Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jaime Escalante -- America's Master Math Teacher

News came today that Jaime Escalante, the math teacher whose story was the basis for the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver, passed away at the age of  79

In a July 2002 story for Reason Magazine, Jerry Jesness takes the reader through the "the famous rise -- and shameful fall -- of Jaime Escalante, America's master math teacher." 

In the article, Mr. Jesness takes us through Mr. Escalante's background.  We learn that unlike in the movie, Jaime's successes were slow coming.  It was three years into the program before more than 10 students passed the A.P. calculus test, rather than the single year that the movie portrayed.  And I have no problem with the Hollywood version of the story's time line being accelerated, as they only had an hour and a half to get the story told.  But, as Mr. Jesness points out:
The Stand and Deliver message, that the touch of a master could bring unmotivated students from arithmetic to calculus in a single year, was preached in schools throughout the nation. While the film did a great service to education by showing what students from disadvantaged backgrounds can achieve in demanding classes, the Hollywood fiction had at least one negative side effect. By showing students moving from fractions to calculus in a single year, it gave the false impression that students can neglect their studies for several years and then be redeemed by a few months of hard work.
This Hollywood message had a pernicious effect on teacher training. The lessons of Escalante's patience and hard work in building his program, especially his attention to the classes that fed into calculus, were largely ignored in the faculty workshops and college education classes that routinely showed Stand and Deliver to their students. To the pedagogues, how Escalante succeeded mattered less than the mere fact that he succeeded. They were happy to cheer Escalante the icon; they were less interested in learning from Escalante the teacher. They were like physicians getting excited about a colleague who can cure cancer without wanting to know how to replicate the cure.

I can remember this movie being referenced a couple of times during my years in the teacher education program at my college.  While we never viewed it in class, I do remember it being recommended to me by someone in the program.  I remember being inspired by the movie.  The movie fed into my desire to change lives.  Yet, with all of the emotion and inspirational feelings this movie brought to me, it did nothing to inspire me to find out why and how Mr. Escalante was able to bring such success to students who society had basically written off as never being able to accomplish such a feat.  A movie of this magnitude should have caused me to seek out Mr. Escalante's blueprint for success.  But it didn't, and I didn't. 

A movie as moving as Stand and Deliver did nothing to make me a better future teacher (which I'm sure was not the motivation of the filmmakers in making the movie).  Yet, after watching The Legend of Bagger Vance I remember I was inspired to go out and pound golf balls on the driving range.  After countless viewings of Friday Night Lights in high school, I was inspired to work harder in football practice so that I might be able to make the big catch in the big game.  After Space Jam I was out on the basketball court working on my jump shot in the event that I was ever pulled into a cartoon universe to help Bugs and Daffy defeat some evil villains.  And sure, I never did make the big catch in the big game nor did I ever join up with Bugs Bunny & Co. to shoot hoops.  (I'm still holding out hope that Will Smith will help me fight off the demons that are keeping me from winning a match against Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen).  But, at least these movies challenged me to improve myself.  Unfortunately, Stand and Deliver did not have that effect on my life, which is a shame.

Another failure of the movie (again, not completely the filmmaker's fault) was that it left the viewer with the impression that everyone in the story lived happily ever after.  Unfortunately for Mr. Escalante and the students he never got to help, his tenure as the maverick math teacher for that East L.A. school was cut short 10 years after the group of students featured in the movie passed their A.P. tests.
Escalante's open admission policy, a major reason for his success, also paved the way for his departure. Calculus grew so popular at Garfield that classes grew beyond the 35-student limit set by the union contract. Some had more than 50 students. Escalante would have preferred to keep the classes below the limit had he been able to do so without either denying calculus to willing students or using teachers who were not up to his high standards. Neither was possible, and the teachers union complained about Garfield's class sizes. Rather than compromise, Escalante moved on.
Other problems had been brewing as well. After Stand and Deliver was released, Escalante became an overnight celebrity. Teachers and other interested observers asked to sit in on his classes, and he received visits from political leaders and celebrities, including President George H.W. Bush and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. This attention aroused feelings of jealousy. In his last few years at Garfield, Escalante even received threats and hate mail. In 1990 he lost the math department chairmanship, the position that had enabled him to direct the pipeline.
  [Emphasis mine]

The culture that is the modern public education system is one that discourages innovation and extra effort.  Rather than embrace Mr. Escalante's successes, his peers (and the union) grew jealous and saw his work as an assault against the status quo.  There were no incentives in place for others to follow in his footsteps.  And incentives matter. 

One of the driving forces behind my decision to leave the teaching profession was the lack of incentives for me to try hard.  While I never encountered explicit challenges to the way I ran my classroom, there were plenty of implicit demands that I maintain within the confines of the teaching bureaucracy bubble.  Mr. Lesness touched on some of these forces in his closing paragraphs about Jaime Escalante's legacy. 
Lyndon Johnson said it takes a master carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can kick one down. In retrospect, it's fortunate that Escalante's program survived as long as it did. Had Garfield's counselors refused to let a handful of basic math students take algebra back in 1974, or had the janitor who objected to Escalante's early-bird ways been more influential, America's greatest math teacher might just now be retiring from Unisys.
Gradillas has an explanation for the decline of A.P. calculus at Garfield: Escalante and Villavicencio were not allowed to run the program they had created on their own terms. In his phrase, the teachers no longer "owned" their program. He's speaking metaphorically, but there's something to be said for taking him literally.
In the real world, those who provide a service can usually find a way to get it to those who want it, even if their current employer disapproves. If someone feels that he can build a better mousetrap than his employer wants to make, he can find a way to make it, market it, and perhaps put his former boss out of business. Public school teachers lack that option.
There are very few ways to compete for education dollars without being part of the government school system. If that system is inflexible, sooner or later even excellent programs will run into obstacles. (...)
One-size-fits-all standardized tests are driving curricula, and top-down reforms are mandating lockstep procedures for classroom instructors. These steps might help make dismal teachers into mediocre ones, but what will they do to brilliant mavericks like Escalante?

Now, I would never suggest that I was 1/10 of the innovator in the classroom that Jaime Escalante was, but because the current system lacks (lacked) the incentives for me to try, I will may never know what could have been.

SONG:  "Hands of God" by the Dave Matthews Band

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  the eventful summer that is to come.  I'll be playing volleyball on the "Chuck Bo-Buck and the Banana Fanna Five" team with my coworkers (and, yes, I suggested the name, and, yes, I am proud about that fact).  I'll also be playing as much golf and will be attending as many Omaha and Kansas City Royals baseball games as my wife will allow. 

AMERICAN IDOL 2010 BET:  Since I don't know if my cousin JB dvr'd tonight's show, I cannot yet harass him on Facebook or by text message about the fact that his pick, Didi, was kicked off the show tonight.  So, I shall gloat here.  One down, four to go!!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Oh Deer

The Wife and I have been talking about getting Brodie a friend to play with, but concerns over our eventual move back to Colorado and our lack of space has led us to sidebar this plan for now.  Little did we know we had multiple options in friends for our pooch.

(Also, I find this video much more enjoyable on mute.)

In related news, chalk a victory up for K-9s everywhere.

(h/t Sullivan)

American Idol -- Top Ten Performances

Usher is the mentor.  What, Justin Bieber was busy?

So they’re singing R&B/Soul songs tonight, which is one of the few genres of music with which I’m unfamiliar.  Odds are, no one will impress me, just because I don’t particularly enjoy this type of music.

Siobhan is “wicked nervous” to sing in front of Usher.  She’s singing “Through the Fire” by Chaka Khan.  And she is SUPER PITCHY DAWG!  She sounded off key the entire song.  And, of course she does her patented “scream” to end the song.  Yikes, she may have hurt her chances of winning the show after that performance.  I think a lot of voters are going to lose faith in her singing ability.

(ASIDE:  Crap, they are really stringing this episode out.  We’re twenty minutes in and have only heard one person sing.  They spent what seemed like 10 minutes talking to Siobhan.)

Casey is singing “Hold On, I’m Coming” and he’s playing an electric guitar without an amp during his one-on-one with Usher.  He doesn’t even recognize how ridiculous he looks.  And his performance on the Idol stage was odd.  It was filled with his usual goat-vibrato and electric guitar.  He continues to take no chances just to stay in the game. 

Michael is singing “Ready for Love” and is using a guitar (which looks like a ukulele in his big ol’ mitts).  It was slow, sensitive, and weird.  But it is performances like that one that make me miss Paula the most, because she would have been going batshit crazy after that performance.  His stock is rising.     

Didi is singing “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, and is singing it exactly as I would imagine Michelle Branch or Colbie Caillat to sing it.  She doesn’t have the pipes or the “soul” to pull of this kind of song.  It was entirely forgetable.

“Teen Beat” Tim (which is a better nickname then “Teflon” Tim, if I do say so myself) is singing “Sweet Love” and Usher doesn’t “believe” Tim while he sings.  So Usher asks Tim if he’s ever been in love.  Tim shrugs and says yes.  (I imagine Tim’s thought bubble in that moment would be, “I love my grandma, apple pie, and Jesus.  Those count, right?”)  The song is weird, the performance dull, the vocals adequate.  I’m sure the Vote for the Worst crowd will continue to support him and will probably carry him into next week.

Andrew is singing “The Wrigley’s Double Mint Gum Jingle” by Chris Brown.  He’s still trying to recapture the “magic” from Hollywood week, and this was as close as he’s gotten so far.  I wonder if the judges can stop referring to his Hollywood performance now.  Well, even if the judges can, Not-Brian-Dunkleman will continue to bring it up.

(ASIDE:  It is official.  I will not watch next year if Not-Brian-Dunkleman is the host.  He thinks this show is about him.  He is fixated with ensuring his dumb face is always on the camera.  And I’m tired of it.)

Katie is singing an Aretha Franklin song which could be a death wish.  If her vocals are not perfect, she’ll be trashed by the judges.  She’s wearing some weird overall-shorts and leggings.  Her vocals were fine/average because she took no chances with her vocals.  

Lee is going to sing “Treat Her Like a Lady” because it has a lot of soul.  This is a great song choice for him because it is easily converted into a rock song, which is his wheel house.  He should be able to sneak his way out of the R&B week in better position than he entered it, which I might not have guessed going into his performance.  His vocals were spot on.

(ASIDE:  And now it feels like the judges are rushing though their critiques because they wasted so much time on the front end of the show.  Pick a pace and stick with it people.)

Crystal is singing “Midnight Train to Georgia” and is turning in the guitar for a piano this week.  She doesn’t seem as confident behind the keyboard.  And for the first half of the song, the backup singers did as much singing as she did.  And she’s even more awkward when she steps out from behind the piano.  She doesn’t know if she should dance.  She doesn’t know what to do with her hands.  She’s smiling more than a song like this one would call for.  The vocals seemed really weak to me because she picked the parts of the song that didn’t allow her to sing with full power or emotion.  I was not a fan of her performance tonight.

Aaron is singing “Ain’t No Sunshine” which I believe is contractually mandated to be sung by at least one Idol contestant every year.  It was adequate at best.  This was a lame way to end the night.  The dude has no soul (musically, not spiritually.  Although his eyes are fairly vacant, so who knows.)

After tonight:
Andrew (barely)

Bottom Three:  Aaron, Tim, Didi
Going Home:  I would support any of those three leaving this week, but I could see Didi leaving this week, which would be fairly surprising.

(UPDATE:  And ALOTTFMA just reminded me that there is an Immunity Idol in the Judge's possession which may need to be used to save Siobhan this week after her off key performance.  And I imagine she is the exact person they are saving it for.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bob & Tom Comedy Tour

This past Saturday, the wife and I went to the Bob and Tom Comedy Tour stop in Sioux Falls.  It was a bit of a drive, but was well worth it.  It was a night of a bazillion laughs.

The show started with my favorite member of the Bob & Tom crew, Chick McGee, opening the show.  He did a little comedy to whet our comedy appetites.  I'm pretty sure the constraints that the FCC puts on him during the radio show is very frustrating for him, because he let loose with all the "blue" comedy that he's not allowed to use during his day job.  Chick introduced all of the comedians for the night and did a few jokes in between acts.  He was great.

Then Greg Warren did a half hour show and he was awesome.  He did about a half hour of material from his latest comedy album, "One Star Wonder", which I had bought before the show, along with one of his "One Star" t-shirts.  It was hilarious.  Greg is of the Cosby/Foxworthy/Gaffigan school of comedy, in which he tells stories and is a fairly "clean" comedian (I'd say it's PG-13 at worst).  Our favorite line of his (and probably of the night) was "Shut your whore mouth, Shannon." 

After Greg Warren was Bob Zany.  Bob is a veteran comedian, and when a drunk/retarded heckler started acting up, Bob put him in his place in the funniest way.  Bob did more crowd work than Greg Warren, which was a nice change of pace.  Bob does a weekly piece on the Bob & Tom show, called the "Zany Report" where he uses a news story as the setup and then gives a punchline about the story.  His comedy routine is similarly structured:  setup/punchline, setup/punchline, etc.  He was very funny.

The low point of the night was the half hour of "Donnie Baker".  Donnie is a character that calls into the B&T show a couple times a day.  Donnie is big on innuendo, which once or twice a morning is fairly funny, but is pretty intense when you're bombarded by it for a half-hour.  He had a few funny lines, but all-in-all it was a waste.  I'd have rather had an extra ten minutes tacked onto the other comedian's time than to sit laughterless for that time.

The closer of the night was the absolutely crazy Greg Hahn.  Words cannot explain Greg Hahn's act.  Go here to see his promotional video.  The guy slays me when he's on the B&T show, but to see him in person was an experience.  His material is fairly constant every time he performs, but his rapid-fire delivery and high-energy physical comedy are top notch.  There were moments during his act that I was not breathing because I was laughing so hard.  There could not have been a better way to end the night than his act.  OUTSTANDING!!!

While I wish we could have seen the show at a closer venue, we could not have asked for a better set of guys to spend the evening making us laugh (less Donnie Baker).  If you see that they are in your area, I highly recommend you go see Greg Hahn, Bob Zany, and/or Greg Warren.  You will not regret it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

One more point

Since the House is going to have to re-vote on the Health Care Bill, I figure I can get in one more health care post before I lose my entire audience.

There are many people trying to predict America's future in the wake of health care reform.  I am leary of these claims because they are so often wrong.  With regard to health care, will this bill decrease medically-induced bankruptcies, mortality rates, and the deficit?  Depends on who you ask.  Will this plan stifle entrepreneurship, raise taxes, and crush any incentive for investments in medical technology?  I hope not.       

But, one prediction that I would put money on comes from Mark Steyn in Investor's Business Daily:
[...] the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make limited government all but impossible.
In most of the rest of the Western world, there are still nominally “conservative” parties, and they even win elections occasionally, but not to any great effect. (Let’s not forget that Jacques Chirac was, in French terms, a “conservative.”) The result is a kind of two-party one-party state:  Right-of-center parties will once in a while be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over vast left-wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless.
Republicans seem to have difficulty grasping this basic dynamic.
  [Emphasis mine]

I'd disagree with Mark that "Republicans seem to have difffiiculty grasping this basic dynamic."  I'm pretty sure that they do understand this fact, I just don't think many elected officials in the Republican party care if the political culture shifts to left-of-center.  Because if they truly cared about conservative principles, then they would have attempted to take steps toward limited/small government during the four years that Republican's had control of the House, Senate, and Presidency under the Bush Administration (not to mention the extra two years that there was a Republican controlled House under Bush). 

That is what disappoints me the most about Republicans.  There was plenty of time to enact government limiting measures, but they couldn't control themselves.  And now they want to play catch up?  Now they decided to return to their foundational principals of smaller government, legal conservatism, individual freedom, free enterprise, and a pride in American exceptionalism?  Too little, too late.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

While the government is busy handing out mandates

I recently read the maxim "while many people oppose Big Government in principle, they often love it in the particulars."  Basically, no matter where a person sits on the ideological fence, they often don't mind when the government steps in to protect their particular interest.

The same usually goes for mandates.  A person who supports government intervention in the form of smoking bans in privately owned restaurants (on the grounds of "public health") will at the same time oppose government intervention in the form of abortion bans (on the grounds of "individual choice and privacy") and not see the contradiction.  A person might oppose a government mandate that demands funding for low income Head Start programs (because it's "welfare") but will support federal farm subsidies (to preserve "small business").

When it comes to the elimination or the creation of a person's particular pet issue, they will often fight tooth and nail over it.  And this week, (in general) conservatives opposed and liberals supported the newly created federal mandate that all American's must purchase health insurance.  Some people even want to take the issue to court.

I'm generally against the use of government's coercive power over individual liberties and freedoms.  Philosophically, I don't see a legitimate reason for the government to coerce me into wearing a seat belt in my car or wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle.  I don't understand the need to ban the use of trans-fat or foie gras.  And I especially don't see how government can ban the use of a legal substance (cigarettes) in a private business.

When smoking bans began being passed by local and state governments, I had a discussion with my (generally conservative) cousins about the topic.  They were in favor of the bans because they preferred to be able to eat at a restaurant or go to a bar without leaving the establishment smelling of smoke.  They felt that their being inconvenienced by people around them smoking was reason enough to seek relief through government intervention.

So, I asked them if they were willing to support an all-inclusive ban of smoking in these private businesses, thereby trumping a business owner's right to run their business how they saw fit.  And they were in favor of such a measure because of their aversion to smoking.  I then asked them how they would feel about legislation that would make all businesses smoker friendly, which meant that the business had to allow smoking, whether the owner wanted it or not.  They were against such a measure.  I asked them what the difference was, and they could not give me a satisfactory answer.

I doubt that I changed their minds with my suggestion, but it proves a larger point that people don't mind using the power of government to satisfy their desires.

Now, after the passing of the health care bill and it's mandate that everyone buy health insurance, whether they want health insurance or not, most liberals are pleased that their pet issue has been passed regardless of the ramifications for individual choice.

This lead M Allen Fritsch to propose similar legislation at the American Thinker website, but I doubt many of these same liberals who support the health insurance mandate will support this measure.
There is a fundamental right being denied 55% of all Americans. This denial costs over 16,000 lives per year, meaning more than 44 of our fellow Americans will die every day that we delay. What should be done in light of these shocking figures?
Using the example set by President Obama and the Congressional Democrats, there is only one answer: Universal Gun Care for every American. Surely a right outlined in the Bill of Rights (2d Amendment) is just as important as a right NOT found the Constitution (Health Care).
Bonus, it should be easier to implement. After all, gun dealers and manufacturers are ready and willing to help solve the problem. Unlike the evil insurance companies, gun dealers don't want to take your weapon away from you when you most need it. Nor will they deny selling you a weapon simply because you haven't purchased one in the past (i.e. a pre-existing condition).
• Conventional estimates state that 45% of all US households own a firearm. This leaves at least 55% of all Americans "uncovered."
• In 2008 there were 16,272 murders in the USA. How many of those could have been prevented if the victims had been able to protect themselves?

My proposal is a modest one:
• Mandate for every American to purchase a gun or be provided one by their employer (children under the age of 26 can share a weapon with their parents)
• Tax credits to offset the cost of purchase (for those making less than $250,000 per year and everyone in Nebraska)
• For those that can't afford it, a grant or subsidy to purchase a weapon (union members can get two weapons subsidized before 2018)
• Funding for a series of community based gun dealers/clinics and firing ranges (especially in under-served urban and rural areas)
• Monthly ammunition benefit so that no one has to choose between feeding their kids, paying the rent, or buying a box of .38 special cartridges
Contact your representative today. The time to act is now.
Sure, this proposal is being made with the writer's tongue deeply planted in his cheek, but I feel the point is solid none the less.  

UPDATE:  And if mandating the purchase of firearms makes too many people too squimish, then maybe this proposal would be more appealing.

For most of our nation's history, Congress has been very concerned with propping up the prices of agricultural commodities. This is a legitimate public purpose, by the Post's broad definition: If America's farmers cannot get a good price for their products, the argument goes, they might all go out of business, and Americans would be without a domestic source of food and fiber, which would threaten our "access" to these things. (I know this wouldn't really happen — just bear with me.)
Of all the schemes the government has dreamt up in the service of this goal (usually involving artificial scarcity, such as the slaughtering of millions of hogs in the 1930s) none have required every American citizen to purchase a certain amount of corn, wheat, cotton, etc. — though that would surely be one way to support high prices. But if the individual mandate is allowed, Congress would theoretically have the power to implement the following plan: Each citizen each year must buy a basket of U.S. farm commodities — perhaps he could choose among the gold, silver, or bronze baskets — and he would receive subsidies if his income fell below a certain level.
In addition to propping up commodity prices and "stabilizing" the agricultural market, the plan would give the government the power to set some "basic standards" for American diets, to make sure that every American family was eating balanced meals, staying healthy and — voila! — costing the health-care system less. Seriously, why couldn't Congress pass this law right now, under the precedent set by Obamacare?
And using this logic, the power of government coercision will have absolutely no constraints.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Somebody get me a doctor

Back in December I explained what I was looking for in health care reform.  To review:
allow health insurance to be sold across state lines, remove expensive mandates, give the same tax breaks to individuals that businesses get and decouple insurance from your place of employment.
I am only speculating here, but I imagine that none of my preferred provisions are going to be found within the thousands of pages of this bill, but, as Nancy Pelosi promised, now that the health care bill is passed, we can find out what is in the dang thing.

Regardless of what specifics are in this bill, I doubt I'll be pleased with it.  (Again, mere speculation).  But from a big-picture perspective, this bill frightens the hell out of me because it allows another tentacle of government wrap around our lives.  The saying goes that there are two things certain in life:  death and taxes.  Well, I'd like to propose one more certainty:  the expansion of government.

Writing out of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Barton Hinkle explains "more better" what I can't.
The passage of health care reform -- with its unprecedented individual mandate, a form of economic conscription that greatly extends the reach of the federal leviathan's tentacles -- is being hailed as historic. Which it is. But then so was Pearl Harbor. So while many Americans are greeting passage with glee, others find themselves in sympathy with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
"To be governed," Proudhon wrote, "is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled . . . by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed . . . .It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited . . . then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused . . . and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."
Those who do not yet feel as Proudhon did should wait. Even before the gargantuan bill was passed, progressives were insisting it fell short -- it is "not the end of health reform," as Sen. Tom Harkin said some weeks ago, but merely "the beginning." When this government intervention fails to achieve the stated aims, liberals will blithely and obtusely insist the cure is yet more government intervention. They are like the carpenter who complains he has cut a board three times and it's still too short.
Meanwhile, the increased federal involvement in health care will become a pretext for increased federal involvement in -- well, everything. The reasoning will be that individual health affects health care, which is now a federal enterprise. And everything can be said, with more or less sophistry, to affect individual health. So "managing" the "system" will become the all-purpose excuse for dictating the manner in which you live your life. Witness the campaign against obesity: Because obesity causes health problems, and because the government spends money to treat those problems, you should put down that doughtnut, ma'am or sir. And hit the Stairmaster while you're at it.
Throughout the Bush years, progressives howled as the administration exploited a national-security crisis to expand executive power, while conservatives egged the administration on. Yet neither paused long to note that Bush did not even try to roll back expansions of federal power undertaken in the name of social policy. To the contrary, the administration accelerated the process with the Medicare prescription-drug benefit and the No Child Left Behind Act.
During the past year President Obama has dashed progressives' naIve hopes that he would roll back authority claimed in the War on Terror. He has done quite the opposite -- supporting extension of controversial Patriot Act provisions; fighting in court for warrantless wiretapping; and adopting wholesale Bush's policies on indefinite detention without trial, rendition to torture abroad, military commissions, and the state-secrets privilege.
Yet Obama also has pushed relentlessly for expansions of social welfare and the regulatory state. Every administration expands power where it wishes, but no authority is ever repealed. And so the ratchet tightens. Click, click, click . . .
[Emphasis mine]

Mr. Hinkle is exactly right about the upcoming "health care" mission creep.  As he points out, people are already calling for more extensive measures be taken with regard to health care,even though the President's signature is barely even dry on the one we already have.  And, it should be noted that even before this bill passed, the nanny-staters within the government were actively seeking to control the littlest aspects of our lives.

To borrow from Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the cigarettes and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a smoker.
Then they came for the trans-fat and I didn't speak up because the alternative tasted nearly the same.
Then they came for the salt and I didn't speak up because I prefer pepper.
Then they came for the fat kids and I didn't speak up because I'm not a kid.
Then they came for me and my delicious high-fructose corn syrup and no one was left to speak up.

Are the elimination of cigaretts, trans-fat, salt, and high-fructose corn syrup going to result in the collapse of our union?  Doubtful.  But this constant chipping away of individual rights and freedoms are the baby steps toward tyranny.  When the philosopher kings in our central planning kingdom of Washington, D.C., get to decide something as small as what the citizenry are allowed to ingest, there really is nothing they can't decide for us.  The fact of the matter is that the Nanny State is quickly turning into the Daddy State.  

And now these bureaucrats have even more leverage against the citizenry because they are now allowed to demand, mandate, and coerce the citizenry about an item they MUST purchase.  From what I've read, there is no opting out of this program.

F.A. Hayek said it best when he talked of central planners.
The power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbour and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less that which the smallest functionaire possess who wield the coercive power of the state, and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am able to be allowed to live or work.
And now that power gap has grown with the passage of this health care bill, and will continue to grow exponentially over the coming years.  There is no hope to stop this growth, only hope that one day it might be contained.  And that, to me, is the scariest part of this bill.
SONG:  "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" by Van Halen

PROUD OF:  the fact that I finished my first book of 2010.  I will work on getting a review up this week.

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  seeing O.A.R. in concert this July in Council Bluffs.  They announced their summer tour on Facebook, and I couldn't be happier that they are returning to the Westfair Ampetheater this July.  It is the same venue that my sister and I saw them last year, and I'm excited to see them once again.

American Idol -- Top 11

Miley Cyrus is mentoring tonight.  What, Raven Symone was busy?  I sense that I will be using the mute button often tonight.

Lee DeWyze - The Letter – singing it in the style of The Stray Cats (big band/rockabilly).  It’s fine.  I don’t see any reason why he won’t be here next week unless people forget about him because he went first. 

Tim Urban - Crazy Little Thing Called Love – this should please the Vote for the Worst crowd.  I’m not sure it’ll be the worst of the night, but, as the Wife said, “he’s become a caricature of himself.” 

Paige Miles - Against All Odds – ugghh, one of my least favorite songs that someone sings every year, and no one ever does it well.  And Paige is no exception.  I hope this is enough to finally send her home.

Aaron Kelly - I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing – while talking with Not-Wayne-Brady, Aaron admits he has laryngitis.  And he says he’s singing “Aerosmith’s” version of the song, but he’s obviously singing the country cover version of the song.  If Paige wasn’t still in the game, I’d be rooting for him to go home this week.

Crystal Bowersox - Me and Bobby McGee – could she be any more predictable with her song choice?  We get it.   You’re a Lilith Fair, girl-power rocker.  I can see people getting bored with her if she doesn’t challenge herself as an artist.  But she picked a great song, sang it well, so she’s a shoe-in to next week.

(ASIDE:  Kara’s advice for Crystal to put down the guitar next week is idiotic.  She’s a guitar-playing musician who sings well.  Why she’d get away from that is beyond me.  I don’t want her to stop playing the guitar – I sometimes wish everyone had to play an instrument while they sang – I just want her to sing a song that is out of her comfort zone.)

Michael Lynche - When a Man Loves a Woman – great song choice for him (although I prefer the Michael Bolton version).  He sang it well, but was did some weird runs at the end.  He should be on to next week.

Andrew Garcia - I Heard it Through the Grapevine – he’s singing the Marvin Gaye version (which is probably my least favorite version) and Miley suggested he sing without the guitar.  It’s karaoke at best.  I won’t be sad when he’s booted out of the competition.  He was once on top and he’s in a free fall.

Katie Stevens - Big Girls Don’t Cry – (the Fergie version, not the Four Seasons’ version that is the into to Dirty Dancing.)  The first half of the song was an exact mimic of Fergie, but the back half was very pitchy, dawg.  But it was a great song selection on her part.  She should make the Top 10.

Didi Benami - You’re No Good – and Not-Tom-Brokaw mispronounces her name before she sings.  The guy is a jackass.  She picked a lousy song and does nothing relevant with it.  She sings fine, but the performance is lacking anything noteworthy.  But, it’s too early for her to exit the competition (although, that’s what I thought about Lilly and look how that turned out, so who knows).

Casey James - Power of Love – he tells Miley that he likes the “power” and “passion” of the song.  I wonder if that is why Huey Lewis and the News liked it initially.  And I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to enjoy anything the guy sings because I can’t get past his goat-vibrato.  It just grates on me.  And he did fine, but it was a fairly weak performance overall.  Yet he shall survive this week.

Siobhan Magnus – Superstition – my lady gets the pimp spot, but I’m nervous for her with this song choice because, while I have no statistical data to back up this assertion, NO ONE EVER PERFORMS STEVIE WONDER WELL!  Hell, I’m not totally convinced Stevie does Stevie Wonder well.  She sang it straight (no wacky antics) and sounded good.  And just as I typed that last sentence, she went all Adam Lambert with the last 15 seconds of the song.  Odd, but not going home. 

Rather than rank their performances tonight, I’ll rank them in terms of my favorites: 
  1.  Siobhan   
  2. Crystal  
  3.  Lee 
  4. Didi 
  5. Katie 
  6. TIE – Michael, Andrew, Tim, Paige, Aaron, and Casey – I don’t care when these people go home, just so long as they go before any of the above five are booted.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What I learned yesterday.

So, yesterday, my friend Andy and I went out to Shoreline Golf Course to play the first round of 18 for the season.  It was the perfect day for golf -- sunny, breezy, and 60 degrees.

Last week I had put together a set of clubs from Golfsmith components.  His old irons were circa 1980 Wilsons which are not the most forgiving clubs ever made.  I threw together a set of XPC V9 irons, an XPC V9 hybrid, and an XPC V9 driver.  It turned out to be a great set of clubs, and only cost $200 for the entire set.

The front nine was quite uneventful.  I banged out a 46 and Andy shot a 53, but a 10 on the par-5 final hole made the score much higher than it should have been.  He was loving the irons and hybrid, but wasn't making good contact with the driver.  He couldn't get any lift on his tee shots and when he did catch a hold of one, it was snap hooking.  Odd, but not surprising since he'd never carried a driver in his bag.

On the 10th hole, a 470 yard par-5, I crushed a 300-yard drive with my new driver.  I had about 170 yards to the green, so I smoked a 7-iron to 15 feet.  I sank the putt (my one and only one-putt of the day) for my first eagle of the year.

We carried on and then got to the signature hole of Shoreline, a dogleg-left par 4 with water hugging the left hand side of the fairway (similar to the 18th at Pebble Beach, but without the $200 price tag).  As we were waiting for the threesome in front of us to clear the fairway, Andy pulled out a junk ball and aimed toward the lake.  Using his driver, he topped his ball into the lake.  I asked if I could give the club a swing, as I hadn't swung it yet.

I teed up the ball on the tee box, about 15 feet from the edge of the lake, reared back and gave a mighty swing.  The contact felt great, but the follow through was odd.  As I followed the flight of the ball, I noticed a large object following the path of the ball.

Sure enough, the glue used to keep the head attached to the shaft had loosened, and my friend's brand new club head was laying 30-yards deep in Carter Lake.  (If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all).  I stood there in disbelief.

So lesson number one:  Don't aim a golf shot into a lake without a large buffer of ground between me and the lake (to allow for easy collection of a club head should the glue fail its job).

So there the club bobbed in the water, the murky, polluted waters of Carter Lake, laughing at me and my failure as a club builder.  As there wasn't much chance that either of us would be swimming out to retrieve it, we decided to play on and hope that the current/waves would push it ashore.  We played on, but through out the rest of the round, all I thought about was how I was going to get that club out of it's watery grave.

And focusing on the dumbness of the situation actually allowed me to get out of the way of my game.  I pushed through the remainder of the round and ended up shooting a two-over-par 38 to give me a final tally of 84.  Not too bad for my first round of the year, but my celebration lasted long enough to walk to the clubhouse to see if they'd lend us a cart to ride out to the lake to see how our club head was doing.

We got out to the 2nd green and 13th tee box, which both bordered the lake and started looking around.  Nothing.  So, I decided to see if the wind and waves had pushed the head up the 2nd fairway.  Sure enough, about 500 yards away from it's inital entry point, the head was floating 30 yards away from shore.

I decided to come back to the course in a couple of hours, with the hopes that it continued it's current path and I'd find it sitting beside one of the hundred or so fish corpses that were on the water's edge (because Carter Lake is basically a chemical waste dump).  When I got back to the course a couple of hours later, it was nowhere to be seen.  I got back just before dusk and the reflection of the lake made it almost impossible to see out onto the lake, but after walking the shore a couple of times I could see that it had not made it.

I went out to the course today after work to see if it'd made it to shore, but the wind direction had changed today (and was much stronger) so I'm assuming if it hasn't sunk, it's made its way to the other side of the lake.  Bummer.  So, I guess I have a new story and it's only going to cost me $50.

Lesson number two:  Modern club heads float, but wave/current direction is tricky to determine on a chemical waste lake.

As Mastercard might say:
Round of golf:  $10
New golf club:  $50
Losing your friend's club in a lake:  Priceless


SONG:  "Dust in the Wind" by Kansas  ("You're my boy, Blue!!!")

LOOKING FORWARD TO:  the delivery of my new golf shoes later this week.  I had to send the others back because they were too small.  Hopefully the next size up works because they don't carry any sizes bigger in that style.  I hate buying shoes online because it takes forever to ship them back and get another pair shipped out.

ENJOYED:  George Clooney in "Up in the Air".  The Wife and I also enjoyed seeing many places in Omaha in movie.  (Go here for the Omaha Montage).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm thinking about lighting my head on fire...

...or jumping off the roof of my house or taking up smoking or trying to outrun a puma at the Omaha Zoo since I can now get my heathcare for FREE!!!

So to review:
     Yeah, I have a really good feeling about what the future holds for this new Health Care stuff.  Really good feeling.

    Tuesday, March 16, 2010


    Tonight, The Wife filled out the Census form while I blogged about American Idol.  In the event that she made a mistake on the form and a Census worker shows up at our house, I now know how to answer any questions they may ask after viewing this informative and helpful video produced by our government.

    I hope this video is helpful to you as well.

    (h/t IMAO)

    I Can't Get No Satisfaction with the Idol Top 12

    The fact that I love to gamble should be evident by the fact that for the second year, I've entered into a wager with my cousins (and their posse) on who we believe will go the farthest in the American Idol Top 12.

    Here is who we have selected this year (Initials shall be used to protect the guilty):

    LB – Crystal
    C – Casey
    EB – Big Mike
    Me – Siobhan
    JB – Didi
    R – Lee

    Also worth noting is that The Wife and I have our traditional Idol bet going where we each pick a guy and a girl at the start of the Top 24 and bet a dinner on whose people will go the furthest.  The scoreboard on that bet reads
    The Wife: 2 remaining (Katie and Andrew)
    Me: 1 remaining (Lee)

    So I am currently rooting for Lee and Siobhan to go a long, long way in this competition.  Now, on to the show.

    Big stage, big production, big announcer voice.

    Not-Alex-Trebek gives his monologue before introducing the Top12 and the Stone’s video montage. 
    The contestants are singing Rolling Stones songs tonight.  The Stones have a huge catalog of songs (50+ albums, 40+ number one songs), so song choice cannot be an excuse tonight.  Too bad Adam Lambert isn’t still in the competition, because he would have totally sung “Shattered” and would have created quite the uproar at the water cooler tomorrow morning. 

    EB’s selection “Big” Mike tells us about how music helped him get through his mother’s death.  Mike’s singing “Miss You” and has arranged it into an R&B song (similar to how it would have sounded had Michael Jackson covered the song, assuming MJ never did cover it).  Not a spectacular vocal, but he was entertaining and enjoyable.  Good song choice, he’ll be fine this week.

    And Not-Conan-O’Brian and Simon are having an uncomfortable moment together (I have it on mute because I don’t care what is being said), which should waste JUST enough time to cause everyone who is DVR-ing the show to miss the final performance.  Excellent production value, this show has.

    JB’s selection “Tall Blonde” Didi is being quizzed by Not-Pat-Sajak on stage, and then they show her video package about her family (mainly her mom).  Didi is singing “Play with Fire”, she starts on the stair case and the mood is all serious.  She has a pleasant voice but her facial expressions are not very appealing.  I keep hoping the song will pick up the pace, but it never does, which leaves me puzzled as to why she chose it.  Great vocally, but lacking in entertainment value.  I liked last week’s performance more.

    C’s selection “Pretty Boy” Casey grew up with his mom and brother and is singing “It’s All Over Now” which is not the song I would have picked for him.  There are too many long notes for him, which leads to his patent-pending “Goat Vibratto”.  But he plays the guitar well, so he’s got that going for him.  He tried to turn this song into a country song (which was smart) with a blues feel, which I liked, but I don’t like his voice one bit.  Good performance, awful voice.

    (ASIDE:  Ellen is incredibly funny when she throws out a one-liner.  Reminds me of the great Paul Lynde and how great he was at this skill during Hollywood Squares.)

    Some Red-Haired Lady sang something by the Rolling Stones, but since she made it to the Top12 instead of my girl Lilly Scott, I’m going to talk to my cousin LB on the phone during her performance.  And it looked like the judges were none too impressed (at least their facial expressions didn’t look “off the hook”).  And what the hell is she wearing?  It’s like Where’s Waldo meets Xtina.  Weird.

    “The One-time Favorite turned Underdog” Andrew tells us about his family (his father thought he’d grow up to be a janitor because Andrew liked keys as a kid) and his parents seem sweet.  Andrew is singing “Gimme Shelter”.  He is putting no emotion into this song, and this song’s lyrics have a fairly intense meaning behind them, which is lost on Andrew.  Not a good vocal and his stage presence is lacking without his guitar.  He was wooden with the microphone stand.  Not good.  

    “Youngster Girl” Katie sang “From this Moment” at someone’s wedding when she was 10 (which was something like two years ago I think).  Tonight she is singing “Wild Horses”.  She’s not singing it in the style of the Stones (which is smart) but she needs to get to the chorus soon, because it’s dragging along.  When she gets to the big part, she sings it well.  Great song selection on her part, and she should be fine to next week.

    Not-Larry-King tells us to go online to download the songs tonight (yeah, I’ll pass).

    “Teen Beat” Tim apparently has a big family and was often mistaken for a girl as a child.  He’s singing “Under My Thumb” with a guitar and is singing it in the style of reggae and it is just awful.  This should insure he receives the “Vote for the Worst” vote tonight and for all eternity.  Yikes.

    My Gal Siobhan is apparently from a place where they divide where people live into “towns”.  I must look into this “town” thingy after the show.  Tonight she is singing “Paint it Black” which I’m pretty sure has been sung at least once every season of Idol.  She’s singing it in the style of “Phantom of the Opera” to start, and then the lights go psychedelic and she picks up the pace.  The middle is fine, but the final note before her quiet ending was shrill.  Interesting.  Very interesting.  Where she’s not the most talented vocally, at least she’s entertaining.

    R’s selection “Grungy Dude” Lee is talking with Not-Regis-Philbin on the stools and is being asked stupid questions.  (Fun Fact:  Lee is a Junior).  Lee is singing “Beasts of Burden” which is one of my favorites.  He’s singing it how I would imagine the Counting Crows would cover it, which is another way of saying he is nailing it.  (Just googled it to make sure that the Crows didn’t cover it, and from my two second research, they did not).  Great song choice, great arrangement, great all around.  Best of the night so far.

    Another girl who should not be in the competition when Lilly Scott is out is going to be singing “Honky Tonk Woman” and is trying to make it into a country song.  AND SHE’S CHANGING THE GENDER SPECIFIC WORDS AROUND!!!!!!  Very little annoys me more than when a guy or girl sings a song by a person of the opposite gender and switches around the gender specific words.  Just sing it as it was written.  Aaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggg!!!!!  I should have just muted it, because that was awful.  Why is she still in the competition?  

    “Chicken Little Part Deux” Aaron was adopted as a young child.  He is wearing cowboy gear in all of the pictures from his youth, which would explain the song choices he made the past weeks.  Tonight he sings “Angie”.  He’s playing this one pretty safe and is singing it like the original version.  Not great, not horrible, just enough to make it to next week.

    LB’s selection “Feather in the Hair” Crystal was raised by a single father, who seemed like a great, supportive guy.  She’s signing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in her “Lilith Fair” style.  She does a fine job as usual, but I wouldn’t say that it was spectacular.  She’s almost too solid of a performer.  She is going to have a hard time improving and she needs to hope that it takes everyone more than 11 weeks to catch up with her (which I predict will happen).

    (ASIDE:  I hope LB reads my blog so that he can be reminded that Simon said that My Gal Siohban did a better job tonight than Crystal.  So, Crystal may not have as big of a head start as one might have thought coming into tonight, which is nice.)

    Tonight I would rank them:
    Bottom Two:  The two girls that are the reason that Lilly isn’t in the Top 12
    Goes Home:  I don’t care who does, so long as it is one of this girls.
    (But I’m not bitter at all.)

    SONG:  Tie -- "It's Only Rock and Roll" and "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones -- which were the two best Stones' songs that were not performed tonight.

    Monday, March 15, 2010

    What (and Why) I Believe

    I've been interested in politics for about 10 years.  I'm not entirely sure the exact time I first became active politically, but I know it occurred sometime between the 2000 presidential campaign (which was my first year of eligibility in the voting booth, and I choose to sit that one out because at the time I didn't care who was president) and 09/11/01.  It was during this period that I began to start reading blogs.

    The first blog I stumbled into was, where a man by the name of Lee discussed the day's current events.  (Incidentally, the first -- and up to this point, the only time -- that I cried while reading something online was the day last year that the guys at his blog announced that Lee had died.  While I'd never met the guy, I felt a connection to him and his writings and it broke my heart that he had died at such a young age). directed me to the Godfather of Blogging (University of Tennessee law prof Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds).  And, soon after that I discovered a conservative comedy blog by some Frank J. fellow.  These three blogs were the perfect trifecta of blogdom for me.

    The Instapundit links to tons of stories from around the blog-o-sphere, giving a nice glimpse of what people are talking about at that time.  He will occasionally give a sentence or two of opinion or snark, but for the most part, he just exhibits the pieces of the day and allows you to pick and choose what you want to read.

    Frank J. provided me with a daily dose of (usually) political humor from a conservative slant and perspective.  Growing up with comedic heroes who (I would later find out) were liberals, it was a breath of fresh air to be able to read someone who made fun of the people who I thought were funny, mainly liberals and hippies.  Frank J. also talked much of nuking the moon, which was an idea I could get behind.  Frank J. was the funny pages of my daily blog read.

    And Lee had his own niche in my political world.  He would pick a story or two to expand upon and would spend time giving his opinion, proposing policy, and/or waxing philosophical.  I would have to say that over the years, Lee earned a spot as one of the top five influences on my political worldview.

    One of the things that I will always appreciate about Lee was his ability to explain complex ideas in a coherent and effective manner.  (Not sure he'd appreciate this comparison, but he was able to do with the written word what Rush Limbaugh does verbally on his radio show).   

    Lee was the first libertarian who I ever read on a daily basis.  He was able to pull me closer to a libertarian worldview.  He was the first staunch defender of capitalism who was not a cultural conservative.  Up until that point, I'd always assumed that fiscal conservatism and cultural conservatism went hand in hand.  To me, a person who supported free-markets, limited government, strong national defense, etc. also was against drugs, gay marriage, abortions, etc.  I just thought that's how things went.  You were either a conservative Republican or a liberal Democrat.  Yet, Lee was able to defend capitalism AND the abolishment of the drug war.  He was able to simultaneously support tax cuts AND gays serving in the military.  The guy had a solid understanding of where he stood on issues and was able to explain and defend these ideas.  In doing so, he caused me to reevaluate my stances on issues and adjust them where necessary, as well as strengthening my positions when I felt he was wrong.

    In short, over the past ten years I have been immersed in politics.  Over this time I read thousands upon thousands of news pieces.  I read tens of thousands of opinion pieces.  I always took part in an internal dialogue while reading.  I argued against and for issues.  But, until last year, I never aired these positions publicly, except for the occasional discussion with my immediate family (sorry to my Pally, Bro-in-law, and Sisters for forcing you to be my sounding board for all of those years).

    So, in an attempt to emulate my blog hero Lee, I'm going to attempt to be more philosophical/rational in my writing on political matters.  I'm going to use snark more sparingly, and instead use logic and reason more liberally (which is only a dirty word when talking about hippies).

    In the future, I'm going to spend more time explaining why a particular story or opinion piece does or does not mesh with my worldview.  In this way, I hope to strengthen my rhetorical skills and increase the audience to this blog because I believe I can attract more ants with honey than with vinegar.  In previous posts I often pointed out that the people in Washington (and state and local governments around the country, and world for that matter) are idiots (which everyone already knows).  In the future I want to spend less time attacking and more time defending my position against their attacks.

    With that said, the political issue that is the most important to me is fiscal policy.  It is most important to me that our political leaders are good stewards of our money.  I believe in limited government because I believe that I know best what to do with the money I earn on a daily basis.  I also believe that my neighbors, my friends and relatives, and my fellow American's know best what to do with the money they earn.  When looking at other policy issues, I approach them with one question in mind, "Will this policy be the best use of my (our) tax money?"  (or "How much of my money do you want to take and what are you going to spend it on?")

    I am a fiscal conservative.  I believe that capitalism and the free market are the best way for this country to run.  I believe that these practices are the reason that our country is as great as it is.  I believe that collectivism/statism/communism/socialism/facism are vastly inferior to capitalism.

    Therefore, I am greatly dismayed about the state of our financial situation in this country.  Today I read that for the first time since the 1980s, Social Security is going to pay out more money in benefits than it brings in.  From Yahoo News:
    For more than two decades, Social Security collected more money in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits — billions more each year.
    Not anymore. This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.
    Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg's municipal offices.
    Now the government will have to borrow even more money, much of it abroad, to start paying back the IOUs, and the timing couldn't be worse. The government is projected to post a record $1.5 trillion budget deficit this year, followed by trillion dollar deficits for years to come.
     [Emphasis mine]

    So, for years and years, our elected leaders have been "borrowing" from the Social Security "lock box", kicking financial and budget problems down the road like a tin can, rather than reigning in spending and/or raising taxes (solutions that are politically toxic).  Now, we are facing trillion dollar deficits for years to come with no end in sight for government limiting itself (see Health Care Reform, Cap and Trade, etc.) at the same time that our country is trying to climb its way out of a recession.

    And as poorly as our Federal Government has handled their check book, state governments have been doing no better.  From Barrons Online comes news that promised pensions benefits for public-sector employees represent a massive overhang that threatens the financial future of many cities and states.
    Some 80% of these public employees are beneficiaries of defined-benefit plans under which monthly pension payments are guaranteed, no matter how stocks and other volatile assets backing the retirement plans perform. In contrast, most of the taxpayers footing the bill for these public-employee benefits (participants' contributions to these plans are typically modest) have been pushed by their employers into far less munificent defined-contribution plans and suffered the additional indignity of seeing their 401(k) accounts shrivel in the recent bear market in stocks.
    Most public employees, if they hang around to retirement, can count on pensions equal to 75% to 90% of their pay in their highest-earning years. And many public employees earn even more in retirement than their best year's base compensation as a result of "spiking" their last year's income by working ferocious amounts of overtime and rolling in years of unused sick and vacation days into their final-year pay computation.

    A survey by the watchdog group California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility found that some 15,000 Golden State public employees are knocking down $100,000 or more, while some 200, mostly police and fire chiefs and school administrators, are members of the $200,000-a-year-and-up club.
    The prospects are bleak for many state and local governments as a result of all this. According to a survey last month by the Pew Center on the States, a nonpartisan research group, eight states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia -- lack funding for more than a third of their pension liabilities. Thirteen others are less than 80% funded.
    [Again, emphasis mine]

    I recommend reading the rest of the article.  The prognosis is quite troubling.  And it all comes down to fiscal responsibility, of which most politicians only give lip service to when they are seeking election, and then they spend their time in office as if they have a blank check to use however they see fit, regardless of the ramifications.

    And, since we are in such a deep, deep hole at the moment, a solution to this problem is not going to come very easily.  I will probably spend the rest of my life living under a bloated government shackled with debt and deficits.  And, hopefully our citizenry isn't too addicted to suckling at the government teet to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to remedy the solution (mainly raising taxes, cutting spending, scaling back services, and eliminating waste).  From where I sit, there is going to be much pain and suffering financially in the coming years, and it all starts with the almighty dollar (even if that dollar is much weaker now than it was a decade ago).

    SONG:  "Sunglasses at Night" by Corey Hart

    THINKING BACK ON:  Lee of's writings before he died.

    LOOKING FORWARD TO:  combing through the archives of and revisiting Lee's thoughts on the topics of the past (and comparing them to the topics of today.  I imagine there will be some consistency to be found).  I have recently returned to his blog and have been enjoying the blogging that his friends have been doing since his absence.  The year before his death, he was living and working in China.  Before he left, he turned over the reigns of the blog to some of his fellow libertarian and conservative bloggers.  They have done a fine job maintaining Lee's online legacy.

    Handsome Men's Club

    As the president of Omaha Lodge 203 of the Loyal Order of Handsome Men, I was elated to see our group get some quality face time from the MSM (even if I wasn't invited to this taping because I got into a scuffle with McConaughey at last year's summer barbeque over a blown call during the flag football game.)

    You see, our group often gets over looked because of the simplicity of our club.  We don't use gimmicks like other clubs to get new recruits.  Just think about all the cool things the other groups have going for them.

    The Shriners have their go-carts and the Lion's Club sells $.25 mints at the cash register of the Feed Bunk (and other fine dining establishments).  The Freemasons gain publicity from Dan Brown books, while The Knights of Columbus put on a yearly elementary school free throw contest.  The Veterans of Foreign Wars have killed people and defended this great land, where as the Skull and Bones Society is given good press from the movie "Vanilla Sky".  And don't even get me started on the Friar's Club (jokes), The New World Order (taking over the world), Scientology (hanging out with John Travolta and Tom Cruise), or the Girl Scouts (two words:  Thin Mints).

    Instead, we must rely solely on our dashing, audacious good looks to gain members, provided they meet our stringent standards.

    So, I was pleased to see our Grand Poobah James Kimmel step out of the shadows and allowing the outside world a glimpse of one of our illustrious meetings.


    Sunday, March 14, 2010

    Education Woes

    Starting around my junior year of high school, I was convinced that I would spend my life as an educator.  But, after spending five years jumping through the hoops in college to earn an education degree and then spending three years working in an elementary school, I realized I'm not cut out for the bureaucracy that is the education system.

    As a conservative/libertarian, I was constantly frustrated about being a cog in the wheel of Big Education.  I entered my first year as a teacher filled with fresh ideas and full of energy.  I left three years later beaten, battered, and burned out.

    The current system is designed to meet the needs of the middle 60% of students, which holds back the progress of the top 20% of students and drags along the bottom 20%.  And, now that I can see the forest from the trees, it occurs to me that the system does the same to teachers.

    I left teaching almost two years ago knowing that if I were to ever return and want to survive a career in teaching, I would have to lower the standards to which I held myself as a professional because the reward for such work would not (and did not) equal the effort I felt I had to put forth.  I love incentives, and the public education system discourages incentives.  Why put forth extra effort and work to be innovative when rewards are not based on those qualities, but are based upon how many years you've stuck around and/or how many college classes/degrees you've accumulated?  And while I'm not making a judgment about someone who can work in that environment, I knew it was not for me.

    With that said, I still maintain an interest in all things education and a couple of stories caught my eye this past week.

    First came the Kansas City school board’s decision to shutter 28 of its 61 schools.  According to the NY Time's report, former Pueblo, CO, superintendent Dr. John Covington spent the early part of his tenure as the Kansas City schools superintendent creating a plan to close the $50 million deficit in their $300 million dollar budget, and a big part of that plan was to close nearly half of their schools after almost 18,000 students left the district in the past 10 years, leaving only 17,000 students in the district.

    (And at his blog, Rod Dreher gives a big picture explanation of why Kansas City's public schools failed.)

    Then I read a great rant against Big Education from Matt Welch at the blog of The World's Greatest Magazine.  From that post:
    These three sentences appeared consecutively in today's New York Times:
    But the real question, still unanswered, is whether you can cut school taxes without damaging schools. The average teacher salary in Hastings is $96,597. The superintendent makes $228,000.
    Let's see, is this mic on? Can I get a little more reverb? Good. WE ARE OUT OF MONEY, ASSHOLES.
    Not only that, but we are out of money because YOU STOLE IT, FROM THE CHILDREN. And the rest of us. 
    Here is how the system works, ladies and germs: First, during the good times, when people are (rightly) paying attention to concerns outside the dreary slog of politics and public policy, go ahead and double the cost of state government, in like five years, without a shred of detectable increase in the quality of services. Next, when times get bad, complain bitterly about "savage" and "annihilating" budget cuts, threaten to eliminate the very favoritest of all public services (say, access to the gorgeous state parks in California), and then cut your payroll by all of ... a quarter of one percent. After all, why fire a single teacher when the stimulus package will pay for all of them? Finally, when all else fails, raise taxes, to "close the budget deficit" and "restore our education budget to current levels."
    One of my biggest frustrations about the education system stems from the fact that the people in charge of the education system (the government) are poor stewards of our money.  The people in charge seem to think that there is no problem that more money can't solve, when money is the least of our problems in education.

    SONG:  "Haven't Meet You Yet" by Michael Buble

    LOOKING FORWARD TO:  playing a round of golf in 2010.  The weather this weekend only allowed a brief trip to the driving range today.  But, on a positive note, I was able to try out my new driver for the first time, and I was more than pleased.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    American Idol -- Top 16 -- Fellas

    Wishes-He-Was-Jeff-Probst tells us that “This……… American Idol” after creepily announcing the male contestant names.
    “Grungy-Musician” Lee is singing “Fireflies” (apparently by Owl City who I’ve never heard of but googled) on his guitar.  It’s a modern song, which suits him.  But I’m not sure that this is the version to sing the week before the Top 12.  The vocals are nice, but I’d have liked a stronger song musically (something the band could jam out to while he wails away on his guitar and rips the vocals).  I could see him singing a DMB song (something off their new album) later in the competition.  It would be awesome.  (Also, I use the term “grungy” not as in “dirty” but in “unpolished” or “raw”.)

    “Mullet-Hair” Alex is singing Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble” while strumming his guitar.  His voice suits the song well.  Boring, but this kind of song is in his wheel house and should keep him around a few more weeks.  It won’t win him the competition, but it should put him to the Top 12.

    “Teen Beat” Tim is singing “Hallelujah” (which has been covered by so many acoustic guitarists that the original artist is now unknown, similar to how no one knows who originally drew the awesome “S” that everyone drew on their notebook in junior high).  He sang it well.  I was bored and I won’t remember he sang it in two weeks.  He should make it to the Top 12.  
    (ASIDE:  I believe that “Teen Beat” Tim may be the contestant that certifies into law ALOTT5MA’s “Grand Unified Theory of Idol, #2”.  The theory suggests the following:  
    Whoever you think is the best singer during the round of 24, or who seems most fully-formed as an artist will not win American Idol. The winner of American Idol will be the singer who demonstrates the most development as an artist during the competition, and over whom the audience can claim more ownership and from whom they will derive more satisfaction as the competition progresses.  
     I think “Teen Beat” Tim is going to be a force to be reckoned as the competition moves along because he seems to be improving week by week and he has a good look to him, which the judges/producers love.)

    “Chubby Guy with Drew Carey Glasses” Andrew is singing Christina’s “Genie in a Bottle” with his guitar and without the backing of the band.  It would seem that he is going back to the “Popular Teen Girl Songs from the ‘80s & ‘90s” well a little too often and that well is running dry.  This was the kind of song that will lose him fans.  No one will remember this in a few days.  Nothing special.  

    (ASIDE:  Coincidentally, Andrew is the guy who will help Tim prove the above theory, because three weeks ago, he was already presumed to be in the Top 2 with Crystal.  He has been tracking downhill ever since.  He peaked too early.)

    “Goat-Boy” Casey is singing Keith Urban’s “You’ll Think of Me” with his guitar (I’m sensing a theme tonight).  While I don’t particularly care for Casey, he has a knack for picking the right song, and this song is a good one for him.  Except when he has to hold a note for longer than two beats, and then he goes lives up to his nickname.  (Seriously?  No singing coach can help him get rid of that?)

    “Youngster” Aaron is singing a Lonestar song (“I’m Already There” I find out later).  And not well.  Yikes.  This guy has got to go.  He obviously has a large tween-girl following, because I can’t figure out why he continues to hang around.  Odd.  

    (ASIDE:  The large tween-girl following –which leads to large texting profits – might explain why Simon is constantly praising the guy, week after week.  Simon has said he’s not a huge fan of his voice.  So why keep the kid around, except for ratings and voting?)

    “Dancer” Todrick is singing “Somebody to Love” by Queen.  And he’s off key from the start.  He doesn’t have the range (or voice, for that matter) for a Freddie Mercury song.  And the background singers are not helping him out.  He isn’t really singing it as much as talking the words.  Horrible song choice that proves he doesn’t know who he wants to be “as an artist” (as the judges are so fond of saying).  He might go home.

    “Big” Mike is singing “This Woman’s Work” by artist unknown, and is making weird noises at the beginning of the song.  Looks like he’s trying to fill the R&B void this season since Todrick won’t go near R&B with a 20-foot pole.  He’s a really poor man’s Ruben Studdard.  

    (ASIDE:  maybe my bias against Mike and R&B in general is clouding my judgment, but the judges/producers must really, REALLY need Big Mike to stick around BECAUSE KARA IS (probably fake) CRYING AFTER THE SONG!!!!!!!!!  SHE’S STILL (fake) CRYING AS SIMON GIVES HIS GLOWING CRITIQUE!!!!!!!  In the words of Joe Schmoe, “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!?!”  Such an odd chain of fake events.)

    I’d rank them:
    Lee (I’m biased, what can I say.  Also, everyone else was boring or weird.)
    Tim (The fact that the “Vote For the Worst” has been supporting Tim, but is now thinking of picking someone new to support should tell you how much improvement he’s been showing.)
    Todrick and Aaron (should) go home tomorrow.

    And the judges were insufferable tonight.  INSUFFERABLE!!!

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    My personal hell is about to come to a close... least until next winter.  That's right, this week marks the start of GOLF SEASON!!!! for me.  I got an email today that Pacific Springs is open for play this Saturday (and it couldn't have come sooner.)

    I mentioned it in a "Looking Forward To" section, but I'll elaborate a bit:  I will be playing Pacific Springs and Shoreline Golf Courses for only $10 this year.  The wife bought me a "Tee it for Ten" card for Valentine's Day this year.  The math works out that if I play these courses more than eight times it will be cheaper than paying normal price, so long as I don't use it more than 50 times (in which case, it would have been cheaper to buy a membership).  But a membership doesn't allow play at both courses, which is one of the better selling points for me.

    Shoreline is the lesser of the two courses (barely), but it is close to my work, so I plan on stopping by the course after work occasionally throughout the summer and sneaking in 18 before dark.  On the other hand, Pacific Springs is the better course, and would take me over an hour to get to after work because of rush hour.  Therefore, I plan to play it once (or twice) a weekend.

    The final selling point for me for the "Tee it for Ten" program was that the holder of the "TifT" card can play Arbor Links, The Player's Club, and Plattesmouth CC, once each this year for a discounted price.  Well, both Arbor Links and The Player's Club are on my Omaha Golfing Wish List, and since they are private courses, I had basically given up on playing them.  But, now, not only will I play them, I'll play them for a reasonable price.

    I don't think I'm going to have a free moment over the next 8 months, with all the golf, baseball, and traveling I have planned.

    Since I'll be walking (for exercise and to save money), I'll need plenty of time to ensure that I get a full 18 in to make it worth the purchase price.

    Not only am I excited to play $10 golf all summer, I'm elated because I just received email confirmation of the shipment of my new golf shoes and my new driver head.

    These are the shoes that are on their way.

    They are adidas FitRX and it has taken me forever to find a new pair of golf shoes that meet my criteria: they should be reasonably priced, they shouldn't look like golf shoes, they should be stylish and appealing to my eye, and my wife has the final say on whether or not these criteria have been met.

    My current shoes are a pair of adidas Bradys that my wife bought for me before we were married (about 7 years ago), so you can bet that they have sentimental value.  I am going to be sad about retiring the Bradys, as they have carried me through countless rounds and they are the perfect shoe.  Hopefully the new shoes will be around for the next 7 years of my golf life.

    I spent the end of last golf season using two drivers.  I had my "big dog" driver that I can pound 300+ yards, but have no clue in which direction it will go on any particular swing.  So I usually kept it in the bag unless I had a wide open (like, middle of the course, no danger in ANY direction, wide open) par 4 or 5 and my score was solid enough to allow such recklessness.  The rest of the time, I used my "straight-and-narrow" driver that I couldn't hit a slice or hook with if my dog's life depended on it, but only goes about 270 yds.  So, when I saw this driver was on sale for over half its original price, I thought it might be a good time to try and find a "straight-and-narrow"/"big dog" combo and this club looked like a good candidate.  I will be putting this head on the same steel shaft my "big dog" driver is on and will keep the "trusty-rusty" driver in my bag until I'm comfortable with this new club (which shouldn't take too long since I plan on spending the next couple of months living on the golf course.)

    Finally, I can't wait to enter my first score of 2010 into my handicap service.  I ended last season with a 12.9 handicap, which was the lowest I've had it since the year before I got married (and even then, I've never been below 12.0).

    SONG:  "Shadow Stabbing" by CAKE

    LOOKING FORWARD TO:  the snow storm that is bound to arrive the day before my new shoes and club head arrive, because Mother Nature is a biotch like that.

    GOAL:  to get my handicap in the single digits this year (9.9 and under).  I feel this is an achievable goal, and one that will motivate my time on the course this year.

    THINKING BACK ON:  how, were it not for a purple Harley Davidson 3-wheeled golf cart (similar to the second and fourth pictures on the top row HERE but not nearly as pretty, which was part of its charm), I would not be the golf nut that I am.  My dad took up the game of golf later in life (when I was in junior high or early high school) and at that point I had no real interest in golf.  Then he and his friend John bought the Harley, and my interest was piqued.  The summer before my senior year of high school, I worked at the swimming pool.  I often had mid-mornings and a few afternoons during the week off from work, so I would head down to the golf course, mainly to drive the cart.  I would zoom around the course (it was basically vacant) whacking the ball around as an excuse to drive the Harley cart around.  By the end of the summer, I loved golfing more than the cart.