Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Free Speech And Civility

      Several stories of abridgement of free speech rights have been in the news lately.
      Yesterday arch-conservative Carl Rove was shouted down during the course of a book-signing event in Beverly Hills, California. About 100 persons had paid $40 to hear Rove discuss his book, "Courage and Consequences: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight." One protestor called Rove a “war criminal,’” while another waved a pair of handcuffs with which she ostensibly planned to make a citizen’s arrest. Rove was forced to leave the stage without signing any books.
      While I seldom agree with anything Rove has to say, I firmly believe shouting down a person trying to present his case, unpopular though his case may be, is about as un-American as one can get.
      Rove was there to discuss his viewpoint. Anyone who disagreed with that viewpoint had an equal right to stand and discuss the differences in a reasonable manner.
      This morning’s newspaper tells of a man who sued a church for disrupting his son’s funeral. The son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, had been killed in an accident in Iraq in March 2006. Although Snyder was not gay, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, picketed his funeral and cheered his death because, “God is allowing men and women to die in Iraq because of this country's tolerance of homosexuality.”
      As with any side of any argument, the church has a right to say what they think – after all, the members were not inciting to riot. But creating a scene such as this at a funeral – I think I am going to be sick! And this church has supposedly done the same thing at some 300 military funerals.
      Yesterday Snyder’s father, who sued the church, was ordered to pay all the church’s court costs. The court found that the church members had the right to do what they did under the first amendment. I agree, but what has become of decency and common sense?
      In 2009, the Protect Marriage Washington organization got an anti-gay rights measure on the ballot. Since then the signers of the ballot have been receiving extremely vicious hate mail, to the extent that the organization has petitioned the courts to allow the signers’ names to be kept secret.
      The Supreme Court is considering the case. It will be interesting to see which way the Roberts court goes.
      I have always agreed with Voltaire, who said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." (But please don’t put me to the test.) And I have also thought that a free discussion of bad ideas would eventually displace them.
      The key words are “free discussion,” not “shouting match.” I don’t suppose a law requiring civility would pass constitutional muster.
      The newborn fawn does not fight other fawns for the attention of a doe as does the mature stag, nor does the salmon fingerling swim up the river to its birth place like the adult salmon. And the larva does not flit from flower to flower like the adult butterfly.
      In a like manner, changes occur in the outward trappings of societies. New York City, for example, is completely different from the New York City that George Washington and Benjamin Franklin knew. And the New York City of the founding fathers in no way resembled ancient Rome or the tent villages of our Native Americans. Each society remakes the physical world to its own specifications, which change continually. . . In the following pages we shall explore these transitions and determine what relationships, if any, might exist between them.
      Foreword – The Spirit Runs Through It

To read more excerpts from the book, click here.

Monday, March 29, 2010

There Is Life Outside Of Football

      It’s time for my annual rant about the condition of science non-students at my alma mater. This happens whenever the winners of the North Museum and Science Fair are announced. At least it starts that way, although it expands a bit by the time I get to the end. Stay with me.
      If this were about football, it would be a glowing review. Since 1992, Manheim Central’s record is been 215 and 29 – not too bad. A football scholarship to Penn State is considered a very successful high school career.
      But it’s not about football.
      I counted winners from 16 Lancaster County Schools at this year’s science fair. How many were there from Manheim Central? None, nada, nil, zilch, goose egg! Same as last year! I don’t think they even had anyone entered!
      I have spoken to several of my classmates and other alumni about this lack, and what do I get? “Well, you need an inspiring teacher to get the kids excited about science.”
      Well, why don’t they get one? Can’t afford it? Find a good one and offer him or her the same salary the football coach gets!
      Another excuse I’ve heard: The parents prefer sports. Sadly, that’s true, but I am sure that if some kids came home all excited about their latest science projects, any reasonable parents would at least be supportive. Although I could be wrong, I don’t believe Manheim parents would downplay scientific enthusiasm any more than the parents of the kids from the 16 other schools who produced winners.
      On March 13, the annual awards dinner was held in Washington, D.C. for the winners in the annual Intel Science Project and Talent Competition. Scholarships and Awards to these high school students total $1.25 million.
      Of the top 40 winners, 27 had Asian names. I do not believe that these kids are any smarter than their classmates who come from a Caucasian background. Nor did they have better teachers. But they did have one powerful edge: their parents.
      The small city in which I lived in California has a beautiful library, and it is open seven days a week. Saturdays and Sundays the library is crowded with kids, and 90% of them are of Asian background. They and their parents seem to have found what we have lost – curiosity and enthusiasm.
      Fortunately, all the kids who won the Intel competition are Americans. If their counterparts back in China and India are working as hard as they are, we are in deep trouble.
      Getting back to Manheim, I hope their science curriculum is just going through a temporary dry spell. Science is exciting! May it also be contagious.
      Imagine a site on which a new home is scheduled to be built. Materials and supplies have been delivered and are awaiting the arrival of the construction crew. There are stacks of lumber, piles of bricks, . . . everything that will go into the new construction.
      A contractor agrees to complete the building. He hires carpenters, bricklayers, . . . and any other subcontractors he needs, and eventually the building is completed.
      A new entity, a house, has been introduced into the universe. The collection of materials and supplies has been given a new structure. They would have lain there forever unless some outside creative action, supplied by the contractor and his crew, occurred that transcended and transformed them.
      Introduction – The Spirit Runs Through It

To read more excerpts from book, click here.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There's An App For That

      I do not have an iPhone or an iPod, neither do I Tweet. But I have been seeing the commercials for apps, you know, the ones that say, “Yeh, there’s an app for that,” and I got curious to see what all is out there.
      I found that there are many handy apps available: you can check your email, run some business programs, listen to music, you name it.
      But in addition, there are many, many apps that do strange, weird or stupid things. Here are a few of them:
  1. iPhone Toilet Sound. If body sounds embarrass you when you use a public restroom, this app plays the sound of a toilet flushing. It can be set to run for 30 seconds to two minutes, and is loud enough to overpower those “nasty” sounds.
  2. iFart. The opposite of app 1 above. Needs no explanation. Makes a variety of sounds that keep juveniles giggling for hours.
  3. Runpee. If your bladder is not large enough to last throughout an entire movie, this app tells you when the low points in the action are coming so you can run and pee. Among other “exciting” things, it tells you what you missed while you were out.
  4. Drunk Dialer. If you have a habit of dialing friends while you are in a tipsy state late at night, this app will not let you dial after midnight unless you are holding the iPhone absolutely steady. Your friends will let you know when you need this.
  5. Torch. Turns your iPhone screen bright white so that you can use it to find the keyhole.
  6. Annoy-A-Teen. About the time you reach the 20s, you begin to lose the ability to hear very high pitched sounds. This app generates such sounds in order to irritate, and hopefully drive away, any teens in your vicinity. No longer do you have to put up with an annoying bunch of adolescents while enjoying a Big Mac.
  7. iQuit. For smokers who want to quit. Displays a large assortment of pictures showing horrible pictures of things that can happen to lungs, etc. if you don’t quit.
  8. Voodoo Doll Revenge. Paste a picture of your ex or your nasty boss onto the voodoo doll in your iPhone, and stick it with pins, tear it apart, set it on fire, or whatever exquisite torture you think is apropos. Does it work? Who knows?
      This is a very small sample of the weird stuff available. Want to see more? Yeh, there’s an app for that.

      From Newborn, to crawler, to toddler, and then on through elementary school, high school and college, and finally to middle age, the transitions were amazing.
      On another day I probably would not notice such changes because of my familiarity with human development, but seeing the entire progression spread out before me brought them forcibly to my attention.
      In the following pages we shall explore these transitions and determine what relationships, if any, might exist between them.
      Foreword – The Spirit Runs Through It.

To read more excerpts from this book, click here.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Founding Fathers Would Be Appalled

      When the Founding Fathers created the U.S Constitution, they did not agree on everything at the beginning. On the contrary, they discussed and argued and compromised for three and a half months. I believe that by so doing they set up a model for later generations of Americans to follow.
      Of all the many freedoms they enshrined in the document, freedom of speech was basic. They knew that controversial matters would come up in later years, and free discussion and open debate between citizens was the way to resolve them. As far as I know, not one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention threatened, or even considered threatening, any of the others with whom he disagreed.
      We seem to have forgotten that principle. This morning the media is reporting that politicians who voted for the Healthcare plan are being pilloried. They have been called vile names, spat upon, threatened and even had their offices attacked and their families threatened.
      Rush Limbaugh has called for them to be “eliminated,” and Sarah Palin’s web site is showing a map with their districts in the crosshairs. It also lists their names. I can’t believe any political party hoped to put a person like this just a heart-beat away from the presidency.
      Does the “saner” Republican hierarchy do anything about these attacks? Well a few have said publicly that they do not believe in any such activity, and have called for the “tea party” members to find less sensational ways to vent their displeasure.
      But not all. Others have accused the Democrats of playing up these attacks for political reasons. How does one “play up” a death threat? I do not believe that whoever made the threat was playing anything – that person was serious, and he’s not alone.
      I love my country, but sometimes I am ashamed of what some of our citizens do. Am I wrong?
      PS – Rush Limbaugh said he would move to Costa Rica if healthcare reform passed. So long, Rush. (I wonder if he knows they have national healthcare there.)

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Capitalism And Socialism

      Capitalism: An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.*

      The basic idea underlying a capitalistic system is that of individual ownership and control of the assets of commerce. Using one’s innate abilities, energy, ideas, etc. to better oneself is the driving force, and success or failure is measured by the bottom line. The “rugged individual” and the “small entrepreneur” are the natural heroes. Individual freedom is paramount.
      Unfortunately, unbridled incentive can lead to unbridled greed, which if followed far enough, can bring down the system. Let me give you an example:
      When you buy a life insurance policy, you are buying a contract under which the insurer agrees to reimburse you for loss of income, or economic value of the insured, in the event of death. You cannot legally insure anyone for more than your loss. You are not allowed to insure a person with little or no economic future, e.g., a child or a paraplegic for $10M. You are allowed more than one policy on an individual, but the total value of all policies is supposed to be limited to the economic value.
      During the recent real estate “bubble,” mortgagors resold their mortgages to people who packaged them into packages of “mortgage-backed securities,” similar to stocks or bonds. These securities were then resold to others, on the premise that the interest income would be shared among the buyers, and the original investment would be returned as the mortgages were paid off.
      That was OK as long as the securities were sold for the true value of the underlying mortgages. OK, that is, if they were sold once. But some unscrupulous people sold the same securities time and time again, as many times as they could find buyers. After all, investors couldn’t lose because real estate prices were going up, up and away.
      But they didn’t – the bubble burst. The underlying mortgages were worth pennies on the dollar, and the same pennies were owed over and over again to all those people who bought the same security over and over again. The system was a hair’s breadth away from collapse - George Bush’s financial bailout was all that saved it. According to this morning’s paper, the real estate bailout has run out, and without another stimulus the system is again in danger of collapse.
      It is apparent that some controls are necessary.

      Socialism: A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production, and distribution of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole.*
Many people deny that there are some systems that cannot operate efficiently unless they are under community (state) control. But can you imagine how successful a campaign in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else would be if we had to field privately owned Armies, Navies, or any other armed forces? How would an interstate highway system operate if individuals or corporations decided when and where to build highways, or what construction standards should be set for them. Imagine what air traffic would be like if controllers worked for various private companies.
      I know that some people would like to eliminate certain federal programs, e.g., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Civil Rights, but they are here, and like it or not, that’s not going to happen, These programs have all been established under the “promote the general Welfare” phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution, and all are socialistic in nature.
      But the question is: What types of functions are best performed by such socialistic systems? At what point does promoting the general welfare take precedence over individual liberty? Is the dividing line flexible? If so, who decides where it is for any particular case?
      The recently enacted Healthcare plan is a hybrid of the two systems – government will control it to some extent through private corporations, tax policies, etc. Undoubtedly the most controversial provision is the condition that individuals will be required to purchase health insurance policies.
      Does it fall within the range of the general welfare clause? This will be debated vigorously in the courts over the next few years. Several states’ attorneys general are already bringing suits to determine exactly that.
      Stay tuned.

      * The above definitions are from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary. Both terms have been bandied about during the past several months, and I thought it might be a good idea to clarify what we mean when speaking about them, including some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

      To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Memories Of A Close Friend

      We lost a long time friend last July, a friend we have known for over 40 years. Claudia was a wife, artisan, chef and would-be mother to the world.
      All the time that Barbara was in the OR, Claudia was in the waiting room with me. Barbara looked so little and helpless when she came out; Claudia took one look at my face and whispered, “Don’t worry, she’ll look fine tomorrow.” And she did. In the meantime Claudia took me home and fed me dinner.
      Because of her ability to organize a kitchen, she was the “go to” person at church dinners, socials, etc., although she preferred intimate dinner parties of six to eight people. I can’t even estimate the number of such parties we attended at her home.
      Her Coquilles St. Jacques, if not to die for, was at least to kill for. After I tasted hers, there was no other that was fit to eat, at least for me.
      But then, that was true of almost anything she cooked. For our first such affair at her house, she made fish. She didn’t know that I never cared for fish, but that meal made a believer out of me.
      When our Kiwanis Club disbanded, we had an eight-burner, double-oven stove in our clubhouse. Claudia remodeled her kitchen so that she could fit that stove into it.
      When Barbara and I had our accounting business, we had a client that always gave us a fresh turkey for Christmas. Since there were only the two of us, I offered the turkey to Claudia if she would invite us for dinner when she roasted it.
      The first time we dropped the turkey off at her house, we got to drinking a little wine. After a few toasts, we began calling friends in the area. We would dial their number, and when they answered we sang, “We wish you a merry Christmas … … and a Happy New Year,” then hang up the phone. Before long people would be calling around to find out where the party was. When they called us, we again sang the song, and again we immediately hung up.
      Soon people began arriving with little goodies of their own to share. Before we knew it, 15 or 20 people showed up. Claudia never missed a beat – she went to her pantry and pulled out all sorts of appetizers. There was never a shortage of food at her house.
      The turkey festival, as we called it, was repeated for several years, but when people started getting together ahead of time and assigning dishes – you bring the potato salad, I’ll bring the cole slaw, etc. – it lost its spontaneity, and the thing just died.
      She excelled at any art or craft she tried. One of her passions was her angel collection: glass, ceramic, cloth, fiber, anything at all that could be made into an angel went into her collection.
      She was dedicated to her church, and whenever a committee post was open, or a job needed to be done, she was ready. She amassed a large selection of religious works, and she didn’t just read about her religion – she lived it.
      She won the first round with cancer several years ago, but the big C came back with a knockout punch last July. If there is an afterlife, I know she is busy mothering everyone. And she is probably reorganizing the kitchen.

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reality Road Rules

      Since I have no college training in Driver Education, I am sure I would not qualify as an "expert witness" in a court of law. Nevertheless, over a period of many years I have diligently observed what other drivers do, and as a result I have compiled a list of rules of the road based on those observations.

1. No matter how fast I drive, everyone behind me wants to drive faster. This is especially true of the stupid driver directly behind me, who wants to do it without passing me. He practices what are technically called "tailgating" and "hornblowing."

2. The self-appointed guardian of highway safety directly in front of me always drives ten miles per hour slower than I wish to drive, except when I am in a hurry, in which case, he drives twenty miles per hour slower.

3. When waiting in line to turn right at a traffic light, it is a good idea to drive through the bays of a corner gas station in order to eliminate the wait. As a side benefit, this speeds up traffic by shortening the waiting time for all the other cars in line.

4. If a school bus with flashing red lights is on the opposite side of the highway, teach those little children how traffic works by passing the bus as if it were not there. However, if the bus is on your side of the highway, slow down slightly while passing it. After all, children have rights too.

5. When exiting a freeway, always wait until the last possible moment to leave the diamond lane and cut across four lanes of traffic to the offramp.

6. Speed limits mean what they say - do not drive any slower than the limit. It is a good idea to drive at least five, and preferably ten or more miles per hour faster than the posted limit.

7. Driving can be boring, so it is perfectly acceptable for the driver to pass the time by reading the newspaper, shaving, drinking coffee, changing the baby's diaper or getting the kitten out from under the seat. Talking on a cell phone is also acceptable, although the preferred venues for using that instrument are movie theaters and restaurants.

8. When a traffic light turns red, it is a signal that only three cars, an 18-wheeler, a school bus and a motorcycle have time to complete their left turn.

9. Never pass up the chance to improve the other driver's skills. For example, when drivers are attempting to enter the freeway, tailgating in the slow lane is a good way to improve their ability to squeeze in when room between cars is limited.

10. Occasionally the other driver will not realize that you are teaching him a valuable lesson (Rule 9), but normally he will indicate forgiveness by extending his middle finger toward heaven. You should acknowledge that forgiveness by returning the signal.

11. In the event he still does not understand (Rule 10), take a tip from the Boy Scouts and be prepared. Shoot first!

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Assisted Suicide Is Still Around

      The following excerpt is from Newsweek, March 15, 2010:
In 2006 John Celmer's body began to break down. He was diagnosed with oral cancer and had to undergo surgery to remove the tumor and then radiation therapy to kill off any remaining malignant cells. The radiation ravaged his jawbone and the surrounding tissue, leaving a hole in his chin. Fluid leaked onto his clothes. His teeth began falling out. He had difficulty eating and speaking. As Celmer's jaw began severing from his face, doctors attempted moderate treatments, but all of them failed. So in 2008, they sought to reconstruct his chin and jaw using tissue from his chest and bone from his lower leg. The procedures appeared successful, but five days after the final operation, he was discovered dead in his Cumming, Ga., home.
      At first everyone assumed he'd died of natural causes. Yet as Celmer's wife, Susan, sifted through his belongings, she discovered several things that puzzled her: a receipt for two helium tanks, a handwritten note referring to his need to acquire a "hood," an entry on his calendar (May 7, 2008: "Claire here @ 1:30") that mentioned someone she didn't know. Susan also found paperwork referencing something called Final Exit Network (FEN). As she later learned, it was an organization that counseled people with serious ailments on how to commit suicide. She shared her findings with police, who launched an investigation and eventually concluded that the group had helped Celmer kill himself. Susan was devastated—and enraged. What right did FEN have to help usher her husband to his death? "We are not the Creator," she told NEWSWEEK. "We do not give life and don't have the option to take life."
      Although it has been out of the news for some time, the assisted suicide movement is still active. The above story, and several others like it, have resurrected a flurry of activity in states and courts across the USA. Last December the Montana Supreme Court ruled that state law protects doctors in Montana from prosecution for assisting in suicide. Two states, Washington and Oregon allow doctors to participate in suicide, but those laws were enacted as a result of state-wide referendums.
      The Final Exit Network mentioned in the above article is one of several organizations which are active in the assisted suicide field. The best known one, the Hemlock Society, which has since been folded into Compassion and Choices, was founded in 1980 by Derek Humphry. Humphry was the author of the best-selling Jean’s Way, the story of his wife’s struggle against breast cancer. When she could stand it no longer, Humphry brought her the substance which she used to end her life. All such groups assist terminally ill persons in ending their lives.
      Before presenting information on how to end one’s life, most such groups suggest other alternatives. Compassion and Choices, for example, offers professional counselors and trained volunteers who work by phone or in person to offer assistance in completing advance directives, living wills, referrals to local services, including hospice and illness-specific support groups; and advice on adequate pain and symptom management;
      But FEN has lowered the bar on requirements; instead of being terminally ill, the applicant has only to "have an incurable condition which causes intolerable suffering." It is possible for such a person to have, say, a mental illness, but otherwise be healthy enough to live many more years.
      FEN is a volunteer organization. If the applicant is accepted, and 80% of them are, FEN assigns “exit guides” which offer advice on how to "hasten death," but not physical help to do so. (FEN recommends filling a plastic bag, or hood, with helium and pulling it over one's head—a method that works quickly and leaves no trace in the body.) By not physically participating in the act, the group argues, it remains in compliance with the law, which in the vast majority of states prohibits assisting with a suicide. But the statutes are hazy on what exactly constitutes assistance.
      As a result, FEN accepts people that other groups turn away; people with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure, emphysema, cancer, and other incurable illnesses including depression and suicidal symptoms. However, that does not mean they accept simply troubled individuals with no serious health threats.
      I believe that people should be allowed to die with dignity, and on their own terms – as far as I am concerned, one’s body is one’s exclusive property. However, there should be some protocol for the decision making process. The following is a minimum:

1.) Because of the irrevocable nature of the decision, it is important that the patient be of sound mind.

2.) Other procedures, e.g., counseling, pain management, prayer, etc. should be tried first.

3.) Someone may explain how the procedure should best be accomplished, but no pressure should be allowed.

4.) It is OK to recommend a method and to help gather the equipment, but the patient should perform the actual procedure without physical help.
      As for the “playing God” card, which was popular among conservatives during the Terri Schiavo case in 2005, if we believe in free will, we do that every time we make a decision. And if we believe in determinism, playing God is impossible – every decision is His.
      As far as I know, most laws prohibit assisting a suicide, and until they require preventing a suicide if one knows it is about to occur, these steps should keep the “exit guide” clear of any charges. THIS IS AN OPINION, I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY.
      What do you think?

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Texas Gets Out In Front

      The following information has been gleaned from various Texas sources with the exception of the section that begins with the words "Among the new Texas directives..." and ends with the words "...separation of church and state." That section was taken from an editorial in The Keene (N.H.) Sentinel of the same date. I don’t think it needs any comment.

      For several years the Texas Board of Education members have been locked in an ideological battle between a bloc of conservatives who question Darwin’s theory of evolution and believe the Founding Fathers were guided by Christian principles, and a handful of Democrats and moderate Republicans who have fought to preserve the teaching of Darwinism and the separation of church and state. Last Friday the board approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.
      Among the new Texas directives are an instruction to emphasize the positive role of Christianity in American history, to the exclusion of other faiths and beliefs. Board members ruled that educators should not use the word “capitalism,” but should refer instead to the “free enterprise system,” which they believe sounds more positive. “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’” They insisted that Texas instruction include arguments against government regulation and in favor of limiting the role of government.
      Other subjects receiving prescriptive treatment were terrorism (emphasis must be on the Muslim variety) and hip-hop music (mustn’t be mentioned at all). Teachers and publishers are also instructed to include information about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”
      And there were heated arguments over which historical figures should and should not be singled out for attention, with people counting up representatives of races and ideologies. Even Thomas Jefferson was dropped from a list of world history standards, replaced by Protestant theologian Jean Calvin. Jefferson’s writings, including the Declaration of Independence, were not enough to overcome his heresy in coining the phrase “separation of church and state.”
      The new standards require positive references to American “exceptionalism” (this is the best darned country in the world) and a caution that the Founders did not favor a secular form of government (so much for the separation of church and state).
      Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.
      Other changes seem aimed at tamping down criticism of the right. Conservatives passed one amendment, for instance, requiring that the history of McCarthyism include “how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government.” The Venona papers were transcripts of some 3,000 communications between the Soviet Union and its agents in the United States.
      The board approved an amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation. It also approved an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism.
      Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavoring any particular religion above all others.” It was defeated on a party-line vote.
      There are seven members of the conservative bloc on the board, but they are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.
      In a perfect society, the information in our children’s textbooks would be vetted by scholars in the appropriate subject matters. In our less than perfect society, the weightiest minds in textbook preparation may belong to the 15 elected members of the Texas State Board of Education, and they presently include no academic experts in any field. Because of the huge share of the textbook market represented by Texas, publishers will undoubtedly revise their entire line of books to confirm to the board’s requirements – even those sold in other states.
      The board’s final votes on its new rulings will be held in May, with the books reflecting them expected to show up in 2012. But there is new hope for relief for America’s children, at least for those who don’t go to school in Texas.
      First, there’s the advent of the Internet, which can bypass Texas and slavish publishers and put a full range of instructional materials into the hands of teachers and students in other states.
      Then, believe it or not, there is the poor economy. Budgetary woes in Texas have reduced the amount of money now available to purchase textbooks. There’s speculation in academic circles that if circumstances don’t improve, publishers might find that it no longer pays to seed their wares with Lone Star ideology.
      In the meantime, teachers in other states should reach beyond standard textbooks to explore academic subjects, as many already do. And parents and educators alike should keep their eyes on Texas.

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Healthcare Myths

      According to recent polls, Joe Sixpack and his friends are overwhelmingly against President Obama’s healthcare plan. I must say I can hardly blame them; the pharmaceutical industry has made a $12 million dollar investment in negative advertising in order to defeat it. Joe and his buddies should consider this: At today’s price of medicines, can what is good for the drug companies also be good for Joe and his friends?
      In addition, a group of businesses led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $11 million in this month alone, trying to influence 40 Democratic lawmakers to vote against the bill. Follow the money, Joe.
      The advertisers have been trying to sell three myths about the plan:

1.) The President is proposing to take over one-sixth of the U.S. economy; the portion of the GDP which is currently being spent on healthcare. Actually, the government already controls half of that amount through Medicare and Medicaid. Of the remainder, one-third is paid by employer plans, which the government controls through tax exemptions and other regulations. The rest, the part the government does not already control, is the part spent by people who buy private insurance because they can’t get employer plans. In addition, those who have no insurance at all would be covered.

Let me tell you about private plans. When Barbara retired, she lost the health insurance that came with her job. When she applied for private coverage, it was denied because she was taking two blood pressure medicines; if she had been taking only one, she could have got it. So she opted for the high-risk coverage offered by the state of California, at a cost of almost $900 per month; upon moving to Pennsylvania, the same coverage was $240 per month. Interestingly, the price of the medicines in Pennsylvania was slightly less than it was in California even though they were identical. Is control overdue? I’d say so.

2.) The proposed plan does nothing to control costs. It is true that the Medicare actuary predicts that healthcare spending would be slightly higher in 2019 under the reform plan than without it. (The difference is less than 1%.) This is a half-truth. The other half is that because 34 million Americans will be covered who would not otherwise have insurance, this is a heck of a bargain. And to top it off, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that the plan will look even better cost-wise in the second decade of its existence.

3.) Health reform is fiscally irresponsible. Critics say that even if the actuary’s assessment is correct, when it comes to the tough Medicare control measures built into the plan, Congress will back away from them. This is not really an argument against the plan; it’s saying that there is no way to control Medicare costs. Congress has imposed Medicare limits in the past, and has never backed away from them when they began to hurt. And even if they do back away, that’s the fault of Congress – not the plan.
      So much for the myths. But Joe and his pals also claim that Obama is trying to ram his plan through Congress. Well, considering that healthcare has been coming up in Congress since at least the days of Ted Kennedy, I don’t think an all out push against the vested interests of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries is really “ramming,” at least in the same sense that the previous administration “rammed” through the necessity of an Iraqi war.
      But back then, trying to get the job done was called “leadership.” It still is.
      Ram away, prez.

To read excerpts from “The Spirit Runs Through It,” click here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daylight Saving Time

      Last night (technically at 2:00 am), we went through the annual ritual of turning the clocks forward one hour. Actually we only changed the alarm clock at bedtime; we got most of the rest of them in the first half hour after we got up. (I will probably be changing various watches for the next couple of weeks.) It was pretty cold this morning – we should have changed the thermostat along with the alarm clock. Live and learn.
      I never thought of this before, but in the Southern Hemisphere they turn their clocks backward on the same date we turn ours forward, and vice versa.
      TVs, DVRs, computers, etc. change themselves overnight. I didn’t get up at 2:00 to make sure they did it correctly, but they were all changed by morning, so I guess it worked OK.
      During his time as an American envoy to France, Benjamin Franklin, ahead of his time as usual, anonymously published a letter suggesting that Parisians economize on candles by rising earlier to use morning sunlight. Franklin did not actually propose DST; like ancient Rome, 18th-century Europe did not keep precise schedules. However, this soon changed as rail and communication networks came to require a standardization of time unknown in Franklin's day.
      In 1883, U.S. and Canadian railroads implemented a version proposed by William F. Allen, the editor of the Traveler's Official Railway Guide. The borders of its time zones ran through railroad stations, often in major cities. For example, the border between its Eastern and Central time zones ran through Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Charleston. The system was inaugurated on Sunday, November 18, also called "The Day of Two Noons," when each railroad station clock was reset as standard-time noon was reached within each time zone.
      Within one year, 85% of all cities with populations over 10,000, about 200 in all, were using standard time; many smaller cities and rural areas continued to use whatever time keeping methods they had been using before. The confusion of times came to an end when Standard zone time was formally adopted by the U.S. Congress on March 19, 1918, in the Standard Time Act.
      During WWII the nation remained on DST for the entire year. I can remember going to school while it was still dark.
      The annual switch to DST sometimes brings out strange reactions in people. We have a friend who insists that because she was born in Standard time, she never feels rested until the return to Standard time in November. And there are still a few people around who think that the extra hour of daylight will burn their grass.
      Speaking for myself, I try to avoid driving at night as much as I possibly can, and DST lets me go to dinner a little later, and linger a little bit longer. I love it.

Click Here To Read Excerpts From "The Spirit Runs Through It."

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ultimate Networking

      Before the “green” revolution caught on, “ecology” was a hot subject. According to Wikipedia, ecology is defined as “the interdisciplinary scientific study of the distributions, abundance and relations of organisms and their interactions with the environment.” It includes the study of ecosystems: “the web or network of relations among organisms at different scales of organization.” Since ecology refers to any form of biodiversity, ecologists research everything from tiny bacteria's role in nutrient recycling to the effects of tropical rain forest on the Earth's atmosphere
      The subject today is conservationism, as distinguished from conservatism. Although I will be using a quote from Charles Darwin, it is strictly an illustration of ecology in action; it has nothing whatsoever to do with evolution. If you are a creationist, please bear with me.
      Anticipating the science of ecology by a hundred years, Darwin wrote:

…but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover…as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that ‘more than two thirds of them are destroyed all over England.’ Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, ‘Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.’ Hence it is quite credible that the presence of the feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
      In short, the number of flowers is dependent upon the availability of instincts and actions of humble-bees, field-mice and cats. A beautiful example of ecology in action.
      We need to be reminded occasionally of the importance of the interactions of species. A major example is that of pollination by honey bees. Again according to Wikipedia, “The largest managed pollination event in the world is in Californian almond orchards, where nearly half (about one million hives) of the US honey bees are trucked to the almond orchards each spring. New York's apple crop requires about 30,000 hives; Maine's blueberry crop uses about 50,000 hives each year. Bees are also brought to commercial plantings of cucumbers, squash, melons, strawberries, and many other crops.”
      And there are countless numbers of such interactions in nature about which we know little or nothing. In the event we ever get around to doing anything tangible about climate change, let’s be careful. It would be easy to throw out the ecological baby with the global warming bath water.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

      When Bill Clinton was running for the presidency against George H. W. Bush, the catch phrase for his campaign was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Just as James Carville hung a sign containing that slogan in Clinton’s campaign headquarters, so should Barack Obama have the same reminder on banners all over the White House.
      Obama’s campaign promised change and hope, but change has gotten out of control, and hope seems to be retreating into the hills. Every poll indicates that healthcare is way down on the list of voters’ concerns. Now the primary focus is on jobs, jobs, jobs.
      Presently there is a bill in the Senate which would grant an exemption to an employer for each new hire during 2010. In addition, if the employee stays on the job for 52 weeks, the employer will get a $1,000 business tax credit in 2011.
      I have a bit of trouble understanding how this will do much toward solving the job problem. Suppose you have a business which employees 20 workers in normal times. A recession comes along, and sales drop off to the extent that you have to lay off five employees. Assuming sales stay depressed, would you hire a new employee for, say, $25,000 just because you don’t have to pay his payroll taxes and you get a tax credit? Assuming the payroll taxes run around $1,600, you will be out of pocket over $22,000, not to mention training, sick pay, insurance, etc., and your additional inventory will still be lying in your warehouse.
      I hate to tell you this, but when the current stimulus money runs out, it is going to take another large infusion of cash to avoid another job slide.
      I know, I know, how can we afford this? The right says that the government can pay for this spending in only three ways: borrowing, raising taxes and printing money.
      But there is a fourth way: prosperity. In fact, it’s the only reasonable and logical way. No jobs no pay, no pay no buying, no buying no jobs. Whether we like it or not, breaking the cycle requires drastic action in the form of cash.
      During WWII the government spent way more than it took in on items that had no earthly value after the war ended. And when the end came, all that money came flowing back. It is doubtful if the Great Depression would ever have ended had it not been for the war.
      I am not sure we have the nerve to do what we have to do. What the world needs is an alien attack - either that, or we need to grit our teeth, gird our loins (I got that from the Bible, and I am not sure what it means), and make the moves.
      Can we afford to do what is necessary? The more important question is: Can we afford not to?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We Are Falling Behind

      When it comes to hi-tech innovation, there is no doubt that the USA is among the leaders. Computers, the Mac and the PC - both American inventions - are ubiquitous throughout the world. And such items as the iPod, xBox and GPS all attest to the innovativeness of American technical know-how.
      But there is one area of technical expertise where we are rapidly falling behind: toilet technology. According to an article posted yesterday on MCNBC, toilets outside the US are undergoing rapid technological upgrading, and as to the race to be first on the market, we are so far in the rear that we may never catch up. If we don’t do something, our toilet industry will be wiped out.
      Not surprisingly, the Japanese are occupying the leadership throne in this field. Some of their public toilets almost require an instruction manual in order to handle their control panel. Likewise in Europe there are some really snazzy models. Here are a few examples of the bells and whistles available overseas:

• Heated seats, a very popular item, particularly in Northern Europe.

• Sound effects, usually sounds of nature, in order to give the user privacy. (I hope if they decide to go to music, they don’t play the Star Spangled Banner.)

• Built-in bidets, available in either pulsating or oscillating styles. Come complete with automatic warm air dryer.

• Motion sensitive lids that go up or down automatically. The down feature is called the “marriage saver.”

• Self cleaning seats.

• Self sanitizing seats.

• Multiple choice handles, complete with instructions. Pull up for number one, push down for number two. Saves water.

• Smart toilets that perform urinalysis. They can be set to perform a specific test, e.g., diabetes, and transmit the results wirelessly to your computer or doctor.

      In the event you are interested in any of these features, they are available on the internet. A really cool model can cost upwards of several thousand dollars – a retrofit seat with bells but no whistles starts at about $500.
      Obviously American toilet makers need to do some catching up in order to avoid being caught with their pants down. Figuratively, of course.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Monty Hall Problem Solved

      Monty Hall was the emcee of the game show “Let’s Make A Deal.” The contestant had a choice of three doors to open; behind one was a prize, and goats were hidden behind the other two. After the contestant chose one of the doors, Hall, who knew where the prize was, opened one of the doors behind which was a goat. The contestant was then given a choice: he could either open the door which was his original choice, or he could switch and open the other closed door.
      Not surprisingly, most people opted to stay with their original choice. It seems logical that since there are now only two doors from which to choose, there is a 50/50 chance the prize is behind either door.
      Unfortunately, that’s wrong! The chances of winning are twice as good if one switches! In fact, this problem has been so often explored by mathematicians that it has been formally named the Monty Hall problem. For those not interested in the mathematics, I will defer the explanation to the end of this blog.
      But recently I came across an interesting story. According to a March 4th article on MSNBC, scientists tested six pigeons with an apparatus with three keys. The keys lit up white to show a prize was available. After the birds pecked a key, one of the keys the bird did not choose deactivated, showing it was a wrong choice, and the other two lit up green. The pigeons were rewarded with bird feed if they made the right choice.
      In the experiments, the birds quickly reached the best strategy for the Monty Hall problem — going from switching roughly 36 percent of the time on day one to some 96 percent of the time on day 30.
      On the other hand, 12 undergraduate student volunteers failed to adopt the best strategy with a similar apparatus, even after 200 trials of practice each.
      Humans tend to figure out the probable outcomes ahead of time, whereas the pigeons just allowed their experience to guide them. For this particular problem, their method of learning was better suited to the problem.
      In order to ascertain that the mathematics was correct, I ran the whole scenario on my computer, using random numbers for all the variables. The following table shows the results after two replications of 100 trials each.

1st. Replication2nd ReplicationCombined




For the trials in which the original decision was changed, 69% were winners, versus only 34% winners in the trials where the decision was made to stick with the original door.
      Now for the mathematics: To see why the apparently illogical choice of switching is actually better, one must understand that before the host opened one of the three doors, the contestant did not know the location of the prize, and thus when he or she chose a door, the contestant had a 1-in-3 chance of being right. That does not change even after the host opened a door. If the probability of the first door the contestant chose remained the same, and there were only two doors left, that meant the remaining unopened door must have had a 2-in-3 chance of being right — that is, it had twice the chance of holding the prize.
      It seems complicated, but the experience of the pigeons proves that it works.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Age of the Earth

      Most of the people who believe in a young earth think that the creation occurred on October 23, 4004 BCE at 9:00 o’clock in the morning. No such date can be found in the writings of the early church – it was calculated in the 17th century by Bishop James Ussher and Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
      How did the good gentlemen make this calculation? The original writing is extremely difficult to follow (See for example Bishop Ussher Dates the World: 4004 BC, but an explanation follows:
      Ussher began his calculation by adding the ages of the twenty-one generations of people of the Hebrew-derived Old Testament, beginning with Adam and Eve. If the Bible is to be believed, they were an exceptionally long-lived lot. Genesis, for example, tells us that “Adam lived 930 years and he died.” Adam’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson, Methuselah, claimed the longevity record, coming in at 969 years.
      Healthier living conditions contributed, or so it was believed, to the long life spans of the early generations of the Bible. Josephus, a Jewish theologian writing in the first century, explained it this way: “Their food was fitter for the prolongation of life…and besides, God afforded them a longer lifespan on account of their virtue.”
      To calculate the length of time since Creation, knowledge of more than the ages of death of the twenty-one generations was required; one also needed to know the ages of people of each generation at the time the next generation began. Fortunately, the Bible provided that information as well.
      For example, Genesis says that at the time Eve gave birth to his third son, Seth, Adam had “lived 130 years.” Augustine (as might a lot of people) wondered how a 130-year-old man could sire a child. He concluded that “the earth then produced mightier men” and that they reached puberty much later than did people of his own generation.
      The Old Testament’s genealogy took Ussher up to the first destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Persian king Nebuchadnezzar. Ussher’s key to precisely dating Creation came from pinning down, by references in non-Christian sources, the precise dates of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.
      He finally found the answer in a list of Babylonian kings produced by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the second century. By connecting Greek events to Roman history, Ussher tied the date of Nebuchadnezzar’s death (562 B.C.) to the modern Julian calendar. Once the date of 562 B.C. was calculated, there remained only the simple matter of adding 562 years to the 3,442 years represented by the generations of the Old Testament up to that time: 4004.
       Ussher next turned his attention to identifying the precise date of Creation. Like many of his contemporary scholars, he assumed that God would choose to create the world on a date that corresponded with the sun being at one of its four cardinal points—either the winter or summer solstice or the vernal or autumnal equinox. This view sprang from the belief that God had a special interest in mathematical and astronomical harmony.
      The deciding factor for Ussher came from Genesis. When Adam and Eve found themselves in the Garden of Eden, the fruit was invitingly ripe. Ussher reasoned, therefore, that it must have been harvest time, which corresponded with the autumnal equinox: “I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year [4004 B.C.] aforesaid, came nearest the Autumnal Equinox, by Astronomical Tables, happened upon the 23 day of the Julian October.”
      In 1765,a London bookseller named Thomas Guy began printing Bibles with Ussher’s dates printed in the margin of the work. It was soon considered to be part of the word of God.
      It fell to Dr. John Lightfoot to pinpoint the time of the great event. He declared, as the result of his most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures, that "heaven and earth, centre and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water," and that "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning."
      Now you know.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Battle Between Science and Religion Goes On

      In Kentucky, a recently introduced bill would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” I agree that a discussion of the last item on the list is an excellent topic for a class in ethics, although I am not sure there is such a class in public schools. Too many right-thinking people think that is a job for the parents.
      Perhaps teachers should take the legislature at its word and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories. Period.
      The advantage, of course, is that such theories express the most up-to-date knowledge we have of how the universe works. And they work. Eliminate all scientific theories and we are suddenly back in the dark ages – no television, no radio and no travel that is not dependent upon horsepower, to name a few things.
      The disadvantage of scientific theories is illustrated by the conversation between Napoleon and Pierre LaPlace. LaPlace had presented a copy of his five-volume work on the solar system to the French emperor. Napoleon said, “Monsieur Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.” Laplace answered, famously and brusquely: “Je n’avais pas besoin de cette hypothese-la,” “I have had no need of that hypothesis.” And scientists have not needed it since.
      The bill was introduced by Rep. Jim Moore, who said he was motivated not by religion, but by what he saw as a distortion of scientific knowledge. “Our kids are being presented with theories as though they are fact,” he said. “And with global warming especially, there has become a politically correct viewpoint among educational elites that is very different from sound science.”
      Huh? Did I read that correctly? Forget science unless it is politically correct? That statement is so full of idiotic notions that I hardly know where to start. But I will.
      In the first place, Moore has confused the two major definitions of “theory.”

1.) A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena.

2.) A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of fact.
Definition one applies to all scientific theories – Moore apparently is familiar only with definition two.
      Next, if Moore is not motivated by religion, then why is he tying global warming, which he says is his major concern, in with evolution, which the courts have declared to be a religious idea? That’s easy – because of the courts' stand that evolution = science and “creation science” = religion, he figures he may be able to sneak the latter in under the cover of a subject the courts just might consider to be science.
      As to political correctness, I can picture scientists getting an annual order from the federal government, instructing them what to discover next.
      But assuming that Moore really does not have a religious motive for his bill, what could his motivation be? Among scientists who know the subject best, the evidence in favor of global warming is overwhelming. Could it be that the energy industry – coal, oil, etc. – which has a vested interest in not interfering with the flow of greenhouse gases, has managed to slip a few dollars into Moore’s pocket?
      If he is dancing to the tune of the energy industry, he should look around for that rare class in ethics. Otherwise, he should introduce a bill requiring a discussion of the difference between science and religion. He should then enroll as its first student.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Climate Science

      According to a recent poll conducted by Yale University, the percentage of respondents who believe climate change is happening dropped from 71% in 2008 to 57% in 2010, while those who do not believe climate change is happening rose from 10% to 20% over the same period. The rest “don’t know.”
      Given the assumption that climate change is real, the percentage that think it is due to human activities dropped from 57% to 47%, while those who think it is natural rose from 33% to 36%. Again, the rest don’t know.
      This is in spite of the increasing barrage of dramatic pictures of cracking and shrinking polar ice caps at both poles, the poleward migration of warm water animal and vegetable species, and the gradual submersion of low lying islands. How much proof does one need?
      I believe the decline in belief in climate change is due to the recent release of emails from U.K climate scientists, that show that they have distorted their data and actively suppressed dissenting opinions. These emails prove only one thing: scientists are human. Who has not written a personal email that would be embarrassing if distributed to the public?
      But there is no way they could have fudged or suppressed any data which has been gathered by tens of thousands of other scientists worldwide.
      Some of the emails also indicated there was an effort to influence editors of scientific journals not to publish papers by global warming deniers. But this is what scientists do: vet papers through the peer review process to weed out poor science.
      Recently Senator James Inhofe [R-Okla.], who famously called global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," came up with a list of "over 400 prominent scientists from more than two dozen countries, [who] recently voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called 'consensus' on man-made global warming."
      Analysis of the “prominent scientists” on the list reveals that:

• 84 have either taken money from, or are connected to, fossil fuel industries, or think tanks started by those industries. This does not indicate that their science is bad, but it does raise a few questions.

• 49 are retired. The fact that they are no longer active in their profession leads one to wonder if they are up to date.

• 44 are television weathermen. This may be important for the local weather, but it does not indicate any expertise in long term weather analysis.

• 20 are economists. So much for their expertise in weather science.

• 70 have no apparent expertise in climate science. “Hi mom” types.

• Several supposed skeptics on the list have publicly stated that they are very concerned about global warming, and support efforts to address it. One claims he was duped into signing the list and regrets it.

      Of the 413 on Inhofe’s list, 267 are “fillers,” people whose objectivity is questionable. For lists of true scientists who make climate their life’s work, check out the American Geophysical Union, which includes 50,000 earth, ocean and atmospheric scientists, or the International Panel on Climate Change, a body of some 2,000 scientists whose sole purpose is to state consensus about global warming, humankind's role in causing it, and its likely effects.
      The true weather scientists on Inhofe’s list can get their papers through the peer review process, with subsequent publication in scientific journals, but they are simply swamped by the overwhelming evidence contrary to their position. The rest of the "scientists" on his list rightfully have a very difficult time getting their papers reviewed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Tea or Coffee

      It’s no secret that people are dissatisfied with government – particularly the Federal government. Liberals are disappointed that Obama is not the great “across the aisle” leader who gets cooperation from everyone, thus making great populist strides possible. He reminds me of the Mugwumps of the late 19th century.
      The word Mugwumps is from Indian derivation to suggest that they were "sanctimonious" or "holier-than-thou." But during the presidential campaign of 1884 it received another connotation: A Mugwump sits on the fence with his mug on one side and his tail on the other. He just sits, and sits, and sits…
      Conservatives are also disappointed because Obama has tried to do too much. As a result, they have understandably dug in their heels, resulting in gridlock.
      This no progress approach has resulted in various grass roots activity, not the least of which is the so-called “tea party” movement. Tea party members are telling their representatives to cut taxes and reduce the government debt among other things, or else they will not be reelected. Their philosophy is that the government is their enemy, and they want to get it out of the way. Again, that’s completely understandable.
      Now there is a new movement brewing: the “coffee party.” This group starts from the belief that government is not our enemy, it is just dysfunctional. They are pledging to support those representatives who work together for the common good. Although in some cases their aims parallel those of the tea party, they are asking for cooperation instead of confrontation.
      Because much of the political maneuvering is aimed at core constituents with an eye to getting reelected, I have another suggestion. While it is neither new nor original, I believe it would be effective: term limits. If a representative knew he could serve only one or two terms, he could devote his time to doing what he knows is right instead of perpetual electioneering.
      I know about the argument that says only experience teaches one to govern, but it’s not working that way – it’s teaching one to perpetuate gridlock.
      Another alternative is to always vote against the incumbent, but that’s not going to happen.

Monday, March 1, 2010

An Olympics Extra

      The quadrennial sports orgy, otherwise known as the winter Olympics, is finally over. It’s not that I dislike the sports; it’s just that 17 days of nothing but skiing, sledding, snowboarding and skating is a bit of overkill as for as I am concerned.
      As measured by total medals won, the United States had its best Olympics ever – 37 medals. The host country, Canada, won the most gold medals – 14.
      Except for the last kilometer or two, cross-country skiing is my least favorite sport. It looks like a hard way to get around. My favorite winter Olympic sport is downhill skiing.
      The athletes who participated are the world’s healthiest, most vigorous and probably the best looking young people that the world has to offer. Add to that the coaches, trainers, judges and other officials, and it is estimated that Vancouver hosted about 7,000 visitors who were directly connected to the games. So it is not surprising that a lot of fun and games went on that never made it to the TV screen.
      Of all the preparations the Olympic organizers made, perhaps one of the most interesting is that they brought in 100,000 condoms for free distribution; that’s about 14 per person. The organizers learned their lesson during the 2000 Sidney games; they had 70,000 on hand, and had to put in an emergency order for 20,000 more. In Beijing, they ordered 100,000 at the start.
      A few days before the end at Vancouver, officials again had to order in an emergency shipment. I wonder how many gold medals they would have needed if…oh, never mind.