Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Colleges Deny AP Credit for No Good Reason

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes would seem to be one of the most efficient and innovative of developments in the American education system - a system long-entrenched in rigid inefficiencies.  Based on the idea that many students are well prepared enough for college to "pass out of" general admission requirements like freshman writing, AP classes eased the load and the cost of education for many students.  In reality, it allowed them to avoid basic level classes that were, in all honesty, a waste of their time and money.  However, that has changed in recent years as AP classes have flourished nationwide.

The trend among some colleges is to deny credit for AP, a disturbing problem most recently implemented at Dartmouth University and spotlighted by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post.  Dartmouth and many other top-tier universities have taken the position that the AP classes at high schools - and the national AP exam developed and administered by the College Board - can not possibly match the rigor and quality of their freshman classes.  The decision by the Dartmouth faculty was based on no research and was just an instinctive response by the faculty.  This knee-jerk reaction makes sense, considering it is the professors' classes that the students are avoiding.  And from the university's standpoint, it is a financial problem to excuse kids from gen ed classes, which are the cash cows for most colleges.

Clearly, colleges have a right to accept or deny any class and offer their students any incentive.  But there is something suspicious and unseemly about the decisions by elite universities to dismiss the validity of AP and IB classes and exams.  On a purely anecdotal level, I have been sending students to elite universities for more than a decade, and my students are always, in their words, "over-prepared" for the rigors of college classes.  While many have been required to take freshman writing from a college prof - or, sadly, a teaching assistant - despite earning As and Bs in my class and 4s and 5s on the national AP exam, none has struggled or even found the classes remotely necessary.  Often they may enjoy them simply because the class has engaging material and the student is motivated.  Yet, there is little doubt that the requirement was an unnecessary time and financial burden for students.

Many students - especially top students attending elite colleges - are coming out of high school more well prepared than any high school students in history.  While some AP classes in high school may not have a Ph.D. at the front of class, there should be little dispute about the validity of a student's score on the national AP exam.  With costs ever increasing, many students could successfully complete college in less time, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Universities may need to be forced to comply.  The state of Colorado has legislation that requires any state school to accept CE (concurrent enrollment) credits earned by Colorado students.  They don't have a "choice" on whether to accept the credit, as schools do with AP scores.  Thus, if colleges continue this unresearched bias against AP which is costing students valuable time and money, states may need to take broader action.  For example, any college accepting state and federal funds could be required to comply with AP/IB/CE qualifications.

This might be bad for some introductory algebra and composition teachers at Dartmouth - but we shouldn't be too worried about that.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gatorade Removes Disgusting Ingredient - Still Unhealthy

Gatorade is not a "healthy drink."

It never has been, and it certainly didn't become healthy through mass marketing via the Pepsi Company.  And, it's still not good for people even after the recent news that it will remove a disgusting ingredient after consumer questions and petitions.  Obviously, most consumers never would have expected a "sports drink" to contain brominated vegetable oil.  However, it was clear to any consumer who bothers to check a label.  The reality is that anything mass produced and mass marketed is going to make it unhealthier.  This product is a long way from the "Gator-ade," developed for the University of Florida football team.  Keep in mind, it was developed for athletes going through intense workouts in high humidity, and the glucose-fructose syrup was designed to rehydrate.  That's not what is in the product on shelves today.

Years ago I noticed brominated vegetable oil on the label of a Mountain Dew that my student brought into class.  We had a rather amusing discussion as the class inquired what the heck the ingredient was and why it would be in a soda.  Our investigation turned up some disturbing news about bromines, including potential side effects including impaired concentration, impaired coordination, and acne-like symptoms.  Basically, ingesting products with brominated vegetable oil makes you clumsy, stupid, and zitty.  And drinking Gatorade will not make you healthier after a workout.  And even without the BVO, Gatorade is still made with chemical coloring and flavoring, as well as high fructose corn syrup.

Very few athletes need the sort of re-hydration that Gator-ade was meant to provide.  And, no one needs the garbage being peddled by Pepsi Co. these days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Maybe Milk Prices Should Go Up

As the nation recently veered toward the fiscal cliff, and critics warned of economic catastrophe if taxes increased or spending decreased, consumers were faced with another potential crisis: rising milk prices. According to business and political commentators, if Congress failed to pass an extension of dairy subsidies contained in the Farm Bill, milk prices could rise to as much as $7 a gallon. Congress avoided this problem by passing the bill and extending the dairy subsidies. However, that has not brought an end to the discussion, as the situation has led many Americans to question farm subsidies, especially in a time when the government is facing a shutdown due to disagreements on excessive spending. 

The federal government has subsidized dairy farmers for more than 50 years, and the expense to taxpayers reaches hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Without federal subsidies, milk prices would be guided by a milk law from 1949. At that time, following World War II, the government supported dairy farmers until prices reached market standards. Today that could mean prices of $7 a gallon or greater. However, many people believe milk subsidies should end,and the dairy industry should be forced to compete in a more open market where basic supply and demand will determine prices. A libertarian think-tank, the CATO Institute, has long argued against dairy subsidies, and they estimate total farm subsidies cost taxpayers as much as $35 billion each year. There are plenty of reasons to oppose federal subsidies of consumer goods, not the least of which is the creation of artificially high prices for industries that wouldn't be able to compete in a truly free market. 

The dairy industry has obviously been in favor of the continued subsidies, and many Americans view milk as a necessary staple of the American diet. Proponents of dairy consumption have long recommended milk consumption by children as a source of calcium, necessary for strong teeth and bones. And the health benefits of dairy products have long been promoted in the ubiquitous Got Milk campaigns, which have made drinking milk part of the national culture. However, others ask whether milk priced at $7 a gallon is really a bad thing for consumers. Not everyone believes that milk is a fundamental and necessary part of the diet. In fact, milk might actually be contributing more to America's health crisis in terms of obesity than it helps in offering consumers a regular source of calcium. 

Critics of milk consumption argue that higher milk prices would decrease consumption of a product that is not healthy in the first place. Milk's considerable levels of fat and sugar are cause for concern among the health conscious. Medical professionals like Dr. David Katz have commented on the potentialnegative effects of dairy while not actually arguing that people should or should not drink milk. One primary criticism of the dairy industry's health claims is that no research has proved milk is a necessary part of a healthy diet. On the other hand, anti-milk advocates also cite research by Harvard University that refuted the health benefits of dairy consumption and claimed the vital nutrients in milk could be better gained from other food sources such as vegetables like collards or even fortified soy milk. 

Clearly, America's dairy consumption---aided at least in part by subsidies that keep milk prices low---will remain a topic of debate as the government reviews the cost of its spending programs. And Americans are likely to seriously reconsider their support of the dairy industry both through taxpayer supported subsidies and consumer purchases. 

Got milk at $7 a gallon? That remains to be seen. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ray Lewis' Character & Wes Welker's Wife

Ray Lewis is undoubtedly one of - if not indisputably - the best linebackers in the NFL.  His competitive spirit and intense play is the type of NFL legend, and he is widely known for his presence on the field and in the locker room.  With the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl run coinciding with Ray Lewis' impending retirement, the success of Lewis' Ravens has become a feel good story.

Except for that character issue.  Which was shamelessly called out on Facebook by Patriot receiver Wes Welker's wife after the recent AFC Championship game.  Anna Welker was clearly relieving some frustration over the Patriot's loss - so she went after an opponent's personal character.  Much of the news coverage has criticized Anna for mean spirited and "nasty" comments after she pointed to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page for "anyone who is bored." That page reveals all the sordid details of Ray Lewis' life, including being acquitted for murder.

The news of Lewis' suspicious past and less than admirable responsibilities regarding parenting and fidelity is not new for any NFL fan.  Ray Lewis has been called "the murderer" by many a disgruntled fan trying to explain away his team's loss.  I mean who hasn't felt that "it's easy to win football games when you have a true killer on your team."  And, I will admit that Ray Lewis' character issue bothers me.  Even if he is not supposed to be a role model, I am still bothered by any person who has "six kids from four wives."  Even if that's none of my business, and even if it doesn't matter on the football field.

There is still something to be said for the serious lack of character in professional sports.  When I consider Ray Lewis' past and Lance Armstrong's confession and Barry Bonds/Roger Clemens' failed bid for the Hall of Fame, I almost don't fault Anna Welker for pointing out the shortfalls of these sports heroes.  Granted, she wasn't doing anything other than complaining about her team's loss - and that's just sour grapes.  And, it's worth noting that Anna Welker doesn't possess the purest reputation as well - Anna Burns is a former Hooters waitress who holds the dubious honor of being Miss Hooter's International.

But, with the recent passing of Stan "The Man" Musial, the issue of character in sport should be on everyone's mind.  Ray Lewis may be a great football player, but that doesn't make him a great man.  And, it's not surprising that "Baseball's Perfect Warrior, Baseball's Perfect Knight" has finally gone to glory.  He's too good for this world, especially today's sporting world.

Obama's Inaugural by Newt Gingrich & David Brooks

The world has been turned upside down when President Barak Obama's Second Inaugural Address is praised by Newt Gingrich but challenged by David Brooks.  Both of these conservative commentators have been praised and criticized by their own party at times with Newt Gingrich doing commercials with Hillary Clinton and criticizing Paul Ryan's budget, and David Brooks being called a "liberal's favorite conservative."  What these situations mean is that they are either truly moderate individuals in seek of consensus and solutions, or they are completely full of it.

Certainly, the pragmatism generally displayed by David Brooks is genuine, as he is a former hippie turned conservative who writes for the New York Times.  And, he has been enamored of President Obama's political abilities for quite some time.  Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has been credited with spawning the vitriolic attitude the current GOP has toward compromise with the Democrats.  Yet, he truly is an ideas man who is willing to discuss any political issue on both a practical and philosophical level.  You just never know what Newt might say, whereas Brooks' ideas are pretty clear.

Newt Gingrich surprised me with his comments that he "liked the speech" and didn't think "it was very liberal."  Other than a few sentences about gay rights, Social Security, and climate change, Obama's speech was "emphasizing hard work, emphasizing self-reliance, emphasizing doing things together."  That is a pretty fair summation.  David Brooks by contrast calls out Obama for "misunderstanding the moment."  He worries that Obama is not "facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past."

Interestingly, when you get past all the ideology and partisanship, both Gingrich and Brooks are right.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gun Control - Regulating Hairspray But Not Guns & Bullets

In the United States I cannot buy a house or a car or cold medicine or farm fertilizer without the government knowing about it and registering the purchase.  Additionally, the government is legally allowed to track the books I check out of the library as well as keep an indiscriminate record of emails and texts and cell phone calls.  Yet, the government is not allowed to require a license or registration of gun ownership and bullet purchases.  And, no one who opposes gun control legislation can explain the discrepancy.

Gun rights proponents have vociferously opposed any attempts to restrict gun ownership in any way, including the basic licensing and registration of guns and ammo.  The question is why.  The GOP - who adheres to the gun rights ideology - argues that any limits of gun ownership somehow violate the privacy of law abiding citizens.  However, what would be the problem of such citizens merely making their ownership public knowledge.  Apparently, it's a move against tyranny - which is such an extreme argument, it's tough to rationally discuss the issue.

When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, the nation reacted quickly to prevent such weapons of mass destruction from ever being assembled and used against Americans again.  Law abiding citizens agreed to the regulation of farm fertilizer purchases.  Similar tracking has been added to the purchase of hairspray after a Denver-area man attempted to create a bomb to set off in New York City.  These restrictions have been put in place as a way to "protect us from terrorists."  Yet, the would-be terrorists could purchase thousands of guns and millions of rounds of ammunition without drawing the attention of any law enforcement agencies.

And, that's just crazy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Glenn Beck Plans Hippy-Dippy Utopia

Glenn Beck is at it again with his strange Utopian dreams of "how America is supposed to be."  Living in his own little fantasy world, he has let his naive fascination with Ayn Rand and his loose grasp on reality convince himself that he could start the country from scratch and make it work.  Thus, we learned today of Glenn Beck's plan for Independence, America.  Announced on his show and reported on by Mike Krumboltz of Yahoo News, "Beck-town USA" will be a self-sustaining community of real Americans, and I can only assume it will be located somewhere between Brigadoon and Shangri-La.  This paradise will allow all the John Galts of America to escape the progressive hell they currently occupy, and it will also free them from the horrors of consumer culture.  Apparently, Glenn Beck has some contempt for successful American corporations like The Gap and Ann Taylor, as he plans to ban them from his Eden, saying "if you want the Gap or Ann Taylor, go someplace else."

Beck-ville is supposed to be self-sustaining - like the hippie communes of the 1960s - for it will also feature a ranch where people will "grow food" and "teach others" how to grow food.  Hmmm.  Sounds like Glenn Beck is going a little Mao Ze Dong on the country.  Perhaps all Beck-ville-ites will smelt their own iron and sew their own cotton into their own clothes as well.  These happy little "nationalists (?)" will be entertained, of course, by shows featuring Glenn Beck running the Beck media center.  I'd imagine that HBO and ESPN and Hollywood films will be unavailable because they are all products of the commie elite in this country.  Sounds like a great little paradise that Beck has plans for.  Where it will be, I'm not sure.  However, I'd bet the states of Mississippi or Alabama would love to be freed from the chains of all the federal aid they currently receive.  Or perhaps Beck could just convince the state of Texas to secede with him.

This isn't the first time that Glenn Beck has revealed a colossal misunderstanding of history and economics.  Last time, he stole from Founding Father Thomas Paine and bastardized the classic tome Common Sense.  Of course, I don't think Glenn Beck really has a plan for his utopia.  However, he is all but too happy to sell a bunch of Republican conservatism to under-educated or ideologically naive people for a nice little profit.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arming School Janitors is a Terribly Foolish Idea

The aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and the ensuing national debate has generated all sorts of discussion regarding school safety and the presence of guns in American society - some veering into the downright scary and crazy.  One of the worst approaches to this dilemma is to promote the increased arming of Americans.  The nation already has 300 million guns floating around - there is no shortage of guns, and their prominence has not decreased violence or made anyone safer.  However, crisis situations can lead to irrational emotional responses, and that is precisely what has happened in one school district in Ohio.  As reported by the Huffington Post, Montpelier School District in Ohio Begins Plan to Arm Janitors, Pay for their Training.

Arming janitors or teachers or administrators as a way of increasing safety in schools is a terribly irresponsible idea that is based on no data.  For this reason, police departments across the nation oppose the idea of increased citizen gun ownership.  The reality is that an average citizen can not be adequately trained to handle what is, in effect, a near militaristic situation.  Being able to handle a violent situation with the control and precision of a police officer requires years of regular and consistent training.  To argue that a "janitor" who has been "trained" will be able to effectively take down a shooter intent on killing people in a school is to ignore a vast lack of data.  Additionally, the idea of a gun being consistently present in the hallways of schools and possessed by an individual whose expertise is building maintenance is not only reckless, but dismissive of the professionalism we require of police officers.

On the other side of the debate is the proposal by the Obama Administration to fund more armed police officers in schools.  The School Resource Officer (SRO) program is the appropriate - and only rational - response to increased safety and security at our nation's 150,000 schools.  In the two high schools where I've worked - large suburban schools - the presence of SROs is not disruptive and can be a important part of the school community.  SROs are not - or shouldn't be - the average street police.  They are trained to engage and build relationships with young people, connections built on trust.  At the same time, they are trained professionals whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to "protect and serve."  The programs may be expensive, even to the tune of $50 - $100 million a year.  But, if Americans determine they want armed people in schools, the cost is worth it, and it is the only rational and acceptable option.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mike Shanahan's Tragic Mistake with RGIII

Since being fired from the Denver Broncos, football coach Mike Shanahan has been desperate to prove that he truly is "The Mastermind" and that he can win Super Bowl championships without numerous Hall of Famers on his team.  Apparently, that desperation reached "the breaking point" this past weekend when his decision to leave hobbled NFL rookie sensation RGIII in the playoff game resulted in RGII's heart-wrenching fall while trying to recover a snap and the tearing of his LCL.  Now, with the star quarterback potentially lost for all of next season, the backlash has begun.

While much of the commentary has been delivered by sportswriters - and disheartened Redskins fans - political writer Maureen Dowd delivered a scathing indictment of Shanahan's dangerous hubris.  Dowd and others are calling out Shanahan for not making the obvious call earlier in the game to pull Griffin who was clearly struggling and not able to play to anything close to his potential.  Clearly, this particularly troubling injury has gotten under everyone's skin for two reasons - RGIII is simply so electrifying to watch and this injury resulted from such negligent stupidity.  Would Mike Shanahan really risk the health of his franchise player (who he sold the team farm to get) just to win a playoff game?  In a sense, yes.

Obviously, Mike Shanahan did not play RGIII in the game or leave him in when he knew he was injured with the intention of ruining the young star's career.  However, coach Shanahan was clearly so blinded by his desire to win that he lacked the good sense to pull the kid.  Even former Shanny prodigy Jay Cutler had the sense to pull himself from a playoff game last year when he couldn't plant his back leg - and that didn't even require surgery.  But Shanahan let a 22-year-old amped up rookie playing in the biggest game of his life make the decision to head back on the field without doctors so much as talking to him.  And that is a serious deficit of leadership.  That is not a masterful mind.

With the injury to RGIII and the implosion of Washington's gridiron hopes, The Mastermind is no more ... if he ever was one.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mint the $1 Trillion Coin - Save the Economy

Maybe you've heard the latest wisdom to save America from its debt crisis - "just print money."

In this case, however, it's not a common mistake made by countries like Mexico or Zimbabwe that have led to hyperinflation and nearly worthless currency.  It's a theory based on a 1996 law that allows the Treasury Department to print coins of "any denomination" to be deposited in the Federal Reserve for payment of debts incurred.  It has gained steam in recent days and now it's getting some mainstream press on NBC.   Basically, the Treasury would mint a single coin of platinum worth $1 trillion to cover the country's ability to pay its bills.

The issue might seem patently absurd, unethical, illegal, or even unconstitutional.  However, it was given credibility in recent days as Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Krugman somewhat endorsed the idea to avoid the debt ceiling fight with Republicans.  And, strangely, a Republican congressman actually gave the issue more clout by introducing a bill to prevent the Treasury Department from doing it.  If Congress has to pass a law to stop it, it must be currently "legal," right?  Well, that might be one for the courts to sort out later.

Theoretically, the Executive Branch could do this if the Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling to pay off debts already incurred.  The printing of the $1 trillion platinum coin does not allocate any new spending, and obviously a $1 trillion coin wouldn't be put into circulation.  Thus, it is no risk for inflation, and it doesn't violate the Constitutional constraints on the authority to borrow and spend money.  Fascinating little trick that I haven't actually heard a strong argument against.  A $1 trillion coin.  Hmmm.

This could get interesting.

How to Teach Boys

It's no surprise to anyone paying attention to educational trends that society has shifted from girls and women being excluded from schooling to boys and men excluding themselves from school.  As schools struggle to close achievement gaps, the largest gaps are not actually racial but gender-based.  In fact, the data in many schools reveals low achievement among Latino students when the latinas are actually doing well, but the boys' achievement has practically bottomed out.  Girls simply seem to be getting it, while boys seem to be giving up.  No longer do we have a society where girls are ignored in math and science classes and shuffled toward teacher colleges - instead, young women account for a majority of students applying to colleges.  And from an economic sense, this disparity will only get worse as jobs for uneducated laborers continue to decline.

Motivational speaker and consultant Kelly King offers insight and analysis on How to Create a Boy Friendly School published in EdWeek.  There are plenty of excuses and explanations for why boys are struggling, including the design of school which is not boy oriented.  Regardless, the boys are there in need of education, struggling with motivation and literacy, and in need of help.  Boys can be engaged in learning, King writes, because it is their energy and enthusiasm that we love which also is the source of their struggles.  Certainly, boys can be more physical and require more tangible tasks.  Thus, it is the challenge of the teacher to address those needs and teach to those strengths.  That said, however, schools must not fall prey to dumbing down expectations or ignoring those skills that are required by an increasingly complex world.

In working with adolescent boys and seeking to develop lessons and curriculum that will engage them, there are numerous works which offer models of success.  Some of my favorites are:

Why Gender Matters - Dr. Leonard Sax

Reading Don Fix No Chevys - Jeffery Wilhelm and Michael Smith

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men  - Sax

Going with the Flow - Wilhelm and Smith

I Read It But I Don't Get It - Cris Tovani

Raising Boys - Stephen Biddulph

Raising Cain - Dan Kindlon

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Best Inspirational Business Books on Life

Americans are big fans of those simple bits of advice that "just make sense" and "cut through all the crap" to explain "what you really need to know" in order to "succeed in business and in life."  From the earliest days of the republic when Founding Father and fountain of wisdom Benjamin Franklin offered his Poor Richards's Almanac filled with aphorisms, Americans have literally eaten up the sort of books that offer the aphorisms and advice that will enable them to, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, "live the life they have imagined."  That said, I have taken a look at the business books that have really rung true in the advice they offer.  As an English teacher, I read a lot of books, and I recommend a book a day to my students.  Thus, I am always looking for those books that seem to sum up the lessons that are generally the same and that point people in the direction they need to go.  The book that inspired this post is one  by Daniel Pink - an "Ideas Guru" - who has written for the Washington Post before developing a series of business-oriented lifestyle books.  That book was:

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Advice Guide You'll Every Need.

This "business book" is written in the form of a Manga comic book, which appeals to younger readers in a multi-genre sort of way.

Other great books that simplify and really clarify the business and life experience are:

The One Minute Manager

Who Moved My Cheese

How to Win Friends and Influence People

A Whole New Mind

These are great, accessible books that you should read if you are interested in becoming better at what you do.

Great Advice for E-book Writers

Like many aspiring novelists and writers who are seeking to take advantage of new opportunities in e-book publishing, I have been overwhelmed with all the possibilities.  And I've also been challenged by trying to navigate the technologies of ebook publishing.  For example, some ebooks are simply presented on websites as a pdf. file, but that is not the format to be used if a writer wants to sell books for use with an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes and Nobel Nook or an Apple iPad.  The Kindle Direct Publishing format was a pretty simple and accessible way to start, and I also discovered SmashWords which offered the platform to publish for numerous markets from Amazon to Apple.  However, the style and presentation expectations are different than preparing a text for a print publisher, and there is often much conflicting information on "how to format your ebook."

That's where Catherine Ryan Howard - aka - Catherine Caffeinated - is quite helpful.

Catherine's website is devoted to the craft of self-publishing, and Catherine is committed to sharing her knowledge of the industry.  In the world of e-book publishing Catherine seems to have tried it all, and she has numerous posts about all the different avenues.  For example, if you have questions on formatting or the business side of ebook publishing, Catherine has a page of links to all these issues.  I had uploaded my ebook to Smashwords, but I was delayed in getting it accepted to the Premium program because of formatting.  I couldn't completely remove the tabs or text boxes, and my ebook cover did not meet standards.  The tab problems resulted from me trying to adapt a traditional manuscript - because I wasn't going to retype 90,000 words.  Trying to understand Smashwords style guide was overwhelming, and I couldn't quite figure out the "nuclear option."  However, following methodically through Catherine's post solved all my problems.  This post by Catherine is the single most valuable ebook publishing post I've found so far.

I am really thankful that people like Catherine have put together blogs sharing their knowledge.  If you are struggling with how to publish your novel as an ebook, check out Catherine's blog.  And, of course, if you want to compensate her for all the help, you might consider buying one of her books.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Tax America's Junk Food Addiction

"But it tastes good."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this lame excuse, or justification, for why some chooses to eat fast food, I'd be a very rich man.  And, I'd still be a lot healthier than the average American.  No one really thinks fast food is good food, and no one argues for its health benefits.  Few people would even assert that the poor quality of fast and heavily processed food is not a significant health concern.  Everyone knows it is.  Regardless, Americans are loathe to give up or concede to stiffer regulation to one of the most obvious contributors to the obesity and health crisis in the United States.  Too many Americans are simply careless when it comes to what sort of "food" they will regularly put into their bodies.

Americans, still, are conflicted over what to do about rising obesity rates and its clear link to fast food and processed food consumption.  Recent polls suggest that Americans actually want the government to do something about the country's obesity problem.  However, in their traditions of being clueless and hypocritical about what they want and what they think government should do, Americans also oppose any attempts by the government to regulate food or encourage healthier choices.  In reality, an individual has a right to eat whatever he chooses.  That said, with the American government responsible for the health care costs of millions of people on Medicare, the taxpayers do have a legitimate financial interest in improving Americans' eating habits.  Additionally, in the private health care system, healthier people end up paying the price for unhealthier ones.  And, taxing behavior to discourage excessive use is a legitimate and time tested way of modifying behavior - it clearly worked to lower smoking rates.  So, for all but the seriously irrational and ideological, taxes on diet vices should be considered a legitimate public health response.

The negative impact of eating fast food is most obviously because "there's no food in fast food."  Of course, it's not like anyone really believes fast food is good quality.  They are simply willing to feed themselves really crappy "food products."  And that is America's biggest problem - we have very low standards and don't treat ourselves very well.  Seriously, why would someone be willing to eat from the "dollar menu" - unless, of course, he really only values himself that much.  The problem is that in a complex health care system that leverages and dilutes risk through a large pool, one person's poor habits negatively impact the quality of life and cost of health care for others who actually "care" about their "health."  In other words, someone else's poor habits literally raise my health care rates.  So, yes, it is my business.

Until people care about their health, America will suffer from a health care crisis.  And eating fast food is quite simply careless.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

No Vote for Barry Bonds - and Steroids Users - in Hall of Fame

Call me a purist and a holier-than-thou elitist, but I firmly oppose the inclusion of Barry Bonds and other steroid users in baseball's Hall of Fame.  As the voting ballots go out this week, and the debate over Barry Bonds' and Roger Clemens' worthiness of Hall of Fame entry goes into high gear, I stand resolute that sportswriters should "Just Say NO" to performance-enhancing drug use by professional athletes.  This week Denver Post sportswriter Troy E. Renck insightfully and succinctly expresses the reservations felt by many sports fans regarding steroid use and professional awards.  Certainly, there are logical arguments for and against the inclusion of the steroid users in the Hall.  If nothing else, their accomplishments and achievements in the game cannot be refuted.  And, many would argue that simply putting an asterisk next to the records - or setting up a "performance enhanced wing" of the Hall - would be sufficient.  Time will tell how society views these flawed men.  No man is the sum of his worst act, and perhaps a little forgiveness is due.  But, for the time being I like Renck's assertion that now is too soon for the Barry Bonds Hall of Fame dilemma to be decided.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Marketing an E-book

For many years, I imagined myself as an author, and I stumbled through the forest of traditional publishing for more than a decade, hoping an agent or publisher would punch my lottery ticket and make me a success with one or more of the novels I'd written.  Alas, it was never to be, though I had many great stops and starts along the way, getting interest and feedback from some top literary agents.  It was roughly a year ago, however, that I concluded I am not a novelist or screenwriter.  After speaking with a friend who had finally - and justifiably - secured an agency contract for his fiction, I realized that non-fiction writing is actually where I am successful.  Thus, I am refocusing my writing career by seeking to develop my blogging and newspaper commentary.

With that in mind I began to explore the possibilities of e-book publishing that have developed via the rise of Amazon Kindle Publishing, as well as all associated markets from direct e-book publishers like Smashwords to Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble Nook Publishing.  As an experiment, I went ahead and self-published the one novel that I actually felt good enough about to present to the public.  The thought of vanity publishing always bothered me, but the rise of internet publishing - and the moderate interest my book always generated among agents - convinced me that I could move forward with the publishing of my novel with a modicum of my integrity intact.

Since publishing my novel I Don't Know on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords, I have generated very little in sales or interest.  However, that may be a result of the minimal effort I put into marketing the book.  That's a lesson for aspiring e-book authors - You have to do the marketing that would normally have been handled by your agent and publisher.  All I've done so far is post a link to Kindle Direct Publishing on my blog, and that has generated a few sales among my most loyal readers or curious blog wanderers.  How to Market an E-book from the eHow.com website is a pretty effective explanations of how to market ebooks, and it's certainly worth checking out.  As I learn more about the process and potentially publish more of my work, I will revisit the idea of e-book marketing and what are the best and most successful approaches.