Until recently, Cairo had a refuse-collection system unlike any you'll find in the United States, but it worked—and might even be commended for its efficiency and environmental responsibility.  Cairo's households enjoyed free or inexpensive garbage collection, right from the door, by the zabaleen ("garbage people"), an impoverished community of Egyptian Christians living in an area of Cairo known as "Garbage City."   The collectors and their families then sorted the trash, reusing, repairing, and recycling what they could, and feeding the organic waste to their livestock, primarily pigs.

Sanitation workers do not generally enjoy high status anywhere, and the zabaleen are despised not only for their jobs, but also for their poverty, their religion, and their willingness to keep pigs as livestock.  However, as even American cities discover during a protracted sanitation strike, we do not do well to devalue other human beings, least of all those responsible for keeping us from suffocating in trash. 

In a misguided effort to stave off a swine flu epidemic, Egypt ordered that all the pigs be killed, even though the disease is not, in fact, spread by pigs.  By the law of unintended consequences, Cairo's citizens are now more vulnerable to disease than before.  The zabaleen no longer collect the trash, and the government's effort to replace them with multinational corporations has largely failed.  The poorest of the poor have lost their only livelihood as well as their source of food, and Cairo's streets overflow with filth.

I don't write this to belittle Egypt or the Egyptian government, but as a warning.  Our country has a problem:  Our healthcare system, once arguably the best in the world, is falling apart.  (We can disagree over the causes, or even the definition, of "falling apart," but that's not the point here.)  There's no shortage of wrangling over what the intended consequences of a federally-imposed health plan might be, but whatever shakes out of that debate, I fervently hope that we will consider the possible unintended consequences before killing off the pigs.

(Sources used for this post included The New York Times and Wikipedia.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:19 am | Edit
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Today marks our Constitution's 222nd birthday, in honor of which I present another depressing civics quiz.  The questions are drawn from the test prospective U.S. citizens must pass, and if these standards applied to all, apparently 97% of Oklahoma's public high school students would be in danger of losing their citizenship.  I'm sure no one is under any illusions that the problem is limited to Oklahoma.  Here are the questions; for the answers, and what percentage of the students surveyed answered each question correctly, see the original article.

  1. What is the supreme law of the land?   
  2. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many justices are there on the Supreme Court?   
  5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
  6. What ocean is on the east coast of the United States?
  7. What are the two major political parties in the United States?
  8. We elect a U.S. senator for how many years?
  9. Who was the first President of the United States?
  10. Who is in charge of the executive branch?
What I find interesting about this quiz is that, although I did get answer every question correctly, I would say few if any of my answers were due primarily to what I learned in school, but rather to merely living life.  When it comes to history and politics, I admit to being abysmally ignorant; I wangled my way out of Pennsylvania's required semester of American Government by taking an extra year of independent study physics.  (Don't ask me why they let me get away with that, but I trust the Statute of Limitations covers it somehow.)  I loathe politics in general and other than voting am shamefully neglectful of my civic duties.  Yet even with my notorious lack of observational skills, I couldn't avoid learning enough to pass the test.  Perhaps my additional years on this planet do count for something.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Edit
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My Swiss family doesn't let me forget that "universal health care" does not necessarily mean a system like that in the United Kingdom.  For this I am grateful, because of the horror stories that keep emerging from that system, such as the cases of Charlotte Wyatt, Leslie Burke, Linda O'Boyle, Jayden Capewell, and too many others to write about.  It's worth looking at alternatives, and T. R. Reid's The Healing of America does just that.

I haven't read the book; my opinion is based on the New York Times review. There's much I don't agree with in the review, and I'm sure in the book also, but I like the gimmick:  Reid had shoulder problems that were interfering with his golf game, and he decided to present the case to 10 different doctors around the world.  The results?  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Edit
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I've been avoiding this topic for some time, hoping people would come to their senses and get on with real political debate, but it just won't go away.  President Carter now chimes in:

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man....[The] racism inclination still exists, and I think it's bubbled up to the surface because of belief among many white people...that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country....[Responses like comparing Obama to a Nazi] are not just casual outcomes of a sincere debate on whether we should have a national program on health care...."

What is so intriguing, and frustrating, about these remarks is that they are held by so many otherwise intelligent, educated, and reasonable people.  What is it in the mental make-up of what I'm loosely calling the American Left that blinds them to two stunningly obvious facts:  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 9:47 am | Edit
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It would not be too strong to say that I loathe politics.  I vote, and have done so since I was first able to at age 19, but mostly without enthusiasm; choosing the least objectionable candidate is gritty, unsatisfactory work.  Other than that, I try to ignore politics.  Unfortunately, politics does not return the favor, so I occasionally give in to the prodding of my conscience and attempt to articulate a political opinion in a blog post, or write a letter to an elected official, or attend a political meeting.

The last is rare indeed, but that's what I did the other night.  Our state representative held a health care "town hall meeting."  On my list of preferred activities it was somewhat below scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush, but I put on my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and ventured out into the rain anyway.  Not without a bit of grumbling under my breath, but this was one of the few candidates in memory who actually impressed me in his campaign—or maybe credit goes to the campaign worker who rang my doorbell; those of you who know me know that it takes someone really special to impress me after starting out on such a wrong foot! Anyway, I decided to go because I can't very well complain about what they're doing to health care if I don't express my opinion, and because I think our representative is a good guy and what a shame it would be if he held a meeting to get people's opinions and no one showed up.  I thought I'd at least go and say hi and maybe get to know him better.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 11:30 am | Edit
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I don't expect most of my Loyal Readers to wade through the entirety of Paul Gottfried's Voices Against Progress: What I Learned from Genovese, Lasch, and Bradford at the Front Porch Republic, but I include the link for those of us who were students at the University of Rochester during those times.  I find it fascinating to glimpse the political maneuverings that were going on over the heads of mere students.  I knew neither Eugene Genovese nor Christopher Lasch; I stayed as much as possible in the science and engineering part of the school, and never set foot in that "hotbed of the New Left, the University of Rochester history department."  But everyone had heard of Genovese, whom we usually referred to as Our Resident Commie, and his wife, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, the Resident Feminist.

Of even more interest is how the thoughts and ideals of these people changed over time.  I don't regret having avoided the U of R history department in the 1970's, but find myself wishing I had known these folks as friends.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, August 14, 2009 at 12:08 pm | Edit
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I'm filling out a political survey.  My friends can now pick themselves up off the floor, as they know that in our house such things go immediately into the trash without passing Go.  Political surveys, from either party, are inane nonesense with loaded questions on the order of, "You certainly don't support our evil opposition's murderous polices, do you?" and of which the true purpose is to solicit contributions.  But this survey is different.  Oh, it's inane, all right, with all of the above problems.  But this survey, which is REGISTERED IN MY NAME ONLY and MUST BE ACCOUNTED FOR, which requires my immedate attention, and which assures me that my answers are important in the battle against the Obama Democrats' aggressive push to expand the federal government into every area of our lives and businesses; this survey from the National Republican Senatorial Committee that is sent only to a select few to represent ALL Republicans living in my voting district because it is cost-prohibitive to send a Survey to every registered Republican in my area; this survey is addressed to me.

It appears to have escaped the attention of the National Republican Senatorial Committee that I've been a registered Democrat for all 38 years of my voting life.

Well, I commend them, inane questions or no, for reaching out to the opposition even at the cost of slighting the registered Republicans.  I hope they enjoy my answers, which for some questions will indeed sound as if I were "one of them" and for others will leave them scratching their heads.  But they're not getting the $11 contribution they ask for "to help cover the cost of tabulating and redistributing my Survey,"  even though $11 isn't out of line for a days' amusement.
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Edit
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On June 12—tomorrow—Food, Inc. opens.  As usual, we'll probably wait for the DVD, but it's definitely one I want to see.  Do I really want to hear more about the dangers of our factory farming system?  Unfortunately, yes.  True, it produces plenteous, apparenly low-cost food—we spend less of our paychecks on food than in any time in our history—but the true costs are hidden, and high.  Did you know that 90% of the items in our grocery stores contain some form of corn or soy?  That our supply of beef, chicken, potatoes, and many other foods is driven by the fast-food industry? One reason I'm looking forward to the movie is that supposedly it is not entirely a doom and gloom horror flick, but also celebrates the power of the individual to make a difference.  We shall see.  Thanks to DSTB for the alert.

Here's the official Food, Inc. website, where you can see the trailer.

And a PBS show about the movie.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Edit
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Not only does North Korea continue to flaunt its testing of nuclear explosives and ballistic missiles, but it has abrogated the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean war.

Since its nuclear test Monday, North Korea has issued a stream of harsh rhetoric, even declaring that the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War is null and void.

The situation in North Korea, with what appears to be a madman brandishing nuclear bombs, will require more knowledge and wisdom than even President Obama's most ardent supporters can claim for him.  Hence the prayers; feel free to join me.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 10:04 am | Edit
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For every presidential election in recent history (meaning at least the last 30), I have had one overriding concern:  the nomination of Supreme Court justices.  I was asked once why it would be a problem if President Obama merely replaces retiring liberal justices with more liberals—other than missing the opportunity to "pack" the court to my liking.  That's when I realized that I don't want a biased Supreme Court, at least not in the sense my friend was implying.  But neither do I want a "balanced" Supreme Court.  I want one that will rule based on the Constitution, whether they are for or against me.  I don't want the Judiciary taking over the role of the Legislature.  If our Justices are chosen based on their positions on particular issues rather than for their position vis–à–vis the Constitution and the Law, I think we have little hope for real justice.

But enough heavy thinking!  Mallard Fillmore can make me smile, even about such an important issue.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 18, 2009 at 10:40 am | Edit
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In the back corners of my "to blog about" list, I finally found In Defense of "The Rich," by Larry Elder.  I'd originally bookmarked it because of the facts about charitable giving (see below); I'd remembered, from another source, George W. Bush's impressive record in this matter, but couldn't find it when I needed it in a debate with my brother.  This article gave the hard numbers for my hazy memory, but at that point it was but l’esprit de l’escalier, so I filed it under "sometime"...you know.

But sometime is now here, and I find that the article has several good points, and complements my previous post, Think You're Rich?  Or Poor? (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Edit
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(This is a follow-up to previous posts:   Options In Childbirth: A Personal Odyssey; The Trial; The Trial, Part II; and The Trial, Part III.)

I am not a lawyer, and I have no idea what Judy or her lawyer really think, but that doesn't stop me from pondering what happened in Judy's trial.  It has been an interesting look into our criminal justice system.  We know, personally, good policemen and excellent prosecutors who work hard for truth, fairness, and speedy justice, so any negative comments are not a blanket indictment, but food for thought. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:09 am | Edit
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Let's not do it again.  Back in 1976, panic over swine flu led to a mass-vaccination program in which nearly a quarter of the U.S. program received immunizations at a cost of $137 million—followed by millions more the government paid out in damages to victims of vaccine-related Guillain-Barre syndrome.  Working in a medical facility at the time, I stood in line and received my free shot and thought no more about it.  However, the whole affair is now considered a debacle, a textbook case of governmental over-response to fears of a pandemic, fears that turned out to be unfounded.  Let's not do it again.

Panic and misinformation are spreading online, aided and abetted by the mainstream news media, which I know from local hurricane reports are adept at the art of crying wolf, deliberately creating fear because fear keeps people glued to the news reports, no matter how little real information is imparted.

Should the government be aware, alert, and prepared to act if this becomes a true emergency?  Certainly.  But let the ordinary citizen take reasonable precautions of the kind we should always be taking (handwashing, keeping sick people home), and avoid spreading panic, which is itself a dangerous disease.

(Standard legal disclaimer:  I am an Ordinary Citizen, not a doctor.  If your doctor tells you to panic, don't let me stop you.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:46 am | Edit
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I couldn't have told you anything about Mary Ann Glenon before turning to Wikipedia, except for this:  the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican has both principles and courage.  The University of Notre Dame, which has apparently forgotten that it is a Catholic University, is planning to bestow an honorary degree upon President Obama, who will be giving the commencement address. Glenon, who had been scheduled to receive the University's Laetare Medal at the same time, demurred.  To deflect speculation, her letter of refusal was released to the press and published in First Things.  (Hat tip to Patrick Deneen.)

[I am] dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

When Notre Dame suggested that her acceptance speech might be good for the President to hear, she correctly reminded the university that graduation is a time for honoring the students, not for political debate.

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Brava!  I am not a Catholic—but courage is courage, and someone needed to remind Notre Dame that being Catholic isn't only about praying for your football team to win.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Edit
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The Internal Revenue Service has released tax statistics for 2006.  You can view them yourself, at the IRS site.  Having neither the time nor the mental energy to sort it all out, however, I'm glad the tax folks at J.K. Lasser have done the job already, and I'm going to take their word for it.  You are welcome to take my word for their word, if you'd like.

How rich—or poor—do you think you are?  Are you paying your fair share of taxes?  What about the other guy?  Forget, for the moment, comparison with the rest of the world—how do you compare with your fellow Americans?  Statistics are slippery things, so take these as you will.  Bear in mind, also, that the percentages given here are based on the number of income tax filers; anyone who did not file an income tax return for the year 2006 is not counted, and neither is any money made in  underground economy.  AGI = Adjusted Gross Income, Line 37 on Form 1040. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 9:48 am | Edit
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