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Over the course of this summer, those two failed systems have collided in a spectacular crossroads moment in American history. We have an urgent national emergency on the one hand, and on the other, a comfortable majority of ostensibly simpatico Democrats who were elected by an angry population, in large part, specifically to reform health care. When they all sat down in Washington to tackle the problem, it amounted to a referendum on whether or not we actually have a functioning government. It’s a situation that one would have thought would be sobering enough to snap Congress into real action for once. Instead, they did the exact opposite, doubling down on the same-old, same-old and laboring day and night in the halls of the Capitol to deliver us atour de force of old thinking and legislative trickery, as ifthat’s what we really wanted. Almost every single one of the main players — from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Blue Dog turncoat Max Baucus — found some unforeseeable,unique-to-them way to fuck this thing up. Even Ted Kennedy, for whom successful health care reform was to be the great vindicating achievement of his career, and Barack Obama, whose entire presidency will likely be judged by this bill, managed to come up small when the lights came on. We might look back on this summer someday and think of it as the moment when our government lost us for good. It was that bad. –“Sick and Wrong: How Washington is screwing up health care reform– and why it may take a revolt to fix it ,” Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons—the many reasons—for what has happened. First the facts: while the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation’s colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates. Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):
- English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
- Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
- Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
- History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
- Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent
By establishing a tax on high-sugar soft drinks, Congress could help finance health care reform that extends health insurance to all Americans and slows the growth of health care costs, while also improving Americans’ health. This paper, which is part of a series of papers on proposals to help pay for health reform, outlines issues related to such a tax. Depending on how it is designed, such a tax has the potential to raise as much as $10 billion a year to help pay for health care reform. Mounting evidence indicates that consumption of high-sugar drinks has increased sharply in recent years and is likely to have contributed markedly to increased obesity, which results in higher health costs and increased morbidity. American children aged 2 to 5 are twice as likely to be overweight as they were in 1970, and those aged 6 to 19 are three times as likely to be overweight; more than 9 million children and adolescents are now considered overweight. A meaningful tax on high-sugar soft drinks should reduce consumption, helping to fight obesity and its attendant private and public costs. –“Taxing High-Sugar Soft Drinks Could Help Pay For Health Care Reform,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”