The Unrepentant Individual

...just hanging around until Dec 21, 2012


February 28, 2006


My Favorite Teachers

In my post on teachers unions, a few people (from the Liberty Papers link, through email, and elsewhere) took me to task for assailing teachers.

That was not my intent. I think that most of the excellent teachers in our nation are being crushed under the weight of a horrible system that is doing little to support them. The teachers unions have created a system where excellent teachers are treated no better than mediocre teachers, and where the lowest common denominator is the standard treatment for all teachers. The system is one that excellent teachers don’t want to work in, and those who subject themselves to that torture deserve a lot of credit.

So I want to take a moment to thank those teachers who have made me into who I am. I’ve had a couple of truly inspiring teachers in my life, and those folks deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done for me. You’ll notice a disproportionate number of math or science teachers on this list, which is partly a sampling bias, as I have always been predisposed to those subjects.

Jim Stankevitz – Physics: Really. His last name is Stankevitz. It’s like Einstein. If your last name is Stankevitz, you’re pretty much destined to be a physics teacher! But this guy was truly an inspiration. I believe he’s won the Golden Apple teaching award at one point during his career; if he hasn’t, he deserves it. I had him for both my normal Physics class, as well as the calculus-based AP Physics class my senior year of high school. That AP Physics class, due to a scheduling conflict, was over-booked for its room my senior year, and because of scheduling, there was no other period during normal school hours that the lab room was available. So we were in a quandary. Jim Stankevitz was an inspiring enough teacher, though, that myself and about 15 other students volunteered to come in at 6:25 AM every morning to take that AP Physics class. It’s not often that students will volunteer for AP Physics at that hour, but a teacher who can get students to do something like that is pretty special. In addition, he told me during that senior year about some lectures given over at the Fermi Nat’l Accelerator Laboratory, a few miles from the high school, where they were discussing black holes, wormholes, and time travel. I must admit that about 90% of it was far over my head, but it was truly a treat to head over there and bask in the light of the physics gods!

John Fuller – US History: Mr. Fuller was the teacher for my AP US History class sophomore year. He was part sadist, which was what most of us needed in those days. The first day of class, he told us all: “I’m going to give you more work than you can possibly handle, in order to teach you time management.” Now, that’s not something you want to tell a group of AP students at my school, because that’s throwing down a gauntlet. The students in that class were the sort who had coasted through every lame “challenge” school had placed before us to that point in time, and we really had never had someone demand our best work. We had been dreaming that a teacher would throw down a gauntlet like that, if nothing else than to make us work for our acclaim. Mr. Fuller’s first assignment for us was to give us conflicting accounts, both American and British, of who fired the first shot at Concord, the “Shot heard ’round the world”. The accounts didn’t make a clear distinction of who was at fault, and he asked us to figure out, based on those accounts, who fired that shot. History, up until that point, had been nothing more than rote memorization. All of a sudden someone was asking us to do what historians did! Take the information available, and do the best you can to piece together the true events. That, more than anything, gave us all a new understanding of what history is and what it means to us. History isn’t something you read in a textbook, it’s something you delve into and try to determine what should exist in that textbook! John Fuller was an inspiring teacher. If you got an answer wrong on a test, but could adequately argue why you should receive credit for your answer, he just might change your grade. Not because you got it right, but because you had the right reasons for getting it wrong. The last I heard, John Fuller had headed off to Montana somewhere, which is a bit of a shame. I’d love to sit down over a beer with him and talk.

Mr. Backe – Geometry: High school geometry is a very challenging subject for some people, and the process of formulating proofs teaches the most elementary principles of logic. It can be a very dry subject, and one that is difficult to understand. But Mr. Backe was a veritable comedian. It’s not often that a teacher makes geometry exciting, but when Mr. Backe was speaking, you had to pay attention or you would miss the jokes! In between jokes, you’d learn quite a bit. This was one of those teachers that really made learning a dry subject fun.

Mr. Bielfus – “Junior Seminar”: I have a feeling I botched the spelling on this one, but that’s okay. Junior Seminar was another name for Introduction to Philosophy. Again, this was one of those classes restricted to the students in the “Advanced” track, but this class was one which ignited my love of philosophy, and was probably instrumental in my desire to obtain a minor in philosophy when I went to college. Mr. Bielfus was not necessarily incredible as a teacher in this class, except to the point that he was a guide and moderator. The group of kids in that class were all quite bright, and perfectly able to argue. Mr. Bielfus kept our arguments roughly on topic, and made sure that we had the guidance we needed to hash out what we needed to hash out. As one of the few atheists in a town rumored to have more churches per square mile than any other US city, let me say that the philosophy of religion portions of that class were quite heated!

Mr. Morrow – Algebra II and AP Calculus: Mr. Morrow was not quite like Mr. Backe. He wasn’t the comedian of the math department. But what he had going for him was a genuine love of math, and an absolutely dogged determination to help students understand. If I were to be a calc teacher, Mr. Morrow is who I would want to emulate. There’s a certain amount of concern and care that you can see in the way some people conduct their affairs, and Mr. Morrow had that. I can’t think of any individual quality that made me enjoy my classes with Mr. Morrow, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. I can only attribute that to the fact that he was a genuine teacher with a love and understanding of math.

That basically covers all the high school teachers that were exceptional. There were a scant few before that time (Mr. Knecht in 4th grade, and Ms. Vandermolen in 6th grade), but that was my high school experience. In some ways, it’s sad that in one of the best school districts in the state of Illinois, that I can barely count 5 teachers that inspire me. But after I put together a post ripping teachers unions a new one, I wanted to step back and thank some of the folks who influenced me to become the person I am.


The Unrepentant Individual linked with The Late-Night Miniskirt Defense…
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Ruining it for Everybody

It seems the online poker world got a major black eye a few days ago. It’s well-known that playing multiple accounts is a definite possibility, although the extent of the problem isn’t quite understood. But we saw a high-profile case that suggests otherwise. As the Poker King Blog reports:

For all of you who haven’t heard about this, here is what happened:

An account named “ablackcar” ended up taking down the Party Poker 500k guaranteed tournament last week for 140k. That is fine, except for the fact that it came out after the fact, on pocketfives.com, that the “ablackcar” account was being played by JJProdigy, a well-known and very good online tournament player. The real big problem? JJProdigy had played in the same tournament. So, about twenty minutes after the tournament ended, it was revealed that JJProdigy had had two accounts playing in the same tournament (at least two).

When confronted with this information, JJProdigy said that the “ablackcar” account had been played by his grandmother until the closing stages of the tournament. At that time, JJProdigy took over and finished up the tournament. Anyone with half a brain could see that this was a lie. Someone checked up on the “ablackcar” account, and miraculously, “ablackcar” only played in tournaments that JJProdigy was playing in, and only played tournaments with a large buy-in.

The JJProdigy situation was reported to Party Poker, and they took immediate action, freezing the “ablackcar” account. About five days later, Party Poker announces that not only have they banned the “ablackcar” account and confiscated the 140k, but they also banned the JJProdigy account, and confiscated 40k. Everyone who placed in the money in the Party 500k Guaranteed was bumped up a spot, and the 140k was redistributed.

This is bad news for the online poker world. It does appear that PartyPoker, where I’ve played extensively, is taking serious action. But waiting for these events to be made public before acting isn’t quite enough. To continue playing with PartyPoker, I want to know that they’re beefing up their anti-cheating and anti-collusion technologies to stay ahead of these bums.

The entire online poker world exists under one assumption: that it is just as fair as a real poker room. In a real poker room, one player can’t enter himself into a tournament twice. In the online world, though, it’s apparently far to easy to evade detection. In this case, the player had two accounts playing from the same computer!

PartyPoker needs to rethink their security strategies. At the very least, you need to ensure that you can’t have more than one instance of the software running on a single computer at a time. But that’s just the beginning. If you have two instances of software on the same PC, they’ve definitely got the same IP address, and you shouldn’t allow multiple computers from the same IP. Even if you have multiple computers on a home network, to the outside world it will likely look like one IP, so you can look for issues there. You can probably never get perfect security, because the cheaters always manage to exploit flaws one step ahead of the security protections. But the fact that this person was able to play two accounts from the same computer– an egregious offense– is a serious oversight.

PartyPoker is one of the largest and most reputable online poker sites in the business. But if they can’t keep their house in order, I may have to swear off online poker completely. It just might be time to start getting a weekly game going in my subdivision, and start taking my neighbors’ money instead!

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Carnival of Liberty XXXIV

Yep, another week has passed, another Carnival has come around. Go check it out at the Committees of Correspondence. Always a good time…

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February 27, 2006


Anti-Unrepentant E-Mail

I managed to get a quite interesting email the other day. It seems some random leftist woman found this blog, and was quite appalled by the unrepentant individualism she came across. She fired off a scathing email to me, largely based on my first post, The Dumb American. I’ll leave the exercise to the reader as to what made dear Sara head straight for a post with that title!

Given that I don’t receive much hate mail, this calls for a good fisking!

I don’t know how I found your site. But I’m glad to have found it.

Just so I can understand others’ thinking, I suppose.

I just read your essay about the dumb American.

Do you not see the irony of your own comments?

Irony? Nope. I guess I’m blind.

First you assail terrorists for not wanting to join the world community, and then you abuse John Kerry because he DID want the US to join the world community.

If you’ll recall, Bush didn’t exactly get a mandate from many other countries in the UN to go storm into Iraq. But he took us anyway. How is that joining the world community?

John Kerry wants the US to forfeit our own sovereignty to “the world community”. The terrorists want to make the “world community” bow before their wishes, and live by their rules.

As for Bush & Iraq, I’d call the desire to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world to be a little more noble than the desire to spread subservience to Islam, which is the goal of the terrorists.

They are interested in nothing less than converting the entire world to fundamental Islam, and by whatever means necessary.

They are?
Hmm. Let’s see. Between the US and arab nations, which one’s predominant religion is in a position to try and convert the other?

I don’t see a lot of Muslim missionaries out here at my mall trying to drum up business, but I sure do see Christians all over the world spreading their message. But I do see our Christian President trying to spread the word of democracy where it clearly isnt wanted.

Nope. You don’t see muslim “missionaries”. If the muslims employed missionaries, who tried to convince others to follow their path, there wouldn’t be an argument. But the Muslims aren’t interested in “convincing” others. They will spread their religion through the sword. You remember the stories of Christianity in the dark days of the Crusades and the Inquisition? That’s the stage of religion that Osama and his ilk are in.

Oh, and I’d have to say that it’s not exactly the average person in the Arab world who is anti-democracy, as much as it’s the ruling elite trying desperately to retain their power.

The only reason we went to war was oil. End of story. Oh wait, and the money that Bush and co. could give to their govt. contractor buddies.
Can’t forget that.

Yep. Freedom and democracy and the idea of stopping genocide had nothing to do with it. Much like the days of Clinton in Bosnia, Somalia, etc? All of a sudden when America’s strategic interests (oil) also happen to be at stake, advancing freedom and democracy, and stopping a mass murderer from filling more mass graves is a Bad Thing™. Is oil part of the reason we’re in Iraq and not in, say, Darfur? Probably. But that’s the funny thing. Oil-rich countries have the funds to finance terrorism, and that makes them a little more dangerous than countries without.

LOL. Trying to convert us?
Is that what they tell you down south? Is that the stuff they ed-u-cate you with on Sunday?

Ahh, bigotry against those south of the Mason-Dixon, and against Christians. Not like I feel the need to justify myself, but I should point out that I’ve lived in the South for less than 4% of my life, and I’m an atheist. Try again.

They want us out of their country.

So they can continue oppressing their own people.

They want our noses out of their business.

So they can continue oppressing their own people.

They want Israel to go away.

Let’s call it what it is. They want to kill every Jew in the world and drive Israel into the sea. And you’re defending this?

It can’t be much plainer than that.

You’re right. The terrorists state their goals quite plainly. And I’m not willing to live with those goals. I don’t take kindly to people wanting to kill me and destroy my freedom, in order to replace it with submission to Allah. Maybe that’s just me. I also don’t take kindly to people wanting to take my freedom and force me into submission to “the common good”, but that’s a different issue.

Bush understands “dick”.
His handlers know all.

Cute. Did you have a point? I always find it funny how Bush is an Evil Genius™, and yet at the same time he’s not actually in control, and it’s Cheney and Rumsfeld pulling his strings.

I believe that forcing a person, through taxation, to help their fellow man removes all virtue from the act.

and yet….

I believe that we should try very hard to include and convince the world to share our burdens and our goals.

So, the world should follow, but as long as YOU don’t have to follow the rules, it’s ok?

Way to take things out of context. Before my first statement, I say that I believe in helping others. I would do so even if I weren’t forced to help others through taxation. Second, I don’t say that the world “must be forced to follow”, I say that we should try to include them and convince them to follow. Do you not see the difference between forcing compliance with what you think is right and trying to convince others to support the goals you think are right? I think the world should follow, but I don’t think America has a right to force them into it. Likewise, I believe strongly in charity and helping my fellow man, but I don’t think this country has a right to force such behavior. Perhaps this is a little too “nuanced” for a Kerry supporter, but it seems ideologically consistent to me.

I believe that all corporate welfare should be ended. So should all antitrust laws.

Well, we agree on the first point.
Antitrust should be struck down??
Do you believe that because corporate America is well known for being ‘good citizens’?

No, I don’t think corporate America is known for being “good citizens”, but I think there are effective market mechanisms for punishing inefficient monopolies. Granted, I’ll bet we’re both all for punishing fraud, I just don’t think we should punish success for its own sake.

Ugh. I dont have any more time for this.

You and me both…

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Used up one of my Fifteen Minutes

Yep… I’m nearly famous!

I got linked today by Neal Boortz. Click on this link (scroll down slightly), and my post on Teachers Unions over at The Liberty Papers is Boortz’s first Reading Assignment. Check out the post, as it’s garnered quite a bit of attention.

I’m beginning to think it might be time to start, in the vein of Eric’s Grumbles, and Scott Scheule’s “My Back Pages” blog, of turning The Unrepentant Individual into more of my personal blog, and doing much of my political writing at The Liberty Papers. I may need to start devoting this little site to fun topics like beer, college football, poker, and the random stupidity I see on Yahoo! News on a daily basis.

Part of me feels like I’ll start to neglect the Unrepentant Individual, and I don’t want that to happen. But at the same time, I feel like my best political writing gets cross-posted here and at The Liberty Papers, and since I know it garners the most attention over there, I might just start to specialize and spend less time talking politics here. What do you guys think?

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February 26, 2006


Threat of Teachers Unions

Neal Boortz made a bold statement on his show the other day. He said “the teachers unions are a greater long-term threat to freedom and prosperity than Islamic terrorists”. I’m guessing he came under some fire for that one, because the very next day, he was talking about it again. He said he’d given it a lot of thought, really examined the implications of his statement, and stood behind what he said.

Now, that’s a pretty strong statement, and one that I agree with. Before you all think I’m crazy, I point out the words “long-term”. In the short term, conflict with Islamic terrorists is a direct threat to our freedom and prosperity, and one that needs to be taken very seriously. On the bright side, however, it is one that we’re taking very seriously. We understand the stakes in the conflict, and we are determined to defeat the terrorists. Furthermore, as the Islamic world begins to liberalize and democratize, the threat will diminish significantly on its own.

But the threat of the teachers unions is considerably different. Only a minority of people consider them to be a threat in the first place. Most people in this country think that the unions have education of students as their primary goal, when it is obvious to anybody paying attention that they act in the interest of teachers, often to the detriment of students.

They fight any implementation of standards or testing, because they wish to resist accountability. They fight every program that will increase educational choice for families, because it will lead to a reduction of their bargaining power. They wish education to be handled at the government level, because the government is much easier to lobby and fight than a distributed network of privately-managed schools.

They push endlessly for two specific goals, higher funding and lower class sizes. Higher funding will directly increase teacher salaries. Lower class sizes create a need for higher and higher numbers of teachers, essentially forcing shortages. Hence: higher teacher salaries. It keeps going. They push for a requirement of a “teaching credential” before they push for a requirement that teachers are experts in their subjects. They want to make sure that bright, knowledgeable folks with teaching talent are not allowed to teach unless they have a teaching “credential”. What does all this amount to? Like any cartel, they seek one thing above all: to remove competition. Lower class sizes and credentialing requirements ensure that existing teachers have a strong bargaining position when the union fights for more benefits.

But the biggest problem eclipses all of the above. Their threat to our freedom is not that of newsworthy attacks on human life, but the incremental destruction of human individualism. Boortz explains it much better than I do, when he points out the fact that the government is the actor in our world that we give a monopoly on the power to initiate force. That is an awesome power, and its application must be feared and curtailed whenever possible. But the people we ask to teach our children feed at the trough of government! You will never teach children to fear the application of government power by sending them to government schools. When the teachers unions are helped by a greater concentration of power– as that gives their lobbying much more effect– they will by design support greater government power. And where government power increases, human individualism recedes.

The teachers unions benefit greatly from a public that believes in the idea of collective action, be it union action, government welfare, or simply the “world community”. They benefit greatly from the idea that kids fit into cookie-cutter molds, and if one dares to exhibit individuality, they should be immediately muted with high doses of ritalin. The teachers who benefit from power in government, from keeping children from growing up to question teachers unions, and who prefer the orderly medicated classroom to one that they must keep orderly by inspiring and motivating students, are doing damage to the very fabric of this country. They are creating a nation of citizens who don’t question authority and who don’t have a love of truth and learning. Even worse, they’re creating a nation of citizens without the tools (i.e. logic) to understand the very forces pulling on the levers of their psyche. A nation filled with that sort of citizen is doomed to rot from within.

What will happen if the current situation is continued to exist? What will happen if teachers unions, who have the public on their side (after all, everyone loves and reveres teachers!) continue to stifle competition and standards? Well, I would argue that we’re already seeing the effect, in the inability of schools in much of the country to turn out graduates with a meaningful diploma. I’ve said before that I moved to Georgia partially for the schools, but that is because I moved to an area of Georgia populated by concerned parents who demand accountability from the local schools. Where I moved is somewhere that I might not be ashamed to send my future children to public schools. But my community is an exception in this state, where the schools lag behind the rest of the dullard states in this nation. The situation is bad here and across the country, and it is getting worse.

The teachers unions are not in the slightest bit interested in fixing the problem, except to the extent that it keeps their necks off the chopping block another year. Much like politicians, the status quo is more than suitable for them as long as they don’t awaken the sleeping giant that is the American public. To beat them, we will need to shine a light not only on the results of their actions– the absolutely atrocious education that children in our schools are receiving– but on the fact that the teachers unions are the root cause behind those results. Unions in this country have long received unjustly favorable media treatment, and everyone loves to be on the side of teachers. But unless we can point out the specific ways that teachers unions are harming our children, we won’t stand a chance of beating them.

I’ll be frank. Terrorists setting off a nuclear device in a major American city are a more pressing concern for me over the next 10 years than the actions of teachers unions. But assuming that we can avoid that nightmare scenario, I worry greatly about the world my children will grow up in if we can’t find a way to fix the problem those unions have caused.


The Unrepentant Individual linked with My Favorite Teachers
Committees of Correspondence linked with Carnival of Liberty 34
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February 24, 2006


Dell to offer Linux OS

In my post on Microsoft & monopolies, and moreso into the comments of the same post over at The Liberty Papers, I pointed out the key to breaking Microsoft’s monopoly. I said that all it will take is for a major computer manufacturer to start offering Linux on a semi-large scale. That alone would be the key to giving Linux enough legitimacy that it might crack the critical mass necessary to break monopoly power.

Well, Eric pointed out this post over at Desktop Linux. To be fair, I’m not that clairvoyant, as I never expected it would be Dell to do this first. But they’re asserting their muscle in a way that will force Microsoft to stand up and take notice. And that’s a good thing.

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Sick & Evil Friday

First, the sick:

Contract of Wifely Expectations

How this guy didn’t get the John Bobbitt treatment, I’m not sure.

Then, the evil:

fluffy_destroyer_of_worlds

How can something so cute look so scary? Oddly, he reminds me of that little heathen Spanky…

Hat Tip: Boortz

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February 23, 2006


Will California sign on to RoHS?

Calif. bill would bar toxins in cell phones, iPods

California would require manufacturers to phase out the use of hazardous materials in making cell phones, iPods and other electronic devices under a bill introduced by a state lawmaker.

The bill unveiled on Thursday by Assembly Member Lori Saldana, a Democrat from San Diego, would apply to any electronic or battery-operated device. The bill, which was introduced on Wednesday, would require manufacturers to stop using the substances in devices sold in California by 2008.

“We know that the manufacturers of these products are able to produce them without including harmful toxic materials,” Saldana said in a written statement. “California deserves to be included among the markets that receive this cleaner stream of consumer electronics.”

By 2008? I thought they were actually trying to make changes?

By June of 2006, all electronics sold into Europe need to be compliant with RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances). For all of us in the computer industry, the question we get from EVERYONE these days is “Is this RoHS compliant?” or “When will you have RoHS-compliant product?” Up until recent times, lead has been a primary component of electronic solder, and every piece of electronic equipment you purchase has a printed circuit with components soldered to it.

RoHS has a lot of technical hurdles. There are reasons that certain hazardous substances were chosen for the places they are used: they work. And they work well. They work better than the alternatives, and the manufacturing processes used for the clean components have much tighter tolerances and much less margin of error. That’s not to say it’s not worth it to get rid of hazardous substances in manufacturing, but that it’s costly and difficult.

Why is it that California is waiting until 2008, though? Most electronics manufacturers already work to meet a worldwide market, and the US will be the beneficiary of Europe’s regulations even if we don’t institute them ourselves. Even companies who sell mainly to the US know that these regulations can’t be too far away here, so they need to be ready to supply to these standards anyway.

You know why this bill doesn’t take effect until 2008? Because this California State Representative, like most politicians, doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about! Anyone who understood the situation would know that initiating the bill this late puts you too far out to make Europe’s June 2006 deadline, but the state can be ready by 2007.

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A Literal Need for a Cluebat

Ill. Governor Confused by ‘Daily Show’ Bit

Gov. Rod Blagojevich wasn’t in on the joke. Blagojevich says he didn’t realize “The Daily Show” was a comedy spoof of the news when he sat down for an interview that ended up poking fun at the sometimes-puzzled Democratic governor.

“It was going to be an interview on contraceptives … that’s all I knew about it,” Blagojevich laughingly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in a story for Thursday’s editions. “I had no idea I was going to be asked if I was ‘the gay governor.’”

The interview focused on his executive order requiring pharmacies to fill prescriptions for emergency birth control.

Interviewer Jason Jones pretended to stumble over Blagojevich’s name before calling him “Governor Smith.” He urged Blagojevich to explain the contraception issue by playing the role of “a hot 17-year-old” and later asked if he was “the gay governor.”

I don’t often use the word “Cluebat”. Too often, it is a partisan term used to deride leftists for, well, being leftists. Sure, there are quite a few on the left without a clue, but many more of them are just honestly wrong.

This guy, though, needs a cluebat upside the head. I might understand if some governor representing the Christian right didn’t have an idea what the Daily Show was. I’d expect a staffer to step in and intervene, but you never know. This guy, though, is a Democrat. If he doesn’t know the Daily Show, he doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of those who voted for him. And if none of his staffers are smart enough to give him a heads-up on this? That’s pretty sad…

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February 22, 2006


The Toilet Paper That Broke the Camel’s Back

Man charged in killing over toilet paper

A Florida man has confessed to bludgeoning his roommate to death with a sledgehammer handle and a claw hammer after an argument that started over an empty roll of toilet paper, authorities said Tuesday.

Franklin Paul Crow, 56, was arrested early Monday and later charged with murder in the beating death of 58-year-old Kenneth Matthews in the small town of Moss Bluff, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Capt. Jimmy Pogue said Crow told investigators he grabbed the sledgehammer and claw hammer after Matthews, who rented the mobile home where the two lived, armed himself with a rifle during their altercation.

He later confessed to using the work tools to strike Matthews, who was so badly beaten he had to be identified through fingerprints, about 10 times, Pogue said.

“There were only two people there, Mr. Crow and Mr. Matthews, and unfortunately Mr. Matthews is deceased, so we pretty much just have to go by what Mr. Crow says,” Pogue said. “He says that the argument started over an empty roll of toilet paper.”

This isn’t about a roll of toilet paper. This is probably about a thousand rolls of toilet paper over the course of many years.

This is why I take the trash out when my wife asks me to.


Below The Beltway linked with Tales From The Police Blotter
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February 21, 2006


Who Needs Math?

Obviously not Richard Cohen:

I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time — the only proof I’ve ever seen of divine intervention — somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

Here’s the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know — never mind want to know — how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later — or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note — or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

I’ve often said that writing is a good thing. Writing allows one to clarify ones thoughts. Writing takes what is often floating ideas in our heads, and forces us to place it into proper order. At that point, we can evaluate whether or not it is “logical” and/or meaningful. What’s missing from Cohen’s writing? Logic, obviously…

First things first. Typing is no more than an ancillary skill to Richard Cohen’s career. At worst, he could write his columns by hand, and pay someone else to type them for him. Slightly less worse would be that of the “hunt-and-peck” variety, who type, only less quickly than Cohen. To show just how much of a logical fallacy it would be to say that a journalist’s typing skills are how they make their living would be to hear a computer scientist say the same thing. But by Cohen-logic, it’s true. You must be able to type to write computer programs, right? And learning to type, then, is a crucial skill in the programming of computers. All Cohen has acheived by taking classes in typing is to get his muddled thoughts out of his head more quickly than if he were hunting and pecking for keys. Judging by this column, perhaps thinking more and typing less would have served him better. After all, if typing is the key to becoming a successful writer, there are about a million secretaries across the country about to steal his job!

Second, I hate to even address the fact that he claims to never use algebra in great detail, except to say that he either uses algebra on a nearly-daily basis (albeit without writing out equations in detail), or I hope for his sake that he’s not in charge of his finances. At the very least, if he’s that bad at percentages, by which I assume he’s including those dreaded “fractions”, I dearly hope he doesn’t cook his own meals. If a recipe serves 4, calling for 1/4 cup of this, 2/3 cups of that, and he’s trying to expand it to feed 12, I don’t want a seat at that dinner, because I can be assured that someone who doesn’t do algebra is going to screw it up. Since I’ll bet he manages to survive through his daily life, I’m guessing he does use algebra. If he doesn’t, of course, I’d love to let him have a seat at my poker table!

Following his logical misstep in the claim that learning to type is the basis for becoming a journalist, and his clearly false claim that he has “never one used” algebra in real life, you’d think that would be enough for two paragraphs. But he has to follow it by showing ignorance of the difference between math and calculations. Humans do mathematics. Computers do calculations. Computers and calculators follow a very simple formula: GIGO. You put Garbage In, you get Garbage Out. As an example, the hardest academic class I’ve ever taken in my life was Electromagnetic Fields and Waves. If you’ve ever had the misfortune to take a calculus-based physics class on electricity and magnetism, it’s that class– on methamphetamines with a PCP chaser. In fact, any Purdue EE’s that are reading this are already feeling the migraine start. If you could figure out how to accurately describe the problems in that class based upon the information given, you could quite easily (well, after a double or triple integral) solve the problem. If you could figure out how to describe the problem, you could probably get a computer or a very advanced calculator to give you the correct answer. But the difficult part, and the mathematics involved, is the setup of the problem, not the calculation of the problem. Computers can’t do the math for you, they can only do the grunt-work of calculation. One aspect of learning math, of course, is that it allows you to see through TurboTax’s Guarantee of “100% Accurate Calculations!”, when you understand that all they’re advertising is the ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They’re not advertising 100% accurate returns, but someone who doesn’t understand the difference between mathematics and calculations won’t easily make that distinction.

So he’s thrown up three fairly major problems in a mere two paragraphs… I think I’ve already learned enough to know that I’ll never need to read a Richard Cohen article again. Yet, I am digressing by picking his writing into little shreds. What I really would like to do is explain just how important math and/or logical instruction is to the world. Thankfully– as I’ve already written enough– a few other people have beat me to it.

First, my esteemed colleague KJ of Da Cheese:

Logical reasoning is connected because logic follows from mathematical rules that start in algebra. He says “writing is the highest form of reasoning” or something like that, and math wizzes can’t write. What hogwash. The LSAT, the test to get into law school, has four parts: logical reasoning, reading comp, short arguments and a writing portion.

The highest LSAT scores come from the following majors: (1) Math/Physics; (2) Philosphy/Religion (philosphy typically teaches logic rules that are based in algebra and other math concepts and rules); and (3) Economics (similarly, teaches logic reasoning and uses a lot of algebra and calc).

Not that the world necessarily needs more lawyers, of course! But ask yourself about the times you’ve debated a lawyer versus the times you’ve debated a writer: Which one was a stronger debater? Which one had the stronger logical reasoning skills? While many writers believe passionately and are well-versed on a particular subject, if you had to switch sides in a debate, who would scare you more? That’s what worries me about most lawyers, who can argue both sides of a debate impeccably, because they know how to find and expose flaws in reasoning.

Strong logical reasoning is a key component found among good lawyers. It is not surprising, then, that the people who do well on the LSAT are disproportionately those in majors that rely heavily on those skills. Now, only a small portion of lawyers become litigators, which is what we think of when we hear the word “lawyer”. Litigation takes certain skills of public speaking and oration in addition to those listed above. The foundation of the legal profession, though, is logic and reasoning.

KJ was responding to the claim made by Cohen that “writing is the highest form of reasoning”. I, of course, take issue with a pathetic claim like that. Thankfully, again someone else has done the heavy lifting, and I thank KJ for pointing me his way. Cog at The Abstract Factory:

This leads me to my next point, which is the intrinsic ludicrousness of the claim that writing is the highest form of reasoning. I love writing and I love reading, but no finer device was ever invented for deception, obfuscation, sloppy thinking, and straight-up nonsense than natural language. The proof of this is Cohen’s column, which is a mile-high pile of crap, but is written in a sufficiently entertaining style that many readers will not be put out by the glaring errors of fact and reasoning within it.

People who study reasoning — i.e., logicians — rapidly abandon natural language and develop formalized notation using algebraic rules. (Note that “algebraic” here denotes something broader than high school algebra.) In formal logical systems, one is forced to state one’s premises and rules of inference explicitly; and, given an explicit enough derivation for a conclusion, one can usually determine via syntactic inspection alone whether the reasoning is valid. The tools of formal logic are so useful that non-logicians in philosophy have adopted aspects of them more generally. In fact, formalizing Cohen’s argument above would make it immediately clear how silly it was.

This is why, throughout history, so many of our best philosophers were also mathematicians. Liebniz, the founder of calculus (at the same time Newton was working separately in the same field), was a very well-known philosopher. Descartes, arguably a much better mathematician than philosopher, is more famous for the latter, coining the phrase Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). And the “double threats” of olden days were hardly the exception. Mathematics and philosophy spring from the same well: logic. They are only different applications of the same basic skill set.

The problem with the world today is not that our students spend too much time on math, which so many of them won’t directly use in their careers. The problem is that our schools spend too much time teaching specific knowledge, rather than teaching the basics of thinking.

I personally believe that in addition to teaching algebra, all high schools should teach at least one semester, more likely two, in basic logic and debate. One semester could be devoted to the basics of logic: take an argument, reduce it to symbols, evaluate its validity. Explain what a syllogism is. Explain that for an argument to be valid, the conclusions must flow from the premises according to natural rules. Then show valid but unsound arguments, to ensure that students understand the flaw behind constructing a valid argument based on false premises. The second semester would be devoted to logical fallacies. Explain the correlation/causation problem. Explain why an appeal to authority is false. Explain how people trying to lead you one way or another are prone to giving you a false choice, and how to spot a non-sequitor. This course will be the easiest way to ensure that people aren’t bamboozled by politicians, salesmen, and every other huckster and swindler looking to exploit them.

To prepare students for life in the real world, you can never expect to arm them with all the knowledge they’ll need. The breadth and depth of knowledge necessary to live a successful life is ever-changing and always growing, and is far too wide and deep to cover in four years. What you must do is to arm them with all the tools they need to find and understand the knowledge waiting for them in the world. Reading and writing are crucial tools, because they are the means to acquire and pass on knowledge and ideas. Math, science, and logic, however, are just as crucial, because they are means to understand, evaluate, and differentiate good knowledge from bad. While Richard Cohen may not believe that math in necessary to do this, I think that should cast into doubt any words he writes about economics, taxes, and budgetary matters. Basically, for a political op-ed columnist, if something he writes is more in-depth than a gossip column, consider it suspect.


The Liberty Papers»Blog Archive linked with Threat of Teachers Unions
The Unrepentant Individual linked with Threat of Teachers Unions
Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:54 pm || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


February 20, 2006


Romantic Dinner

Today being President’s Day, my company gave me the day off. The wife wasn’t so lucky. Knowing how jealous she is of me getting days off, and how much she’d hate to have to come home and make dinner for someone who spent the whole day goofing off and blogging, I made dinner for her.

Overall, it was a very easy list of things to buy, and very easy to make. My cooking acumen is largely limited to boiling ingredients to make beer, so if I can do it, you can too. For the guys out there looking to score points, I recommend it. It seemed to be a hit in my household anyway, so here’s what I did:

Salad:
Picked up some mixed baby greens, and vine-ripened cherry tomatoes. Coupled with some of Paul Newman’s Light Balsamic Viniagrette, it was an excellent start.

Main Course:
Baked Salmon: I used two salmon filets, about .5 lb for my wife’s and .75 lb for mine. I lined a cookie sheet with tinfoil, taking care to build walls around the area where the filets would sit to hold ingredients. I spread some pesto bought from Costco on the bottom of those areas, and laid the filets on top. Using a knife, I sliced very small incisions into the top of the filets, and pressed capers into the holes. I placed some capers across the top, and added a small amount of crushed black pepper on top of that. Last, I placed two slices of lemon on top of each filet, poured some white wine (Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc) over the top, and covered the whole thing with another piece of foil. I placed this in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. For me, who likes sushi, I thought it was a tad overcooked. My wife, on the other hand, thought it was perfect. I’d recommend 20-25 minutes for portions that small, but obviously you should cook to your own preference.
Asparagus: Very simple. Bought a small bunch of thin asparagus stalks. Washed them and gave them about 8-10 minutes in boiling water, strained and put back into the pot with a couple pats of butter. Very good.

Dessert:
Light Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream served in coffee mugs, with some portions of a frozen Hershey’s Special Dark bar sticking out of it as garnish. Again, very simple.

Intangibles:
I covered the table in a tablecloth with a candle, dimmed the lights, put on some music. There was some more of the wine available for her, and some very nice Ommegang Abbey Ale for myself. We normally use paper towels rather than actual napkins around the house, so twisting the paper towel into an almost-flower-like shape and placing it in an empty wine glass gave it that extra-special touch.

All told, the whole cost (including beer & wine), assuming you needed to buy every ingredient from scratch, was about $40. If you happen to have some of the ingredients– particularly things like the capers or salad dressing– around the house, it should cut the price a little more. But for barely an hour of work including prep, it’s an easy way to do something romantic. Some of the things I did, like the Special Dark garnish for the ice cream, or the paper towels in a wine glass, really aren’t very exquisite. But things like that are the perfect “guy” added touch. And the added effort goes a long way.

As does telling the wife where you’re planning on taking her for your anniversary, but that part is a whole different post :-)

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 8:36 pm || Permalink || Comments (4) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized



Who Benefits Most From AMT Reform?

In the news recently, and in Congress, discussion has focused upon how the AMT’s net is widening, and the looming “crisis” when it spreads. There’s expected to be an enormous (4x or more) increase in the numbers of taxpayers subject to the AMT in the next year, and the ramifications of this will be brutal if nothing is done. How brutal? Instead of the current 3-4% of households subject to the AMT, we’ll be looking at about 15%:

This parallel tax system was created two generations ago to take away tax breaks from about 150 wealthy taxpayers who had piled up write-offs to erase their tax bills. Chances are, it seems irrelevant if you aren’t among the 4 million taxpayers who owe it for 2005.

But give it time – a year, to be exact. These days you don’t have to be rich for the AMT to wipe out your write-offs.

Though most of them are unaware of it, 21 million Americans are on the hook to pay the AMT next tax season barring intervention from Congress. Some experts predict lawmakers will restore an expired tax provision that had slowed the AMT’s spread through 2005. If they don’t, however, it will unleash a fivefold increase in the number of taxpayers who will owe what one prominent U.S. senator calls the “Darth Vader of the tax code.”

The AMT will strike 35 percent of all taxpayers with $50,000 to $100,000 of adjusted gross income in 2006 – up from 1 percent in 2005, according to the CBO. Two out of three will owe it in 2010.

The AMT will hit 81 percent of taxpayers with $100,000 to $200,000 of adjusted income in 2006, nearly five times the 17 percent share in 2005. It will net more than 95 percent in 2010.

To understand the problem, a little bit of history is in order. The AMT was started in 1969 after it was found that a few very wealthy Americans managed to completely evade paying income taxes. The idea behind the AMT is a brute-force solution to a complex tax code, telling individuals that despite the fact that lawmakers have written thousands of deductions, exemptions, and special rules into the tax code, there is a certain minimum that must be paid. Rather than fix the root problem, which is the carving out of deductions and rules to please special interests, they said that all those rules apply, but only to a certain point.

All the AMT was designed to do is to reduce the impact of all the loopholes and deductions in the tax code, and ensure that those with the means to direct their assets to reduce their taxable income still pay “their fair share”. I personally believe that if we want to look at the problems correctly, we should solve the source (special interest loopholes and deductions), but I’m also an engineer. I know as well as anyone that at times, solving the root problem is simply too difficult. I’ve worked with customers who are running into a technical problem, and it is simply more effective, less costly, and quicker to brute-force a solution than to go fix to the root cause. Given that fixing Congress is probably not going to happen any time soon, the AMT is good legislation– in theory.

In theory, Congress is trying to blunt the tax implications of a few very rich people who are able to shuffle assets and income to reduce tax liability. It is designed for those people who have much more economic freedom than the “average” taxpayer. But therein lies the problem. Congress didn’t design this legislation well, and it’s increasingly affecting the “average” taxpayer (quotes added as it is still restricted to the upper-income taxpayers, but increasingly affecting people who do not employ the sort of advanced tax strategies this legislation was targeting).

It’s somewhat likely that I will be feeling the effect of the AMT next spring, and I can tell you I’m not happy about that. I, like many other people, have to plan my finances based upon certain information. One aspect of that information is the level of mortgage interest I pay, which is deductable. Given that I’ve only owned this home for a year, I’m still at a point where the bulk of my monthly payments are interest, and thus get a fairly substantial deduction. I don’t yet have kids, so perhaps I may be spared. I know lots of young professionals with kids, though, living in places like California or the Northeast, who will run into the AMT next year because their deductions are just “too large”. Especially with the larger mortgages they carry, the interest deduction and exemptions for kids will quickly put them in the AMT’s clutches. For people like me, who base certain financial decisions on what we know of the tax code, getting snared in the AMT net could be tremendously painful.

Congress have their backs against a wall. Budget and revenue projections depend upon the income of the AMT to continue as if there is no reform. Our legislators are expecting to spend the money raised by ensnaring millions of people in this net. When the President’s tax panel gave their recommendations, the reason they had to cut so many personal deductions was to offset the cost of fixing the AMT. They know that to fix the AMT will be incredibly painful, because they either have to reduce their spending plans (not likely!) or find revenue elsewhere– raising other taxes or eliminating deductions.

Congress does not want to fix the AMT. In fact, given that Congress really doesn’t care very much about the “average” taxpayer– as evidenced by their spending habits rewarding people who contribute to campaigns and screwing the rest of us– I don’t think they even care about the financial implications of the AMT upon us. After all, what we earn is legitimately the government’s money, and we should all be grateful they let us keep so much of it. They do care, however, about the political implications. If the AMT ensnares 21 million people this year, the backlash will be enormous. While Congresspeople don’t regularly pay attention to the worries and concerns of us plebes, they saw after Kelo that we can be a sleeping giant. They know that 21 million people feeling the pinch of the AMT may result in them losing their seat of power, which is their greatest and only fear.

Congress is starting to realize that they must reform the AMT or they’ll be in serious political jeopardy. For those of us who pay taxes, however, we know they’re not going to cut spending, so they’ll find another place to squeeze money from us. They’ll distribute the pain the AMT would have caused, in small changes to deductions and exemptions that cause just as much pain for taxpayers, but are harder to spot. We’ll still be screwed, but they’ll be safe. And then they’ll trumpet how wonderful they are for saving 21 million Americans from the AMT, when all they’ve done is to hide that taxation elsewhere.

So who benefits the most from reforming the AMT? Congress. Not that anyone should be surprised by this, of course. The only reason Congress does most things is to increase their own power, and shore up their own safety in office, as we saw from the Bipartisan Incumbent Protection Act of 2002. Remember who’s running this shell game, and you’ll realize that despite how close you’re watching, the shell you pick will be empty.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 11:49 am || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized


February 16, 2006


I’d Like to See This…

Assistant Majority Leader Shadegg?

There is talk on Capitol Hill of fusing Shadegg’s first-principles conservatism and the caucus of like-minded members he represents to the new House leadership team. According to Hill sources, conservatives are looking for a way to incorporate Shadegg into the House leadership structure in an unelected, informal capacity. The term, “Assistant Majority Leader” has been used.

This informal position would be a political winner for the new House leadership team. By elevating Shadegg, leadership would signal to a growing and energetic portion of the caucus that the reform message – and the ideas and proposals contained therein – will not only be listened to, but acted upon.

Certainly, Boehner’s election in itself sends that message. But bringing Shadegg in and giving him a seat at the table is a clear signal to Shadegg’s bloc of conservative supporters that their voice is valuable enough to the new leadership that they deserve a representative in the room for the highest level discussions. Not only would this ingratiate conservatives with the new House leadership team, but it has plenty of upside for leadership as well.

Aside from beefing up the new leadership’s “reform” banner, Shadegg would serve as a valuable conservative temperature gauge. Who knows better how limited government conservatives will react to a piece of legislation than one of their own?

With this sort of talk, one thinks the Republicans may be wising up. It’s been a tough time to be a libertarian over the last few years, because we’ve seen the expansion of government’s scope and budget from the party that supposedly believes in “limited government”. The coalition between libertarians and Republicans over the last 20 years has been a strong component of Republican success. But once the forces of government became aligned, with Republican control of both Congress and the White House, all hell broke loose.

I voted for George Bush in 2004 because I supported his view in the War on Terror, something Kerry certainly didn’t have, and something that Michael Badnarik did not have as well. I voted in 2004 for Republicans for national office, Libertarians for state/local office, because I could not pull the lever for an anti-war candidate.

If we had been in the middle of a peacetime, however, and the choice had come up again, I would have voted for Badnarik, simply as a protest vote, because Bush is the closest thing to a Democrat on domestic policy as you can get without actually switching parties. And the Congress has followed his lead, offering spending bill upon spending bill, racking up deficits out the wazoo.

This could be a strong signal to those of us who believe in limited government that the Republican party is willing to restore our seat at the table, and take us seriously. I think the election of Boehner was a step in the right direction, but giving Shadegg a seat at the table– even if unofficial– will send a very strong signal to those of us desparately hoping all is not lost in the Republican party.

Posted By: Brad Warbiany @ 10:36 pm || Permalink || Comments (2) || Trackback URL || Categories: Uncategorized

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