Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

How About Mandating Dumbshit Insurance?
Got brains?


I'm all for autonomy -- providing I don't have to pay for the results of anyone's but my own. If you're a risk-taker -- riding a motorcyle, and without a helmet -- not a problem...providing you pay for insurance that covers the cost of scraping you, as human huevos rancheros, from the pavement, and piecing you back together again. If you choose not to pay for medical cleanup...well, how about we just leave you there on the asphalt for the coyotes?


It's one thing if you're driving along, as a friend of mine was, and you swerve to avoid an opposum (quick advice: your life is worth more; flatten the opposum) and end up rolling your car. Calling for help in this case would be reasonable use of 911 and rescue personnel. It's another thing entirely if you plan some life-threatening, we've-got-hair-on-our-balls adventure and get stuck on Mt. Hood. You want to be rescued? Pay up front for insurance to cover the cost, or agree that we'll just leave you there with the icicles.

Unfortunately, at the moment, guess who's picking up the cost...for the Forest Service, the Oregon National Guard, the local police and rescue, etc.? Well, they don't send me the bills, but I'm guessing it probably isn't the three hotshots who thought they'd test their luck against Mother Nature:

Two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and a C-130 cargo plane from Nevada were to continue searching round the clock in 12-hour shifts, he said. The C-130 has infrared imaging equipment that can sense body heat.

Capt. Mike Braibish of the Oregon National Guard told reporters that air searchers had seen a piece of equipment that they hoped to investigate more closely on Sunday, but could not say if it was part of the climbing expedition.

The U.S. Forest Service closed Mount Hood above the Timberline Trial and the Pacific Crest Trail to everyone except search-and-rescue teams, and all but rescue aircraft are banned in a three-mile radius of the mountain.

Dwight Hall, whose son Brian Hall is among the missing climbers, told reporters that family members were on "a roller coaster of emotions."

"Keep in mind is that today is only the second day of conditions favorable for a full-scale search-and-rescue effort," he said, adding the time had been well spent even when weather conditions were difficult.

"It's all been progress," he said. "At times it's been frustrating. The dedication of the people out there tackling this effort in these conditions is unparalleled."

A tearful Hall added that the families were confident in the abilities of the lost climbers.

I don't know about you, but when I feel "confident" about somebody's ability to handle a situation, my next step isn't calling out Black Hawk helicopters and the National Guard.

As I'm writing this blog item, one of the climbers has been found dead. It's unfortunate, but, again, nobody marched the guy up there at gunpoint. He and his friends all chose to take the risk. All I'm saying is, with the risk should come the cost. In the words of a Spanish proverb: "Take what you need, but pay for it."

Posted by aalkon at December 18, 2006 1:22 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


So, what do you do if the weather guys are wrong, and you get trapped on a mountain despite your best efforts?

What do you do if your private, perfectly-restored F86 jet fighter eats a bird on takeoff and crashes?

What do you do if some thug comes to your house and you're not prepared to defend yourself?

As insurance company agents will tell you, some things are tough to insure. Some risks are stupid ones - but what are you going to do, sit at home?

Gee, I hope all of you out there have earthquake insurance. Why should my tax dollars go to subsidize your foolish choice of residence?

Posted by: Radwaste at December 18, 2006 3:30 AM

If you choose to take recreational risks -- including living in a flood plane or earthquake zone -- you should be prepared to pay for them.

P.S. Rad, I know you have a soft spot for flying, but recreational flying and home invasion robbery don't exactly have the same measure of choice involved.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 5:14 AM

A cold bloodied but factual view of how things work. A surgeon friend of mine refers to motorcycles as donorcycles.

Posted by: Roger at December 18, 2006 6:48 AM

I LOVE motorcycles, but that's why I don't have one...especially, these days, with all the assclowns driving with their knees while holding the cell phone in one hand and mascara or a cigarette in the other.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 6:58 AM

I had a pretty good yell at the TV set when the mother of one of the climbers was on the news saying "I know God is looking after my son". What's she going to think of her God, I wonder, when her son's frozen, lifeless body is delivered to her....

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at December 18, 2006 7:19 AM

My guess is you don't spend much time in the backcountry nor do you have close loved ones who do. Here's why the forest service, NPS, BLM, and local authorities do not require you to eat the cost of Search and Rescue: nobody wants people dying because their families are trying to figure out how to finance the cost of rescue. In other words, when somebody doesn't show up in the parking lot at the appointed time, the authorities would prefer for the missing's loved ones to not spend days debating whether or not they can afford the cost of the rescue. If we were to go to a pay-for-use, you'd have a lot more body recoveries as people would wait far too long to contact authorities, if they did so at all.

Hours and minutes count. Think about it from the standpoint of the rescuers. If you're going to take some pretty substantial risks*, you'd really like to do so with as great of a chance of recovering a person and bringing them back, alive to their families. Nobody wants to be asked to risk their life to recover a body. That can be done at your leisure and you can wait months for optimum conditions**. So the earlier the loved ones contact you, the earlier you can get started, and the most likely you are to recover a living person.

*remember, they started up the search immediately after the Friday's snowstorm, meaning under very high avanlanche risk conditions)

**Would you make the family pay for body recovery? What if they didn't/wouldn't/couldn't pay, would you just leave all those bodies up there, perhaps as warnings to others? What happens when you leave a body and then the family sues you for *whatever* or demands you close the area as it's now a sacred burial ground?

Posted by: Seatte-lite at December 18, 2006 7:30 AM

That's strange, I guess it's the decision of the sheriff's office not to charge, because Oregon passed a bill allowing agencies to charge for rescue operations. I also thought that California charges when they rescue people off the beach cliff faces.

The sheriff in this article has a point when he says people might not call for rescue because they'd be afraid of the bill...

Posted by: Hasan at December 18, 2006 7:35 AM

Radwaste: three of your four examples come under the heading of "assumption of risk" -- if you like to hike in the high country, you (1) study the weather closely, (2) don't go in marginal conditions, and (3) under all cirucmstances, are prepared to get stuck if the weather turns. I used to backpack solo in the High Sierras in California and I always had emergency gear and was prepared to survive a sudden blizzard for a week, even in summer - it's just the way I was trained.

Flying, well... if flying your own plane isn't assumption of risk, I don't know what is. Flying is inherently dangerous. You want to fly? Your risk.

Live in an earthquake zone? Well, I suppose when you're too young to read the maps.... Seriously, if you choose to live right on top of the San Andreas Fault, why should the rest of the country subsidize the risk?

The only one that's different is home invasion: there, the state has purported to protect citizens from such breaches of the peace and taxes us to pay for that protection - hence we have a right to expect the protection. However, we also know - most of us at any rate - that protection isn't what it's cracked up to be, and, since we retain our inherent right to self-defense, we prepare for the contingency that the government will not protect us.

I also love motorcycles, but have had two friends over the years killed riding them - neither time their fault, but the motorcyle always looses the argument with the larger car or truck.

I would favor some sort of insurance consortium where those who want to engage in risky activities and want the chance of rescue could lay off the risk at their own cost - I might even join even though my use would be small - but I find the notion of the state - meaning the taxpayers - footing the bill for millions or even billions where individuals want to be protected from the costs of risks they have assumed, deeply offensive.

Posted by: CatoRenasci at December 18, 2006 7:38 AM

Great idea. But who decides? When a rescue call comes in, who decides if they are worthy of rescue or not? Who defines the criteria that 911 dispatchers, police, forest rangers, ski patrol, civil air patrol, coast guard, etc., etc. use to determine that some are worth more than others?

If I were in charge, any idiot that crashes swerving to avoid an oppossum would sure as heck deal with it on their own...

Posted by: F15C at December 18, 2006 7:43 AM

F15C, it's a reflex many people have. If you preplan for it, you'll probably (sadly) flatten the critter. Climbing an icy, dangerous mountain peak isn't a reflex. And no, I don't go into the back country much. My idea of getting close to nature is walking along a city sidewalk with grass growing up between the cracks. What I do get into is the notion of personal responsibility. Why should I pay for your recreational risk-taking? And if you can't afford the bill (either personally or by taking out insurance), either sign a note before you go telling the rest of us to leave you for the coyotes or don't go. Again: Take what you need, but pay for it.

I just heard some guy on the news saying he goes up the mountain to get close to god. Listen, dude, you've got an imaginary friend, you fund your rescues from your visits with him.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 7:51 AM

So is it alright for me to drive a SUV for safety reasons? Or is my life worse less than your air?

I agree with with you about the climbers assuming what I consider an unreasonable amount of risk. I don't think I should pay for their reckless behavior.

For the record, I drive a Civic. My wife's got the SUV, but it's a small one, and it does snow a lot up here...

Posted by: MarkD at December 18, 2006 8:00 AM

Small potatoes really.
How about the seemingly unquestioned assumption of rehabilitating New Orleans after Katrina. Nice how dozens of politicians all pledged to rebuild the city better than ever. No one bothered to ask who was expected to pay for it all.
Same point as these climbers, but on a massive scale. We are all our brothers keeper evidently.

Posted by: Jon at December 18, 2006 8:06 AM

In driving an SUV, you assume some of the risk, but you put others at risk. To me, it's a moral issue -- I think it's wrong to unnecessarily endanger others. There are those who have legitimate reasons for having a vast vehicle. If you don't need one, it's moral not to have one.

Katrina in New Orleans was largely a failure by government-- those levees were shit. That said, if you live on a flood plain, you should either get flood insurance or agree to gamble on losing it all.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 8:16 AM

I prefer to maintain control of my vehicle and miss the Possum, nobody dies.
Bodies are left all over the most treacherous and distant mountains, oceans, jungles and deserts.
Unrecoverable remains usually become a part of the scenary.
How many are on top of Everest?
How many are on Mckinley?
It's human nature to rush aid to the stricken. costs are not counted until all the lost come home. It is also human nature to walk into a snow storm and climb a moutain in record time with out adequate supplies and gear.
It is human nature to say, "who pays as well as Why me".

Posted by: Barry 0351 at December 18, 2006 8:46 AM

It is human nature to say, "who pays as well as Why me".

It's human nature to rape, steal, and murder.

You sound like you're succumbing to "the naturalistic fallacy," the notion that because something is natural, it's okay or good. Hint: Poison mushrooms are natural.

How can you justify expecting others to clean up after your willfully chosen risks? Did you live without thinking too much, or do you actually think the rest of us should pay to keep you alive after you choose to take some dumbass risk? If so, why?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 9:02 AM

I don't think Amy has much of a clue when it comes to risks.

According to the Hurt report, the most complete report on motorcycle fatalities, 66% of those fatalities were caused by a car pulling into the right of way of the motorcycle.

Instead of motorcyclists carrying insurance to "scrape themselves off the pavement", why not make asshat car drivers personally financially responsible for the carnage they cause?

But then again, it's not much of a rant if you use facts, is it Amy?

Posted by: Tristan at December 18, 2006 9:32 AM

I think there is another way of looking at this question that is, if not entirely convincing, at least worth considering. We have had a tradition of preserving wilderness in this country, and part of the cost of that preservation is making it open and available to those who want to explore it. I am willing to underwrite the costs of having rescue crews trained and available here in Los Angeles County if that is the cost of having an open and available Angeles National Forest. The same holds true for the Park Ranger service in Yosemite and Kings Canyon. The Sierra Nevada range by itself is larger than Switzerland, and some of us consider it a great stroke of luck that presidents from Lincoln on have been willing to preserve and protect it, including the modest costs of developing a park service and a limited set of roads.

Your point about foolhardy people taking stupid risks is well taken, and perhaps there might be some rational way of creating a pool of climbers' insurance to spread the financial risk. At the same time, the cure may be worse than the problem: Compared to an hour's cost of the war (or even the peacetime military), this operation is a lot less than chickenfeed in cost. In addition, it makes sense to have a trained mountain rescue service, and in that sense alone, the costs of this operation can be considered to belong to training and practice, albeit a real life training exercise in this case.

Posted by: Bob G at December 18, 2006 9:33 AM

Tristan, whether you are at fault on a motorcycle isn't the question. You've assumed the risk by riding the motorcycle. See the "donorcycle" comment above. If you go into the woods without a weapon and get eaten by the bear, the same logic applies.

And Bob, making the war cost comparison is simply silly. Compared to the cost of the war in Iraq, buying me a mansion in Beverly Hills is chicken feed. And?

The cost of rescuing these people has got to be staggering. If you want to donate money to fund such enterprises, be my guest.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 10:04 AM

And regarding having a Park Ranger service. There's quite a distance between having a couple of rangers driving around in jeeps to make sure nobody's making an unsafe campfire and calling out the Black Hawks.

What I don't understand is why there's so much argument about this. All I'm advocating is for people to pick up after themselves, and to have personal and financial responsibility for their

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 10:17 AM

We rescue these people because we believe human life is precious. Even stupid, reckless humans are someone's father, mother, child, sibling. The thought of leaving someone to freeze or starve in the wilderness because they made a misjudgment or did something else a libertarian disapproves of doesn't strike me as civilized.

I believe Mt. McKinley and a few wilderness areas have some sort of pay-for-rescue system when people take very high-risk expeditions, but I'd not like to see them for every forest and outback area, because they'd discourage people from going there. If we're going to save the wilderness, the wilderness needs a few friends who've seen it up close.

Life is messy and unpredictable, and sometimes bad things happen. Part of our humanity is helping other people, not leaving corpses lying around "for the coyotes" because it might cost money.

Posted by: Nance at December 18, 2006 11:14 AM

I don't have any objection to taxpayers picking up the cost of search and rescue operations. If we start setting up eligibility criteria for emergency and policing activity we'll be in big trouble. This is one of the things we should be paying the g'ment to do. There are other, much larger misuses of taxpayer money around. Start with Iraq. That said, I find it hard to sympathize with people who mountain climb in the dead of winter and who ignore wide spread forecasts of a large impending storm.

Posted by: MichaelG at December 18, 2006 11:18 AM

Conducting search and rescue operations for lost climbers give the National Guard units an opportunity to learn skills that will come in handy when and if they are ever deployed in a military operation abroad. Think of it as a full dress rehearsal for the real thing like war games. Plus, it gives the National Guard a huge amount of free publicity. Just think of how much it would cost the National Guard to buy all the air time they are getting for nothing.

Also, I have an issue with your statement regarding people having to pay extra for choosing "recreational risks" like living in an earthquake zone. Scuse me, I didn't choose to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was born in California as was my entire family for five generations. The same goes for people who live in flood zones. Are you going to penalize people for where they were born? The whole point of insurance is that it spreads the risks, so Californians pay for Hurricane Katrina costs because Mississipians will help pay for The Big One, when and if it hits.

Posted by: Patrick Carroll at December 18, 2006 12:27 PM

Contrast my way of thinking with so many people commenting here who seem to think it's your right to climb Mt. Hood and then have probably millions devoted to your rescue, billed to "other people": I've had health insurance my entire adult life -- even when I was so poor I was sleeping on a door propped up on two milk crates because I couldn't afford a bed? Why? Because if I didn't, and something catastrophic happened to me, it could break my parents. Or, then again, they could leave me rotting in some public hospital. What do you all have against personal responsibility? Paying for your choices? If you live in a flood plane or an earthquake zone, you have to take measure to protect yourself, or gamble on being fucked when you lose everything. Why should other people fund your life?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 12:36 PM

I think the answer to that one is, no-one understands the concept of personal responsibility. It's a natural extension of the victim mentality.

It's like the guy in one of your recent columns that went out with a psychotic woman and then wondered why bad things were happening.

Bottom line is, it's your mess, clean it up.

Posted by: Chris at December 18, 2006 12:50 PM

First, sympathy and condolences. That said, I find it difficult to condone blatant idiocy. It's interesting that the newsreels always show a fat assed lard sandwich eating woman in a trailer park thanking the Lord for saving her from the ravages of a twister, but never giving an explanation as to why the toddler on the other side of the street wasnt so lucky. This is the "messy and unpredictable" nature of nature. Three thrill seeking yuppies using their resources and talents to pleasure their inner selves somehow escapes my view of something that I should be too concerned about.

Sure, attempt the rescue, and send me the bill, but don't hold them out as any sort of heroes. Perhaps it would be better to show them some scorn and and hold them out as objects of ridicule with the hope that the next group of self centered adventurers considering a foolhardy expidition will set out with the notion that any peril they find themselves in will not be seen by the dull witted cable news viewing public as fodder for sympathy and drama, but rather for what it really is; a fine mess that they have gotten themselves into.

Posted by: flyqc at December 18, 2006 12:57 PM

SUVs are actually not very safe. Check the statistics on roll-over and especially roof crush. There are no safety cages in these vehicles, and the fact that the roof cannot support the weight of the vehicle while upside-down means the driver and passengers will likely have his or her necks broken.

Posted by: Chris at December 18, 2006 1:08 PM

I'd be the last person to say SUVs are safe. They're the stupidest vehicle any parent, especially, can buy, and any parent who says they buy them for safety means, for the perception of safety, which is another way of saying, "I am a moron endangering my children with my stupidity." When I did my anti-SUV piece, a California state insurance investigator told me that the safest car on the road is a Volvo station wagon. Or was, back then. This information isn't a secret. The irresponsible assclowns would just rather not know so they can feel justified in buying their gigundomobiles.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 2:37 PM

Hi guys. Yes, I know I mixed circumstances, above. That's the point - to illustrate how tough it is to determine what "responsible" means.

Police are NOT required, in any shape of form, to protect you. See Warren v. DC. Thus, some measure of brains is required on your part to see that you aren't a victim. Yes, it's worse for women by at least one order of magnitude. No, I'm not going to try to tell anyone what the minimums are - there are actual schools for all levels of defense, including those which fail ordinary police officers, and you should go look.

Some extensive preparations are still foiled by the environment. Wyatt Fuller died in his F86, despite the kind of preparation and training that would and did impress the most meticulous pilots and aircraft restorers. Although most motorcycle riders and the vast majority of car drivers are essentially untrained (I use the term having seen the difference "before" and "after" at Jason Pridmore's STAR motorcycle school), those who are careful and skilled are still beat by the game; the idea is to pile on skill to get yourself out of the "wrecked that way" category. Notice that insurers don't think extra driver training, like Bondurant or Barber, is worth anything? Why is that?

Posted by: Radwaste at December 18, 2006 3:33 PM

Amy, Amy, Amy...
You are very cruel. It is because of attitudes like yours that there is much suffering in the world. I hope you never become a mother, you would be awful. I hope you never find yourself in the same situation as the families of the lost men are now. No one deserves that. When we have plans life happens and things go wrong. That is a fact. No matter how much planning accidents happen, which I think you are.

Posted by: Lavila at December 18, 2006 4:01 PM

Amy, Amy, Amy...
You are very cruel. It is because of attitudes like yours that there is much suffering in the world

On the contrary, what I ask of people is to be accountable, to be personally responsible. If more parents asked that of their kids, well, we wouldn't have our eardrums pierced by screaming brats in stores, restaurants and airports.

I long ago decided not to have children. Unlike many people, I gave it serious thought -- I didn't have an "accident," then pump one out. Again, personal responsibility.

And as for the families of the lost men, it's unfortunate that they're suffering, but let's not forget who's responsible: The men who went up that mountain. Let's just hope, in an age of rampant abdication of personal responsibility, these guys don't have any kids.

And as far as what is and isn't "deserved," nature is random, and the avalanche or gust of wind that hurls you to your death doesn't give a shit what a good or bad person you are.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 5:02 PM

Lets take a look at the issue with some realistic numbers, instead of tossing around whatever figures you have been lkead to believe.

When the United States Coast Guard works in terrible conditions to save lives, their personnel -- who do their jobs very, very well - are lauded as heros.

Yet when individual experienced and well equiped climbers and hikers band together, as volunteer search and rescue teams, to perform the same tasks (on land) FOR the government, many complain about "the cost."

The USCG spends $680 million a year for SAR, 13% of their budget (2005 budget,USCG web site). They perform 82 SAR missions a day, assisting 114 people (USCG web site).

It may not appear so, but the vast, vast majority of the work of the coordinated ground and air search on Mt. Hood is being conducted by those climbers and hikers, who pulled their SAR-team uniform Gore-tex parkas out of their packs for this particular ascent of the peak.

The value, not cost, of their un-billed service is extraordinary, commonly the greatest of any SAR mission.

When the United States military flys support to civilian SAR operations, it is training time for them, while fulfilling a humanitarian purpose. They receive extraordinary high-altitude, severe conditions practice that allows them to do things such as, well, combat SAR operations in the high peaks of Afghanistan. One Special Forces Mountain Detachment from Colorado (Fort Carson, "The Mountain Post") was very disappointed thery were unable to assist on Mt. Hood.

That time flying, and the costs budgeted for it, would otherwise have been spent doing the same thing -- training -- but under less intense, less realistic conditions.

Many folks for the last several yeasr have thrown around asioundin and bizarre figures as to what they believe SAR costs. This portion of society's "safety net" must be "socialized across everyone," to quote one state governor. Just as the "cost" of a fire department to respond when someone drops a turkey into their brand new turkey fryer and the splashing oil ignites the wall above the back patio, burning down the house -- or when the sheriff responds when a car that slids off the road -- in a blizzard -- into your house: after they should have known better, right?

The National Park Service has the best SAR stats (because as a fed agency that have lots o' paperwork to fill in). So tell me what makes more sense in assisting those in need, having the worst day of their life while enjoying the backcountry of this beautiful nation: diffusing among each NPS visitor 1.1 cent (that's RIGHT, "cent") they spend system wide for SAR, or billing all costs to the occasional "patient" who may very well wait and wait and wait to call for help, because he/she is afraid thay "can't afford" help?

Howard M. Paul
Colorado Search and Rescue Board

Posted by: Howard Paul at December 18, 2006 5:04 PM

So, Howard, the National Guard and all of essentially free? Black Hawk helicopters, free? And what if others lose their lives going after the hikers? Is that free, too?

Jeez, you'd think this country was a socialist nation, with all the people so up in arms at the notion they might have to pay for themselves.

If you do extreme sports...perhaps you should have to take out insurance to cover your extreme rescue? Is that really such an outrageous suggestion?

The other thing people are getting all unhinged about is the idea that you could choose to take your chances, to not put something aside in case the Black Hawks and all are needed.

Freedom of choice, apparently, is as big a problem for a lot of people as the idea that they'd asked to be personally responsible.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 5:20 PM

Love this blog.

Posted by: Crid at December 18, 2006 6:29 PM

Love this blog as well.

Amy, I think you are arguing yourself into a corner here for a principle. If there was a Salvation Army ringer here for those 3 hikers, I would ante up a $20 or more gladly. Rescuers are noble in a time of rare nobility. I did worry about that Chinook and the possiblity of others being killed though, and see your initial point.

Posted by: eric at December 18, 2006 7:27 PM

I completely, unreservedly agree with Eric about this, except to the extent that I don't or am not sure.

Amy's not painting herself into a corner with a principle, she's testing its boundaries. This is good to do. Someday one of these mouintaintop thin-air helicopter maneuvers is going to go horribly wrong in a CNN-accessible way. On that day, we'll wish more people had asked Amy's questions.

Meanwhile, next time you're at a cocktail party and some weekend warrior talks about summitting this or that peak, ask them to talk about the risks they might be asking rescuers to take.

Posted by: Crid at December 18, 2006 8:28 PM

Amy's not painting herself into a corner with a principle, she's testing its boundaries. This is good to do. Someday one of these mouintaintop thin-air helicopter maneuvers is going to go horribly wrong in a CNN-accessible way. On that day, we'll wish more people had asked Amy's questions.

Finally! Thank you. Crid gets it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 18, 2006 8:54 PM

Hey, As they say, "If frogs had wings they wouldn't bump their ass". Shit happens, Gotta love these people for pushing the envelope. We are all connected. People run into burning buildings, jump into the surf to rescue someone they don't know. One comment I read the guy said " If I hadn't done it I couldn't live with my self" after saving some guy from the surf at Magu rock. We're all connected by some force far above risk insurance. And that's the truth. Sorry guys but we gotta pay the bill for that C 130.

Posted by: bill at December 19, 2006 3:20 AM

Bill, you're not just my commenter, you're my PayPal. See that button to your left? Feel free to contribute $100 toward my Beverly Hills Mansion fund.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 19, 2006 3:54 AM

Apparently a lot of people don't get that they don't live in a socialist country. I live in Canada which is. For example, our health care system is paid for with high personal income taxes. My friend's husband, who is an alcoholic, and ruined his body with booze, just spent 2 months in intensive care. They are Americans (but landed immigrants), and he just cost our health care system at least $100,000 (probably more). Should we ask him for the money back, since he continues to drink heavily even now?

I was born here, have paid into the system my whole life, and have only spent 1 day in a hospital. I take good care of my health.

Explain to me how this is fair.

Posted by: Chris at December 19, 2006 6:30 AM

It's not. But, those with lapsed logic above will tell you it's your "duty" to pick up the cost of his choices (namely, the choice for short-term gain over longterm, and the choice to burden other people with the results of that choice.)

I guess, just as people like the commenters above complain bitterly about higher taxes, they never get around to figuring out how they get that way. I'm no economist, and it's really not all that hard.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 19, 2006 6:42 AM

The problem is that y'all are talking past each other.

The justification for these sorts of rescue efforts services are fundamentally _not_ rational. For most libertarians, that's the end of the matter- if it's not rational, it isn't right.

Any justification is going to be fundamentally irrational, along the lines of "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?" (KJV Luke 15:4)

Of course, that's not a justification a libertarian could accept. But I'm willing to bet that most people, Christian or not, would back the irrational position over the rational. It's just human nature.

But that's why we have a political process. If you don't like it, in California at least it would be relatively easy to get a ballot proposal that would eliminate all state funding for rescue efforts, or for that matter, the treatment of motorcycle injuries. I'd also be willing to bet that most people would vote against it.

Again, irrationality- but then, the majority of people do seem to feel that to some extent we ARE, or at least ought to be, our brothers' keepers. And yes, that feeling extends to forcing those who feel differently to pay for it.
As long as there is an open political process, I don't see a real problem with it. After all, freedom of speech also allows you to bitch about the unenlightened


Posted by: Speedy at December 19, 2006 11:28 AM

Once upon a time, a man from Genoa, Italy, sailed on a boat on a vast expanse of water no one had ever ventured on before. He unknowingly discovered a continent that went from the North Pole to the South Pole. A few years later, a Portuguese went on a sea expedition around the world, thus silencing those who thought the earth was flat. Centuries later, at great risk to their neck & life, men went on crisscrossing the earth in balloons, automobiles and aeroplanes. A few rough necks even went to the Moon & beyond. In all these adventures, some died & some did not, some were saved & some were not, while many were never heard of again. It takes guts to be a mountain climber, whether we agree or not on the usefulness of their venture. And if they are not trying to reach the top at the point of a knife, neither are the rescuers who have chosen this profession in full knowledge of the risks.

As for the cost of such rescues, get it right out of the horse's mouth: link here:

Posted by: Frania W. at December 19, 2006 3:45 PM

A lot of people are still not getting the jist of this blog. Columbus didn't have the National Guard around to rescue him, for what was basically a personal quest for money and fame. Why do you think he did it anyways? Part of the excitement for these guys is that they might die. That's why it's called 'high risk behaviour'. At least Columbus had a concrete goal, fame and fortune. Today's thrill seekers only want the thrill, but aren't taking responsibility for the down side (i.e. death). Maybe they should stick to their couch and their XBOX.

Posted by: Chris at December 21, 2006 7:28 AM

"So, Howard, the National Guard and all of essentially free? Black Hawk helicopters, free? And what if others lose their lives going after the hikers? Is that free, too?"

Amy, Howard's points were:

1) The NG is going to train with or without these people being lost. Would you prefer your tax dollars go to them training on real people in real situations (when they arise) or training in staged arenas? They can't just send Private Ryan out and say "go put your life in random extreme danger and we'll practice saving you".

2) Yes, the SAR volunteers have offered their lives for free. They know that the only risks imposed on them are the ones they chose to accept.

How much did the mission as a whole cost you? 1-2 cents? The volunteers picked up the rest.

Posted by: Eggie at December 23, 2006 5:46 PM

"So, Howard, the National Guard and all of essentially free? Black Hawk helicopters, free? And what if others lose their lives going after the hikers? Is that free, too?"

Amy, Howard's points were:

1) The NG is going to train with or without these people being lost. Would you prefer your tax dollars go to them training on real people in real situations (when they arise) or training in staged arenas? They can't just send Private Ryan out and say "go put your life in random extreme danger and we'll practice saving you".

2) Yes, the SAR volunteers have offered their lives for free. They know that the only risks imposed on them are the ones they chose to accept.

The mission cost the taxpayer, what, 1-2 cents? The volunteers picked up the rest.

Posted by: Eggie at December 23, 2006 5:47 PM

Risk is in the eye of the beholder. To me, smoking is a high risk activity. Yet I, in fact all of us, have to subsidize fire response to fires they start - in homes, in forests, etc. Drinking and driving is a high risk activity, not only for the driver, but for everyone else on the road at the same time - yet, all sorts of rescue response personnel tend to the disasters drunk drivers create. Smokers and drunk driving put all sorts of others at risk - on purpose!

Why is mountain climbing seen as higher risk than other activities? Co-ed softball broke my husband's leg. No friends seem to consider softball a high risk activity. He has no serious injuries from the activities his friends define as 'high risk', even after 25 years of involvement.

It is impossible to legislate common sense - especially since it isn't very common.

Posted by: Isabelle at December 24, 2006 5:08 PM

Your husband breaks your leg, we send an ambulance, we don't send up a number of Black Hawk helicopters and teams of searchers to imperil their lives.

Yes, Frania, risk takers are often to be admired -- but again, take what you need and pay for it. These people weren't benefiting civilization in search of anything in particular; they were getting their rocks off far too late in the season to be climbing sensibly.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2006 5:14 PM

And Eggie, 1 cent here, 2 cents there, it all adds up. Again, what do you all have against personal responsibility? The question isn't just on the mountain top, it's whether smokers, motorcycle riders, and obese people should have to pay their way. There's a blog -, where they think it's just terrible that an enormous person might have to buy two seats on an airplane, rather than boil over into the seat of the person next to them. I get a very small space on a plane when I fly coach, and I want every inch of it. I don't want to be squashed like a bug against the window because somebody weighs 400 lbs. (I had a huge person next to me on a flight to Little Rock -- it was extremely unpleasant, and why should I subsidize them?) Where does the abdication of personal responsibility begin and end?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2006 5:36 PM

Amy, I have been waging my own war with airlines for years. My luggage is usually too heavy and some airlines want to make me pay for the few little extra pounds. However, I have developed as an argument that small & slim passengers (= *passengeresses* like me under 115 lbs) should be allowed in their suitcase the few extra pounds they are not carrying on their body... And I often win my case!

As for the mountain climbers who did not make it, I understand your point of view, and maybe they also did when they either froze to death or fell into a ravine. But please, now, let them requiem in pace...

Posted by: Frania W. at December 24, 2006 9:18 PM

I agree with you. I think people should be weighed with their luggage for total poundage. I'll have to try that one next time I'm over!

In worst case scenario, I've had to repack. (I always bring a second bag these days...sometimes just tucked in my first bag.) I've also gotten the lightest possible luggage -- rolling duffels are the lightest, and some are pretty large.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 24, 2006 10:37 PM

Amy, I'm confused. On the one hand you talk about people who make high risk choices (climbing Mt. Hood, etc.) assuming personal responsiblity, then you talk about resources used (Black Hawks vs. ambulance) to assist/search/rescue people. Risks and resources used aren't the same.

Plus, the teams of searchers weren't 'sen[t] imperil their lives.' They volunteered and they always have the final say on what conditions they will work in.

Posted by: Isabelle at December 26, 2006 2:19 AM

No one has explained why climbers are being singled out? Others generate massive searches because of really poor decisions and choices. Why aren't you all picking on them too? Where is their risk pool insurance requests?

As for New Orleans - the people who lived there didn't push their elected officials to look after their city. Louisiana contributed to the die off of marshlands that might have mitigated the water surge. The levees were proved inadequate to prevent flooding in the '60's, yes - 1960s. What did New Orleans do then? It has been flooded dozens of times over the centuries - people still lived there, built more houses, etc. and most property owners chose not to have flood insurance. Why should their decision not to protect their assets be my problem? Why should I pay for resources to rebuild a house/city for the 3rd, 4th time in less than 100 years because of flooding???

But people here complain about a few National Guard helicopters using a search for training? Wow!

Posted by: Isabelle at December 26, 2006 2:30 AM

Chris put it well:

Today's thrill seekers only want the thrill, but aren't taking responsibility for the down side (i.e. death). Maybe they should stick to their couch and their XBOX.

And I've posted about New Orleans in this very comments section.

I believe people in a flood plain should have flood insurance and not expect the rest of us to clean up after them. See what I said about motorcyle riders as well. That said, it's a basic duty of government to not let the levees fail. It's why Schwarzennegger is a very good governor, and yet another reason I'm glad I voted for him...twice.


Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 26, 2006 4:35 AM

Amy, you seem to like to jump to conclusions. Where did I say I don't believe in personal responsibility?

Why is everything the government's responsibility? Seems to me that negates personal responsibility. Government needs to make my car safer; needs to prevent me from taking too many Tylenol. Because - how many I take isn't my fault. Huh?

New Orleans and Louisiana got the government officials they elected and those elected officials did nothing to protect the city from flooding (the last flood was in the '60s). Voting is personal responsibility. It is the closest the average individual can get to influencing government.

I didn't see you saying that smokers that burn down forests, drunk drivers that wipe out families should pay for the expenses they cause. People who talk on cell phones while supposedly in control of over 3000 pounds of metal and other materials. And they put *others* at risk - not just themselves as the climbers did. Apparently the only people who are supposed to be held personally accountable are you define as 'thrill seekers'. Which by the way - no one has defined. Just because it is a thrill for you doesn't mean it is a thrill for someone else, and vice versa. For me - it is a thrill to see a bald eagle carrying a salmon over a river. And, perhaps I seek that - does that make me an irresponsible thrill seaker?

I fully believe in personal responsibility. And I believe that saying 'the government should have...' is a huge cop out.

Posted by: Isabelle at December 26, 2006 5:29 PM

Isabelle, your previous post screams abdication of personal responsibility.

As for what is and isn't the government's responsibility, public works projects fall specifically under the government's auspices. The levees were, I believe, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.

We don't vote for public safety. It's not an optional item.

Furthermore, if you read my blog, you'll notice that I'm very much for personal responsibility. That was the point of this post. Between the lines of your comments, you're making excuses for the climbers. Again, that's why I suggested you have something against personal responsibility.

Frankly, I've got to be a bigger grinch about these topics than most people, as I believe people should pay for their own kids to go to school, and have a few fewer if they can't afford it (we'll pay for the very poor, so as to maintain an educated populace, necessary for a democracy). Also, NPR should not be government funded. And so on...

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 26, 2006 10:48 PM

Screams huh? How little you've noticed. You blast me too - don't address any of my questions or observations, or corrections of your erroneous information. Curious.

Army Corps of Engineers - directed by elected officials... People who believe in personal responsibility who are directly in harms way would seem more interested in levees, for example, than I would living 3,000 miles away. I pay attention to what the Corps does or doesn't do in my backyard. Don't you think those in Sacramento Valley pay more attention to the situation with their levees than people in oh, New Orleans? Plus - the levees were only the last stand against the water surge - nature's barrier had been eliminated by human activity. The levees were too low before - who knows if they were high enough this time? Live in a basin, get flooded when the water gets too high. As in a lot of situations - it isn't one thing that goes wrong, one bad decision made, it is a culmination of several things, usually at least 3.

My beef with you is that you focus on one tiny group that you've decided are thrill seekers. You don't seem to cover the other irresponsible actions of hundreds of thousands of others. Do you know how many climb mountains every year in the US vs. how many are searched for? Compared to how many people start forest fires due to irresponsible behavior, etc.? If you're going to jump on climbers - jump on all of the other groups too.

That I pay more taxes than people with rugrats who 'use the system' - irks me, especially since parents tend to be the ones that moan more about their tax burden. However, I think that as a society we all benefit from an educated populace so subsidising education for all is to my benefit. Paying more than my share - that's another issue.

As some Ukranian friends said when asked why they have only one daughter - that was all we could afford. Too bad more Americans don't think that way.

Posted by: Isabelle at December 27, 2006 5:06 PM

So, then why should I pay property taxes or any other taxes that go to finance schools? I have no children. I get no direct benefit from schools.

I don't fly around the country or world, yet tax dollars are used to subsidize the airlines and plane manufacturers. Why should I pay that portion of my taxes?

I don't want to be in Iraq, and a substantial portion of my taxes are being used to finance that. These monies are actually destabilizing the political climate in the mideast and the world as a whole. Why should I pay those taxes?

Maybe we pay taxes to insure that a social structure is in place, so that in the case of an unusual situation, like some poor jerk falls off a cliff, or an unusually large hurricane blows in to town, or tornadoes destroy a town in Kansas, there is an infrastructure in place to try and effect some good.

Maybe we try to rescue people from the side of a mountain because it's the right thing to do. Arguing about who should pay for it, and what kind of insurance they ought to have had, seems petty and small minded to me atm, and will, I predict, seem completely irrelevant to you when *you* need it.

Not sure why I even bother to respond.

Posted by: Michael Sprague at May 29, 2007 2:14 PM

Leave a comment