Tuesday, January 17, 2017

What Seventeen Intelligence Agencies?

Several times this month, the MSM has stated that all seventeen US intelligence agencies support this or that.  Seventeen? Do we really have seventeen different intelligence agencies?  I know of CIA and NSA and DIA.  And I guess the National Reconnaissance Office (surveillance satellite operators) counts.  But does the FBI count as intelligence? They are supposed to be police.  What about Secret Service?  They are supposed to be presidential bodyguards and federal anti counterfeiting police. 
   Anyone know of the other thirteen intelligence agencies? Like what their names are and what they are supposed to be doing with my tax money? 
   Somehow I feel that we could shut down  five or six such agencies, and save money and improve our knowledge of what's going on in the world.  Certainly CIA's record over the years has been so bad as to make me doubt anything coming out of CIA. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Victoria on Masterpiece Theater

It was on PBS at 9PM last night.  A beautiful costume drama.  The costumes were really good, upper class Brits all dressed up for court.  The story picked up with Victoria's accession to the throne at age 18.  She has very firm ideas about who is in charge, she doesn't defer to her mother, her mother's boyfriend, prime ministers, and other members of the aristocracy.  Nice acting, a good watch.  It ran for two hours which is a little long for me, one hour episodes are more to my taste.  Anyhow I plan to watch it again next Sunday.

Replace Obamacare with What?

So what does the Trump administration do to replace Obamacare?  Remember that the country was doing just fine up until Obamacare was rammed down our throats.  Most Americans get health insurance thru their employer.  That's a strong incentive to get a job, which is not a bad thing.  I , and my family, enjoyed company health insurance for nearly 50 years.  It's decent healthcare and the government ought to encourage it any way they can.  And when you turn 65, you are eligible for Medicare which is also pretty decent.
   So the Obamacare thing was only of interest to the self employed, the unemployed, and such.  I don't understand Obamacare, I doubt that anyone does truly.  I think Obamacare offered to pay part of private health insurance premiums for low income people.  And for various reasons the premiums have skyrocketed and the deductibles are so high that the insurance is mostly worthless unless you are hospitalized. 
   So what to replace Obamacare with?  I can think of the following possibilities.
1.  Uncle takes care of everything, like Medicaid or Medicare.  Doctors and hospitals just send all the bills to Uncle Sam.  Tempting but VERY expensive. 
2.   Uncle subsidizes low income people to purchase private health insurance.  Subsidies might range from just making health insurance premiums deductible on income tax, up to  cash payments from the US treasury to either the insurance company or the patient.
3.  We pass a law requiring health insurance companies to sell the same insurance they offer to large corporation employess to the general public, at the same price charged to corporations.
4.  We make a real effort to bring down medical costs, which are outrageous.  Allow duty free import of medicines from any reasonable first world country (Canada, Germany, Japan, and company).  Clamp down on malpractice suits.  If we cut medical costs in HALF, our medical costs would be the same as every other country in the world.  America spends twice as much on medical care as any other first world country.  And our citizens health is no better than other countries.
5.  Something else?

The Republicans need to put their heads together and decide which of these options they will take.  Right now, I think every Republican has his own ideas and none of them agree on much. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Routine Healthcare is pricey

The insurance company sent a summary of my healthcare expenses for 2016.  Grand total for the year, $1338.  All I did this year was two routine doctor's office visits, and one visit to the eye doctor.  That's $446 per visit, each visit taking about an hour of my time and half an hour of the doctor's time.  That's $14.86 per minute, $223 per hour.  Anyone remember Brer Rabbit bragging that he was making a dollar a minute?  That's cheap compared to medical care these days. 
   Totally routine visits, just checking up.  I had no complaints, the doctor's scheduled the visits, twice a year for my general practitioner, once a year for my eye doctor.
   God only knows what it would cost if there was actually anything wrong with me. 

US Army deployment to Poland

The US Army has deployed a brigade (3500 men) to Poland to deter Russian agression/invasion of Poland.  The MSM have been talking this up as a big deal. 
   I'm not impressed.  Back in WWII the Germans and the Russians fought it out in this part of the world, deploying armies of a million men, or better.  Somehow I don't find a mere 3500 man brigade all that imposing.  A 15000 man division would be more like it.  Do we have a division that we could deploy, or is 3500 men our utmost?

Friday, January 13, 2017

F35 Program, Progress and Problems

Aviation Week had a two page article on where the F35 program stands now.   For openers, Lockheed and the Air Force after lots of negotiation, were unable to agree on the terms of the contract for the next batch of aircraft (Low Rate Initial Production lots 9 and 10) .  The Air Force finally issued a contract, without Lockheed's approval, on a take it or leave it basis.  The F35 A model, the Air Force model is now down to $100 million each.  The first ones built way back in 2007 cost $250 million each.  That's not too bad, although the last F22's procured were only $80 million.  The two other variants of the F35 cost more.
   And the ground based software is late.  The Automatic Logistics Information System (ALIS) software isn't ready yet.  We didn't have anything like ALIS back when I was pounding a flight line.  It apparently handles the paperwork, recording each maintenance action, what failed, what was done to fix it.  We flew combat in Viet Nam and did all that stuff with pencil and paper.
   And the on board software crashes.  Maybe every ten hours the pilot gets a blue screen of death and has to reset the system.  Aviation Week claims this is not a safety of flight issue, the plane still flies with the computer crashed, but in combat to have to reset the computer to make the missiles launch or the gun fire could ruin your whole day.  Software is up to block 3F, which is supposed to have code to launch all sorts of different missiles and bombs.  Except the 3F software is having trouble handling the AIM 9X Sidewinder missile.  Which is strange, Sidewinder worked off the Korean War era F86 Sabrejet.  You would think if the pre computer vacuum tube F86 could handle Sidewinder, the all solid state and heavily computerized F35 could too. 
   The article said nothing about the F35 gun, which a year ago was inoperative due to lack of software support.  Let's guess that the block 3F software was successful in getting the gun to fire.  They also said nothing about the 5.6 G limitation imposed by the engines.  Last year it was found that more than 5.6 Gs caused the rotating parts of the engine to bend enough to let the compressor blades hit the engine casing.  This caused an engine fire resulting in the loss of an aircraft last year. Since they didn't say anything about an engine fix, I think the services are living with the 5.6 G limitation, hoping that air to air missiles will pull the necessary G's to nail the enemy fighter.  The ancient F106 could pull 8 G's any old time. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Teaching reading. Phonics vs Whole Word

Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg.  Book review in the Wall St Journal.  Unofficial subtitle, Why Johnny Still Can't Read. 
   In today's public schools the debate is over teaching phonics, or teaching the "whole word method".  Surprisingly Seidenberg attribute the "whole word" method to Horace Mann in the 1800s, and phonics to professors of education in the 1900s.  By the late 1900s, when I was parent of three small children, the "whole word" method  was winning.  Granted, whole word is how adults read.  The eye sees a whole word, and by some mysterious, miraculous, and poorly understood power of mind, the word is recognized and everything you need to know about that word, how it is pronounced, what it means, what it suggests,  pops up instantaneously. The eye moves on to the next word.  That's how I read, and how anyone good at reading reads.  Trouble is, the process is poorly understood and cannot be taught.  They never taught it to me, it just came to me after I had been reading for a while.
   Phonics teaches the sounds of each letter, the rules for long and short vowels, and the sounds of common letter combinations like 'th'.  The student is taught to sound out words, letter by letter, sounding them aloud if necessary.  I was taught phonics, and fortunately St. Mary's elementary school  still taught phonics in the early 90s, when my children attended.
   My older two children both learned to read without strain, and went on to successful school careers.  Youngest son had a terrible time learning to read.  I spent a lot of time reading to him, reading with him, coaching and encouraging.  Youngest son lacked that mysterious ability to recognize whole words.  Words were just little black squiggles on the page, all alike.  The only thing that carried him thru was very strong phonics, stronger than I ever had at his age.  He could strike a new word, sound it out, get it (the really hard part of phonics) and press on.  Then he would strike the SAME word, on the SAME page, a couple of lines down, and not recognize it.  He would have to go thru the whole sound it out drill again.  Obviously that whole word recognizer was not working for youngest son.  Happy ending, by sixth grade, things got better for youngest son and his teacher told me "Reads at grade level".  But it was a tough first six years of grade school for him.  
    The point is, children need both phonics, for when they strike a new word, a common occurance at early ages, and the whole word method to become skillful readers.  Whole word cannot be taught, it comes to children after they have been reading for a while.  And to become good readers, children have to read.  Back in my childhood, we had comic books, ten cents, and a trememdous incentive to read.  You wanted to know what Superman was saying to Batman.  All the text was juicy dialog, no boring exposition.   Every kid had a stash, well thumbed, well read, swapped with buddies. Teachers and parents generally disapproved of comics, but we kids loved them. And read them, a lot.  Too bad comics are $5 and up today.  And the Sunday funnies are gone too.
   Another incentive to children's reading is the bed time story.  I read a lot of 'em aloud over the years.  A.A. Milne, L. Frank Baum, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Kipling, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and many others.  In addition to exposing children to vocabulary and literary conventions,  reading aloud shows the children that Mom and Dad read, and that's incentive for any child to learn how to do it too.