Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Citizenship Test

The link below are questions for becoming a Citizen of the United States.  There are 96 questions.  See how many you can answer correctly.

U.S. Citizenship Test (Christian Science Monitor)

Most of the questions are good, knowing about the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and branches of Federal government.  I'm not sure about the geography questions.  Which state borders Mexico?  Which ocean is off the East Coast of the United States?   But these are quibbles.

How many questions did you get correct?  I'm curious how many people know the answer for Benjamin Franklin.  And if most Americans know who is next in line for the Presidency if the President and Vice-President are no long qualified.  The answer to that last one might scare some people.

I was able to correctly answer 95% correctly.  I missed questions 69, 34, 27, 23, and 3.  I'm disappointed I didn't answer correctly the question: "Why did the Colonists fight the British?"

Knowing the answers to all of the questions won't make someone a better citizen or get them involved in local politics.  But I'm wondering why the passing percentage is 60%?  This means that a 'new Citizen' could have missed up to 38 questions.  Canada also has a passing percentage of 60%, but they only have 20 questions which means you can miss only 8 (Canadian Citizenship Test - A Brief Overview).  Britain has a passing percentage of 75% (U.K. Citizenship Test: Too hard for most Britains).

The current U.S. test was first used in 2008.  Immigration Officials Unveil Redesigned U.S. Citizenship Test

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reality TV? The Biggest Loser? Us.

The first 'reality tv program' is now considered to be Candid Camera first broadcast in 1948 (although the Original Amateur Hour also debuted in that year).  Allen Funt would play a practical joke on someone and film it.  The next reality tv program was Wanted, which talked to victims and law enforcement officials about crimes and criminals. 

The last two decades have seen a huge escalation in reality shows ranging from funny to exciting to disgusting.  And television audiences are eating them up.  Networks can't seem to put enough reality shows on the air.  Not all of them succeed, but more and more are added every season.

Networks love the shows because they are much less expensive than scripted television: Situation Comedies, Police Procedurals, and night-time Dramas.  Some people call these programs 'unscripted television', but note that some of these shows have more scripting that they want you to know.  Bachelor, for example, uses a loose framework for a script.  I have a cousin who appeared on a early season of the Bachelor and said they were not free to make all of their own choices.

Reality shows are here to stay.  They have and will evolve over time, but there will never again be a night on television that does not have several reality programs showing.

Here is a brief list of notable reality shows:

Documentary style:
They give us a glimpse into what it takes to do a profession and can make for dramatic or voyeuristic television.  I understand these.  They are like National Geographic documentaries on various subjects.  They just happen to be the same subjects each week.
- Deadliest catch
- Cops
- Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

Game shows:
These shows can be fun (Survivor) or dumb (Biggest Loser) or educational (Cooking).  And American Idol continues the long road that started with the Original Amateur Hour, thru The Gong Show, and Star Search.
- Survivor
- Biggest Loser
- Cooking
- Last Comic Standing
- The Apprentice
- American Idol

Marriage shows:
A type of reality television that I hope will soon run its course.  'Falling in love' on national television in some sort of perverted courtship while millions watch?  Please.  Shoot me now.
- Who wants to marry a multi-millionaire?
- Bachelor/Bachelorette

Living together shows:
Ultimate voyeur with no redeeming or entertainment value.  "Come on Honey, let's go watch the roomates swear at each other and make stupid remarks.  I feel sooo much better after watching one of these.  Because I am not them."
- The Real World
- Wife Swap

I have seen at least one episode of everthing listed above (except The Real World and Wife Swap).  I even watched an entire season of Survivor once when my office had a weekly pool on who would be 'voted off the island' each week.  But there is nothing about most of these shows I find remotely appealing.  Even the Documentary style shows are good for one or two weeks' viewing, at best.

Yes, the world turns on the fact that there is something for everyone.  But why does it have to be ridiculous Bachelorette shows?

I'll continue to do what I do:  not watch these insipid programs and read a book or work around the house or create a new family video.

List of reality television programs (Wikipedia)

Reality TV News (Reality TV World)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Free Speech rights at funerals comes to U.S. Supreme Court

Fred Phelps, who has a church with about 75 members, mostly his family, protest at funerals.  Really?  Are they protesting the way the funeral is held?  Or the funeral company?  Or an individual?

No, they protest because the federal government (and America in general) embraces gays.  And gays are bad.  And God is killing American soldiers because he's upset about the gay embracing.

They also protest at music concerts, sporting events and even a Holocaust Museum.  Reprehensible as their proclamations and signs are ("Fags Doom Nations") they have a right to Free Speech under the First Amendment.

As disgusting and anti-Christian as they are (God DOES love everyone), someone has died.  Whether you like or dislike the person, their attitudes, or actions, they have died.  Their family should be allowed respect to bury them; without anyone disturbing them.

Phelps and his religious family are smart about it, though.  They don't protest right next to the funeral.  They are some distance away.  They don't target any individual person (dead or alive).  They protest generically, holding up signs and chanting things such as "God Hates Fags"; and "God Bless IEDs".

This case isn't about simply protesting at a funeral, it is specifically about speech directed at an individual, in this case, the soldier's father. 

Having said all of this, I know the U.S. Supreme Court will fall on the side of Free Speech, as they should.  Fred Phelps and his followers will probably be allowed to continue their homophobic hate speech.  And gay soldiers will continue to die for our freedoms.  And America will embrace gays more and more over the years, just as they did with Civil Rights and Women's Rights. 

Maybe Fred Phelps will pass soon, and his followers will disperse, with no one taking the reigns.  Then there will be no more media coverage of this loony-toon.  One can only hope.

US weighs rights for anti-gay church (The Age)

Here is a good article on Fred Phelps and his beliefs:  Fred Phelps and Goodness (InSearchOfGoodness)

Even the hatefulness of Fred Phelps is protected by this country’s free speech (

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Executive pay is too high? Maybe.

How much money is 'enough' for a corporate executive?  And for purposes of this post, let's leave the 50-person company out and talk only about the Fortune 500 companies.

For 2010, the top 4 companies in regards to revenue are Wal-Mart, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and General Electric.

Their CEOs made (rounding off the numbers):
  • Wal-Mart - $19 Million
  • Exxon Mobil - $27 Million
  • Chevron - $17 Million
  • General Electric - $10 Million

How much profit did these companies make for the previous year?
  • Wal-Mart grew 7%.
  • Exxon Mobil dropped 57%.
  • Chevron dropped 56%.
  • General dropped 37%.
Profits are certainly not tied to company performance.  Or at least, not significantly.  But should CEO pay be tied to company profitability?  And if so, how much?  Maybe the company would have had a worse year without the CEO performance.  Maybe the economy was so bad, there was no way they could have turned a profit.  Maybe they are in a multi-year transition.  Maybe.  Maybe.

The new financial reform going thru Congress has a requirement that companies disclose the ratio between CEO compensation and the typical employee's pay.

The average worker made these amounts at the four top Fortune 500 companies:
  • Wal-Mart - $29,000
  • Exxon Mobil - $70,000
  • Chevron - $69,000
  • General Electric - $71,000
All numbers above came from CNN (Fortune 500 2010 annual rankings), AFL-CIO (Executive PayWatch), and Career Bliss.

So the ratio of CEO compensation to average employee salary would be:

Wal-Mart - 655
Exxon Mobil - 386
Chevron - 246
General Electric - 142

Does this really tell us anything?  CEO compensation is known.  Average employee salary is known.  This 'ratio requirement' will tell us nothing.  If shareholders don't like their CEO salary, they can bring it up at the annual company meeting or some other way to get other shareholders to share their view.

People complain, at times, that firefighters and police officers are paid very little compared to what they do and CEOs are exhorbitantly paid compared to what they do.  If this were a socialist society, something would be done, by the government, to 'correct these wrongs'.  But since this is a capitalist society, pay is determined by supply and demand, and city budgets, and company revenues and profits.  The government has no part in determining what CEO salaries should be and adding a requirement to disclose the 'compensation/salary ratio' is just some hand-waving to make people feel bitter against the CEOs with a false measure.

The Real Say on Pay (New York Times)