Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sheep's Clothing

I was feeling a little yucky earlier this week…like the economy, I guess, but in my case due to a new chemotherapy. I’m hoping the chemo is better targeted to shrink my lymph nodes than is the current version of the stimulus package to wake up the economy.

The more I read about the proposed stimulus, the more I think a paraphrase of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is in order: “How much do I hate thee? Let me count the ways….” And then you can take your pick:

1. It won’t work. The Wall Street Journal estimates that business tax cuts ($20 billion) plus $90 billion of genuine stimulus spending add up to only 12 cents of each of the 825 billion dollars in the package. And $825 billion is (a.) “almost equal to the entire cost of annual federal spending under Congress’s discretion” and (b.) more than the entire cost of Bush’s Iraq War. Maybe the public could find this a little more palatable if Congress took an extended furlough for eight years (without pay).

2. It’s more about changing us than changing the economic doldrums. The remaining 87% of the stimulus package fulfills a wish list of socialist and “green” projects from $4.19 billion for “neighborhood stabilization activities” (read ACORN and agitprop) to $8 billion for renewable energy funding (exclude nuclear) to $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to $400 million for chimerical research into global warming to $335 million for STD prevention etc. etc. etc.

The objection here moves beyond “can we afford it?” or “will it work?” to “do we want it?” Read Kimberley Strassel’s “Democratic Stealth Care” ( ) on the bill’s major enlargement of government’s foot print in our lives…to be accomplished without public (or Congressional) debate.

How many who voted for Barack Obama last November intended to move on to socialism? Maybe it’s the 42% (Rasmussen Poll) who support the stimulus plan, or maybe it’s the (my guess) 10% or so of these who have actually looked into it…or the 0% (including Congress and the president) who have actually read its 647 pages?

3. It’s more of the same, not change we have hoped for. Wish list projects include $66 billion for education. Consider this a great big thank you to the National Education Association for its endorsement of Barack Obama in November’s election (and to those who still believe, naively, that throwing money at schools improves education). This is money to shore up the status quo, and the status quo is dismal. Our schools need seed money to support change, not billions to support stagnant administration and frustrated or lethargic teachers, to say nothing about state governments whose “for the children” projects need a bailout.

4. It tackles problems backwards. The wish list contains $2.1 billion for Head Start or pre-K childcare, yet studies have shown the Head Start program has had little lasting benefit in educational results, according to The Heritage Foundation ( Why not consider instead the Republican proposal to increase the child deduction on the income tax to $5,000 per child…or even the $7,500 that Head Start currently spends per child. This would put money into parents’ pockets, and they could spend it as they determine is best for their kids’ development.

5. It paints a picture of The Ugly American and encourages tit for tat. Before I grow tired of listing its faults, I’ve got to mention the stimulus bill’s adverse effect on world trade. “Buy American” is a you-can-guess-how-poor a way to thrive in a world economy. Look at China’s economy before its despotic rulers opened the door to commerce with the rest of the world. Like it or not, it’s a world economy today, not simply a national economy. And because the U.S. economy is so big, what we do here has serious effect internationally.

Barack Obama was elected on creating a more positive attitude toward the U.S. overseas. He may discover that allowing Democrat protectionist policies to disrupt trade and hit foreign partners in the pocketbook may win fewer friends than overthrowing a genocidal tyrant in Iraq.

And there’s domestic pain as well. Democrats have been more than indifferent to passing a free trade agreement with Columbia that would greatly benefit, for one, Caterpillar, manufacturer of heavy construction and mining equipment, with customers in 200 countries around the world (according to the company website). To sell an earthmover to Columbia without the dormant-or-dead Columbia free trade pact, the company must pay in the neighborhood of $100,000 in tariffs, hardly profitable. Recently, Caterpillar has sought to move into the Chinese market to offset the slowing U.S. economy, but a growing chilliness over trade jeopardizes this venture and the company’s earnings have suffered, threatening the jobs of 12,000 American workers and 8,000 American contractors, according to Investor’s Business Daily (1/26).

This list could go on and on. Robert Samuelson writes in IBD (1/30) that “the decision by Obama and Democratic congressional leaders to load the stimulus with so many partisan projects is politically shrewd and economically suspect. The president’s claims of bipartisanship were mostly a sham…Obama’s political strategy fails to address adequately the economy’s present needs while also worsening the long-term budget outlook…. There were tough choices to be made—and Obama ducked them all.” Well said, n'est-ce pas?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Fewer kids are not the answer

This morning’s Drudge Report has Nancy Pelosi saying “birth control will help the economy.” This is because, she claims, and a Democrat spokesman on Fox News just echoed her claim, that fewer children will “reduce costs to the states and federal government.”

This idea is a fallacy, of course, and one The Wall Street Journal does not tackle in its own editorial “The Stimulus Time Machine.” The Journal points out that the Democrat controlled Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found only 2/3 of the $355 billion dollar stimulus package would be spent in the critical first two years of the plan and noted in passing that this report has disappeared from the Congressional website, soon, perhaps, to reappear revised more positively.

The Journal’s second point is that $1 spent by the government on stimulus won’t result in a Keynesian $1.50 economic boost, adding that if it did, why not simply “spend $10 trillion” so we could “all live in paradise.” In reality, says the Journal, $1 in government spending takes $1 from the private economy and will only multiply if the government spends it more productively than the private economy—which is a giant oxymoron.

In fact, the Journal finds, the stimulus spending is “about promoting long-time Democratic policy goals, such as subsidizing health care for the middle class and promoting alternative energy.” And let me add promoting “family planning” (which, preponderantly, means abortion) a word Pelosi, a little out of character, studiously avoided, using instead “contraception.”

Where does anyone get the idea that contraceptives are unknown and hidden from the “sexually active” teens and young people most likely to produce children who require aid from the state and federal government? Condoms are handed around like candy, and used for a variety of purposes (water balloons come to mind) but don’t make much of a dent in the out-of-wedlock birth rate, nor, apparently, does the pill. This is the practical argument against spending millions of the billion-dollar stimulus on “contraception” (especially contraception internationally that would have no effect on the U.S. economy).

The ethical argument is that “family planning” really means providing abortions.

Americans are deeply divided on the issue of abortion, most falling into the indecisive middle… “I don’t like abortion; it is killing, but….” The “buts” comprise, mainly, disruption in the life of the mother, i.e., inconvenience, but a few do support abortion to reduce government welfare spending and because of the fallacious belief, dating from Thomas Malthus and particularly from the 1968 book The Population Bomb by doomsayer and entomologist (specializing in butterflies, according to Wikipedia) Paul Ehrlich, which claims the world is overpopulated.

Statistically, this is hogwash. Birth rates are declining worldwide, especially in the developed nations of the West. In 2002 the United Nations predicted world population would peak in 2050 at 9 billion. Current estimates place the population peak at 7.5 billion in 2040. And world population has shifted from the developed West, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (32% of world population in 1950, according to, to 12% in 2000). The shift has been to the underdeveloped third world. Obviously, as Reason magazine pointed out in 2004, “[f]ertility does not correlate with food availability.” The more food available, statistics show, the smaller the population increase. Indeed, population increase swings into the negative in almost half the nations of the world. For example, Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare has predicted a population of fewer than 500 people in 3000 if the country’s average birth rate of 1.4 children per married couple continues, says WND.

The birth rate required to replace population is 2.1 children per hopefully-married couple. Most European nations fail to meet this standard. The United States barely replaces population, but does so only because of immigration. Index Mundi ( lists the top ten countries in total fertility rates as Mali, Niger, Uganda, Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The U.S. ranks 125th out of 220. No European nation matches us (The UK is 172nd; Germany, 190th; Spain 203rd, and Italy 204th.), but every Middle Eastern nation exceeds us. Of course this has a few strategic implications.

And then there is economic fact. A falling fertility rate means an aging population. Fewer children growing to be working adults means social spending programs for the elderly (Social Security, Medicare etc.... the same programs Democrats pledge to shore up) must be paid for by fewer and fewer younger workers. And there is less innovation. When Nancy Pelosi says fewer children mean less cost for the states’ and federal governments, she is extremely myopic…and dead wrong. The inconvenient truth is we need all of our children to continue to prosper as a nation. And we need all of our children to continue to exist as a moral nation.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Play Days

Yesterday was “a grandma day,” my 3-½ year-old grandson Maddox told his aunt. That’s synonymous with play day for Maddox although some of the pain-in-the-neck things like taking a nap still apply. And since the birth of baby Ione, now 4 ½-months (newborn in the pictures here), play is more complicated. We are stuck inside, not able to go to park or playground, and juggling Maddox’s high energy with Ione’s schedule (and grandma’s lengthening age) is a bit of a trick.

On Thursdays Maddox is at pre-school, so I have only Ione to adore. The smile that lights her face when I appear in the morning or as she wakes from a nap or as I change her diapers is worthy of adoration; a deep love tugs inside me. Ione, whether due to natural temperament, gender, or birth order (and I suspect all three), is more laid back than her brother even as a baby…which, of course, doesn’t mean there aren’t a few times when she positively throws patience to the wind and screams for her bottle.

On Fridays it is a delight to enter the world of a three year old once again. I enjoy watching Maddox grow and learn about life. And I remember three as a wonderful age of conversation with my own kids. Three year olds are beginning to learn a little about being sly, but for the most part they are open and unequivocal about their observations and opinions. And at three, even little boys are chatterboxes; they haven’t lapsed totally into the male habit of understatement, although they already dislike being pumped: “What did you do at school?”… “Nothing.” Only later does he offer, “Ben fell down, and people ran over him. He had mud on his face, and he was crying.”

Maddox is rambunctious—always. His first choice of play yesterday was to repeat a game about dinosaur lairs. He builds his lair by moving half of his bedroom furniture into his parents’ bedroom (Ione is asleep in the room they share) and throws a pillow on the floor for mine. My role is to sleep and snore. After a very short while, he plinks on his guitar strings to wake me up. I must wake up startled and shaking my head in dismay; this delights him. When he switches from guitar to drums, however, Ione wakes up, and this game is over.

He next builds two castles in his room with his Bob the Builder tools (all of which he can name and use appropriately), leaping up and down a pyramid of wooden storage boxes as he works so the castles rise to the figurative sky. Everyone knows castles should be built on hills. One of these is for Princess Ione; the other is for Princess Fiona, one of several of his imaginary friends (most of them older, beautiful girls).

Maddox and Ione are lucky kids; they have a mother and father who love them and teach them how be behave and be responsible (well, mostly lessons for Maddox so far). Dad participates fully in their care. Yes, he even changes dirty diapers. Saturdays (and Thursday and Friday evenings) he has the kids alone, allowing Mom a three-day workweek. And then their Aunt Lala, Uncle Damian and Nanna and Papa Dave and a slew of boisterous boy step cousins live nearby…and Uncle Dale and Aunt Cris (another of Maddox’s heart throbs) visit each year from London. This isn’t the largest extended family possible, but more than my own kids had close by as they grew—alas.

Family is, I think, the biggest determiner of how well a child gets along in life. It certainly is more important than financial resources, temperament, or even native ability. Some exceptional people survive chaotic childhoods, but too many don’t. This is the best thing about having the Obama family in the White House. Unfortunately, many of America’s truly dysfunctional families are black. The reason for this isn’t racial; it’s social: fathers are absent from the home (and also unfortunately absent in a large number of homes with white and Hispanic single mothers). Having a loving, intact black first family sets a good example for all of us.

Stressing education (the Obamas chose an excellent school for their daughters) is another big plus. Here’s what Deroy Murdock, a black columnist for Scripps Howard News Service, had to say: “Too many black men serially impregnate women who are not their wives, spawning a 67.8 percent black out-of-wedlock birth rate. Obama’s daily presence in the White House finally may repel this foul tide. He also may unravel the ‘Acting White Syndrome,’ wherein young black students who do homework and speak proper English are mocked for ‘acting white.’ Light years more than white racism, this is the biggest cancer facing black Americans.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Great Expectations

Today we are hanging pictures. Well, strictly speaking, were hanging pictures. This is a job Dale hates, but one I insist on to make a new house feel like home. How fortunate for the new first family that the task is done for them.

I caught very little of yesterday’s inauguration day. At one point I had to turn the TV off while the president and his wife were walking along the parade route to the reviewing stand. It was the constant background roar of adulation that was disturbing and wearying. Later I watched briefly as the Howard University marching band passed the reviewing stand. By then it was already dark in D.C., and Barack and especially Michelle Obama looked very understandably exhausted and quite human.

This morning when I turned the TV on I was tuned into the national prayer service at the National Cathedral. First off, I heard a black choir sing "He holds the whole world in his hands." Fine enough, they did a good job, swaying etc. The music contrasted a bit with the traditional cathedral setting, but what actually took me back was the applause at the if it were a performance. Next a female pastor got up and said a prayer, then began "Mr. President....that has a great ring to it…" The whole house (pardon, church) burst into prolonged applause. I wondered where these people thought they were. It’s quite appropriate to recognize and honor our new president, but I’ve always thought the purpose of a church service to be affirming and honoring God.

I guess this observation falls into the “different strokes for different folks” category although many may assign it to simple nitpicking.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A "Quality Adjusted"? Year

How would you rate the quality of your life—or maybe more to the point, how would a government bureaucrat rate the quality of your life?

This question arises because, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, now-President Barack Obama, House Democrats, and incoming Secretary of Health Tom Daschle are interested in reducing spending on health care “by allocating medical products based on ‘cost effectiveness’ (Wall Street Journal 1/20/09).”

Gottlieb points to the United Kingdom where a government agency has decided the following: “…$45,000 is the most worth paying for products that extend a person’s life by one “quality-adjusted year. (By their calculus, a year combating cancer is worth less than a year in perfect health).”

This has set me to thinking because I have been combating cancer since 1994. At that time I was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), and in 1995, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL) was added. In 1994, the doctor told me that a typical life span after a diagnosis of CLL was 12 to 25 years. I’ve never asked about the lymphoma.

But in any case, I am now into my 14th year living with cancer. Since my diagnosis, I began a 12-year, third or fourth career teaching composition and literature at the community college level. In 2002, I ran the Seattle marathon for TNT (Team in Training) to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Association. I’ve written a weekly newspaper column for almost five years, and I’ve had the pleasure of caring for my grandson (and more recently his baby sister) two days a week for 3 1/2 years. These have been some of the best years of my life.

Monday, I begin a new regimen of chemotherapy. I’ve been extremely fortunate so far. I haven’t counted or kept track of the number of times I have had chemo, but I have suffered few side effects. One regimen made me nauseous enough to vomit; most have had little ill effect beyond discomfort or impatience.

I am also fortunate to have good insurance through my husband’s former employment, so I also have not kept track of the cost of my treatments. However, I do remember looking at the bill for the last treatment 18 or so months ago. It was $37,000. I was aghast; there’s no way Dale and I could have paid for this ourselves. I’ll admit thinking about that figure and realizing such care is not available to all mixes feelings of guilt with my gratitude.

My cancer suppresses my immune response, and perhaps for this reason I suffered a serious sinus infection all last fall. I lost my hearing for 10 days before Thanksgiving, which made teaching classes interesting, but happily had the hearing restored by having my ear canals drained and tubes inserted. Nevertheless, the experience and doctors’ recommendations convinced Dale, and finally me, that I should retire.

Now, should I worry? Does retirement knock down my “quality-adjusted” life a peg or two? I’m not sure.

I do know that many of the people I have shared the infusion center room with in the past have seemed noticeably sicker than I am. Yet, universally they smile, sometimes ruefully, talk, and engage with all around them. I haven’t heard anyone speak once with self-pity. And most often those receiving chemotherapy are accompanied by spouses, children, even grandchildren, who obviously love them and value their lives. I might be tempted to say that their quality of life, adjusted or not, might surpass a random sampling of customers at a Starbucks coffee shop.

I can’t claim to have the answer to health care problems in this country or in the UK, but stifling investment in new treatments, which will be the result of restricting access to new drugs, isn’t a humane, nor, I believe, a sensible solution. Giving a government bureaucrat the task of ranking another’s quality of life is even less sensible or humane.

I remember discussions when I was younger about the best way to die. Most of those with whom I chewed over that question believed a sudden death the best. I didn’t because I thought I’d be caught, so to speak, with my pants down—unprepared to meet my Maker. You’d think after 14 years living with cancer I’d have a handle on preparedness, but sad to say I don’t. I haven’t been a great deal better person since my original diagnosis, maybe a great deal more grateful person only.

Recently I read in news stories about Father Richard John Neuhaus’ death of a vision he had earlier in his life, in 1993, when he was gravely ill and near death, although he described this as a “near life” experience. He became aware of two “presences” in his hospital room. They gave him a message: “Everything is ready, now.” Father Neuhaus wrote about this in 2000; he said, “what I have learned, what I have learned most importantly is that, in living and in dying, everything is ready now.”

That’s a bit of a puzzle to be sure. In a way I suppose it reinforces the preferences of my old friends. We don’t, and I believe strongly that we shouldn’t, get to choose the time of our death, but Father Neuhaus assures us that whenever that is, everything will be ready. I’ll guess that remains true even if a bureaucrat chooses.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the U.S., a kind of middling holiday…not everyone has the day off. (Of course, I now have every day off except Thursdays and Fridays when I watch the grandkids.) And of course this MLK day is special because tomorrow is inauguration day for America’s first mixed race (white/black), which in the common parlance translates to black, president. notes its significance in a nation “founded by slave owners.” Well, not quite all were slave owners, but we won’t quibble.

I won’t be glued to my TV set today or tomorrow, but for those who are triumphant over Barack Obama’s victory in November’s election, I wish them the enjoyment of the event. I do love pomp and circumstance and will catch some of it on the news. I also wish our incoming president well because he will be our president, but I am uneasy because he is both an enigma and liberal. These are the same reasons I had for not voting for him.

Obama arrived in D.C. aboard an armed Amtrak train from Philadelphia over the weekend. This was to underline his self- and media-comparison to Abraham Lincoln, who also arrived in Washington via train. I see that comparison going as far as physique—tall and slender, although Obama appears in better physical condition than Lincoln did—and state of residence: Illinois. But there are differences. For instance, Obama told the crowd after a rock star-studded “musical extravaganza” that he is “as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure—that the dream of our founders will live on in our time…" I think that when Abe Lincoln went to Washington, he was more than “hopeful”; he was determined to hold a union together that was in full crumble.

And then there’s the armed train bit that is necessary in these times but still a sour note. Over the weekend Dale popped in a DVD from the BBC on the Eastern Front campaigns of WWII. Like a lot of men, he is a history buff and enjoys studying the war. I didn’t think I’d want to watch much of this, but ended up finding it very interesting. At one point an armed train sat on the tracks at Moscow all night waiting for Stalin to abandon the city. He decided not to take it but rather to remain and lead the resistance to the Germans. How would history have changed had Stalin boarded that train?

This DVD featured interviews with veterans on both sides of the fighting. After covering the German advance on Moscow, it switched to the story of the Ukraine. There Hitler blew it. Initially, the people of the Ukraine welcomed the Germans—who wouldn’t have after Stalin’s policy of mass starvation caused the deaths of more than 20 million Ukrainians in 1932-1933? But the Germans quickly followed in Stalin’s footsteps and stole Ukraine’s food, starving and brutally persecuting the population. The result was a nasty guerrilla war with no holds barred by either side and many innocents caught in the middle. Graphic film of the atrocities is disturbing, and Dale elected to stop watching.

I admit to some fascination—particularly with the interviews with former German officers. The backdrops, presumably of their homes, looked substantial. One of those interviewed seemed appropriately creepy, but the others appeared quite normal. One Panzer officer in particular seemed humane, and his memories of the war were technical, those of an engineer on honing into targets. When asked about atrocities he blamed “the Nazis,” not the typical German soldier. Yet he was left stuttering and speechless as the interviewer pressed questions about how these could have been ignored.

I wonder about “What were the Germans Thinking?”—which is the precise subtitle of an article by Steven Ozment in the January 5/12 issue of The Weekly Standard—in part because both my maternal grandparents were German. They emigrated in 1898, and so were quite innocent of Nazi complicity, but I often have wondered…what if?

Ozment’s article reviews Hitler, The Germans, and the Final Solution by Ian Kershaw (Yale, 400 pp, $35). Kershaw found, according to Ozment, that “for the larger population, the persecution of Jews was a rarely entertained part of daily life in the prewar years.” Germans were “self-preoccupied” and “indifferent.” Most didn’t need Nazi propaganda to instill animosity toward Jews because, in Kershaw’s words, “latent anti-Smuts and apathy” pre-existed.

Kershaw writes, “Pessimistically, I alluded [in earlier writing] to the questionable liberal assumptions that human beings under threat will be defended in an open society. In this, my last attempt to wrestle with the intractable sources on popular opinion and the fate of the Jews, I tried to distinguish between what people then could and did not know (quite a lot), what they made of the information (an awareness that genocide…was taking place, though ignorance of scale and detail led to only partial comprehension), and reactions (a spectrum running from overt approval to blank condemnation, the most widespread of which being an apathetic turning away from unpalatable knowledge and events which could not be averted).

There’s no definitive answer here. But it’s disturbing and frightening to consider, especially in light of the latent anti-Semitism that has erupted in Europe and in the United States in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. I won’t go into all the manifestations, but here’s one report from on January 8: “Assaults against Jews, attacks on synagogues and sporadic violence have been reported in France, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and the UK since the outbreak of hostilities.’ And what was it anti-Israeli protesters in Florida were yelling…something like “go back to your ovens????”

Martin Luther King Day should remind us all, whatever our race or religion or other differences, of our common humanity. But more often the stress seems to be on celebrating diversity. Diversity is fine and dandy, but it is what unites us, what we share that matters, not differences. No person’s life should be denigrated or taken because of ancient or current prejudice. Martin Luther King preached being blind to a person’s skin tone. Diversity advocates preach taking notice of hue. The hope in the country today is that Barack Obama will nullify race consciousness. He may be able to do this if guilty whites and resentful blacks and innumerable other niche groups decide to join the common stream. And as we remember Martin Luther King’s dream; let us not exclude the most ancient hated and persecuted minority, the Jew.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why Plum Duff?

Well, why not plum duff? Actually, as my three-year-old grandson Maddox is lately fond of saying, I owe the title of this blog to Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas, mother and daughter co-authors of Lobscouse & Spotted Dog: which it's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels (of Patrick O'Brian). Write the authors: "Fundamentally, duff is dough. In its plainest form it is no more than flour (half a pound per man) mixed with salt water, put in a bag, and boiled in the coppers with the meat for four or five hours....On Sundays plain duff is transformed into Plum-Duff by virtue of an ounce of mouldy raisins or currants--the opulence of 'double-shotted' duff being achieved by a commensurate increase in the 'plum' ration."

So there you have it: simplicity itself. However, if you prefer your duff a little more refined, try Plum Duff with Rum Sauce from at I plan to try the latter as soon as I find my pots and pans, which it is regrettable were innocently misplaced in my husband's and my recent move from Fernley, Nevada, back into Reno.

You see this blog coincides with a change in my life. I am no longer gainfully employed (most recently as a part-time composition instructor), and I no longer write a weekly column for my formerly local newspaper The Fernley Leader. But I do retain the itch to write, and Dale retains the itch to eat, so the pots and pans must surface finally.

In the meantime plum duff seems to me to be a interesting variant on the staff of life and one amenable to alteration to suit one's taste. My taste includes politics (although my liberal sister pleads I not write about it), but also much of what is happening around me, especially the curious and the hypocritical (I make faces at myself in the mirror when I find such), and write about all these I shall, adding a few causes and memories. I hope you'll come along and enjoy the excursion.