Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans

A case before the Supreme Court  (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc.)  contests whether the state of Texas can decide not to  issue specialty license plates bearing a Confederate battle flag.

At one time license plates (called tags in some locales) just served to identify the car for law enforcement purposes.  But states realized they could make money by allowing those with registered vehicles to pay a bit extra to have specialty license plates with a logo or message on them.

Texas law gives the state the right to reject specialty license plates that are offensive.  But some things are offensive to a few, and others offensive to many.  Is this standard vague?

Some would have no trouble with “Legalize pot”; others might find it offensive.  Lots of folks would be offended by “Go Nazis” (perhaps with a nice swastika)  but others might not be.

Even words that seem noncontroversial to most, could be offensive to someone.  Where does this end?

A related issue would be that since the state is issuing these license plates, does the state appear to be endorsing a message.  If they can decline to issue license plates with a message they disagree with are they inhibiting free speech?

Since someone who would like to use the vehicle as a platform for “free speech” can easily use a bumper sticker, is the state significant interfering with free speech?

More complicated but related issue is state censorship of personalized license plates.  If someone wanted a license plate that used NAZI or some other word deemed offensive as an identifier rather than the seemingly random state issued combination of letters and numbers, that is more clearly an individual message but still issued by the state.  Would the courts see this issues as similar?

Social Security Budget

One of the many things that impressed me when reading Social Security – Get What’s Yours was that the budget for administering Social Security is clearly inadequate.

Budget cuts have caused the Social Security Administration to cut services in a time of growing demand. The baby boomers are getting to retirement age and we can only expect demands on the Social Security Budget to increase. We should expect better from our government.

Secret Science

Let me start by saying that as a scientist I am against the idea of secret science. Science should be an open process and certainly not secret.

But sometimes, it isn’t.   And there is nothing sinister about that.  And certainly no need  to be reformed. However, that is not what this bill is about. If science needed to be reformed and it doesn’t, Congress is the last place I would think of. Continue reading

Newspapers for genealogy

I’ve been doing genealogy and finding things on family members for years. Over a year ago, I decided to try newspapers for genealogy.

Not exactly a new approach. I had used the occasional search of free resources. I did some research on the Library of Congress site. And the New York Times site. The Times does limit you if you don’t subscribe but we do so there was no problem.

I had found a few things Continue reading

Social Security – Get What’s Yours

I just read Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security by Laurence J. Kotlikoff , Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. It was an enjoyable experience.

Yes, I used the words “social security” and “enjoyable” in the same paragraph.

Imagine my surprise when I read this book that I thought would be important but dull and found it enjoyable. The authors not only convey the basic facts about social security and discuss how to maximize your benefits but do so in an entertaining fashion.

If you are unconvinced, Continue reading

Archie in the Crosshairs

I think it appropriate to begin the review of a mystery with another mystery. Robert Goldsborough has done it again. Well, what has he done?

Robert Goldsborough is writing new Nero Wolfe mysteries in the style of the originals by Rex Stout. The two I have read before are very good . (See 2 Nero Wolfe Mysteries by Robert Goldsborough). I just finished another titled Archie in the Crosshairs and it was also quite good. Continue reading

Who do you think you are?

I just got an email from ancestry.com in my inbox today. Actually it had been sitting there overnight. I just saw it today.

“Who do you think you are?” is coming back for season 5 on Sunday, March 8. I enjoy this show. My only real complaint is that sometimes it makes genealogy look too easy.

Usually involves a celebrity guest trying to learn about his or her ancestors. Of course they learn quite a bit in a a short time. But then, they have a lot of help.

It is usually interesting (although a bit different from the way us normal folks do things). Here is the ancestry announcement.

If you haven’t seen the show, give it a try. If you’re already a fan, enjoy.

Irish crime novels on sale

Open Road Integrated Media is a different type of book publisher. They specialize in ebooks and partner with many publishers to produce and market ebooks.

Perhaps in honor of St Patrick Day which is coming up in a few week (or perhaps this is just coincidence), they are having a sale on Irish crime novels.

I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed several mysteries published as ebooks by Open Road Media so I think this is worth a look. While there you might want to look around the website.

The Irish crime novels on sale are on the page http://www.openroadmedia.com/irishcrime?


Don’t you just hate it when you are busy doing something and the phone rings. You drop what you are doing and run to the phone but it is just a recording to tell you about your big chance to buy something or claim a prize in a contest you never entered.

These moments are brought to you by Robocalls. They are more than a bother. Sometimes people actually respond to them and end up losing money. It must be enough people to make it worthwhile for these scammers.

Consumers Union (a division of Consumer Reports) is running a campaign to end these calls before they reach your home (#EndRobocalls). They have an online petition and information at https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls/.

If you agree, please sign the petition. No guarantee this will end them but at least it could. This is your chance to make your voice heard. #EndRobocalls.

Great map of Ireland

I’ve never been to Northern Ireland but I understand that it is beautiful. I’ve been to the Republic of Ireland but it has been many years and I’m ready to go back. So I think that when I do go, I will see both. And notice that I said “when” rather than “if”.

I can be a bit cynical at times. You may have noticed that in some of my more political posts. But when it comes to things like genealogy and travel I tend to be more optimistic. So I’m already planning my trip to Ireland. Continue reading

An Irish Valentine

I was looking around the internet for an Irish Valentine. That is something appropriate for Valentine’s Day, Irish-style. And I found a new (for me) blog.

What could be better than giving an Irish Valentine for someone of Irish descent or someone fortunate enough to have a Valentine of Irish descent?

Also there is more interesting stuff on that blog. Look around

Protect your kids – vaccines, medicine, fear

The recent outbreak of a measles in the unvaccinated made me think of a book I read several years back (The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin) and briefly mentioned it on this blog. See Protect the kids or why people do dumb things.

It was a good book as I recall but the issue of parents doing a dumb thing in not getting their children vaccinated is still very much with us. My article has link to an article by Seth Mnookin that covers some of the same ground he covered well in his book. I don’t think either of us is calling people dumb. Even smart people can do dumb things.

Another good article that specifically covers the current measles out break is The Vaccine Lunacy: Disneyland, Measles and Madness by Frank Bruni.

There is quite a bit of information out there. Some of it is very good and some of it is misleading. If you are a parent, read it, consider the sources, and act to protect your kids.

Climate Peril by John J. Berger

The full title, Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to Understanding the Climate Crisis, gives you a better idea of what this book is about and who it is aimed at.

The author is John J. Berger, a Ph.D. with expertise in ecology and and climate science. He has written this book not for other experts but for intelligent readers who wish to understand the current debate about climate change and the likely consequences.

I am in the process of reading this book but there is much to it and I suspect this is going to take awhile. So this is both a progress report and a review of the book as far as I have read and what I see coming based on on chapter titles.

By the way, if you look at the Amazon site you will see many favorable reviews. In fact when I looked all who reviewed the book gave it 5 starts (the highest rating). You may also notice the Kindle version is considerably less than either the hardback or paperback editions.

Dr. Berger starts us a brief picture of what will likely happen as a result of climate change in the next 90 years or so. That is, the life time of those being born now and in the very near future. It is an alarming picture and it could be worse if greenhouse emissions continue to increase.

The next chapter reviews the evidence that climate changes are already occurring. But climate does change naturally. The next 2 chapters explain the normal climate alteration process and then the unnatural process which is occurring now.

This is where I am now. So far, I am very impressed. Dr. Berger does a great job in explaining the complex issues in normal climate fluctuations (why we have ice ages and warming periods) and why most scientists believe we are now abnormally warming the climate.

Of course, weather varies. We have hot days and cold days. But based on yearly averages, 2014 was the hottest year on record. And the past few years have been pretty warm too. See Bloomberg for a great animated graph.

But back to the book. So far I think it does exactly what it set out to do. That is, it is an explanation of climate change and climate peril for the intelligent reader. And so far, the book looks very good at it. I look forward to reading the rest which looks like it lays out various climate perils in greater detail.

Taxpayer-subsidized politics

Taxpayer-subsidized politics may be coming to a church near you. Why do I say that?

Paragraph (3) of section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 contains this:

(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

Simply put means that tax-exempt organizations (including churches) cannot carry out propaganda or political campaigning. This seems entirely reasonable to me.

But a bill has been introduced in the House (HR 153) which deletes the part above in bold. This seems to say that churches (and other cited tax-exempt organizations still cannot engage propaganda to influence legislation but are allowed to intervene in political campaigns. Seems rather confusing to me.

Also does it mean that if someone wants to support a candidate for office (or trash an opponent) that someone can now get a tax deduction by funneling the contribution through a like minded church or minister instead of a Super-PAC?

Doesn’t seem like such a good idea to me. What do you think?


Ireland flights on sale

Most of us with an interest in Irish genealogy (or those who just want a nice vacation) frequently look at plane flights to Ireland. Usually the rates are high if you would like to go during the usual tourist season.

If you see a good rate on a flight to Ireland often there is some sort of exclusion like “good on flights during February”. We were very surprised a few nights ago when we saw Ireland flights on sale. The best prices were New York to Shannon but decent enough prices for flights with other origins and destinations.

So check out the Aer Lingus sale on Ireland flights as well as their offers to elsewhere in Europe. There may be a reasonably-priced vacation in your future.