Sunday, December 19, 2010

Basement update [Bryan]

The basement is about half done. Here is an update on the work so far.

First step: Drawing plans and securing permits
We decided to use the space in our basement to create a new rec room and bedroom, adding about 400 square feet of finished space to our home. The complicating factor was a beam that bisects the space, supported by two steel pillars. It made perfect sense to try to hide all of this behind a wall, but this would mean making Nora's future bedroom to be a bit smaller than we wanted (tiny -- about 80 square feet). The codes governing bedrooms are very strict, we found out, and making this an official bedroom would mean adding an "egress window." We figured we could simply call it an "office" and use it as a bedroom, but having Nora trapped down there in the middle of a fire was a frightening thought. So, we decided to bite the bullet and make it an official bedroom. I drew up some plans, paid a lot of money for the building permits ($600), and got to work. Below is a copy of the plans I drew up.


Second step: Waterproofing
We sealed up cracks in the walls and coated them with white, DryLock Masonary Waterproofer. Controversy rages on the Internet about whether this stuff works and for how long. I figured it couldn't hurt and our basement was almost completely dry anyway. Whatever the case, this stuff was really thick and hard to apply and ended up being much more work than I intended. Ellie helped out considerably here.


Third step: Installing the egress window
We had a contractor install the egress window for us. Cutting through the foundation wall is considerably outside my comfort zone and tool capability. That work alone, though, cost $2500, which about doubled the cost of the finishing the basement.

Fourth step: Adding insulation
Once that was in, we added the pink extruded polystyrene insulation to the basement walls. It used to be that people would finish their basement by simply putting up stud walls directly against the foundation wall, insulating the stud cavities with fiberglass insulation, and then covering it all with a plastic vapor barrier. This led to all sorts of problems with mold, I'm told, since the moisture coming from the cinder blocks would get trapped in the insulation areas. Gluing on this pink foam insulation, first, and then building the wall 1 inch away from the insulation prevents this (or so I'm told). The hardest part of this was bringing the pink foam home on top of my car -- let's just say that now I know what not to do. In the picture, you can see the foam and the egress window in the background.



Fourth step: Planning and marking walls
This was fun. I bought myself a blue chalk line and had a great time measuring out the walls, snapping the line, and marking out the future space. It was great to get a first glimpse of what things would actually look like. Below, you can see the chalk outline of Nora's bedroom wall.


Fifth step: Framing

This was the part I was most looking forward to. I love working with wood, measuring, sawing, and hammering. The first step involved a wonderful new tool purchase, my now beloved "powder actuated nailer." This was to nail the bottom lumber plates into the concrete. It works basically like a gun with the nail being the bullet. You put in a powder charge and nail, and then strike it on top with a hammer. It shoots the nail into the concrete with a loud explosion. This was great fun, and even a little scary to use. The most useful tool I had during this process was my miter saw, though, which I received for my birthday a few years ago and never used much. I'm not very skilled with a regular circular saw, so this really helped me make nice, straight cuts. I could have used a nail gun, but hammering and screwing everything together turned out okay.

I was in rapture seeing the new basement world coming together around me. I think the framing looked pretty good in the end. I'm not going to lie, there were some major goofs along the way, and the finished project would never be mistaken for the work of a real carpenter (off plumb here and there, for example). But I had a great time, and only once slammed my thumb. Below, pictures of a finished wall, Nora's closet, and the half wall leading up the stairs (my favorite feature).



Sixth step: Electrical and Mechanical
These were both enjoyable, but for opposite reason. Electrical was interesting because I've never run any wire before. I know now about 20 times as much about electrical stuff as I did before, so it was a major learning experience (having a brother-in-law who knows something about electrical was a big confidence boost here). Running the heating ducts was fun because it took me back to my summers at Christensen Heating and Air Conditioning. In a sense, running the duct work allowed me to reconnected with my past self. Below are pictures of (a) a fairly complicated switch box with two, 3-way switches (one being a dimmer), (b) my canister lighting, and (c) one of my heating ducts.



I'm on drywall now. Stay tuned!

Holiday performances [Bryan]

Three holiday performances, from the most talented (and cutest) children ever to appear on the planet. First, Nora playing "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing."

video

Second, Andrew singing "Up on the Housetop," complete with sign language actions.

video

Third, Stephen singing (more or less) "Once There Was a Snowman," complete with actions. Actually, this is a duet with Ellie, but she asked not to be included in the video. Too bad. She, too, makes a wonderful melting snowman, or snowperson, or whatever.

video

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Family Pictures [Ellie]









A good friend and amazingly talented photographer, Kellie Anderson, took our family pictures for us this fall. (Check out her blog at kellieanderson.net. She's incredible.) We're thrilled with them!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jury Duty [Bryan]

I am currently sitting on the 9th floor of the Franklin County Municipal Court Building. I've been called to serve for two weeks as a juror. At least I think I have -- I've been here three days and I haven't been on a trial yet. In fact, not one of the 75 of us potential jurors has been on a trial. There have been about 300 cases processed since we've been here. All of these cases have been resolved through plea bargaining or other means. Since a jury at this municipal court level only has eight people, I'm starting to doubt that I will serve on an actual jury.

I have mixed feelings about this. Participating in public/civic/political life, including jury duty, is an important part of a complete human existence. I'm not sure my life would be complete if I never served on a jury. I'm interested to see how I would react. (At this point, I should say that the hero of the excellent movie 12 Angry Men is one of my favorite movie characters.)

And yet...this jury lounge is a great place. I have WiFi and all the hot chocolate I can drink (amazingly, they recognize that some people drink something other than coffee). They have magazines here, computers, and movies. Most important, it is actually a great place to work and I think I may actually finally finish my book. Not any needy students,colleagues, children, or wives making requests, after all.

Friday, December 10, 2010

One more week! [Bryan]

One more week until the release of Tron: Legacy. Frankly, I can't see how the actual movie can be any better than the trailer.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Absurdity exposed [Bryan]

Well, we seem to have got ourselves a compromise on tax policy for the next two years. In reaching the compromise, the absurdity of Washington D.C. was exposed in all its glory. Consider that we have recently been having two debates in this country. The first was about how many billions we can cut off taxes, particularly for those who are well off. The second was about how we are going to go about cutting the yearly budget deficit -- we even had a nifty commission and everything. It rarely received much attention in the popular press, as far as I can tell, that these two debates were pointing in opposite directions.

First, the absurdity of the "deficit hawks" was exposed. Many of those same people, Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats, who have wrung their hands about any form of deficit spending, are now celebrating the tax cuts that will add $800 billion to the deficit. The next time any of these people pretend to care about short term spending that isn't "paid for" we should collectively laugh. We should all just admit that deficits are a good thing right now.

The absurdity of many of the Democrats was exposed. In fighting so hard for their proposal to let the taxes return to the level of the 1990s for the rich, they were fighting a battle that was only a little bit more responsible, long term, than what the completely reckless Republicans were proposing. They chose a rather arbitrary line to make a stand, and now they look like losers, as usual.

Finally, the moral corruption and intellectual bankruptcy of many on the Right has been exposed. Recently, the Senate Republicans, united as a caucus, sent a letter to Harry Reid saying that they would filibuster literally everything until the tax debate was resolved to their liking. In effect, this meant that nothing could even get a vote until those making more than $250,000 got their extra tax cut. Nothing -- not nuclear weapons treaties (START), not the defense appropriations bill (in the middle of war!), not the extension of unemployment benefits -- would get a hearing. Everything was held until the Republicans saw more money in the hands of the wealthy. It was impressive in its own way, hardball, no-compromise politics at its most extreme. It seems to be the one thing they care about, and they got their way.

Out of all this absurdity, we have a policy that is .... not all that bad in the short term. The key problem right now is still the economy and job growth. Short term, we do need to run big deficits. Short term, many forms of tax cuts are good (a category that does not, unfortunately, include tax cuts for the wealthy that the Republicans were so dogmatic about -- these are very poor stimulus). Interesting how such an inane discourse can produce a outcome that is not all that inane.

Obama caves [Bryan]

I knew it would happen eventually:

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – In his latest effort to find common ground with Republicans in Congress, President Barack Obama said today that he was willing to agree that he is a Muslim.

Differences over his religious orientation have been a sore point between the President and his Republican foes for the past two years, but in agreeing that he is a Muslim Mr. Obama is sending a clear signal that he is trying to find consensus. “The American people do not want to see us fighting in Washington,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House. “They want to see us working together to improve their lives, and Allah willing, we will.”

But Mr. Obama’s willing to back down on his claim of being a Christian does not seem to have satisfied his Republican opposition, as GOP leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) today insisted that the President must also agree that he was born in Kenya.

Friday, December 03, 2010

RIP: Leslie Nielson

I was sad to see Leslie Nielson recently died. Nielson's movies were a huge part of my young life. I can't tell you how many times my friends ordered a pizza and watched The Naked Gun and I can't tell you how hard we laughed every time. Same goes for Airplane during my early teenage years. These are two of the dumbest, and funniest, movies ever made.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

More Whitman [Bryan]

Another poem by Whitman (Leave of Grass, 166). As usual, publishing this because this is my blog and I can post whatever I darn well please.

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill'd with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew'd,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring--What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here--that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks in Old Age [Bryan]

Thanks in Old Age

Thanks in old age - thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air - for life, mere life,
For precious, ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear - you, father - you brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days - not those of peace alone - the days of war the same,
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat - for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown - or young or old - countless, unspecified, readers belove’d,
We never met, and ne’er shall meet - and yet our souls embrace, long, close and long;)
For beings, group, love, deeds, words, books - -for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men - - devoted, hardy men, -- who’ve forward sprung in freedom’s help, all years, all lands,
For braver, stronger, more devoted men - (a special laurel ere I go to life’s war’s chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought - the great artillerists - the foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldiers from an ended war return’d - As traveler out of myriads, to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks - joyful thanks! - a soldier’s, traveler’s thanks.

~ Walt Whitman (1888)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The circuit of my expanding life [Bryan]

I am prepared to admit that finishing my basement is something of a mid-life crisis for me. I've been engrossed by it. I have preferred working on the basement to eating and sleeping (ask Ellie), reading and writing. I think about little else. I haven't let anybody else help. This is behavior that goes beyond the motive of simply wanted more finished space.

Let me give you some semi-serious reflections about all this. I recently read that some people run marathons "as a testament to the fact that there is still substance and life in them." Similarly, after getting tenure and after the necessary narrowing of focus and personality that comes with that, I am finishing the basement as a testament to the fact that I am still "alive" in the sense of developing my skills, my personality, and my substance. I will literally saw my way out of the narrow box that I may have constructed for myself. Only by continued learning do we become and remain fully human.

Some of you know I'm a huge fan of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson said it best:

"There goes in the world a notion, that the scholar should be a recluse, a valetudinarian, — as unfit for any handiwork or public labor, as a penknife for an axe. As far as this is true of the studious classes, it is not just and wise. Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet man. Without it, thought can never ripen into truth. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. Only so much do I know, as I have lived. Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not.

The world lies wide around. Its attractions are the keys which unlock my thoughts and make me acquainted with myself. I run eagerly into this resounding tumult. I grasp the hands of those next me, and take my place in the ring to suffer and to work, taught by an instinct, that so shall the dumb abyss be vocal with speech. I pierce its order; I dissipate its fear; I dispose of it within the circuit of my expanding life. So much only of life as I know by experience, so much of the wilderness have I vanquished and planted, or so far have I extended my being, my dominion. I do not see how any man can afford, for the sake of his nerves and his nap, to spare any action in which he can partake. It is pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructers in eloquence and wisdom. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action past by, as a loss of power. It is the raw material out of which the intellect moulds her splendid products."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Posting this because I can [Bryan]

Oddly cool video from that "Blast" thing from a few years ago. It is called "Color Wheel."

How I would balance the federal budget [Bryan]

The New York Times has a fun interactive piece allowing you to balance the federal budget. If you are weird like me, you will actually have a lot of fun. Here is my budget. 40% of my plan comes through spending cuts, 60% through tax increases. Mostly I cut defense, raised retirement ages, eliminated certain tax loopholes, and went back to Clinton-era tax levels (which would still be fairly low historical standards).

1. Discretionary spending: Eliminate farm subsidies. (Easy call -- massive waste here.)

2. Military spending: Reduce military spending in nuclear arms, Air Force, and Navy; cancel some weapons systems; reduce presence of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan more quickly. (Fairly easy call -- no need to have a huge navy, for example, in current threat environment.)

3. Entitlements: Increase medicare eligibility and social security eligibility to age 68; reduce social security benefits for those with high incomes; tighten eligibility for disability. (This was a very hard call.)

4. Taxes: Return estate tax to Clinton-era levels, increase income tax for those making over $250,000, increase payroll taxes for those making over $106,000, reduce mortgage deduction, implement millionaire tax and carbon tax. Maintain tax cuts for those under $250,000 and for investment income. (Fairly easy call, though my own taxes would go up a bit under this plan.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

Thoughts on the election [Bryan]

Some people have asked for my thoughts on the election, so I guess I will bore you with some post-election analysis. I don't have too much to say. The majority always loses a lot of seats in the midterm after a presidential election, especially under a weak economy -- happened to Reagan in 1982, Clinton in 1994, etc. This explains 90% of what happened on Tuesday. Still, there were many odd things about election day. Ohio voters, for example, supposedly furious, just furious, about "bailouts" and the economy, elected Rob Portman, who was the chief architect of the Bush economy, and John Kasich, who was a big shot Wall Street banker over at Lehman Brothers, to U.S. Senator and Ohio Governor, respectively. U.S. voters, supposedly furious about the deficit and tax increases, took it out on Democrats even though Democrats have both cut taxes to record lows and also cut the deficit since Bush's final year (down to $1.29 trillion from Bush's $1.4 trillion). Weird.

Surprisingly, though, I would say I feel actually kind of proud to be a Democrat this week -- prouder than I usually feel. The reason is this: Democrats had to make a lot of tough calls and cast tough votes over the past two years. They voted on health care, economic recovery, credit card regulation, spending cuts to Medicare, and so forth, votes that are easily vilified by powerful interests groups and that are based on long-term policy impact over short-term political calculation. When a party has control over Washington, you can see what the party actually cares about, and I think the Democrats come out looking pretty good. The Republicans used their power, when they had it, to give the wealthy tax cuts, to cut regulation for corporations, and to start stupid wars. The Democrats used it to try to give health care to children with preexisting conditions, to help women get equal pay for equal work, to revive the American auto industry, to take care of veterans, and so forth. Rachel Maddow sums it up well:
Democrats had a choice when they became the governing party. When they won those last two elections and they took control of the two branches of government that are subject to partisan control in our country, they could have governed in a way that was about accumulating political capital with the primary goal of winning the next election. They could have governed in constant campaign mode. Or they could have governed in a way that was about using their political capital, not accumulating more of it, about spending the political capital they had to get a legislative agenda done, to tackle big, complex, longstanding problems that had languished.

The record of legislative achievement of the last 21 months was not designed to win the midterm elections and it will not win the midterm elections. The pendulum will swing back toward the Republicans and we'll go back to divided government again. The legislative agenda of the last 21 months was policy, not politics. It was designed to get stuff done for the country. And in that sense, it's an investment in long-term political reward, not short-term political reward, as Democrats expect after a list of accomplishments like this to be judged as the party that took on problems when it had the chance, even if they had to pay a short-term political price....The fact is, that Democrats got a lot done, a lot of hard stuff done on hard problems in a short amount of time.

If you have the time, you should watch Maddow's full set of comments here:


Monday, November 01, 2010

Patch-Up Work by the Sub [Ellie]

If you've been reading our blog lately, you know that the primary blogger, Bryan, is currently down in the basement making regular, terrifying pounding noises. This blog is not meant to replace anything the aforementioned Dr. Warnick might produce. Your humble servant is merely attempting to fill in a few important gaps emerging in the Warnick record due to his absence.

Where Bryan is.


While Bryan has been down in the basement, Halloween happened.

The lion roars.


A Halloween party distracted Nora and Andrew from the fact that
we made them wear the same costumes as last year.


Bryan briefly emerged from the basement to join me for my first OSU football game. Anna and Spencer graciously let us have their tickets to the Purdue-OSU Homecoming Game. We did lots of cheering at first, until we realized our cheers were pretty much unnecessary--the Buckeyes had demolished the Boilermakers by halftime, 42-0 (final score 49-0). At that point we almost started cheering for the other team. "Go, Purdue. Make a game of it, PLEASE!"




The prize for most exciting part of the game goes to the Ohio State Marching Band, which performed a half-time tribute to Elvis, complete with a human guitar, marching hearts, and the famous "dotting of the I"--the I in Elvis, that is.




October's been a thriller!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The misinformant [Bryan]

Jack Black gives a little therapy for those of us depressed by how quickly misinformation propagates and spreads. Also, reminds me of Jack Black's cinematic masterpiece, School of Rock. Part 1 is good, part 2 even better.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Finishing the basement as an existential project [Bryan]

We've decided to finally finish our basement. There are many practical reasons: We need the extra bedroom to accommodate our growing family; we need a nicer place for guests to stay when they come, we need a place to send the kids when they are annoying their mother, and so forth. I am going to be doing most of the work. The biggest reason for this is that I want to test myself. Call it a midlife crisis if you want. In my mind, though, real men build things. It has always been so and will always be so. I want to test myself again the world in a new kind of way, against wood, steel, and concrete. I also want to develop a side of me that has been dormant for awhile now, the side of me that loves the smell of freshly cut lumber and the feel of a circular saw whirling in my hands. I love it so. Heaven help me, I do love it so. Now, excuse me while I heroically descend to the basement.

Friday, October 08, 2010

What will our grandkids say? [Bryan]

Things were accepted in the past that are not accepted now, things like slavery, burning witches, and so forth. So, is there anything that is commonly accepted today that future generations will condemn us for? An interesting article published a few days ago asks precisely that question. The author, philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, argues for the following candidates: Our breathtakingly enormous prison system, the ugliness and brutality of industrial meat production, the way we ignore and institutionalize our elderly, and our destruction of the environment.

Seems like a good list to me.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Pink goo -- Updated [Bryan]

Try to guess what the below substance is...



And the answer is...Chicken McNuggets. Apparently they grind up the meat material and it comes out looking like pink goo. Then they have to dye it back to a more edible color. Yuck. Not sure I'll be eating any more of those.

Update: The American Meat Institute chimes in, claiming that this stuff isn't in all chicken nuggets, only some of them. I guess that is comforting. I guess.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The hero and the storm [Ellie]

The kids and I and some friends were at a park in the late afternoon on Wednesday. The sky was gray, but darkening quickly. At one point I looked up and at the edge of the dark clouds was a deep turquoise color--that tornado-green kind of sky. I mentioned that things were looking ominous and no sooner had I said so than the wind started to blow hard. We said goodbye and headed to our car. Nora and I were laughing as the wind blew us along, but Andrew was very disturbed by it. He was worried about a tornado, and crying he was so afraid and anxious to get home and into the basement where he felt we'd be safe.

In the car on the drive home, Andrew made each of us say a prayer that we'd get home safely. We did, and as we pulled into the garage, it started to rain hard. Nora and Andrew got out of the car, and I set Stephen down in the garage so that I could bring things in from the car. Stephen started wandering out of the garage and into the storm. Andrew was frantic with fear for Stephen, and went over and picked him up, crying, "No! No, Stephen! Tornado! Danger" and carried him to safety. Later we talked about what a hero Andrew was to "save Stephen from the storm." Andrew liked the idea of being a hero and has been going around telling people about the time he was a hero. It's nice to have some evidence that he really does love Stephen, since it's not always obvious.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pledge to America? [Bryan]

The Republicans have published a new document, Pledge to America, where they stipulate all of the things they would do differently. I've read it through and I am not very impressed by it. Some whoppers:

1. The document promises that it will implement or continue massive tax breaks. At the same time, it talks about reducing the deficit. This means, of course, that spending would need to be slashed significantly. The Republicans promise, however, that all cuts to defense, Social Security, veteran's programs, and Medicare are off the table (see page 11), thus eliminating any of the spending areas that really matter to the deficit (these areas account for about 70% of the federal budget). So the Republicans are basically promising to lower taxes, to continue higher spending, and at the same time to cut the deficit and pay down the debt. This just doesn't seem very serious to me, a fantasy. They seem to want us to believe we can have something for nothing.

Update: It seems that, even the Republicans make all the cuts they are promising, their budget deficit would still be higher than what Obama is proposing:

2. The Republicans are currently voting against some of the very things they are now promising to do. In their economic plan, they promise to "give small businesses a tax deduction" and "repeal small business mandates," while voting against these exact provisions just in the last few days (see here and here). This doesn't seem very serious to me.

3. The Republicans promise to repeal health care reform, while at the same time promising to follow the Democrats in making it illegal for insurance companies to deny you coverage for preexisting conditions. In their plan, however, the Republicans ignore the fact that, if you regulate the insurance industry this way, you need to make sure people buy insurance before they get sick (otherwise they will just buy insurance when they are ill and the system will collapse). They would need to include a further law, as the Democrats did, that everyone needs to buy insurance. They do not; indeed, the requirement to buy insurance is one of the things they angrily promise to repeal. Again, not serious.

4. The Republicans pledge to "end TARP once and for all." TARP, of course, was the so-called bank bailout. Setting aside for a moment that TARP was passed by a Republican president with substantial Republican support (and thus a pledge to reverse their own policy), this makes no sense. As I understand it, TARP isn't paying out much money anymore. In fact, banks are now repaying the money and the government stands to make a profit, at least on the bank portion. TARP is actually a story of bipartisan success. Politicians did an unpopular thing and it turned out to be the correct decision.

5. The chart on page 7 is very misleading and reflects how badly the document misconstrues economics. In this chart, they show that unemployment is worse now than the Obama administration had predicted it would be under the stimulus package. This, they say, is evidence that the stimulus package is a failure. In reality, though, all this shows is that the recession was much worse than predicted. The true comparison is with how bad unemployment would have been without the stimulus package. Most independent economists believe the stimulus has created about 3 million jobs and played a significant role in turning back the recession. It just wasn't big enough to bring back full employment (a fact for which Obama deserves criticism). The chart on page 17 is even worse -- it makes a 3% increase look like Obama is doubling the size of government. The whole discussion of stimulus and budgets seems deceptive to me

Meanwhile, unbelievably, not a word on Afghanistan, Iraq, or Pakistan. Not a word on global warming. Not a word about energy policy or decreasing our dependence on oil. Not a word on the oil spill or drilling policy. Not a word on Israel and Palestine. It is simply not a document that seems very serious. And we need a serious opposition party in this country.

Checking in on the continuing debate -- Updated [Bryan]

Remember the debate last year about health care reform? It seems like that debate in some ways was just beginning. Now we can start asking: What's working? What isn't? What needs to be changed or fixed? What are the unintended consequences? This means I can continue with my obsession for years to come. I'm not sure I should be happy or sad about that.

If you want to keep track of the real debate about health care reform, and not just hear partisan spin, you can check in at the Kaiser Family Foundation's Health Care Reform Gateway website. They've created this good (and slightly funny) video explaining the new law, what it is supposed to do, how it will be paid for, and what some of the areas of uncertainty are:



They also have this nifty timeline, which allows you to see what change is supposed to occur and when. Some of the provisions I'm watching:

September 23, 2010 (TODAY!!!). Consumer Protections in Insurance. Prohibits individual and group health plans from placing lifetime limits on the dollar value of coverage, rescinding coverage except in cases of fraud, and from denying children coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions or from including pre-existing condition exclusions for children. Restricts annual limits on the dollar value of coverage (and eliminates annual limits in 2014)

January 1, 2010: Small Business Tax Credits. Provides tax credits to small employers with no more than 25 employees and average annual wages of less than $50,000 that provide health insurance for employees. Phase I (2010-2013): tax credit up to 35% (25% for non-profits) of employer cost; Phase II (2014 and later): tax credit up to 50% (35% for non-profits) of employer cost if purchased through an insurance Exchange for two years.

Beginning fiscal year 2011: Medical Malpractice Grants. Authorizes $50 million for five-year demonstration grants to states to develop, implement, and evaluate alternatives to current tort litigations.

January 1, 2010. Medicare Beneficiary Drug Rebate. Provides a $250 rebate to Medicare beneficiaries who reach the Part D coverage gap in 2010. Further subsidies and discounts that ultimately close the coverage gap begin in 2011.

January 1, 2010. Comparative Effectiveness Research. Establishes a non-profit Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to conduct research that compares the clinical effectiveness of medical treatments.

October 2011. Medicare Independent Payment Advisory Board. Establishes an Independent Advisory Board, comprised of 15 members, to submit legislative proposals containing recommendations to reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending if spending exceeds targeted growth rates.

January 1, 2011. Medicare Premiums for Higher-Income Beneficiaries. Freezes the income threshold for income-related Medicare Part B premiums for 2011 through 2019 at 2010 levels resulting in more people paying income-related premiums, and reduces the Medicare Part D premium subsidy for those with incomes above $85,000/individual and $170,000/couple.

Update:
A nice analysis of the early roll out of health care reform by Jacob Hacker. He gives the process so far a "B."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Behold a Talking Head [Bryan]

I've turned into a talking head! Last week, I got a call from a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch wanting to know how teachers are being prepared to live in an environment full of social-networking pitfalls. She was curious about what we should think of teachers who get in trouble when pictures are posted of them on the internet in compromising positions, when they say something dumb on Twitter, or when they become overly friendly with students on Facebook. I had a fairly long conversation with her in which I said many true, important, provocative, and interesting thing (at least I thought so). Alas, when the final piece was published, my rich contribution was reduced to a rather cryptic sentence at the end. You can read the story here. Then, just today, I got called from a reporter for Voice of America who is doing a story on a similar topic. I will probably never know if my wisdom fared better in that interview, since the segment will probably air in Chinese or something. I do wonder, though, what the people in North Korea will think about my take on this all business.

Anyway, like I said, I'm turning into a real talking head. Regional newspapers and short wave radio today, the New York Times and The News Hour tomorrow!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Good male dancing [Bryan]

Via Andrew Sullivan, I learn that researchers have done studies about what moves women like in a male dancer. The researchers write, "We found that (women paid more attention to) the core body region: the torso, the neck, the head. It was not just the speed of the movements, it was also the variability of the movement. So someone who is twisting, bending, moving, nodding."

So this is what women like in a male dancer:


And this is what they don't like:


At this point, I guess I should admit that even the bad dancer dances way better than I do!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Provocative Prose [Ellie]

I just finished my book club book for this month: A Woman of Independent Means by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey. The book is comprised entirely of letters sent to various people by the main character, Elizabeth Alcott Stead, or Bess, as she signs most of her correspondence.

What makes this book worth a blog post to me are the pointed reflections on life made by Bess throughout the book. With some of her reflections, I agree deeply, and am surprised to hear thoughts I’ve had myself, and some I wish I’d had, put to paper so eloquently by someone else. With others of her reflections I deeply disagree. I thought it might be fun to share here some of her provocative insights and hear your responses to them.

1) [after the death of her husband] I am so weary of people asking if there is anything they can do for me. Of course I always answer with a polite no, and they go away satisfied at having done their duty. . . . nothing frightens people more than undisguised need. I have kept all my old friends through this difficult time by never demanding the dues of friendship. Not that I doubt they would be paid--but only once. Friendship to me is like a capital reserve. It pays dividends only so long as the principal remains
intact. . . .


2) Alone on a train, I feel my life could go in any direction and at journey’s end when I rejoin my family, I am filled with elation at the wisdom of my choice. Though they never know it, I have considered every possibility and once again chosen them. Of course I realize I am only playing a game; my choices were made long ago. I wonder how many other times when I truly thought the choice was mine I was playing the game without realizing it.

3) An act as unselfish as yours carries within it the seeds of future unhappiness. To me the only viable transactions are ones in which both parties have something to gain.

4) I realize more and more that we have to work at making friends with members of our family the same way we do with strangers, by asking them questions and relishing their answers.

5) Until now my purpose in life has been provided by the needs of other people but I am beginning to realize none of us is really necessary to anyone else. There is always someone to replace us.

6) It occurs to me we are all capable of adding another dimension to our daily lives if we would but look upon the people around us as characters in a drama devised for our own amusement. There is no life too dull to be transformed into art by a lively imagination.

7) [I] invariably find a letter more revealing than a face-to-face conversation. . . . There is something about the process of writing--perhaps because it usually takes place in the privacy of one’s room--that allows and indeed encourages the expression of thoughts one would never say aloud.

8) It seems unreasonable to expect--or indeed even to want--to share every experience in life with the same person. We are more complicated than that and capable of pledging lifelong devotion to any number of people of different sex and age. Why does society restrict a man and a woman to only one such pledge per lifetime?

9) The best dowry a woman can bring to a marriage is a set of memories she acquired alone.

10) Sometimes being a good mother gets in the way of being a good person.

11) [after the death of her son] At his death I still cherished the illusion that a mother could shape the destinies of her children, could will them into attaining their full growth as individuals. But with each passing year you expect less from them until one day you find you are asking for nothing more than their physical appearance at regularly appointed times. . .

12) Sometimes I think the primary division in the world is not between male and female but between people who travel and people who stay home.

Anybody want to weigh in?

How to study [Bryan]

There was a good article in the New York Times yesterday summarizing some of the latest research on study habits. Highlights:

1. There is no such thing as a "learning style." NYT: "Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas."

2. If you want to learn something, try studying in different places. NYT: "For instance, many study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite."

3. Mix up the things you are studying, don't concentrate only on one thing. NYT: "Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time."

4. Test yourself often. NYT: "That’s one reason cognitive scientists see testing itself — or practice tests and quizzes — as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way the information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

5. Disperse your studying over a longer period of time; don't cram it all at once. "An hour of study tonight, an hour on the weekend, another session a week from now: such so-called spacing improves later recall, without requiring students to put in more overall study effort or pay more attention, dozens of studies have found."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

More Glacier Indulgence [Bryan]

More photos from Glacier, in no particular order. Be warned: these photos were taken with a very crappy disposable camera (Ellie wouldn't let me take our nicer one). And yes, I did wear the same shirt almost every day. So?

We started out the trip with Huckleberry pancakes. For those of you who don't know about huckleberries, they are a fruit that seem to grow mostly in the alpine meadows of the mountain West. They taste like a mix between blueberries and cranberries. They are delicious in almost anything -- milkshakes are my favorite.

At the top of Red Gap Pass. Elizabeth Lake, where we camped the second night, is at the bottom right.

Here we are, heading out to Helen Lake.

Wanna-be stud shot, part 1.

Wanna-be stud shot, part 2.

Poia Lake. Alas, there are no fish in it.

Helen Lake, where we camped the third night.

Waterfall below Helen Lake. I had a nice little swim at the bottom.

At the top of Ptarmagin tunnel, looking down at Ptarmagin Lake.

Wanna-be stud shot, part 3.

Here we are taking precautions against bears -- hanging out backpacks. Must be 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the sides.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Up in the Air? [Bryan]

This week our Netflix film was Up in the Air, a film starring George Clooney. The story revolves around a business executive who specializes in firing people and who spends nearly all his life jumping from one airport to the next, one city after another. The film really got me thinking about the idea of home, family, and community, something that has been on my mind a lot lately.

At first, I found myself derisively laughing that this character's lifestyle. I fly a moderate amount, usually three or four times year. I like to travel, but I hate flying. I hate the crowds, the lines, the delays, the stress, the cramped quarters, the semi-nausea. I hate the grumpy people, the loud complainers, the expensive airport food, and the endless shuttles and taxis. The George Clooney character seemed to embrace this lifestyle, however, at peace in hotels and in restaurants, hooking up with any attractive person crossing his path. This was a character with no "home" to speak of, with no family or community connections. He himself eventually becomes disenchanted with his lifestyle and tries to return to something more real.

I have come to realize that this seemingly strange lifestyle isn't so far away from my own life and the life of many other "professional" people I know. We also are "up in the air." We have chosen to leave our homes and the communities, communities that, in my case, were forged by the sweat of people who sacrificed everything they had to realize a prophetic vision of community. What would they think of me, up and leaving like I have? ... And all in search for personal success and fulfillment?

To make matters worse, I feel that I have not completely committed to staying where I now find myself, in the Ohio. True, I find myself identifying more with Ohio every day. Yet, in my office, in the middle of an overcast and dark Ohio winter, I can still be found looking at job postings, curious to see if there are greener pastures somewhere else, wondering if we would not be a better fit at another university or in another city. Seattle would be nice. And Boulder, Colorado -- gosh, I think, how I would love to live and teach in Boulder.

There is a part of me that hates this about myself. This meandering mind, this restless searching for some better place, seems to go completely against what I believe is important. People need to put down deep roots and commit themselves to living in and improving the local communities that surround them. Doing this, living a committed life beyond the call of personal success, enriches both the life of individual and the life of the community. And this act of commitment, I believe, should happen sooner rather than later.

Perhaps George Clooney and I are not so different, after all.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time to Break with Beck [Bryan]

It does not serve my beloved Mormon Church well to have Glen Beck as currently its most prominent member. The guy fosters hatred and fear and turns it all into personal profit and career advancement.

And it is odd, to say the least, to see him try to adopt the Civil Rights Movement as his own, while at the same time pushing the loathsome political ideas of Cleon Skouson and a young Ezra Taft Benson -- both of whom denounced the Civil Rights Movement as a "communist conspiracy." Beck sees himself as the new Martin Luther King. Too bad he is in love with people who hated everything MLK stood for.

Life's little pleasures [Bryan]

I listed some overrated things a few weeks ago. Now let me list some of my life's little pleasures:

1. I love drinking cool water from a garden hose on a hot summer day.

2. I love the moment when the alarm goes off, but you then suddenly realize you don't need to get up. (I actually used to set my alarm on Saturdays so I could wake up with normal dread and then feel the joyous sensation that came with remembering I didn't need to get up for two more hours.)

3. I love peeling off the protective tape after I've painted a room to reveal all the clean edges.

4. I love nose kisses from Nora.

5. I love new, fluffy towels. (We recently bought new towels after using our old ones for 12 years -- they were like sandpaper.)

6. I love finally swatting a fly after missing it ten straight times and then screaming in triumph as man conquers nature.

7. I love the moment, at the end of a workout, when you realize you can finally, gasp, stop exercising for the day.

8. I love the feel of a fish taking my fly.

9. I love coming home and hearing Stephen yell "Daddy!" in delight.

10. I love making neat patterns in the grass as I mow the lawn. My favorite: diagonal slashes across the front lawn.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trip to Glacier [Bryan]


We returned Sunday from a long trip back to Utah and, for me, a trip backpacking in Glacier National Park. It would be impossible to tell you about all our adventures (and misadventures). I will let Ellie write, if she wants, about how the children suffered a Grade-A, first class meltdown while I was away in the wilderness for seven days, complete with vomiting, fevers, sobbing, staff infections, and all manner of uncontrolled bodily fluids. Overall, though, we were overwhelmed by how welcoming and generous everybody was who shared their time, homes, and food with us, a strange family from Ohio. Highlights included bike rides, eating, swimming, eating, hiking, eating, museums, eating, and getting to know better family and friends.

Now, Glacier was beautiful in a way that is hard to describe. Many of you know that I've been backpacking with my brother and uncle for over twenty years. We've explored many of the great mountain ranges of the West, including the Tetons, Wind Rivers, Sawtooths, Rubies, Uintahs, and so forth. This year we scheduled a trip to the Many Glacier section of Glacier on the east side of the park, a place none of us had ever been.

Overall, we were on the trail 4 days and covered a respectable 37 miles. Glacier is an interesting place in that it felt more alive than most of the other National Parks I've visited. We saw, up close, plenty of big horn sheep, mountain goats, deer, and moose, along with furry little critters of all shapes and sizes. We heard wolves howling at night and, although we didn't see any bears, their presence was obvious from reports of others along the trail, manifestations of bear poop, and so forth. We were armed to the teeth with bear spray and took all sorts of precautions (including hanging our toothbrushes along with our food). We camped at 3 campsites, each more spectacular than the last. Our last night, we camped at Helen Lake, a beautiful green glacier lake surrounded by towering cliffs, multiple waterfalls, and distant mountain peaks. I don't think it is inappropriate to call such a place "sacred."

One of the great things about backpacking is, ironically, how horrifically terrible it is. I won't lie, some of the ascents (including a 2500 foot climb up to Ptarmigan tunnel) kicked my butt, big time. I could barely put one foot in front of the other, and cursed the day I decided it would be fun to strap a 40 lbs pack on my back and go march around the wilderness. The hardness, though, makes is satisfying in a deeply fulfilling way. At the end of the ascent, as you conquer a hill, approach an incredible vista, or simply realize you've survived, you find that there is something strong inside you, something inside you that is worthy of admiration. And the scenery always makes everything worth it. Fishing was good, too.

I don't have any of my own pictures yet. I actually used something called "film" that is being "developed." I stole a few off my brother's Facebook page, though, and here they are (until he calls his lawyers).

Here we are at Ptarmigan Tunnel after climbing 2500 feet.

Nice, fat 14 inch Rainbow.

At Red Gap Pass -- Mountain peaks surrounding us in every direction.

Derek at Helen Lake

Monday, August 02, 2010

Overrated things [Bryan]

1. Thick milkshakes are overrated. You should be able to drink a milkshake with a straw.

2. Making your bed is overrated. You are just going to mess it up again in 12 hours. (Sorry Mom!)

3. The Sunday comics are overrated. They are almost never funny.

4. Things that are "organic" are overrated. I love buying fresh and local, but "organic" has almost no meaning.

5. Coming to a complete stop is overrated. You can almost always adequately survey an intersection rolling slowly.

6. Flossing is overrated. A dentist told me he can't usually tell if someone flosses by looking at their teeth. And he told me that most dentist don't floss regularly, either.

7. Breakfast is overrated. I like pancakes as much as the next guy, but the food traditionally served at breakfast is uninspiring and dull.

8. Fertilizer that claims to prevent crabgrass is overrated. Never seems to work.

9. The United State Senate is overrated. The rules of the Senate seem designed to thwart democratic accountability and reward egoistic grandstanding.

10. Bacon on hamburgers is overrated. Doesn't add much except fat and calories.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review of Inception [Bryan]

[Spoiler alert! Don't read this if you plan on seeing the film.]

Ellie and I went to see Inception last night. It was great fun, a really imaginative film, a wild and dark ride. Of course, half of the time I wasn't sure what was going on or why, whose dream we were in, and what the rules were governing the dream world. I'm not sure the logic of the world made sense, but I suppose that is to be expected.

What interested me most was the idea of a "totem," an object that the characters use to determine whether they are dreaming or whether they are awake. The main character, for example, uses a top that he spins whenever he needs to distinguish his dreams from reality. In his dreams, apparently, the top never falls over; it just keeps on spinning. Why he can't simply dream of his top falling over is never explained.

In philosophy, finding a "totem" is the Holy Grail of intellectual achievements, although no one calls it that. The "totem" is a criterion that helps us distinguish between reality and fantasy, between the world as it is and what the mind creates. How can we know for sure that we are not dreaming? How can we distinguish the world "out there" from our biases, wishes, and fantasies? Many philosophers have tried to create such a totem. Indeed, one might say that scientific method is really just one big "totem" that attempts to do precisely this -- distinguish the "real world" from our mind's creations.

[At this point, a real philosopher would give you a long discourse on Immanuel Kant, who argued that concepts like time and space were really just creations of the mind, but I will spare you that particular lecture.]

The film calls into serious question the idea of a totem. Remember, no justification is given for why the totem works as it does; it is something the characters simply assume. Of course, I wanted to shout, you could dream of a top falling over -- why not? But I came to realize that the failure of the totem is precisely the point. At the end of the movie, the hero seems to make his final break with his fantasy world, but the ambiguous ending alerts us to the possibility that no break has been made, and that he may have simply moved from one fantasy to the other. In the last moments, the hero gives up on the idea of his totem: he has found a reality he desires and, as he rushes to his children, does not wait to see if the top falls or if it continues spinning. He has either (a) given up on his totem or (b) he no longer cares about distinguishing fantasy from reality.

So, obviously, the question of the film is whether we can ever find a totem, that is, whether we can ever distinguish reality from our dreams and mental creations. But it also questions whether we should want to find such a thing: Do we not need our fantasies, myths, and dream creations? Could we ever survive without them? The film seems to say no and in that sense, it echoes the philosophy known as Pragmatism, which basically posits that no totem is possible, that human beings construct a world to serve their interests, and that we should judge our discoveries not by how they relate to an unknowable truth but by how they serve human interests. We should embrace our dreams if our dreams can survive the test of human life.

There is a lot to be said for that position. But I guess I still cling to my totems as a matter of faith. Perhaps, for me, the idea of a totem, of being able to distinguish the real from the imagined, is precisely the fantasy I need to believe in.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Origin of the phrase "hue and cry" [Bryan]

Some people have asked me where the phrase "hue and cry" comes from. The Columbia Encyclopedia says:
The "hue and cry," formerly, in English law, is the pursuit of a criminal immediately after he had committed a felony. Whoever witnessed or discovered the crime was required to raise the hue and cry against the perpetrator (e.g., call out "Stop, thief !") and to begin pursuit; all persons within hearing were under the same obligation, and it was a punishable offense not to join in the chase and capture. The perpetrator was promptly brought into court, and if there was evidence of his having been caught red-handed, he was summarily convicted without being allowed to testify in his own behalf. The hue and cry was abolished in the early 19th cent. Possible modern survivals are the obligation to serve on a sheriff's posse and to assist a police officer in pursuing a suspected culprit.
So, there you have it. What this has to do with our family, I have no idea, other than it is a phrase suggesting clamor and chaos. I thought it would be a fun name for a blog. At the very least, it is much better than the name of YOUR blog.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Trip to Pennsylvania

We spent last weekend in our neighboring state of Pennsylvania. Activities included visiting the interesting town of Hersey ("the sweetest place of earth"), hanging out with Ellie's brother Sam and wife Emily (who live in Allentown), and touring the historic district of Philadelphia. Pictures below:

Stephen ready for adventure.

Nora and Andrew at the Hersey amusement park. The scale of rides was only matched by the scale of the crowds.

Here, Andrew is able to combine his two passions in life -- candy and cars.

At the Hersey "World of Chocolate" tour.

Independence Hall.

Here is a bell of some sort. Not a good one. There is a crack is on the other side.

Sam is interning for Air Products -- the biggest company you've probably never heard of. Very impressive operation they have going there -- even a waterfall!

We finished with a Philly steak sandwich at Jim's Steaks. Yummy.

Here are our intrepid and patient hosts. Thanks Sam and Emily for treating us so well!

Some consistency, please -- UPDATED with new chart [Bryan]

The next time people start complaining about the budget deficit, ask them whether they support the extension of President Bush's 2001 tax cuts for wealthy Americans. If they say yes, something is obviously amiss in their reasoning. As you can see below, nothing has increased the deficit over the past years more than Bush's tax cuts . Strange how, for some people, we can't afford to help the unemployed or to help states retain school teachers, but we can always afford wars and tax breaks for the wealthy.



I'm not saying all of the Bush-era tax cuts are necessarily bad, or that they should not be temporarily renewed during this recession. I'm just pointing out the inconsistency of championing both deficit reduction and the extension of massive tax cuts.

Meanwhile, Obama signed into law the Wall Street reform bill today. This brings the list of his legislative accomplishments to: Wall Street reform, health care reform, stimulus package (too small, it turns out, but still very important), the much-needed overall of the student-loan system, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new credit card industry regulation, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, and the land-protection act. Not bad, not bad at all. Of course, if we don't get more jobs soon, nobody will care.