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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Three diverse takes on China:

Although written nearly a year ago (note the line, "Assuming that the global economy does not decline now, it will at some point"), George Friedman's geopolitical analysis of China (via InvestorsInsight) is perhaps frightening, perhaps reassuring, but certainly fascinating.  The concluding summary provides an introduction to the ideas, though it by no means does justice to the long article. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 17, 2009 at 8:54 am | Edit
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Thanks to Percival Blakeney Academy for publicising Southern Utah University communicatio major Jeffrey Wilbur's direct and pithy denunciation of restrictive "free speech zones."  (Brilliant, even if he did exclude Alaska and Hawaii.)

In light of SUU officials [sic] plan to designate "Free Speech Zones" on campus, I thought I'd offer my assistance. Grab a map. OK, ready?

All right, you see that big area between Canada and Mexico, surrounded by lots of blue ink on the East and West? You see it?

There's your bloody Free Speech Zone.

Once again I wonder why people can't make their points without resorting to offensive language, but as a great deal of blood was spilled to put the First Amendment into effect, perhaps it's appropriate.

Unfortunately, free speech—like free markets—can do great damage when not moderated by ethical principles.  (Nothing complex required:  the Golden Rule would suffice.)  Stepping out from under the restrictions of a moral code invites the imposition of far greater—and often irrational—restrictions in response to real, perceived, or potential public harm.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 7:58 am | Edit
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I know—the last thing you need is another blog to read!  And the one I’m about to recommend had several authors and consequently great risk of overwhelming your feed reader.  Especially since nearly all the posts are thought-provoking and well-written.

The Front Porch Republic is new—the first posts were on March 2 of this year—but has already produced so many shareable articles that it deserves its own post.  Treat yourself and subscribe to the Front Porch Republic; they have a Comments RSS feed as well, though I can’t usually keep up with it.  A mark of the quality of this blog (and its readers) is that the comments are so far above the “Your a &%$#& moron!” level seen all too often on websites without benefit of sufficient editorial oversight. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 5:21 pm | Edit
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I grew up on orange juice reconstituted from frozen concentrate, but I have since forgiven my parents.  It was convenient and inexpensive, and oranges did not grow on our New York State trees.  It tasted fine to me, because I didn't know any better.  Why I was so ignorant I'm not certain, since every two years we visited relatives in Florida—and this was in the days before a cooling cycle in the weather teamed with developers to destroy most of Central Florida's citrus groves.  Perhaps orange juice from concentrate simply tasted better to me because that's what I was accustomed to, much as many children who grow up with Aunt Jemima often prefer the imitation to real maple syrup.  Or maybe I simply didn't care enough, but ate what was set before me without giving it much thought.

With maturity came discrimination.  When "not-from-concentrate" orange juice appeared in the grocery stores I winced at the price, but never looked back, as it made the frozen concentrate taste like so much flavored sugar water.  (Later, when I read John McPhee's marvelous Oranges, I learned that flavored sugar water is a fairly accurate description of the product.)  It would be another 20 years before I discovered orange juice that was orders of magnitude better than the best not-from-concentrate available in the grocery stores. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:11 am | Edit
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I've written often enough about threats to the fundamental right of parents to educate their own children:  the dreadful situation for homeschoolers in Germany, my concerns for Switzerland, and the unwarranted judicial intrusion in family life and education touched closer to home, in California.  California ultimately upheld the legitimacy of home education, but it appears North Carolina is the next battleground.

As with the Terri Schiavo case, it is family problems that allowed the court's nose into this tent.  It illustrates a serious problem with our "no fault" attitude towards divorce:  despite the husband's admitted, ongoing, adulterous affair, his desire to send his children to public school has been allowed to trump his wife's desire to continue homeschooling.  What is truly worrisome, as it touches homeschooling is the judge's power and attitude, as well as whatever precedent his decision may set. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, March 12, 2009 at 10:22 am | Edit
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I'm going to use my proverb until it catches on:  The wise man recognizes truth in the words of his enemies.  And the prudent man defends even his enemies from unjust accusations.  It's time to annoy some of my readers yet again.

Many years ago I listened, against my will, to part of a Rush Limbaugh radio show.  I was disgusted by the self-aggrandizing bombast, and even more by the sarcastic, mocking humor.  Since then I've read bits and pieces of many of his newsletters, however, and have to admit that amongst the bombast, mockery, and occasional misinformation, there is some important truth.  Oh, how hard it is not to let our selves get in the way of our message!  And how many people are blinded to the truth because of the way we present it!  However, that is another issue. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 2:31 pm | Edit
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I am reproducing John C. Wright's latest post in its entirety because I desperately want my liberal readers to tell me why he is wrong, and many of you don't bother to click through when I merely provide links.  Three things keep me from utter despair over the course we are following:  (1) denial; (2) knowing that God—not the President, not the media, and not the corporate CEOs—is ultimately in charge, and will bring good out of even our most boneheaded mistakes; and (3) our children, and young people in general, are still enthusiastic and optimistic.  Maybe they're in denial, too, but as long as they don't give up we will make it through. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, March 6, 2009 at 5:11 pm | Edit
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alt The Gridlock Economy, by Michael Heller (Basic Books, New York, 2008)

Peter V.—who now keeps most of his insightful commentary behind the Facebook wall, so I can't provide a link—alerted me to The Gridlock Economy, which I touched on in the first Casting the Net.  Since then I obtained the book through Interlibrary Loan, and thanks to my Lenten disciplines, finished reading it last night.  Now I can get the library monkey off my back and return this long-overdue book.  (To be fair to them, the library has not been nagging me about it. But I was brought up to view an overdue library book as an unpaid debt, and my own conscience does quite enough nagging.  In maturity—I think once I passed the half-century mark—I came to realize that keeping a book a little longer and paying a fine was an acceptable strategy and more reasonable than returning it unfinished.  But I still imagine that I'm keeping hoards of folks in durance vile by limiting their access to the book.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 7:20 am | Edit
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George Friedman's The Next 100 Years:  A Forecast for the 21st Century is not yet available, but there's a long and fascinating excerpt at InvestorsInsight.  If some of Friedman's predictions seem nonsensical, the same cannot be said about his conclusion that the least reliable predictor of the future is our expectations.  In the immortal words of investment prospectuses, "past performance is no guarantee of future return."

Friedman dramatically illustrates his point by imagining what observers standing at each even decade from 1900 to 2000 might reasonably have expected the future to be like.  In most cases they would have been proven wrong within a decade. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 24, 2009 at 10:34 am | Edit
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It doesn't really matter that Barack Obama was not my candidate of choice (see my election series, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for some of the reasons why); as a friend said, "I didn't vote for him, but I hope he's the best president ever."  What boggles my mind is the adulation, ethusiasm, and outright joy that Inauguration Day 2009 brings—it's not all media hype.  I can't imagine any presidential inauguration inspiring that kind of joy in me.  At best I usually manage feelings of relief that the worst candidate did not win.  But perhaps that's just a character flaw:  I find it hard to get that enthusiastic about anything.  We recently returned from our daughter's fabulous wedding to a wonderful man, and though I am pleased and enthusiastic and joyful, even for that event I can't imagine participating in the kind of jubliant demonstration associated with Obama's inauguration.  Be that as it may, I truly wish our new president the best, and pray for him, because he will need it.

And yet my primary commentary on this Inauguration Day is a thank you to outgoing President Bush.  History alone will tell,  but as far as I can see the evidence so far pronounces George W. Bush a good man but an unfortunate and often unwise president, the same judgment I gave to Jimmy Carter.  Nonetheless, he had his successes, and a very important one was highlighted by yesterday's Mallard Fillmore.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 at 8:31 am | Edit
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This morning Google News reported the following two stories sequentially [emphasis added]:

Controversy Over New 'Conscience' Rule:  Bush Broadens Rule on Refusal of Health Services for Moral Reasons

An 11th-hour ruling from the Bush administration gives health care workers, hospitals, and insurers more leeway to refuse health services for moral or religious reasons.

The rule, issued today, becomes effective in 30 days. Its main provisions widen the number of health workers and institutions that may refuse, based on "sincere religious belief or moral conviction," to provide care or referrals to patients.

"This rule protects the right of medical providers to care for their patients in accord with their conscience," says Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt....

A wide number of medical groups strongly oppose the new ruling. These groups include the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and 27 state medical associations.

"Today's regulation issued by HHS under the guise of 'protecting' the conscience of health care providers, is yet another reminder of the outgoing administration's implicit contempt for women's right to accurate and complete reproductive health information and legal medical procedures," says a statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Shocking revelation: Santa Clara University professor mirrors famous torture study

Replicating one of the most controversial behavioral experiments in history, a Santa Clara University psychologist has found that people will follow orders from an authority figure to administer what they believe are painful electric shocks.

More than two-thirds of volunteers in the research study had to be stopped from administering 150 volt shocks of electricity, despite hearing a person's cries of pain, professor Jerry M. Burger concluded in a study published in the January issue of the journal American Psychologist.

"In a dramatic way, it illustrates that under certain circumstances people will act in very surprising and disturbing ways,'' said Burger.

The study, using paid volunteers from the South Bay, is similar to the famous 1974 "obedience study'' by the late Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. In the wake of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's trial, Milgram was troubled by the willingness of people to obey authorities — even if it conflicted with their own conscience.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 21, 2008 at 6:28 am | Edit
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Because I have often written about Germany's persecution of parents who believe the education of their children is best accomplished outside of the state public schools (this post will lead you to some of the other stories), it's a pleasure to be able to bring some good news as well:  Prosecutors are dropping charges against the Brause family, which had faced up to two years in prison and the loss of their children.  If this seems a "Well, duh!" kind of accomplisment, it is important to remember that it was not so long ago that we were celebrating such events as great victories in the U. S.

[T]he announcement came after the court received a detailed psychiatric report that there is no psychological harm to the children from homeschooling. The report also stated that the children have not been harmed [academically], which is evidenced by [the] exit exams [of the two oldest children] from high school

Lest we complacently conclude that the plight of homeschoolers in Germany is Germany's problem, not ours, American citizenship is not a sufficient defense if you live in Germany and want to teach your own children.  An American family living in Berlin was recently ordered to court because of their homeschooling, and under legal advice the mother and children have fled to the United States until the situation can be resolved.

I'm delighted to see evidence of progress anywhere in the world, and also for the reminder that "watch, work, and pray" never ceases to be necessary.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 6:53 am | Edit
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