Wednesday, February 25, 2009

No More Mormon Senators

History has once again decided to repeat itself. In the 1920s money was cheap. People invested and borrowed more to invest. The stock market looked like it could go on forever. Inevitably, it didn't. In 1929 it crashed. As part of the "recovery" plan that Hoover implemented, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed. This raised tariffs on thousands of imported items. Not surprisingly, other countries responded by imposing tariffs of their own on American products. The net result was American imports and exports decreased dramatically. This act helped to turn a recession into the Great Depression.

Fast forward to 2000. The real estate boom is in full swing. People were buying and selling like crazy. Banks were lending to everyone who breathed. It looked like home prices would go up forever. Inevitably, they didn't. In 2008 they crashed. Once again the US decided to implement a "recovery" plan. As part of this plan, a "buy American" clause was included which only allowed American products (even when foreign products are cheaper and better quality). Not suprisingly, many countries viewed this as another protectionist stance and prepared to take similar actions against the US. We are in a recession now, is this going to lead us into a Greater Depression.

One common thread I noted between these two is Mormon Senators. Reed Smoot was a Mormon from Utah, who once was offered the Republican nomination for president if he would give up his religion. Mr. Smoot was one of the primary sponsors of the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs (hence the name).

Harry Reid (notice they are not only Mormon, but Reed/Reid's as well) is a Mormon from Nevada. He was instrumental in negotiating with the three Republican Senators that supported the 2009 stimulus package.

Before someone accuses me of trashing a religion, let me state, I am a Mormon too. In spite of this shared faith, I believe Mr. Smoot and Mr. Reid are both wrong. If this is the kind of leadership Mormon Senators are going to have, then we need to stop electing them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Discrimination in the Men's Room

I feel discriminated against. I had to endure one of the most humiliating experiences and I think I need to start an organization so that this kind of thing never happens to anyone again. It's so horrible I have to write about it. What is it? There was no baby changing table in the Men's Room at JCPenney. Can you believe it?!

How in this post-feminist world can we have stores that only have baby changing tables in the women's restroom. What ever happened to equal rights and liberation? Are men not man enough to change a diaper that all of corporate America thinks we will pass this task off on our wife's? Come on let's get a grip with reality here.

In all seriousness, I thought it was rather funny. As I was walking to the restroom I clearly saw a sign on the women's bathroom that it had a changing table. There was no sign on the men's restroom door. I went in anyway, looked around and sure enough, there was no changing table. There wasn't even a sink counter that I could improvise with. For a fleeting moment I thought of sneaking into the women's rest room to change my daughter (at least it wasn't my son), but I decided that my wife wouldn't like bailing me out of jail.

So I changed her on the floor. I used a wetwipe to clean it off, laid her down, and got her diaper changed without incident.

I have noticed that these koala tables are frequently not in men's restrooms. (For the record, them may also not be in women's restrooms, but I don't check.) If they do have them, the container for paper cloths to lay down under your kid are invariably empty. In fact, I have only seen them full one time. When our new church building was completed, they had them the first Sunday. It has since been emptied and never restocked. I have grown so used to not using them that I never did that Sunday. So to this day I still don't know what they look like.

Another thing that has always confused me is the buckle. I know this is some safety device that is probably mandated by law, but who actually uses them? I never have. I figure if the kid wiggles around enough to fall off, then hopefully he will learn his lesson and stay still the next time. I know I am not alone in this because I haven't seen anyone else use them either.

Changing tables in airplane restrooms are silly. The bathroom is barely big enough to turn around in, try wrestling a kid in there. (I don't now who came up with the idea of a mile high club, but he must have been a masochist.) I would much rather wait and change at the terminal. Besides, if your kid has a real stinky mess, the rest of the passengers might be inclined to let you off first.

Something else that probably rarely gets used is the urinal in port-a-pottys. Why did they bother putting it in? More than likely the last person left the seat up, and having the bigger target is easier. Maybe the designers thought that it would smell less with the toilet seat down, so a man could use a urinal in there without having an olfactory assault. Here is a hint. All port-a-pottys stink. They always will, whether from human excrement or the chemicals used to cover the stench of the excrement. If I was a woman and I ever used a port-a-potty with a urinal I would be sure to leave the seat up just to spite the men who might think they could use it with less stench.

So just because men can use urinals or toilets doesn't make us any better than women. We have to live with the humiliation of changing our kids on the floor. Although, my daughter didn't seem to mind.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting a Good Deal

I love to get a good deal. What most people don't realize is there is a lot of work involved to get a good deal. You may think that you are getting a good deal, but unless you have done your research, you just got what looks like a good price.

So how do I get good deals? First, I have to identify what is worth getting a good deal on. Milk may be $2.99 at WalMart but only $2.29 at Aldi. With that kind of minimal price difference, I am not going to go out of my way just to save 70 cents. On the other hand, a dining room set may be $1200. If I can find something equivalent for $800, then I have found a good deal. Finding a good deal starts with knowing what is worth looking for the good deals.

Second, you need to figure out what a reasonable price is and what you are willing to spend. These can be two separate things. For instance, $200 for a Wii Game System is reasonable. On the other hand, I am not willing to spend more than $100 since I wouldn't play it enough. Hence, I don't have a Wii. Reasonable prices can be found by shopping (not buying). Stores, internet, and classified ads can all give you an idea of what things are selling for. The key here is to remember to factor in all of the costs (shipping and taxes). After seeing what a reasonable price for something is, it is now time to do the emotional decision and decide what your willing to pay.

Third, now the fun part begins. This phase could take a day or years, depending on what you found in step two above. A good deal should be at least 25% less than what you are willing to pay (which hopefully is less than a reasonable amount). A lot of people stop when they find something less than the reasonable amount and buy it then. Really, you should hold out for the good deal. Patience is key. While you made an emotional decision about what you are willing to pay, at this point emotion should no longer be a part of your decision

Some may say that I am being stingy by trying to get such a low price. Actually, I am doing a net benefit to the economy. For one, by spending less money on each item, I am able to buy more, thereby spreading my dollars to more establishments. Second, a lot of the good deals happen on closeouts/inventory reductions/slightly damaged/etc. By me buying them, I am helping to clear out their inventory and giving merchants the chance to stock newer items.

One of the great things about getting a good deal is you get to hear more sales pitches than ever before. I love salesmen, they have a job to do and their goal (in spite of what they may tell you) is to get you to buy as much as possible. Because of this it is always funny about some of the things that are told to you to "close the sale."

When we were shopping for a piano, the music store salesman told us that they were the "17th largest music store in the nation." I guess if you are in the 148th largest city in America, then this might mean something. Honestly, how "big" you are doesn't matter. What matters is price. I don't shop at WalMart because they are the largest retailer in the nation. I shop there because they have the right price for the things my family buys.

In looking for a hotel I am amazed that the rooms will be advertised with such amenities as a hairdryer or marble sink. The other thing that I laugh at is seeing them "brag" about their 250 thread count sheets or even 350 thread count sheets. I'm sorry, at home I sleep on 650 thread count sheets (and I don't want to go back to anything less). If your business is going to brag about something, be sure that it is worth bragging about.

The last part of finding a good deal is to make sure you check the non-traditional places. Ebay & Craigslist are great resources. I once sold a pool table on Ebay for $350. It came with the house I bought and was really worthless to me. The person that bought it probably would have paid $600-$1000 for a new one. He got a good deal. I got it out of my house. Both of us were happy with the transaction. Another place my wife and I have found good deals is at Aldi's. We bought a breakfast nook (seats 6) for $170 (we had budgeted $700). I found out it is renamed from another company's brand which sells it under their label in department stores for $450-650.

Shopping just to shop, I can't stand. Finding good deals while shopping I can handle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spreadsheets, an Engineer's Best Friend

I made a confession to my wife last night. "Honey, I don't think I have ever deleted a spreadsheet." I know, that sounds like an odd confession to be making, so let me explain. I was planning out our anniversary trip that we are taking this year and I had to keep everything sorted and organized. When you are trying to find the cheapest option of hotels, flights, and rental cars between four different destinations it can be overwhelming. I'm glad I only gave us one option for an airport to fly from. To keep this ordered, I made a spreadsheet. Then I added a little schedule to it so that we would have our week planned out in advance. This is probably due to the fact that growing up, whenever we went on vacation my parents would have all sorts of activities planned out for us. (Imagine their horror when they took us to Disneyland and the biggest thrill for us kids was swimming in the hotel pool at 10 PM or going up to visit my cousin in Seattle that we saw maybe once every 3 years and we just wanted to play Nintendo with him.) My wife has experienced this whirlwind vacation method, but since it is our anniversary and there will be no kids around I have trying not to have us worn out, if you know what I mean.

Back to the story, my wife asked why I was doing this and I explained to her the reasons above (including the not being worn out part - ouch, that got me slug in the shoulder). She then said, "So after your done are you just going to delete it?" You see my wife is a business major and she believes that spreadsheets are for long drawn out projects that may carry over from year to year (like budgeting). Once your done, you can hold on to it for a year and then delete it. I being an engineer realize that spreadsheets can help you make many of the not life altering but more important than mundane decisions. Not only that, but the decision may come up again, and you don't want to have to re-create it.

Case in point. I made several spreadsheets for our home remodel project. One was used to develop the budget (notice I said, develop). I went to Lowe's and got prices on everything, wood, drywall, insulation, screws, flooring, wire, paint, etc. Then I used this to go through and figure out how much an interior wall, an exterior wall, a floor, and a roof would cost. Then with my plans I only needed to know the length of the interior walls, the exterior walls, and the square footage of the floor (since the roof has to cover the floor you can double this). To this I would add costs for doors, windows, fireplaces, etc. and we had our basic cost of the remodel. Then as we did the remodel, I kept careful track of all of our expenses so that I knew how much I actually used plus I can see what tools I had to buy/rent. This is very useful if we decide to move and renovate again. It is also useful as we look at buying a flood house (I'll write about this later).

I checked my personal folders at home and I have 66 spreadsheets (many of these have multiple interconnected sheets some of which I have since turned into databases). I would guess that the number of spreadsheets I have at work number more than 100. So what kinds of things do I make spreadsheets for.

NCAA College Football - for about 4 years, I had my own rating system for the Division I-A football. I stopped it when I started a job working rotating shift work and a lot of my weekends were occupied. Plus, it involved a lot of data entry. The good news about it was, by the final week of the season, my formula came up with a top 25 that closely matched the final AP and Coaches polls.

Tax Software - one year I put the 1040 Form in a spreadsheet, with all of the subforms I needed. Call it a poor man's tax software. This was before the times of free tax software and before I was willing to fork over money for tax software.

Rental Property Analyzer - This is a nice one which I have used several times in deciding what rental property to buy. Basically, it takes into account all of the expenses associated with buying and managing properties, and compares it to other investment options that I would be considering.

And the list goes on and on. Which brings me to my favorite spreadsheet story. I had started a new job working in design engineering and going to be there 4 months. After about two weeks of training and getting me familiarized with the company, they gave me my assignment. When they gave it to me, they told me it might be a little tedious and boring, but they figured it would take most of my 4 month time frame and being the low man on the totem pole, I was it.

What they had were the raw data files (.txt) of 10,000 plus trials for an experiment. Each trial had a half dozen different variables that they needed to analyze. Further more, each variable had time points for 10 - 24 hours in one second increments. They wanted graphs made of them so they could have a visual representation.

First thing I do is open a spreadsheet, import the data and make a graph. For about 1 day, I worked with my boss to get the way they wanted the spreadsheet to look down. Then the fun began. I wrote a script to do all of the rest of the work. It sounds easy, and it was, relatively. I spent about a week and half writing the script and perfecting it. The biggest issue I dealt with was figuring out that I should only save after processing every 50 files and it would go so much quicker (I started out with every 1 and it was too slow). Then I set the script to run right before lunch and went out to eat. When I came back I was all done, and I went and told me boss. He thought I was done for the day. I corrected him and told him I was done with the project and did he want the graphs printed in color or black and white.

He was shocked to say the least and had to come and see the spreadsheets. I showed him and walked him through the process that I used. When he found out that the processing time for the whole shebang was only about 45 minutes he decided to talk to the engineer that needed this data. Lo and behold, we had plenty of time to make improvements to the graph and add all sorts of bells and whistles: trendlines, regressions, data overlays, you name it. The best thing was, since the script was doing all of the work, all I needed to do was add a few lines of code to it and 45 minutes later, it was done. In the end, the 10,000+ graphs ended up being the best looking graphs the department had ever produced. Word got around and I became the defacto go to guy when large amounts of data needed to be analyzed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recap of the News Headlines

I thought I would do a new type of post. I'll list the headlines and then give you some of my brief thoughts about the story (and headline in particular). Warning, I have not necessarily read all of the stories, this is more of a reflection of what thoughts the headlines invoke.

Student Speech Against Gay Marriage Prompts Lawsuit
OK, after reading this I was about to rant that someone is suing because of a speech they didn't like. But, after reading the first couple of paragraphs I find that the headline actually should read "Student Sues School for Violation of Free Speech." Little different huh?

NY's Paterson Wants Tax on Porno Downloads
I lived in New York, they already tax them through the Internet sales tax you have to pay for items bought online that you didn't pay sales tax on (I always estimated mine). Besides, what would you call this bill....

State Lawmakers Look to Booze Taxes for Help
While already being drunk on spending, why not use more booze to help pay for it. Are we going to have ad campaigns that encourage drinking to help out the state?

Jackie Chan Film Too Violent for China
For some reason this doesn't compute. Jailing, torturing, and killing political prisoner's is fine? But a little fast action martial arts is not? Didn't China invent Kung Fu? Ever hear of the Shaolin Monastery?

Stimulus Plan Awaits Signature
Yes, the plan that we couldn't have any delays on because millions were losing their jobs was not planned to be signed until days after it passed. Good thing the money won't start flowing until next week!

NY Senator Moves Guns from Under her Bed
Really. Those were your home defense guns? High powered rifles (are there any other kind)? I lived in Gillibrand's district (didn't vote for her), now I know she is loopy. Home defense guns should be A) loaded or B) have easy access to ammo (i.e. previously loaded clip), in that order. If the gun is A, it shouldn't be stored under the bed in a house with children. If B, then you have drastically decreased its effectiveness and might be better off with a baseball bat. Besides, every gun owner knows that a shotgun or handgun are better for home defense then a rifle.

Barbie Wouldn't Wear That
I hate to say it, but in my house, Barbie wears anything (or nothing at all until I get my daughter to put clothes on her).

Brit Says She's a "Super Sexy" Housewife in New Video
Didn't she already play that role in real life? I guess maybe she is becoming the real life Barbie of Music: Super Sexy Schoolgirl, Super Sexy Astronaut, Super Sexy Biker, Super Sexy Housewife, Super Sexy Snake Charmer, Super Sexy .

Indonesian Women Protest Clinton Visit
And I thought everyone loved her?

Facebook reassures users in wake of service terms change
Do some people not realize that there is no such thing as privacy on the internet? If you don't want someone to know information about you don't post it online. In a similar vein, if you don't want naked pictures of you sent all over the world, don't take them. Why is that such a difficult concept?

Beaver Sighted in Detroit River; First in 75 Years
Does this mean that the beaver is endangered in Detroit River area? Maybe after local residents find him chewing up their poplar trees they won't have another sighting for 75 more years. Of course you can always look for the gentlemen in the new top hat.

Despite Obama's Pledge, Justice Defends Bush Secrets
I guess when you don't know what our government does it is easy to say everyone should know. Now that you've found out, there might be some pretty good reasons not to let the average Joe know about those things.

No Joy in this Cooking - Recipes Can Make you Fat
No, overeating can, and not exercising can. I have hundreds of recipes in my house, and not a single one of them has ever made me fat.

That's all for today. I'll try to remember to do this again next week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Types of Gun Owners

The other day my daughter asked me why I needed another gun (as I proceeded to buy three "scary" black rifles)? I asked her if she needed another Barbie. We then had a discussion about needs and wants wherein I explained that guns and Barbies are wants. We only get them when as gifts or when we have excess money that isn't being used for other budgeted purposes.

This had me thinking then about the different types of gun owners there are. In general there are the following categories: the professional, the collector, the sportsman, and the enthusiast. People usually fall into more than one category. I'll go over these in a little more detail. Bear in mind, you may classify gun owners in different ways.

Also, people are distinguished by how often they practice (shooting at a target), their familiarity with their firearm, and how much they use a firearm (pointing and/or shooting at something besides a target).

This gun owner uses guns for their livelihood. As a part of this there are subcategories of Military, Law Enforcement, Dealer, Instructor, Defender, and Criminal.
Military people are unique in that they usually don't have the choice of weapons they use. It is issued by the government. Furthermore, the amount of firearms training varies greatly. Some units train regularly with their firearms and shoot thousands of rounds a year. Others "qualify" each year and no more. The vast majority of Military do not "use" their firearms. They are generally familiar with their issued weapon to the point they can break it down, clean it and replace parts.
Law Enforcement people are similar to Military people with a few exceptions. Some are allowed to choose their own firearm. Most receive regular training firearm usage and shoot regularly at the range. Next to Criminals, Law Enforcement use their firearms the most, albeit the majority of the time it is used it is not fired.
Dealers sell guns for their livelihood. Several specialize in certain types and are extremely familiar with them to the point that they may also do gunsmithing. In general, they have a basic familiarity with a broad range of firearms and are one of the first to know about newer designs. More than likely they practice regularly with a large variety of firearms. Rarely do they have any need to use their firearm.
Instructors come in all varieties. They are very familiar with several types of firearms and are a great resource for those new to firearms. Instructors practice more than any other professional user. While they may not ever use a firearm, they are well versed in the legalities of their use.
Defenders are private citizens who responsibly use firearms whether in home protection or concealed carry. They practice extensively with thier primary firearm so that if required to use it they can do so with confidence and accuracy.
Criminals are the group that give firearms a bad name. Familiarity and practice may be non-existent as they see a firearm as something that can inflict harm on others. As such when they use firearms, it is in a wreckless manner that is a danger to those they intend to harm as well as bystanders.

Some people can't understand that people collect guns like they collect cars, stamps, movies, or beanie babies. I divide collectors into the following subcategories: curator, hobbyist, and specialist.
Curator brings to mind a museum, and that is exactly what these people are like. They have their guns displayed openly and probably own several firearms that they have never fired (or intend to fire). Besides knowing about the firearm itself, they also know about the history behind the firearm.
The Hobbyist has a private collection of guns. They have no intent of displaying them to the general public. They are more likely to shoot each firearm they own (although some with more regularity).
The Specialist is someone between the Hobbyist and the Curator. He has a focus on a single (or few) model of firearm (Glocks, AK-47, Mausers, etc.). Some of these may not be fired. He also has extensive background knowledge about his chosen firearm.

There are only two subcategories of the Sportsman: hunter and competitor. Of course there are all sorts of flavors of each of these two.
The Hunter uses firearms to obtain food. He probably has a few firearms which he practices regularly with and is very familiar with. His use of firearms is constrained to the hunting season, and the better he is, the less shots he ends up firing.
The Competitor likes competition (as his name implies). There are firearm competitions for just about anything: target shooting, tactical, distance, clay, cowboy, etc. Several of these competitions require the Competitor to have a finely tuned custom firearm. This is usually done by the Competitor (or at his specific direction) so that he is intimately familiar with his firearm.

Enthusiasts are distinguished by their love of firearms (not necessarily the history, or how they can be used). They include the plinker, gunsmith, modder, and survivalist.
The Plinker is similar to the Competitor, except that he shoots for shooting sake. He is not bound to a target and in fact loves to shoot other things. If you look up any YouTube video which involves the destruction of large round fruit with firearms, you have found a plinker. This is the person that the .22 LR was made for.
The Gunsmith could be a professional or an amateur. He likes to make firearms. We can thank him for all of the AK-47 type rifles that are available. He also has the ability to make a 1911 shoot like a charm.
The Modder takes a stock rifle and turns it into something different. It may be converting a Saiga to an AK-47 type or simply applying a custom camoflage paint job on their rifle.
The Survivalist is an interesting breed (or breeds). They range from the practical - those that recognize firearms would have a limited use in most realistic scenarios they can imagine - to the wacko - who have multiple caches of weapons buried throughout their area of operations. Survivalists are fun to read (but not necessarily take too seriously) on the forums, debating endlessly about the amount of ammo one would carry and which battle rifle would be optimum.

As you may have noticed by now, rarely is a gun owner just one of the types above, but more of an amalgamation of different ones above. I would consider myself a Plinker-Hobbyist, with some possible Modder tendencies. In any case, besides the Criminal, I support everyone's right to be whichever ones they want.

Bubbles and Crashes

With the near certainty of the US Government trying to spend their way out of another self created problem, I thought I would put some thoughts on paper about bubbles and crashes. To begin let me simply define both terms.

Bubble - a rapid increase in the price of something based upon an unrealistic value.
Crash - the correction of a bubble when the market can no longer sustain it.

There are fast crashes and slow crashes. The crash of 1929 (which we always hear about) caused the Dow to fall from a high on Sept 3 of 380 to a low on Oct 29 of 230. A loss of 40%. This was a definite fast crash. What usually isn't talked about is the slow crash that then persisted for the next 3 years. The market finally reached a bottom on Jun 30, 1932, of 43. A loss of almost 90% from the high. Much of this needless degradation of stock value was due to the actions the US Government took to try to stimulate the economy.

This newest stimulus bill is designed to create jobs, stabilize the housing market, and get credit flowing again. The housing market is what I would like to discuss.

Take a look at this graph here. From 1975 to 1999 there was a slight increase in housing prices from $137,000 to $164,000. This calculates to an annual increase of 0.85%. All of a sudden a bubble hits and between 1999 and 2006 prices go from $164,000 to $250,000 or 6.25%, more than 7 times the annual rate over the previous 22 years.

Since then the bubble has burst and we have had a crash of about -7.25% a year. However, median prices are still sky high compared to 1999. The market may be able to support bubbles every now and then, but in the long term look for it to return to average. That would mean another 2 to 3 years of housing prices falling 7% each year or 5-10 years of them falling at a less shocking (but just as devasting) 2-3%.

Can the bailout fix this? No. I'm afraid that because of the bubble, there was a massive glut of new housing construction, and now, there is more than is needed which will continue to drive prices down. Also, since housing is not a liquid commodity like stocks, the crash will more than likely be slow one as it takes time for people to sell their houses (thus realizing what the true value is). The quickest way out of this mess (not the least painless), would be for people and companies to take their losses and quit trying to sell that $15o,000 home for $250,000. If no one is making offers, the price is too high.

That being said, I think we should change the name of bubble to blister. When they form, they are kind of cool to watch, although one would be advised to stay away. You can get rid of them by pricking them with a needle and slowly draining out the pus, taking constant care over several days of pain. Or, you can be a man about it and just rip the skin off, wash it under cold water, swab it with some alcohol (that will sting), and then let it dry out without a bandaid. The pain is usually gone after a day, and the process heals itself within a week, usually with a nice callous that will work to prevent the same place from blistering again. We need to be men with the housing bubble.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Joy of Free-Market Health Care

With the definite possibility that the US will adopt some form of socialized medicine in the next 4 years, I thought I would share some of the benefits of Free-Market Health Care.

First experience. Our children's doctor's practice was bought out last year by another group (which is wonderful that that can happen). We were fine with the new doctor that they assigned, she was good with the kids. However, we really didn't like their billing and scheduling system. They had separate accounts for each kid (so instead of sending one bill, we got 4 bills) and they wouldn't schedule visits more than 90 days in advance (why bother planning a yearly check-up). So ultimately we switched doctors. The whole process took about 10 minutes. We called up the new doctor and told them the kids would be seeing him now, and called the old doctor and told them we were switching. We didn't have to ask anyone's permission or fill out mounds of paperwork (other than the new form at the new doctors office). Moral of the story: The Free-Market requires doctors (and their office staff) to provide quality services or the people leave.

Second experience. My wife needed new hearing aides. Hearing aides aren't covered by health insurance (which is odd since they cover drug rehab, weight loss, and smoking cessation, all things that are in people's control). They cost about $3500 a pair. She went to three different places here in town and was given different sets to try out for two weeks. My guess is, if she had have tried all of the places in the surrounding 50 miles that sell hearing aides, she probably could have gone 4-6 months before ever paying for them. In the end she found a pair she likes, that comes with service and re-programming every six months and a complete refurbishment after 2 years (before the warranty runs out). Moral of the story: If you pay for it yourself (as oppose to an insurance company, or the government) you get more options, better service, and can find what you want (as well as need).

Third experience. My daughter has a cross eye that we wanted to get checked out. She had an appointment with the optometrist. He didn't know so recommended an opthamologist. We took her there the next week. They couldn't figure it out so they wanted her to have an MRI. We made an appointment for a couple weeks later and then found out that she needed a physical first. We made that appointment for a few days before the MRI. Then tragedy happened: we forgot the physical appointment.

OK, really no worries, they re-scheduled it for the next day. That was done, she had the MRI (which included anesthesia), then she had a follow-up appointment the next day. In total she had 5 doctor appointments within a 3 week period. This for something that was not an emergency nor life-threatening. Oh yeah, and the MRI people gave her a new backpack and some other goodies. Moral of the story: the Free-Market allows for effecient use of resources (note I didn't say most efficient), plus suppliers will try to entice (bribe) you to use there services.

Lets contrast these experiences with socialized (or single payer) medicine. For those in the states who keep touting its benefits, you need to live somewhere that they practice it. I lived in Canada for two years. The doctors went on strike while I was there (yes the doctors). People didn't find this unusual and I found out that it happens on a regular basis (every year or two). In fact everybody goes on strike there at some point (grocers, bus drivers, garbage men, postal workers, etc.). I made it a point never to use the Canadian health care system. I did go to see an optometrist to get new contacts. I paid cash and would you belief it, the contacts were made here in the United States.

With socialized medicine, you might be able to choose your doctor (if there are any taking new patients because of the shortage), but where is the doctor's incentive to give you good service? No where. They get paid the same no matter what. And with a shortage (which socialism inevitably leads to) replacing you as a patient is not a problem.

With socialized medicine, what options do you have? Only the ones that the government allows. While they say they care about us, do you really think they have our best interest in mind? If yes, then why is congress's approval rating around 15%?

How long would appointments take (for elective procedures) under socialized medicine? We have examples throughout the world for this. Canada, England, France, even Cuba. In all cases, there is no efficient use of resources (why should there be, there is no incentive to have efficient use of resources). Wait times can be months. Missing appointments can cause the process to start over again. MRIs would not be possible without the Free-Market (it would never have been invented), so even socialized medicine benefits from Free-Market inventions. And don't even ask for a free pen, let alone a backpack.

That being said, our insurance system in the US is not really Free-Market (I'll write about that another time). But it provides a level of care that is unprecedented in the world. So the next time your kid has an ear infection and you can get Amoxicillin within a day, be sure to thank the Free-Market (and stock up if you are a believer in socialized medicine).