Monday, December 29, 2008

All Star Voting and All That Rubbish

This one has been on my mind for a few weeks. Everyone that follows sports is well familiar with each sport's annual all-star game, MVP award, all-American, all-league best, etc. It is natural for fans, writers and those in the game (players and coaches) to want to have a say in who's been the best during the preceding season. But the way this has evolved has all but made the awards useless, at least for the fan (players often get big money by earning these accolades.

Recently, the Heisman Trophy Award was presented to Sam Bradford of the University of Oklahoma. Certainly he had a great season. He was a key part of the high-scoring Sooner offense, which says little about the generally porous defenses that dominate the Big 12 Conference. He beat out Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim Tebow of Florida, the 2007 Heisman winner.

What bothered me about this award was the way the votes were case. Those voters from the Big 12 refused to give Tebow a single top ten vote (the voters get to vote for ten players from #1 to #10).

Tim Tebow is arguably the best player ever to don a college football uniform. He was by far the most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2008. There was certainly collusion by the Big 12. And one can also assume that there are a bunch of Christian-hating voters.

In the NFL, there were some players elected to the Pro-Bowl on name along, specifically Brett Farve and Derrick Brooks, to name two.

The NFL votes and announces the winners with two games remaining in the season. The complete opposite of baseball that does not announce its award winners until after the World Series.

Finally, it is great that the fans can vote, as without them, there would be no major sporting activities. But allowing them to vote 10, 20 or 30 times each is a bit ridiculous. Ballot stuffing is okay in pro sports...apparently.

So as a my personal protest, I will not be voting or viewing any of the professional all-star games until a more honest and accurate procedure is implemented.

PS: does anyone really watch those college football bowl games? ESPN does a tremendous job hiding the fact that the stands are empty for most of these games. One exception: idiotic BYU fans take their annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to see their Cougars lose...to the fourth place Pac 10 team.

My son, for passionate, certainly not economical reasons, bought two tickets to the Sugar Bowl. He is a Ute fan and got caught up in the hype. He failed to figure out the costs associated with getting to and staying in New Orleans for the game. He put his tickets on sale on Stub Hub and eBay, finally selling them today for a 30 percent loss.

Bowls are for saps. They mean less than a team's out-of-conference, regular season games. The fictitious BCS Championship game is the only one worth watching. I just hope the sagging economy will force a few of these bowl games to go broke. (A 16 team playoff would be a financial windfall for the NCAA. The only stumbling block would be the home/away issues and the existing bowls. Fans are not going to travel to two or more games which would be required for most of the teams.)

PSS: with football over, I have canceled my cable TV. Now I can concentrate on my reading list. I have over 50 books I want to reading in 2009; no TV sports to distract will help.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Appologists Unite Against Israel

It happens every couple of years in Israel: the Israelis and the Arabs living in Gaza and West Bank escalate their attacks. Bombings happen every week but are rarely reported by the western media. When Israel ups the weaponry, they can only do wrong.

The United Nations has condemned Israel's air strikes in Gaza as "disproportionate" and a breach of international law. But I guess the fact that Hamas' relentless attacks, albeit with less fanfare and destruction, are okay?

I have sympathy for the average person living in Gaza. They live in a pigsty. They have little hope for a normal life. Every day is a struggle for their physical well-being.

However, I have no sympathy for the Hamas leaders. They have no desire for peace side-by-side with Israel. Their only hope is for the complete destruction of Israel and the annihilation of every Jew in the world.

Israel was embarrassed in their last skirmish with Hezbollah in Lebanon. They fought proportionately and lost.

Why would a country with military supremacy elect to fight on the terms the enemy can support?

I really do not understand why Israel just does not bulldoze the entire Gaza strip. I am sure there are nice people in Gaza, even Mother Theresa-like, but in the big picture, there is very little of redeeming value that comes out of Gaza.

Corrupt rulers -- Hamas leaders -- make life miserable for their subservient masses. Their only hope is to somehow try to make the stronger enemy appear to be the unfair party. Leave it up to the UN and the liberal media to come to their aid.

If the shoe were on the other foot...and it is not too far of a stretch to see it happen one day...the Arabs would give no quarter to the the Jews. Why should the Jews continue to show restraint when they could literally wipe the Arabs in Gaza off the map?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Big Lie #6 -- Government Cures All

The weekend, I read through Michael Medved's new book The 10 Big Lies About America. Number six on his list is "government programs offer the only remedy for poverty. This one seems timely given the election of Obama and his plan to save us all with his new New Deal.

The general consensus is that FDR's New Deal programs of the 1930s got America back on its feet after greedy fat cats and speculators caused the Depression of the 1920s. The numbers don't back this up.

In 1931, unemployment was over 17 percent (Hoover was president). Seven years later, five under FDR, unemployment was still over 17 percent.

The Dow was at 250 in 1930. In 19941, after seven years of FDR's programs, the Dow was at 151. It did not recover to 1929 level until the 1950s.

Federal spending as a percentage of GDP went from 2.5 percent in 1929 to 9 percent in 1936 -- a 360 percent increase in seven years.

Prior to WWII, national income fell (13%), payrolls fell (35%), durable goods production fell (50%) and profits fell (78%).

Past recessions -- 1815, 1837, 1873, 1893, 1920, 1958 and 1979 -- that were addressed by cuts in government spending succeeded at reviving the economy much faster than increases in government spending.

Recently, a WSJ opinion from the editors, provided an example of how government spending increases is a bad plan for recessionary times. The piece described Japan's "problem solving" methodology for the past 15 years. It has spent time and time again billions on various programs only to get further and further in debt. Today, their debt to GDP is well over 100 percent. They are a disaster waiting to happen...a stack of financial cards waiting to come crashing down. This is not some Icelandic crash but a crash of the world's second largest economy.

Government social programs rarely work. They mean well...like all 'good' liberal programs (compassion of spending other people's money on pet projects), but the records clearly show how they fail. Medved talks about school breakfast/lunch programs ($8.7 billion in 2007) and how poor children still suffer from inadequate nutrition as well as obesity. He references the Job Corps -- a disadvantaged training program for young people -- and how the statistics have shown that graduates fair no better than than a similar group of non-participants. We continue to fund this to the tune of $21,500 per student for the eight-month program. (Note, I have an uncle that spent the bulk of his adult career running a Job Corp program. Not surprising, he's as big of a liberal Democrat as I have ever have the privilege of knowing.)

Poverty is not going to be reduced at all by any government program. Quite the contrary. The more the government does to address it, the greater the problem will become. Poverty is eliminated in this country by every day efforts -- getting up every day, going to work, working hard, getting educated, making prudent financial decisions.

Obama's increase government spending plans will be a sure fired plan to fail. It will create enormous debt that cannot be repaid and it will enslave millions to the government's addictive and personally destructive programs of help.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Shoes Thrown at Bush: Long Live Freedom

Earlier this week, Muntadar al-Zaidi, an Arab journalist, threw his shoes (one at a time) at President Bush during news conference along with Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki. Bush ducked, both shoes missing him.

Despite the obvious break down in security, the man was wrestled to the ground and arrested. Bush went on, without really breaking stride.

The aftermath is more interesting. If this would have been in Saddam Husein's Iraq, the attacker would have been shot.

Shoe throwing, and specifically showing the sole of the shoe to someone, is viewed as an insult in Islamic culture. So not only was the man attempting to harm him physically, he was attacking him personally.

What was the reaction by the Arabs and other middle easterners? Glee.

We would expect nothing less from their local media. We know we are dealing societies comprised of nitwits, dolts and hatemongers. We expect this. We even get it here in the US with many of the Bush haters. (Again, nitwits, dolts and hatemongers.)

But what they fail to mention is how this very act and response (from the offended party) shows how democracy is flourishing in a part of the world where this would not be tolerated. What would have happened if this occurred in Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen?

The real story here is that this opinion can be expressed and the offender can actually live to tell his story, even becoming a local hero for those who are hard-up for heroes.

Long live freedom. Long live democracy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mountainville Academy's 6th Grade Teachers

On Friday, 12/12/08, the three 6th grade teachers from Mountainville Academy (Alpine, UT -- a charter school handling grades 1-8) were fired. The decision was made by the Board, involving no parents (less those seven on the Board). The firing came before the end of the term, a week prior to the Christmas/New Years break, in the middle of the science fair lead-up, etc.

The reasons that were communicated via email from the board to the parents (whose email addresses they have) are:

1. Under utilization of middle-school teachers
2. Budget problems
3. The middle school is using an inequitable amount of the school's resources for the number of students being served.

Whereas these problems are real problems, the way the board handled the dismissal of the entire 6th grade teaching staff has become a bigger problem.

Reductions in staff are to be expected in economic down times. How these are handled makes all the difference in the world -- for those being dismissed, those remaining, the other staff members, the parents, and most important, the students.

Reasons #1 and #3 should have been known before the school year began; reason #2 has come on only recently.

These teachers did nothing wrong...at least we have not been told they did. Students build a great bond with their teachers. Teachers should be the last to get dismissed, especially in the middle of the school year. Are there other, less critical roles that should have taken precedence?

There is no real "proof" that 6th graders are going to be better off in middle school with the 7th and 8th graders. I think you'll probably find the opposite to be the case. I know my 6th grade daughter will not do as well mingling with the 7th and 8th graders. If this were discussed openly during this past summer and and implemented prior to classes beginning in August 08, parents could have made a decision as to whether they wanted their 6th graders in a middle school environment or not. The way this has come down, it is being forced upon them, whether the parents like it or not.

All of the "logic" displayed by the board of trustees seems to be lacking. One of its chartered principles is 'parent involvement.' In this case, it did little listening. Its decision was unilateral.

As I was listening to a board member talk today to one informed parent, he stated that few parents are present at the board meetings. He said he assumed his trustee role because no one else was interested. This very well be the case, for a myriad of reasons. But the board is there to represent all the parents who are not on the board. They assume the role because they want to be involved and make a difference. Good for them. They are probably second-guessing their decision today.

In this case, the board made a decision that has become detrimental to the students and the school. The message it sent was that anyone can be fired at the drop of a hat, with no due process. "Students, don't get attached to your teachers...they may not be there the following day."

This firing policy seems to be the exact opposite as found in the traditional public schools who keep teachers on who should have never entered the profession.

These three 6th grade teachers were fired not for being poor teachers but as scapegoats in a questionably ran organization. Last year, the original principle was fired with no meaningful explanation.

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UPDATE 12/15/08 -- 10:00am

This morning, a group of 6th grade parents -- three-quarters were women -- showed up at the school. I was there. I listened to a few parents express their views to the 2-3 board members who showed up. Neither the principal nor the board chair were present. Cameras from the three major SLC networks were present, along with a newspaperman.

Nothing was accomplished. The board had no intention of listening to the parents in that setting. They deferred all comments until tonight's meeting (6:30pm).

One thing that some parents did was keep their children out of school. They asked for a boycott. Few complied. It did not seem to be a reason to keep our child out of school for a day. They hired 6th grade substitutes for the week. (That makes lots of sense after firing the teachers that have been there all year.)

My daughter did not want to go when she saw some of her classmates present in their regular close -- no in their Monday dress uniforms. Nevertheless, I took her to class and she got over it.

I left the school around 9am. so did the news media. They will all be back at 6:30.

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UPDATE 12/15/08 - 3:30pm

My daughter came home from school at around 3:30. She said only seven students were in her 6th grade class, out of a normal 24. She said that many of her classmates said they are going to transfer schools.

I can see why parents are upset but that action is extreme. It is childish.

The grass is rarely greener on the other side, especially when comparing a charter school program (that has been great from my daughter) to the traditional public schools (which were terrible for my daughter, even in Highland Utah).

We have no intention of pulling our daughter out of Mountainville Academy.

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UPDATE 12/15/08 - 11:00pm

The Mountainville Academy Board meeting (parents meeting on 6th grade teach RIFs) was held tonight. the best attended meeting every. The major TV stations were present: KSL, ABC4 and Fox13.

My wife and I stay about 1.5 hours. We heard the board share their thoughts, the state charter organization rep speak, and a number of parents. (We left when the kids spoke telling everyone how great their teachers were -- embarrassing for them and their parents.)

The board probably made the right decision given the circumstances. There were some mistakes that placed them in this position:

i) They mismanaged the funds (not criminally) and did not find out about it until recently after a lengthy audit. A deficit of over $200k forced them to this action which they felt will cut that deficit in half -- making it manageable.

ii) They did a poor job creating electives for the 7th and 8th graders. As a result, there were too few students enrolling in the classes the board hired teachers to cover.

iii) There were too many 7th and 8th grade middle school teachers with not enough to do -- few students (classes with 4-5 students) and few classes (some teachers with only 3 classes a day) while the elementary teachers were more burdened with larger classes (in the 25 student range).

The board was right in not discussing personnel with the parents in open meetings. That would send the wrong message.

However, they board needs to a do a better job in making the faculty feel wanted and more secure.

The public schools are loaded with a high percentage of teachers that should have been fired a long time ago. But their unions keep the bad in.

Charter schools need to be more reasonable in their firing -- they tend to pull the trigger too quickly, creating a more hostile employment environment. Whereas these charter school teachers like the freedom and academically more challenging and rigorous programs, the lack of anything like traditional public school tenure creates an uncomfortable situation, especially for a primary bread winner.

The bottom line here is that the board did a poor job communicating the RIF. there is not reason to ask for any of their resignations.

I felt that some of the parents were a bit over the top. Too many of them were on edge due to emotions, not facts. Too many of the parents seem to be impetuous, ready to hang the volunteer board members without the complete facts.

It was not worth keeping children out of school for a day. That boycott was a bad decision made by those parents that did so.

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UPDATE 12/18/08 - 9:00am

The Board of Trustees gave parents an option of donating funds to cover the remaining salary and benefits of the three sixth grade teachers. The needs in the $110k range.

We had a call yesterday from some parent asking if we'd commit to donate. An email also went out asking for $150 per 6th grade family.

A final decision as to whether the three teachers would be rehired for the remainder of the school year is to be made today, according to the board.

Obviously there are parents that feel much stronger about this than I do.

I think overly zealous parents have blown this out of proportion. Certainly it has not been a fun experience and the timing was poor, but it is not the end of the world. People get laid off all the time in the non-government world...over 500,000 each week for the past few weeks.

What is obvious her is that charter schools pull the plug too quick on teachers, regardless of the reasons. Traditional public school do not. For teachers, there is safety in the traditional public schools.

Just like most union-backed organizations, it is great for the teachers and administrators. However, from an economic perspective, it is very costly. The reward and benefit to cost ratio is poor. Sure there are good traditional public schools but the facts do not back this. I have sent children to schools by all reckoning are considered good or excellent schools. However, in my opinion have some real terrible teachers.

The NEA and UEA are for the teachers. They put the teachers first and the children second. Despite the obvious problems with charter schools, they are much better for the children. The education, the challenges put forth, the one-on-one care are all superior to traditional schools.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rock Star Politicians

Most rock stars and politicians (and some corporate leaders) get into their professions based on a desire to perform, make life better for others, serve their fellowman. It isn't too long afterwards that egos and pride take over. Their ideology changes to where they are caught up in themselves. Nothing matters to them other than getting more money, drugs, women, material, titles, status. They are never satisfied.

Consider the obvious list of major egotistical political figures the world over: Cesar Chavez, Vladimir Putin, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bill Clinton, Kim Chong-il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Consider three very different yet eerily similar up and comers: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a 51 year old dentist who became the president of Turkmenistan. He replaced the longstanding 'Leader of the Turkmen' in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, aka, Turkmenbashi, after his passing at 66 years of age. In his land, he rules supreme. He promised change after taking over but quickly realized that he could rule with an iron fist -- do anything, anytime, anywhere, to anyone. He rules over a closed society -- a North Korea with camels. However, he is making some strides in business and education. He is taking advantage of Turkmenistan's extensive natural gas reserves. Personal freedoms are very limited. The cult of Turkmenbashi has fallen on Berdymukhamedov. "So lock up your daughter n' lock up your wife, lock up your back door and run for your life."

Rod Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, was arrested this morning on conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery. He was in the business of selling the Senate seat of Barack Obama to the highest bidder. He felt it was his right to personally profit from the governor's role of appointing a successor. He's just an egotistical idiot, not unlike ex-New York governor Eliot Spitzer and his high-priced call girl program.

Finally there's Barack Obama. The story on him is just beginning. His rise to the top has been of rock star proportions. His admirers and followers are extensive -- groupie-like in their behavior. He may not turn into a Bill Clinton, the definition of a self-aggrandizing president. But because of the people he has surrounded him with, he's going to have to be awfully strong to avoid the many pitfalls of the evil one.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Rare is the exception.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Capitol Visitor Center's Motto?

It has been a couple of years since I took my family to the US Capital in Washington DC. We toured the capital, enjoying the experience.

Recently, Capitol Visitor Center was finished and opened to the public.

Initially estimated to cost around $71 million in the early 1990s, it came in at around $621 million and three years late. Besides obvious cost over runs and a project that
turned into a huge boondoggle, the Center's theme has come into question.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has taken a cause accusing the Center of failing "to appropriately honor our religious heritage that has been critical to America's success."

It is most obvious in a quote enshrined at the Center's door from 19th-century Rep. and Sen. Rufus Choate (Whig-MA): "We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution."

It is clear that this pagan statement was placed there to trump our nation's national motto: "In God We Trust."

Although "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance, among other references to the Christian God, do appear in places in the Center, they are just not as prominent.

I love our Constitution but do not place it above our canonized scriptures.

It does not surprise me the learn of this "over sight." Many in government believe they are god incarnate; that man derives his freedoms and rights because of the government's self-believing and promoting omniscient, even omnipotent and omnipresence, roles.

The Capitol Visitor Center is the federal government's latest foray at self-deification.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

20,000 New Uniformed Troops

The Pentagon announced that it
expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe.
The stated reason is related to additional homeland security.

The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 states that it is unlawful to employ any part of the Army of the United States for the purpose of executing the laws, except in such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by act of Congress.

According to the dictionary, a posse comitatus is a body of persons that a peace officer of a county is empowered to call upon for assistance in preserving the peace, making arrests, and serving writs.

So does the Pentagon and Obama envision a posse of armed, uniformed men wandering the streets, looking for trouble -- terrorists, terrorists wannabes, and terrorists in embryo?

If the goal is to address homeland security, let's put them on the border to control illegal immigration, contraband and drug flow. Many of our social and economic problems will be addressed with the removal of the 10-25 million illegals here. We do not need to escort them out ... they got here, they'll find their way back home when they don't have jobs, access to schools, and free health care.

Add to this the law to eliminate the ability to 'drop' a kid here and have that kid become an immediate citizen. One of the kid's parents should be an American citizen to get this privilege.

We do not need an expanded, new or more grandiose federal police force. Hopefully our congressional leaders will nip this 20,000 newfangled troop expansion before it gets started.

Why not resume the notion of state, county, city, or neighborhood militias?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Black Friday & Cyber Monday...What?

Black Friday & Cyber Monday are media made-up words. Let's give names to the day after Thanksgiving where 'everyone' goes shopping at a local store and the following Monday where white collar workers buy holiday gifts online to take advantage of the faster Internet speeds. (I say sleep in and do you really have dial-up still?)

There is a problem with an economy where retailers requires a four-week window in December to make their annual sales progress report. They were the ones that have hyped this holiday buying spree. Even the stock market responds accordingly to buying volume.

I can see no redeeming qualities associated with buying gobs of stuff we do not need. We buy things if we need them or perceive we need them. Why do we need a window in time to do this buying? Because we are all suckers for one of the biggest scams in the history of America.

As we remember the birth of the Savior, the notion that everyone needs to buy everyone a gift in order to celebrate is ludicrous. We can all appreciate the feeling of giving but too many individuals spend money they do not have on things the recipients do not need.

Luckily, my wife and I see eye-to-eye on this. We have not adopted the Scrooge mentality but we have always limited our buying to our immediate family -- our children -- and our parents. In all cases, the items are nice but very affordable. We go around $100 per child and less than $50 on parents. Cash only.

If you were lavished with gifts as a child, then you are likely to do the same as an adult. It seems foolhardy to see people spending $1000s on Christmas presents, even if one has the money. It is a perfect example of attempts to buy one's love.

I hate the commercialism of the holiday season. I hate hearing retailers claim that they did not sell enough stuff this year. I hate the terms Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

One of the best things that can happen to our society is for less money to be spent on useless crap this December.

Save more, spend less is wisdom of the ages.