Monday, October 26, 2009

Rental Car Review

I've traveled a lot recently for my job. I've been twice to Reno, NV and once to Troy, MI. Each time, I rented a car from Avis, and each time, the experience was quite pleasant. The cars themselves, however, bring me to the conclusion that GM is (was?)severely mismanaged, ignorant, and rightly deserving of bankruptcy.

My first rental car was a Chevy HHR, in Silver. New to business related travel, I had not signed up for frequent flyer miles, hotel points, or car rental rewards. As an Avis non-Preferred member, I had to walk to the far-away parking spaces to get to my assigned vehicle.

I'm not a large person, but inside the HHR I felt cramped. I've seen museum-piece APCs with larger viewports. Visibility sucked, but the controls were also in an awkward place in the console between the front seats. Window controls weren't on the door panel like 98% of people are used to. It made me nervous when I rolled-down the window while driving. I've been driving a car for 10 years now; I should be able to roll down a window at highway speeds without having to think about it. Not the case with the HHR.

One good point was the large trunk. You could fit a lot of suitcases back there.

By the next trip, I had signed up for Avis Preferred service. Free sign up, and the very next trip, I got a much better car. It was parked closer, and they had it unlocked, trunk open, and the engine running for me. By some stroke of luck, the seat was even at the exact right distance.

The car, this time, was a Pontiac G6 with less than 1000 miles on it. It drove fantastically. Were I in the market for a new car, I'd seriously consider getting one of these. It was fun to drive. (It'd probably be better with a manual transmission, but then, what isn't?) It was a nice car, and after driving HHRs, I can see perfectly why Pontiac was the first brand that GM dropped. (/sarc)

That trip was a fluke. Each time since then (about three or four trips), I've gotten HHRs. It's clear that the biggest buyer of these vehicles is rental companies, for whatever reason. Hopefully, next time I need to rent a car, my travel agency won't order another hearse/milk truck mashup that is Chevy's HHR.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Education in America

This is from April, 2007.

The State of Public Education

I was surveyed a while back, a month or two ago to be slightly less vague. The survey was about my education in NC public schools. Whether I'm successful after it, if the classes adequately prepared me for college, that kind of stuff.

The classes were, for the most part, adequately satisfactory. It's all the other crap required of students that didn't help one iota.

Academic courses are useful for college students. They enforce study habits, teach you stuff, and prepare you for the work load expected of you in college. However, not everyone needs to go to an institution of higher learning.

I got great grades in school, did well in college too. I couldn't find a job though, at least not one in my field. Having spent months looking in the classifieds for jobs, I came to this conclusion: vocational skills are in great demand. Schools are focusing on academia at the expense of blue-collar training. And there's more money to be had in blue-collar labor than in academia. Much more.

Schools realize they need to better prepare their charges for the real world. Officials just don't have a clue how to do it. They think that requiring students to do some public speaking, writing tests, and a vague "Project" will prepare them.

Well, those ideas won't prepare anyone for anything.

I had to do the speech to graduate High School. I barely passed. Later, at Appalachian State, I had to take a public speaking course, as required by my major. The professor, the Dean of Admissions, was one of the best teachers I had. He said he liked to teach at least one course a year, citing that it helped him stay connected to the needs of the students. (If more administrators shared his dedication...) He cared about our success, taught us how to write and then perform a speech instead of merely saying "Here's a topic. Give me a speech." Consequently, I now have no fear of public speaking, and can pontificate in public quite well.

The moral of that anecdote is that an ancillary assignment in addition to all other courses doesn't get the job done. Teachers have to take enough time from instruction as it is with disciplinary action based on dress code violations and the like. Making them proctor speeches, when most kids don't know the first thing about them is counter-productive. It took a semester long, three credit hour course to get me to give a good speech. School boards expect kids to do it without any lessons?

Instruction time is valuable. Teachers need all of it, and if they're not using it completely, it's detrimental to their pupils. Wasting time with ancillary, half-assed requirements is of aid to no one.

That being said, here's what to do about making American schools better. American school systems accept everyone. Foreign school systems have a school for the college bound, a school for the service industry bound, a school for mechanically inclined individuals, etc. When 87% of Japanese kids score in the 98th percentile, it's irrelevent data to Americans. The test is administered only to the elite. So: quit comparing American schools to foreign ones.

Second: Kids need to be better behaved. That's not an easy problem to solve, but the solution lies at home. Good parenting makes for well behaved children, which makes for more attentive students, which gives the teacher more useful learning time. Parents need to take responsibility for their children, and not pawn them off on the free babysitter that the state provides. That free babysitting service has an extremely high, extremely fast burnout rate, and said burnout rate is in direct proportion to the number of bratty young'uns a teacher has in his class.

Three: Prepare students for what they want to do, and don't waste their time with courses they won't ever need later in life. Vocational programs must have funding. Give the mechanically inclined their auto-shop, their carpentry classes, their metalsmithing. Give the college bound their courses, but don't force the Future Farmers of America to take AP European History. It's exactly like the foreign school model (surprise!) which, incidentally, will give American number crunchers some hard facts to analyze and compare.

Mostly though, parents: take note of your kids. Encourage them to pursue career paths in fields they enjoy. If they like tinkering with Legos, suggest engineering to them. If they've gotten 20 speeding tickets, maybe you ought to take them to the dragstrip sometime, or pick up a pamphlet for Nascar College in Tennessee. Make learning fun for them. Lord knows the schools aren't doing it.

------
New material given the pseudo recent changes in the economic climate:

Classifieds don't exist anymore. There aren't any jobs to be had. But those with a vocational background and experience will always be able to do something. The Sears Auto and Tire Department might not be hiring, but if you've got your own equipment, there's nothing to stop you from running a 'donations accepted' car clinic in your church parking lot every week.

Enterprising individuals with a good skill set can go as far as they want to. Everyone needs and will continue to need plumbers, mechanics, roofers, carpenters, machine operators...etc, etc. People won't always need Microsoft Office 2000 certified Fortran programmers. Or Ph.Ds specializing in Siberian folk art.

It's important for people to love what they do for a living. But it does them no good if what they love doesn't put food on the table.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Universal Health Care

My issue is that the game of life has well-written rules. Some jobs have better benefits than others-and health insurance is a good benefit to have. Employers that provide health insurance usually require education, hard work, and dedication.

The playing field is level. Person High graduates have been accepted to Ivy-league schools. Anyone can work hard, get the great job with the excellent health benefits, but fewer and fewer people put in the time.

Since I did work hard, why should I have to carry the freeloaders? Consider the story of Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness). Asked about his rags to riches success on a morning news show, he had this to say:"I did it with a 10 month old. What's your excuse?"

Health insurance is a great thing to have, but it's not an inalienable right. We have the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Personal liberty is spelled out in our Constitution. It places very specific limits on the power of the Federal government, limits that have largely been ignored, trampled on, and forgotten since the Philadelphia Convention signed the document.

It's well known that merely pursuing happiness does not guarantee that one will actually find it.

But Life, that sounds like it falls under the purview of Healthcare! If we are guaranteed life, that must mean we're guaranteed the best quality life that modern medicine can provide! Au contraire, mes amis. The right to life simply means that the government won't kill you outright. Thomas Jefferson mentioned nothing about Quality of Life when he wrote his Declaration. It is a fact that good health drastically improves one's quality of life. So does having lots of money. And these days, it seems that money and health are mutually exclusive goals.

Free health care for all persons in the United States, be they here legally or otherwise, sounds like a great idea. But it will fail. America has the greatest doctors in the world, and that's in large part due to the fact that doctors here get paid a lot more than they do in other countries. Doctors provide a service that everyone will need at least once in their lives. They can pretty much charge whatever they want, and someone will pay it. However, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services--the existing government health care plan) only pays a certain amount for each procedure, visit, and consult. Given what equipment is necessary for a procedure, CMS might not cover the expenses. If a physician wants more money, he has to make it up with private insurers, or self-pay patients. most insurers pay only what Medicare pays, so if the doctor charges more, tough break, he's going to get reimbursed at the CMS level. Any overhead, then, is left to the self-pay patient, who either pays, or gets his credit rating slashed.

It's expensive to be a doctor, just with equipment, training, support staff, and overhead, but then there's the lawsuit-hungry culture we live in. If the weatherman calls for 6 inches of rain and there's bright sunshine instead, he's never called to task. A doctor can diagnose a patient complaining of hot flashes and headaches with symptoms of menoupause. But if the patient dies of complicatiosn related to pheochromocytoma, then the doctor will get sued. The doctor will do his best to isolate teh pheochromocytomas from the menopauses, but mistakes happen. When a doctor makes a mistake, people die. Consider if everytime you missed a turn when driving, someone died. Before too long, you'd drive very carefully, and you'd almost never miss turns. But you'd never be perfect, and once in a great while, you'd get cut off at the last minute, or the exit wouldn't be marked, or you'd be tired from the fourteen hour workday you were finishing, and you'd miss your turn. And everytime that happened, you'd have to shell out at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, and that's if it wasn't any fault of your own.

And people wonder why healthcare is expensive?

So how do we fix it?

Tort reform is a good start. John Edwards made millions suing the pants of physicians. You can bet he doesn't want tort reform. There's lots of good money to be had there.

Pay for performance is another option. Right now, doctors get paid based on the number of patients they see, and the number of procedures they complete. From a billing standpoint, MRSA is the best thing that ever happened to hospitals. I haven't seen any models for how pay-for-performance works, but the idea behind it is that physicians get reimbursed at a higher rate for patients that stay healthy after seeing the doctor. If a patient has to come back repeatedly, the doctor wont' get paid as much. That has it's own legion of dangers, though. Doctors will only take on simple cases, with healthy patients, and the sickest won't get the care they need.

Warranties is a good idea though. Geisinger Health offers a warranty on heart surgeries. There's a standard price that the doctor gets paid for the heart operation. Any complications with the surgery then come out of the doctor's pocket. If the patient gets sick as a direct result of the surgery or hospital stay, the patient does not have to pay extra.

Those are just a few ideas. The one that we know will never, ever work, is government control. Do you want your hospital run like the DMV? Or the Post Office? Or Amtrak?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It bears repeating:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A question for Liberals

I got this in my inbox today. It's a newsletter from Jen O'Malley Dillon, Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee.


There's been a lot of media coverage about organized mobs intimidating lawmakers, disrupting town halls, and silencing real discussion about the need for real health insurance reform.
The truth is, it's a sham. These "grassroots protests" are being organized and largely paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies who are desperate to block reform. They're trying to use lies and fear to break the President and his agenda for change.

Health insurance reform is about our lives, our jobs, and our families -- we can't let distortions and intimidation get in the way. We need to expose these outrageous tactics, and we're counting on you to help. Can you read these "5 facts about the anti-reform mobs," then pass them along to your friends and family?
5 facts about the anti-reform mobs

1. These disruptions are being funded and organized by out-of-district special-interest groups and insurance companies who fear that health insurance reform could help Americans, but hurt their bottom line. A group run by the same folks who made the "Swiftboat" ads against John Kerry is compiling a list of congressional events in August to disrupt. An insurance company coalition has stationed employees in 30 states to track where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings.

2. People are scared because they are being fed frightening lies. These crowds are being riled up by anti-reform lies being spread by industry front groups that invent smears to tarnish the President's plan and scare voters. But as the President has repeatedly said, health insurance reform will create more health care choices for the American people, not reduce them. If you like your insurance or your doctor, you can keep them, and there is no "government takeover" in any part of any plan supported by the President or Congress.

3. Their actions are getting more extreme. Texas protesters brought signs displaying a tombstone for Rep. Lloyd Doggett and using the "SS" symbol to compare President Obama's policies to Nazism. Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil was hanged in effigy outside his district office. Rep. Tim Bishop of New York had to be escorted to his car by police after an angry few disrupted his town hall meeting -- and more examples like this come in every day. And they have gone beyond just trying to derail the President's health insurance reform plans, they are trying to "break" the President himself and ruin his Presidency.

4. Their goal is to disrupt and shut down legitimate conversation. Protesters have routinely shouted down representatives trying to engage in constructive dialogue with voters, and done everything they can to intimidate and silence regular people who just want more information. One attack group has even published a manual instructing protesters to "stand up and shout" and try to "rattle" lawmakers to prevent them from talking peacefully with their constituents.

5. Republican leadership is irresponsibly cheering on the thuggish crowds. Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement applauding and promoting a video of the disruptions and looking forward to "a long, hot August for Democrats in Congress." It's time to expose this charade, before it gets more dangerous. Please send these facts to everyone you know. You can also post them on your website, blog, or Facebook page.

Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong together and defend the truth.

Thanks,

Jen

Jen O'Malley Dillon
Executive
Director
Democratic National Committee



If I could ask Jen one question, it would be this: How do you like it, now that the shoe is on the other foot?

I think I already know the answer.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Universal Health Care

My issue is that the game of life has well-written rules. Some jobs have better benefits than others-and health insurance is a good benefit to have. Employers that provide health insurance usually require education, hard work, and dedication.

The playing field is level. Person High graduates have been accepted to Ivy-league schools. Anyone can work hard, get the great job with the excellent health benefits, but fewer and fewer people put in the time.

Since I did work hard, why should I have to carry the freeloaders? Consider the story of Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness). Asked about his rags to riches success on a morning news show, he had this to say:"I did it with a 10 month old. What's your excuse?"

Health insurance is a great thing to have, but it's not an inalienable right. We have the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Personal liberty is spelled out in our Constitution. It places very specific limits on the power of the Federal government, limits that have largely been ignored, trampled on, and forgotten since the Philadelphia Convention signed the document.

It's well known that merely pursuing happiness does not guarantee that one will actually find it.

But Life, that sounds like it falls under the purview of Healthcare! If we are guaranteed life, that must mean we're guaranteed the best quality life that modern medicine can provide! Au contraire, mes amis. The right to life simply means that the government won't kill you outright. Thomas Jefferson mentioned nothing about Quality of Life when he wrote his Declaration. It is a fact that good health drastically improves one's quality of life. So does having lots of money. And these days, it seems that money and health are mutually exclusive goals.

Free health care for all persons in the United States, be they here legally or otherwise, sounds like a great idea. But it will fail. America has the greatest doctors in the world, and that's in large part due to the fact that doctors here get paid a lot more than they do in other countries. Doctors provide a service that everyone will need at least once in their lives. They can pretty much charge whatever they want, and someone will pay it. However, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services--the existing government health care plan) only pays a certain amount for each procedure, visit, and consult. Given what equipment is necessary for a procedure, CMS might not cover the expenses. If a physician wants more money, he has to make it up with private insurers, or self-pay patients. most insurers pay only what Medicare pays, so if the doctor charges more, tough break, he's going to get reimbursed at the CMS level. Any overhead, then, is left to the self-pay patient, who either pays, or gets his credit rating slashed.

It's expensive to be a doctor, just with equipment, training, support staff, and overhead, but then there's the lawsuit-hungry culture we live in. If the weatherman calls for 6 inches of rain and there's bright sunshine instead, he's never called to task. A doctor can diagnose a patient complaining of hot flashes and headaches with symptoms of menoupause. But if the patient dies of complicatiosn related to pheochromocytoma, then the doctor will get sued. The doctor will do his best to isolate teh pheochromocytomas from the menopauses, but mistakes happen. When a doctor makes a mistake, people die. Consider if everytime you missed a turn when driving, someone died. Before too long, you'd drive very carefully, and you'd almost never miss turns. But you'd never be perfect, and once in a great while, you'd get cut off at the last minute, or the exit wouldn't be marked, or you'd be tired from the fourteen hour workday you were finishing, and you'd miss your turn. And everytime that happened, you'd have to shell out at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, and that's if it wasn't any fault of your own.

And people wonder why healthcare is expensive?

So how do we fix it?

Tort reform is a good start. John Edwards made millions suing the pants of physicians. You can bet he doesn't want tort reform. There's lots of good money to be had there.

Pay for performance is another option. Right now, doctors get paid based on the number of patients they see, and the number of procedures they complete. From a billing standpoint, MRSA is the best thing that ever happened to hospitals. I haven't seen any models for how pay-for-performance works, but the idea behind it is that physicians get reimbursed at a higher rate for patients that stay healthy after seeing the doctor. If a patient has to come back repeatedly, the doctor wont' get paid as much. That has it's own legion of dangers, though. Doctors will only take on simple cases, with healthy patients, and the sickest won't get the care they need.

Warranties is a good idea though. Geisinger Health offers a warranty on heart surgeries. There's a standard price that the doctor gets paid for the heart operation. Any complications with the surgery then come out of the hospital's profits. If the patient gets sick as a direct result of the surgery or hospital stay, the patient does not have to pay extra. It puts a great burden on the doctors to provide the best care they can.

Those are just a few ideas. The one that we know will never, ever work, is government control. Do you want your hospital run like the DMV? Or the Post Office? Or Amtrak? Or Acorn?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Big Hollywood Requests: A List of Favorite Movies

As commentor dan_O requested, here's a list of my all-time favorite movies. These are in no particular order, except for the first handful. Some of them aren't worth watching more than once, but they do need to be seen at some point in your life.

Boondock Saints
Equilibrium
Batman: The Dark Knight
Batman Begins
Breaking Away
XXX (better than James Bond, if I say so myself.)
Sullivan's Travels
1776

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Sleeping Beauty
Beauty and the Beast
Rules of Engagement
La Boum
The Princess Bride
Die Hard with a Vengeance
The Prestige
It Happened One Night
Stranger Than Paradise
Bull Durham
Fistful of Dollars
Star Wars (all 6, but I like ep 3 the best)
Far and Away
October Sky
Terminator 1 and 2
Shaolin Soccer
To Sir, With Love
Rocky (1 & 2)
A Christmas Story
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Muppet Family Christmas
Amelie
Les Ripoux (aka "My New Partner")
Jean de Florette
Charade
Meet Me in St Louis
Stand and Deliver
Amadeus (I took a music class in high school, this was the class where they threw all the deadbeats (read drug dealers, drug users, and all around lazy people) who needed one credit to graduate, and any course that required thinking might be too hard to pass. They were riveted to the screen.)
Wanted
Transformers
Rear Window
Gladiator (Russel Crowe, not Cuba Gooding Jr)
The Patriot (Mel Gibson one, not the Stephen Seagal one.)
Jerry McGuire
Aliens (and Alien)
Predator
Batman and Batman Returns (Micheal Keaton)
The Bucket List
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Curse of the Golden Flower
The Emporer and the Assassin
Titanic
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Pirates of the Caribbean
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder version)
The Producers (Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel version)
Blazing Saddles (Notice a trend here?)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Ronin


And there I think the list is long enough. Further additions as events warrant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Public Speaking, and President Obama's Skill Therewith

I saw Obama's press conference yesterday, and watch O'Reilly's commentary afterwards. I must confess, I was underwhelmed. Since the campaign began, all the news analysts, liberal and conservative alike, have been gushing about what a phenomenal speaker President Obama is. I just don't see it.

I know the common sentiment is when he's using the teleprompter, he is the finest orator since Demosthenes, but when he's speaking off the cuff, there's no telling what he'll say. I agree with the latter, but not the former.

His speech last night, to put it simply, was boring. Even Bill O'Reilly was bored. Obama speaks clearly, he has no accent, and he pronounces everything correctly, but there's nothing special about that. Any Toastmaster can do that. I can do that. I'm not impressed, Mr President.

His question and answer was worse than boring. Not only is "Umm" the President's favorite word, but I felt like he was condescending. I've never felt like that before. He ended every unnecessarily verbose answer with "Mmkay?". If I had done that in my public speaking class at Appalachian State University (a university not renowned for it's oratorial excellence), I'd have gotten at least one letter grade knocked off. You just don't condescend to your audience.

A President should not ever say "umm" or "er". Compare President Obama speaking extemporaneously to talk show host Dennis Miller. When Miller is asked a question, there's usually at least a full second pause before he responds. He says nothing while he thinks of what he's going to say. The pause is just long enough to be noticeable, but not long enough to interrupt the flow of the dialogue. He never stammers; he never minces words. Miller could orate circles around our President.

Furthermore, despite President Obama's verbal tics, he never says anything off the cuff that he didn't already say when he was using the teleprompter. It appears as though he doesn't have any more information in his head than on the screen, and what appears on the screen isn't much.

I question the use of teleprompters by Presidents. The President of the United States should be informed enough to know all the details of the current issue, without needing notes, and he should be intelligent enough to remember his speech. If Brad Pitt can remember his lines, shouldn't the President be able to remember his?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Economic Stimulus, or They Took Our Jobs!

President Obama has promised to "save or create 3 million jobs" over the next couple of years. The plan, as I understand it, is to spend a heck of a lot of money in an FDR-esque infrastructure refurbishment. I have no problem with that, and it's obvious our infrastructure needs work. When bridges collapse in the most powerful nation in the world, it's just plain embarrassing.

Rush Limbaugh has published his take on the stimulus, and I agree with much of what he says. Take the percentage of people who voted for McCain (46%) and the percentage of people who voted for Obama (54%), and divide the stimulus accordingly. The 54% portion goes to Obama's plan. The 46% portion goes to Reaganomic-supply side endeavors. We get to scientifically determine which has a better effect on the economy, while giving the appearance of making progress in the recessed economy. I like that plan.

However, what are the specifics? I read the Limbuagh show notes and his Wall Street Journal article. They speak of the high cost of doing business in America, and that businesses are taxed to the point of inoperability in this country. That doesn't make sense to me. Here's my proposal: Ask every American company that has outsourced operations to foreign countries how much money they save by running their plant outside the USA. If they bring those jobs back to the US, they get a tax cut equal to the difference in operations costs. Example: if employees make 35 cents per hour in Madagascar, and that job would pay $35 here, then that company gets $35.65 per employee in tax credit. They'll have to rebuild derelict factories, but that's infrastructure that will, in itself, provide more work for Americans.

Since many of the talking heads are talking about reducing the capital gains tax, I think this proposal would meet their approval.

The government can take steps to ameliorate the economic and employment problem in this country, however, it's up to the citizens to take advantage of it. I've seen a lot of evidence pointing to people who don't want to work. Children of baby boomers, in particular, are among the worst offenders. I myself am a member of that demographic. I remember learning in school that all I needed for success was a college degree, and the world would open up for me.

It's not true. When everyone has a degree, no one stands out. Therefore, a person must find other ways to attract the attention of employers. Having a previous job, any job, fills this need. Back to the Baby Boomers' progeny: We've got pride, misplaced or otherwise, that prevents us from taking the unglamorous jobs, or the perfect job at an imperfect salary. We, as a whole, would rather live with our parents for a few more years while pursuing that perfect job, or pursuing a post-graduate degree. That attitude needs to change.

My first job out of college was for a retail printing and shipping store. I was surrounded by complacent slackers with no desire for upward mobility. I had a midlife crisis of sorts--I was pissed off at myself for not being able to achieve better, and angry at the economy (even in 2006) that prevented me from finding a job in my field. I slacked of at the job I had, putting my livelihood in danger. My manager saw this, took me aside, and gave me this advice:

"This is where you work. It's not where you wanted to be at this point in your life, but it IS where you are now. Do well here, and something will eventually come up. Jobs will open up in other fields. Management positions may open up here. The better you do, WHEREVER YOU ARE, the easier the path will be to take you where you want to go."

I took it to heart. I used the company's education assistance program to get a second degree (in a growth industry-computers). I went from third shift production to second shift production manager. I went from second shift production manager to running the store by myself on weekends. Then, a job opened up in my field, and I took the position. I wouldn't have been able to do it had I not taken that job. Had I held out for a better job on the get-go, I wouldn't have been in that ideal position when opportunity came knocking.

Americans' attitudes about work need to change. No job is meaningless, and while different jobs may pay drastically different salaries, the line on a resume is always worth more than the paycheck. Even if President Obama does manage to create 3 million jobs, at this point I'm wondering who would take them?