Thursday, August 27, 2015

Take it from philosopher Blaise Pascal: For students, preparing for the PSAT is a can't-lose proposition

Click to enlarge
    In just over six weeks high school juniors will have the chance to take the PSAT, or National Merit Test. Those with scores in the top one percent of their state will become National Merit Semifinalists. The overwhelming majority of these students (15,000 of 16,000) will become National Merit Finalists.
    To score in the top one percent of Mississippians one need but post a score that is just above the national 97th percentile on the PSAT. On average our state’s students have lower scores, and so it’s easier to become a National Merit Finalist in Mississippi than in most states.
    I’ve written it before, but I’ll write it again. The National Merit Finalist designation carries with it some of the sweetest scholarships available to prospective college students. Ole Miss offers a free ride. Alabama and Oklahoma go one step further, offering 10 paid semesters, both undergraduate and graduate, plus free summers. Since most NM Finalists will arrive at college with more than 50 hours through AP classes and dual enrollment, these schools are essentially offering a free graduate, law, or medical degree. This can be worth a quarter of a million dollars to an out-of-state student.

    So it pays to put some effort into preparation for the PSAT. But don’t take my word on it. Take the advice of Seventeenth Century philosopher Blaise Pascal.
    They didn’t have the PSAT back in the 1600s, but Pascal advanced a theorem which provided a logical basis for believing in God. Essentially his theorem was that there was no penalty in believing in God and being wrong, but if one refused to believe and was wrong the result was eternal damnation.
    The chart at right sums up the possible outcomes for someone who believes or doesn’t believe in God. (Belief, by the way, means more than just detached observation, but rather belief with commitment; however, I’m not attempting any theological debate here).
    I’m not sure when I first heard of Pascal’s Wager, as it’s called. I actually had conducted the same mental exercise as a child of 8 or 9. But it’s an interesting way of looking at things, and in my view a valuable contribution to religious thought.
    One can use a variant of Pascal’s Wager as providing a real incentive to study for the PSAT, at least for those who have at least an outside chance of making the test’s Semifinalist cutoff score. There are four choices, based on two choices and two possible outcomes. One can prepare or not prepare. One can earn a high enough score to become a Semifinalist; or not.
    Those who attempt to become Finalists and fail will still be better students because of their preparation. They will likely have higher grades and score higher on the ACT and SAT. Even if they don't bag the National Merit scholarship, they might improve their scores enough for other merit aid. And of course, those who don't prepare and just barely fail to make the Semifinalist cutoff will be forever burdened with the knowledge that massive amounts of money could have been theirs with just a slight bit of effort.
    I’ve put all of this in the chart which is at the top of this blog post. If this doesn't convince your student to prepare for the PSAT, I'll end by offering this poem by William F. O'Brien.

Better To Try And Fail Than Never To Try At All
by William F. OBrien

Some say risk nothing, try only for the sure thing,
Others say nothing gambled nothing gained,
Go all out for your dream.
Life can be lived either way, but for me,
I'd rather try and fail, than never try at all, you see.

Some say "Don't ever fall in love,
Play the game of life wide open,
Burn your candle at both ends."
But I say "No! It's better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all, my friend."

When many moons have gone by,
And you are alone with your dreams of yesteryear,
All your memories will bring you cheer.
You'll be satisfied, succeed or fail, win or lose,
Knowing the right path you did choose.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Unpatriotic cities which ban our state flag shouldn't receive discretionary state funds

     A number of Mississippi cities, including Oxford, have decided to show their support for the Obama-donor-led effort to cram a new state flag down our throats by voting to remove our current state flag from city property.
    The idea is that our current flag is objectionable because it pays tribute to our Confederate forbears by incorporating the battle flag of Northern Virginia in its canton. And so cities with liberal boards of aldermen are voting to refuse to display our state flag to pressure the legislature into adopting another one.
    I happen to believe the Confederate flag is a wonderful symbol of our Southern heritage, and its inclusion in our state flag makes it unique. When people see it they know immediately that it represents a Southern state; most flags give no clue as to region. Every disparagement that can be made of the Confederate flag can also be made of the American flag, save that the American flag has represented far more evil.
    But I will leave the arguments over whether our current flag is a wonderful or evil thing to another day. Good or bad, it’s still our flag, and it’s the duty of our municipalities to display it.
    Suppose the Obama-donors were to be successful and the legislature were to adopt a new flag. Imagine the reaction of the same liberals if people like me refused to accept the new flag, or cities across Mississippi voted not to display it. I can just hear their sanctimonious sermonettes now!
    Mississippi is a sovereign state, and we as citizens have a duty of allegiance to our sovereign. This includes recognition of our state’s emblems, the most notable of which is our state flag. Municipalities incorporated under the laws of our state have an equal, if not greater, duty to recognize and display these emblems.
    As citizens we are welcome to seek changes in our state’s symbols. We the people are the sovereign together, but the decisions we make together must be respected by all. A refusal to display our state’s flag is, plain and simple, unpatriotic. It is a renunciation of citizenship.
    Mississippi’s various agencies distribute a great deal of discretionary money each year to counties and municipalities. If a city does not recognize its duty to show fealty to the sovereign through the display of our state flag, then the state should not provide these cities with any discretionary funding. The legislature should not advance any local bill for any of the municipalities, and if one should pass, Gov. Bryant should veto it.
    Certainly I will be contacting Gov. Bryant and other state officials and will ask them to end any discretionary funding for Oxford and other cities that have voted to ban our state flag. These aldermen can be just as unpatriotic as they wish, but if they have no allegiance to our state then our state owes them nothing, either.


I have emailed the following to Gov. Bryant and will be sending similar messages to other state leaders. I urge everyone who disagrees with this nonsense to send a similar message to him and others.
Many cities are trying to pressure the legislature to change our state flag, despite the fact that the people voted overwhelming in favor of keeping the 1894 flag in 2001. This includes votes to ban the display of the Mississippi flag on municipal property.

I believe that municipalities have a duty of fealty to the sovereign, which includes the display of our state flag. Those municipalities which ban our state flag are effectively renouncing their state citizenship. I would ask that you, as governor, direct the executive agencies not to direct any discretionary spending to municipalities which have banned our state flag.

In the upcoming legislative session, I would also ask you to veto any local bill sponsored for the benefit of any municipality which has banned our state flag. Those who refuse to pay tribute to our state should not receive any special funding or favors from our state.

Thank you so much for standing up for the people and for the rule of law rather than the rule of the mob.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

With flag decision Oxford's unpatriotic aldermen show lack of respect for democratic process

    In a rather disgusting attempt to curry favor with liberal elites, the Oxford board of aldermen voted unanimously to refuse to display the Mississippi flag on city property Tuesday night.
    The aldermen weren’t acting in response to a groundswell of citizen demand. In fact, 15 years ago Lafayette County voters decided in favor of keeping the 1894 flag, in the election where an overwhelming majority of Mississippi voters said “Leave Our Flag Alone!” The leftists who sought to change the flag 15 years ago are the same ones seeking to change it today. They just won’t quit.
    A recent newspaper ad calling for a new flag was signed by a number of "notable"Mississippians. A campaign donor search found most were either Obama donors or flunkies of ousted Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones. In other words, the people we should listen to the least!
    What has happened is that the Oxford city board has been filled for the most part with extremely liberal aldermen. Usually this doesn’t matter; after all, these people are running a city, not establishing national policy. But give them a chance to jump off the George-McGovern deep end, and they will.
    I happen to think we should keep our state flag. We’ve already voted on it, and by an overwhelming majority Mississippi voters made it clear they did not want a change. But if we have to argue this again, then the issue should again be presented to the voters. The city of Oxford shouldn’t be taking a position one way or the other.
    Suppose the left-wing fringe is successful in ram-rodding a new flag through the legislature. I’m sure they will immediately insist that it is the duty of all Mississippians to accept the flag which has been adopted through the democratic process. And yet, by refusing to display our state’s flag, Oxford’s city board has made it clear that it doesn’t respect the democratic process very much. Is every city henceforth to just display the state flag of its own choosing?
    I am a former Oxford resident, in that I now live a few hundred yards outside the city limits. So although I voted in the last election I can’t vote in the next one. But I still have an interest in what goes on in a city where I consider myself a resident. And what the Oxford City board has done is disgraceful. A refusal to display our state flag is unpatriotic, and in making this decision Oxford’s aldermen are not very different from the hippie flag burner’s of the 1960s. The hippies were wrong and so are Oxford’s elected officials.
    Unfortunately, Mississippi doesn’t have recall elections, but these are clearly power-hungry aldermen; most will be seeking re-election. Hopefully the citizens will turn them out en masse. Alderman Jay Hughes is seeking to oust Republican Rep. Brad Mayo in this fall’s legislative election. I hope the voters will send him – and the whole sorry lot – a loud and clear message.

Friday, August 14, 2015

I just saved $12 and increased my family's food security

    I just finished splitting a 20-pound bag of parboiled rice into 25 slider-seal storage bags. The rice cost $7.50 and the slider-seal bags (purchased in bulk when on sale) cost about $1.10, for a total cost of $8.60.
    Each of my slider-seal bags of rice contains two cups of rice, which is enough for eight 190-calorie servings. I tend to cook two cups at a time, which is a bit wasteful, since we don’t eat it all. But parboiled rice keeps fairly well overnight in the refrigerator. Parboiled rice, for those who don’t know, is brown rice that has been steamed in the husk, thus retaining 80 percent of the nutrients that are lost when producing white rice. I really can’t tell the difference in taste, except that I prefer parboiled, because it doesn’t get “sticky.”
    A two-pound of bag of parboiled rice sells for about two dollars, so the same amount of rice purchased in two-pound bags would cost about $20. So by buying a large bag and splitting it myself into smaller sizes I’ve saved about $11 on food costs. If you reuse the slider-seal bags, which I usually do, then the savings come to $12.
    One advantage of having a lot of rice on hand is that we eat it more often. Rice is a cheap food, and when it’s there already split into single-meal size it’s easy to pour a bag into the rice cooker and cook a quick, inexpensive meal.
    In addition, I’ve frequently pointed out that saving money on groceries by stocking up on deeply discounted or bulk purchases is a form of disaster planning. It promotes both national and family security. There is about a two percent chance each year of a major natural or civil disruption in the food supply. It’s unlikely, but should such an event occur it certainly would be nice to have a month or so of food in the pantry.
    A 20-pound bag of rice contains 32,810 calories, or enough food to feed a family of four for about five days. Obviously one isn’t going to eat nothing but rice for five days, but with emergency preparedness it’s best to just go through the pantry and add up all the calories and then divide the total by the family’s anticipated consumption level.
    Sugar, by the way, is the ultimate survival food. A four-pound bag has 6,810 calories, or roughly enough to keep a family of four afloat for a day, and it has a shelf life of around a million years. A couple of years ago sugar was on sale for a dollar a bag and I bought 20 bags, or 80 pounds. We’ve slowly chomped our way through most of it, so I didn’t protect us from a disaster, but I saved $30 on the grocery bill. If four-pound bags of sugar go on sale for a buck again I’m buying 100 bags.
    Wise preparation for a disaster that probably will never happen is a good way to save several hundred dollars a year on groceries. So start preparing and start saving today.