The Mysterious Un-Flair of Style

Hercule Poirot can’t crack the case of The Mysterious Affair at Styles without a clear view of the situation. Public domain.

A group of people dwindling at nameless hands for unrevealed reasons is a great setup for suspenseful fiction like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It’s not so entertaining when it happens in reality.

Christie is back in the news nearly half a century after her passing. Dozens of headlines in media outlets worldwide announce revisions to her classic mysteries which prune vocabulary described as anywhere from “potentially offensive” to outright “racist.” (The original title of And Then There Were None was undoubtedly the latter, while some of the other altered verbiage didn’t actually offend anyone.)

With current editions exhuming past authors from Ian Fleming to Roald Dahl, putting new words in their mouths (while not consulting such collaborators as nonagenarian Dahl illustrator Quentin Blake), it may seem like the only British book that won’t be more like George Orwell’s 1984 by 2024 is, well, 1984.

In Christie’s Death on the Nile, Hercule Poirot noted the need to “clear away the extraneous matter so that we can see the truth.” Yet the author’s retroactive editors should heed her detective’s warning in the same novel against lapsing into shortcuts “to escape the strain of having to think.”

As Eric Frank Russell put it: “Nothing can defeat an idea — except a better one.” Like Christie, Russell used the title “And Then There Were None” to convey a relentless erosion of governmental enforcement of order. Russell’s tale was set on a distant planet where an invading spaceship crew steadily declines, not from deadly weaponry but via peaceful resistance crumbling their resolve. No furtive mastermind is the culprit; that world’s egalitarian society has no clearly designated ruler, and turns out to not require political leadership at all.

Escaping the Thought Police doesn’t require travel to the isolated island of Christie’s And Then There Were None, let alone following Russell out of the solar system. It doesn’t even require mandates to preserve textual integrity. It’s enough to make a stand on the right to use our brains to solve the perplexing problems of our times as freely as Christie’s sleuths employed theirs.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “The Mysterious Un-Flair of Style” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, April 3, 2023
  2. “The mysterious un-flair of style” by Joel Schlosberg, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman [Wasilla, Alaska], April 6, 2023

The Internet Needs a Country of Its Very Own

Global Internet Access. By Wassim Benki 0690. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Global Internet Access. By Wassim Benki 0690. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

On March 23, Axios reports, Utah governor Spencer Cox signed two bills “aimed at limiting when and where anyone younger than 18 years old can interact online, and to stop companies from luring minors to certain websites.”

The laws require social media companies to “instate a curfew for minors in the state, barring them from using their accounts from 10:30pm to 6:30am” and “to give a parent or guardian access to their child’s accounts.”

Even ignoring the blatant unconstitutionality of both laws — both vis a vis the First Amendment and the reservation of the power to regulate interstate commerce to Congress, not state legislatures — making it likely they’ll be quashed in court, I have to wonder just how Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection intends to enforce these incredibly dumb ideas.

The bills are titled “Social Media Regulation Amendments,” but if Utah has truth in advertising laws they really should be titled “Amendments to Encourage Minors to Lie About Their Age and Learn to Use Virtual Private Networks to Hide Their Locations,” which pretty much describes the effect they’ll have if there’s any real attempt to enforce them.

Unfortunately, Congress also seems to be tip-toeing through the tulips of “social media regulation” in similar ways, from prospective app bans (if you think a successful TikTok ban would be the last such action, think again) to various measures for suppressing “disinformation” (read: Stuff politicians don’t want you to see).

And it’s not just an American thing. Globally, various regimes (including supposed “democracies” like India) increasingly arrogate to themselves the power to just shut down the Internet any time they find public communication inconvenient.

While there are workarounds for all this nonsense, and while each such episode encourages more people to learn about those workarounds, what the Internet really needs is a country of its very own.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be a NEW country. Any existing regime with robust telecommunications capabilities — perhaps a Caribbean or Pacific island nation? — will do, if it’s willing to put enforceable “separation of Internet and state” provisions in its constitution, set a nice low tax rate, and watch the revenues roll in as existing tech giants and ambitious start-ups abandon nosier and costlier jurisdictions (and those jurisdictions’ regulations).

Users would take care of the rest.

Short of shutting down Internet access entirely — and likely finding themselves overthrown — the busybodies couldn’t do much about it.

Get this done, Big Tech.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Fraud Is Baked Into the American Healthcare Cake

A doctor and his patient talking at cross purposes. Coloured Wellcome V0010950

“Internal documents and former company executives reveal how Cigna doctors reject patients’ claims without opening their files,” investigative journalists Patrick Rucker, Maya Miller, and David Armstrong reported at ProPublica on March 25. “A Cigna algorithm flags mismatches between diagnoses and what the company considers acceptable tests and procedures for those ailments. Company doctors then sign off on the denials in batches …”

There are many structural defects in an American HMO/PPO/prepaid care system that masquerades as “insurance.” One of them is a tendency to mask outright fraud. If ProPublica’s reporting is accurate, Cigna’s practices are an example of that defect.

While Cigna implemented its “review system” — which sounds more like an “automatic denial of purchased benefits” system — more than a decade ago, legal thriller writer John Grisham described it in his 1995 novel The Rainmaker.

In the novel (subsequently made into a film starring Matt Damon), an “insurance” company refuses to pay for a leukemia patient’s bone marrow transplant on the pretense that such transplants are “experimental.”

A young lawyer eventually discovers that the company’s policy is to simply reject claims, knowing most patients won’t fight for the benefits they’re entitled to. High legal drama ensues.

If you purchased an item from me, and I failed to hand over the item after receiving payment, you’d know darn well I’d defrauded you. You wouldn’t do business with me again, and might even sue me.

But suppose I’m a $150 billion company with 18 million “customers,” most of whom receive my services in the form of employment benefits with limited (if any) ability to withdraw their patronage from, or stop payment to, me.

That kind of arrangement makes it a lot easier for a business to get up to shenanigans.

While I’m on record as thinking that “single payer healthcare,” for all its problems, might work better than the current Rube Goldberg healthcare apparatus, “single payer” wouldn’t solve this particular structural problem: A captive “customer” base at the mercy of a large, opaque bureaucratic apparatus.

The solution to this problem is finding a way to sever the linkage between employment and health coverage, which originated as a way of getting around World War 2 salary caps with “fringe benefits.”

Direct — and stoppable — payment from actual consumers would force Cigna and other “insurance” companies to cater to those consumers, or lose business to companies that don’t treat defrauding the customer as a viable element of a legitimate business plan.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.