Fire Department Fail

The Introduction

Okay, I know it has been a while since the last post, but I was waiting for the right story…and I now have it. According to a story on the radio Monday morning, and my subsequent research on the internet, a couple named Gene and Paulette Cranick of South Fulton (Obion County), Tennessee experienced a shock of life shattering proportions on the eve of September 29th. Read the below articles and then continue.

http://www.indyposted.com/114773/tennessee-firefighters-watch-house-burn-down-owners-didnt-pay-subscription-fee/

http://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/local/Firefighters-watch-as-home-burns-to-the-ground-104052668.html

The Situation

Unfortunately, individuals living in rural areas are faced with a primarily volunteer-based fire department. To cope with costs of maintaining a department and expanding coverage areas, the residents of Obion County have constructed a deal with the local fire department to provide services to their area at the cost of $75 per residence per year. So, Mr. and Mrs. Cranick did not pay the yearly fee under the pretext that the fire department would put out the fire regardless of fee payment situation. Well, when their house caught on fire, they did what any person would do – call the fire department. The fire department arrived and was promptly ordered not to extinguish the fire because the Cranicks had not paid their yearly fee. The Cranicks pleaded for the fire chief to extinguish the fire and save their home whatever the cost – the chief refused. The fire department did extinguish the fire which spread from the Cranicks’ property to their neighbor’s property – the neighbor had paid the yearly fee.

My Problem with this Situation

Regardless of a fee, the fire department is a public service, not a for-hire service. Now, yes, I agree that had the Cranicks paid the damn fee, this wouldn’t be an issue; however, my problem rests with the fact that the fire department arrived on scene and didn’t put out the fire. Fire personnel have a duty and responsibility as public servants to serve the freakin’ public – even if they don’t pay for the services!!! If a vagrant is hit by a car, are we not supposed to help him/her because he/she doesn’t have a job and contribute to the system through taxes?! I can’t believe that this story is occurring in America!

What do you think? Post your comments below.

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Hide Ya Kids, Hide Ya Wife….

By now, I am fairly certain that most of this blog’s readers have heard, or heard of, the Antoine Dodson “Bed Intruder” viral video that is parading around the internet like the next pandemic. If not, see below…

This is a perfect example of how a simple news clip can be extracted, edited, and published for seemingly endless viewer’s entertainment. I find it especially funny because I remember receiving the original news video clip from my buddy on Facebook with the caption “if only the local news was this entertaining every night” – by the way thanks to the man Tony for that one.

The sad part of this new age of technology is that it is so easy to generate stereotypes based on ‘that video we saw on the net.’ This leads to my ultimate point which is how quickly our society is willing to trust or associate what we read or see on the net with the truth. Primarily, this is because we are cognitive misers – meaning we don’t like to put a tremendous amount of thought or effort into what we are interpreting – the quickest solution will work. We rely on heuristics to categories and associate incoming stimuli; however, if the prior schema is false or heavily skewed, our perceptions will be forever skewed due to laziness in the beginning.

Perhaps the most unfortunate quality attributed to cognitive misers is the associate with the confirmation bias – a terrible behavior in which a person will accept and redistribute only the information affirming their pre-existing perspective, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I fear that people’s laziness and unwillingness to exert more energy than it takes to YouTube or Wikipedia something inevitably sets a precedent of ignorance.

As always, I welcome your comments and opinions.

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Restructuring the School System for Efficiency and Improvement

So, what’s wrong with the school system today?

In short, everything; classrooms are seriously overcrowded, the number of teachers is dwindling due to budget cuts, the teachers are severely underpaid and required to purchase essential classroom supplies (like printing paper and No. 2 pencils for tests – seriously, WTF!!!), disparity in academic requirements between states, and let’s not forget the students being overtaxed with homework from their over-extended  schedules. Students face long hours of repetition and boredom due to an extended day which encompasses 50 minutes to 1 hour for each of their 7 to 8 classes each day. At the end of this exhausting day, students are sent home toting repetitious materials for many classes as a meager excuse for exam preparation. This country’s education system focuses on the infamous ‘teach to the test’ rather than educate a full understanding of the concepts at hand so that the concepts can later be applied in a practical sense. Another unfortunate factor in the degrading American public education system is the lack of enthusiasm towards the positive benefits of education from the students and their parents (either by the parent’s choice not to participate or inability to participate due to mounting work demands).  In summation, the education system comes with a huge sign reading “out of order”.

A Few Fun Facts

I reviewed some recent research about the public education system before I contributed my two cents worth on the subject, and I have thus far arrived at the following conclusion: a radical correction is desperately required for the betterment of future generations. Here are a few facts derived from studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Education: the average school year is approximately 179 attendance days per year; the average school day ranges from 6 to 9 hours; and, as of 2009, there are approximately 49.3 million students enrolled in classes and 3.2 million teachers.

The average student to teacher ratio is 15.3 to 1; however, due to my own personal experience, this ratio seems ridiculous. Each of my courses contained, at minimum, 25 students. I know, I know. That is a personal experience when I am giving empirical data, but this ratio seems low. It is important to note this average is based on all teachers (to include special interest classes which usually are not filled to the maximum levels) and all students (who don’t necessarily take all the special interest classes). In short, the ratio is unfairly portraying the number lower than what is actually reflected in core classes. Another interesting piont is that only 26 states implemented, or plan to implement by 2008, a mandatory exit exam for high school graduation (granted, it is a fairly elementary exam in some cases) – information based on 2004 data from nctm.org.

So, what do I suggest?

As the expression goes, opinions are like a**holes; everyone has one. I know that some, if not all, of these suggestions will summon scrutiny and rejection, but hear me out. Currently, students spend 179 days in school, which equals roughly 36 weeks out of the year. The remaining weeks are haphazardly divided into holiday breaks and an ever-shortening summer break. My suggestion is to eliminate the summer break and establish 3 major semesters, each approximately 14 to 15 weeks long; this allows for 7 to 10 weeks of breaks that can be spread throughout the year. I also think that it would be a better use of time to convert to a ‘block’ style schedule for the semesters – this is similar to the college style of course spacing (only a semester long for each course). This schedule would consist of 4 to 5 courses per day, each between 1 to 1 ½ hours. If put into effect, this approach could help alleviate stress, boredom, and tedious repetition. It would allow students to devote more attention to individual subjects and lessen stress of having 7 to 8 subjects every day. As an added bonus, this schedule layout acts as a college preparation tool.

Students should be required to take a placement test at minimum upon entering their first year of secondary education; this test should be repeated at the completion of each year of high school to assist with course placement for the coming year. The results of the placement test would be used to determine which level of courses the student qualifies (remedial, standard, or advanced). Yes, I am advocating employing more teachers and 3 levels of certain courses (such as math and sciences) because some students cannot grasp certain higher level math or science complexities. It is unfair to force a student into these classes, and it is unfair to other students in the class to be held back because of a student’s inability to grasp the concepts as quickly as his/her peers. Students should be surrounded by peers that excel at approximately their level; they should not be required to sit in a classroom in a constant state of boredom while the teacher reviews the same concept over and over for the select few who cannot grasp it. It is time that we set aside these petty notions of political correctness and fear of damaging a student’s self image and assigning courses based on the student’s performance. Granted, if a student wishes to retake the placement examination, allowances will be required; we don’t all perform the same every day, and the same is true about days when they take exams. If the student has a bad day on the placement exam schedule, they should be allowed to retake it at another time when they feel more able.

Another suggestion is to do away with English review courses for all 4 years of high school. Honestly, if a student hasn’t grasped the English language in the previous eight to nine years of lower education, there is little hope of a miraculous uptake in the final 4 years before college. Instead, offer a mandatory English ‘refresher’ course in the freshman year of high school which reviews the fundamental principles of grammar, and then design courses that concentrate on formatting, research, writing, and literature analysis. I can’t stress enough how boring it was to sit through yet another review of the basic tenants of the English language…this is a noun…this is a verb…this is a subject/verb agreement…yadda, yadda, yadda; I wanted to shoot myself when it came to that part of the year, but the most painful part of the experience was listening to some of my classmates who were not able to understand the basics – and I am referencing individuals in twelfth grade standard English. I do not claim to be an expert on the English language – my wife can attest to that fact – but I am able to command a proper use of it (most of the time).

An additional suggestion is to include mandatory courses with the primary focus on personal finance and investing as a prerequisite for graduation. Too many individuals grow up without the ability to budget their finances or consider investing for retirement. Teaching the next generation how to prepare for the future is one step closer to removing the burden of the older generation from the next younger generation. I could spend hours at length discussing this segment, but I feel that my previous (and almost certainly future) posts will address this issue even further than can be done justice here.

Recap

Again, the education system today is a skydiver in a free fall; if he/she becomes too excited or oblivious to the fact that he/she is hurtling towards the earth, the end result is tragic but avoidable. Don’t let our future generations become complacent with meager results and a lousy system that pushes failing students through to pass the burden to the next year. It is time to step up and dig a little deeper into those pockets to support education. Like the skydiver, society is given a warning when it is time to pull the ripcord, and that warning is sounding right now. Are you willing to pull it, even if it means a sudden jerk out of bliss?

It is time to truly evaluate whether today’s small decrease in income to fund education is worth facing the disaster of our children who can’t read our prescription bottles. This might not be so far from the truth in the near future if we don’t act now. So, remember to….

As always, I encourage your thoughts and opinions. Please post below. I also encourage you to check out some of the research conducted by the Department of Education. www.ed.gov

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A New Post is Coming!!!

Fear not faithful views. I know it has been a while, and I can see by my stats monitor that someone is at least looking at my page. A new post is on the way. I am putting the final touches on it and it should be published in the next day or so.
I think you will enjoy…:)

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Movie: Part 1…(6 months/1 year)…Movie: Part 2

Photos from StephanieMeyer.com and IMDB.com

Recently, a trend seems to be emerging within the film industry; that trend is splitting the supposed final chapter of a movie series into two parts and releasing each part 4 to 6 months apart. In particular, I am referencing the final installments in the Harry Potter and Twilight series, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Matrix (yes, I am aware the original plan was to make the Matrix a trilogy). This development has been met with some supportive and not-so-unexpected negative feelings from fans. The arguments range from more film time to explore complex storylines to greed of the film companies to exploit their customers. Below, I have posted a poll concerning your opinion about this approach by the film industry.

Reasons the Film Companies Consider Splitting Final Chapters

Clearly, there would be more time to tell the story. This option to split the final chapter creates more room for the screenwriter to develop and explore subtle subplots and character interaction; this has been a bit of a problem in the past for the Harry Potter series (in my humble opinion). Certain length restrictions hinder the filmmaker’s ability to incorporate fine details for continuity and complexity.

Pressure from theaters is a leading consideration for filmmakers and studios. Theaters don’t like long films because it means fewer showings in one theater for one day. That would mean the theater would have to limit showings of other films or settle for less showings of the lengthy film; however, there are a few films that come to mind on this topic…

Photos from Allposters.com and IMDB.com

The traditional moviegoer isn’t prepared for a lengthy film; unfortunately, the average moviegoer has the attention span afforded to the average house cat while an industrial strength fan blows a million shining sequins around the carpet. Some get bored if the movie exceeds 90 minutes; others can’t control their children. This brings us an interesting point: should the intermission return to cinema and allow longer films with a bathroom break?

Finally, the largest portion that the decision rides on is money. Beneath the faint façade of more run-time to tell the story, the bottom line is the primary driving force. Popularity of the franchise also factors into the decision because the fans must be willing to pay twice to see what normally would be shown in one film.

As always, I welcome your comments. Don’t forget to vote in the poll.  

 

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Several Simple Strategies to Suppress Spending and Salvage Savings

Ok, I apologize about the wait (and length) on this post, but I have been busy with work and home duties.

This article will present several pieces of advice that I have either contemplated or personally benefited from in the past.

The Basics

I want to begin with the most important overarching principle…living within one’s means and within a budget. This will save you many hassles, financial disasters, sleepless nights worrying, and irritating collection calls in the future. Don’t be scared or intimidated by the thought of ‘pain’ when creating a budget to live. Think of it more as a roadmap to your financial independence and sound future. Remember, there is no such thing as easy money, so why gamble with what you have. 

My advice when creating a budget is to compile your average monthly bills onto a tangible list; this list of ‘concrete expenses’ should include: rent/mortgage, utilities, tv, internet, phone service (land line and cell), insurance (home/renters, auto, medical (if not subtracted from your pay), life insurance, etc), and any other regularly scheduled monthly purchases/payments (car payment, gym membership, student loan repayment, etc). The reason I do not include other purchases, such as gas or food, is because the constant, reoccurring bills must be paid in order to keep your status quo. Once you establish your total required monthly expenses, you can deduct it from your total monthly net income. Again, I stress not to undertake more expenses than you can pay and worry about not eating. Once you see what the ‘concrete expenses’ are for the month, you will see the remainder of your net income. For a safeguard, many places will evaluate a person’s financial standing by developing a comparative ratio of expenses versus total income; concordantly, the ‘safety net’ in personal finance ratios should be 2-3 times projected expenses. Now, this is ideal, but it is hard to reach. My advice is to approach it like many apartment complexes calculate – that is, take the rent amount and the person must have 2.5-3 times the rent amount in income. 

Once the ‘concrete expenses’ are established and paid, the remainder of the money should be directed to food, fuel, and any other essentials in life. The reason I do not include gas and food in the original ‘concrete expenses’ is due to their flexibility and semi-controllability. If an unexpected spike in a utility bill during a particularly hot summer month, ideally the backup/reserve funds would be used; however, the reality is that some live paycheck to paycheck. So, one can adjust the food or gas budget accordingly. I am not advocating not eating, but learn the most important concept in financial success…SACRIFICE. Maybe consider Ramen noodles rather than pizza one night; drink only one soda per day and water the rest of the day. Simple diet changes can benefit in extraordinary ways, both financially and with regard to health.

Only when the ‘concrete expenses’ and the remaining life essentials have been taken care of should you consider recreational activities and the expenses that accompany them. It is recommended by most experts to set aside at least 10% of your income for savings; also, an individual should begin working up an emergency fund that totals between 3 to 6 months of reserve in case of a sudden layoff or major unplanned expense. Saving is the crucial step that is the most challenging and loathed part for most individuals; unfortunately, our society doesn’t aid us much with this necessity either. We live in a consumer economy based on credit – simply put, an instant bake recipe for disaster.

Below is a list of advice to consider for financial success:

  • Spot, research, and consider deals of the day – be opportunistic, but be weary of the” deal of a lifetime”  because it will probably bite you in the ass later
  • Take time to consider a large purchase, such as a new car – don’t be an impulse buyer; it is a big purchase – think it through and talk with others; consider a used car rather than brand new
  • Consider whether or not to finance the purchase – I know it is appealing to ‘buy now, pay later’, but usually if you can’t afford to pay for it now, don’t buy it – this advice does not apply for a house purchase because there are very few individuals who can lay down 100k+ (see next item); also, consider that financing will build your credit for future purchases, but carries the burden of ruining credit if you miss payments, are late, or overdraw
  • A house is a great investment for your future, but it is a large responsibility and can be a pain in the ass if you are not prepared to get your hands dirty with some repairs; don’t buy more than you can afford; do a trial run in an apartment for 6 months to a year prior to considering a house
  • Learn to be your own handy man/woman – some repairs require a professional, but some easier tasks should be tackled by you
  • Consider staying in and having friends over rather than going to dinner and a movie or clubbing; on average, one drink will cost between $5-$10, dinner averages $15+ per person, movie tickets $9-$12 each, popcorn and soda $10; so, if you went to dinner with some friends on a weekend night, ordered one drink with dinner and then went to a movie and ate popcorn and a soda, expect to spend $34+ depending on restaurant and theatre – holy crap, $34 for 3-4 hours of entertainment for one person – roughly $10 per hour; if you invite friends over and make a deal to order pizza or everyone bring something, the result will be far less costly per person, you will be able to make your entertainment last longer, and you save on travel expenses between dinner, theater, etc.
  • Don’t be late on payments – this damages you more than you can imagine, especially for future rates; pay at least the minimum payment rather than be late
  • Don’t miss payments – if you thought late payments will damage you, miss a payment and see the hell you will be in – good luck getting a nice interest rate in the future; again, make at least the minimum payment
  • Don’t apply for every credit card that comes in the mail – having too many credit cards looks bad on a credit report; choose a card with good rewards and a low-interest rate, and look for a FIXED interest rate, not a variable; DO NOT PAY FEES FOR A CREDIT CARD – they make 3%+ per purchase you do with their card, a fee is extra money in their pocket
  • Amount you put on credit card – I have heard different comments on this subject – some say that putting too much on a credit card per month (even if paid off at end of month) looks bad on credit report because it looks like you can’t budget your money properly and need a credit card to ‘fill in the gaps in income’; personally, I use my credit card for everything because it is convenient, and I have a hard time believing that it looks bad to the credit reports if you pay it off every month – partially because that is a new service offered by most organizations now, it helps individuals keep track of bills, and it provides credit card companies with the purchase percentages
  • Don’t ‘consolidate debt’ through one of the ‘fly by night’ organizations that say we can help you get out of debt without damaging your credit rating – bad plan, mostly because it isn’t true and they charge you outrageous fees
  • Avoid bankruptcy like it is leprosy – we are in bad economic times, and the future looks grim – bad time to declare bankruptcy unless there is no other option
  • If you are running short on money one month and need a little emergency cash, consider a stretch loan from your bank; don’t pawn your car title – bad strike on credit and most are not honorable organizations
  • Learn to do without some niceties for a while – SACRIFICE and take the time without to determine, if purchased, will you use it or experience the dreaded ‘BUYER’S REMORSE

I have presented some advice for you to consider. As always, I encourage your comments and suggestions.

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Banking News

Hello Everyone,

Thought I might pass along some information that has been puzzling me for some time. I am a local member of the Redstone Federal Credit Union in the North Alabama area. If you are like me you have probably received these annoying reminders to “opt-in” for overdraft protection. I have considered signing up for the service, but I do not understand why they are so insistent about getting participation in their program.

Well, today I think I have some insight as to why the credit union is pushing their plan. They are masquerading this “protection plan” as a service to you; in fact, this “service” has to have your approval for the bank to legally be allowed to charge you these fees. This is one result of the credit reform bill recently passed in Congress. Banks made billions from fees charged to their clients (some without their knowledge of subscribing to the “protection services”). In the past, most banking organizations automatically signed their clients up for these “protection services” by writing the requirements in the ‘fine print’. Let’s be real…who actually reads the fine print? You know you don’t – you skim over it and get the long stare at the paper while your eyes lazily roam from side to side hoping to catch something on which you can ask a seemingly intelligent question.

So, thanks to Congress and the recent laws passed, banks are required to ‘air their dirty laundry’ (so to speak) and inform the customers exactly what they were signed up for when they opened the accounts. I encourage you to read the small article attached to the link posted below for more information.

As for me, I am still undecided if I will sign up for the “overdraft protection plan”.  As always, I welcome your comments and advice.

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Banking/BetterBanking/weston-is-your-bank-about-to-fire-you.aspx?GT1=33009 

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