What does universal health care have to do with ethanol?

Robert Rapier, the blogosphere's most dedicated crusader against corn-based biofuel, gets sick in Scotland

Published April 6, 2007 3:34PM (EDT)

When my blogreader alerts me to a new item in Robert Rapier's R-Squared blog, I usually expect to read an opinionated, fact-based, in-depth disquisition about energy-related matters. Two key topics, the stupidity of corn-based ethanol and the challenge of peak oil, dominate most of his posts. He can get a bit repetitive, but I like to think of it as focus.

What I do not expect is a sudden detour into an account of two nights in a hospital in Aberdeen for treatment of kidney-stone-induced acute renal colic, followed by a testimonial to the quality of universal health care in the United Kingdom.

One thing I would like to mention though is that this was my first experience with a universal health care system. There were no charges for anything. I did not have to worry about whether I could afford to spend another night in the hospital, or whether I really, really needed one more dose of pain medication. I have to tell you, when you are having a health issue, it is very nice to not have to worry about money. I shared a room with 4 other men, all Scottish. (One of the inconveniences of the system is lack of private rooms). They all were extremely complimentary of the system. They were all very relieved that they could just get their health issues addressed without worrying about the money.

I know that such a system costs taxpayer money, but it's not like we aren't paying for health insurance right now. My health insurance, split between my employer and myself, is around $5,000 a year. I would be completely in favor of a system that instead turned that money into a tax and made health care just as accessible in the U.S. as it is in Scotland.

I first started reading Rapier's blog almost exactly a year ago. I've learned quite a bit from it. As an antidote to ethanol hype it is essential. I don't care that he is a chemical engineer employed by an oil company; my personal integrity meter has never wavered for a moment in response to his posts.

What I find compelling this morning is how reading Rapier's blog for its profusion of hard information simultaneously let me into his life. Rapier's description of his excruciating pain, along with his sudden appreciation for universal health care, are compelling because they are so obviously true: first person testimony that in a roundabout way, bolsters my faith in the sincerity of his other pronouncements.

There is something valuable in the mixture of the personal and the passion for a particular subject that make a good blog. When we read the newspaper or watch the TV news, or even, as a reporter, call someone up and talk to them, there is a clear dividing line between the reader/viewer/reporter and the source of information. The blogosphere smashes that dividing line into a million fragments, and gives us, instead, a community.

I hope Rapier recovers fully, and like him, I wish we had a more sane health care system in the United States.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

MORE FROM Andrew Leonard

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Globalization How The World Works