Middlemarch, by George Eliot

I finished this book yesterday. Reading it felt like  the conquest of a peak. When I understood the flowery, yet beguilingly simple, prose, I felt enlightened. I’m afraid that my reading muscles are not quite equal to Eliot’s compositional powers.

The plot did not heat up until about page 690. Still, the amusing and relatable characters moved the story along. One can see onesself and acquaintances so well in the characters she draws. I admire Caleb, Mr. Farebrother, Mary and Dorothea. I will strive to avoid the foibles of Dr. Lydgate, Rosamond and Mr. Bulstrode.

Much in it amused me.

Reading it was worthwhile. I expect to read The Mill on the Floss, also by Eliot, in a later year.

I watched the BBC mini-series, 99% of it, that is, and feel that it misses so much that can only be expressed by book.

Three North Korean Escapees

Three North Korean Escapees

MSU Ballroom. Put on by the MSU Leadership Institute.

Kobe was the lead organizer.

April 22, 2013

Mother and two young adult daughters

450 people in attendance

“God saved us, his miraculous power.”

“I want to thank God first…”

“I am glad to share my testimony…”

“I have spoken in many churches but this is the first time to give my testimony in such a public event.”

Their family was eight in number, now they are only three. One daughter may be still alive in human trafficking subjection.

“America is heaven.”

North Korea is “a socialist nation.”

They spoke of government purges.

You can be imprisoned for a slip of the tongue, maybe something uncomplimentary about Kim. Other family members go to prison along with you. Some families have three generations in the prison system, with children being born in captivity.

They want God to move the hearts of all to pray for freedom for North Koreans. “I appeal to all of you…” It is their wish that NK would collapse.

Instead of Ten Commandments, they are required to obey the Ten Rules, revealed by the dictator. Children call the dictator “Dear Father” when they get yearly candy on the ruler’s birthday. In schools they are taught loyalty to the party and its leader through brainwashing. “Idol worship, of Kim, is instilled from age three.”

People are not free to travel. The only reasons allowed for travel are funerals and weddings. None but the elite go to the capitol city. People have to participate in self-criticism meetings, like in other communist countries in recent decades.

The regime freezes children to death. They have no homes and parents. Orphanages are cruel where the strong children hassle and take things from the weak, younger ones.

From 1994-1999 three million died of starvation.

Two boys in an orphanage looked about eight years of age to the youngest daughter when she was twelve; she was shocked to find out that they were eighteen.

These three have been in the U.S. for five years. The mother knew that the family would dwindle to less than three if she did not take extreme measures, so they made four crossings into China but were repatriated three times after Chinese police found them out. In China, hiding and living on the margins, the girls tended sheep and pigs. Back in NK, the girls had to pretend to be without parents and not to know each other. The mother told them where to meet up and they always were reunited. Finally, on their fourth escape, the UN High Commissioner on Refugees in China took their case. A Christian pastor in Seattle spent $10,000 for their move to the US. The younger daughter manages a home health care business, I think in Washington, D.C., in which the older daughter works. The older daughter has a NK defector aid agency. The younger daughter wants to be a lawyer. She was born in 1991. She works all day, then studies English from 6:30-10 pm.

They suffered beatings in prison and starvation. In hiding, dozens of people were crowded in a very small rom. Insects plagued them. They could not cry out over their pains, or they would be found. People bit their tongues and lips to keep silent. During one period, they were weakened by having nothing to eat for ten days. They only had water. A dead mouse was discovered. Grandma roasted it. The sizzling fat aroma was delicious; the mouse tasted like a feast.

The mother read the words of the Christian hymn, From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.

From Greenland’s icy mountains,

From India’s coral strand;

Where Afric’s sunny fountains

Roll down their golden sand

Salvation, oh salvation!

The joyful sound proclaim,

Till earth’s remotest nation

Has heard Messiah’s name.

“Do not send food or medicine aid through official channels as it only goes to party officials and the elite, or allows the government to stockpile for war. These items do not reach average people.”

They have numerous nurses, (universal access!), but little medicine. All the medicine goes to a favored few, party elites.

They said Americans cannot understand the warped mentality of NK’s dictators who take advantage of American gullibility in aid programs.

Many of tonight’s attendees probably had little idea of the desperation experienced under that socialist government. The moving witness we heard demolishes the arguments  doubters of free enterprise, property rights, individualism, restrained government and American exceptionalism. Their story was spellbinding, the room was silent. Likely some tears fell.

North Korea is a socialist nation.

“America is heaven.”


Tamerlan and Tamerlane



A name in the news

One of the Boston bombing suspects is named Tamerlan


Tamerlane:  1336-1405

A Turkish conqueror

In religion, he was a zealous Moslem


The ground which had been occupied by flourishing cities was often marked by his abominable trophies, by columns or pyramids of human heads.

Perhaps his conscience would have been startled if a priest of philosopher had dared to number the millions of victims whom he had sacrificed to the establishment of peace and order.

He erected on the ruins of Baghdad a pyramid of ninety thousand heads.

Four thousand Armenians were buried alive for the brave and faithful discharge of their duty.

Christian prisoners were offered the choice of abjurgation or death.


From Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 65

Reading, So Far

I use The New Lifetime Reading Plan and Reading List for a Lifetime as guides.

The New Lifetime Reading Plan has 194 specific titles. It also lists sixteen authors whose recommended titles are too many to list. Fore example, it recommends reading all of Shakespeare and Selected Poems of W.H. Auden.

I’ve read thirty-one of the specific titles and parts of the works of other named authors such as Shakespeare, Murasaki Aristotle, Sun-Tzu, Aurelius, Augustine, Moliere, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Emerson, Boswell, Poe, Ibsen, Dickinson, Chekhov, Frost and Solzhenitsyn.

I’m about one-sixth of the way through this list. I’d better buckle down if I’m going to get them all read before death. Some that I have read I want to read again.

Reading List for a Lifetime has 112 titles. I’ve read 40 of them, putting me more than a third of the way through.

Right now I’m reading Middlemarch. It’s an unexpected delight. The prose is complex but the effort to understand it is rewarding. Eliot is humorous in her depictions of characters’ thoughts and actions. So far there is no gripping plot, and I’m past half-way, but the people keep me going.

I did take a break from Middlemarch for a few days to read two Dave Barry books, one of which was Dave Barry Does Japan. His gift for humor is bodacious.

This approach to history and literature has been most enlightening and pleasurable.

Food Stamp Store Receipts Reveal What Recipients Buy

Studying Food Stamp Purchases Using Receipts


Food Stamps Are Going to Waist

Main findings from $997.16 in store receipts analyzed:

  • 28% spent in full-service grocery stores was for sweetened beverages, snacks, chips, and candy
  • Nationally $16-25 billion of total $77 billion food stamp spending could be for sweetened beverages such as soda, Red Bull, Gatorade, Gushers, Sobe, Capri Sun, Lipton Iced Tea and  Frappuccino

Coke Stack

Brand name, national brand soda 87%


Discount and store brand soda 13%


Advocates for food stamps say that food stamp participants choose fattening things like pop because they have to stretch their dole dollars, to maximize caloric content on their limited budget. Advocates call this calorie-mining. If this were true, program participants would choose cheaper store brand sodas. Participants mostly don’t; advocates are wrong.

Sweetened beverages purchased: $139.33   14% of $997, (bearing in mind that these purchases were in full-service grocery stores; no convenience stores were in the sample.)

Water and milk purchased: $31.36                 3% of $997

Recipients purchase sweetened beverages 4.5 times as often as water and milk.

Snacks, chips, and candy purchased: $143.09   14% of $997

Add sweetened beverages, candy, chips, and snacks together. 28% of food stamp purchases, in these full-service grocery stores, are for these deleterious, non-nutritional items-one hardly dares to call them foods. This fact refutes the food desert argument, which is that food stamp participants buy unhealthy foods because they do not have full-service grocery stores available in their neighborhoods.

Steaks and other cuts of meats: $58.79

Hamburger: $31.38

(Only one or two instances of steak. This somewhat mutes the complaint observers have about food stamp recipients eating steaks and lobster that the rest of us have to ration.)

Educating Recipients to Make Healthy Choices

Government programs, like SNAP Education, to persuade food stamp recipients to buy fruits and vegetables, are not working. Desist funding them. Save $120 million per year.


Leafy green vegetables purchased: none.[1]

One bag of Fresh Express Cole Slaw was purchased for $1.79.

Raw vegetables and fruit purchased: $43.69    4.3

Contrast this with $143.09 spent on snacks chips and candy and $139.33 on sweetened beverages, for a total of $282.42.

How does this compare to the average shopping basket of American shoppers at grocery stores? I have a message in with Richard Volpe of USDA ERS at 202-694-5050 to find a source for shopping basket statistics.

$8.88 of the $997 was for potatoes, a commendable, sturdy, staple food.

Bananas, blueberries and oranges were the only fruits purchased.

How much did recipients purchase of peanut butter, tuna, rice, flour and other baking supplies, dried pasta products, beans or lentils? None. These staples are inexpensive sources of nutrition. These are the items that families have always relied on to stretch their food dollars. Recipients appear not to have to stretch their dole dollars.

How much dried pasta product was purchased? None, except $4.97 was spent on boxed macaroni and cheese and bagged ramen.

How much hot cereal was purchased? None. This is the most energy-rich way to stretch breakfast dollars and would be observed if calorie-mining was occurring.

Sugary cereal purchased: $20.71.

Ready-to-microwave food items, take-and-bake pizza, and jerky totaled $62.08.

(Some of the line items’ abbreviations were obscure so this tally may be low.)

Ready-to-eat foods were absolutely preferred over ingredients requiring more than the simplest preparation. Items requiring boiling or baking or even making a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich were not seen on the receipts.

Now that we have examined categories of spending by food stamp recipients, and conclude that purchases are for tasty and convenient foods that are low in nutritive value, and now that we have dispelled the “calorie-mining” and “food deserts” excuses for why food stamp recipients are gaining weight faster than the general population, we turn the focus to sweetened beverages.

Three estimates of total spent, nationwide, on sweetened beverages through SNAP

Estimate 1:

USDA Secretary Vilsak writes that 15% of SNAP goes through convenience stores. About 85% would then go through grocery stores, ignoring the relatively few restaurant and home delivery purchases made.

Annual spending in SNAP is $77 billion.

Hunch: 85% of food stamp spending in convenience stores may be for sweetened beverages. Until convenience stores provide data on purchases, a hunch will suffice.

Grocery stores: 14% of 85% of $77 billion= $9.16 billion

Convenience stores: 85% of 15% of $77 billion= $9.81 billion

Estimate 1: Total national SNAP spending on sweetened beverages= $18.97 billion

In Maryland, 72% of SNAP benefits are spent in supermarkets. Maybe Sec. Vilsak was saying that 15% of outlets serving the food stamp program were convenience stores, not 15% of purchases. If 72% is true across the nation, the $18.97 billion estimate would be low.

Estimate 2:

Shenkin and Jacobson quote a study where 6.19% of the grocery bills of SNAP participants was for carbonated drinks, a smaller category than sweetened beverages. When he spoke with Dr. Shenkin, he said only the number was available to him. He got it from a large grocery chain and they were not willing to be cited or reveal their data, out of concern for media and government pushback.

Carbonated drinks in my $997 sample were $70.26 of the $139.33 for all sweetened beverages, or 50%.

Double Shenkin’s 6.19% and you get 12.38% for total sweetened beverages, fairly close to my 14% finding.

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin is  a pediatric dentist and collaborates with CSPI.

If we use 12.38% and Massachusetts’ store/convenience store figure of 72%/28%, we get:

12.38% of 72% of $77 billion= $6.86 billion

85% of 28% of $77 billion     = $18.33 billion

Estimate 2: Total $25.18 billion for sweetened beverages. That’s a lot of waist.

$25 billion/$77 billion= 32.5% SNAP purchases for sweetened beverages.

That would be $532 for each of the 47 million SNAP recipients. $0 spent on oatmeal.

Estimate 3:

I asked a convenience store clerk in Belgrade February 22nd if he estimated the majority of food stamp purchases there were for beverages. He thought about 50-50, beverages and cold deli, such as sandwiches. A clerk in Billings thought a little less than half was for beverages, more ready-to-microwave foods and cold deli items.

If we say 45% of convenience store purchases are for sweet beverages and use the Massachusetts split between store types, we get:

12.38% of 72% of $77 billion= $6.86 billion

45% of 28% of $77 billion= $9.7 billion

Estimate 3: Total $16.56 billion of total SNAP spending for sweet beverages, or 22%.

Three estimates:

$16.56, $18.97 or $25.18 billion SNAP spending on sweetened beverages annually.

Obese Customer











The End

Terms: SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Studying my second sample, a total of $1,681.91 in food stamp purchases, I found 7.8% of SNAP purchases were for sweetened beverages. We deserve more data from store receipts nationwide in order to understand the extent of spending on various items by program recipients.

[1] Page 29 of this report claims ¾ of purchases for food to be used at home is for vegetables, fruits, grain products and meats and meat substitutes, though its citations were not helpful. Sounds grand but the data I gathered refutes it. Maybe the “to be used at home” category sanitizes the report and leads to a false impression that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program purchases indeed are nutritious, when they mostly are not.

Photo credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Obese_Customers_at_Smashburger.JPG

The Paleo Diet, The Food Stamp Diet

The Paleo Diet


Fresh meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts

The Paleo Physique

Paleo Physique




















             The South Beach Diet

Good carbs, good fats, not bad carbs, trans-fats and saturated fat

Lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains

The South Beach Physique

South Beach Physique

The Atkins Diet

Limited carbohydrates, whole, unprocessed foods low in unsaturated fats

The Atkins Physique

Atkins Physique




















      The Food Stamp Diet

Primary: Sugary drinks, candy, bakery items, bagged snacks

Secondary: Highly processed foods high in saturated fats

Avoid: Rice, vegetables, fruits, nuts, oatmeal, tuna, staples

Emphasize: Red Bull, Pearsons’s Salted Nut Rolls, Mountain Dew, chips, donuts

The Food Stamp Physique

Obese Overeating
















Photo credits:


How to Begin Reading the Bible

How to Begin Reading the Bible

This week, a friend said he was thinking of reading the Bible and some of the classics of Eastern religions. He seemed open to suggestion, so, as to the Bible, I suggested he start with the shortest of the three story-telling gospels, Mark. In my Bible, it is only twenty-seven pages. Then he might read one or both of the other story-telling gospels, Matthew or Luke. Repetition, in a different cast, helps.

Soldier Reading Bible.

Soldier Reading Bible

The story of Jesus Christ is the story of the greatest man who ever lived. The Bible is about him and how he blazed the path back to God for us.

After reading two or all three of the story-telling gospels, he could read John, the account more given to the ideas, thoughts and teachings of Jesus.

The Acts would be easy reading. Save the book of Revelation for later. It is obscure to the beginner.

Then he could go to the beginning and read Genesis. It is easy reading.

Reading Proverbs is not hard work; it originates some of the aphorisms of modern English.

That is as far as we got. If he were still to be going, I would suggest Exodus, Esther, 1 Samuel, Psalms, James, Romans, Hebrews, and selected chapters from Isaiah. He might put questions to a friend or post them in an online forum, or read a study guide as he proceeds.


I certainly hope he begins.

This is a worthwhile guide: http://www.intervarsity.org/studentsoul/item/start-reading-bible
Photo credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/81/USMC-120113-M-RE261-001.jpg