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.

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.