Education vs Schooling

It is hard to question the value of public schools. The premise, a free education to enable children to lift themselves up and be productive members of society, is certainly hard to argue against. And yet, we see public schools failing, some quite miserably, to produce competent young adults. Solutions proposed, like "No Child Left Behind" are equally hard to argue against. How can a politician vote against such a proposition? And yet we have seen a good deal of backlash from teachers and administrators as to the decrease in quality learning that students have received. Despite all the "work" put into public education, public schools are not producing the intellectual citizens hoped for and desired. So we need to question deeper. I was given an article today that takes a deeper look at public education and provides some refreshing insight. The author, John Taylor Gatto, questions the premises of public education and finds that, not only are they ineffective, but designed to be so. Read with an open mind and see if the content jives with you. At the very least, we need to examine so many of the governmental institutions put in place in the last century that we take as necessary, and public education is certainly one of those institutions that will generally be disregarded in that discussion. The Federal Reserve, the IRS, Homeland Security, and more are easier targets because they have a negative impact on our society. Public education is generally perceived as a net positive for society, and thus tends to be exempt from discussion on its needed existence.

Obama's Wealth Redistribution In Action!

From a mailing list:

Today on my way to lunch, I passed a homeless guy with a sign that read, Vote Obama; I need the money." I laughed. Once in the restaurant, I noticed my server had on an "Obama 08" tie. Again I laughed as he had given away his political preference — just imagine the coincidence! When the bill came, I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone whom I deemed more in need — the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight. I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside, who, I decided, did not need the money as much as the homeless guy. The homeless guy was most grateful! At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment, I realized the homeless guy was very grateful for the money although he did not earn it. And the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn, even though the actual recipient deserved the money more. I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application. Or is it? Redistribution of someone else's wealth is a great idea — or just a fool's game?

It seems like there should be a market for all those Obama supporters to bind together into a group fund that then they can redistribute their wealth by choice, and not force others that don't agree with the method of redistribution. Oh wait, there are…they're called charities and non-profits. No need for the government there! If only…

Important Ideas

  • You cannot help the poor, by destroying the rich.
  • You cannot strengthen the weak, by weakening the strong.
  • You cannot bring about prosperity, by discouraging thrift.
  • You cannot lift the wage earner up, by pulling the wage payer down.
  • You cannot further the brotherhood of man, by inciting class hatred.
  • You cannot build character and courage, by taking away people's initiative and independence.
  • You cannot help people permanently, by doing for them what they could and should, do for themselves.

To whom are these attributed to? None other than Abraham Lincoln. Sad that after all these years, our politicians haven't learned these lessons, and our citizenry hasn't elected politicians that do get it.

Get rid of the Fed

Regarding the VP "Debate": Overall, Palin didn't suck. Biden was good. Neither was very impressive. I would have liked to have seen a third party VP candidate up there to actually talk substance. That said, why will no one acknowledge that the Federal Reserve is directly responsible for the financial meltdown? The monetary supply was increased by the Federal Reserve and loaned that increase to firms on Wall Street at low interest rates. There was no call from the market for an increase, there was no market influence on the interest rate. Other than Ben Bernanke, can anyone name someone else on the Federal Reserve board? Can anyone remember voting for Bernanke to replace Greenspan? So, we have a board with no tangible oversight determining the monetary supply and interest rates. With all this cheap money to be had, and with the nature of Wall Street to make money, it is only natural (good or bad is subjective) for the financial industry to take the money and do something with it. The cliche "kid in a candy store" is so fitting because we are seeing the tummy ache of too much candy. Do you blame the kid for getting the tummy ache? Sure, there has to be personal responsibility. The kid has to learn a lesson. But what about the parent who let the kid run wild in the store? If you gave a kid $500 and let them loose, don't you think they'd most likely buy candy and not something more nutritious? So the Wall Street folks took the artificially low-interest money and went nuts. How did the kid get the $500? It was given to him for essentially free. Now, what if the kid had had to work hard to earn $20, perhaps by mowing the lawn or some other chore. Wouldn't they be more likely to purchase something of value instead of some candy? The same with Wall Street. Given sound money, investments would be more prudent, and investors would not be buying debt-backed investments at such ravenous rates. The Federal Reserve is ultimately to blame for the mal-investments. By corrupting the free market with cheap money, investors binged on candy and now have a tummy ache. The bailout will be another handout, and another tummy ache (or worse) later down the road. Sure, those investors that lost their scruples will need to pay, to be hurt by the collapse. In that way, the market becomes stronger. If the Federal Reserve continues to inflate the money supply, we will see more bubbles (remember, this "housing" bubble was preceded by the tech bubble, which also was fed by artificially low interest rates). Let's take a look at some other numbers. The 2008 fiscal year ended Sept 30th. On that day, the Federal Debt was $10,024,724,896,912.49. $10 trillion dollars. In 1913, when the Federal Reserve was spawned into being, the Federal Debt was $2.916 billion. Almost a 3,500 times increase. The national debt grew by $1,017.1 billion this year (2008), the first time the debt has grown by over $1 trillion dollars. The rancid cherry is that since Sept. 15th of this year, the debt increased $390.6 billion. In 15 days! 40% of the year's debt in 15 days? Sounds like Sec. Paulson and Bernanke have assured the next few generations an uphill battle to solvency. The $700 billion bailout will not stem the tide. It will not turn the ship. It will do nothing but exacerbate the problem. The silver lining, so far, is that the citizens of this country pressured the House enough to get a 'No' vote on the initial bailout bill. The Senate has passed a turd of a bill that includes the $700 billion bailout, as well as over $150 billion in tax breaks. So they want to take $700 billion and remove another $150 billion from the tax revenue. Doesn't that seem odd? Anyway, if Americans are ever to take their country back, a doubling, tripling, even a quadrupling of efforts is needed to ensure the bill does not pass the House. Now, there are those Congressmen that know the bailout is bad news for the taxpayer, but they can't get help but feel like they need to do something. Here's how you can help them do something. When you call, fax, and email them, everyday, you can mention that they should support three bills: HR 2755 (Federal Reserve Board Abolition Act), HR 2756 (Honest Money Act), and HR 4683 (Free Competition in Currency Act). These three bills will help the economy recover in a more timely manner and with more lasting changes that will discourage this scenario from playing out again. To those Congressmen that voted 'yes' on the initial bailout, they must reverse their votes or else be run out of town. To those that voted 'no' initially, encourage them, thank them, and require them to stay true to that 'no' vote.

Happy (belated) Constitution Day

From an email received today:

24 Constitutional Questions Every American Should be Able to Answer Adapted from "A Quiz About the U.S. Constitution" By John F. McManus, writer and narrator of "Overview of America"

  1. Has the Constitution always guided the country?
  2. Does the Constitution allow the Supreme Court to make law?
  3. Does the Constitution allow the President to make law?
  4. Does the Constitution give the federal government any power in the field of education?
  5. Where in the Constitution is there authorization for foreign aid?
  6. What are the three branches of government named in the Constitution?
  7. Does the Constitution require a minimum age requirement for a Senator?
  8. What are the Constitutional requirements for a person to be President?
  9. Did the Constitution give the federal government power to create a bank?
  10. Can treaty law supersede the Constitution?
  11. Does the Constitution allow a President alone to take the nation to war?
  12. Are there any specific crimes mentioned in the Constitution?
  13. Are the Bill of Rights considered part of the original Constitution?
  14. According to the Constitution, how can a President and other national officials be removed from office?
  15. What authority does the Constitution give the Vice President?
  16. How many amendments to the Constitution are there?
  17. Does the Constitution say anything about illegal immigration?
  18. Does the Constitution tell us how new states are added to the union?
  19. How is an amendment to the Constitution added?
  20. Is the term of a President limited by the Constitution?
  21. Which part of Congress is designated by the Constitution as having the "power of the purse?"
  22. How does the Constitution explain expelling an elected member of the House or Senate?
  23. What does the Constitution say about financing a military arm?
  24. How many times is the word democracy mentioned in the Constitution?

Also, why the economy is tanking, why it is the Federal Reserve's fault, and why aren't the two major party candidates talking about it? The Fed and the Recession

Writing Excel Spreadsheets Using PHP

When using the Spreadsheet\Excel\Writer library from the PEAR repository, I came across an issue I didn't see handled in the docs (as of this writing, I am using Spreadsheet\Excel\Writer 0.9.1 beta) My application creates spreadsheets that contain order information. Part of each row is a list of up to 20 ISBNs and the quantities desired of each. The issue came in how to handle ISBNs that had a leading zero. When I first looked through the PEAR docs for the library, a Worksheet method, writeString, looked to be the solution. However, the end result was that while the leading zero was maintained, the cell's format was still numeric. This resulted in the application receiving the generated xls to then drop the zero, resulting in an invalid ISBN. Looking over the internals of the Worksheet::writeString method didn't reveal an undocumented feature that would ensure a cell was read as text, regardless of its contents. I next looked at the Format::setNumFormat method as I knew it contained ways to format the number as currency, timestamp, fractions, etc. You could then pass this Format object as the optional fourth parameter to the Worksheet::write method. Contained in the Format::setNumFormat docs was a link to the documentation of the Excel File Format (found here, pdf). Interested in how exactly the file was structured, I read on. What I learned that was directly applicable is that each cell contains a pointer to a format definition, or XF record, and it was this XF record where formatting was stored. From the doc, section 4.6:

All cell formatting attributes are stored in XF records…The cell records themselves contain an index into the XF record list. This way of string cell formatting saves memory and decreases the file size.

So if two cells use the same formatting, like the ISBN columns would, each cell would contain a pointer to the XF record that would tell Excel the cell was text. Seciton 4.6.1 lists the 6 groups of formatting attributes, the first of which is number format, which is then an index to a FORMAT record. Okay, we're on to something here. Further in the pdf, in section 5.49, we see the definition of the FORMAT record. Lo and behold, the table of formats from the setNumFormat page is listed in the pdf, but we see that the PEAR listing is incomplete. Scanning the complete table in the pdf, we see index 49, type Text, format string '@'. Bingo. Our code for formatting numeric data as text in a string goes a little something like this (modified from the PEAR example code):

$workbook = new Spreadsheet_Excel_Writer();
$worksheet =& $workbook->addWorksheet();

// We'll show dates with a three letter month and four digit year format
$text_format =& $workbook->addFormat();

$worksheet->write(0, 0, "Without formatting");
$worksheet->write(0, 1, '0123'); // cell contains 123

$worksheet->write(1, 0, "With formatting");
$worksheet->write(1, 1, '0123', $text_format); // cell contains 0123

To verify, generate the xls and open it. Right click the cells to modify the format of the cell, and see that the first cell is formatted as a general number, and the second cell is formatted as text. The meta-moral is to read the docs and follow references to get at the source material. Had I not opened the pdf, it may have been a few more time units finding the information on Google. Plus, I learned a lot more about an important file format. I can sleep easy knowing I'm that much more knowledgeable.

Don't buy that politician

From a mailing list:

Just like you wouldn't buy a new car with a serious defect, nor should you vote for a politician with a serious defect and then work to fix it later. You also shouldn't buy a car with a serious defect because the only other car on the lot is an even bigger piece of junk. What should you do? Keep your money and walk, and tell the dealership that you aren't buying until they carry something that's worth buying. That is how we get quality cars, and that's how we'll get quality leaders.

Think voting for a candidate is throwing your vote away because they can't win? Vote for them anyway. Let your voice be heard.

Private Philanthropy

So many government-sponsored social welfare programs are touted as helping the poorer and more disadvantaged in society. While noble in intent, history shows that these programs are at best inefficient. With so much bureaucracy inherent in government doings, these programs are at a disadvantage from the start. So why do they persist? I think mostly because politicians refuse to take a stand on issues. Who wants to vote against welfare? You are immediately pegged as "elitist", uncaring, out of touch with most of Americans. The fact is, the government cannot effectively deal with this social issues, and should not for that very reason. Some would even argue that most of the social welfare programs are un-Constitutional. Indeed, these programs are paid for by forcibly taking money from hard-working citizens and redistributing it according to what the government deems appropriate. A problem with this approach is that a disproportionate amount of the funds go to a small segment of society. Why is my labor paying for a family in another state to live on welfare for years at a time? Why am I forced to make this payment? Who doesn't resent being told to do something, especially if they don't agree with it? And yet, we must comply, otherwise the IRS thugs will take your money by force. How is it moral to force someone to pay for something they don't support, and if they refuse, to take drastic actions to ensure they pay? Indeed, it is an encroachment on personal liberty. How much more fulfilling is it to help out of the goodness of your heart? My volunteer experiences have all been positive and encourage me to continue my efforts. What if it was compulsory? I would probably not expend the effort I do when it's my choice. When it comes to what to do with my money, I'm even more bothered by forced support. That is why reading stories about private businesses and people reaching out into their communities, where they can see a direct effect, are so important to know about and support. That should be government's roll in welfare. Make it easy for people to support their local communities. Incentive it. Don't force it. I firmly believe we have a responsibility to help our fellow man. I do not believe we should be forced by any authority other than our own to do so.

Thoughts for November

As the primary season winds down for our two main political parties, it comes time to question within ourselves what direction we wish our country to take. With that in mind, ruminate on this quote:

A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

The quote, often attributed to Thomas Jefferson, seems to actually have originated from Gerald Ford. Regardless, the message of the quote is clear: big government does not act in the individual's interests, and given a chance, will take whatever it can from you. The perception that we Americans seem to have of our government as fundamentally good is dangerous. When we view the body of history, we see that the more of life government controls, the less liberty the individual is able to express. Both political parties trumpet a decrease in personal liberty, though they would never admit it outright. Democrats hide it under themes of "saving the children" and "eliminating poverty". Republicans hide it under themes of "family values" and "patriotism". How are the parties doing? "Saving the children" has led to a fear, especially among men, that helping a child in need, even if it's your own, will be misconstrued as a sexually-motivated, dangerous activity. There also seems to be an article or editorial every month or so lamenting the lack of un-monitored exploration by children. Indeed, I had free reign of my childhood, traveling the town and surrounding wilderness alone and with siblings. Today, children are fenced in, constantly monitored, given highly structured and "safe" activities, "diagnosed" with ADD or ADHD or whatever they're calling it today, given pills to reign in their natural exuberance. I call bullshit! This sheltered lifestyle, in my opinion, leads to what some Internet commenters call "sheeple", people unable to question authority and assuming those in power know best. While property values have dropped across the country and foreclosures increase, the low-income borrowers have been hit the hardest. Improper lending practices (such as no-money-down, ARMs, especially to first-time buyers) have packaged up debt and exported it worldwide. Because lines of credit have been relatively scarce in low income areas, with the decrease in standards in the lending industry, low income families gravitated to the credit with little more that rosy visions of owning a home of their own. While a noble goal in and of itself, it seems most homebuyers allowed this dream to overshadow the stark realities that came with a mortgage, particularly the adjustable rate variety. So as this housing collapse has come to light and the ramifications are just beginning to be felt, where are the Democrats? Oh yeah, allowing the "Federal" Reserve to bailout the very financial institutions that got the housing market in this mess. What about the little guy? Not a dime. With a majority in both the House and Senate, the Dems have failed to bring help to ailing homeowners. You know what could help the economy? $3+ trillion dollars spent overseas maintaining our empire. Oh wait. With a majority in Congress, their hands on the purse of the government, the Democrats have continually caved to Bush's demands for more funding of the occupation in Iraq. So while Obama and Hillary debate about the war, they and their Democratic cohorts continue to feed the beast. Condemning Bush's foreign policy is easy and takes no guts; opposing funding and actually bringing the troops you claim to support home is hard and takes intestinal fortitude, something history has shown lacking in the Democratic party. Why is that? Oh yeah, 100+ members of Congress directly profit, through their investments, from the military activities in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. Why actually take a meaningful stand and cease to vote for funding when it hurts their individual bottom line? Don't kid yourself…the top echelon of Democratic and Republican leadership all hang out at the same country clubs, are members of the same corporate boards, eat at the same high end restaurants. They are cut from the same cloth; they just think they can keep power by espousing different ways of stealing your liberty. So how does "family values" steal liberty? Probably two of the hottest issues, abortion and gay rights, are both attacked under the guise of "family values". Abortion, in my mind at least, is the trickier of the two. At what point does a fetus gain the right to individual liberty versus the right of the mother to determine what happens to her body? It is a contentious point and not one that is solved, as far as I can tell. Each must draw their own line, and I think at this point government cannot weigh in here with law. Leave it to the mother, her support structure, and the doctor, to determine what is right. Gay rights is, to me, a no brainer. The ability to marry should not be restricted by law. Indeed, marriage between heterosexuals has lacked the moral fortitude that "family values" pushers claim. While the examples are numerous to the point of depressing, let's take a high profile case: John McCain. After his first wife had an accident and was no longer desirable to him, McCain "upgraded" to a newer, younger, richer, and more influential model, Cindy. Sure, he acknowledges his misstep but does that give him the right to tell Ellen DeGeneres she can't marry Portia de Rossi because he believes in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman? The failings of the religious right in upholding their "values" far outweighs any perceived damage from a homosexual lifestyle. Plus, as near as I can tell, the only rationale for opposing gay rights is Biblically based. While the Bible certainly has great stories and examples of noble living, it should not, cannot, be the sole basis for law in a "free" society. I have not seen arguments that are not rooted in Biblical passages. Under the guise of Patriotism, President Bush brought us the Patriot Act, torture, Abu Ghraib, warrentless wiretapping, PROTECT America act, and more. He illegally invaded and occupied Iraq and has, more recently, been beating the drums of conflict with Iran. He speaks to Middle Eastern countries about increasing their levels of democracy and personal freedom, and yet enacts domestic policies that curtail free speech and political dissension. In our current state, we do not represent the country envisioned by the Founders. And exhale! So as we journey down the road to another President, take a real look at what each candidate offers. Obama offers hope. Hope for what? That the Democrats and Republicans can work together to more efficiently to steal our personal liberties? Hilary seems all but out, unless her ace up her sleeve is a hit on Obama, which she recently alluded to in a speech about why she was still in the race. Her voting record and words show she won't get us out of Iraq anytime soon. "Responsible withdrawal" is code for "my generals will 'find' intel that requires prolonging the stay for national security". McCain wants more war (Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb bomb Iran, anyone?). All three want more government control of more aspects of our lives. Try to think of something you do in your day that is not affected directly by government on some level. It's hard. And heaven forbid you rise in dissent…


Thought I'd go ahead and announce, mainly to myself, that I will be working through SICP. The rub…doing it in Javascript. Seems as though most other languages are covered (I know Erlang is taken) and since I am doing an increasingly large amount of Javascript, coupled with the eventual prevalence of server-side Javascript, I figured it best to start getting intimate. What I like about this task is that since SICP has been so widely covered on the web, I have many resources to aid in better understanding the material (and it is some thick material). Anyway, I've begun chapter one and will post the chapters, as well as excerpts I find interesting, in no pre-defined timeframe. Oh yeah, and I'm engaged.