Tuesday, August 28, 2007

But I thought...

...the poor were getting poorer.

They're not, at least for now.

"The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent -- were living in poverty last year. That's down from 12.6 percent in 2005."

Poverty is defined by FedGov as income of $20,650 for a household of four. See their website for more info.

HHS is very ambiguous about how it calculates income for this guideline. It says the agencies using the guideline to determine services can use net or gross income. Let's be generous and say it's net income. Even a net income calculation wouldn't take in to consideration under the table income, Federal, state and local subsidies for food, housing, school lunches, disability payments, etc.

Despite the low levels of income, most of those families have televisions, computers, cell phones, cars and other items that would be considered luxuries in countries where poor is REALLY poor. While it's true that we do have SOME poverty in this country, poverty is not a permanent condition for most of the truly poor. Most poor people do not stay poor. With very few exceptions, people tend to progress upward in income. I'm not a mathematician but I'd be willing to bet that incomes rise significantly as people get older then drop off sharply after age 65. This is what happens in the normal course of life. What this means is that the people who were poor in 1997 are not likely to be the same group of people that are poor in 2007. The welfare proponents do NOT want you to understand this concept because it damages their credibility. If "the poor" are generally going to stop being poor on their own anyway, why do they need government assistance? The truth is, they don't. Oh sure, it's easy to make the case that lots of people need short term assistance but that's what private charity is supposed to be for. These permanent government programs create a class of dependent people that have a harder time breaking the poverty cycle than the poor that do not get on these programs.

I've been saying for years that I want the President to call a press conference and announce an end to all Federal assistance programs one year from the date of the announcement. Along with cutting those programs, we'll get a reduction in taxes equal to the amount (if that's possible) of the budgets these programs operated from. Furthermore, it would be declared that the income tax deduction limit on charitable giving would be raised by 100%.

What a boost to our entire economy this would be. Not just because of the reduction in costs from the services that were eliminated but it would essentially force most of the dependent class to go be more productive. Higher productivity generates a higher living standard for everyone. Many of these people, when forced out in to the work world will become entrepreneurs and employ other people. Others will fill jobs that cannot be filled right now. Some of those people will always have low paying jobs and remain poor. But there will be more charity available to assist them.

Charity does a much better job of figuring out what people need than government because they tend to specialize. A local charity is flexible and far more efficient than government programs because they have to answer to their benefactors for more funds so they tend to do their jobs. When a particular need changes, a charity can change with it. Not only that, private charity can and should be more restrictive with who they help which results in better allocation of resources. It's all to easy to scam the government and many believe they have the right to.

As for the rich getting richer... Have you seen the sub prime lending mess? Lots of rich people have become less rich. The last time I saw the list of Forbes most wealthy people a bunch of them dropped off the previous list and if I'm not mistaken, the net worth of the top people had all fallen. Doesn't mean they're headed for the bread line, but it doesn't mean that the rich always get richer and the poor always get poorer. The people these groups represent are in constant flux.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Nym Words

A few months ago, I taught little Dif the meaning of homonym, synonym and antonym. Most of you know what those three things are. What most of us don't know is that there is a whole bunch of words that end in 'nym' that we never really think about.

I found the list here . I thought I'd toss in a few of the more interesting ones but I encourage you to go read through the entire list. You never know when knowledge like this will come in handy.

  • Autoantonym - A word that can take two or more opposite meanings. (Ex. "Fast" can mean "moving quickly" or "stay in place" (i.e. "stand fast"). Contranym is a synonym for autoantonym.
  • Heteronym - Two or more words that have the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings. "Please excuse me while I think of an excuse." There are also different categories of heteronyms. Learn more about them here. It does seem like many of the heteronyms have meanings are are close but technically different. The phrase "excuse me" clears the way as it were. The phrase "give an excuse" also clears the way in a slightly different context. Obviously this does not hold true with all examples such as "wind the clock" and "the wind is blowing".
  • Hypernym - A word that has a more general meaning than another. For example a motorcycle is a type of vehicle. "Vehicle" is the hypernym. Hyponym would be a word that is more specific. "Motorcycle" would be the hyponym in this example. I've been teaching these to my daughter without knowing the type of word it is.
  • Oronym - A string of words which sounds like another string of words. "Ice cream" sounds like "I scream." The entry on the main page links to more examples.
  • Retronym - An adjective-noun paring generated by a change in the meaning of the base noun. "Watch" became "pocket watch" because of the introduction of the wristwatch. I never considered this function of language before now. I am stuck for other examples; help me out. Remember though, the base noun must have been changed.
I get such a kick out of this stuff!


Friday, August 24, 2007

Pansy Camp

I guess the Marine Corps just isn't what it used to be.

A Marine Corps drill instructor is facing 225 counts of abusing recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.

From the article: In one incident, Sgt. Jerrod M. Glass allegedly ordered a recruit to jump head-first into a trash can and then pushed him further into the container, according to court documents cited in The San Diego Union-Tribune. He is also accused of striking recruits with a tent pole and a heavy flashlight.

So? The poor little Marines got hit and humiliated. Oh the horror of suffering some sophomoric abuse at the hands of a few drill instructors as they prepare the so-called men to go to war where they might suffer real abuse at the hands of a merciless enemy.

When some of these guys are in some Iraqi, or God-forbid, North Korean prison camp being beaten, tortured, starved and humiliated they can't go up the chain of command and make a phone call to their lawyers or the ACLU or the press or their mommies.

Marines train for war. That's what they do. Honestly, I think there should be plenty of abuse and humiliation as part of the program at boot camp to prepare them for the realities of war.

I went through Marine Corps boot camp in 1986 (San Diego). Was I abused and humiliated? You be the judge. Would I tolerate from a civilian employer what I did in boot camp? No way.
  • Week 2 of boot camp - Drill instructors were trying to get us all lined up by height and making a huge mess of it. I couldn't hold my tongue any longer, I had to say something. So of course my Senior Drill Instructor, a short little guy named SSgt. Villegas called me out in front of the rest of the recruits. He took off my cover (hat to the rest of you), threw it on the ground, stomped on it a bit, crammed his Smokey Bear down on my head, yelled at me a lot, and told me to get everyone lined up by height if I was so smart. So I did. Of course I paid for it for a week in various ways that I can't even recall but it was worth it.
  • One of our drill instructors was kicked out of our platoon and we later saw him with a newer platoon several weeks later. Even though I did not report him, say anything to him or about him, I like to think that maybe I was partially responsible for getting him booted out. I was in the Senior Drill Instructor's office and he was seated at his desk. I don't recall what he was talking to me about but I just happened to have another drill instructor on either side of me. The one on the left was practicing his NCO sword drill. I guess he was trying to scare me or something but in my peripheral vision I saw what he was doing. He came around with his sword fast and stopped it about a half inch from my throat. I saw it coming and I was half tempted to step back, turn and beat the daylights out of him but decided on another course of action. I did NOTHING. I didn't blink, flinch, move or make a sound. After a well timed pause I just turned my head and glared at him for a few seconds then looked back at the Senior. It make the D.I. look like an immature moron. There was no reason for me to complain or be upset.
  • The Great Skivvy Swap - One day after a PT run we were back at the squad bay and the drill instructors were of course yelling at us for something. We had to stand in front of our foot lockers and the Senior yelled "Strip! Move!" We figured he was going to herd us in to the showers. Then he bellows, "Switch sides! Move!" Huh? We were a little confuse so he not-so-patiently clarifies that we were to go stand in front of the foot locker of the person directly across the squad bay from us. So here's 52 guys running across the squad bay naked (WonderWoman's going to have a good time with this one). So we're back at attention in front of the other guy's stuff. "Get dressed! Move!" was the next order so off we go, running back to our stuff. "Stoooooooooooooop! Get back! Move!" Huh? "Get dressed move!" Off we go. "Stooooooooooooop! Get back! Move!" Uh-oh. "Get dressed in place. Move!" Oh you MUST be joking! We didn't say that of course because we knew he wasn't. So, we each got dressed in the nasty stuff the guy across from us was wearing. Tall guys got short clothes, short guys got tall clothes. I gotta tell you, putting on some other dude's sweaty underwear is pretty humiliating and you can be none of us were laughing. Yet, no one refused to follow the order. To the best of my knowledge it none of us became deranged killers over the incident.
  • I did serve as a punching bag for one of my drill instructors once. He was trying to provoke me. I am not a person who is easily provoked. I clearly saw his motives and I didn't take the bait. He was shorter than me but he was tougher than me and I would have got the crap kicked out of me had I taken him on. I didn't back down from him but I didn't take a swing at him. Even if I could have beat him, it was a no-win situation for me. So I stood my ground and he gave me a couple of gut shots. He wasn't even trying. If he was, I'd have been on the ground. He was testing me essentially to see if I'd cry or break down or so something like that. It wasn't really until after that incident that she showed any respect for me. I guess I passed the test. Was it abuse? By civilian standards, yes. Did it even occur to me to report it? No. When the Inspector General came around and asked us if we had been hit or abused by our drill instructors I said no. I suspect that if I had said yes, I'd have been the one looked down on. Again, another test; loyalty.
There were lots of other miscellaneous incidents and those of you who have been through boot camp will certainly have some of your own to report. Even those of you from the lesser branches of the military (yes, the Marines view you that way though your service is no less appreciated) have your own stories. I heard from an Air Force guy once that they were forced to endure a 5 mile hike once. A Navy guy told me that he was traumatized by having to run twice a week. And an Army friend complained that sometimes they had to train for more than 4 hours a day in boot camp.

Seriously though, how can we expect to teach our troops, especially our Marines to endure war-like conditions if we have to pamper them and not make things too hard on them? There should be guidelines but certain things should also be part of the program to instill the notion that they can endure far more they imagined when it's needed. Intrinsic in training for war runs counter to every other civilian occupation, even para-military jobs such as the police who are there to protect and serve. Marines are there to kill and destroy, that's the job of military force. Some of those men come out of the experience much the worse for wear and that's a shame. Some people can't even develop the mental toughness for boot camp; that's even a bigger shame. But that's the point of boot camp; if you can't handle it there, you can't be trusted in combat and you'll put the lives of your platoon at greater risk.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No More Illegals

Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Patrick McAnany*, ruled that it's illegal to cross the border without permission from the government but it's not illegal to be here once you're already in. Read THIS before continuing.
The appellate ruling cited a 1958 conclusion from the U.S. Supreme Court and another ruling, from 1979, in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California. Both cited the distinction between entering the U.S. illegally and being in the U.S. illegally.

The activists are going to jump all over this ruling. I see a class action lawsuit coming from previously deported illegal aliens saying they were denied due process because it was only illegal to cross the border, not to be here and they were never convicted of the crime of crossing the border so the U.S. had no right to deport them.

This JUST occurred to me as I was writing something else. If continued presence in the US was not illegal, then no one who ever overstayed a visa could ever have been deported because it would have been trivial for a lawyer to make that case that they crossed legally. Perhaps there are other laws specifically allowing for deportation of people who then become illegal aliens even though they crossed the border legally.

In any case, our spineless and inept Congress should act immediately to declare the continued presence of any alien who either entered illegally or who remains in the U.S. after their authorization has expired are subject to immediately deportation. Should Congress do so, it would end up before SCROTUM and the law would be tossed out despite the fact that Congress has the authority to override them.

We are no longer a nation of laws. We are a nation of mayhem, at the mercy of those that would subvert our traditions, our culture and our liberty. If you want to move from there to here, do so legally and integrate yourself in to the American way of life. Learn English, cherish freedom and plug your ears against the cacophonous voices of treason.

*Taylor, I stole your picture. Let me know if that's a problem.

Monday, August 20, 2007

That's My Girl

Psych. That's what she named him (ok, not sure it's a 'him' but whatever).

As you can see from the pictures, she's in utter terror because I'm a horrible father and I foisted this repugnant reptile on her.

One thing I was not sure about is whether or not she would be upset by watching it eat. I explained to her what I was going to feed it and how it would be done and she was a little hesitant but her curiosity overcame her reservations.

We went to the pet store and bought a feeder mouse. She asked the girl at the counter if she could hold it and before I could answer, the girl explained that if her smell was on the mouse, the snake might later think she was food and attack her. That was good enough for Little Dif, she wanted no part of touching that mouse. She did ask if we could get another one as a pet though. Umm... no.

Poor little mouse wasn't aware that it faced its doom. While still in the paper bag I bought him in, I whacked it up against the bricks a couple of times to stun him. Why did I stun him? Easy, I didn't know if the newly captive snake would eat it right away or not and I didn't want the prey to become the attacker. So I dumped the mouse in to the snake's box (I don't have a proper cage for it yet) and it was just twitching (oops, whacked it a bit to hard I think) for a bit before it stopped moving completely.

Slowly Psych moved over it, his tongue flicking out over the surface. It was all very slow deliberate movements. The mouse was completely still though so there was no need to rush. The first thing Psych grabbed at was the neck. He tugged at the rodent a bit and then let go. I guess he figured he wasn't going to swallow it from that position. He let go and moved up toward the head. He unhinged his jaw and took the whole head in his mouth.

Little Dif watched in fascination without a trace of concern for the mouse. Perhaps if the mouse were running around trying to escape she would have been more sympathetic but I think she was enthralled with the process.

It took less than 5 minutes from the first bite to seeing the tail disappear between what I swore were smiling lips. We watched the lump of mouse work its way deeper in to Psychs body. It finally stopped about half way down.

Overall, I rate this pretty high on the list of educational experiences for Little Dif. It's certainly one she'll remember for a very long time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It's A Jungle Out There

Yes, even Southern California suburban neighborhoods are teeming with wildlife at times. I caught this California King Snake on Saturday. I wasn't aware of what it was when first saw it so I was very cautious. I managed to use a couple of bamboo poles to herd it out in the open where I initially used a garbage can lid to trap it. With a little help from my neighbor we managed to get it in to a big plastic storage tub (lacking a tank at this time) where I could take a closer look at it and figure out what to do with it next.

Well, it turns out it's not very aggressive and it's not poisonous so I'm comfortable handling it. Up to this point I've only picked it up for intervals of 10 to 15 seconds. When I picked it up to put it in the water dish I provided, it sure seemed happy. I keep referring to it as 'it' because short of sticking my pinky up its anus and feeling around for some equipment or lack thereof, I have no way of determining its sex. (great, now I'm forever going to get Google hits on my blog for 'snake' and 'sex').

I may or may not keep it. I haven't determined that yet. I'm not going to spend a bunch of money on a tank, heating rock, etc. only to have these things end up on Craig's List so someone else can house a reptile that some child is just begging for. As a matter of fact, I'll be looking on Craig's List for someone that is perhaps giving away said equipment because some favored pet is now deceased. In any case, I'll at least keep it until this coming weekend so that Little Dif gets to see it. She's pretty excited about the whole thing and even determined that she's brave enough to touch it. If the snake is calm enough to let me put it around my shoulders and subsequently let her hold it on her own, I'll get a good picture of her doing so and follow up with another post.

While young, stupid and in the Marines (all redundant I know), I made the mistake once of picking up a baby Diamond Back Rattlesnake that I found curled up on the sidewalk against the building of the barracks one evening minding its own business and trying to stay warm. I was handling it correctly from the start. I used a checkbook to hold down his head while I slipped my fingers up from behind and immobilized his neck. All was well at first but one of the observers, a fellow Marine of course, was FREAKING OUT over the fact that there was even a snake in his presence and more so because I picked it up. So I did what any self-respecting member of the Difster clan would do; I chased him with it. Have you ever heard a Marine scream like a girl? This one did.

I paid the price for my little joke though. In an effort not to hurt the little guy, I was not applying enough pressure to keep him still and he managed to work his head loose just enough to bite my middle finger (imagine the irony) just below the cuticle of the nail. I tossed him in the grass, kept my finger well below the level of my heart and essentially tried to squeeze the poison back out the imperceptibly small holes from which it was injected. It was a shallow bite; a pinprick really, not the "sinking the fangs in to soft flesh" variety of bite.

I thought I was safe; there were no immediate symptoms save those feelings of stupidity and ignorance that came with getting myself bit in the first place. About 30 minutes later my finger began to swell, I had a hard time swallowing and it's as if I could feel every last capillary in my limbs vibrating and voicing their displeasure. I had to WALK over to the Regimental Aid Station because Batallion (which was closer) was closed for the day. From there it took 45 minutes for them to get a Hummer to get me to the Mainside Hospital which was a trip of about 30 minutes. Then I had to wait to be examined. FINALLY 3 to 4 hours after being bit, I was being injected with anti-venom and I was in ICU for about a day and a half. I recovered nicely with no permanent damage.

When I returned to my unit I received a mixture of both condemnation for my stupidity and a measure of respect for having the guts to pick the thing up in the first place. Needless to say, I've not attempted another rattlesnake handling though I've run across quite a few since then. I keep my distance.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Shell Game

As if things aren't uncertain enough in the financial market with the subprime lending market in shambles, the Feds are "Helping Us Out" by injecting $38,000,000,000 ($38 Billion for those of you who can't count zeros)

Where did they get the money? They pushed a couple of buttons and created it. The beauty of a fiat money system is that when we think we don't have enough, we simply print more.

What happens when money is simply injected in to the system by fiat rather than from some other, more tangible value? I illustrate the problem this way:

There is an island in the Pacific Ocean isolated from the rest of the world. Over time they developed a currency system to replace the barter system. Sure, you can trade a dozen bananas for a coconut but you might not need the coconut right now and you wouldn't want to carry it around until you do. Any moderately sophisticated society replaces barter with a common medium of exchange. In the case of this island, it was discovered that there is a relatively predictable quantity of seashells to be had on the island. Some would break and new ones would be found. Thus a dozen bananas or a coconut could be traded for two shells. Someone could give me two shells for my bananas and I can buy a coconut when it suits me best. The shells have no intrinsic value, it's simply agreed that they can be exchanged for other goods and services.

Then one day there is a terrible storm and the forces of nature conspired upon this tiny island nation. When the sky cleared and the waters receded, the natives discovered about 10 tons of shells had been pushed up on the shore. Villagers rushed to the shore to begin collecting as many of these shells as they possibly could. Instant wealth from the deep!

The villagers figured that they'd have enough shells to last the rest of their lives and they could retire in luxury. How quickly they became disappointed. The first few villagers that tried to spend their new found wealth were handsomely rewarded but heartbreak followed. The merchants who were working hard in their shops and could not gather shells wanted to share in this new found island wealth and wanted some extra shells for themselves lest they become instantly poor.

How did they get more shells that they did not collect? Simple, they raised prices. Suddenly, a coconut was worth 20 shells instead of 2 and the prices of other goods and services followed.

The villagers who collected the shells began to complain to the tribal counsel that the merchants were being unfair and forcing them to give up their new found wealth so that they still had as much as before. The tribal counsel acted and forced the merchants to keep their prices low so that others who did not gather shells could still afford the same goods and services. The merchants reacted by simply no longer offering their products. Laborers ceased working and with no where to spend their wealth, the shell rich soon had piles of worthless shells. If they really wanted something, they'd have to go to the black market where lawless rebels were selling goods for very inflated prices deep in the jungle away from the prying eyes of the counsel. Even some of the counsel members were spotted there and excused their presence of the basis of need.

Eventually, nearly everyone on the island was breaking the law. The counsel rescinded the price controls and allowed the merchants to set prices as they saw fit. Equilibrium was restored but the inflation was semi-permanent. Over the years, more shells broke than were found and in a generation the prices were back to pre-storm levels.

A few families were castigated for the practice of shell hording because they became rich later through the practice of loaning out their extra shells in return for even more shells in the future.