Saturday, March 31, 2007

First Dives of 2007

On Thursday night and this morning I made the first two dives this year.

A group of divers and I dove Union Lake here in Michigan.

The water was a balmy 45 degrees Fahrenheit. In other words, it was cold, and I was diving in my 7mm Farmer John Wetsuit. Everyone else was sanley diving in their drysuits, but given I do not own one yet, I had to make do with what I had.

I was also diving in my new Backplate and Wing, as a beginning DIR diver, which made the dives very interesting. The BP/W was new to me but had been owned by an instructor of mine and it unknown to myself given my ignorance of how such a setup should fit, was set up much too large for me. Actually it was probably too large for two of me. I knew I had lost some weight but the fit was ridiculous, and the wing and tank slid from side to side messing up my buoyancy.

By this morning I had adjusted it a lot but it was still not quite right and will take some time to get it full adjusted just right. However, the fit was such that I was certainly doing better in the water but I've got a lot of practicing yet to do on improving my buoyancy.

The best part of both dives was getting out of the water into air that was in the 50s. Now that was cold. I was comfortable enough if a bit cool while in the water, but getting out was real cold, as was changing out of the suit while sitting in the car with the heater going full blast. Cold enough to convince me I need to start saving up for a drysuit now, but that I can survive the season diving wet for now while I save up.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

$21 in Income Tax as a Crushing Burden

The Detroit Free Press in its editorial Find Tax Relief for State's Poor bemoans that Michigan's Income tax kicks in at one of the lowest income levels in the Country, and subjects the working poor to pay income tax like everyone else.

The press then has this nice chart showing the income amount and taxes imposed by such a low cut-off for levying the tax.

From the chart it seems a family of three making $11,645 or the minimum wage for one worker would pay a whopping $21, yes all of twenty-one dollars,
in income tax.

The Freep then states the new Michigan Earned Income Tax credit effective next year will "rectify" this problem by sheltering more of the income from tax and essentially removing many completely from the income tax rolls while they will still enjoy the benefits and subsidies from the State.

It is appropriate that all working residents of Michigan pay some income taxes, as long as we have an income tax, so that we do not continue our progression to where those with less can vote themselveslargess through tax increases that will not effect them. If you live here and work here, you should be subject to the same taxes as anyone else.

One Tone Deaf Administration

The Bush Administration has unnecessarily embroiled itself in a new scandal: that of the firing of the 8 United States District Attorneys by declaring that the were fired for performance reasons and then denying the possibility that the firings were political and possibly influenced by the White House.

Who gave the administration such asinine advice? The administration should have done what most employers do in similar circumstances: merely verify past employment and that the attorneys involved were no longer employed. To do otherwise in today’s hyper-partisan and hostile media environment was I=simply inane, and has created a scandal -- including the possibility of a Senior Justice Official taking the Fifth Amendment when questioned by Congress -- where one did not exist.. If necessary and when pressed the Administration could and should have simply announced that:

The United States District Attorney serve at will, at the will and pleasure of the Office of the President, and it was determined that they were no longer going to be retained for reasons which will not be discussed. The President appreciates their service and wishes them well.

That is all that should have been said and it would likely have headed off the entire brouhaha over performance issues, politics and what role if any the White house had in the decision.

Then when asked if politics had anything to do with it they, instead of heatedly denying it, should have responded: These are political appointments, so of course there are political considerations, once again we will not discuss the reasons for their removal but note that they serve at will, and the Presidnet thanks them for their service.

In doing so the administration would have likely headed off this current faux scandal, and also prevented casting these attorneys in a bad light due to claims they were fired for performance issues. In contrast, their current tone-deaf approach of blithely declaring the situation was purely due to performance issues, and without political considerations, has opened them to this attack by the Media and Democrats when it is almost unquestionable that politics did have some role in their firings.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A New Jersey Court's Polemic Against Unmonitored Homeschooling

An interesting article from Constitutionally Correct was forwarded to me by Scott at Providentia Blog the posting on CC links to an unpublished decision by A New Jersey court that, in the decision, was shocked, simply shocked that a mother is homeschooling her 7 children and that
no one from any Board of Education in Montclair (where they lived until October 2006) ever visited the home. Ms. Hamilton never went to any school or board office, no lesson plan was ever reviewed and no progress report or testing of the children was ever performed. This is shocking to the court.

The Court apparently expresses this dismay based on an interesting concern:
In this day and age where we seek to protect children from harm and sexual predators, so many children are left unsupervised. . . . In today’s threatening world, where we seek to protect children from abuse, not just physical, but also educational abuse, how can we not monitor the educational welfare of all our children? A child in New Jersey, who recently was found unfed and locked in a putrid bedroom was allegedly “home schooled” and because no one, such as a teacher or nurse, was able to observe any abuse in a school setting, it went undiscovered.

There was no allegation of physical or emotional abuse in this case and at most an allegation from the father that the mother was unable to educate all of their children at the appropriate level. Stretching real concerns of physical and emotional abuse of children to this court's new issue of educational abuse certainly goes too far.

The Court then goes on to state measure it would like to see the state adopt - all of them quite intrusive. This would not be proper for a Court to impose but rather properly within the sphere of the legislature.

The court then finishes with a suggestion to the husband to file an educational neglect action against the mother in municipal court to involve the local public school system and force the mother to show she is giving the children an education equivalent to public or parochial schools. The court then suggests that
"if the district does not take affirmative action, and the Department of Education is unresponsive then this court will consider, by formal motion, a request to join those parties to this action."
i.e. Should the father do so and the educational authorities do not react and do something the court will.

Of course, the question of equivalent to public school education would be interesting - would the equivalent be based merely on the type of curriculum taught or the comparative testing of the home schooled children vis-a-vis the public school kids, and if so what yardstick would be used? Would the children simply have to do better academically than the worst student at the public school, meet the average or do better than average? The court doesn't say.

There is after all, a constitutional right to direct the education of one's children, and especially given the religious background of the parents involved this would potentially implicate the Supreme Court's decision in Wisconsin v Yoder that religious parents can direct the education of their children.

On the other hand, the court does seem to express a valid concern that was raised by the father that some of the children have possible dyslexia - if so the mother should likely seek some testing. The father even "stipulated the he does not object
to continue home schooling, but only if each individual child is receiving
equivalent instruction to what is offered in the public or parochial schools." Which is quite reasonable on his part.

The court essentially gave a guide to the father in how to pursue an educational neglect case against the mother, and nothing more and concluded that "Here it is the child’s best interests for the court not to exercise its discretion, and allow the parents and the school district to resolve this educational issue." Most likely the father will involve the school district in the dispute and there may very well be further court action in the case.

While I do not home school my kids, as one is in preschool now, and the other is but six months of age, and I'm quite happy with the quality of education my child is getting at preschool, but I know quite a few people that do or who were themselves home schooled. The majority of home schooled people I know are just as well educated as anyone else -- if not more so. One colleague of mine at University went on to become a Professor of History, has a position at a well-known university and can intellectually and socially hold his own with anyone and was home schooled (very rigorously I might add).

On the other hand I've seen a home school situation where the kids were not well educated and were taught by parents who while loving did not have a structured or successful approach, and as a result their younger child is seriously behind now that the child is in regular school and the older one as an adult has a serious educational, not to mention employment deficiency and is very underemployed given his innate abilities and potential.

For the court to go on a diatribe about the unmonitored nature of home schooling in New Jersey is quite outside the scope of the true issue raised in the case, and likely has raised the ire of many home schooling parents - after all many pulled their children out of public school due to the lousy education the children were, or would have received in the public system.

The parents clearly disagree about the quality of the education the children are receiving and unfortunately were, and probably still are, unable to resolve the issue without outside (i.e. court) involvement. By taking the dispute to court the parents opened up the question of the measure of the education given to the children and the court essentially gave the father a road map to deal with his concern should it not be resolved outside the legal system including a pretty pointed warning to the parents that it would be best that the court is not involved in the decision - which is rather reasonable rather than the court forcing a situation on the parents. Aside from the diatribe the decision is neither terrible nor particularly troublesome and hopefully will get the parents to come to a resolution on their own.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Southern Poverty Law Center's Diminishing Relevance

When its hunting for racists and it goes after a University Campus' conservative group with a very flimsy rationale for labeling it racist and white-supremacist, you know they're stretching and playing to more ideological concerns by going after a right-leaning student group than truly ferreting out racist groups.

MSU student group on hate list
YAF is 'white supremacist,' according to legal center

By Matthew Miller - Lansing State Journal

When the Southern Poverty Law Center releases its annual list of hate groups next month, the Michigan State University chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom will be on it.

The MSU group is "white supremacist," "have a lot of anti-gay beliefs" and "a
lot of anti-immigrant sentiment," said Heidi Beirich, with the SPLC.

Last year, the MSU chapter of the conservative student organization drew national attention, much of it negative, for its plans to sponsor a "Catch an
Illegal Immigrant Day" on campus.


However, Beirich, deputy director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, said it
was several proposals put forward by the YAF's MSU chapter, among them that MSU
should defund minority student organizations and that there should be a white
student council on MSU's student government, that earned the group a place on
the list. "Our interest in determining a hate group is, 'Do they have an ideology that denigrates an entire class of people for their inherent traits?' " she said.

Kyle Bristow, chairman of the group, called the SPLC's characterization of his
chapter "ridiculous."

"We're a center-right group, politically," he said. "We've done nothing hateful. We've advocated for beliefs that most Americans believe: the sanctity of marriage, border security."

He added that he believes the proposal for a white student council was misconstrued by the SPLC. Because MSU's student government gives unelected seats to other racial and ethnic groups, Bristow said, he proposed that "every single group should be recognized."

The majority of MSU's student government seats are held by whites.

'Character defamation'
Bristow said he's considering filing a lawsuit against the SPLC because "what they're doing is character defamation."

William Allen, a professor of political science who serves as the group's adviser, said in an e-mail sent Wednesday that, "It is evident to any fair observer that YAF, whether nationally or in this chapter, does not deserve to be on this list."

Thankfully MSU is showing some common sense and not paying attention to this laughable SPLC labelling:

Terry Denbow, MSU's vice president for university relations, said that
registered student groups are required to adhere to the university's
nondiscrimination policy and that, to his knowledge, the YAF had not violated
that stipulation. He also said the hate group designation would not change the
group's status.
"An institution must be allowed to set forth its own values-based criteria for
student organizations and not to assume or impose criteria - agreed with or not
- of external affairs groups," Denbow said, "because there will be many, many
groups willing to tell us what the criteria should be."

In addition, one wonders why the various Arab and anarchist student groups at Berkley that disrupted pro-Israel speakers there with anti-Israel and anti-semitic rhetoric and violent demonstrations did not make the list - they must not fit the SPLC's notion of what a racist or hate group is.

In the past, the SPLC did yeoman work in fighting real racists: neo-nazis, klansmen, and the like. Now, to list a college student group that opposes illegal immigration and affirmative action as racists seems to be an overreach for relevance once all the true dragons are slain or forced back under the rocks they crawled out from.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

US Mint Mistake - Some Dollars don't Trust in God.

A number of the new US One Dollar Coins, the first in the new Presidential series featuring George Washington, escaped the Philadelphia mint and entered circulation missing the inscription "In God we Trust" on the Edge of the coins.

U.S. Mint goof: Unknown number of new dollar coins missing 'In God We Trust'

Joann Loviglio / Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- An unknown number of new George Washington dollar coins were
mistakenly struck without their edge inscriptions, including "In God We Trust,"
and are fetching around $50 apiece online.

The properly struck dollar coins, bearing the likeness of the nation's first
president, are inscribed along the edge with "In God We Trust," "E Pluribus
Unum" and the year and mint mark. They made it past inspectors and went into
circulation Feb. 15.

The U.S. Mint struck 300 million of the coins, which are golden in color and
slightly larger and thicker than a quarter.

About half were made in Philadelphia and the rest in Denver. So far the mint
has only received reports of error coins coming from Philadelphia, mint
spokeswoman Becky Bailey said.

These coins are currently selling for a premium on Ebay:
Ron Guth,
president of Professional Coin Grading Service, one of the world's largest coin
authentication companies, said he believes that at least 50,000 error coins
were put in circulation.

"The first one sold for $600 before everyone knew how common they actually
were," he said. "They're going for around $40 to $60 on eBay now, and they'll
probably settle in the $50 range."

So don't expect a fortune if you find one, and given there were at least 50 thousand released with the missing inscription, its unlikely they will appreciate much beyond the expected $50 premium anytime soon, so if you got 'em, join the hordes now on ebay where they are selling like crazy for $200 plus.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Happy Purim!

Yesterday night marked the beginning of the holiday of Purim. The family went to synoguage were we had a boisterously good time with dancing, food, and many games, which is traditional for the celebration of Purim.

The story of Purim, contained in the Scroll of Esther, retells the story of an evil Persian man, Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people. Some things never change. There always seems to be a ready supply of evil Persians:

Perhaps in the future there will be a Purim Amhadinejad, where his name is blotted out like that of Haman.

For an excellent retelling of the Story of Purim, see The Aish website Purim section.

Purim follows the standard Jewish holiday framework:

1. Someone tried to kills us

2. They didn't succeed (typically due to divine intervention).

3. Let's Eat.

Happy Purim!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bill Maher - Idiot

Bill Maher continues his descent into idiotarian madness, approving the comments on HuffPo that wished that Cheney had been assassinated in the recent bombing at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

From Newsbusters go to the site for the full recap and video of this disgusting episode.
Maher: Well, what did they say?

Ridley: They said “We wish he would die.” I mean, it was (?) hate language.

Barney Frank: They said the bomb was wasted. (laughter and applause)

Maher: That’s a funny joke. But, seriously, if this isn’t China, shouldn’t you be able to say that? Why did Arianna Huffington, my girlfriend, I love her, but why did she take that off right away?
Maher: But I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn’t be dying needlessly tomorrow. (applause)

Scarborough: If someone on this panel said that they wished that Dick Cheney had been blown up, and you didn’t say…

Frank: I think he did.

Scarborough: Okay. Did you say…

Maher: No, no. I quoted that.

Frank: You don’t believe that?

Maher: I’m just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That’s a fact.

So Can We Finally Question Their Patriotism Now?

Coin of the Week- A Denarius of The Roman Republic

Continuing to post my collection in chronological order, here is a silver coin of the Roman Republic, dating to 101 BCE:

Moneyer: L. Julius
Obverse: Head of Roma facing right, ear of wheat (the Romans and most coin books refer to it as "corn") behind
Reverse: Victory in a biga (a 2 wheeled chariot) with the inscription L.IVLI below.

Catalog: Roman Silver Coins Julia 3

The denarius was the silver coin of the Roman Republic and was typically a day's wages for a Roman Legionary.

Friday, March 02, 2007

UFOs, Global Warming and Former Canadian Defense Ministers

Oh my.

OTTAWA (AFP) - A former Canadian defense minister is demanding governments worldwide disclose and use secret alien technologies obtained in alleged UFO crashes to stem climate change, a local paper said Wednesday.

"I would like to see what (alien) technology there might be that could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels within a generation ... that could be a way to save our planet," Paul Hellyer, 83, told the Ottawa Citizen.

. . .

Hellyer became defense minister in former prime minister Lester Pearson's cabinet in 1963, and oversaw the controversial integration and unification of Canada's army, air force and navy into the Canadian Forces.

As the article states, Paul Hellyer oversaw the unification of the Canadian Army, Navy and Air Force into the Canadian Forces.

The Navy and Air Force never forgave him for his unification of their proud and independent arms into the Canadian Forces,and most especially for his making them wear green uniforms. Not to mention turning the name of the once proud Canadian Navy (all 3 kayaks and the canoe) into "Maritime Command".

His reported UFO encounter may explain a lot of his past actions.