Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Steven Pressfield Interview and Website

Glenn Reynolds interviews Steven Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire and the Legend of Bagger Vance, among other novels. (I thought the two books I named were simply terrific.)

Pressfield also has a new and interesting blog. (Don't let the lead post that's up today put you off.)

Too Many Specialists in Medicine (Updated)

About two-thirds of the medical doctors in the US are specialists, compared to about half in other industrialized countries. The American health-care system prides itself on having so many specialists; however, the results of this dominance of “experts” are far from flattering. For example, the rates of heart surgeries are highest in populations living in Brazil and the USA, intermediate in Canada and Australia, and lowest in Hungary and Poland. Yet, there were no differences in rates of death by heart disease or heart attacks among these countries.[fn1] Plus, the rates of stroke were higher in Brazil and the USA than in the countries with lower intervention rates. In the USA, patients with heart attacks are 1.7 times more likely to be treated in a coronary care unit and receive cardiac procedures, calcium channel blockers, and thrombolytic agents than in Poland, yet the death rates are identical.[fn2]

* * *
A study of 13,270 adults found people with a primary care physician, rather than a specialist, as a personal physician were more likely to report fewer medical diagnoses, have one-third lower annual healthcare expenditures (mean: $2029 vs $3100) and about one-quarter lower mortality. [fn3]


1: Yusuf S, Flather M, Pogue J, Hunt D, Varigos J, Piegas L, Avezum A, Anderson J, Keltai M, Budaj A, Fox K, Ceremuzynski L.Variations between countries in invasive cardiac procedures and outcomes in patients with suspected unstable angina or myocardial infarction without initial ST elevation. OASIS (Organisation to Assess Strategies for Ischaemic Syndromes) Registry Investigators. Lancet. 1998 Aug 15;352(9127):507-14.

2: Rosamond W, Broda G, Kawalec E, Rywik S, Pajak A, Cooper L, Chambless L. Comparison of medical care and survival of hospitalized patients with acute myocardial infarction in Poland and the United States. Am J Cardiol. 1999 Apr 15;83(8):1180-5.

3: Franks P. Fiscella K. Primary care physicians and specialists as personal physicians. Health care expenditures and mortality experience. J Fam Pract. 1998 Aug;47(2):105-9

-From The McDougall Newsletter, April 2006. Read the entire article, "Taking Advantage of the Medical Specialist".

As to the point made by Dr. McDougall at footnote 3, Carol raises a very good question: Do sicker people go to specialists than generalists? If so, then one would expect higher mortality rates. I went to the website of the Journal of Family Practice to find the article, but they have them available on the web back only to 1999. I may order the August 1998 issue to see how that question is addressed, if it is.

MacDougall does not go after specialists for the sake of going after specialists. His comments on the matter are just part of his general program. That program is founded on his major thesis, and that is to stay healthy with a good diet so that one lives longer (or at least better) and has a greater chance of avoiding the medical industry. When I cite the particular points that McDougall makes out of that context, like this one about specialists, I know that they must sound extreme. But it is only part of the larger picture that he draws.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sustainable Fiscal Course? Congress is on it!

Under current law, the federal budget is on an unsustainable path—meaning that federal debt will continue to grow much faster than the economy over the long run. Although great uncertainty surrounds longterm fiscal projections, rising costs for health care and the aging of the U.S. population will cause federal spending to increase rapidly under any plausible scenario for current law. Unless revenues increase just as rapidly, the rise in spending will produce growing budget deficits and accumulating debt. Keeping deficits and debt from reaching levels that would cause substantial harm to the economy would require increasing revenues significantly
as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), decreasing projected spending
sharply, or some combination of the two.

* * *

CBO’s long-term budget projections raise fundamental questions about economic sustainability. If outlays grew as projected and revenues did not rise at a corresponding rate, annual deficits would climb and federal debt would grow significantly. Large budget deficits would reduce national saving, leading to more borrowing from abroad and less domestic investment, which in turn would depress income growth in the United States. Over time,the accumulation of debt would seriously harm the economy. Alternatively, if spending grew as projected and taxes were raised in tandem, tax rates would have to reach levels never seen in the United States. High tax rates would slow the growth of the economy, making the spending burden harder to bear. Policymakers could mitigate the economic damage from rapidly rising debt by putting the nation on a sustainable fiscal course, which would require some combination of lower spending and higher revenues than the amounts now projected. Making such changes sooner rather than later would lessen the risks that current fiscal policy poses to the economy.

From the June 2009 summary of the Long Term Budget Outlook, issued by the Congressional Budget Office.

World Editor Helping Sarah Palin

I have commended World Magazine in past posts. One of World's former editors, Lynn Vincent, reportedly assisted Mrs. Palin with her new book, Going Rogue: An American Life, to be published November 17.

Greek New Testament Manuscript Evidence

No ancient literature has survived in its original form; everything we have is derived from copies of the originals. The NT is no exception. However, in comparison with any other ancient literature, the NT is without a peer—both in terms of the chronological proximity and the surviving number. Several ancient authorities are preserved in only a handful of manuscripts. Not so with the NT. There are approximately 5,500 Greek witnesses, ranging in date from the second century AD into the middle ages. Besides the Greek evidence, there are nearly 30,000 versional copies (e.g., Latin, Coptic, and Syriac), and over 1,000,000 quotations from the NT in the church Fathers. NT textual criticism has always had an embarrassment of riches unparalleled in any other field.

From the NET Bible. Go to the link, and then click on "Greek Manuscript Evidence."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Huffington Post Discovers "The China Study"

And here it is straight out: they are all saying the same thing in different ways and through multiple and varying studies: animal protein seems to greatly contribute to diseases of nearly every type; and a plant-based diet is not only good for our health, but it's also curative of the very serious diseases we face.

Read more at the Huffington Post. (Be sure to read the author's interview with Dr. Campbell, the author of The China Study.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Went Fishin' Yesterday with Jim

We did catch fish! Went into the "back-country" off Florida Bay (the "Ten Thousand Islands") from near Marco in a small open fisherman. Two photos, one going through the back country, and the other Jim's rebuilt fishing shack - somewhat different from ver. 1.0.

On the trip, we saw porpoise, bald eagles, kestrels that seemed to be running before the incoming storm and tracking bait fish schools all the while, some of the kestrels relatively close to the water, but others flying at enormous heights, blue and white heron and other water fowl, all kinds of shells on the beaches from which we fished at one point, including a shell left behind by a horseshoe crab; and we caught snapper, snook, ladyfish, catfish, and I hooked a redfish that got off the line. All of the fish we released, except for a couple of the snapper. We saw mullet, tarpon, Spanish mackerel jumping out of the water, and even a shark.

Mary had a great day outdoors this weekend, too!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Report: "Carcinogen Found in KFC's New Grilled Chicken"

This from an organization called "Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine" or "PCRM." We never ate at KFC before the vegan change, but a lot of people do, of course.

The "study" seems to be rather limited and it doesn't say whether the carcinogen actually raises the risk of cancer in human beings. In The China Study, Campbell writes that he and fellow researchers discovered a carcinogen in the peanut butter that Filipino children were eating. He and his colleagues were in that country to inquire into the high rate of liver cancer among children there.

What struck him was that the wealthier the family, the higher the incidence of the cancer. He also observed that the wealthier the family, the more meat the children would eat, in addition to the peanut butter. From that observation, he developed the hypothesis that there is a link between animal protein and the development of cancer from carcinogens that might otherwise have no affect on the body. Later studies he considered seemed to him to establish that hypothesis.

Of course, with KFC chicken one gets both the carcinogen (if the PCRM study is to be believed) and the meat. Such a deal.

I'm glad I don't have to worry about it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Virgin," "Maiden," and Progressive Revelation

In the RSV vs KJV controversy that roiled matters in the 50s and 60s, the matter of the translation of Isaiah 7:14 seemed to be the first thing on the lips of every KJV advocate. Here it is in that version:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

But RSV gave us this:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign, Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

This was all about a conspiracy among modernists to deny the virgin birth, I was told.

Fifty years later, the NET Bible First Edition translates the verse this way:

For this reason the sovereign master himself will give a confirming sign. Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.

The NET Bible editors use this verse in their preface and introduction to the First Edition to discuss their translation philosophy. They embrace the concept of "progressive revelation." Here is how they explain that concept, using Isaiah 7:14 as an example:

Simply put, progressive revelation recognizes that God reveals himself – his nature as well as his word, plans, and purposes – over time. He did not reveal everything about himself and what he was doing in the world all at once; instead he graciously revealed more and more as time went on. Later revelation serves to complement and supplement what has come before. The relation of this reality to translation work creates a great deal of tension, especially as it relates to the theological context, because certain earlier passages are clarified by later ones. Does the translator translate the older passage with a view to the clarification that the later passage brings, or does the translator concentrate solely on the native context of the older passage? The translators and editors for the NET Bible have generally chosen to do the latter for a variety of reasons. A translation which takes into account the progress of revelation will be true to the three contexts discussed above [the grammatical context, the historical context, and the theological context]. It is also very beneficial to the Bible reader to have the progress of revelation accurately represented in the translation of particular texts. This helps the reader see how God has worked through the centuries, and it helps the reader to stand more accurately in the place of the original recipients of the text. Both of these are very instructive and inspirational, and they help the reader to connect with the text in a more fulfilling way.

A discussion of particular passages in the NET Bible – how they have been translated and why – will illuminate these concepts. Explaining these examples will show how the translators and editors have put the aspects of the translation theory discussed above into practice. The translators and editors believe these issues are important for readers of the Bible to grasp, so all these passages have extensive notes regarding these issues. An example from both the Old and New Testaments will be given.

Isaiah 7:14. This verse has seen a great deal of discussion in the history of interpretation. The text of the verse from the NET Bible is as follows:

Look, this young woman is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel.

The most visible issue surrounding this verse is the translation of the Hebrew word עַלְמָה (’ almah). The NET Bible uses the phrase “young woman,” while many translations use the word “virgin.” The arguments center upon two main points: the actual meaning of the term as it is used in Hebrew, and the use of this verse in the New Testament. There is a great deal of debate about the actual meaning of the Hebrew word. However, in the New Testament when this verse is cited in Matthew 1:23 the Greek word παρθένος ( parqenos) is used, and this word can mean nothing but “virgin.” Therefore, many people see Isaiah 7:14 as a prophecy about the virgin birth with Matthew 1:23 serving as a “divine commentary” on the Isaiah passage which establishes its meaning. The interplay of these issues makes a resolution quite complex. It is the opinion of the translators and editors that the Hebrew word used in Isaiah 7:14 means “young woman” and actually carries no connotations of sexual experience, so the grammatical context of the verse in the Old Testament is in our opinion fairly straightforward. Neither does the historical context of Isaiah 7:14 point to any connection with the birth of the Messiah: in its original historical context, this verse was pointing to a sign for King Ahaz that the alliance between Syria and Israel which was threatening the land of Judah would come to nothing. The theological context of Isaiah 7:14 is also limited: it is a presentation of God’s divine power to show himself strong on behalf of his people. The role or birth of the Messiah does not come into view here. So the historical and theological contexts of the verse support the grammatical: the word עַלְמָה (’ almah) means “young woman” and should be translated as such. Within the book of Isaiah itself, however, the author begins to develop the theological context of this verse, and this provides a connection to the use of the passage in Matthew. In Isaiah 8:9-10 the prophet delivers an announcement of future victory over Israel’s enemies; the special child Immanuel, alluded to in the last line of v. 10, is a guarantee that the covenant promises of God will result in future greatness. The child mentioned in Isaiah 7:14 is a pledge of God’s presence during the time of Ahaz, but he also is a promise of God’s presence in the future when he gives his people victory over all their enemies. This theological development progresses even further when another child is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7 who will be a perfect ruler over Israel, manifesting God’s presence perfectly and ultimately among his people. The New Testament author draws from this development and uses the original passage in Isaiah to make the connection between the child originally promised and the child who would be the ultimate fulfillment of that initial promise. The use of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 draws upon the theological development present in the book of Isaiah, but it does not change the meaning of Isaiah 7:14 in its original context.

That's pretty bold of the NET Bible translators, I think. NIV, CEV, and even Peterson in the Message use "virgin." The NASB, still my favorite, uses "virgin" too but has a text note: "Or, maiden." Similarly, the NCV (New Century Version) uses "virgin" with a longer text note: The Hebrew word means a young woman." Often this meant a girl who was not married and had not yet had sexual relations with anyone. The NKJV uses "virgin" of course, and the NRSV uses "young woman."

In the Living Bible, the translation is "virgin," but there is an extensive footnote:

The controversial Hebrew word used here sometimes means "virgin" and sometimes "young woman." Its immediate use here refers to Isaiah's young wife and her newborn son (Isaiah 8:1-4). This, of course, was not a virgin birth. God's sign was that before this child was old enough to talk (verse 4) the two invading kings would be destroyed. However, the Gospel of Matthew (1:23) tells us that there was a further fulfillment of this prophecy, in that a virgin (Mary) conceived and bore a son, Immanuel, the Christ. We have therefore properly used this higher meaning, "virgin," in verse 14, as otherwise the Matthew account loses its significance.

It is interesting to see the NET Bible translators come down on the same side as the RSV and NRSV.

As I have been reading about the Dead Sea Scrolls, I have taken to reading prefaces and introductions to the various translations (not to mention footnotes and text notes), and the NET Bible has an extensive preface and introduction (and great footnotes). You can read the entire preface and introduction on-line, and the NET Bible itself.

Before leaving this endless post, I want to note that one of the NRSV editions on my bookshelf is Walter's well used, paperback copy from Urbana '96.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thirty-Nine Years Ago Today!

And now for something really important

A reminder that I will have my own birthday in less than 4 months.

Bible Translation Matters

Genesis 4:8 reads as follows in the KJV:

8And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.

But in the NIV, it reads as follows:

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." [a] And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Note the footnote in the NIV, which is as follows:

a. Genesis 4:8 Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Vulgate and Syriac; Masoretic Text does not have "Let's go out to the field."

Having the additional phrase in that verse makes the event so much more vivid, because it emphasizes Cain's premeditation. To me, that is very important.

Reading VanderKamp and Flint's, the Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been a mini-course on how the Bible was put together, especially the OT. Their approach to presenting the Scrolls is first to explore "the texts of the Old Testament that were available to us before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls" (See V&K at the beginning of Chapter 5, entitled "The Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Before the Scrolls.") Then, having laid that predicate, V&K begin their discussion of the Scrolls directly. The reader, therefore, is in a position to understand more fully how important and interesting the Scrolls are. This is what makes their book so useful for understanding the Scrolls - having the context so carefully and completely laid out. But that context has been very helpful in reading the OT generally. Thus, for example, Genesis 4:8, becomes even more "real" for me, because I can understand the sources indentified in the footnote, though the Scrolls are not directly involved with that particular verse.

Here is what I have learned with regard to the sources that are cited in that footnote:

The Samaritan Pentateuch "is not a translation, but the Samaritan version of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. For Samaritan Jews, who still exist as a group in Israel today (especially in Nablus and at Holon), the Samaritan Pentateuch constitutes the entire canon of the Bible. . . [It] was rediscovered by European scholars only in the seventeenth century, when Pietro della Valle sent a complete copy, now called Codex B, to Europe in 1616." V&K at p. 91

The Septuagint "encompasses Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible . . . [but note that s]ome scholars understand the Septuagint as referring only to the Pentateuch, while others include the entire collection of Jewish-Greek Scriptures. . . The word itself comes from the Latin septuaginta, meaning seventy (hence the Roman abbreviation LXX), and derives from a fascinating story [which I won't repeat here]" V&K at p. 96

The Vulgate is "the Latin Vulgate (390-405 CE, which was translated by Jerome and became the Bible of the Church)." V&K at 102.

The Syriac is "the Syriac Pashitta (second-third century CE)." The New Bible Dictionary, in its article entitled "Texts and Versions" states that "After the LXX, [this was] the oldest and most important translation of the Heb. Scriptures . . . This translation used by the Syriac church, was described since the 9th century as the Peshitta (Syr. psitta) or "simple" translation."

The Masoretic Text is the Hebrew text put together by the Masoretes. V&K write that it is the backbone of the Protestant OT and of the Jewish Bible.

As I grew up, there was a controversy at our church (among some people) about moving away from the KJV. It was lively, although limited. At the time, the main translation to which one could move was the RSV, a translation sponsored by the National Council of Churches. To hear some people talk, the NCC was in league with the Communist Party. The Southern Baptists were NOT in it, and have not joined it to this day.

I first met the RSV on a more or less level playing field when, as a freshman at Duke, I took Old Testament the first semester and New Testament the second. The Oxford Annotated Version of the RSV was our text. (My copy fell apart after a few years, but I had it rebound and still have it.) Our teacher was simply marvelous, Barney Jones, a Methodist minister and Duke Divinity School PhD. I took several courses from Dr. Jones as an upperclassman, and he is one of the two greatest teachers (outside of my parents) with whom God blessed me. (The other was Bill Holley, also at Duke, and in the History Department.) Rather than shake my faith, my time at Duke, a good bit of it taking courses in the Department of Religion, affirmed and strengthened it.

Years later, after Carol and I had moved to Miami Springs and joined FPC there, Bruce Metzger of Princeton came to our church and preached for five nights on the Sermon on the Mount. He was the foremost Greek scholar in the country, worked on the RSV and later chaired the committee that developed the NRSV. He was on the team that wrote the annotations in my Oxford Annotated RSV! I still marvel that FPCMS had Bruce Metzger for an entire week. (He must have liked our town. He came down for a week a year or two later and led another conference.) Revisiting lately the subject of Bible translation by means of a consideration of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been great fun.

One more story about this: My friend at Duke, Doug Tanner, who is from Western North Carolina, liked to quote someone he knew at his church on the matter of the authority of the KJV. "If it was good enough for Peter and Paul," he would quote, "it is good enough for me."


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Big Food vs. Big Business

In an op-ed piece in the NY Times, Michael Pollen raises some important issues. He writes, in part:

[S]o far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform. And so the government is poised to go on encouraging America’s fast-food diet with its farm policies even as it takes on added responsibilities for covering the medical costs of that diet. To put it more bluntly, the government is putting itself in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing both the costs of treating Type 2 diabetes and the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

Why the disconnect? Probably because reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system. At least in the health care battle, the administration can count some powerful corporate interests on its side — like the large segment of the Fortune 500 that has concluded the current system is unsustainable.

That is hardly the case when it comes to challenging agribusiness. Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

* * *

When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

Ann Althouse, whom I like, does not seem to agree. How about at least reducing the sugar subsidies? Reducing government subsidies is a way of reducing governments intervention in the market place and, while we are at it, reducing government's cost.

To the extent Michael Pollen is looking for even greater government intervention, I'm not agreeing either. "Food system reform" ought to take the form of reforming government and the way it plays favorites.

Dr. MacDougall: Fish is not a Health Food

Fish is not health food. The truth is fish is an animal muscle made up primarily of proteins and fats, with no carbohydrates or dietary fibers—fish muscles are nutritionally just like the muscles of cows and chickens. They are all loaded with cholesterol and chemical contaminants, and deficient in vitamin C. Fish-fat easily accumulates in the human buttocks, thighs, and abdomen, leading to obesity and type-2 diabetes. All that excess animal protein will cause bone loss (osteoporosis), and the pharmacological activity of the fats (omega-3) will suppress the immune system (cancer and infection) and cause bleeding.

Fostering the myth that fish is a miracle food is a slogan many of us grew up with, “better living through chemistry.” In the case of fish, the miracle chemical is omega-3 fatty acids, which have been advertised to prevent and treat diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to strokes. The most thorough review ever conducted (48 randomized controlled studies of 36,913 subjects) of fish and omega 3 fats on health was published in the April 2009 issue of the British Medical Journal and the authors reported, “Long chain and shorter chain omega 3 fats do not have a clear effect on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events, or cancer.”4 Other research explains the origin of the felonious belief that fish is health food: people who choose fish are the same people who choose an overall healthier diet, consciously avoiding coronary-artery-damaging saturated fats—eating the fish does not prevent heart attacks, it is the not eating beef, chicken, and cheese that saves lives.

-from the June 2009 McDougall Newsletter.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Missing Passage from 1 Samuel

According to VanderKam and Flint in The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls ("V&K"), there are four categories of Dead Sea Scroll readings, those that follow the "Hebrew Bible", that is, those that follow what became the Masoretic Text, those that follow the Septuagint, those that follow the Samaritan Pentateuch, and, finally, "variant readings." Variant readings, then, in the Dead Sea Scrolls of Old Testament scripture are readings that are different from all three of the sources extant before the discovery of the Scrolls. At page 115, V&K write:

Some of the variant readings in the [fourth Qumran cave's first Samuel manuscript] involve individual words, phrases, or even entire sentences that were left out of the Masoretic Text or added as supplementary material. The most dramatic example occurs in [that manuscript] at the end of 1 Samuel 10, where an entire paragraph that was missing from our Bibles for two thousand years has now been restored in the New Revised Standard Version, published in 1989. (The existence of the passage was already footnoted in the New American Bible of 1970). This paragraph describes the atrocities perpetrated by King Nahash of the Ammonites, and thus explains his otherwise unusual behavior in the first two verses of Chapter 11.[My bold.]

My NET Bible (First Edition) does not have this variant reading in the text, as the NRSV has, but it is discussed extensively and sympathetically in footnote 4 at the end of 1 Samuel 10:27. (The present online edition of the NET Bible doesn't refer to the matter, as far as I can tell.) I would have liked to have been in Dallas when the translators hashed this one out. The footnote states in part: "This [variant] reading [from the subject manuscript] should not be lightly dismissed; it may in fact provide a text superior to that of the MT and the ancient versions . . . "

My 1995 The Contemporary English Version does not have the variant reading. My NIV Study Bible (Zondervan 1995) makes no mention of the variant reading anywhere.

Eugene H. Peterson, however, in The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress 2002) includes it. See the last three sentences of his Chapter 10 of 1 Samuel. Way to go Dr. Peterson!

My New King James Version does not have it (my edition is copyright 1982).

Here is the variant as translated in footnote 4 to 1 Samuel 10:27 in the NET Bible (First Edition):

Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead.

Didn't Heed "The China Study"


David Walker, Someone Well Worth Listening To

He suggests giving presidents the power to make line-item cuts in budgets that would then require a majority vote in Congress to override. He would also want private-sector accounting standards extended to pensions, health programs and environmental costs. "Social Security reform is a layup, much easier than Medicare," he told me. He believes gradual increases in the retirement age, a modest change in cost-of-living payments and raising the cap on income subject to payroll taxes would solve its long-term problems.

Medicare is a much bigger challenge, exacerbated by the addition of a drug entitlement component in 2003, pushed through a Republican Congress by the Bush administration. "The true costs of that were hidden from both Congress and the people," Mr. Walker says sternly. "The real liability is some $8 trillion."

That brings us to the issue of taxes. Wouldn't any "grand bargain" involve significant tax increases that would only hurt the ability of the economy to grow? "Taxes are going up, for reasons of math, demographics and the fact that elements of the population that want more government are more politically active," he insists. "The key will be to have tax reform that simplifies the system and keeps marginal rates as low as possible. The longer people resist addressing both sides of the fiscal equation the deeper the hole will get."

From John Fund's Interview of Mr. Walker in the WSJ, entitled "The Deficits are Coming!." Walker is the former head of the GAO.

(Republicans out there: Note what he says about President Bush and the Republican Congress hiding the "true costs" of the drug benefit.)

"Cash for Clunkers" - Bad Idea

Some parents we know who live in Palm Beach County have a daughter newly enrolled in the New World School of the Arts here in Miami-Dade, a very competitive program. She needs a car, and the family is not well off. She could find a room in a home near MetroRail, which has a stop downtown near the school, but she really needs some sort of car to get to the station, run errands and the like. She needs a clunker, actually. Something cheap.

But the supply of those cars has diminished, thanks to the government program that is considered one of the few successes of the Obama administration. An automobile that runs well enough on less than 18 MPG would be fine for this student. It would be fine for other people trying to make do in this economy. Because there are fewer such cars, used car prices have gone up, making them less accessible.

I oppose government getting into bed with industry and hurting poor people; don't you?

For an economist's dim view of the program, look here. More on unintended consequences of this program here. Still more here.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Turning Down an MRI

About six weeks ago I emailed my oncologist about a numbness I had on the right side of my right knee and the sharp pain I had on the knee when I put pressure on it. This condition had persisted for many months. I couldn't remember banging the knee on anything.

I emailed him because I just wanted to check and be sure this wasn't some sort of classic symptom of recurrence of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma that I had never heard of. With NHL, bad things can happen in the bone marrow, so that's how I developed the knee-pain/NHL hypothesis. (I give the oncologist a lot of credit for responding to my emails - he has a great assistant who handles emails and other contacts with him.) He said for me to come in, and I did.

The doctor, after examining the knee and talking to me, said he didn't know what the pain meant. However, he gives me a lot of credit for being the sort of cancer-patient-in-remission who doesn't get alarmed by this symptom or that. So he said he wanted to order an MRI of the knee and send me to an orthopedic specialist. (He said usually one goes to the orthopod first, then the orthopod orders the MRI, then you go back to the orthopod after the MRI for a consult. He wanted to save me the first trip, so he ordered the MRI and gave me the name of the orthopod.) His office called Baptist Hospital to get the MRI process going.

To make a long story shorter, during the scheduling process I learned that my part of the out-of-pocket cost of the MRI would approach $1000. Furthermore, it was going to cost me most of a morning at Baptist, then the visit with a new physician - a lot of time. All I really wanted from my oncologist was either, "I have never heard of that symptom being related to remission; see you in 6 months for our regular check-up," or "This is a classic symptom of active NHL disease" or "I'm sorry, Paul, with this knee your career in pro football is over; just go back to your practice for the duration." But he took the condition seriously, even if he had no good idea what it came from.

I, however, had the answer I was looking for in the first place: For someone who is in remission from NHL, is the knee clearly an alarm signal? Answer: no. So I sent my doctor an email (again) and said I was not going through with the MRI and many thanks for his help. That was OK with him, because he did not get back to me: a confirmation of the answer I was looking for.

Here's the deal: the MRI meant time and money for me, and I had better uses for it, under the particular circumstances. Had I been "retired" with nothing much to do and if the process would not have cost me anything, then maybe I would have gone through with it, bearing the non-monetary cost of sitting in reception rooms of doctors offices with the other dozing senior citizens, having learned to snooze despite Oprah blaring forth on the ubiquitous TV.

(My knee is much better. I must have banged it on something. I just don't remember banging it. Obviously, the referral should have been to a neurologist.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) Still Part of the Solution

Carol brought this link to my attention, that of the Health Savings Alliance. Because HSAs are focused on the middle class and are intended to encourage savings, wholesome health-related behavior, and one's own, individual evaluation of proposed health services in light of cost, they are scorned by both government and the health industry. Big government and big business compete with each other in the effort keep those decisions away from us. A pox (speaking of health) on both their houses.

Whole foods and grocery cart watching

This is part of one of the discussion board posts I read on the McDougall site:

We spend so much time deciphering labels, trying to understand and calculate the "food value" of packaged food that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Whole foods, in their most basic form, make up the healthiest things we can eat. [In another post, a writer] talks a lot about the high percentage of stuff on the supermarket shelves that are just not fit to eat and a lot of the confusion would be solved by bypassing the aisles and aisles of over processed, over refined, food and drink. So little outside of the produce section is even worth the time to read the nutrition facts label.

I find it a good exercise to see just what is in the shopping carts of the line in front and back of me. It's most revealing to discover you can get pretty close to guessing the contents of the cart by looking at the people. My cart always looks so spartan, devoid of all the advertising splash. I kind of pride myself on how few processed items I can get away with. I figure people just think I'm dirt poor or cheap!

September Plantation Report

July 5 photo here. May 30 photo here.

I have made a mulch bed recently, as you can see, where I dump grass clippings, palm fronds, and compost from our composter. The idea is not only to enrich the soil (I apply a monthly dose of specially mixed banana fertilizer) but also to protect against the dreaded nematode. That bug fastens on the roots and sucks the nutrients. According to the advice I received from the people at Katie's Going Bananas, keeping the ground covered this way gives you the greatest chance of avoiding them.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Still Learning About the Bible, Imagine That

"Almost all modern English translations of the Old Testament are based on a single manuscript - the Leningrad, or St. Petersburg Codex . . . Copied in 1008 or 1009 CE, this is our earliest complete example of the traditional Hebrew Bible, or Masoretic Text.

* * *

"Since all ancient biblical texts consisted only of Hebrew consonants without vowels, many words could be read in more than one way, leading to different readings of the same verse. Compare the letters dg in English, which could be dig, dog, or dug, depending on which vowel is used. In order to standardize the biblical text, the Masoretes added vowel signs and other components. The effect was to fix the meaning of each group of consonants (e.g., only dig, not dog or dug) . . . "

VanderKam & Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2002), pp. 87-89.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"I pledge to be a servant to our President!"

Are you kidding?


Ricky - Another Year with the Dolphins

Good. I was very disappointed when he left the Dolphins, but it seems to me that he has walked very well the path of redemption.

Mercury Poisoning from Too Much Eating of Certain Fish

Some people are eating so much of the commercial, high-mercury fish that they are over the mark for tolerable allowances set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the World Health Organization.

Jane Hightower, M.D.

The link is to a 2007 article that Dr. Hightower wrote that is very well worth reading. She ends the article with the following:

As for fish consumption in adults, both men and women, the current advice is that two three-ounce servings or one six-ounce serving per week is where the benefits outweigh the risk, but up to twelve ounces is acceptable if the fish are low in contaminants (Mozaffarian 2006).

The article, however, also discusses children, both born and unborn, and other vulnerable populations, such as Pacific islanders and Native Americans. As I said, the entire article is worth reading.

The initial quote above is in an email I received from John McDougall, MD. I am on his email mailing list.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Breeding New Bugs (Note UpDate: Very Important)

Everywhere I look, Purell hand sanitizers appear in public and semi-public places. I see them now at the courthouse. I just got an email from our building, stating that the management will mount dispensers here and there for our use. All of this, of course, arises from the flu epidemic that the country anticipates.

Natural selection being what it is, my question is this: What sort of new bugs are we breeding with these sanitizers? Would it be safe to say that the next round of flu viruses will be impervious to Purell and perhaps more dangerous, simply because of universal Purell use?

UPDATE: Mary and Cody set me straight on this. Please read their comments. As to my questions, we are breeding no new bugs with Purell and the next round will not be impervious nor more dangerous, simply because of Purell use.