Today's Mallard Fillmore comic inspired this post, which Li'l Writer Guy had actually been working on in the background ever since a conversation we had about the subject last night.

Mind you, I don't know any of the details of how it will work, and am only commenting on the theory that children should be covered on their parents' health insurance until they are 26 years old. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at 8:18 am | Edit
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The Obamas' Federal income tax return for 2009 is now media fodder.  (Another reason not to run for president.)  They made a lot of money, though it didn't come primarily from your pocket unless you bought one of his books.  But here's what I want to know:  Does our president support his words with his actions?

One of my complaints about politicians is their penchant for enhancing their reputation for generosity by being charitable with other people's money.   (See the Daley Ponderings discussion about Davy Crockett.)   Oddly enough, the more a politician is known for wanting to spend tax money on charitable causes, the less willing he seems to spend his own money in a similar fashion—a lesson not easily forgotten if one has lived in Massachusetts.  As I reported in How Much Should the Rich Pay in Taxes?,

  • In 2007, President George W. Bush and his wife had an adjusted gross income of $923,807...and donated $165,660 to charity—or 18 percent of their income.
  • Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, earned between $200,000 and $300,000 a year between 2000 and 2004, and they donated less than 1 percent to charity. When their income soared to $4.2 million in 2007, their charitable contributions went up to 5 percent.

Here's the question:  In 2009, were the Obamas as generous with their own money as they want to be with ours? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 16, 2010 at 8:23 am | Edit
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I try not to say too much about our current Federal administration, even though much of what they are doing scares me.  (Yes, this is restraint.  Believe me.)  So when they say something I actually like, it's fun to be able to acknowledge it.  (HT Margaret Gorodetzer via Facebook, and Joan Lowy/the Huffington Post.)

With the caveat that I haven't investigated the story at all, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is my current hero for his recognition that walking, biking, and public transit are important ways of getting from one place to another in daily life, not just recreation or the last refuge of losers who have lost their drivers' licenses   Talk is not action, but it's a beginning. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 7:55 am | Edit
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Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan,  by Greg Mortenson (Viking Penguin, New York, 2009)

I knew before finishing Three Cups of Tea that I wanted to read the sequel.  Stones into Schools is even more wonderful.  For one thing, Mortenson has found better help with the writing, so the story is crafted in a riveting, compelling fashion. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Edit
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Indoctrinate U (On the Fence Films, 2007)

Indoctrinate U has been on my "watch list" for a while, but I hadn't been able to make myself take the time. It's not available from Netflix, but I found it on YouTube, in nine parts of about 10 minutes each.  Today it came up on my "get this done today" list, so I thought I'd watch one or two of the segments. But they don't end in good places, and anyway I got hooked, so I watched the whole thing.

This documentary on discrimination, intolerance, and anti-diversity in American higher education is obviously not a high-budget film, though I'm sure it's better in the original format.  I agree with Janet's comment that "it only pointed out the problems and didn't discuss any causes or better yet, idea for fixing the problems," and fear she may be right that it might be more divisive than helpful.  Nonetheless, it's an important film to watch for anyone attending, planning to attend, or sending money to a college or university.  I am not advocating staying away from college; but do be aware of the larger picture.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 11:11 am | Edit
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Article 1, Section 2 of the U. S. Constitution lays the groundwork for conducting a periodic census in order to provide proportional representation in the House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.... Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons....

This was modified somewhat by the 14th Amendment, to wit (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 7:53 am | Edit
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Three Cups of Tea:  One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin (Penguin Books, New York, 2007)

Greg Mortenson, the son of missionary parents, had a happy childhood in Africa, but his return to the United States as a teenager was rough, and it took him a long time to find his way.  As he tells it, it took a dramatic failure to lead him to his calling—but I disagree that someone has failed who has not succeeded in climbing the infamous K2 because he expended too much time and energy rescuing a climber in distress.  Whatever you call it, from that point in 1993 on, Mortenson's energies would be spent on a different form of rescue:  building schools and promoting education, especially for girls, in the remote, impoverished villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan.  Mortenson was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009; even President Obama's most enthusiastic supporters cannot read Three Cups of Tea without entertaining a doubt or two as to the wisdom of the Nobel Committee's final choice.  (The Nobel Committee overlooked Gandhi, too, so their peculiar judgement is not without precedent.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Edit
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The Occasional CEO is one of my favorite non-family blogs, not only because Eric Schultz is a good writer, but also because he is a good compiler:  He's great at weaving into a coherent essay the common threads from varied sources I'd never find on my own.  His most recent post, with the unassuming title of Odds and Ends, led me to Paul Campos's excellent Wall Street Journal article, "Undressing the Terror Threat."

Both essays are well worth reading in their entirety.  The first quote box below is from Mr. Schultz; the rest are Mr. Campos's words.

[W]e are buried by data, and are constantly searching for ways to separate signal from noise....Someone wants to take flying lessons: that’s noise.  Someone wants to take flying lessons but doesn’t want to know how to land the plane: that’s signal.  Similarly, someone gets on an international flight, pays cash, and checks no bags—that might be signal.  Someone sews explosive into his underwear: Signal.  Panic.

The question is, how much do we pay to find out?  What’s the real risk of dying at the hands of a terrorist in America?  And if 1,900 Americans [under age 65] die today from a variety of preventable causes, how much are we willing to invest to save those lives?

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 11:02 am | Edit
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In Forgetting the Unforgettable, I remarked on how ordinary were my diary entries when the Berlin Wall was breached.  In a subsequent comment, Stephan mentioned that he barely remembers the event, despite living so close to Germany.

Soon thereafter, while taking my customary walk and listening to a history lecture on my trusty mp3 player, I was reminded that the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred when I was the age Stephan was when the Wall fell.  I have no memory of the event whatsoever, nor of any particular anxiety because of the imminent threat of nuclear war.  We had "air raid drills" in our elementary school, but that was nothing new; they were a normal part of school, like the equally-frequent fire drills.  If the adults in my life worried about the situation, none of that filtered down to me.  My life comprised surviving fifth grade, playing with my friends, and enjoying my new baby brother.

Curious, I delved into the journals that my father had kept, hoping there would be entries for October 1962, and there were.  I looked forward to hearing how he and my mother had dealt with the fears that, I'm told, caused families eating breakfast to wonder if they'd still be alive at dinnertime. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 14, 2009 at 10:06 am | Edit
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Where were you 20 years ago today?

My own journal entry is remarkably filled with the mundane details of life with two young children.  There is one exclamatory sentence, "Would that every day could be like this!" but it was referring to Heather's having awakened with her alarm clock, showered, dressed, made her bed, cleaned her room and finished all her chores before school.  Not as momentous as events on the other side of the world, but a personal triumph. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:47 am | Edit
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More from the backblog . . .

The Strange Double Standards of Abortion  John Stackhouse muses on the murder of abortion doctor George Tiller, vigilantism, and hypocrisy. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 9:01 am | Edit
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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, physician Scott Gottlieb blames governmental overcaution for the shortage of H1N1 flu vaccine.  Unlike Europe, the U.S. (1) does not allow additives to the vaccine that stimulate the immune system and make a smaller dosage effective; (2) requires single-dose syringes, which require less of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosol than do multi-dose vials; and (3) continues to use the slower, egg-based manufacturing system rather than a new procedure using mammalian cells.

President Obama, the doctor believes, should be pushing us forward, dropping the precautions put in place to protect us.  Perhaps the doctor has forgotten 1976, when President Ford's swine flu vaccination program resulted in an unacceptable level of fatal or debilitating side effects.  Perhaps he has also forgotten the thalidomide tragedy, in which our cautious Food and Drug Administration's refusal to approve the new drug largely spared our children the horrible birth defects that afflicted the Europeans.

My hat's off the the president on this one.  Or it would be, if I were wearing one, which I hardly ever am.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at 7:19 pm | Edit
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On the Nobel Prize system, that is.

I mean, it's bad enough they don't have anything for mathematicians.

When I was in college, my roommate's father was a chemist.  Whether he ever had a chance at a Nobel prize I never knew, but we always watched the Nobel news carefully because he certainly knew many fellow chemists who did.  In the process, I learned that there was often a signficant time lag involved, the work for which the prize was given having been done many years earlier.  When I thought about it, that made sense:  one never knows the true impact of a discovery or an action until one can look back on it from a more distant perspective.

But now we have the Nobel Peace Prize given, not for actions proved peace-promoting from the perspective of history, but to encourage actions that might, maybe, possibly, we hope will do so?

President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision designed to encourage his nascent initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and replace unilateral American action with international diplomacy and cooperation.

For once, words fail me.  To his credit, I hear President Obama was surprised.  It would be greater credit if he refused the honor on the grounds that he doesn't deserve it, even if he hopes to someday.  But that may be too much to expect of any human being, let alone a politician.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, October 9, 2009 at 10:48 am | Edit
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I'm sure there must be a legitimate reason behind the new Federal Trade Commission rules for bloggers, but it looks pretty nonsensical from my perspective, another example of one-size-fits-all rules that inconvenience millions in an attempt to collar a few offenders.  It invites comparisons with the TSA's airport screening, except that I'm a lot more worried about terrorists than about those "I lost 300 pounds on this simple diet" ads.

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday took steps to make product information and online reviews more accurate for consumers, regulating blogging for the first time and mandating that testimonials reflect typical results.  Under the new rules, which take effect Dec. 1, writers on the Web must clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.  Testimonials will have to spell out what consumers should expect to experience with their products.  [From the Hartford Courant, October 6, 2009]

So here goes.  I suppose I'll have to put it in my About link, too.

I have no idea what others should expect from anything I review or comment on.  I'm one person, not a research laboratory.  You may love a book I find objectionable; you may dislike the recipe I say is fabulous.  Such is life.  Sometimes I get books for free, from publishers, which I'll acknowledge in the review, but no small tip is going to make me say I liked a book when I didn't.  (So far, I've received all of one book this way, and I haven't read it yet, which is why you haven't seen any such acknowledgement.)  I also get incalculable return from Lime Daley, but I like to think that's because of my familial relationship with the owners, not because of any endorsements I make on this blog.

I don't mean to pick on the FTC; they have a tough job.  But I'm much more interested in disclosures, say, of gifts given by textbook publishers to school boards, or from pharmaceutical companies to doctors.  When Internet bloggers attain the respect, authority, and power of doctors and school boards, when it takes more than common sense to realize their reviews might not have universal applicability, then I may be convinced of the need for regulation.  I won't be in that category anyway.  Smile
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 8:45 am | Edit
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Learning the lesson of Napoleon and Hitler.  Never underestimate Russia.  C. S. Lewis observed that mankind tends to alternate between taking the Devil too seriously and not taking him seroiusly enough.  Without making any implications on the order of "the Great Satan" or "the Evil Empire," it's a good analogy for the way we look at other countries, whether friend or enemy.  During the Cold War, for example, our fears of Russia—especially in the 1950s—were probably exaggerated, and it's likely that now we're not sufficiently worried about how far the influence such a large country with so many resources might reach.  Here's a New York Times article on the activities of Moscow's mayor, not to provoke fear, but to make us think.  The article is a bit dated, but the ideas are not.



And it doesn't even mention health care.  This analysis of then president-elect Obama's upcoming challenges was written nearly a year ago.  It is left as an exercise to the reader to decide how well he is meeting them.

U.S. President George W. Bush demonstrated that the inability to understand the uses and limits of power can crush a presidency very quickly. The enormous enthusiasm of Obama's followers could conceal how he—like Bush—is governing a deeply, and nearly evenly, divided country. Obama's first test will be simple: Can he maintain the devotion of his followers while increasing his political base? Or will he believe, as Bush and Cheney did, that he can govern without concern for the other half of the country because he controls the presidency and Congress, as Bush and Cheney did in 2001? Presidents are elected by electoral votes, but they govern through public support.



And now for something completely different.  A long and ususual but fascinating look at changes in Austria (and the world) since the days of Kaiser Franz Josef.
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, October 3, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Edit
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