Eccentric Flower:201010/All Wrong Pegs

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All Wrong Pegs

This will be an only intermittently coherent sociopolitical ramble. Consider this your three-second warning.

So, Dan Lyke posted this item, and I posted elsewhere that I agreed with what he said there. I don't have time or energy to summarize it; I'm sorry, but you'll need to go read it.

I've been thinking about this the rest of the day, even before having a detailed discussion about it with my wife, and here's the thing: My reaction is not really acceptable. It is in some ways a lovely fantasy, but it's not acceptable.

The problem I have - and I think part of the problem Dan has as well - is that we have zero tolerance for people who expect a free ride. I pay as I go; I have always acknowledged that, like it or not, it is the curse of man that we must function by the sweat of our brows, and I have never thought the world owed me a living. I pay all my bills, and while I have had to take charity once in a while, taking charity is like swallowing acid to me, and one of the driving forces of my life is to keep myself in a position where I never have to do it. I expect that anything I want will cost me something, that there is nothing free in this world, that many things which do appear to be "free" often carry hidden costs I don't care to incur. There are some expenses in life I can't pay, and these shadow my life and cause fear and loathing. It is disgusting to me that I cannot afford to pay my own health care costs - that, indeed, health care costs are so absurd that no normal person can pay them, making debtors and beggars of ninety percent of us. I feel I am placed under an obligation to a system I had no say over - that I am constrained by rules I never agreed to.

I understand what is driving the sane members of this Tea Party aggregation - yes, there are some sane people in there: They want jobs, and no politician has the guts to tell them their jobs aren't coming back. I feel bad for those people. But many more of them are not sane, and the basic drive of the insane ones (well, the insane ones who aren't trying to hitch a social or religious agenda to this movement - that's a different insane) is that they want all sorts of government services and support, but they don't actually want to pay for any of it. They want something for nothing.

I have so little tolerance for people who want something for nothing, it would scare you with its venom and ferocity. A person who refuses to pay for fire protection, in a system where the rules clearly said if you didn't pay you didn't get fire protection, and who clearly expected that they'd come save his sorry ass anyway even though he refused to pay - well, I will stop a millimeter short of saying that he deserved to be in his house when it burned down, because I am not that inhumane. But I will say that I believe he deserved to lose his house. This is how impatient and intolerant I have gotten in my middle age with freeloaders.

Now, of course, the real issue here is that such a situation should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. There's a reason why we usually don't have pay-as-you-go fire departments - so that life-and-death choices like that never arise. And there should be some hard questions: Why did that fire department have to resort to such a system? Was it because the taxpayers cut their noses off to spite their faces, as seems to be the going trend in this country now? Who is really to blame that this very unfortunate incident, which covers no one in glory, happened at all, was even possible? (I found out more about the situation. See comments at bottom **)

There's also the question of whether the guy was an asshole or was just so poor that the $75/year was out of range for him. I'm assuming he was the former. If he was the latter, I take back almost all of the nasty I have for him.

The poor, the indigent, the unable - these are the key flaw with the "every man for himself" system, they're the reason that system must forever be a beautiful but impossible dream. Utterly pay-as-you-go would be wonderful - then we could opt out of whatever we wanted and take the consequences, and if your house gets robbed or burns down, well, screw you, bub.

Except ... then you have to ask, well, what about the people who would love to be able to afford a home, let alone home insurance, but can't? "They need to find jobs like everyone else?" That won't do. I mean, yes, sure, there are some people who are lazy. There are also some people who are legitimately out of work because their sector of the economy has vanished, never to come back again in their lifetimes, at a point when it may well be too late in their lives to learn a new set of skills from scratch. There are people who can't get jobs because they are subtly, pervasively, and systematically discriminated against. There is nothing even close to a level playing field. "Screw you if you won't work" is one thing, but "screw you if you can't work" is not an acceptable answer.

And what if I'm a well-off but selfish bastard and I don't want to pay to send my kids to a school somewhere where taxes or tuitions are actually used to provide a decent education? Or what if I live somewhere - all too common in this nation - where there are no decent educational options available? I believe strongly in your individual right to wreck your life in any way you see fit - if you want to smoke, drink, take drugs to excess; if you want to kill yourself; whatever. But what happens when your choices affect others? What happens if collective refusal to pay for a good school drags down all the children in the vicinity?

(Of course the problem with the preceding paragraph is that there are very few life choices which don't affect others in some way, and eventually we get into concerns about infringements of personal liberties vs. the common good. But we don't need to get anywhere near that minefield for the purposes of this discussion. We're talking about refusal to pay for obvious things, like schools and firemen and garbage collection.)

We have to have a social contract or we are animals. There must be some acknowledgement that we exist crammed into a universe with a lot of other humans and that we had better at least take some stabs at trying to coexist in a peaceful, cooperative and sanitary fashion - or we're doomed. (I will refrain from speculating on the odds that we are doomed.)

But the drive to be humane - to say to people, "yes, there will be a safety net, we recognize the need to provide some public services even if they get exploited and run at a loss" is constantly at war with the part of my head which says, "Wait, why should I pay for you to overload the emergency room so much that it's ineffective for what it's supposed to be doing, just because you can't afford a doctor? Why should I pay for your bad habits? Why should I pay to solve your particular social problems when I don't share them? Why does this land on my bill?" These two are always in conflict.

A simpler way of saying the same thing is that my desire to be part of a civilized society is always at war with my desire for the entire mess to go away and leave me alone.

And this is why my personal politics are so muddled and conflicted. Frankly, I distrust anyone who sees this situation as clear-cut, because it makes me think they haven't spent enough time thinking it through. My wife, for example, is an unrepentant socialist. She believes it is self-evident that the government should support and care for its citizens, and she doesn't feel any cost is unreasonable for that. My wife also is self-employed, and gets brutally mauled several times a year by her tax bill, most of which will be spent for things that will never be of any benefit to her. She is somehow able to reconcile these concepts; her socialist position, I think it is safe to say, is one of the few things in life she does not feel inner doubt about. This baffles me.

Actually, socialism has a definite appeal to me - the problem is that I don't want to give socialism to the freeloaders. The ideal, of course, would be able to selectively deal with every member of society as an individual - to have some impossible Rhadamanthus sitting above us, counting us off and saying, "OK, you're good - you're poor and lazy, to hell with you - you're poor but you're trying, you get help - you're too stupid to live - you're all right but you need to shape up - you're stinking rich and you should be giving away half your fortune -" and so forth. Some omniscient, infallible judge with a lot of free time. Then we could have a society of the meet and just and consign the people who are genuinely lazy, or assholes, or willfully ignorant despite every attempt to teach them, straight to hell.

Ain't gonna happen. Barring that, the next best thing would be to tax the rich punitively and use all that money to support the pool of those who are unable to provide for themselves. The top five percent would take care of the bottom twenty percent*; it would be their obligation, in exchange for having too goddamned much money. It wouldn't be fair - some of the money they gave to the poor would inevitably support some freeloaders and pustules, but then, the rich are obscene (and often they are pustules themselves), so it's fitting. The middle seventy-five percent of us would be taxed more reasonably, in reasonable proportion to our needs, and would mostly get what we paid for. The rich would get less than they pay for, but what the hell, they deserve it and they can afford it. The poor wouldn't pay, and would still get provided for. Utopia!

This isn't going to happen either; we are far too politically corrupt for it. Also, we're really bad at finding the point on the number line where we say, "OK, this is about right, this is about balanced, now let's leave it there and nobody touch it."

Real socialist systems, when they have been put into practice, don't happen that way. Instead, taxes tend to expand until they are punitive to all (did you know there is now a substantial anti-socialist movement in Sweden, generally considered to be the world's most successful socialist achievement to date? It's not that they don't like the lifestyle, it's that it's bleeding them dry), and the role of the state spirals out of control until it is looking over your shoulder and extinguishing your cigarette (bad for you!) and putting protective padding on every surface and snooping on your every move.

Again, we're very bad at finding the middle ground. No one wants a return to industrial conditions of 1916, but that doesn't excuse the fact that some of the activities of OSHA are ridiculous and insulting. No one wants a world where consumers have no recourse from getting screwed, but is the only other alternative a universe where as soon as someone gets a paper cut from a clamshell package their first thought is "lawsuit"? Really? Must we have one extreme or the other? Apparently we must.

What I want is a world
1. where everyone pays what seems to be a reasonable cost in taxes for the services they use, proportionate to their income;
2. where we recognize that the government does need to provide some services, because letting each person fend for themselves leads to disaster;
3. where the government does not squander our cash;
4. where the poor and discriminated-against and physically unable have a safety net;
5. where we agree that there is such a thing as the common good and it is a desirable mutual goal;
6. where people actually use their brains and common sense in negotiating with one another;

and that's very pleasant and all, but honesty compels me to add, from the other side of my brain:

7. where the greedy and the lazy and the willfully ignorant and the dishonest and the freeloaders get no rights, no support, and no sympathy.

Goals 1-6 are unachievable even without goal #7. Number 7 really pushes it over the edge. And laughs at it as it plummets.

I'm well over the time I allocated for this rant. I have more entertaining things to go do. To hell with a conclusion.

* I originally had this sentence nicely balanced with the top 20% and bottom 20%. But I had to change it because the concentration of extreme wealth in this country is so narrow and obscene that "the top 20%" would include many people I don't characterize as "having way too much money." In fact current wealth concentrations are like 1% of the population having 90% of the cash, or something only slightly less ridiculous than that. As I say, I try to be humane, but that doesn't mean I don't fantasize sometimes about that 1% being stripped of all their worldly goods and being sent to live in a cardboard box in an alley in the Bronx.

** So, it turns out, the deal was: This is the city fire department. Inside the city the department is paid for by taxpayers. However, it doesn't cover the surrounding rural area, which is apparently either too sparsely populated or too disorganized to have a fire department of its own. So the city will come out for rural firefighting - if you have subscribed to their service. Get that? They are offering something they don't have to offer to people they don't have to offer it to, for a nominal fee. They are the good guys. Again, if the guy couldn't pay that fee, that's different. But if Dan is right and he thought of it as a "$75 house-saving fee" to be paid only when it was too late, well, screw that.

"Mayor Crocker said if the fire department operated on a per-call basis outside the city, there would be no incentive for anyone to pay the rural fee. As an analogy, he said if an auto owner allowed their vehicle insurance to lapse, they would not expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it was wrecked." [1]

My wife would say - did say, in fact - that the firemen should have put out the fire and then collected the $75 - or more - after the fact. Putting aside whether they could, this is the same logic which leads to emergency rooms that are unusable to nearly all because people are using them as ad hoc non-emergency medical care. "But doctors can't refuse care!" people cry. OK, fine, I guess I'm just a mean person then.

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I don't have much of a comment except that, due to my own recent (past 3 year) circumstances, I'm just as conflicted and angry and confused as you indicate in this entry. So thank you for making me feel not so alone.

-- 02:26, 6 October 2010 (BST)


I wonder sometimes how many of us there are.

-- 02:27, 6 October 2010 (BST)


As an analogy, he said if an auto owner allowed their vehicle insurance to lapse, they would not expect an insurance company to pay for an unprotected vehicle after it was wrecked.

I realize this isn't your poor analogy, but it's poor regardless. An insurance company only gets involved after something has been damaged, and has no opportunity to stop the damage before it starts or spreads. A fire department can do both, and through their negligence, not only allowed this man's home to be destroyed, killed three dogs and a cat.

I still think the homeowner, assuming he could have afforded the service, was an asshat. But allowing living creatures to die because someone hasn't paid a $75 fee is beyond the pale, even setting aside the moral question (and as you know, for me it is very much a moral question) of whether the fire department should have saved this man's house.

-- 02:38, 6 October 2010 (BST)


this deserves a longer more thought-out comment than I'm about to offer, so I hope I can come up with more later, but a few additional notes.

1. According to one source (pulling from an "Olbermann video" that I haven't tracked down and watched yet), in a previous fire involving the man's son the firemen bent the rules, put it out and collected the $75 later. This did not spur the guy to spend roughly the cost of a cigarette a day towards helping the fire department in their future endeavors to protect his house. A kindness done is apparently not a lesson learned.

2. There's an additional issue in the feedback loop here about the poorer classes reproducing faster than the more productive classes that I think deserves some thought.

Okay, I've also got:

3. I volunteer to help a woman (and her children) who isn't capable right now of managing herself needs more help than she gets from the state. I've another acquaintance who lives in a 2 bedroom house and works when she wants to because she's gaming the system. There are both the desperately needy and free-riding "welfare queens", and I believe it's our societal responsibility to make sure that the former at least don't die in their own filth, but I do resent the latter, and they do exist.

-- 02:40, 6 October 2010 (BST)



1. This guy sounds like an asshole. Lots of assholes exist. That's still no reason to let his house burn and allow his pets to die, an act worthy of animal cruelty charges, IMO.

2. Please tell me by "more productive" you simply mean "wealthier."

3. You are welcome to resent those people gaming the system; heck, I do, too. Where I get angry is when people suggest that this means the system must be thrown out entirely -- and while you may not be suggesting this, there's no shortage of right-wing asshats who have been for years and years, and continue to do so.

-- 02:54, 6 October 2010 (BST)



1. So far as I can tell there was a several hour gap in between the time when he first called the fire department and when the pets allegedly died. If said pets really died, and aren't just part of a narrative that increasingly is gaining holes, it wasn't the fault of the fire department. If said pets did actually die, why is it the responsibility of firemen to run into a burning building, an act for which they have a 50% chance of being paid $75 spread amongst them, and not that of other bystanders?

2. No. I believe "more productive" is vaguely correlated with earning more, as production and earning are somewhat linked, but I don't believe that wealth, especially in a rental economy, is linked to production.

3. Yes.

But I think a crucial addition to that #3 is that I believe very strongly that government is the wrong mechanism by which to deliver charity. Where I differ from most other right-wing assholes is that I believe it's a necessary interim step, but the thing that will lift people out of poverty is providing a social structure under which they can believe in themselves. It is *impossible* to outsource that, it has to be done voluntarily, by people who believe in it. And, yes, there's a longer essay in this.

-- 04:46, 6 October 2010 (BST)


1. Because if the firefighters knew there were pets in there that could be saved, and they deliberately allowed them to die because someone wouldn't fork over $75, that's morally reprehensible.

2. If this is the case, then I'm not sure how you're distinguishing between "poor" and "more productive" -- these seem like apples and oranges comparisons to me.

3. There's no money in providing social services, so private industry has no incentive to provide it. And while I realize that you and I obviously differ very much in our opinion of what government's role should be, it seems to me that if a government cannot provide at least a minimal set of services to help support the poorest among us, it fails.

-- 14:35, 6 October 2010 (BST)



1. Where's the trade-off? If I throw a cat into a burning building is someone else obligated to risk their life to retrieve it? I don't even think someone's obligated to go in after a human, though I'll celebrate them if they do. If not, what makes firefighters different in that regard from, say, road construction workers?

How about if those firefighters are volunteers and have families? Does taking the training and showing up to ride out on the truck obligate them to risk their lives (and risk leaving their children shy a parent) for the sake of a cat or a dog?

2. I'm making the distinction because I'm saying, quite callously, that for most people, reproducing is imperiling the future of the human race, and I want to acknowledge that I see value in people and their offspring that transcends income and money.

3. Here's the problem: The mom in one of the families we volunteer for has said "I can't even draw from my friends for support, I need to call up you guys". I want to be a friend to her, I want to show her that I think she has value because that's the only way I know of to override a childhood that involved being pimped out at 12, abandoned, couch surfing to make it to adulthood and avoiding the authorities to stay out of foster homes and stay in the network of people she did have, and the two decades that followed that. But the thing that that statement made starkly clear is that there is simply no way that anyone who's paid to help out, no matter how well meaning that social worker is (and I know some of the ones who work with her and I love them dearly), simply cannot have the impact on her life that someone who is helping her primarily because they see value in her can.

We can't change poverty through "industry". We can only temporarily ameliorate it through government services (and the macro effect on reproduction probably means that in the long run we're making poverty worse by doing so). If we really believe that we can do anything about poverty, it's by rolling up our own shirt sleeves and getting our hands dirty.

This is what I mean about "the government is the wrong means to deliver charity", because it's not charity. Outsourcing that function to government is not being personally involved in changing a life, it's not showing someone that "I care about you, you have value, and I'll be there to guide you while you change your life".

-- 15:44, 6 October 2010 (BST)


"A fire department can do both, and through their negligence, not only allowed this man's home to be destroyed, killed three dogs and a cat."

No, no, no. "Negligence" can only exist where there is a "duty." This fire department had no duty to put out this guy's fire (except see potential counterargument below*). There is *never* any duty to be a Good Samaritan, nor should there be. The rule that you are implicitly arguing for would be to create strict liability for any loss that arguably could have been prevented by a stranger's actions. You think there is too much litigation now in a negligence regime? Try a pure causation environment where everyone is an insurer for everyone else.

The pet argument is a red herring, moreover. First, no duty means no duty. Second, even if there were a "moral" duty to try to save animals' lives (which would come as a shock to the meat-packing industry, for one), what evidence do we have that the fire department knew of the risk to the pets? Why didn't the owner get them out? How far into the duration of the fire did the pets die -- in other words, what evidence is there that immediate action by the fire department would have saved them? This argument is nonsense and is made to distract from the fact that there was no general legal or contractual duty imposed on the fire department here.

*If in fact the fire department previously responded to this guy and charged him after the fact, then there may be a promissory estoppel -- the owner arguably could have reasonably relied on the fire department's acceptance of a pay-after-the-fact scheme on a go-forward basis. Actually, I think the fire department should have taken the Crassus approach, and when the owner called said, "Well, what's it worth to you? We'll take $1000 to come out, cash up front." They had this guy in an economic headlock; they should have squeezed.

-- 16:19, 6 October 2010 (BST)



1. Volunteer or not, those firemen accepted jobs as public safety officers. Presumably they not only knew the risks when they signed up, but also knew about the official procedures for dealing with such risks. If things with the fire had progressed so far that it was no longer safe to enter the home and save the pets, fine; it's sad, but these things happen. However, so far all I've heard is that the firemen simply refused to help, not even after money was offered. Prove to me that it was no longer safe for anyone to help out here, and I'll drop this part of the argument.

2. Overpopulation is certainly a problem, I agree, but I don't see what it has to do with this story -- nor do I think it's possible to address the overpopulation problem without having some very complicated discussions about race and class.

3. If you really do just mean "charity" and not "social services," then I agree with you, at least to some extent; providing resources with staff who understand how to deal with individual situations and the wide range of things that make people poor and keep them that way is the right solution, no matter whether government or private industry offers it. Nevertheless, nine times out of ten, when I see someone make the argument that the government needs to stay out of this area, it's from someone who isn't thinking about this quite so carefully -- merely thinking about those awful and largely nonexistent welfare queens are leeching off the government tit -- so I hope you'll forgive me for jumping to conclusions.

Robert, I agree we don't know whether the pets could have been saved. At the same time, as I said to Dan above, people, even volunteers, who take on a public safety role presumably also understand that there are certain risks and obligations associated with that role. Unless there was absolutely nothing that could have been done to save this man's house and pets -- and remember, I still think the owner was an overentitled asshole -- it was these firefighters' *duty* to help. And they didn't.

-- 17:03, 6 October 2010 (BST)


Profrobert, thank you for saying succinctly about "duty" what I was trying to say.

I have not yet had to make the "I'm not going to risk myself for that person's life" decision. I have had to make that decision for property (early stage car fire on the side of the freeway, I could have risked my fingers to get a hood open so we could use the extinguishers more effectively, chose to let it burn). And it could be argued that I made some similar decisions regarding people's comfort and my own safety in my river guiding days.

On "$1000 to come out", I think it's probably hard to account for the real costs of being prepared to respond to a fire, but ten or twenty thousand is probably a better number. It may actually be close to the value of the house in question.

And, of course, it's also unclear what you can do for a rural structure fire unless you have a pond nearby and the pumpers to move that water. Most rural firefighting is earth-moving and back-fires with spot extinguishing of embers.

-- 17:08, 6 October 2010 (BST)


Nonelvis, my grandfather was a trainer and inspector for the Red Cross and State of New York health department, and a (volunteer) firefighter. I mention the former only to indicate that many firefighters and police officers in the New York City area had taken a class or several from him, so when he showed up at an incident he was recognized.

Many's the time when I was with him in the car and the scanner would tell of police or fire activity nearby, but outside of the jurisdiction in which he was a volunteer, and he'd go to the scene.

In responding to any of these scenes outside of the jurisdiction of his fire department, did he have any obligation to risk life and limb?

Because that's what I understand you as saying: By signing up to fight fires in his town, he was automatically obligating himself to participate in any rescue he could get to before the local authorities.

I've thought about taking the training to become a volunteer firefighter for the station which serves the rural district south of town, but if I were committing to that there's no way I'd do so.

-- 17:21, 6 October 2010 (BST)


I love your #7. Passionately. In a different context I was discussing this problem with a banker, from whom I am laboring industriously to obtain a refi on my first and second mortgages. I'm having to jump through an amazing assortment of hoops, considering my credit rating is sterling and I'm not behind on my payments. I just want a little relief from the high interest rate I have now. He allowed as to how, if I were delinquent on my payments and/or had crappy credit, then there'd be no problem. All manner of assistance has been mandated for those folks, regardless of how they got that way. Me, I have to carry the deadbeats and freeloaders, the greedy rabble who bought waaay more than they could afford and are now suffering for it. Sure, the banks (not to mention good ole CRA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) bear a certain amount of responsibility for granting them credit in the first place; but the fact remains that many bought pie-in-the-sky that they well knew they couldn't afford, and now I'm paying for it. Where's my incentive to perform properly when I could just walk away?

My incentive is that I do not believe that the world (or the government) owes me a living. I believe everything has a price, and if I want said thing, I need to be responsible enough to pay for it. Also, I was brought up in an atmosphere where warnings and threats were carried out, not just used as an empty, feel-good way to avoid a conflict. The firefighters warned him of the consequences, but he chose to ignore them, thinking aw, they wouldn't do that. But they did. Now he's indignant? Phooey.

If, in fact, there were pets inside, then he should have at least attempted to get them out himself. He seems to have pretty much sacrificed them to make a point. Now, THAT'S animal abuse. I'm inclined to agree that maybe the pets have been added to make the story more poignant.

People who find themselves in an untenable position through no fault of their own should have some recourse, temporary provisions should be made to HELP THEM GET BACK ON THEIR FEET, not to provide for them for the rest of their lives. The others, too bad, Jack. You made your bed... Yep, I'm a mean person, too.

-- 17:23, 6 October 2010 (BST)


Nonelvis: The "public safety officer" argument is a loser, too. These firemen were not public safety officers for the county, only for the City and for the people outside the City who hired them. Let's use a more extreme example to illustrate the point. Assume I am a New York City police officer. I am in Buffalo when I see a crime in progress. Do I have an obligation to try to apprehend the perpetrators? What about if I'm in Boston? Or Montreal? Or on an airplane? If I have this obligation in any or all of these locations, do I get to keep my gun? As it stands now, if I even make an arrest outside of New York City, it's a "citizen's arrest," and I would lack the normal protections that a police officer has for making arrests. If the rule were as you say, the only logical thing I could do is never leave the City because my duty would be unlimited and my protections substantially limited. As Dan points out, in such a scenario, no one would ever take on a public safety job.

-- 18:14, 6 October 2010 (BST)


Dan and Robert: I am not talking about the case where a public safety officer is outside of his or her jurisdiction, but specifically the case here, where the public safety officers were inside an area they served ... just only for those people willing to pay. The latter fact alone is completely disgusting to me, because this is exactly why taxes are necessary -- they support public works and safety -- but the fact that firefighters who had already helped the next-door neighbor would simply stand by and let someone's house and pets burn because he hadn't forked over a mere $75 is the icing on the fail cake, as the saying goes.

It's clear we're never going to agree on this, so I'm going to drop it at this point. But I am extraordinarily disappointed at the lack of compassion, much less awareness of our responsibility towards fellow human beings, shown in the comments here.

-- 18:35, 6 October 2010 (BST)


If ya say to a kid "don't throw this toy out the window, we're not stopping and I'm not going to replace it", and the kid throws the toy out the window... well, maybe you make the assumption that the first time was an accident, and you replace the toy, but you say very clearly "this is the only time".

What do you do the second time?

That's what happened here. It happened with a house, and not a plastic toy, but the difference is merely one of scale.

When we give someone the choice, make the options clear, and they intentionally fuck it up, then bailing their ass... uh... out of the fire is just enabling behavior.

We can argue that they aren't mentally competent to make such decisions, but at that point we should remove their ability to procreate and put them in a supervised home, too.

And the public safety officers were outside of their jurisdiction. Their jurisdiction was defined by the people willing to pay the fire protection district. Their jurisdiction is similarly limited by the hours that they're paid to be on duty. Jurisdiction is not just geography.

-- 18:55, 6 October 2010 (BST)


I do think the fire department in question should have established a fee for putting out fires of people who don't pay, and that fee should be something like 10 years' worth of service: $750, say. That would dissuade people who would decide not to pay the fee, and instead would just plan to pay at the time of any fire.

Practically speaking, that's the problem -- if you put out this guy's fire, you are telling people that it's okay if they don't pay their fees, they can have their fire put out anyway. Next thing you know, no one is paying fees. But I think that charging a super-large fee (that could be paid in installment, or even recovered by lawsuit if necessary) is better for everyone than a burned-down house, damaged property nearby, and possible fatalities. What if there had been kids in there instead of pets?

And I also think that this should never have been allowed to happen: either everyone is required to pay the fees, or another arrangement is made. If I were the next-door neighbor I would be pissed. I also think that if I were a firefighter I would have gone in there anyway, practical issues aside, because letting someone's house burn down and possibly pets die is way, way beyond retrieving a kid's toy flung out of a car.

Some people will always want a free ride, whether they are rich or poor, no matter what is offered them. Just like some people will always be ungrateful and/or unhappy. You can learn to live with it and work around it, or you can become one of the perpetually unhappy yourself.

-- 20:01, 6 October 2010 (BST)


Jette, as previously mentioned, other cities in that county have such a policy and have roughly a 50% collection rate (PDF), and no legal mechanism by which to enforce collections.

And my first reaction too is that one of Benjamin Franklin's major innovations was government provided firefighting in order to solve all those problems inherent in privatized firefighting, but:

A. I can think up all sorts of scenarios where someone might want to build a cabin somewhere in the middle of nowhere and assume the risk of fire themselves rather than pay for the cost of providing for an organized fire department to come out (ie: imagine ranches in a remote area: 15-20 or more miles from the nearest town, irrigation pumps on site, so all the equipment is local, there's a good chance the fire department isn't bringing anything to the party).

B. We get the government we deserve. It only costs time to be involved in making your local government better. I used to live in Tennessee. I now live in the People's Republic of California, and serve on one of my city's advisory committees, because I don't want this sort of thing happening to me.

That last experience, serving on the committee, has given me approximately zero tolerance to listen to people whine about services the city should or should not be offering.

(Also gives me negative tolerance for people whining about taxes; there's one simple answer there: cut military spending, other than that, unless you're in my tax bracket or better (and none of my friends who pay more are whining), you're getting way more back than you're spending.)

To your last point: Yep. One of the reasons I cheer on the firefighters and town officials in this story is that my life's way too short to worry about helping people who won't make their own effort. There is tremendous freedom and joy in being able to say "not my problem".

-- 23:47, 6 October 2010 (BST)


"that many things which do appear to be "free" often carry hidden costs I don't care to incur." Along those lines, I read recently "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold."

"In fact current wealth concentrations are like 1% of the population having 90% of the cash" It looks like it's closer to to 20% have 83%, according to

"Wait, why should I pay for you to overload the emergency room so much that it's ineffective for what it's supposed to be doing, just because you can't afford a doctor?" Well, in that particular case, it seems like it would be cheaper and more efficient for everyone to get "free" doctor care, and not tie up the emergency rooms.

Dan: "There is tremendous freedom and joy in being able to say "not my problem"." That's true, but it doesn't make you not a dick for saying it. (To be clear, it doesn't necessarily make you a dick, and I say it quite frequently, too. But then, I might also be a little dickish.)

And I doubt Nonelvis will be reading, but just in case: "That's still no reason to let his house burn and allow his pets to die, an act worthy of animal cruelty charges, IMO." For that to fly, I think you would have to level the same charges against everyone at the scene and that doesn't seem quite right to me. (Could you disapprove of them? Sure! Could you charge them with something? I dunno.)

-- 21:28, 7 October 2010 (BST)


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