Why the secrecy? He already has the job.

After being President of the United States for almost four years, President Obama still refuses to release his college transcripts (via I Hate The Media):

Ed Henry, FOX News: “I don’t know how many years, maybe you do, George Romney released of his college transcripts, but Republicans like to complain that the President has not released his college transcripts. What is the stated reason for that?”

Jay Carney, White House: “I would refer you to the campaign.

The man already has the job. At this point, even if he was a C student, what is the harm in releasing the transcripts?

I am most surprised by the media. As Chelsea Schilling at WND notes, they have had no problem going after former presidential candidates, both Democrat and Republican, so why the reticence here? For example, I know that George Bush was a C student. So what? And how could they be considered racist for treating the first black president the same way as they treated all of the presidents before him?

I’m also surprised at the number of people who repeat the fact that President Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, though I couldn’t easily find independent confirmation of this. And as noted here:

Just because he graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude doesn’t mean BO had a high GPA. It just means that after subtracting the students who graduated summa cum laude, of the remaining students, he graduated in the top 10% of his class. Theoretically, he could have had a C average.

Really, why not just release everything and stop fanning the flames? Wouldn’t that stop all of the Republican conspiracy theorists dead in their tracks, and demonstrate that Obama was a man with nothing to hide? That’s a good thing, right?

Years ago, the Dean of my Engineering faculty told me that two years out of school nobody cares what your marks are, but instead they look at what you have accomplished. So why not just release the transcripts and whatever other information there is, and just put an end to the controversy?

And to those of you who would say that “it is none of my business” or “he doesn’t need to”, you are correct. But the ostensibly most powerful person in the free world owes it to their citizens to be honest and upfront with them. Sharing basic information like this goes a long way toward that goal.

Generating outrage.

What’s wrong with this paragraph in an editorial in The Record?

Cures for addiction are seldom pretty. And the cure for a government addicted to overspending is surely so. Drummond appears poised to prescribe massive budget cuts in most provincial ministries — some as deep as 30 per cent — over the next five years. The reins of restraint will tug sharply on health and education spending, too. While McGuinty has planned to scale back the yearly increments in health care funding to three per cent, Drummond says that’s not good enough. He’s pushing for annual increases of just 2.5 per cent, which means hospitals would have to make do with hundreds of millions of dollars less every year.

I’ve given you a hint by highlighting it. For the casual reader, The Record would like to suggest that by lowering the percentage increase in healthcare spending, the government is cutting spending by millions.

For the innumerate among us, an increase means that hospitals will still have millions more to spend – just not as many extra millions as they previously anticipated. The government is not cutting the healthcare budget by any stretch of the imagination, no matter what The Record would have you believe.

This attempt to mislead should not be confused with unbiased journalism, and I’m not the first to notice:

Increasing spending at a rate in line with economic growth and inflation is not a “cut.” A cut is a reduction, not an increase at a lower rate than hoped. Language is the first casualty of politics. The proposed restraints by Minister Flaherty are, well, sensible, so far as anything in the upside down world of socialized medicine can be described as “sensible.”

Newspapers seem to depend on the casual scan of a column, combined with a poor understanding or numbers, to arouse outrage in readers. This does nothing to contribute to the intelligent discussion that is required to solve the problems we face.

But I suppose it sells papers.

Leaving well enough alone.

This article in the National Post caught my attention today:

People from well-educated families are almost twice as likely to suffer from some dangerous food allergies as others — possibly because their bodies’ natural defences have been lowered by rigorous hygiene and infection control, suggests a new Canadian study.

I’m not a scientist at all but I have a theory, totally untested and unproven, that using all manner of antibacterial soap and sundries would lead to a lower tolerance for germs. Basically the same goes for avoiding all kinds of foods, such as peanuts, would lead to allergies to those foods. And apparently, some actual scientists have the same idea:

The link to higher education may be explained by what is called the hygiene hypothesis, the unproven idea that smaller families, cleaner homes, more use of antibiotics to treat infections and vaccines to prevent them have curbed development of the immune system, said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, who led the research. That in turn could make some people more susceptible to allergy.

My father, who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast almost every day, and who is currently 85 years old, used to say that everything was ok in moderation. As kids we played outside all the time. We got dirty. And there was always at least one friend with a runny nose. We washed up with water and regular old soap. We ate regular food. We did get a lot of vegetables from our garden, which folks would now call “organic” I guess, but otherwise we did nothing special to take care of ourselves.

We got sick occasionally too, and we generally got penicillin for it. I’m not sure if there even was any other drugs back then. Now I just tell my wife I stay healthy by eating the odd bit of mouldy bread.

In short, we didn’t watch what we ate and we didn’t run for the hand sanitizer constantly. I’m not sure the words “hand” and “sanitizer” had even been combined at the time.

Yet the experts are still getting it backwards:

“We can’t suggest we become dirtier and expose our children to more bacteria,” he said. “If the price of having fewer allergies is more infection, I don’t know any parent who would expose their child to more infection.”

That’s getting it exactly backwards. It isn’t about exposing children to more bacteria; it’s about leaving well enough alone and letting our bodies do what they have always been so good at before we got arrogant enough to think we could improve things.

One last pet peeve: Lysol commercials claim that there are millions of germs on every surface, and Lysol kills 99.9% of those germs, but for the innumerate among us, that still leaves tens of thousands of germs on that surface. You can use Lysol, and I sometimes do, but there will still be germs left, and all it takes is one.

Tip of the hat to small dead animals.

A country rife with racism and discrimination?

I came upon this site via a Twitter link today, but I’m really not sure if it is serious, or just some sort of very bad joke. Teaching For Change is apparently an organization that, in their own words, seeks to to transform America into a more “equitable, multicultural society” by implementing “social justice” education in K-12 schools.

Now I always have a problem with the term social justice, if only because I just don’t understand who the final arbiters are or what constitutes justice. But as I read I was stunned by this assertion:

Proceeding from the premise that the United States is a country rife with racism and discrimination against nonwhite minorities, this Initiative “embrace[s] an anti-racism/anti-oppression approach” that promotes “curricul[a], environments, programs, policies and standards that are equitable, culturally-responsive and linguistically consistent with the diverse communities served by our profession.” [emphasis added]

Having lived and worked in the United States I know it isn’t perfect, but I doubt that it would help to start from that premise. But that wasn’t nearly as troubling as this:

TFC also co-sponsors the Zinn Education Project, which incorporates into classroom curricula the writings of the late historian Howard Zinn—especially his best-selling book A People’s History of the United States. This Marxist tract describes America as a predatory and repressive capitalist state that serves only the interests of wealthy white men who exploit workers, American Indians, slaves, women, blacks, and populists. [emphasis added]

Again, this is a bit incendiary, and not entirely true. The last time I looked the President of the United States, the most powerful person in the free world wasn’t a wealthy white man, but was indeed a black man.

It seems to me that teaching children that wealthy, white men are inherently bad regardless of how they earned their money, while everyone else is inherently good teaches something other than justice, social or otherwise. The idea of pitting different types of people against each other, or arbitrarily assigning sweeping generalized values of good and evil to entire classes or people, and teaching children to do so from an early age, serves no one.

Perhaps if we just get back to teaching our kids to read, write, and to think critically for themselves, they can make their own value judgements, rather than regurgitate the values or those who have gotten us to the point we’re at now.

Our only possible chance for the future may lie in kids who can think for themselves. Let’s leave them with a fighting chance.

Words

I love words. I’ve always had an affinity for words; knowing them, defining them, and using them, especially in unusual ways. I enjoy using 50 cent words as we called them when we were kids – those big words that people rarely use – secure in the knowledge that I also knew the simpler way to say the same thing. And I’ve always enjoyed adding to my vocabulary and playing with words with friends (though I don’t actually play Words With Friends).

I’ll credit my parents for helping me to develop that skill; they taught me to read by reading the newspaper, and my family have always been voracious readers.

Sadly, my idea of humor is often to note that when someone says that “their head is literally exploding”, that they actually mean to say that their head is exploding “figuratively” rather than “literally”, though it was actually a friend who started that one. (At least I hope that they mean figuratively; it is far less messy.) And another friend and I play a game where we converse using as many linguistically similar words in a row as we can. Ok, I don’t get out much.

So I was pleased that the very first thing I read this year was a New York Times article about Wordnik, an online dictionary that defines and offers usage for everything, rather than just those words accepted by lexicographers:

No modern-day Samuel Johnson or Noah Webster ponders each prospective entry there. Instead, automatic programs search the Internet, combing the texts of news feeds, archived broadcasts, the blogosphere, Twitter posts and dozens of other sources for the raw material of Wordnik citations, says Erin McKean, a founder of the company.

Then, when you search for a word, Wordnik shows the information it has found, with no editorial tinkering. Instead, readers get the full linguistic Monty.

My test word (yes, I actually have a test word) is irregardless. We all learned at one point or another that irregardless is not an accepted English word, being instead an improper way of saying regardless, but Wordnik defines it nonetheless. Strangely, as the Corpus of Contemporary American English, 1990-2011 suggests, several otherwise reputable journalistic organizations didn’t seem to get that particular memo and use the word anyway, so it’s probably a good idea that it is well defined.

To me, vocabulary is fun, and it is an admirable goal to expand one’s vocabulary. And Wordnik, especially their Word of the Day via email, is a fun way to do that, as well as an excellent reference in general. You don’t need to use 50 cent words, but knowing them certainly doesn’t hurt.