Thursday, May 31, 2012

NYC attacks sugar water

Is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg going out on a limb by proposing a ban on serving portions of most sugared beverages when greater than 16 ounces.

How often at a movie concession stand have I had to turn down upgrades on beverage sizes, often with theater membership cards?

Bloomberg had spoken at an HRC dinner last October with pride about NYC as a place to be yourself, whatever.

Should big government be in the obesity control business, following tobacco wars?

I have to say that, when I was a substitute teacher in northern VA 2004-2007, the school lunches then were pretty greasy and seedy.

If you want to find a population of men with low body-mass-index readings, go to a gay disco, where thin is definitely in. 

Anyone remember that that 1950s red handbook in every middle class home, "Modern Home Medical Advisor" had a chapter "Advice on the diet". 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Do we make too much of college?

Robert J. Samuelson has an interesting opinion in the Memorial Day Washington Post, “It’s time to drop the college-for-all crusade”, link here.

Samuelson argues that the pursuit “dumbs down” college education for everyone, as well as drawing young adults (and parents) into debt traps. It also diminishes efforts to train people for jobs that may go wanting.

I can remember a different spin on this issue, back in the 1960s, when I was a graduate assistant instructor, teaching remedial freshman mathematics classes, in the days of college student deferments from the draft.  In those days, there was another mantra, “There are too many people going to college.” But flunking out could mean your life if you were male.

Another twist on this problem would be a good hard look at the “for profit” adult university system.  Remember the phrase, “I am a Phoenix.”  Or, as far as instructors, “Been there, done that.”   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nuclear marriage doesn't always add to social capital (studies)

Stephanie Coontz  has a valuable perspective on p. B2 of the May 27 Washington Post (Outlook), “5 Myths About Marriage”, link here

The most interesting point is her claim that married couples are indeed not the building blocks of community life, in contradiction to notions of social capital spread by conservatives as varied as Rick Santorum and Charles Murray. 

She quotes sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian as reporting that unmarried adults give more practical assistance to extended families than the married, who may have more of their own “self-created” (procreative) responsibilities.  She describes marriage as having a "gated community" nature. 

Sarkisian is the author of “Nuclear Family Values, Extended Family Lives: The Power of Race, Class, and Gender (Framing 21st Century Social Issues)”. 

The Post also has a commentary today by E. J. Dionne about the over-emphasis on individualism in modern conservatism, but the recent rhetoric of Rick Santorum would seem to contract this concern.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Can you be liable for calling someone who is driving and answers you with a cell phone, and has a wreck?

A judge in New Jersey has ruled that a woman who texted a man whom she knew was driving cannot share liability for injuries when the man struck two people on a motorcycle, causing each to lose a leg.

The theory is that she was present “electronically” and contributed to the accident.

But then, one could say that one should never call anyone one knows is driving, even from a conventional land line phone, because the person might become distracted if he or she tries to answer.

The Fox News story about the ruling from state Superior Court judge David Rand is here.  

The case is disturbing in that it suggests that people have to share more responsibility for the actions of other adults when they induce or tempt them.

I do not answer cell phone calls or texts until I can pull over in a safe place.  On an Interstate highway, that means reaching an exit with services.  I think it is acceptable to pull way over on the shoulder of a non-limited-access highway and stop to receive a message, in places with low or moderate traffic.  But one must stop completely first and have the car in park.

CNN attorneys Avery and Herman took different views on this Saturday.  Herman thinks there's no case of secondary liability, but legislatures may get involved and create it. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Should drivers be charitable out of their vehicles, or solicitation and panhandling a safety and security problem?

Last night, Piers Morgan (CNN) mentioned an incident where a man was fined $500 for littering in Cleveland when he tried to handle a dollar to a disabled homeless man from a car and dropped it.  Here’s a typical media story, link

I understand Piers Morgan’s take on CNN, as a kind of ‘ridulist” incident, but there’s a public safety issue, too, unfortunately, with a lot of panhandling around vehicles.

I don’t hand out anything from a car when driving and stopped at a light because of traffic liability issues should the person somehow get struck. 

Recently, when I was parked at a motel with a rental in Las Vegas, a man appeared and begged for 30 cents.  I gave it to him, but wondered afterward, what if this had been a carjacking?  On the Ohio Turnpike, at a service area in 2010, I drove away quickly when approached suspiciously because I feared this possibility, and called state police.  (There is a story in “The Facebook Effect” where Mark Zuckerberg drove out of a similar situation at a California gas station; this flashed into my mind immediately in the Ohio incident and prompted me to flee myself.  Maybe Mark saved my life!)

The issue of charity in public, from a car, is getting dicey.  You take a risk in responding because you don’t know if the person could have criminal intentions. 
Panhandling has sometimes been a problem on the streets around nightlife in Washington DC, and police say that it is illegal only when “aggressive”.  Sometimes people are approached with offers to “protect” their cars.  That’s illegal.
Have some heart, lose your car? 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Airlines want to ban commodity speculation or flipping by companies not actually "needing" them

Delta Airlines's Sky Magazine, in May 2012, argues that the high fuel prices affecting motorists and airlines alike, resulting in higher airfares and fees, are the result of sheer commodity speculation.

Delta maintains that US imports of oil and going down and that oil shale and other technologies will increase real supply (with Keystone Pipeline?)  It proposes as a policy that companies should not be allowed to buy futures in commodities they won't actually consume.  They present the futures business as a bit like real estate flipping in the middle of last decade.

Is this kind of thinking a good idea?  Apply it to the idea of "free content" in intellectual property and see what you get.  Is this a bit pink

Saturday, May 19, 2012

California exposed to risk from San Onofre to be sure; gas prices and smog don't reduce heaviest traffic in nation

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Generating Station belonging to Cal Edison certainly looks close to the water.  The public access road is supposed to take you to San Onofre State Park to see the ocean – but that seems under control of Camp Pendleton of the US Marine Corps.  Access to it is left to confusion, to say the least. 
Furthermore, that stretch of I-5 through Camp Pendleton has no services, and the scenic viewpoint is closed when the Marines are on bivouac or maneuvers – you can see the tent city from the highway, a reminder of Basic Training and Night Infiltration back in the 1960s (and in my case, Special Training Company).
California Edison doesn’t let anyone stop near the plant on the road – that’s how they control photography. So that’s why I need to use Wikipedia—but this is pretty much what I saw.
Is it exposed to possible earthquakes and tsunami?  You bet.  And in January 2012, some of it was taken off line after a malfunction and possible small release of radioactivity.

Yet, I think we may well need nuclear power.  We need everything.  Opposition to it as a one-issue cause (as one woman did when I was with Dan Fry’s “Understanding” in the 1970s) is not for me.
Here’s another point:   US News has a gloss booklet (in airports and supermarkets) on space dangers, and has an essay on solar storms and coronal mass ejections.  The danger of a Carrington event is random, not necessarily more during a period of sunspot activity.  But utilities should be doing much more to harden themselves against such an event, that could take months to recover from.

The smog around LA is still there in the mornings.  And the traffic, despite 10-lane freeways, and gas prices up to almost $1 more than other places, is the heaviest in the nation, with constant slow downs, even not during rush hours.

And, note, last week, I reviewed "Last Call at the Oasis", which documented California's coming water crisis.  Is the Golden State sustainable?

Near Palm Springs, along I-10, there is one of the largest wind farm "very large arrays" in the country.

And, ever see what looks like a tornado turn out to be an industrial fire, near an Interstate?

 Wikipedia attribution link to San Onofre picture.   The facility is south of San Clemented (Richard Nixon's home) and San Juan Capistrano (the mission in "Vertigo"). 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

GOP supporter says party has embarrassed itself on social issues, but is right on health care and energy (personal interview)

So a "conservative" on a plane today tells me a few things about what is going on.Yes, he's embarrassed for the party given its cockeyed remarks in the Virginia Assembly about denying a judgeship to a candidate that supports gay marriage (Tracy Thorne).  He's embarrassed about the ideological posturing during the debt ceiling crisis last summer, which will come back.

On Obamacare, he says the medical profession will be wrecked, and that people just won't be able to make the investment in medical school. He says a forced mandate is not the way to handle the "pre-existing conditions" problem.  Rather, doctors work pro-bono to give care to people who can't afford it.Yes, they do charge paying patients more. But not that much more.  I think if you look at the way hospitals bill for those without networked insurance, you can see a problem with his argument.

On energy, he says that Obama's regulations will drive entrepreneurs out of the country.  He was into energy sources for utilities, for all different kinds,

On radical Islam, he says hatred of the West is driven mostly by religious fanaticism, not by envy of those who may have more undeservedly.

But the GOP needs to stop harping on gay marriage and contraception, he says.  Continuing to do so will mean the 2012 election.

Out of of the "horse's mouth".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

How does individualism fit the common good?

Today, the Washington Times ran an interview of Arizona representive Brent Quayle (R) by Brett M. Decker, here.  Itemizing the five question "essay test" is not the point; rather, it's that Quayle spoke up for individualism as threatened by big government and entitlement and blame-game mentality.

But other conservatives, like Rick Santorum, really have made a lot of the "common good", but as something that disciplines the direction and choices of the individual and binds him or her to the larger needs of family or community, locally and without big global government (with a concept called "social capital").   If the individual is forced to be psychologically disciplined, families won't need government so much, so the conservative ideology goes.

Objectivism, remember, emphasized "enlightened self-interest".  Will that really encourage people, say, to join the military?

House Speaker John Boehner is already threatening another budget showdown later this year (before November??) over the debt ceiling.  Given the recent debate over what is and is not a "tax", current Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries just might get into real trouble. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

CA governor Jerry Brown threatens deep cuts for poor, schools unless CA voters accept higher taxes

Edmund Gerald (“Jerry”) Brown, the outspoken “single” lifelong Democratic politician in the Golden State, and again governor of California, has  proposed deep cuts in poverty programs and threatened to do so for public schools, unless California voters agree to raise taxes.

The San Jose Mercury News (it has a tone a bit like that of The Washington Times) ran the story here. He says the tax increases would be temporary.

Remember California’s Proposition 13 in 1978 (Article 13A of the Constitution of the State of California), as explained here  ?

I remember the controversy (from the early days of cable television, before CNN) during my last year of living in New York City, which was then emerging from its own financial crisis (the “Ford to City: Drop Dead”) era. 

When Brown was governor before, he attracted attention with his austere lifestyle, living in a regular apartment rather than the governor’s mansion.

The austerity measures this time would cut public schools very hard, leading to shorter school years and teacher layoffs, which have become common in many places after the 2008 financial crisis, after a decade of trying to encourage other professionals into “career switching”. ?

Wikipedia attribution link for Sacramento picture. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Many lose unemployment benefits this weekend

The Washington Post, in a brief story Friday by Michael Fletcher, is reporting that 230000 people will lose unemployment benefits in eight states by May 12, with link here.  

That’s because the maximum benefit available in these states drops from 99 weeks to 79, according to a formula prescribed by Congress, and unemployment numbers slowly improve.

After my layoff in Minneapolis at the end of 2001 (post 9-11), I wound up collecting about $6500 or a maximum possible $11800 benefit, then over 52 weeks.  I was told by my employer that I could not collect it while drawing a “salary-like” severance for 36 weeks, but that turned out to be incorrect (the state said you should always file right away).  However, if you waited to start collecting, some twists in the rules allowed you to collect more total benefits, which may  not have been morally right. 

As I've noted, "intentional communities" seem to have their own solutions for unemployment problems. But people give up a lot of individual freedom in these groups.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The "Amish" are a "eusocial" sustainable community

Today, I visited another “intentional community”, of sorts, and well known, in the “form” of the Amish Village, just north of Strasburg, PA (just south of Lancaster).

The indoor part of the tour, of a typical Amish house, was guided, with a request not to make recordings (still pictures were OK).  Amish people also find it unwelcome to be photographed, even in public – an issue I’ve discussed on my main blog.

The guide talked about the history, and the invitation from William Penn for the Amish to settle in the early 18th century after refusing military service in Europe out of conscientious objection, which was seen as “treason”.  As a result, Amish don’t like to wear buttons or a different color from their clothing.

She described the way Amish make appliances run with local fuel, natural gas.  They consider being tapped into the electric power grid as violating the Biblical command to live “within”.  But some Amish communities, as around Lancaster, now accept electricity from local solar panels (or wind turbines) as “local” and acceptable.

Their lives are heavily socialized (as with “eusociality”).  They do not have church buildings, but have church services in people’s homes or barns.  That can be several hundred people. They have eight to fifteen children per family, so the population increase is rapid, with 30000 in the Lancaster area.

Education ends after the eighth grade,  after which teens have apprenticeships.  A man must decide if he will stay by age 20 (93% do).  But the Amish are quite resourceful businessmen in the larger community.

Men grow beards only when they marry, or turn 40 (when they become elders anyway).

The one room school room is interesting, with quotes on the blackboard like "whether you think you can or think you can't, you would be right", and "what matters is to do your best."  The readers included "Fun With Dick and Jane" and another familiar reader from my grade school days. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

LDS missionary develops psychosomatic paralysis; is missionary proselytizing (not just "service") a moral virtue?

Discover Magazine, June 2012, has an article that shows the possible double-edge of faith when it demands active promotion. It’s on p. 22, by Beverly Purdy, called “Paralyzed by Faith”, with summary here

A young Mormon missionary in South Africa developed paralysis in his legs.  He was flown by medevac back to Utah and no physical cause could be found. But in psychological questioning, he indicated that he didn’t like proselytizing and approaching people about religion.

Mormon men actually pay for their own missions, where they are expected to “win converts”.  The Church definitely impresses on young man when it is time to "do something for someone else."  But it's more than just meeting real needs.  

The LDS church has always been a world leader when it comes to relief work after disasters.  But it demands that its members and volunteers serve  -- and "sell" -- its cause. 

Conservative religions are very determined to show that you shouldn't be allowed to "go your own way." 

The film "God's Army", 2000, dealt with Mormon missionaries.  But then so did "Latter Days" (2003). 

Saturday, May 05, 2012

George Will's column about son with Down's Syndrome inspires more debate

George F. Will stirred up some more emotion with his May 2 piece (in the Washington Post) on the 40th birthday of his own son, Jon, who has Downs Syndrome.

Will gives a narrative of his family’s experience before Roe v. Wade, and concurrent with the development of amniocentesis.  He is critical of baby boomers whose sense of “entitlement encompasses an entitlement to exemption from nature’s mishaps”.  He also talks about his son’s visits to Nationals Park, his mixing socially with the players before games, and with his impressions of nature’s lottery, which makes some of us gifted and others not.  (Santorum, in his consideration of "the Common Good", insisted that equality does not exist in nature among individuals.  But there is specificity and quality in gifts as well as quantity.)  But parents can try to give any child the best life possible (or a "good life"). 
There was some pointed reaction in the LTE’s Saturday in the Post (curiously, not online yet as of noon Saturday).  I particularly wanted to note that, while, yes, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are “gifted” in very specific areas (not many of us can throw a baseball at 100 mph or hit one pitched that way), gifts in other areas somehow impress me more.  I wonder if George Will watched the “teen tournament” on Jeopardy last night.  At high school age, women tend to dominate the competition, in  except last night’s thriller, that was not the case as a high school sophomore from my own KU neighborhood won “in extra innings”.   Or take gifts in music, or computer super-literacy, which also, in my experience, seem to run in families.  (Facebook has even become a family affair; Mark probably owes his business success to two of his sisters.)  Even in my own orbit, the person who may be best qualified to edit my film (if I get it made) is a self-taught teen.

Will points out that societal attitudes toward those born with heritable disabilities in past generations were not particularly kind, despite the outward social conservatism of earlier times.   Some people were put away in institutions.  Indeed, underneath the moral debates over abortion and even contraception seems to be an idea more challenging than just the abstract right to life of a conceived future person.  It seems to be a question as to whether others are really willing to love them just (as my own father would say) "as people."  The “natural family” may seem to be the only place that such love can be nurtured.  But a “natural family” still needs a social structure, someone (or a married couple) in charge.  There is still a hierarchy, which can control the choices even of those who won’t have their own children.  As in any “tribalist” or political environment, the power in such a hierarchy can be abused, become corrupt (as with the Stefano patriarch in "Days of our Lives").   Libertarians see individualism as the antidote to such corruption, but individualism does not take care of the “ungifted” very well.  But with “tribalism” (even as defended in Edward O. Wilson’s recent book, as on my Books blog May 1) there comes a “natural” tendency for people to fantasize about who is the “fittest” to carry the lineage and run the clan, and that can lead into fantasy areas that have disturbing implications for the less well off (as in my own NIH days in the early 1960s).  There is no perfect system, no ideology that always works.  There is only the actions of people, incorporating both personal responsibility and compassion.

The link for Will’s piece ("Jon Will's Gift") is here.

Also, I have to quote President Obama speaking in Columbus, Ohio right now. “Corporations aren’t people.  People are people.”

Friday, May 04, 2012

Obama addresses students at my own high school in Arlington VA about student loans

President Obama spoke at an assembly at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA, garnering support for his contention that Congress should not let student loan interest rates double later on this year.

The White House gave this is a link with excerpts from the address. 

There’s a detailed story on Patch (Arlington VA) here.

GOP presidential candidates have taken college lightly, with Santorum using the word "snob" for the educated, and Romney taking the financial resources required for granted. Gingrich has a little bit more respect for education, being a professor (and wanting to build colonies on other planets).

NBC has reported that two-thirds of young adults 19-25 are getting some financial support from parents. 

WJLA’s video here:

When I went to college at GWU 1962-1966, the full time tuition then ranged from $440 to $840 per semester.  After the William and Mary disaster, my parents picked up the tab.  It might not have turned out as well.

I graduated from Washington-Lee on June 14, 1961 (on the valedictorian list -- there were 14 of us).  When I attended, the main building was a three-story brick building built in 1928.  Homeroom was room 307.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Washington Post keeps debate on conscription alive, at a subliminal level

The Washington Post is continuing a low-level debate on the possibility of resuming conscription. On April 27, Elliot J. Feldman argued “our all volunteer military should stay that way”.  Longer memories tell us that the draft did not keep us out of misadventures in Vietnam, but the idea of unlimited manpower gave presidents, especially Johnson, and chiefs on the field (Westmorland) that they could request infinite manpower.  The writer mentions the "stop-loss" problem which is a kind of backdoor draft (as in a Paramount film a couple years ago), as long as the abuse of reservists, but doesn't "solve the dump".  
Today, the military could not use everyone available, although the alternative of mandatory civilian national service could complicate that point.

However, today a letter from a woman in Florida says we need to continue talking about it. The link (with a secondary back to the original) is here. The writer notes that a significant portion of volunteers cannot finish the first year of enlistment, and that studies show that the quality of draftees during the Vietnam era was greater than that for volunteers.

I grew up in an era where pre-existing obligations to society, sometimes gender-based, were the most visible part of the moral landscape.  That’s changed.  But do people understand how it used to be?

The debate simmers on, barely noticed. This issue was always in the back of my mind during those years of "don't ask don't tell".  But it may remain diminished, given the president's promise to withdraw completely from Afghanistan.  But then there will always be a new crisis.  

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Effect of clouds seen to be last hope for climate change dissenters

The New York Times has a front page story May 1 by Justin Gillis, "Clouds' effect on climate change last bastion for dissenters", link (website url) here.

The general idea is that high clouds (cirrus clouds) may hold in heat, even though they look ephemeral; lower clouds, often seen when low pressure systems pass, do reflect a lot of sunlight and often lead to cooler daytime temperatures even in warmer (higher sun-angle) months.  More low clouds tend to keep an atmosphere from becoming as stirred up to produce violent storms.

I can remember days back in the 1950s when we would "call the weather" at WE6-1212, on an old rotary phone in the den.  I loved to hear "heavy snow warning".  In those days, forecasting was not too accurate, and sometimes it didn't arrive.

The truth is indeed becoming inconvenient.