It’s a Party in America . . . Tax Refunds Arrived!


Our federal tax refund arrived! Whoo-hoo! We get back money which was ours all along, but was on loan to the government, interest-free . . . hey, suddenly this deal doesn’t sound so great after all . . . .

Explaining China, Part I: The Scope of This Series, Which Includes the PRC, the ROC, the Han, and Greater China

China and environs

I’m bringing a new topic to my blog. I’m going to attempt to explain things about China, the largest nation in which the Han (that’s the way to write, in English, the Chinese name for the Chinese people, as an ethnic group) form the majority, as well as the largest nation on Earth, by population. The map above comes from this website. If you’re wondering why, in the map above, Taiwan is the same color as the People’s Republic of China, this series of blog-posts is definitely for you. In a future post, I will deal with the historical reasons for the China/Taiwan puzzle, and the current state of that interesting situation. (“May you live in interesting times” is not a nice thing to say directly to any of the Han, by the way, no matter where they live. It is considered by many people to be part of an ancient Chinese curse, although the veracity of this claim is disputed — a topic for another post, later in this series.)

If you find China, Taiwan, puzzles in general, mysteries which are not fictional, history, current events, and/or the Han to be interesting topics, then this irregularly-published series of blog-posts is for you. If you aren’t interested in any of those topics, my assumption is that you wouldn’t have read this far, anyway. To those who miss the other topics about which I blog, don’t worry: posts in this series will not be the only topic I blog about, by any means, for the fact that I am interested in many things, and blog on many topics, is not going to change.

The People’s Republic of China is also known as mainland China, Red China, the PRC, Communist China, or simply “China.” The government of the PRC is often referred to simply as “Beijing,” the city which is the capital of the PRC. Taiwan, by contrast, is officially known as the Republic of China, or the ROC, or even, by some people, “Taiwan, China” (a term I tend not to use). The ROC’s government can be referred to as “Taipei,” the ROC’s capital, to distinguish it from the government in Beijing. My preferred way to refer to the nation-state which is actually under the control of the Beijing government is to call it the PRC, and I use ROC, often, to refer to the nation-state actually under the control of the Taipei government, which most people call Taiwan, a term I also use. When I only write “China,” I mean the PRC. I also use the term “Greater China,” which is explained below.

The Han are in the majority in both the PRC and the ROC, and these two regions are collectively known as “Greater China,” which sounds like, and in some ways actually is, one nation with two governments, since both governments claim to be the only legitimate government of the nation which is all of Greater China (and, yes, that is confusing, along with “China Proper” on the map above). All of these topics: the nations, governments, regions, and people, are mysteries for most people on Earth — and topics for future posts in this series.

I am not of the Han. I do not speak, read, nor write any variety of the Chinese language. Also, I have yet to visit any part of Greater China. By contrast, I am known as a teacher of both science and mathematics, as someone who does “math problems for fun” (as my blog’s heading-cartoon, which I did not write, puts it), as well as a blogger on many topics that have previously had little to do with China, until this post, from yesterday, which analyzed current events worldwide, starting with recent developments in China. I do not want anyone to think I just started studying China yesterday, for that would not be correct. I do feel that I owe anyone who has read this far an explanation for exactly one thing: why should anyone care what I have to say on these subjects? I will explain that in Part II of this ongoing series . . . and tackling the PRC/ROC puzzle will be coming later, as will other topics.

A Serious Government Reform Proposal for the State of Arkansas

News item ( giant Slip-‘n’-Slide may be coming to downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Here’s a photo from the news story.


To reform state government, I think we should have this event come here every time the state legislature is in session, and have it on the capitol grounds, right here in Little Rock. Why? That’s simple: if Arkansas lawmakers spent each session on a Slip-‘n’-Slide, they’d do a lot less harm.

Public Schools in the United States Should Rename the “Free Lunch”


If you live in the USA, you are probably familiar with the phrase “free lunch,” or “free and reduced lunch,” as used in a public-school context. For those outside the USA, though, an explanation of what that phrase means, in practice, may be helpful, before I explain why a different name for such lunches should be used.

The term “free and reduced lunch” originated with a federal program which pays for school lunches, as well as breakfasts, with money collected from taxpayers — for students whose families might otherwise be unable afford these meals. The program’s eligibility requirements take into account both family income and size. There’s a problem with it, though:  the inaccuracy of the wording used, especially the troublesome word “free.” The acronym above, “TANSTAAFL,” is familiar to millions, from the works of Robert A. Heinlein (science fiction author), Milton Friedman (Nobel-Prize-winning economist), and others. It stands for the informally-worded phrase, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” which gets to the heart of the problem with the terminology we use when discussing school lunches. (Incidentally, I have seen an economics textbook use the phrase “TINSTAAFL,” in its place, to change “ain’t no” to “is no.” I do not use this version, though, for I am unwilling to correct the grammar of a Nobel laureate.)

The principle that “free lunches” simply do not exist is an important concept in both physics and economics, as well as other fields. In physics, we usually call it the Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy, or the First Law of Thermodynamics. This physical law has numerous applications, and has been key to many important discoveries. Learning to understand it, deeply, is an essential step in the education of anyone learning physics. Those who teach the subject, as I have in many past years, have an even more difficult task:  helping students reach the point where they can independently apply the TANSTAAFL principle to numerous different situations, in order to solve problems, and conduct investigations in the laboratory. It is a fundamental statement of how the universe works:  one cannot get something for nothing.

TANSTAAFL applies equally well in economics, where it is related to such things as the fact that everything has a cost, and those costs, while they can be shifted, cannot be made to simply disappear. It is also related to the principle that intervention by governments in the economy always carries costs. For example, Congress could, hypothetically, raise the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour — but the cost of doing so would be increased unemployment, especially for those who now have low-paying jobs. Another possible cost of a minimum-wake hike this large would be a sudden spike in the rate of inflation, which would be harmful to almost everyone.

To understand what people have discovered about the fundamental nature of physical reality, physics must be studied. To understand what is known about social reality in the modern world, economics must be studied. Both subjects are important, and understanding the TANSTAAFL principle is vital in both fields. Unfortunately, gaining that understanding has been made more difficult, for those educated in the United States, simply because of repeated and early exposure to the term “free lunch,” from childhood through high school graduation. How can we effectively teach high school and college students that there are no free lunches, when they have already been told, incessantly, for many years, that such things do exist? The answer is that, in many cases, we actually can’t — until we have first helped our students unlearn this previously-learned falsehood, for it stands in the way of the understanding they need. It isn’t a sound educational practice to do anything which makes it necessary for our students to unlearn untrue statements.

I am not advocating abolition, nor even reduction, of this federal program, which provides essential assistance for many families who need the help. Because I am an American taxpayer, in fact, I directly participate in funding this program, and do not object to doing so. I do take issue, however, with this program teaching students, especially young, impressionable children in elementary school, something which is untrue.

We need to correct this, and the solution is simple:  call these school lunches what they actually are. They aren’t free, for we, the taxpayers, pay for them. Nothing is free. We should immediately replace the phrase “free and reduced lunch” with the phrase “taxpayer-subsidized lunch.” The second phrase is accurate. It tells the truth, but the first phrase does the opposite. No valid reason exists to try to hide this truth.

How to Fix the Gay Marriage Debate, and All Other Legal Problems Related to Marriage and Divorce, All At Once


How to Fix the Gay Marriage Debate, and All Other Legal Problems Related to Marriage and Divorce, All At Once

The government is now deeply involved in the process of people getting into and out of marriages, but this was not always so. Marriage is simply an agreement — a contact — between at least two people. Or a person and a toaster, perhaps, for that doesn’t really hurt any of us, now, does it?

Churches do lots of weddings, and they’re used to this role. They can keep doing it the same way they have been, except for parts which involve government. Churches could issue marriage licenses; we don’t need the state doing it.

Now, of course, people shouldn’t be required to be religious, or pretend to be, to get married. Any organization or individual could issue marriage licenses. For that matter, we could simply have official recognition of people’s relationship statuses on Facebook.

Yes, I mean that. Why not?

It used to be really simple. There’s no good reason for it to have become so complicated. Let’s fix that, with separation of marriage and the state.

Now, at the same time, we will need to change certain other things. Right now, the state encourages people to marry, with varying tax rates for married and single people. I contend that this is not a proper role for the state. There should be no reward for marrying, nor should there be any kind of penalty. They’re our marriages, not the government’s. Government should simply have stayed out of such matters, and should get out of them now.

On “Mediocracy”

I have actually heard two different high school principals say, to assembled students in one case, and a faculty meeting in the other, that “mediocracy” was not acceptable, nor what we should want as a school, from our students, blah blah blah.  Use a non-word like that, and you’ve lost me as a listener, possibly permanently.

Clearly, the fact that two different principals (neither at my current school, by the way) in central Arkansas did this same SNAFU means it is likely that someone nearby is teaching this to people, spreading the idea to replace “mediocrity” (a perfectly good word) with “mediocracy.” They’re probably doing this at a nearby teacher school, er, I mean, “College of Education.”

This got me wondering about possible definitions for “mediocracy.”  One comes to mind very quickly, and that is a system of government:  rule by the mediocre.

Oh, wait, we have that already, and have had it for as long as I can remember.  I guess we are willing to accept mediocracy, at the federal, state, and local levels, and in all branches of government.