30 January 2006

School Choice

I've thought a lot about vouchers, charter schools and other alternatives to public education. When I took American Heritage, Professor Latimer spent a lecture discussing the merits of applying free market principles to education. As with everything else, we were taught and I continue to believe, that competition would bring a better and cheaper product.

Whatever you may think about No Child Left Behind, you cannot say that President Bush hasn't spent enough on education. Not a dollar has been spared in a continued effort to improve public education nationwide. Despite these efforts, schools continue to fail--most of them in the inner city where they are populated by minorities.

I believe that education is the great equalizer. If reparations are to be made for past wrongs--speaking pointedly about slavery and segregation--then I think those reparations need to made through education. I don't know how this is to be done. But I do know that attending failing schools continues a vicious cycle that all too often ends in prison or face down in a gutter.

The simple introduction of vouchers, essentially applying competition to education, rewards successful schools and punishes failing ones. We've all had good teachers. As I think of my experience in public schools, I can think of a few that were exceptional. The flip side of that are all the bad teachers--some of them downright horrible. In public education there's no way to escape it.

Dennis Miller in "The Rants" talks about how teachers get paid worse than "the kid who hauls grit." Its cliched. Teachers don't get paid enough. The truth is, good teachers don't get paid enough while bad ones get paid far too much. Honestly, if teachers weren't getting paid enough there wouldn't be so many of them willing to work for so little. And yet, the low pay fails to attract those dynamic individuals who were born to teach. Why teach when their skills sell for so much more in the private sector?

It is all the more disconcerting that union-backed Democrats in Florida and Wisconsin are so anxious to strike down laws supporting school choice. Especially when it has had so much success. The Wall Street Journal, a champion of school choice, notes the positive gains made in Milwaukee(as always for non-subscribers, email me with requests for a full-text version of the article).
There's no question the program has been a boon to the city's underprivileged. A 2004 study of high school graduation rates by Jay Greene of the Manhattan Institute found that students using vouchers to attend Milwaukee's private schools had a graduation rate of 64%, versus 36% for their public school counterparts. Harvard's Caroline Hoxby has shown that Milwaukee public schools have raised their standards in the wake of voucher competition.
Vouchers, competition, basic economic principles applied to education--these things would give education and therefore America's youth (especially the underpriveleged) a chance to succeed. It should come as no surprise that a self-interested teachers union opposes school choice. Both the good teachers and the bad pay union dues and neither has control over the use of those dues.

Just last November, a measure in California failed which would have forced unions to get member approval for political use of funds. It's worth noting that its opposition was funded almost exclusively by unions whose members probably never had any idea how their dues were being used. And now, thanks to the success (or failure, depending on your point of view) of their campaign against the referendum, they never will know.

With little incentive other than the internal, warm-fuzzy type to keep the good teachers going, eventually they are worn down. Soon they, like their inept or incompetent brethren, begin to hand out the busy work, down the Diet Cokes and look on as their students cheat under their noses and wonder how their teacher, Mr. or Ms. So-and-So got to be such an idiot.

25 January 2006

Arrested Development, Darrell Jackson & Student Blogs

Less coherent than some other posts, the topics of this post have nothing to do with each other--other than the fact that they are all things that interest me. I start by responding to a critique of Darrell Jackson (aka the greatest WR in the NFL), move on to propagandizing a TV show I thoroughly enjoy and am afraid is going to get cancelled, and finally, make good on a promise to promote a blog written by one of my students. He didn't ask me to, but since he patronized mine I figured I'd return the favor.

Darrell Jackson
In an earlier column I stated my belief that Darrell Jackson would have challenged Steve Smith for best WR in the league. I stand by that claim. An analysis of his performance in every game this season is not fair to Jackson. In the last few regular season games he was coming back from knee surgery and his play was limited and hardly at 100%. A more fair assessment would be to examine the games before his injury and extrapolate those numbers over 16 games. Seattle's first four games were against Jacksonville, Arizona, Atlanta and Washington. Arizona excepting, all these games featured some of the best defenses in the league. His results? 29 receptions for 376 yards and 2 TDs. At the time of his injury he was #3 in the league. This despite being injured in the fourth game against Washington. Though four games are an admittedly small sample, they do represent 25% of the season and were against some of the toughest defense. Does anyone doubt that his numbers would have improved against the likes of St. Louis, Houston and another against Arizona?

Using the numbers from those four gamesDarrell Jackson would have finished the season with a modest 116 receptions, more than Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, or Santana Moss. His 1504 yards would have given him more than Moss or Johnson and just 59 less than Smith. TDs are harder to estimate, but considering he has scored in 5 of 8 games played, despite limited time in the game vs. Washington and late season games due to injury, it's not hard to project a 10 TD season. 10 TDs would give him one more than both Moss and Johnson and 2 less than Smith.

Arrested Development

2+ years ago my friend Danny from Farmington (UT not CA) started telling me about Arrested Development. He said it was the funniest show on television. Just before Christmas, my brother Matt began watching this show. Soon after, I followed his example and have not been disappointed. There is a subtle sense of humor to the show. For the most part, the comedy appeals to intelligent viewers, which is probably why I enjoy it so much. My favorite character is G.O.B., though they are all excellent with their own brand of humor. Following Buster's example, Matt has taken to calling me "brother." Its the type of humor that finds its way into your daily life.

Despite critical acclaim, and campaigns by groups like "Save Our Bluths," this show is in danger of being banished to the realm of cancellation and cable re-runs. Season 3 was shortened and the final two episodes are to play during the same time slot as the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Torino. This is a pretty good indicator of what Fox thinks of this cerebral comedy. Click on the link to "Save Our Bluths" and join the campaign. If you haven't seen an episode of Arrested Development, wake up. It's the best thing going, today.

I ashamed to admit it, but I often use the captive audiences of my American Heritage labs to promote my blog. Some students turn into devoted readers adding to the growing community of readers. Unfortunately too few post comments. I think they are scared away by critical comments. I think it was Dennis Miller, in one of his many famous rants, who said that if someone makes fun of you (paraphrasing as usual), you shouldn't run away and hide but get that little weed whacker of a brain going and come up with a rejoinder. After one of my self-promoting sessions in lab last week I was interested to find that one student had posted about the painful experience that is my American Heritage lab.

I was pleased to read a post or three that was well-written and had a unique sort of self-conscious humor. I especially enjoyed his post entitled "Nerd Eat Nerd," though I think it would benefit from a little more material. He has hit upon a humorous truism and the trick of these things is in the knowing details. Fair assessment?

23 January 2006


I've taken a lot of flak over the years for being a Seahawks fan. Every year would start out with high hopes and me claiming that finally the Seahawks would get over the hump and finally win a playoff game. 1999, Holmgren's first season in Seattle, ended with a loss to Miami. In 2004 in a game against Green Bay Hasselbeck threw an interception that was returned for a TD. Last year the usually sure handed Bobby Engram dropped a TD in the end zone to lose for the 3rd time that year to NFC West rival St. Louis Rams, again in the first round.

This year it seems the football gods have been appeased as the Seahawks have been released from football purgatory--soon there will only be 6 teams in the NFL that haven't been to the Superbowl. No doubt the drought was brought on by the idiocy of the Ken Behring era (he's the guy who tried to move the 'Hawks to SoCal). It's a stretch, but today I met Ken Behring's grandson's best friend (his claim). I wondered about the coincidence and then wondered if the 'Hawks would be able to shake off the stench brought on by his bumbling ownership. I had to bite my tongue when I found out about the association and simply said that "I'm glad he doesn't own them anymore." Boy am I.

A few game observations.

My score prediction was almost dead on. I only failed to account for one more field goal by Josh Brown. Like the rest of the country, I didn't think the Panthers were going to be that bad. But seriously, they were horrible. And it started with Jake Delhomme.

The QB's
Leading up to the game it seemed like everyone thought he was the better of the two QBs. I watched the Panthers play the Bears and thought that he made lots of mistakes in that game but that the Bears failed to capitalize. Matt Hasselbeck solidified his position as one of the elite QBs in the game. As one friend noted during the game, the only shame is that he isn't given more credit in Madden 2006. Time and again (well, at least in the 1st half when Caroline still thought they could win) he evaded the rush to complete the throw or run for the first down.

Everyone talked up the Carolina defense. One roommate agreed with the assessment that Carolina had one of the best front four in football. After stopping one rush series on Seattle's first possession they got blown up for the rest of the game. Hasselbeck's ability to avoid the pass rush actually made Peppers look foolish. One writer called him (Peppers) maybe the "best athlete in the game" and another said he had "feakish talent." How then was a 6th round draft pick out of Boston College able to avoid him the entire game? Carolina sacked Hasselbeck twice--one of those came because he held onto the ball for what seemed like half an hour. Those were the only two times they came even remotely close to Hasselbeck. Panthers defense? Seriously overrated. How else do you explain the fact that Seattle's backup QB was able to catch a 28 yard fade from Hasselbeck in the 1st quarter against one-time Seahawk Ken Lucas? Good decision to leave Seattle Mr. Lucas. We needed someone with less talk and more play--and for a heck of a lot less money.

Best WR in the NFL?
Every article I read told me it was Steve Smith. Too bad the Chicago defense and coaching staff were too proud to come up with a scheme to shut him down, if they had we might have blown them out this week instead of the Panthers. Smith had 33 yards receiving and lost a fumble. Our backup QB nearly equalled that total and secured the football. Had Darrell Jackson not missed 8 games this season I promise he would have challenged Smith for the title of best WR in the NFC. Oh, and that punt return for a TD? Give me a break. The officials shouldn't have picked up the flag for that block in the back. They could have thrown it for 2 other illegal blocks besides the one committed by #50. That was just one of a few bad calls. Other than a sloppy TD late in the game it was the only time Carolina came close to sniffing the end zone--mostly thanks to Jake Delhomme.

The Seattle Defense
I'm not going to say they're better than the Chicago defense, but they sure played a heck of a lot better than Chicago did. The Bears looked like they thought they could walk on the field and Carolina would automatically assume a fetal position. Seattle has had to work for everything they've gotten this year and they did so again this week. It is a shame they couldn't have a re-vote for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year because I've no doubt Lofa Tatupu would win. Few players have done more for their teams--certainly few rookies. He is a leader. He calls the plays and makes sure players are in position and know their assignments. He makes big tackles and had a sweet interception in the 1st half. This guy does it all. That Shawne "my team didn't even make the playoffs" Merriman won the award is a travishamockery.

I read the same numbers as everyone else. Seattle's run defense was one of the best in the league but their pass defense was one of the worst. What far too many experts ignored was the fact that they were missing two of their top corners, their starting FS and another safety for much of the year. Kelly Herndon and Andre Dyson come back and, what's this, they shut Mighty Mouse out of the game and made Jake Delhomme wish he were back in Louisiana hunting something or watching Nascar. What Seattle's defense did to the Panthers is called complete domination. How's this for poetic? Nick Goings lays a hit on Lofa Tatupu but he is the one who has to come out of the game because he was knocked silly. As one friend noted, Tatupu was the difference between SC losing to the Texas T-bones and winning their 3rd National Championship in a row. Think I'm wrong? All Tatupu did last year for SC was lead the team in tackles--the same thing he did this year for the Seahawks.

Shaun Alexander
I know I'm starting to sound like TO, but how is it that Shaun Alexander gets no respect? All anyone could say was how he had been so bad in the playoffs. Apparently getting a concussion doesn't give him a pass for last week's game against Washington. So this week he goes out and rips off a cool 132 yards with 2 TDs on 34 carries--Seahawk playoff records. Yes, I know that's a very short history with very few games, but what other back did better than Alexander this week? He is so much fun to watch.

Many writers picked Seattle to win the game by slim margins but only after trying to talk themselves into picking Carolina. Marc from South Carolina speculated that this was because they all picked them at the beginning of the year and didn't want to look dumb. Either way, Seattle showed that they were the best team on both sides of the ball. Their offense and defense controlled the game. Oh, and Rocky Bernard should have been credited with a 3rd sack. His one-armed take down of Delhomme as he was leaving the pocket was beautiful and made him look like a wimp. Hasselbeck, by comparison, shrugged off several arm tackles to complete passes and rush for extra yardage.

Sunday's win is sweet redemption and as I discussed with Marc, credit really should go to the coaches. Sure, John Fox is the "blue collar" coach of a team described by the same adjective. But couldn't they come up with something new? Linebacker Leroy Hill saw their little bubble screen coming a mile away and blew it up so fast the ball hit him in the back of the head. Seattle coaches put both the offense and defense in position to make plays and the players responded. On defense they shut down the run, contained and abused Steve Smith and drove Jake Delhomme crazy--an admittedly short trip. On offense they picked up all but one blitz, and spread the ball around to 8 different WRs. Oh, and they rushed for 190 yards against the #3 rush defense in the NFL. Did I mention that Seattle completely dominated Carolina?

Let me finish up with a request. The Seahawks have never been to the Superbowl and neither have I. If any of you have any type of connection or just "know a guy" and can get a ticket or four, please let me know. Talk about a dream come true. Joining the 12th Man Seattle fans in Detroit as the 'Hawks take on the Steelers would be positively paradisiacal. Email me at onlifeandlybberty@gmail.com. Thanks.

21 January 2006

Matt Hasselbeck: Best QB Still in the Playoffs

Every day I read the sports page of the three Seattle area newspapers. The Seattle P-I, Seattle Times, and Tacoma News-Tribune all have their strengths. Amidst all the articles (including a Sports Illustrated cover in the Northwest) lauding Matt Hasselbeck's virtues as a QB was this gem reporting little known facts from his offensive linemen.

"Things you didn't know about Matt Hasselbeck (but his linemen do)" by Molly Yanity, reproduced here in full.
There are tidbits about the Seahawks quarterback that only his offensive linemen know. They share them with the P-I:

Walter Jones

"As a person, he looks out for us. He's one of those rare, great guys who really takes care of his offensive linemen. He is always trying to have fun and always trying to keep us in a good mood. It's important to him -- just keeping you up. If you need a laugh or a pick-up, you know you can go to Matt. He's a joker and plays practical jokes, but it's not just about football. You can go to him with anyone."

Robbie Tobeck

"The truth be known, Matt is the biggest dork on the team. Seriously. He's the biggest dork. He's a likable guy still, but Matt is good at the obvious joke. There again, it's like, 'Ha ha, everyone already thought of that.' He's always late with the punch line. But he tries hard. He tries really, really hard and that's kind of what makes him a dork. And, I'm not sure if you knew this about him, but Matt is also bald."

(Hasselbeck heard about the interview and informed this reporter that team president Tim Ruskell will be throwing Tobeck a surprise retirement party when the season ends.)

Chris Gray

"I hear he's particular about his nails. I'm not sure if he goes so far as to get manicures, but he clear-coats them and is into his cuticles and stuff."

(Hasselbeck actually interrupted this interview and showed off his hands. "I don't paint my nails! During the season last year, I'd put nail-strengthener on my middle finger (on his right hand) because I'd keep that nail long to help with spirals. I don't have manicures, geesh!" Gray nodded with a knowing smile at this interruption.)
The game will be played this Sunday at 3:30pm PST (that's 4:30pm MST for those of you math challenged readers) at Qwest Field and will be broadcast on Fox. I promised the football gods my firstborn if they deliver the win and go on to the Superbowl. You can't beat that kind of karma.

20 January 2006

Seahawks 31, Steve Smith 14

For the last four years I have had a season's pass to Alta. One of those years was spent teaching. Monday, with the old man and uncle in town and hoping to avoid holiday crowds, we skied Powder Mountain. The snow was great and we didn't wait in a single lift line. If you haven't skied Powder Mountain, give it a try. Tuesday we skied Alta and they told us Monday was the biggest crowd they'd ever seen. Apparently the parking lot was full and they were directing people to the Snowbird lot.

Also, a short plug for a place that has treated us well. The Deep Powder House at Alta is an excellent place to get your boots custom fitted. This is the single most important piece of ski equipment. Having the right fit is the difference between enjoying the sport and snowboarding. For this reason I highly recommend custom boot fitting. Matt and I have both had minor adjustments made to our boots (in my case they fixed a buckle, in Matt's they adjusted the fit in the heel) and both times the service was performed well and best of all for college students, they wouldn't let us pay them. These were simple fixes--custom boot fitting will undoubtedly cost good money--but they were performed quickly and well. Their service is impeccable and their fixes have worked. Custom boot fitting is expensive, but worth it. Of all the money spent on ski gear, money spent getting the boots to fit just right will be the most important and satisfying.

I have no idea how many points the rest of the Panthers will score, but Seattle will win. I respect Delhomme (after all, we share the same first name) and I know Smith will get his, but the Panthers have no running game. They've got Goings going for them, but Seattle has the 4th best run defense in the league. They still miss Ken Hamlin in the secondary, but all three top corners will be healthy and on the field. Seattle's DTs run four deep and the team led the league with fifty sacks. Chicago's defense, while great, looked uninspired. Carolina had better not expect the same from Seattle.

Last week's win came without Shaun Alexander. Don't worry, according to reports I have read, there will be no lingering effects from his concussion and I hope that means no more crazy TD dances on the sideline (Morgan, thanks for the tip). Seattle's O-line dominated the Redskins and will do the same with Carolina. Hasselbeck was great, showing he can carry the team, but the real story of the game and the season is the play of the offensive line. They are the best in the league. With Alexander back, watch for them to set the tone by running the ball again and again. The best way to beat Steve Smith is to keep him off the field.

Apologies for the long delay between posts. I'm in the middle of a research project involving altitude, snow, and mountains. Keep checking, keep posting comments, and pass the word about the blog to your friends, family, and if you think it's no good, people you don't like.

13 January 2006

Everybody Loves Romney (Mitt)

A Mormon as President? Yeah, right.

At least that's the opinion held by many, including the humble dictator of this blog. Last week James Taranto of the Opinion Journal wrote an article based on his interview with Mr. Romney. Currently Republican Governor of the state of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney gained fame through his help in resurrecting the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

How or why the most liberal state in the Union would ever elect a Republican governor (let alone four in a row) is beyond this writer and is a potential topic for another post. In 1994 Mr. Romney ran against king liberal himself, Ted Kennedy. As anyone who has watched the Alito hearings knows, Ted Kennedy is still seated in the Senate meaning Mr. Romney lost that '94 election. Boding well for Mr. Romney's political fortune in Massachusetts and other Blue states is the fact that he won 41% of the vote--more than any other Kennedy challenger.

Mr. Taranto, whose opinion holds vastly more water than mine, thinks Mr. Romney's chances are better than zero.
Mr. Romney could be an attractive presidential candidate. His sunny disposition puts one in mind of Ronald Reagan -- he laughs easily and smiles almost continuously. He is a governor, as were four of the past five presidents; but he can claim more international experience than most state executives. In addition to his work on the Olympics, he has served on the federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, chairing its working group on intelligence and information sharing.
Though not a war superhero like Sen. Kerry, Mr. Romney can claim achievements in business, politics and the Olympics--an event, you'll recall, that helped heal the nation and show a strong American front in the months following 9/11.

He is a fiscal conservative, helping Massachusetts to avoid tax increases in the lean years following the recent recession. Asked about social policy his response is similar to Pres. Bush. He personally opposes abortion but will not actively campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade. He supports President Bush and his views regarding the war on terrorism and our enviableness in Iraq. His politics seem centrist enough to appeal to many Americans--but he may not make it as far as the general election.

The problem with Mr. Romney's presidential campaign is not so much his appeal to American liberals, but his ability to appeal to conservatives--especially the right wing--those who will actually turn out to vote in the primary election.

Many of his beliefs mirror those of the religious right. Informal polls show he would do well in early primaries in states like New Hampshire and Michigan. But there is a large amount of anti-Mormon sentiment among the religious element of the Republican party, among others. Their opposition could prove detrimental to his early candidacy. The degree to which he is able to overcome this anti-Mormon sentiment will have a great deal to do with his early success.

I once spoke at length with one of his former colleagues at Bain and Co. He told me of an informal speech given early in his 1994 Senatorial campaign. After Mr. Romney gave a little speech, thanking his colleagues for their donation to his campaign, he opened the floor for questions. Among the first questions was one about his position on abortion. After thinking for a moment, Mr. Romney said that it was a tough question, a tough topic. He said, paraphrasing, that it was difficult in the way that the issue of plural marriage had been difficult for his church. His colleague observed to me, and I tend to agree, that answering one controversial topic by raising another one at least as sticky (if not more so), was probably not the smartest politics.

Religious prejudice will be a huge mountain for Mr. Romney to climb in 2008. As Mr. Taranto notes,
[the] crucial question will be whether Mr. Romney's religion is a handicap. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indigenous to America, but many Americans view it with suspicion. In a 1999 Gallup poll, 17% of those surveyed said they would not vote for a Mormon for president, far more than said the same of a Jew (6%) or a Catholic (4%).
At the very least, it should bring a great deal of attention to the church and its values and beliefs. One school of thought holds that any press is good press. I guess his candidacy, successful or not, should make it easier for the next Mormon to run for President or any other political office.

11 January 2006

iPod Ear

If you didn't already own an iPod, you probably got one for Christmas. Failing that, you probably bought yourself one as a New Year's gift like my friend Craig. Since about the 3rd generation (Summer 2003) the iPod has begun to be the ubiquitous collegiate accessory. As one of the first dozen or so at BYU to own one, I pretty much know everything there is to know about iPods. But I didn't know this.

A great article (subscription required: email me a request for full text and I will forward you the article) in yesterday's Wall Street Journal calls attention to one of the results of the ubiquitous iPod: hearing loss. What Jane Spencer calls "iPod ear" is beginning to become more and more common. The problem with MP3 players is on the surface no different from earlier problems with Sony Walkmans and other portable CD players. The difference, says Ms. Spencer, is the duration of listening that accompanies the new technology. With longer playlists and longer lasting batteries, the exposure to loud music grows and is resulting in earlier instances of hearing loss.
Hearing specialists at centers such as the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, Children's Hospital Boston and the American Academy of Audiology say the effect they are seeing now may be only the beginning, because accumulated noise damage can take years before it causes noticeable problems. "We're only seeing a few teenagers with hearing loss at this point," says Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Children's Hospital Boston. But, he adds that many others may have subtle hearing loss that they have yet to recognize, "and by the time they do, they'll have done substantial damage."
You may not notice the damage done to your ears now, and that is one of difficulties in battling hearing loss.

Any idiot knows that going to a rock concert will leave you with a ringing, sort of dull sound in you ears. This has obviously dulled the sense of hearing. Typically, after a few hours, hearing returns to normal and one is able to hear everything as before The Killers latest show.
There are two ways that noise exposure leads to hearing damage. Brief exposures to extremely loud sounds, like gunfire, can cause permanent damage. But consistent exposure to even moderate-level loud sounds wears out the hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for acute hearing abilities. When these cells are damaged by noise exposure -- like a loud concert -- they typically recover after two days of rest. With repeated exposure to loud sounds, however, the hair cells' ability to recover weakens. Eventually the hair cells die, leading to permanent hearing loss.

A 2004 study at Children's Hospital Boston sought to set a safe exposure time for recreational listening by adapting the government standards for workplace noise. According to NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the safe exposure limit is 85 decibels for eight hours a day. (A typical vacuum cleaner emits 85 decibels.) Every time the volume level increases by three decibels, the safe exposure time drops by half.
Every study cited in this article stresses the importance of avoiding the short, loud noises (bull horn, gunshots) and prolonged exposure to above normal or average sounds--iPod listening falls into this category.

I'm not familiar with their music, because, unlike many of your parents, my father listened to Motown rather than Led Zepplin. A recent blog post by Pete Townshend of The Who showed the consequences of listening to music for extended periods.
Mr. Townshend warned the iPod generation about the dangers of hearing damage, and said he blames his own severe hearing loss on years of using studio headphones. "Hearing loss is a terrible thing because it cannot be repaired," wrote Mr. Townshend. "If you use an iPod or anything like it, or your child uses one, you MAY be OK… But my intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead."
This article came as a bit of a wake-up call. I sometimes use listening to my iPod as an excuse to avoid talking to people as I walk across campus. But seriously, if like me, you listen to your iPod as you ski or do other athletic activity, be careful. I think the advice about being able to hear normal conversation with the earbuds in and the music on is good. Try that.

05 January 2006

Dateline: Rossland, B.C.

Rose Bowl
So I was a little off with my Rose Bowl prediction. It also seems BYU isn't the only team that can't tackle. Unfortunately that's the only thing they have in common with USC. Vince Young was clearly inspired by losing the Heisman to Bush. The announcers fell all over themselves praising his play--and he was good--but I don't know if he'll be able to make it in the NFL. The zone-read play and option will not work in NFL where defenses are much faster. I could be wrong, but he could be another Michael Vick--good for a highlight or two a game, but unable to work the West Coast Offense. Otherwise, congrats to Texas, hook 'em horns.

Fantasy Football
I should have thanked him sooner, sorry Robbie. This last week concluded the season for my fantasy football league, broke phi broke. Though I finished 3rd in the regular season, I pasted R Jones in the Championship 69-49. Thanks for playing.

Canadian Observations
I don't want it to seem as though I don't like Canada. I think its a great country. I have a good friend from Toronto, though I haven't heard from her in a while... Anyway, the skiing is great.

Specifically, Red Mountain. Size wise, this is the smallest of the three we have skied, but the snow conditions have been by far the best. My brother tells me Red Mountain has the finest glades skiing in North America. I've only skied 15-20 resorts but it is definitely the best glades skiing I've skied. The people are nice and the burger with carmelized onions was delicious. One thing I've noticed is that a high percentage of Canadian women have pierced noses and lips. I can't figure out what that's about.

I've read about the same speech in both the National Review and Best of the Web and it fits my Canadian theme so I figured I'd better reproduce it here. This is the National Review version.
Here is a news item from the Friendly Giant to Our North--a country large and consequential enough, you would think, that a person who had once served as its minister of defense and deputy prime minister would be possessed of more than the average endowment of gravitas [link added for my American Heritage students still reading my blog]. Think again. Paul Hellyer, who held those positions under Prime Ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau, recently told an audience at the University of Toronto [is this a serious school?] that George W. bush is planning for an intergalactic war against space aliens--you know, the ones in UFOs, which vessels are, averred the former Sec Def and Deputy PM, "as real as the airplanes that fly over your head." Warming to his theme, Hellyer accused the Bush administration of planning a forward base on the moon, the better to counterattack the extraterrestrials. "The time has come," he concluded,"to lift the veil of secrecy, and let the truth emerge, so there can be a real and informed debate, about one of the most important problems facing our planet today." The speech received a standing ovation. So now we know: Hatred of George W. Bush , in combination with the enervating effects of living in the world's most boring country, can send you barking mad.
So what's the excuse of left-wing nuts in the States? One thing the University of Toronto has in common with liberal schools in the U.S.--all a speaker has to do is mention their hate for George W. Bush (even if the speech asserts the existence of ET) and they will get a standing ovation. This guy really should meet Michael Moore, though I'm afraid of the freak of a love-child movie this union would produce. Fahrenheit Area 51 anyone?

03 January 2006

Dateline: Fernie, B.C.

The first night we drove eight hours to Golden, B.C. to ski Kicking Horse. I'm told they have the 2nd or 3rd highest vertical feet in North America. And they needed it. They never get much snow and apparently they have even less this year. Before skiing Kicking Horse, I'd never before ridden a chair down the mountain. With more rocks than snow on the lower third of the mountain everyone was doing it. The upper third of the mountain had fairly good coverage and Kicking Horse in general had some of the best in-bounds territory we'd ever seen.

After Kicking Horse we drove to Fernie. This Canadian Rocky Mountain resort (Kicking Horse was in the Selkirks) had the benefit of more snow--though it was wetter owing to the lower elevation and latitude, and higher temperature.

Tomorrow we will ski Red Mountain. I've skied Canada before, but coming back has reminded me of several things. The metric system is a pain when driving and deceptive when it comes to snow depths. Fernie's 165cm base doesn't even approach Alta's 115 inch base--Alta has nearly twice as much snow. Talking to some Canadian college kids in the tub at the end of the day we realized that they knew everything about the States and football but we couldn't care less that there were more Canadians on some NHL team in Florida. Apparently they cancelled the season (maybe it was last year?)? Anyway, we didn't know or care. Poor Canadians, they were proud of the fact that the exchange rate was the best it has been in years--and the Canadian dollar is still only worth roughly $0.85 U.S. Also, good luck buying Diet Cherry Coke--they don't sell it up here. I will give them one thing; every place we have stayed has had wireless internet.

Thanks to that wireless internet I've been able to keep up on at least some of my reading. The recent firing of Sonics Head Coach Bob Weiss reminded me of a topic I've thought a lot about: hiring and firing of coaches at every level in every sport. I think, I hope, that when a coach is hired, those doing the hiring base it on clearly (and easily) identifiable principles. Winning seems to be the derivative of so many different factors--things like various statistical categories, player-coach relationships, personal conduct, etc., and at BYU they had policing, enforcement, and education of the Honor Code. When they make a decision to fire a coach, I think they need to evaluate their original position and ask themselves what has changed, fundamentally, to give justifiable cause for the firing. "Black Monday" in the NFL and other high profile, forced exits just seem to be made on a whim with very little underlying cause. I agree that the won/loss column is the ultimate arbiter at the pro, college and increasingly (and unfortunately) even the high school level. But I have to think that winning and success are based on some underlying foundation or principle. Thoughts?

USC 41 Texas 24 - I think UT will hang with USC for the first half. In the 2nd half SC will kick it up a notch the way they have all season and show the pretenders and the nation what it means to be the best. Here's to 3 National Championships in a row. Go SC!

01 January 2006

Resolution: Health Care

The rising cost of Health care seems to be the topic of the day. In any given Gallup Poll questioning Americans about their Top 10 concerns, health care will undoubtedly be found in the top three. Open any newspaper or other favorite periodical and you will find a headline decrying the rising costs associated with staying healthy. Inevitably the article will speak of a family in Cincinnati or some other all-American city. It will be a family of four with both the mother and father employed. Somehow, because of a problem with “the system/program” they will be making enough money to be excluded from Medicare but not enough to pay for their own health care costs.

The article will inevitably speak of how there are forty-five million (45 million!) Americans just like them who are without healthcare or insurance of any kind. This is where the article takes a decidedly more opinioned tone and the author typically critiques the plans of President Bush and his administration. The reporter is editorializing when she or he should be reporting—-just the facts please, ma’am.

I am not employed by the Bush administration in any fashion, and do not always agree with his policies, but call this a wholehearted endorsement of his Health Savings Accounts.

Health Savings Accounts are based on the same principles as many of Bush’s other “ownership society” measures. Give the control or "ownership" to the people. It is based on the assumption that individuals will make rational choices to benefit themselves--similar to basic assumptions made by economists. The premise of this plan is that people can set up a tax-free account devoted to payment of costs associated with their health care. Into this account they can place some $2000 (the number is still not set) to be used for health-related costs--prescriptions, doctors visits, etc. Instead of subsidizing HMOs by not taxing, they are subsidizing individual-controlled Health Savings Accounts. The idea is, that having set up an HSA, the individual will then purchase insurance which will cover costs beyond the $2000 in their HSA. This insurance will cover catastrophic costs and not the normal day-to-day costs associated with health insurance. Now, because the individual is in control of this money and how it is spent, every cough and ache does not require visit to the doctor and generic drugs become good enough.

There are essentially two issues causing the ever-rising costs of health care: problems with the way insurance is used and the out of control costs resulting from frivolous lawsuits. I'll leave Tort Reform for another day and treat the two problems of insurance as usual. Currently the government taxes wages, without getting into the minutiae of how it works, it's enough to know that these taxes affect both the employer and employee. At the same time the government does not tax payment in the form of health care. Because of this employees see are larger portion of their salary in the form of health care--this because of its (health care's) rising costs. Most health care--government run, business run, whatever--usually require payment of a $10 or $20 deductible. After this payment, the patient/participant can then receive whatever services outlined by the insurance company. Because there is nothing limiting this consumption and because this is a form of their income, the employee/patient/participant has incentive to use and abuse this health plan.

This abuse points a flashing bright neon sign at the fundamental problem with government run health programs and HMOs. Because the money is not owned by anyone and payment levels are required, there is no incentive to keep costs down. The slightest ache or pain merits a visit to the doctor and when there is no extra cost for the full barrage of testing, the patient orders them all. This problem is what economists call “tragedy of the commons.” A common area, owned by no one but used by all is maintained by none and taken advantage of by everyone. HSAs solve this problem by putting the individual in charge of all basic health care and invokes the help of insurance only in cases beyond the means of the $2000 socked away in the HSA. What’s more, any unused funds in the HSA can be rolled into the next year with the same level of contribution allowed. This makes it another way for people to save for retirement with payment of tax on HSAs deferred until future withdrawal.

All this begs the question, when HSAs make so much sense, why don’t we know more about them? I believe the questions has two answers. In the first place, the press has not taken the time to educate themselves about HSAs. They are complicated (though not as complicated as the new prescription drug plan) and difficult to first understand and then explain. Its much easier to write an article about a suffering family of four in Cincinnati (though suffering less because of Carson Palmer)--that's the type of thing that sells papers and appeals to the politics of idealistic young liberal reporters. Lastly, President Bush needs to do a better job of explaining his plan to Americans. If this requires circumventing an unsympathetic press corps, so be it.

Health care costs and problems will not go away. If anything, it will continue getting worse--unless something is done. HSAs are one way to attack the problem, tort reform is another and will be the topic of a future column.