Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Boeing's Dreamliner is appropriately named, as nightmares are dreams, too

    I’ve just flown the Edsel of the skies: the Boeing 787 Dreamliner that I flew on LOT Airlines to get to Europe. I’ve been wanting to fly on one of these; that desire has now been forever extinguished.
    The Dreamliner is a beautiful plane. It’s big and tall, with lots of bin storage; and it reportedly maintains a higher cabin pressure during flight, while means passengers will suffer less dehydration. Because of its large size, there is far less turbulence. And although the food was lousy, the LOT Airlines stewardesses wear little caps, which is a neat little throwback to the olden days of aviation.
    In fact, everything about the plane was great except for one thing: LOT Airlines, like almost every airline, is flying the Dreamliner with a nine-across seat configuration which results in a seat width of 16.9 inches – just about the narrowest airline seat in the air. These planes were originally designed with the idea that they would have 8-across seating.
    The trend towards super-narrow airline seats started a few years ago when some greedy airline decided to replace the 9-across, 2-5-2 seating on their 777 airplanes to 10-across, 3-4-3 seating. Seat width on these 777 airplanes decreased, from a somewhat generous 18.5 inches to 17 inches. Presumably this made the airline more money, but it did little for passenger comfort. Most airlines have adopted the narrower 777 seats with the exception of Delta. So if you want to fly the 777 in comfort, fly Delta (United was 9-across on the 777, but they have started to switch to the dreaded 10-across seating).  With the 787 Dreamliner, there are almost no exceptions to the super-narrow-seats caused by the nine-across format. As a result, if you fly this plane in coach, you will be miserable.
    At 200 pounds I am admittedly on the fat side. But I’ve flown far fatter and been far less uncomfortable. I’d grateful that I’ve lost some weight over the past few months, or otherwise my misery would have been compounded. I’ve simply never had a flight before where I was so aware of how uncomfortably narrow my seat was. No person will find a 16.9-inch wide seat comfortable, no matter how thin they are.
    The solution to this problem is to avoid it in the first place. Seatguru.com does a pretty good job of describing what the various seats are like on different airlines, including information about seat pitch (legroom) and width. I suggest never flying a long-haul on a plane with less than a 17.9-inch seat width. That’s only one inch wider than LOT's Dreamliner seats, but that one inch makes a big difference.
    I knew when I booked my ticket on the LOT 787 that the seat would be narrow. I just wasn’t aware of how miserably narrow it would be. Of course, when you’re trying to get a super-cheap fare to Europe, sometimes it entails some misery.
    I’m surprised Boeing allows the airlines to operate its airplanes in this manner. On one hand, it makes sense for them to just sell the planes and allow the airlines to use them as they will. But when everyone who flies a certain type of aircraft has an unpleasant experience they avoid it in the future, thus reducing that model’s lifespan. The Dreamliner could have been one of the greatest planes of all time, but by overstuffing it with seats the airlines have made it one of the worst. I know I will avoid it in the future, and anyone reading this would be wise to do the same.
    Most airlines allow overweight flyers to buy an extra seat. On the 787 everyone is overweight. In cases where major discounts are offered, it might make sense for two people flying together to buy an extra seat; since the planes operate with a 3-3-3 configuration, two people could just have an empty seat between them.
    I would advise my friends to never fly on a 787 Dreamliner if another plane is available at a similar price. If pursuing a hot bargain, couples should consider buying an extra seat, which would turn a miserable experience into a enjoyable one. You can contact the airline for information about how to do this.
    As I’ve mentioned, we paid $625 for a round-trip flight to Europe. At that price we really couldn’t complain even if we were forced to share a crate with a bunch of chickens. Even so, I’ll fly the Dreamliner one more time, and that’s to get home; after that, only if I fly with someone and share an extra seat.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thanks to a $625 airfare, we're off to Germany for Spring Break

    Thanks to a $625 round-trip airfare Ash and I are headed to Germany for Spring Break. We’re joined by his classmate Dylan Howard.
    Of course, to get a $625 round-trip fare to Germany the airplane doesn’t exactly pick us up at the Oxford International Airport. That would be too easy. A $625 round-trip ticket requires a sort of around-the-world trip all its own.
    Our flight was out of Chicago. Memphis never has cheap flights. So we had to drive for 10 hours. With cheap gas and a cheap hotel room, that didn’t add too much to the cost of the trip. And we plan to visit Northwestern and the University of Chicago campus before we return. Instead of flying directly in and out of Germany, we’re flying into Vienna and out of Prague; that was the only way to get the cheapo fare. We’re only spending four to five hours of sightseeing on each of these cities, split between evening and morning. They aren’t what we came to see, although I confess I will savor the four-hour glimpse as I’ve never seen either.
    The goal of this trip, besides just having fun, is to allow Ash and Dylan to actually hear and speak some real German. They are on their third year of high school German, and so ought to be able to speak a little. My understanding is that nobody in Germany actually speaks the formal German taught in the classroom during everyday life, so it will be interesting to see whether they will be able to communicate at all.
    In keeping with the educational nature of the trip, I had high hopes that I would be able to browbeat the kids into listening to a number of lectures from a Great Courses series called “Turning Points of American History.” They listened to exactly one before Ash revolted. But if their AP U.S. History exam in May has a question about the Great Epidemic that wiped out the Indians, they will be well prepared. Hopefully I’ll get them to listen to a few more before our trip is over.
    We’re at the airport as I write this, waiting for the boarding door to close. I’ll update after we hit Europe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I correctly said five years ago Obama was intentionally creating regional war in the Mid-East

    The entire world seems to be banging on Europe's door demanding entry, and the Europeans seem to lack the will to protect their homes. Greece is complaining that they are becoming a dumping ground for Europe's migrants; more on Greece in a minute.
    I should note that the blame for all of this mess falls primarily on Barack Obama, who in violation of international law and of the War Powers Act ruthlessly attacked Libya, our ally in the war on terror. Obama not only murdered that country's leader, Muammar Gaddafi, but also his children and grandchildren.
    I pointed out five years ago that America's actions in the Mid-East seemed intentionally designed to throw the entire region, including Syria, into turmoil.  It was my belief five years ago that the United States was disrupting the Middle East in order to limit China's access to oil. With today's low oil prices this may not seem to be a factor, but when prices rise China will have lost access to many of its former energy sources. What I did not anticipate was the Camp-of-The-Saints-style rush of humanity towards Europe, which threatens European civilization as we know it.
    Let me quote from my blog post of April 19, 2011:

It's begun to seep out that the United States has been actively supporting efforts to destabilize Syria for several years. Americans played a big role in the overthrow of the Egyptian government. I suspect America is working to destabilize the entire region.

Nations act out of self-interest. For France, Britain and the United States to make the decision so quickly to seek sanctions and to attack Libya suggest some motive other than concern for that country's citizens. NATO's decision to use just enough force to keep the government from restoring order suggests a desire to forment a long-term civil war, which should keep the entire region in turmoil for some time, thus endangering the region's oil production.
    If a nobody like me down in  Mississippi could understand the certain outcome of our Mid-East policies, then you can be sure that the experts in the State Department knew what would happen. The rise of ISIS, the Syrian Civil War, the death of hundreds of thousands, was all carefully planned. I thought it was to harm China, but it may well have been to promote Obama's vision of a world without borders, by pushing millions of desperate migrants into Europe.
    Europe has to find the will to simply refuse entry to these people. If they are fleeing a war zone, by all means provide them with tents and food in a safe location as close to their home country as possible, so that they may return as soon as hostilities have ceased. That is consistent with international law.
    As for Greece, they complain they are being stuck with the migrants as the Balkan nations erect fences to keep them from crossing their borders. And yet it is the Greeks themselves who are engaging in and profiting from human trafficking.
    These migrants aren't arriving from Turkey to the Greece mainland. They are arriving on various Greek islands. Greek ferry companies are then shuttling them to the mainland, at great profit. The head of the Greek ferry association announced last week that income from transporting migrants from the islands to the mainland had offset a drop in regular ferry income.
    All Greece has to do to solve Europe's migrant problem is to make it illegal to transport migrants from the islands to the mainland. All of these migrants had already reached a safe haven in Turkey; as such, they are not entitled to asylum and are all illegal immigrants. If they know they will be forced to live on various islands in tent cities forever, they will quit coming.
    If Greece wants to keep ferrying the illegal immigrants to the mainland, it's their business. But they have no right to complain about being stuck with them. That is the choice they are making by giving them a ferry ride.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Marco Rubio gave Trump a taste of his own medicine after his silly health care comments


     I'm not complete opposed to the idea of Donald Trump as president. If my main man, Ted Cruz doesn't make it, I will likely switch my support to Trump. I don't like Trump, but I believe he and Cruz are the only two candidates who will actually do something about illegal immigration, and that's the only issue that really matters to me.
    But I do admire honest talk from political candidates, and found Trump's comments on health care during the Feb. 25 Republican debate to be intentionally dishonest or dumb beyond belief. I was glad to see Marco Rubio just absolutely mop the floor with him, as can be seen in the video, above.
    The question Trump was asked was how he planned to deal with people with pre-existing conditions if Obamacare were to be repealed. His solution was to eliminate rules that prevent insurance from being sold across state lines. That's it; just increase competition and nothing else.
    I hate Obamacare and find it to be the worst possible health care solution possible for our nation. But Trump's plan isn't going to help people with pre-existing conditions very much. Increased competition might reduce someone's insurance premium from $5,000 a month to $4,500 a month, but that really isn't going to solve the problem, is it?
    Asking insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions is like asking them to write a fire insurance policy after a house has burned down. It's a losing proposition.
    There are really only three ways to provide insurance to people with pre-existing conditions:

1. Charge people with pre-existing conditions a higher rate, or charge the same price for insurance that is more highly managed;
2. Shift some of the cost to other purchasers of insurance or health care, by mandated risk pools;
3. Direct subsidies from the state or federal government; or
 4. Some combination of the above.

    I'm not asking anyone to be specific, and in fact recognize that being too specific can bring certain death to a political campaign. But I think it's wrong to essentially lie and state that the problem of covering pre-existing conditions can be solved by removing the "lines around the states."
    Some sort of subsidy is going to be required. The issue is how much subsidy, how is it going to be provided, and who is going to pay for it. It's perfectly acceptable to dodge all of these questions, but at least acknowledge that the need for the subsidy is there if pre-existing conditions are to be covered.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

True American style calls for button-down collars

Seven flyaway collars and one huge tie knot
      One of the things I’ve noticed about the presidential debates is that none of the candidates wear button-down shirts.
    I know that technically a stiff collar shirt with no buttons is considered more “formal” and “dressy.” As far as I’m concerned, I actually feel physically uncomfortable when I wear a dress shirt without button-down collars. And according to the experts, button-downs are perfectly acceptable for dress and business wear, and are even considered more “American” than flyaway collars.
    An argument could be made that wearing flyaway collars is unpatriotic. From a website which describes the difference between American and European shirts, I quote the following: "While button down collars are a mainstay of American business dress, they’re a rare sight in the European workplace." In other words, flyaway collars are for cheese-eating surrender monkeys, not true Americans.
    I would guess that since 1980 I have worn a dress shirt with flyaway collars perhaps a dozen times – two dozen at the most. I just don’t like them. I think they look bad. I hate them. As I've said, I actually feel physically uncomfortable wearing them. Can I say more?
    So I hate to see all of the presidential candidates showing up with unbuttoned collars. It kind of makes the whole lot of them look untrustworthy. I always expect one of them to just fly off like the Flying Nun if a good breeze should come along.
    Now that I've had my say on collars, take a look at the knot on Jeb Bush’s tie in the above photo. I noticed this during the televised debate. Look at the knot – it’s yuge! What’s the deal with that? Did he get a five-year-old to tie that thing for him?
    I’m perfectly aware that I’ll never win any fashion awards. Given my druthers my dress wardrobe would be limited to a bunch of white button-downs, some blue-striped button-downs, a bunch of khaki pants, a couple of blue blazers, a few suits and two dozen ties. Now that I think about it, I believe I almost have my druthers, because that’s pretty much what my dress wardrobe is limited to.
    And however limited my style sense may be, I know better than to wear a tie knot the size of New Jersey. Now that Jeb Bush has some time on his hands, maybe somebody can teach him how to make a decent tie knot.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New National Merit Class of 2017 cutoff predictions: Commended, 207, Mississippi 209-210

UPDATE 2/27/2016: I have updated the headline to this post to change my prediction for Commended status to 207. It's also possible that a score of 209 in Mississippi could meet the cutoff. I misread the percentile chart on the Hispanic scores by one percent, and as a result I may have beeen one point too conservative in my estimates. With that said, Commended may still be a 208; the scores are, as I've said, incredibly clumpy.

    Several weeks ago I wrote about the College Board’s release of PSAT scores and gave my prediction for Mississippi’s cutoff score for the Class of 2017 – in other words, the “Selection Index” score required to be named a National Merit Semifinalist. I said it would be a 204. Ha!
    This entire process is a mystery to most people, but each state gets its own cutoff score, designed to recognize the top one percent of students in each state. These cutoffs vary according to how well students in a state perform, so Mississippi and West Virginia, for example, have lower cutoff scores than Massachusetts and Connecticut.
    I’ve written about the PSAT extensively for several years, and you can read some of my old blog posts by clicking here. Earning National Merit Finalist status is a pretty sweet deal, since it can result in free-ride scholarships at a number of good universities.
Just add 6 or 7
    There have been some major changes in the PSAT, and juniors this year took an entirely new test with a new scoring system. I believe the PSAT for 2015 was poorly designed, to put it mildly, in that it tended to be difficult for average students, while the brightest students were able to complete the test with few missed questions. So the test didn't provide the differentiation on the high end that was needed.
    Prior to officially administering the test, the College Board gave the new PSAT to a large representative sample of 11th graders to establish score percentile norms, but it is my opinion that they forgot to account for “preppers” when creating this sample. It has become increasingly common for very bright students to “prep” for the PSAT, and a few high schools with a relatively small number of “preppers” can completely throw the score distribution for a loop. That’s what I think happened, and why I think there was a one-month delay in the release of the scores. I think the College Board executives were just gobsmacked by the results and probably spent a month with everyone running in circles wringing their hands.
    Based on a Selection Index chart release by the College Board, I predicted back on Jan. 13 that Mississippi’s cutoff score would be 204, with the caveat that my prediction was based on the information they provided. Well, the information they provided is now believed to be pretty lousy, to put it mildly. Based on their charts, schools all over were quietly reporting that they had a bumper crop of National Merit winners. Well, no, it just ain’t so.
    On Feb. 8, based on some new information I updated my original column and wrote that Mississippi’s cutoff would be higher, and I thought Mississippi’s cutoff would be 206, 207, or perhaps even higher. Well, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be higher still, and I’m sorry for that, because I know some of the kids who are likely to be left out of the process. I’m hoping my kid won’t be one of them.
    I have been snooping on the CollegeConfidential.com website, and apparently the cutoff scores for the National Hispanic Recognition Program are out, roughly six months ahead of those for regular Semifinalists. The NHRP recognizes Hispanics who score in the top one percent of Hispanics taking the test in their region. By looking at these scores, we can get an idea of where other scores might fall.
    For example, last year the Hispanic cutoff score for the “South” region was 199, which was in the mid-range of the 95th percentile. This year it’s 204. Since ethnic groups tend to perform the same over time, we can be reasonably certain a score of 204 is in the 95th percentile.
    By adjusting the scores in such a way as to put 204 into the 95th percentile on the faulty SI chart, I have concluded that a score of 208 is going to be needed for Commended status; there is some chance that a score of 207 will do the trick.
    I won’t bore you with any more of my reasoning, save to say that I believe the formula for determining most sub-99 percentile state’s cutoff scores is to do the following:
    1. Study your state’s cutoff scores over the past several years and decide what percentile, including tenths, best represents your state.
    2. Use the VERY faulty Selection Index that the College Board provided to find the score which you feel most closely matches your selected percentile. I’ve included this incorrect and faulty index on this page. This is obviously an inexact science!
    3. Add seven. For states with cutoffs very close to or just inside the 99th percentile, adding six might do the trick. To be conservative, add eight. (If you add nine and still make the cut, you can start celebrating!).
    Mississippi’s cutoff score has been rising, primarily due to year-long prep classes being conducted by DeSoto County Schools and Madison Central High School, among others. Last year it was 209, which was roughly in the 98.5th percentile. The scores were supposed to drop this year due to the new test with a lowered top score, but they aren’t going to.
    If we look at this year’s incorrect College Board SI chart, we find that a score in the 98.5th percentile is roughly equal to a score of 203. If we add seven to this we get 210, which is now my prediction for Mississippi’s National Merit cutoff score. I am not particularly happy with this prediction, but it is what it is.
    Predictions are just that. The cutoff could be 209, or 211, or God forbid, even 212, at which point there will be tears at my house (from me). But 210 or 211 seem like the numbers to watch, and 208 seems most likely for Commended, with the possibility of 207 making the cut.
    Note, by the way, how incredibly compressed these scores are. The Class of 2016 had a Commended score of 202 and a Mississippi cutoff of 209, a difference of seven points. This year I'm suggesting the Commended cutoff will be 208 and the Mississippi cutoff will be 210 or 211. These percentiles are so clumpy that the National Merit Corporation may have a very difficult time setting cutoffs. A Mississippi cutoff of 209 might represent two percent of our state's students while a cutoff of 210 might only include one-half of one percent. I predict massive problems and some squawking over how this is dealt with.
    The College Board did a real disservice to test takers by putting out false percentile charts. It created a lot of false hopes, and I think they have just done a terrible job with everything they have done with the new PSAT. And it’s not just the PSAT; they’ve damaged the SAT as well, with all kinds of Three Stooges types of stupidity. It may not be long before the SAT will be featured in a business school case study on “How to Destroy a Brand.”
    But that’s another story. My prediction for Class of 2017 Commended cutoff: 208, maybe 207. Mississippi cutoff: 210, 60%; 209, 10%; 211, 20%; 212, 10%.
    I’ve made two earlier predictions which I decided were wrong. I may return next week with a different song. But I think we are slowly bracketing in on what scores will be needed for the brass ring, despite the efforts of the College Board to keep us all in the dark. They could provide all of this information for us, but they just won't.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cruz, Trump have figured out that America's struggling class wants our country to serve citizens

    I detest Donald Trump, but if Ted Cruz should falter in the presidential race Trump will have my vote for one reason, and one reason only: Cruz and Trump are the only two candidates who I believe will act to stop the tsunami of illegal aliens pouring across our Southern border.
    Illegal immigration isn’t the most important issue in the presidential campaign. As far as I’m concerned it’s the only issue; everything else pales in comparison. Without borders we cease to be a nation. America’s citizenry wants a wall and we want it now. The elites don’t understand this, and that’s why they don’t understand the appeal of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
    I have a core belief that the sole purpose of a nation is to serve its citizens. Each and every decision that is made by our government should be made on the basis of whether it will help or hurt the average citizen. Tolerating illegal immigration may help the elites, but it does not help average folks.
    I happen to support legal immigration, and lots of it. I just support immigration that is in the national interest. And that’s not what we have today. Our current system rewards poorly educated criminals who enter the country illegally and punishes highly educated, law-abiding achievers who wait their turn.
    Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are burdening our welfare system. In a recent year, 72 percent of legal immigrant households with children used welfare versus 52 percent of native-born households. The cherry on top of this toxic sundae is that illegal immigrant households with children had an 89 percent welfare participation rate. We can clean up our welfare rolls merely by deporting all of our illegal aliens.
    Each person who enters the labor pool has the effect of slightly harming those who operate at the same skill level; and those who hire them are winners. Obviously the effect of one person can’t be measured, but the effect of hundreds of thousands or millions certainly can. When rich farmers scream that their crops are “rotting in the fields” and a bunch of peasants need to be allowed into the country to pick their fruit, low-skilled workers lose and the rich farmers win. We’re often told that illegal immigrants do jobs that “Americans won’t do.” It’s not true. There are no jobs that "Americans won't do;" they are jobs that Americans won’t do at the price being offered.
    Many “stoop labor” agricultural jobs now pay about $15 per hour; they are hard work. This wage could be raised to $50 an hour with remarkably little effect on grocery prices, and Americans would show up in droves to do the work. Some of them might have to be trained to be good workers, but that’s what we do for our fellow citizens.
    Does anybody ever stop to think about how much it costs society to provide a bunch of rich fruit farmers with cheap labor? Communities have to provide their illegal alien children with free schooling at $8-12,000 per child. Hospitals have to treat their families for free, which often runs into thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars every year. It’s as if society is having to pay a direct subsidy of $20-50,000 per employee to the fat-cat farmers. I’d rather give up fruit!
   Of course, after a couple of years the fruit pickers go on to other work, leaving crops once again to rot in the field, leading to demands for more peasants from south of the border, and even higher taxes on homeowners struggling to support their schools. Wash, rinse, repeat.
    If people who hire unskilled labor win with illegal immigration – whether it be those who hire fruit pickers, nannies, construction workers, or whatever – who loses? Obviously it’s the poorest of our citizens who work at these types of jobs, since low-skilled wages remain depressed.
    What happens when we restrict immigration to only those who are believed to be highly productive. For example, what would happen if we imported a million doctors? I think we all know the incomes of doctors would go down as doctors lowered their fees to attract patients. Who wins? Low- and middle-income people who have to seek medical care and pay less for it. Who loses? Rich doctors.
    I’m not trying to pick on doctors, who have actually taken a beating with a bunch of ridiculous and costly federal regulations recently. I’m just trying to make a point. When large numbers of highly intelligent, highly productive, high-income people emigrate to the United States, it causes our rich people to become a little poorer and our poor people to become a little richer – it makes us a more egalitarian society. And in the long term the increased productivity and equality raises the standard of living and incomes for everyone. Everyone gets rich together!
    Liberals often talk about producing equality through ruinous taxation of the rich and redistribution to the poor. This merely destroys our nation’s wealth. We can use our immigration policy to increase equality amongst our citizenry merely by limiting immigration to those who are likely to earn a well-above-average income – those who are highly skilled or highly educated. The increased competition will bring the incomes of the rich down a little, at least temporarily, while enriching our poorest citizens by lowering their costs and increasing the demand for their services. In the end we will become a much wealthier, more egalitarian society in which all citizens are respected and valued.
    What America needs is a grand bargain. We need to not be afraid to embrace a few so-called "liberal" ideas (which I might expound on at some future time), such as a citizenship dividend of $700 to $1,000 a month to all adults after 21 years of citizenship (essentially eliminating welfare), and a government-funded medical voucher for every citizen that can be used either for guaranteed enrollment in Medicaid (not Medicare!) or for traditional, private insurance, much as it existed before Obamacare. We can afford these things, so long as we don’t allow any more poor people into the country and throw out those who are here illegally.
    The world has 7 billion people, and if we start handing out free money they all will try to be here; in fact, it's happening right now. For us to have a generous society that is designed to help all of our citizens we must first enshrine citizenship as something special. We have to build fences; we have to be willing to sentence people who are in our country illegally to jail and then deport them; and we have to end birthright citizenship.
    America’s elites, both Republican and Democrat, simply can’t believe that America’s working and lower middle class has figured out that as a group they are being screwed over by both parties, who seem to exist solely to serve the big banks, poverty pimps, illegal aliens, hedge fund managers, and various loud-mouthed fringe groups. The one group they do not care a whit about is the common, struggling American citizen.
    Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are the only two candidates who understand that America exists to serve its citizens, who coincidentally happen to be the voters. These citizens want a wall, and they will vote for one of these men to get it.
    The elites may not get it, but I’ve got some news for them: the price of fruit-pickers and nannies just went up.