Thursday, March 26, 2009

Signs of Spring

Signs of spring are in the air....

Pine pollen on the cars. Thunderstorms barreling down from the midwest. A green haze of new growth shrouding the treetops. Spinach pushing its way up through the garden soil. An increased prevalance of cat hairballs left in conspicuous high-traffic areas. Yes, all these are signs that spring has arrived.

But the most notable, and perhaps most mysterious signs, are the hints of new life in the cotton fields. As I drove to work the other day I saw the fields, still sleeping after a southern winter of dormancy. Then, on the way home that evening, what a change had been wrought! Upturned soil, furrowed into rich rows waiting anxiously for seed to be sown. It was apparent that the winter hibernation had ended for the plows, and they had finally made their first forays into the crisp afternoon to test their shares and coulters after a long sleep. Perhaps they were teaching their newborn tools the secrets of deep furrows and smooth plowlines. Whatever had awakened these beasts of the farm, they tasted the earth and found it good, leaving their marks behind. Then, after the long day's labor, they retreated to their barns to rest their weary wheels.

Ah....... Spring!!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Scientific Research Gone Wild!

Well.... or not. Actually, one of the following stories is really true. And one ... erm ... not so much. Before you click on the links to each, see if you can guess which is humor and which is real medical research.

Story #1:
Dr. V.S. Ramachandran is a researcher who deals with phantom limbs. (You know... that sensation amputees have when they experience pain/feeling in their missing limb.) He had a patient that felt significant recurrent pain in his amputated arm. How did he resolve this pain? He amputated the phantom limb with a cardboard box and a mirror.

Story #2:
(You have to click on the link to researcher's interview, which is an audio file. He talks about this particular study at about the 3:25 minute-mark. There's also a link to the journal citation here.)
RAAP Syndrome (Recurrent Acquired Arthrosis of the Pelvis) is being researched by Dr. D. B. Stewart. It is a joint disorder caused by repetitive strain to the hips. It is typically found in men who spent much of their youth walking with a exaggerated gait, causing a repetitive injury to their hip joints.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Am I a Crunchy Con?

I've been accused recently of being a "crunchy con." My suspicion is that I received that label because 1) I'm a firm believer in supporting local farmers and we are members of a CSA farm, and 2) I'm an orthodox (small "o") Anglican. But there's more to being a "true" crunchy con, and to find out what that means I bow to the Crunchy Con himself, Rod Dreher. He wrote a book called, not surprisingly, Crunchy Cons. So let's review his 10 points, and then see where that leaves me.

A Crunchy Con Manifesto
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.
7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”
10. Politics and economics won’t save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

I could quibble with some of the statements (like #7 - I think it's possible to be both beautiful and efficient) but in general it's pretty spot-on. My next question, though, goes to my accuser. You called me a crunchy con as though it were a bad thing. Why do you deride those who believe in good stewardship of the natural world? Are you simply scoffing at those who distrust both big business and big government? Is it a bad thing to eschew the pop culture mentality? It is because I take the ancient moral truths found in Christianity to be a critical part of my daily life? Or is it simply because I refuse to buy into all those things the World says we should care about, and prefer to focus on other things entirely?

I suppose I won't actually receive any responses to my questions. They were mostly rhetorical anyway, as I ponder what it is I believe about all these things. But it does settle one thing in my mind. I am a crunchy con!

IRS Taxpayer Advocate

Ok. I apologize in advance. This isn't really a *political* rant. But my first thought on reading this morning's article in Forbes made me think...

[Long, drawn out silence. Crickets chirping.]

Oh, sorry... I was thinking that I didn't even know the IRS had anything remotely resembling some kind of advocacy for taxpayers. So I went to the IRS site. And searched for "Taxpayer Advocate." Sure enough, you can read all the reports they've submitted over the years. I'm again stunned into silence. My bet, of course, is that the IRS doesn't read them, because they certainly haven't taken any of the recommendations to heart. ::snort::

So what does Nina Olson, our taxpayer advocate, have to say? The tax laws are too complicated. People with lots of money hire other people to get them out of paying taxes. People without lots of money overpay because they don't have lots of money to hire someone. There were 500 changes to the tax code in 2008, and most people have no clue what those changes were. There's a Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, but the form to fill that out isn't available in most software packages. In short, it's 27 pages of how insane the IRS tax code is. Scary, stunning reading.

In closing, she recommends:

"The tax laws should be simple enough so that most taxpayers can prepare their own returns without professional help, simple enough so that taxpayers can compute their tax liabilities on a single form, and simple enough so that IRS telephone assistors can fully and accurately answer taxpayers' questions. The tax system should incorporate a periodic review of the tax code--in short, a sanity check."

IRS and "sanity check". Now THERE'S a contradiction in terms!