Monday, July 30, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday July 30, 2012

Seth Godin's Blog

Improving your condiments


It takes a bold and confident cook to serve a naked hot dog. No roll, no kraut, no mustard.

And a movie shown on a bare wall in an empty room is never going to be received as well as one seen in a crowded theater.

It might be bold to put your work into the world unadorned, but it's probably ineffective.

We know that a placebo works better if it's handed to you by a doctor in a lab coat, and that the little show the sommelier puts on improves the taste of wine.

The packaging, the service, the environment, the hours, the interactions, the way it feels to tell our friends--these are all the free prize.

This bonus, the extra free prize that doesn't seem to be the point of the item itself, is often more important than the thing you think you actually make. The single most effective way to improve your impact is to do a better job of providing it.

Sure, a better hot dog is always appreciated. But when you want to increase user satisfaction, don't forget to offer better mustard.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Read Today - Wednesday July 25, 2012

From:   The New York Times - July 23, 2012

More Treatment Programs


By DAVID BROOKS

Early in the morning of Sept. 4, 1913, Ernst Wagner murdered his wife and four children in the town of Degerloch, Germany. Then he went to Mühlhausen, where he feared the townsmen were mocking him for having sex with an animal. He opened fire and hit 20 people, killing at least nine.

This is believed to be one of the first spectacular rampage murders of the 20th century. Over the next 60 years, there was about one or two of these spree killings per decade. Then the frequency of such killings began to shoot upward. There were at least nine of these rampages during the 1980s, according to history Web sites that track such things, including the 1982 case of a police officer in South Korea who massacred 57 people.

In the 1990s, there were at least 11 spectacular spree killings. Over the past decade, by my count, there have been at least 26 rampages. These include Robert Steinhäuser’s murder of 16 people in Germany, Seung-Hui Cho’s murder of 32 at Virginia Tech, Anders Breivik’s shooting spree at a summer camp in Norway in which 69 died, and the killing of 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., last week.

When you investigate the minds of these killers, you find yourself deep in a world of delusion, untreated schizophrenia and ferociously injured pride. George Hennard of Belton, Tex., was angry that women kept rejecting him. He drove his car through the window of a restaurant and began firing, killing 14 women and eight men.

Tim Kretschmer, 17, hoped to become a professional table tennis player but felt that the world didn’t appreciate his abilities, in that or anything else. He returned to the German school where he had graduated the year before, went straight for the top-floor chemistry labs, killed nine teenagers and then another six people during his escape.

It’s probably a mistake to think that we can ever know what “caused” these rampages. But when you read through the assessments that have been done by the F.B.I., the Secret Service and various psychologists, you see certain common motifs.

Many of the killers had an exaggerated sense of their own significance, which, they felt, was not properly recognized by the rest of the world. Many suffered a grievous blow to their self-esteem — a lost job, a divorce or a school failure — and decided to strike back in some showy way.

Many had suffered from severe depression or had attempted suicide. Many lived solitary lives, but most shared their violent fantasies with at least one person before they committed their crimes.

The killers generally felt tense before they acted but at peace and in control during the rampage. Some committed suicide when they were done. But a surprising number just gave up. They’d made the statement they wanted to make and hadn’t thought about what came after.

The crucial point is that the dynamics are internal, not external. These killers are primarily the product of psychological derangements, not sociological ones.

Yet, after every rampage, there are always people who want to use these events to indict whatever they don’t like about society. A few years ago, some writers tried to blame violent video games for a rash of killings. The problem is that rampage murderers tend to be older than regular murderers and they tend not to be heavy video game users. Besides, there’s very little evidence that violent video games lead to real life violence in the first place.

These days, people are trying to use the Aurora killings as a pretext to criticize America’s gun culture or to call for stricter gun control laws. (This doesn’t happen after European or Asian spree killings.) Personally, I’ve supported tighter gun control laws. But it’s not clear that those laws improve public safety. Researchers reviewing the gun control literature for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, were unable to show the laws are effective.

And gun control laws are probably even less germane in these cases. Rampage killers tend to be meticulous planners. If they can’t find an easy way to get a new gun, they’ll surely find a way to get one of the 200 million guns that already exist in this country. Or they’ll use a bomb or find another way.

Looking at guns, looking at video games — that’s starting from the wrong perspective. People who commit spree killings are usually suffering from severe mental disorders. The response, and the way to prevent future episodes, has to start with psychiatry, too.

The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships — when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s. The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday July 9, 2012

From:  The Cumberland Presbyterian Church blog - the cumberlist

On Monday, July 9, 2012 8:17:54 AM UTC-5, KLM wrote:


Before we read too far into my post, let me offset some of the following statements by affirming that many churches close as a result of their community becoming a "ghost town" - when everyone moves away and leaves a church in the middle of nowhere... those closures are beyond our control. Of course, church growth and death are truly in God's hands and beyond our control anyway.

HOWEVER -- knew that was coming did you not?

However, many church closure are a result of the ineffectiveness of judicatories and a lack of accountability among the bodies. There have been churches that closed as a result of a pastor's failure, but more often than not the pastor is blamed for situations over which they have no true effectiveness without the support of the presbytery or denomination. One congregation comes to mind, it suffered tensions over decades of ministry, under the leadership of various pastors the problem remained... and presbytery did nothing over the years and allowed those who were the problem to remain in position and authority and eventually the attrition closed the church. In other cases, Presbytery jumps to the defense of congregations clearly in violation of the Word of God and our Confession. We are not connectional just for the camping and family lineage we are also connectional for the accountability that it brings.

As people who are a part of fallen humanity we will mess up and it is grace to confront the error and restore the person gently - frankly, in my mind, it is sin to allow people to continue to damage the Bride of Christ with impunity.

To turn the closure of churches around we need to hold the congregations accountable the the problem, and find a way to correct it. We need to use people who have actually seen a turn around in their congregation (elders and pastors) to inform and assist the local church and the presbytery. When ever we ask people to do something we haven't done (like turn around a church) there is a ring of falsehood in a declaration that these things will work.

Unfortunately, I seriously doubt that we will take the steps necessary to correct the problem ... it will be painful, but so is a surgery to remove a cancer, letting it remain is foolishness.

Until all know

Keith Mariott

What I Read Today - Monday July 9, 2012


From:  The National Journal - Influence Alley Blog

Are We About To Witness Watergate The Sequel?

By John Aloysius Farrell

July 6, 2012
6:00 a.m.

Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the infamous Watergate break-in. On the night of May 28, 1972 a team of burglars from President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign entered Democratic National Committee headquarters on the sixth floor of the Watergate office building, rifled through files and desk drawers, and bugged telephones. One of the bugs didn't work. So the burglars returned on June 17 to replace it. That was the night they were caught.

The investigations that followed unearthed a series of scandalous acts that sent Nixon's attorney general, John Mitchell, his White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, and three dozen other aides and associates to jail. Nixon himself resigned. The dark deeds of other presidents - assassination plots, electronic surveillance and dealings with organized crime - were unearthed by congressional investigations, shaking faith in government.

It was a sad, disillusioning moment, which Americans would like to forget. But it's important to remember our history now, at a time when the post-Watergate reforms, which were designed to put an end to such corruption, are being eviscerated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, the IRS and the Federal Election Commission.

Today you can give as much money as you want to help a president, a senator or a member of the House of Representatives get elected - and you can do it in secret, and the public will never know. The Watergate scandals left us unassailable evidence of just what that kind of behavior leads to - of the kind of corruption that occurs when campaign finance laws are lax, or unenforced, or riddled by loopholes.

The International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, for example, discovered in the Nixon years that a timely $400,000 contribution to the Republican Party helped make an anti-trust problem go away.

"Does ITT have money?" Haldeman asked.

"Oh God yes," said the president. "That's part of this ball game."

Dairy interests kicked in $2 million in secret donations, in return for higher federal milk subsidies.

"Better get a glass of milk. Drink it while it's cheap," aide John Ehrlichman told Nixon.

Herb Kalmbach, the president's personal lawyer, supervised the collection of $20 million in 60 days in the spring of 1972, including $2 million in cash. Multi-millionaires like W. Clement Stone, Richard Mellon Scaife, Arthur Watson, Walter Annenberg, Robert Vesco, Armand Hammer, Dwayne Andreas, George Steinbrenner and Ross Perot were among the secret donors.

The bundles of $100 bills piled up, until the Nixon campaign had a million dollars in cash in its safe. The money that financed the Watergate break-in came from secret donations.

Some of the contributions were illegal, but much of the secret fundraising was allowed under frayed federal statutes. The post-Watergate laws reformed the system, but time passed and voters forgot and creative pols found new ways of hoovering money from folks who have interests before the government.

In 2010, in the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that political corruption was but a theoretical danger, and transparency would protect the citizenry.

Well, it's a theory. But in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles the candidates and their allies have taken advantage of the chinks and cracks and dormant federal regulators, and the system is anything but transparent. Even this last line of defense is gone.

By the time the 2012 election is over, a lion's share of the billions of dollars that will be spent in this campaign will have been raised in secret. When a wave of negative advertising eviscerates your favorite candidate this fall, you'll probably never know who paid for it.

"I promise you, there will be huge scandals," says Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who is old enough to remember Watergate. "There is too much money washing around; we don't know who contributed, and there's corruption associated with that kind of money."

The corruption that peaked with the Watergate break-ins destroyed Nixon's presidency. This year marked other milestones - like the 40th anniversary of his world-shaking opening to China, and the SALT arms control treaty with the Soviet Union - that might otherwise have placed him in the ranks of our greatest chief executives.

So honor the Watergate anniversary. Rent the movie All the President's Men. Remember. And hope McCain is wrong, and that we won't be looking at another debilitating scandal in the months ahead, with President Obama or President Romney needing a pardon, as their aides are hauled to jail.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What I Read Today - Friday July 6, 2012

From:  The New York Times  -  published July 5, 2012

Honor Code


By DAVID BROOKS

Henry V is one of Shakespeare’s most appealing characters. He was rambunctious when young and courageous when older. But suppose Henry went to an American school.

By about the third week of nursery school, Henry’s teacher would be sending notes home saying that Henry “had another hard day today.” He was disruptive during circle time. By midyear, there’d be sly little hints dropped that maybe Henry’s parents should think about medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Many of the other boys are on it, and they find school much easier.

By elementary school, Henry would be lucky to get 20-minute snatches of recess. During one, he’d jump off the top of the jungle gym, and, by the time he hit the ground, the supervising teachers would be all over him for breaking the safety rules. He’d get in a serious wrestling match with his buddy Falstaff, and, by the time he got him in a headlock, there’d be suspensions all around.

First, Henry would withdraw. He’d decide that the official school culture is for wimps and softies and he’d just disengage. In kindergarten, he’d wonder why he just couldn’t be good. By junior high, he’d lose interest in trying and his grades would plummet.

Then he’d rebel. If the official high school culture was über-nurturing, he’d be über-crude. If it valued cooperation and sensitivity, he’d devote his mental energies to violent video games and aggressive music. If college wanted him to be focused and tightly ambitious, he’d exile himself into a lewd and unsupervised laddie subculture. He’d have vague high ambitions but no realistic way to realize them. Day to day, he’d look completely adrift.

This is roughly what’s happening in schools across the Western world. The education system has become culturally cohesive, rewarding and encouraging a certain sort of person: one who is nurturing, collaborative, disciplined, neat, studious, industrious and ambitious. People who don’t fit this cultural ideal respond by disengaging and rebelling.

Far from all, but many of the people who don’t fit in are boys. A decade or so ago, people started writing books and articles on the boy crisis. At the time, the evidence was disputable and some experts pushed back. Since then, the evidence that boys are falling behind has mounted. The case is closed. The numbers for boys get worse and worse.

By 12th grade, male reading test scores are far below female test scores. The eminent psychologist Michael Thompson mentioned at the Aspen Ideas Festival a few days ago that 11th-grade boys are now writing at the same level as 8th-grade girls. Boys used to have an advantage in math and science, but that gap is nearly gone.

Boys are much more likely to have discipline problems. An article as far back as 2004 in the magazine Educational Leadership found that boys accounted for nearly three-quarters of the D’s and F’s.

Some colleges are lowering the admissions requirements just so they can admit a decent number of men. Even so, men make up just over 40 percent of college students. Two million fewer men graduated from college over the past decade than women. The performance gap in graduate school is even higher.

Some of the decline in male performance may be genetic. The information age rewards people who mature early, who are verbally and socially sophisticated, who can control their impulses. Girls may, on average, do better at these things. After all, boys are falling behind not just in the U.S., but in all 35 member-nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But the big story here is cultural and moral. If schools want to re-engage Henry, they can’t pretend they can turn him into a reflective Hamlet just by feeding him his meds and hoping he’ll sit quietly at story time. If schools want to educate a fiercely rambunctious girl, they can’t pretend they will successfully tame her by assigning some of those exquisitely sensitive Newbery award-winning novellas. Social engineering is just not that easy.

Schools have to engage people as they are. That requires leaders who insist on more cultural diversity in school: not just teachers who celebrate cooperation, but other teachers who celebrate competition; not just teachers who honor environmental virtues, but teachers who honor military virtues; not just curriculums that teach how to share, but curriculums that teach how to win and how to lose; not just programs that work like friendship circles, but programs that work like boot camp.

The basic problem is that schools praise diversity but have become culturally homogeneous. The education world has become a distinct subculture, with a distinct ethos and attracting a distinct sort of employee. Students who don’t fit the ethos get left out.

Little Prince Hal has a lot going on inside. He’s not the unfeeling, uncommunicative, testosterone-driven cretin of common boy stereotype. He’s just inspired by a different honor code. He doesn’t find much inspiration in school, but he should.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What I Read Today - Tuesday July 3, 2012

From: The New York Times - July 2, 2012

A Choice, Not a Whine


By DAVID BROOKS

Hostility toward the Supreme Court has risen sharply since Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. upheld the Obama health care law. People are apparently angry that the court didn’t rid them of a law they detest. But that’s silly. If Americans want to replace this thing, they should do it themselves.

The case against Obamacare is pretty straightforward. In the first place, the law centralizes power. Representative Tom Price, a Republican of Georgia, counted 159 new federal offices, boards and councils, though nonpartisan researchers have had trouble reaching an exact tally. In the first six months after passage alone, federal officials churned out an awesome 4,103 pages of regulations.

The law also creates the sort of complex structures that inevitably produce unintended consequences. The most commonly discussed perverse result is that millions of Americans will lose their current health insurance.

A report by the House Ways and Means Committee found that 71 of the Fortune 100 companies have an incentive to drop coverage. But nobody really knows what’s going to happen. A Congressional Budget Office study this year estimated that 20 million could lose coverage under the law or perhaps 3 million could gain employer coverage. Or the number could be inside or outside the range.

There are other possible perverse effects. According to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services, over the next 75 years Medicare payment rates for inpatient hospital services would steadily fall from around 67 percent of private insurance payment rates to an implausibly low 39 percent. Doctors would either flee the program in droves or Congress would override the law, exploding the costs.

Another report from the department suggests there could be 84 million Americans on Medicaid, an astounding burden on that already stretched system.

The law threatens to do all this without even fixing the underlying structures that make the American health care system so inefficient. It fails to fix the fee-for-service system that rewards people for the volume of services provided. It fails to fix the employer tax exemption that hides costs and encourages overspending.

Critics of the bill shouldn’t be hating on Chief Justice Roberts. If they can’t make this case to the voters, they really shouldn’t be in public life.

Moreover, there are alternatives. Despite what you’ve read, there is a coherent Republican plan. The best encapsulation of that approach is found in the National Affairs essay, “How to Replace Obamacare,” by James C. Capretta and Robert E. Moffit. (Mitt Romney has a similar plan, which he unveiled a little while ago and now keeps in a secret compartment in subsection C in the third basement of his 12-car garage).

Capretta and Moffit lay out the basic Republican principles: First, patients should have skin in the game. If they are going to request endless tests or elaborate procedures, they should bear a real share of the cost. Instead of relying on the current tax exemption that hides costs, the Republican plans would offer people a tax credit for use to purchase the insurance plan that suits their needs. The tax credit could phase out for the wealthy. Employees of small business who aren’t covered now would see an immediate benefit, which they could take from job to job.

Second, Americans should be strongly encouraged to buy continuous coverage over their adulthood. Then insurance companies would not be permitted to jack up their premiums if a member of their family develops a costly condition.

Third, the Republican approach would encourage experimentation in the states instead of restricting state flexibility.

Fourth, instead of locking Medicaid recipients into a substandard system, the Republicans would welcome them into the same private insurance health markets as their fellow citizens. This would give them greater access to care, while reducing the incentives that encourage them to remain eligible for the program.

Fifth, this approach would replace Medicare’s open-ended cost burden with a defined contribution structure. Beneficiaries could choose from a menu of approved plans. If they wanted a more expensive plan, they could pay for it on top of the fixed premium.

Finally, under this approach, any new spending would be offset with cuts so that health care costs do not continue to devour more and more of the federal budget. This could be done, for example, by gradually raising the retirement age.

Capretta and Moffit have more details. Their plan is flexible, decentralized and compelling.

Republicans say they trust the people. If that’s true, then they won’t waste another futile breath bashing the court for upholding Obamacare. They’ll explicitly tell the country how they would replace it. Democracy is a contest between alternatives, not a deus ex machina stroke from the lords in black robes.

Monday, July 2, 2012

What I Read Today - Monday July 2, 2012

From:  The Arkansas Democrat Gazette

The root of the confusion


By Paul Greenberg

This article was published July 1, 2012 at 5:21 a.m.


LITTLE ROCK — O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

And men have lost their reason.

-Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2 Not too long ago-Monday, June 18th-we published a syndicated column on the editorial page about sex-selection abortion. That is, a mother’s choosing to abort her baby because it’s the “wrong” sex, say a girl, when she really wanted a boy.

It happens around the world, particularly in Asia. And the one-child policy in still Communist China has only increased the practice. It would be hard to come up with a clearer example of sexual discrimination.

The pro-life faction in Congress has responded by introducing what’s called the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw such abortions.

Our guest columnist, Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman down in Texas, seemed of two minds, at least, about this issue. He knew he was against unjust discrimination against women, the way any good liberal or just any fair-minded American would be. But he also seemed to be for a woman’s right to have an abortion. Which left him in a quandary.

So our columnist friend asked Planned Parenthood, that citadel of pro-choice opinion, whether it was for or against sex-selection abortion.

If he was seeking guidance, he got precious little. What he did get in response to his simple question was a load of boilerplate about how Planned Parenthood supported all the right principles when it comes to not discriminating against women.

(“Planned Parenthood opposes racism and sexism in all forms; and we work to advance equity and human rights in the delivery of health care. Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices . . . .”)

Yadda, yadda, yadda. But was Planned Parenthood fir or agin this here Prenatal Nondisrimination Act?

It wouldn’t say, not at first.

But when pressed, it finally came out, like the Obama administration, against the proposed law. In short, Planned Parenthood is against all forms of discrimination on the basis of sex except when it isn’t, and on this issue it isn’t.

Planned Parenthood might be all against such discrimination in principle, but in practice it couldn’t be bothered to save a single baby marked for abortion because of its sex.

Our columnist friend in Austin was left in his self-imposed quandary.

He wound up spending a couple of columns of type deciding not to decide where he himself stood on the issue. He ended up by inviting any readers who disagreed with him to submit their opinions on the matter.

But what was there to disagree with?

Or agree with, for that matter? He never took a clear stand himself.

It’s the besetting sin of American opinion writing. I’ve lost count of the number of editorials I see that don’t editorialize. Instead they weave all around some controversial question-like abortion, for example-without ever taking a clear stand. As if they were afraid of offending. It would be more honest to label such editorials News Analysis, not claim they’re opinion.

Our friend’s big problem, his ethical dilemma, was symptomatic of those who don’t go back to first principles and think the abortion issue through. They don’t make the connection between the right to life and all the others subsidiary to it, like the right to equal treatment under the law.

The right to life must come first or all the others can never take root, much less flourish. As in the Declaration of Independence’s order of certain unalienable rights, among them “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Note which one is mentioned first. And for good, logical reason.

Yet we condone snuffing out human lives so the rest of us can get on with debating Title IX or Affirmative Action and all the rest of the equal-rights agenda.

Something seems to have gone terribly wrong with the American capacity for reason itself.

All of which brings me to the story of Ruth Pakaluk of Worcester, Mass., diminutive housewife, homemaker, mother of six, beloved by neighbors and friends and all who ever had the good fortune to come into contact with her.

Dead of breast cancer at 41, she left behind a shining memory.

She was one of those people who brightened the life of everyone she came into contact with.

Ruth Pakaluk was also a figure in her state’s pro-life circles, and stated her position with such eloquent, unpretentious, convincing clarity that after a while pro-choice speakers declined to debate her. A Harvard graduate, she must have had some classical education, too, because she tended to express her position on, or rather against, abortion with the irrefutable simplicity of a Socratic syllogism. As she would sum it up in plain English:

“Human rights are rights that pertain to us simply because we are human, not for any reason above and beyond that; the fundamental human right is the right to life, and if that right is denied, then all human rights are in effect denied; the thing growing in the mother’s womb is surely alive (otherwise it would not need to be killed by an abortion), and it is human, thus to deny that it has the right to life is to deny that anyone has any human rights whatsoever.”

Q.E.D.

Those who think of abortion as an oh-so-complicated question pitting many equal, competing rights against one another don’t see-or maybe just don’t want to see-that a society that can abrogate the right to life can abrogate any right. For if we don’t have a right to life, we have no rights whatsoever.

Paul Greenberg is editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. E-mail him at: pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com

Perspective, Pages 74 on 07/01/2012

Print Headline: The root of the confusion