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Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare Lives (A Discussion of the Individual Mandate)

CaduceusAs practically everybody knows by now, the Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act. To be honest, I don't actually know enough detail about the full law to know how good of a solution it is. I can say, from what I have heard of it, that I think it's decent. I've written before about universal health care, and why I thought it was a good idea, if implemented properly. In that entry, I linked to a good article on Denialism Blog, Are Patients in Universal Healthcare Countries Less Satisfied?, which did a good job of comparing the U.S. health care system to those of other industrialized nations (the U.S. doesn't fare so well). When the Affordable Care Act was first passed, Denialism Blog had another article, Healthcare reform, which is a good summary of the law, giving both pros and cons (in his opinion, most of the cons seem to be that it didn't go far enough in overhauling the system). So like I said, from what I have read of 'Obamacare', it sounds like a decent start to reforming our health care system.

Perhaps what I've always thought was most important in health care reform was actually making it universal, which Congress implemented in this case with the individual mandate - that everyone must buy insurance or pay a penalty. To quote part of my previous entry:

One issue is that we already do have a de facto national health care system. Publicly funded hospitals cannot turn away anyone for a life threatening emergency. And honestly, I like that. I don't want to show up at a hospital bleeding out, and have to wait on some clerk to clear my insurance before the surgeons fix me up. And I don't want paramedics to be the ones making decisions on whether or not I get treated when the ambulance shows up.

So, seeing as how insured and non-insured alike get treated by hospitals, the individual mandate guarantees that there will be no more parasites getting free medical care from those of us that actually pay into the system.

Unfortunately, the individual mandate seems to be what bothers the right wing the most. They see it as an infringement on their freedom. And to be perfectly honest, it is a bit, but that's part of the price you pay to live in a society.

We live in civilized society, not an anarchy. To live in such a society, you must necessarily give up some freedom to ensure the greater good. To think otherwise is analogous to the impertinent child, who when scolded for misbehaving, claims it's a free country so he can do whatever he wants. Or, to use a popular saying, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. Of course, we value freedom very much in this country, so we must be ever on the alert to ensure that the freedom we lose is within acceptable bounds, and to keep government from becoming too intrusive. The debate is where to draw that line. To take an outlandishly extreme example, you can't go outside and fire a gun randomly into the air, because the bullets may come down and hurt somebody else. I doubt anybody would question that law. Similarly, when someone wrongs you, you can't gather up a group of vigilantes and hunt them down with a posse. You have to rely on the police and the court system. Moving on to a slightly different class of examples, when society requires certain infrastructures, we expect all members of society to contribute, even if it goes against your freedom of inaction, or your freedom to spend your money however you want (in fact, taxes themselves are an example of giving up some freedom). We have an interstate highway system that is open to everybody. And even if you're one of the rare people who never uses it, odds are very high that you benefit from the cheaper shipping costs possible with that system, so everybody has to contribute. And moving to two examples that I consider very similar to health care, we have publicly funded fire departments and police forces. You can't try to get out of paying the taxes to support those institutions by saying that you'll take your chances on your house not catching fire, or that you'll buy a gun and protect yourself. Those entities exist to help the public in general, and they would come to your aid if you were ever unfortunate enough to require their services. Further, even if payment were voluntary, there would be no practical way to determine during emergencies whether or not you were one of the people covered by their protection*. So, the only practical solution is to compel everybody to contribute to those services.

For the specific case of health care, where it's a service that everybody participates in, and where the practical effect of mandating that everybody have insurance is that insurance premiums and even overall cost will be less for everybody, I don't see why there's a big debate on whether or not this is one of those times where we're willing to contribute our part for the greater good. It just makes sense that everybody should be insured.

*Actually, it's not entirely true that fire departments can't determine who's paid up or not. To read what happened in a rural area when a homeowner had forgotten to pay a $75 fee to the local fire department, read this article, No pay, no spray: Firefighters let home burn. So, in some areas, it is technically feasible to only help those who have paid ahead of time, even if it seems atrocious. However, in other areas, like cities, letting a fire burn in one building would endanger adjacent buildings, so it's not really an option.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Email Debunking - 1895 8th Grade Final Exam

BlackboardI recently received an e-mail with the subject line, '1895 8th grade final exam'. It supposedly showed how inadequate our modern education system is compared to that from a century ago. So, I took a look at it, and found the whole thing a little dubious.

Here's the introduction from the e-mail.

Subject: 1895 8th grade final exam

Take this test and pass it on to your more literate friends..

What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895...

Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society And Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

Let's leave all the subjective statements aside for now, and first determine whether this is actually a legitimate test that was administered to 8th graders in 1895. As it turns out, it is a real test from 1895, but it's not certain who it was intended for. As is claimed in the e-mail,the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society does indeed have a copy of the test. They have a transcript of the exam online, at the bottom of which they print the following claim:

The following document was transcribed from the original document in the collection of the Smoky Valley Genealogy Society, Salina, Kansas. This test is the original eighth-grade final exam for 1895 from Salina, KS. An interesting note is the fact that the county students taking this test were allowed to take the test in the 7th grade, and if they did not pass the test at that time, they were allowed to re-take it again in the 8th grade.

So, the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society at least believes that the exam was for eighth graders.

Truth or Fiction has looked into this claim as well. They have even posted some photos of the exam on their site. As they point out, nowhere does the exam indicate who it was intended for. As the authors of that site point out, many of the questions actually seem oriented more towards teachers than students.

Snopes also took a look at this exam. While they didn't confirm or debunk whether this particular exam was for 8th graders, they did show an example of a different exam from that era that was definitely intended for teachers, which seemed remarkably similar in scope and difficulty to the exam in question. They also included quotes from the administrators of that other exam, indicating that it was a bit difficult, and that teachers didn't do so well on it.

So, if I had to bet, I'd wager that this exam was intended for teaching candidates, not students. However, there's no way to tell for sure right now, so let's move on.

For the sake of argument, let's just assume, as the e-mail claimed, that this was an 8th grade final exam. How does it compare to a modern day education? The Snopes link above actually did cover this question pretty well, but having a daughter who just completed 7th grade, I think I'm in a good position to offer a closer perspective.

One note before looking at the questions - another site, Digital History, has gone through and answered everything. However, their answers are rather brief, sometimes incomplete, or not necessarily responding to what I'd imagine the exam was actually referring to. So, I've include a bunch of links below to more information responding to most of the questions.

Let's start off with the grammar section.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina , KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6 What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

First, here are links to give you answers to each of the questions: Capital Letters, Parts of Speech, verse, stanza, paragraph, verb parts, grammatical case, letter case, Punctuation.

Some of those might sound a little difficult at first blush, but once you look into the actual information that they're asking for, it's pretty clear that most of it is common knowledge, even for 8th graders. For example, if it was a multiple choice test, and it asked you to pick the option with the correct capitalization of a title, most people would probably get it right. Likewise for correct uses of punctuation, or verb tenses (parts).

And while grammar is important to a well rounded education, I do think people put too much emphasis on the rules being hard and fast, when really, they're just a description of how language is used by the people speaking it. Languages have survived just fine for thousands of years without scholars telling us not to split infinitives or use prepositions at the end of sentences. I've written about this before in Grammar Police, and SMBC covered it more humorously here.

Next is arthmetic.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

I'm not going to work out the answers, but here are links to information necessary to figure out the answers: Arithmetic Operations, Unit Conversion Tables, Compound Interest.

This section is little more than unit conversion, and it's the only math in the whole test. There's no algebra, and only basic geometry finding areas of rectangles. No probability, either. My daughter's math education has far surpassed what's in this test, and she's only in 7th grade.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Here are the links to get the answers: U.S. History, Columbus, American Revolution, Territorial Growth, Kansas History, Civil War, Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, Howe, 1607 - Jamestown, 1620 - Plymouth Colony, 1800 - Jefferson Election?, 1849 - California Gold Rush, 1865 - End of Civil War.

The U.S. history doesn't look too bad. I think my daughter would do decently on it. If it was more Texas centric instead of Kansas centric, she'd do better.

The orthography is section is pretty obscure.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'U.'
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Here are links to get some of the answers: Alphabet, Phonetics, Orthography, Etymology, Syllabication, Phonemes, Trigraph, Subvocalization, Diphthong, Cognate words, Linguals, Caret U, Silent letters, bi / bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sub/sup, cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays,

Some of this is pretty specialized, and probably difficult for most people. But out of the whole exam, this is the only difficult section.

On the other hand, Orthography must have changed in the past hundred years, because I had difficulty even finding some of the things these questions were referring to. For example, I'm pretty sure that the 'subvocals' I found is referring to something different than this exam, and I couldn't find any references to cognate letters that weren't references to this exam. So, it would be hard to fault modern day 8th graders for not knowing outdated terms.

And the final section, Geography:

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Here are the links to get the answers: Climate, Kansas Climate, River Uses, Oceans, Mountain Ranges of North America, Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, or Hekla, Yukon, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Helena, Juan Fernández Islands, Aspinwall, Orinoco.

Other than questions 5 & 6, this looks like stuff my daughter has covered already in school.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.

Gives the saying 'he only had an 8th grade education' a whole new meaning, doesn't it?!

No wonder they dropped out after 8th grade. They already knew more than they needed to know!

No, I don't have all the answers! And I don't think I ever did!

Have fun with this...pass it on so we're not the only ones who feel stupid!!

That's it? Where's the science? Or the world history? Or government? Or art? Or literature? Or questions on how to do research? Or as I pointed out in the arithmetic section, where's the higher math? My daughter has had a much broader education than the hypothetical one from this test, and she won't finish with 8th grade for another year (and this is Texas, which doesn't exactly have a stellar reputation for education).

So, even if this was a real test for 8th graders from 1859, it doesn't reveal a dumbing down of education for modern day students. That's really no surprise, though. Just read books that describe schooling from that era, like Tom Sawyer, or Anne of Green Gables. I don't think anybody reading those books would wish for a return to that type of education. If anything, I think this exam shows just how good a modern day education is.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Venus Transit

Other people got much better photos of the Venus transit than I did (see Bad Astronomy or Why Evolution is True for a few), but this is my blog, so I'm going to post mine. I used my daughter's Astroscan telescope, with a sun viewing screen to project the image onto. So, here's the transit, taken with my iPhone. It's a little skewed because the camera was off to the side.

Venus Transit

And just to show the telescope setup, here are a couple photos of that.

Venus Transit

Venus Transit

I also installed a Barlow lens to get even more magnification - the sun wouldn't even fit on the screen. At that size, there was a very noticeable shimmering around the edges of Venus (I think due to a phenomenon known as astronomical seeing). I tried to take some video of that, but none of the videos turned out well at all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Website Update - Top 10 Page List for May 2012

Top 10 ListAnother month has come and gone, so it's once again time for me to go through the server logs and tally up the most popular pages on this site.

A blog entry from 2012 made the list for the first time - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber. All the other entries had made the list before, but a couple, My Favorite Airplanes and Programming, hadn't made the list since last year. It had been a couple months since the Ray Comfort entry had been on there, too.

A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes was at the top spot for the first time in almost a year. I'm pretty sure that has to do with the news of Skechers reaching a settlement over their fraudulent claims about their similar 'Shape-ups' shoes.

Overall traffic was down just a bit, but not much.

Top 10 for May 2012

  1. Blog - A Skeptical Look at MBT Shoes
  2. Autogyro History & Theory
  3. Blog - Origin of Arabic Numerals - Was It Really for Counting Angles?
  4. Blog - Running AutoCAD R14 in XP Pro 64
  5. Factoids Debunked & Verified, Part II
  6. Factoids Debunked & Verified
  7. Blog - Response to an Editorial by Ken Huber
  8. Blog - My Favorite Airplanes
  9. Blog - Ray Comfort - Still Ignorant on Evolution
  10. Programming

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