Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Order of Operations and the American School System

One of the fundamental theories in Mathematics is the Order of Operations. The Order of Operations determines in what order you do the operations solve math problems.

When I was in school, as you learned how to do the various operations, you learned in what order to do them. Thus when you finally covered all of the operations, you knew exactly which order to solve them in, and it was second nature. When you went over the Order of Operations, it was a "duh" moment. We were then given a handy mnemonic to remember the order for the rest of your days. PEMDAS!!
  • Parentheses
  • Exponents
  • Multiplication
  • Division
  • Addition
  • Subtraction
Easy, right? In Mathematics there is only one order. This is universal... until you get to non euclidean type Mathematics, but that is for another day.

So, I started seeing on the web these very strange questions. Things like "What does 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2-2+2 x 0 equal?" It should be obvious, the answer is 14. You use the Order of Operations and first multiply 2x0 that is zero, so what is left is 2+2+2+2+2+2+2+2-2+0. Then you do all of the addition and get 16-2. Finally you do the subtraction and get the final answer, 14. Young people were coming up with something completely different. Many said the answer was 0, because anything multiplied by 0 is 0. I could not believe it.

Excuses for the failures ranged from "I suck at math." to "I never learned that in school." to my very favorite, "I'll never use this shit!!"

I got to thinking. It was a significant amount of people. The only thing I can come up with was that it WASN'T being taught in the schools any more, or it wasn't being stressed as much anymore. The instruction of Mathematics and Science are increasingly not being taught in schools. Why? I don't know. Math and Science are not very well taught anymore. Is it because there are no teachers? Is it because Math and Science are black and white, right or wrong? Are teachers so focused on student self-esteem that they simply do not put that much emphasis on Math and Science?

Math and Science are fundamental to a child's education. Why? They teach HOW to think. They teach HOW to solve problems. They teach critical thinking on abstractions. They teach HOW problems can be solved even if some of the steps are missing.
In everyday life you are presented with problems that need solutions. You always have some sort of parameters governing the solution. What does that sound like? Math.
In everyday life there are problems that need solutions, but you don't know exactly what is causing the problem. You need a framework to find out the problem, so that you can devise a solution. What teaches that?? Science.

Without critical and abstract thinking skills and a good knowledge on how to use the Scientific Method to solve problems, how can you make good decisions on your future? Is this why we saw so many people fall victim to loans with Adjustable Rate Mortgages? Was it that the buyer could not conceive what would happen when their rate changed? Did they not have the ability to comprehend the Math involved in calculating their mortgage and how the payment would change when the rate changed? Could they not do the basic calculations involved in figuring out how much they could pay every month, based on their income?

Instead we have a population that is easily manipulated by mathematics that simply does not work out, because they "suck at math." Saying you suck at math is putting a sign around your neck that says "Take advantage of me. I can not think critically, nor do I have any desire to attempt to."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Romney Tied or Leading in All Major Polls

For the first time in the campaign, Mitt Romney is now leading or tied with the President. An interesting development...

Gallup has Romney ahead 52% to 45% among likely voters, 49% to 46% among registered voters

Rasmussen has the Electoral College set at 237 for Obama and 235 for Romney, a virtual dead heat.

Wall Street Journal/NBC's poll has it at 47% a piece.

This is interesting because most polling data skews left, as most polls use land line phones, and most people who have land line phones tend to vote Democrat. Also most polling companies are using a weighting system that is based on the 2008 presidential election turn out, heavily skewing the results left.

Now, what does all of this mean? Probably nothing. It does show that Romney is surging and the President is fading. Why? Well... It looks like Romney wants it, the President's surrogates want it, but the President himself is kind of phoning this election in. I don't know why. Personally, I think that he, the President, is tired of having to work so hard to move his agenda. I think he was blindsided two years ago with the loss of the House of Representatives, and I think he takes the creation of the Tea Party movement personally. He just doesn't want it.

Now... Will all this matter? I don't think so. I still think that the President will win re-election. I don't think that Romney is enough of a contrast to the President to really give anyone a good choice. I think that Romney is not nearly charismatic enough to win anybody over to his personality. And I think that Romney has flipflopped on so many issues that it is impossible to tell what kind of decisions he would make.

To me the election is about control of the Supreme Court. I know what kind of Justices that the President will appoint. What kind of Justice will Romney appoint? Somebody like Justice Kennedy. A moderate. Which means that the court will veer hard left. Not that it matters. The Obamacare decision along with Kielo and other abominations have destroyed freedom in the United States, no matter how it is spun (No, I don't believe that Roberts voted for Obamacare to put limitations on the Commerce Clause, No I don't believe that Roberts voted for Obamacare to put limits on Congress' definition of a "fee" or a "penalty"). So it really doesn't matter who wins. Romney nor Obama will really face what we need to do to save the Republic, neither will embrace real tax reform, and neither will do a thing to stop the march of the TSA and other government agencies to total Totalitarianism.

I Want A Rifle...

I want a rifle. I have nothing that I wish to hunt with the rifle. I really have no desire to go somewhere and try to shoot long range with the rifle. It might be fun to do a "Three Gun" practice run, but I really have no desire to compete. So... Why do I want a rifle?? I have no reason to get one other than I want one. I think they are cool.

They look cool, they sound cool, and they shoot cool rounds. They are just cool!! In the last 15 years there have been big advances in rifles, I mean the design, the repeating rifle hasn't changed much since being introduced in 1855, so some very interesting and fun designs are out there.

What are my criteria? Hummmm... good question. Since I am looking for cool, and not really practical application, I guess I can set my criteria based on my own biases on what I think a good multipurpose rifle should have.
  • The rifle must be in a reasonable caliber. I HATE the 5.56mm/.223 round. That round was designed for volume of fire, and light recoil. Since it is just me, and not a squad shooting, I want a more versatile round. The .308 comes to mind or something in the 7mm range.
  • I want the rifle to be light weight. As much as I like wood and steel, I want something very Tommy Tactical. This allows for greater flexibility in add ons, a rail system, optics, blah blah blah blah. Not to mention the weight savings, and whatnot. Also, the new rifles are all based on a composite frame, anything wood and steel is going to be a re-issuing of an old design.
  • No direct impingement systems! This is a bad system to cycle your rifle. It blows all of the fouling back in to the chamber making the system prone to jamming. Sure, I will never fire off enough rounds in one sitting to have this problem, but why even have the possibility in the first place? Piston only systems!!!
  • The rifle must be easy to break down and clean. I don't want to have to pull out a special tool, or a screwdriver to field strip the rifle. I want breakdown leavers, and not too many parts that fall out and I have to replace when I loose them...
So, let's take a look what's out there.

I have to give the obligatory look at the "latest" AR design in .308. Lots of companies make these from "Sons of Guns" fame RedJacket to mom an pop shops in your home town. The AR platform has been out there so long that if the round can be shot, you can bet there is an AR platform that will shoot it. One of the "better" custom shops out there that makes a .308 AR is POF-USA. They offer their rifles in many different configurations, but the one I would look at is their P308 16.5". This is their standard piston cycled .308 AR with a 16.5" barrel. They also make them with a 20" or 12.5" barrels, but these lengths are either too long to be effective indoors or too short to be used as a reliable long range rifle. The 16.5" is just right.
This rifle is just on the bubble for what I want. The AR system breaks down easily, but it can be difficult to clean. The rifle was not meant to use a piston system, so there are issues with trying to force a system to do something it was never originally designed to do. BUT there are TONS of these rifles out there. I will have no trouble at all finding someone willing to work on it for me.
POF-USA sells these retail for about $3K.

Ok, now that the old stuff is out of the way, on to the NEW stuff. Beretta has just about the coolest new rifle around. The ARX 160 is not yet available to the civilian market, but it will be about mid way through 2013.
This rifle is truly a step forward in rifle design. Its ejection port and charging handle can be changed, toollessly, in just a few seconds from right to left handed, and vice versa. This means that the left handed shooter, can configure the rifle to his preference, but more importantly, if there is some problem or fouling on one side of the rifle, the ejection port and charging handle can be moved to keep the rifle in the fight.
This rifle also comes with barrels that can be switched out, again, toollessly. In just a few short seconds a 12" carbine barrel can be swapped out for a longer, more accurate 16" barrel. What this also means is is that if a barrel or gas-piston system is damaged, the barrel can be changed and keeps the rifle in the fight.

The ARX 160 comes with a folding, adjustable stock. I can understand the adjustable stock, but I am not sure why a folding stock is a good thing. Most of the new rifles have this feature, so somebody must be asking for it...
The ARX 160 is intended to be a 5.56mm platform, but will be sold in the US civilian market with a model that will fire 6.9mm Remington round. This 6.9mm version would be the one I would get.

Finally, there is the FN SCAR 17S. This is the new rifle that has been adopted to replace the U.S. Special Forces' M14. It too has an ambidextrous charging handle and ejection port, but you need time and special tools to change it up. Same thing with the barrel, BUT because the 17S shoots the heavy 7.62 round it starts with a 16" barrel, and can be changed to a 20" barrel for very long range shots. This means that the sniper can carry the same rifle platform and just needs to swap out barrels when it comes time to make the long shots.
This rifle also comes with an adjustable folding stock. See above for my thoughts on that.

Given the mission of the rifle, I think that the best buy for me would be the FN SCAR 17S. It has all of the features I want, shoots the big .308 or 7.62mm NATO round, and can be easily reconfigured for the long shot. Guys in the Special Forces that I talk to (Internet chat with) think that it is a great rifle. These are guys who wouldn't give up their M14s for ANYTHING. Because of the easy change of the barrel, I could use this rifle in the 16" configuration to hunt pig or deer, then change it out to hunt something bigger like Elk or... I don't know... Moose or something.

One of the really nice things about all of the rifles I have mentioned is that they all come with the modular Picatinny rail system. With this system, just about any kind of optic, laser, flashlight, handle, grenade launcher (seriously) can be attached to the rifle. The plus for the 17S is that the iron sights fold down so that the optic can be mounted directly to the rifle without the need of a riser. That means that you can mount almost any conventional long range scope to the rifle. AND it is much easier to zero. Because the rail system is designed to snap accessories on and off quickly, you can go from a long range magnifying scope to a CQC red dot style optic in scant seconds, toollessly if the optic allows it.
Now to get the wife to agree in spending almost $3K on something that I have no business owning...

Totally tricked out FN SCAR 17s with Long Range scope, stabilization handle, laser, and desert paint.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Global Warming?

According to newly released data, global warming over the last 16 years  has been non-existent... On top of this, warming since 1880, when reliable measurements started, the temperature has only warmed to 0.75 degrees centigrade.  What does this tell us?  Two things.  First, the computer models that have said that global warming was a catastrophic problem are horrifically flawed.  Not only do the models not predict this temperature plateau, but they state that the temperature should be much warmer than it is today.  Second, the influence of solar activity has much more of an effect on the earth's temperature than previously thought.

So, with this new data will the Global Warming alarmists stop ringing the alarm?  Not a chance.  They will continue to pursue their agenda.  Why?  Because it brings them power, which is really what any movement that is based on the restriction of the free market and restriction of freedom is about.  They want control over the way you spend money, and the way you live your life.  There is no coincidence that the global warming people are hardcore left wingers.  They want to change the economy to a centralized Keynesian style, and the "environment" is how they do it.

If this wasn't so, we would see a much more scientific results and data view from these people.  We do not.  We simply see the push for more and more restrictions despite evidence over the last 16 years to the contrary.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gathering Wealth

Despite two very sore knees, I went to help the young guys get ready for fights today. After the work out, we began to talk about things that young guys like to talk about... One of the guys had recently been over to my house, and another was part of the team that mows my lawn. They know I live in a brand new house in a nice neighborhood. They knew that I had a job as a computer guy, and that my wife is a doctor. Their question to me was, why don't I drive a big nice car? I could certainly afford the payments of virtually any care that I wanted to buy. Yet I drove a very plain Jane Mazda 3. Most of the young guys had nicer cars. So, why not dive a nice one?
After my obligatory fake show of offence at my car not being "nice," I gave them my basic philosophy on gathering wealth.

I told them that my car served its mission, an inexpensive mode of transport that gets me around the city.  After receiving some blank looks about a car's "mission," I expanded my reasoning.  Before I buy anything, I sit down and work out what the mission of the purchase is.  Finding out the mission of the purchase frames what the purchase is for and fleshes out the reasons for why the purchase is needed.  The concept of  getting a reasoning behind why a purchase is needed is really an alien thought to most of the young guys.  The only reason they need is "I want it."  So, I needed to expand on my philosophy.

Earned money represents life.  It is earned by the sacrifice of my time, my life, to another party, that compensates me with money.  Thus, money equals life.  I consider my life valuable, therefore money is valuable.  Therefore, any wasted money is, in fact, wasted life.  So, every purchase needs to be needed, and have a clear mission.  Finding the mission is important, because that will determine how much of something is needed.

This explanation was good enough for most of the guys to shake their heads and walk away.  For them, money is simply something that is spent.  For the two guys that have been to my house, they wanted more.  So, I set forth my philosophy on gathering wealth.  It is a very simple philosophy:

  • Spend less money than you make
  • Create a budget and stick to it
  • Savings are the first item in the budget, and is paid out FIRST.  Any funds not spent at the end of the month are transferred to savings.
  • An emergency fund of at least 3 months salary must be maintained at all times.
  • Have the proper insurance.
  • Map out major purchases so that the mission and reasons for purchase is clear and well defined.
  • Recognize the difference between "Want" and "Need"
  • Never make a purchase with only the Want defined.
  • When making purchases, Quality of the product is the highest priority
The guys had a very hard time with the first few.  They could understand that you should spend less money than you make, but why create a budget?  Why are savings paid out first?  Why have an emergency fund??

First, a budget is a map to how you spend your money.  Without a budget, it is WAY too easy to simply spend money willy nilly.  If you spend willy nilly, you never know if you will have money to pay your bills.  How can you know what you can afford if you don't know how much you are spending right now?? 
A budget tells you how much money goes out and how much you should be spending.  You will, therefore, know how much money you can additionally spend.
"But," they say, "you can't have any fun on a budget."  
"Why?"  I reply.  "I have a budget, and I go out, go on long crazy vacations.  I have fun.  I simply add fun in to my budget."  
The lack of "fun" is always what comes up in discussions about budgets.  Why?  Because the main reason people get on a budget in the first place is that their spending is so completely out of whack that they are in desperate straights.  If you are in desperate straights, you don't get to have any fun, because there is no money for fun.  If you get ahead of your spending, and you are not in desperate straights, you can easily add fun in to the budget.

Why are savings paid out first?  If savings are put out first they are funds that are not used for anything else.  They must be treated as a bill or a payment, because otherwise, "fun" and other stuff would suck up those funds very quickly.  Why put any left over funds in to savings?  Because it grows your savings.  Saving money for when you need it is extremely important.  You don't know what tomorrow will bring.  You need to have a robust savings, otherwise, when the unexpected occurs, you will not be prepared.  Also, savings earn money.  An easy way to make more money is through compounded interest.

Why do I need an emergency fund?  Emergencies happen.  Your car needs a repair.  Someone gets sick.  Someone gets injured.  The house has a problem.  You have to relocate.  You loose your job.  The emergency fund is there to take care of things like these so that you don't have to go in to your savings.   

Insurance.  Nobody likes to buy insurance.  Unless you need it, insurance seems to be a useless expense.  Many young guys don't have the proper insurance.  Insurance is absolutely essential.  If something happens, insurance saves you ass.  The biggest threat to your wealth is your health.  Health care is very expensive.  Not only that, but if you can't work, you loose income as you conveless.  You may not have income, but you are still spending money.  The proper insurance replaces your income, and pays for your medical care.  It may be an annoying cost every month, but it is absolutely necessary.  

I like to have a defined mission for my purchases.  The mission is defined as the primary use for the purchase.  My car is a good example.  The major need for my car is to take me around the city for less than 20 mile runs.  If this is the main purpose, what is the need for a large luxury car?  It would use too much gas, and I wouldn't be in it long enough to take advantage of the luxury features...  Except for maybe heated seats...  If I would be traveling more miles a day, or if I had to frequently make long trips, a luxury car makes more sense, but as a commuter car?  No.

The quality of the purchase is very important.  Things that are made with good quality last longer, and breakdown less frequently.  One of the things that guides my software development quality control is the phrase:  "It is better to have nothing at all than something that sucks."  This is absolutely true.  Things that suck simply frustrate your life.  Spend a little more on quality, and you will never regret it.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Freedom and Mandatory Vaccinations

I had a long and somewhat heated discussion with my wife over the very old topic of Mandatory Vaccinations. As a resident physician at a major university medical program, my wife has a unique view on the topic of communicable diseases. I, of course, am an insane Libertarian. That's Libertarian with a capital "L."

My wife deals with a reality that not many Americans know exists in this country. This reality is that the health system is overrun by illegal, and consequently uninsured, immigrants. These people only see a physician when they are in dire need of help. So, they come to the Emergency Room full of sickness, disease, and injury. Because they are the poorest of the poor from an assortment of third world nations, they carry all of the diseases that the third world has in abundance, but that we don't see very often in the "regular" United States. Diseases that we have virtually wiped out, Polio, TB, Yellow Fever, Pertussis (Whooping Cough)and other crawling nasties, all make the scene in these people. My wife has often commented that the only difference between her an a doctor working with Doctors With Out Borders is that she can go home at night.

So, armed with her perspective and experience, and I armed with my insanity that people should actually be allowed to decide what kind of health care and treatments they should receive, we began our discussion.

Of course, my wife was all for mandatory vaccination. Her position was that the benefit of vaccination doesn't come in to play unless ALL people are vaccinated. My position was that an individual should be allowed to choose what they put in their body. Our arguments are old ones. Medial professionals have been making this argument since vaccinations have been available. And... They are right.
Without mandatory vaccination, Polio would still be rampant in the US. Without mandatory vaccination, Small Pox would still be a world wide killer. I choose these two diseases because they are virtually unheard of in the modern world. Small Pox has been eradicated. Polio is only seen in the extreme rural ares of the third world where modern medical facilities are simply not available.

My stance is that vaccinations should be strongly encouraged by medical staff, but the government, with its monopoly on force, should not compel people, at the point of a gun, to be vaccinated.

With much back and forth, my wife used my own liberty smell test on me... My smell test with any law or policy was put forth by Thomas Jefferson in talking about religion. Jefferson said "...But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." I use the last part as my smell test. Does it break my leg, i.e. injure me or violate my rights? Does it pick my pocket, will it require the government to confiscate my property to accomplish?

My wife after hearing my smell test, I thought it failed because the government would "pick my pocket" to pay for vaccinations. My lovely and brilliant wife immediately came back with the Government can't pick my pocket if I am dead. That stopped me in my tracks.

Becoming deathly ill certainly falls in to the "break my leg" category. I needed to go back and read up on the issue to find out if I could come up with any better arguments. Why? I don't like to loose arguments. And my wife had just used my own stuff to kick my ass. This is what happens when you marry somebody MUCH smarter than you are. You end up getting your intellectual ass handed to you.
Anyway... To the interwebs I went.

It turns out... there are no better arguments. The founders typically allowed the police power of the government to be used to set up quarantines, many against the wills of the people trapped within. Of course it didn't become a federal issue until 1905. Jacobson v. Massachusetts came to SCOTUS. Jacobson brought the very same argument that I had to the Court. The Court said, with a vote of 7 to 2, that the state did indeed have the right to use police power to force vaccination on citizens.

I looked to Libertarians to give a cogent personal liberty angle against mandatory vaccination. I found that there really isn't a good angle. Why? Because getting someone else sick does indeed violate their rights. After reading many of the arguments presented by hard core Libertarians supporting mandatory vaccination. The only ones really advocating against vaccination were trying to make a religious argument. I reject this argument entirely, because it flys in the face of these institution's own teachings. If life is scared, you must do all you can to preserve it. Rejecting lifesaving medical treatment because you put things in God's hands is NOT preserving life. It is throwing it away. No dice on that argument.
The other arguments either say that vaccines don't work, or that they give kids autism. Complete bullshit Vaccine effectiveness is well documented, and the connection with autism has no scientific basis.

So... Where do I come down? I STILL think that it is vital that the individual have the right to determine the course of their medical treatment, whatever their beliefs. HOWEVER, after reading the Court's ruling in Jacobson v Massachusetts, I also think that the government does have the right to use its police power to enforce vaccinations. The safety of the general population, especially from contagions that are easily spread, is an inherent part of the social contract that governments have with their citizens.

I then re-read the Bill of Rights. When I am in doubt about something, I go back to the Bill of Rights, and Madison's Federalist Papers. Madison points the way. In those documents, the words that stuck out, are the ones with the force of law. The Fifth Amendment:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
...nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. The Constitution guarantees that we can not be deprived of life, liberty, or property without DUE PROCESS OF LAW. What that means is that the government does have the ability to deprive people of all of the above, but it must be through due process. So, the government can force us to take a vaccine, as long as due process is followed.

So where do we draw the line? Small Pox is deadly, but the Measles is not. Pertussis is spread through the air, but HPV is not. If we can prevent Polio with a vaccine, and we can prevent Rubella, do we not have an obligation to eradicate both? I think that these are the questions that need to be vigorously debated. Are they? Unfortunately not. Congress has all but totally gave its power in this debate over to the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

I can square my wife's argument with the Constitution. I am fine with some mandatory vaccination. As long as there is significant risk from a very communicable disease. I am not happy with it, and it feels wrong, but there are very specific times were the common good must be put before the individual. Now the only hard part is trying to come up with a way that I can tell the wife I have come over to her way of thinking, without having to admit that I was wrong...

Jacobson v Massachusetts

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Entitlement Attitude Now a Virtue????

A little while ago I wrote a post about my own experiences trying to come to terms with the entitlement mentality, and the dependence on Government. I found that the dependent attempted to justify their dependence and the money they received by saying that they work hard and are therefore OWED this assistance. I could not square that logic with well... actual reasoning.

After taking a look at new attack ads run by a labor union that is working for the re-election of President Obama, it seems as if the entitlement attitude is actually a virtue now.

Check out this video featuring Richard:

Richard... If you know your body is going to break down, why are you not prepairing for that eventuality? Why are you not looking for other work? Why are you not training yourself on weekends and evenings on marketable skills that will allow you to get a job that does not involve lifting??????? Richard, I did not put a gun to your head and force you to be a garbage man. YOU, however, are using the Government's monopoly on force, literally a gun to MY head, to pay for YOUR lack of planning.

But wait there's more!!! Check out Tito:

Tito... if you get laid off you might loose your house. I have an idea... Why don't you save some money so that if indeed you do get laid off, you WON'T loose your house. I have ALWAYS had such an emergency fund. Do you know why??? BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO LOOSE MY HOUSE IF I GET LAID OFF!!!!!!! Tito, you don't look like you miss many meals. What if you cut back on the calories, and use that extra money to build yourself an emergency fund like a responsible person would do. Oh, wait, that's right... You have a gun to my head forcing ME to pay for your lack of planning. Awesome.

One more... meet Joan:

Alright Joan... Let's pretend that the Office of the President has any control at all over these jobs, he doesn't because they are municipal jobs, not federal jobs, but we don't want to bring reason and logic in to this discussion now do we? Ok, the President waves his magic pen and cuts the jobs on the beach. What would happen? The very next day the Home Owners Association will get together and hire people to do the job. Problem solved. In fact the HOA will likely spend much less money doing the same job, because they will not bother with the cumbersome union that attaches itself to government jobs. So... your argument really has no merit.

The attitude presented by each one of these people is exactly the entitlement victim mindset that is propagated by those that will not be voting for Mitt Romney. The first two are solved by simply planning for the future. The first rule of life is to spend less than you earn. The second rule of life is prepare for likely emergency by creating an emergency fund, and buying insurance to protect against unforeseen emergencies. Did no one teach them these rules? Did they not learn this when they were growing up? Did they not see that the ones who could afford the nice things were the ones who were careful with their money???????? No, they didn't, or they just don't care. They simply want what the other guy has, and are willing to use force to attain it.