different European countries, incl. the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands, my wife and I decided to purchase private medical insurance, or else set up a private health trust, as a matter of utmost priority.

Mushtaq Ali said...

mordfliege,

Thanks for your reply.

your post specifically mentions universal health care in the context of Swedish social democracy, so I will limit myself to this specific topic.

If you think I was addressing Sweden's health care system specifically you are confused. I related an account of events in my life that occurred in Sweden, that got me thinking about universal health care.

I get that you don't like Sweden, and you seem to think they are some sort of Neo Nazis because they allegedly practiced eugenics at one point in the past. You the attempt to draw the conclusion that Universal health care and eugenics are related because of these two unrelated propositions. Sort of like

"dogs bark in the daytime. The sun is visible in the daytime, therefore, the sun causes dogs to bark."

As far as I can tell, your two comments are attempts to distract from the actual meaning of my message, which is that a civilized society finds value in the collective support of its citizens, by its citizens for the common good. This support might include things like energy utilities and universal health care.

Your "straw man" argument about alleged eugenics practices in Sweden's history really have no bearing on the discussion, especially since you agree that eugenics and health care have no causal relationship.

So let's get back to facts
America has the most expensive health care system in the world. The cost of drugs here is far greater than anywhere else on the planet. Many American citizens have virtually no access to health care. People die every day from things that could have been dealt with quite easily here in the States because of this. for instance, a child died in my area not long age because of a dental abscess. While the tooth could have been attended to for little cost if the child had access to health care, instead he ended up in a hospital ICU as an emergency charity case at HUGE expense, and died from the infection.

There are a couple of indicators as to how well a health care system works. They are Infant mortality and life expectancy.

The latest figures on these two indicators are as follows

Country Infant Mortality Life Expectancy

USA 6.4 78.0
Norway 3.6 79.7
Denmark 4.5 78.0
Spain 4.3 79.8
Sweden 2.8 80.6
Finland 3.5 78.7
UK 5.0 78.7
Canada 4.6 80.3

I find the infant mortality rate most interesting.

If you don't like Sweden it is your prerogative, but I lived there for long enough to have a completely different experience of the place, and did not find the government there to be more intrusive than anywhere else, less so in fact. (The UK being a case in point).

From your comments, it seems to me that you have a disconnect when it comes to government. You seem to think that it is other than you and every other citizen. I have seen this before, especially with Europeans. I suspect it comes from being Subjects rather than citizens for so long, but who knows.

PS. You ask whether I have private health care. On the basis of my own and my family's experience with universal health care in at least 3 different European countries, incl. the UK, Spain, and the Netherlands, my wife and I decided to purchase private medical insurance, or else set up a private health trust, as a matter of utmost priority.


It's nice to know that you have the courage of your convictions, but which one did you choose? Usually, when someone has actually done something they state that, not two different choices, so which one did you go with?

If you went with a private insurance company, good luck. Remember, private insurance companies are in business to make money. They do that by NOT paying out on their policies. What we have seen in the States is that companies have gone so far as to pay bonuses to employees who find ways to drop people's policies when they most need them. Denying coverage is as important to them as selling policies.

If you set up a private trust, good luck getting enough equity in it before you need it. How much can you afford to pay into such a trust each month?

Lucky for you that you can expect to get health care provided that is better (by life expectancy and infant mortality) than we get here in the States.