Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bus Conversation

Players: A Random Stranger (your protagonist) and Crazy Guy (a guy with whom I share a bus every six months or so

A RANDOM STRANGER: [enters bus, takes seat across from CRAZY GUY, opens Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse and prepares to read]

CRAZY GUY: May I ask you a question?

ARS: Sure.

CG: It has to do with what you’re about to do, because I cannot do it. [dramatically] I. Cannot. Read. A book or a newspaper...unless it’s completely quiet. But you’re about to read on a BUS! How do you do it? Can you concentrate?

ARS: Yeah, I guess. I mean, it depends on what’s going on. If there’s a loud conversation next to me, it’s hard, but if there’s a quiet conversation at the back of the bus, I can ignore it.

CG: You know, to me, that’s a sign of intelligence, don’t you think?

ARS: Uh, I don’t know. I mean, you could say the oppo—

CG: I can’t even read a book in a library!

ARS: Libraries can get pretty loud. [begins reading, continues nearing his stop]

CG: Do you enjoy reading non-fiction?

ARS: Yeah, I enjoy both.

CG: Are you versed in the classics?

ARS: Uh, a little, I guess.

CG: What are Homer’s demigods?

ARS: Homer’s what?

CG: Demigods.

ARS: Uh, I don’t really know.

CG: [looks away, his face showing utter disappointment]


I disappointed a crazy bus rider today with my lack of literature knowledge. What do you have to show for yourself?

Monday, December 29, 2008


In my defense, I didn’t just expose my kids to Nirvana because I thought it was a good idea. They asked for it. Really. When they ride in the car with Persephone and she listens to Weezer’s red album, they heard the lyrics from “Heart Songs” when he says, “My roommate ... put a brand-new record on. It had a baby on it, he was naked on it.” Crazy Jane asked, “Why is there a naked baby on a record?” Thus came my children’s introduction to “Nevermind.” So if you’re going to blame anyone, blame Persephone for listening to Weezer with our kids around.

Musical Tastes

To start off our road trip last week, I put in Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Articulate Joe asked, “Why is he yelling?” A little later he was covering his ears. When that album ended, I put in Oasis’s “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” and Articulate Joe said he liked it much better. So am I raising a sissy, or does Nirvana just suck now that it’s nearly 20 years old? (Yes, I know, Nirvana is nearly 20 years old! You, like me, are OLD!)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Post Completed

I figured I needed to write a new post for those of you with Google Reader or something so you'd know that my previous post has now been updated with all kinds of picture goodness. Yessss!

Monday, December 22, 2008

County Trip

I wanted to fit in a county trip before the end of the year, and I did it this past weekend. I got 45 new counties, which put me over 100 for the year (for my third consecutive year) and over 1,000 for my lifetime, which is a major milestone for us nerds who do this sort of thing.

Since my family is usually only on-board with county trips that involve actually seeing something, I figured they wouldn’t want to come with me. My original plan was for me to take the car and leave them home for the weekend. We live within walking distance of church and most weekends that’s just about the only place we go, anyway. However, the weather has been extremely cold for this early in winter and Crazy Jane was invited to a birthday party to which she would need to be driven. Persephone looked into rental cars and got a good deal on a car from Enterprise. (She needs to remember this next year when I sell our car. I’ve been telling her since I read How to Live Well Without Owning a Car that renting a car once or twice a month for the day is an excellent way to take care of the errands that public transit can’t accomplish.)

Because I was going to get my 1,000th county on this trip, I wanted someone to go with me to take my picture at the county line. (Again, this is a big deal for the nerds who run the newsletter to which I subscribe.) I thought it might be fun to take Articulate Joe and he didn’t flat-out refuse, so I made plans for the two of us to go.

The most radical part of my itinerary was my planned accommodations: the Wal-Mart parking lot in Yukon, OK. I’d read before about how Wal-Mart doesn’t discourage RVs from using their parking lots. My understanding is they appreciate having a presence there to keep down late-night crime. Well, I figured if RVs had their blessing, a car would, too. This follows a little something I’d like to call A Random Stranger’s Law of Civilization: when there are no women or children involved, civilization need not aim much higher than the comfort level of dogs. Things such as hotels, salads, and socks owe their invention and continued existence to the presence of ladies.

When I decided to take Articulate Joe with me, though, everyone who heard about it started questioning the Wal-Mart parking lot plan. Just the night before, at my office Christmas party, I explained, “But the Wal-Mart we’re staying at is 24 hours, so we can go inside during the night if we have to.” Plus, we were going south, to Oklahoma, so I figured it should be warmer. Not balmy, but warmer.

I left work Friday afternoon and rode the bus to Enterprise. When the worker tried to start my car to get the fuel gauge reading, it wouldn’t start, so he upgraded me to a larger model. I went home and picked up the two oldest kids to go for a ride. (Crazy Jane was upset that she wasn’t getting to use the rental car while we were gone, so I had said I’d let her go for a drive before we left town.) We returned from the drive, the babysitter came, and Persephone and I went to the Christmas party.

The next morning I woke up at six and then again at seven, when I got out of bed and woke up Articulate Joe. He asked, “Why do we need to leave so early?” He was pretty sad for a while and I wondered if I’d have to leave by myself but he got happier and we left at seven-thirty. We took the turnpike to Wichita, stopping at a rest-area McDonald’s for breakfast. He normally doesn’t like eggs but he assured me he would today, so we both got McGriddles, which he liked because it had a toasted letter-M on the side. He loved Wichita because of all the airplane factories, and because they have a Superbaby billboard (a public service announcement of sorts that tells you to read to your baby; there's one on the way to Topeka that our kids think is great, although this picture of it didn't turn out too hot).

He decided delivering completed airplanes would be a fun job, or just working in the factory. I moved the front passenger seat all the way forward and then reclined it so he could see out the front window.

He liked me telling him which companies owned the rail lines next to our highways, and when we could expect railroad crossings. We stopped for gas in Harper and it was still very cold (sub-20), but not too windy. We went in to use the bathroom and it was the first of many times he would swear to have no pee, only to produce a lot of pee when I told him, “Just give it a squeeze and see what comes out.”

About a half-hour later we reached Barber County, KS, my 1,000th county. We stopped the car and got ready to get out. I had made a sign to hold up that read “1000.” I had also made Articulate Joe practice some photography during the week so he would get a good shot. The wind, however, was unbelievably strong, producing a wind-chill that must have been sub-zero.

He got a good shot, though, that captured everything we needed. A little further down the road we saw a field of turbines, none of which were operating. It probably wasn't the "right kind of wind."

When we drove through Pratt, KS, we were looking for a restaurant, but all we saw was a KFC on the wrong side of the road. Our breakfast had been pretty late, and we had snacks, so we just went on. The next town, Greensburg, was destroyed by a tornado last spring.

We were going to stop at the World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well, but when we got to town, it didn’t look like there would be much for visitors. I couldn’t just ignore the fact that the city had been destroyed, but Articulate Joe and his sister are both already terrified of tornadoes, so I played up the fact that nearly everyone survived and lots of them were rebuilding their houses.

Articulate Joe fell asleep for the next hour, but woke up when we were on a county road next to an abandoned rail grade. We stopped at a small bridge that had been left when the rails were taken up and took his picture.

The wind had died down a lot, but was still pretty strong and made me quite sad when I had to pee. Back in the car I tried to get our little DVD player to work, but it kept telling me every disc was the wrong disc, so we started on of our books on CD: Ribsy, by Beverly Cleary, which I’ll review here later. We drove through Laverne, OK, where Main Street has been renamed Jane Jayroe Blvd. after Miss America, 1967, a town native. Further down the road, on our way into Fort Supply, OK, we came across the only traffic we'd experience all trip, caused by three cows who'd escaped their pen and wandered onto the road.

I don’t think I’ve really pushed maps on the kid or made it obvious that I love maps, which might give him reason to like them if he’s trying to connect with me, but Articulate Joe loves maps as much as I do. His favorite thing to do on Sunday afternoons is to look at a map of Manhattan with me. Well, I let him be in charge of the map I made showing our route, and he really like it. The idea of scale is still a little beyond him, though, because he would say, “Where are we?” I would show him and then he would say, “Where are we now?” I would say, “The same place,” and he would say, “But we’re moving.”

Just after sunset, we came to the town of Carmen, OK, and headed west on Highway 45 to get Woods County and then turn around. When we turned onto the highway, however, signs warned of the highway’s closure five miles ahead. I looked at our map and it looked like the county line was further than five miles away. The signs said “Local Traffic Only,” so I figured we could pretend to be local traffic. The signs, though, became increasingly difficult to drive around. When I looked at the map again, I could see a river crossing shortly before the county line, and I guessed that what was closed was the bridge, so we should stop driving around the road closure signs in case the bridge was missing. Here on the Great Plains, roads often follow the public land survey, meaning the highways run in straight lines and dirt county roads run parallel to the highways. Normally I could just head off the highway for a mile, pick up a parallel road, and get where I need to go. The river, though, made this unlikely, as most counties don’t maintain more bridges than necessary. Articulate Joe said, “I guess you’ll just have to get this county the next time you come back here.” I said, “But I don’t plan on coming back to this part of the country ever.” We went back to the nearest cross road, took it a mile north, then headed west on the county road we found there, hoping that the river bent to the west, allowing the road to cross the county line before it reached the river. I told Articulate Joe he was in charge of counting the miles driven (by counting cross roads) so we’d know how to get back to the highway. However, we came to the next cross road much sooner than a mile down the road, so I figured we were on a correction line. We could tell we were nearing the river because the trees were approaching, and at the trees the road curved to the left and I thought it was going to just follow the eastern bank. However, it was swinging left so if could come back right and cross the river perpendicularly on an ancient bridge that Persephone probably would have been afraid to drive across. On the other side of the river we continued until we came to numbered roads with very high numbers that got smaller as we headed west, taking that to mean they were numbered off the Woods County addressing plan. We turned around and went back to the highway, counting cross roads to make sure we made the correct turn. We didn't have a DeLorme atlas of Oklahoma (because my stingy wife won't let me buy one for every state), so we had to use addressing and hope for the best. When we got to Wal-Mart in Yukon we looked it up in one of the atlases they had for sale and saw that we had in fact reached Woods County.

Articulate Joe was getting hungry for supper, so I told him we would stop in Enid. Persephone had told me one of the things that made Articulate Joe agree to go with me was the promise that he could eat at McDonald’s, but when I started naming possible restaurants to him, he was adamant we had to eat at Sonic. I said, “But at Sonic you eat in your car and I wanted to go somewhere where we’d get out of the car. We’ve been in the car all day.” Nope, it had to be Sonic. When we got to Enid I started naming the places we passed, but he saw a Sonic (the company was founded in Oklahoma and they’re as ubiquitous as Manhattan Starbucks down there), and that was that. His attraction to Sonic: their slushes. Persephone’s written before on her blog about her addiction to Sonic slushes during the hot summer months, but Articulate Joe wants them all the time. Evidently he can’t talk Persephone into visiting Sonic now that the daily high temperature is below 10, so he made sure to get a slush for his drink. Forty-five minutes later, after he’d had his fill of it, he gave the rest to me, and it was STILL so cold it hurt my throat.

We came into the Oklahoma City metro area from the northwest, so we stopped at the temple to take a picture, then went to Yukon to find our Wal-Mart.

We happened past an enormous Christmas light display in their city park, so we drove through it. I’d never seen so many Christmas lights. Many of the displays were sponsored by families or businesses from the area, including one display sponsored by an auto glass company, which used Christmas lights to depict a worker installing a new windshield on a car. That’s not a Christmas light display; that’s an ad. At the end of the route they were “asking for donations” (read: barring exit to collect ransoms), so I had to buy them off to get out of the park.

We got to our Wal-Mart (on Garth Brooks Blvd.) about ten o’clock. I said to Articulate Joe, “People are going to give us dirty looks for having a kid at Wal-Mart so late, so just accept it.” (I knew we could expect dirty looks because I typically am the one giving out said looks.)

We went inside to walk around and do some Christmas shopping for Persephone. Articulate Joe laid his head down in the cart. By the time we checked out, put our packages in the car, and returned to the store to use the bathroom before bed, it was eleven.

I drove to the back of the parking lot (which was the portion closest to Garth Brooks Blvd.) and started getting things ready for bed. I reclined the front passenger seat all the way and got the sleeping back ready for Articulate Joe, then covered him with extra blankets. For me, I put down the back seat to access the trunk, then moved the driver seat forward, took off the headrest, and laid the seat down. My sleeping bag went into the trunk with my body laying on the back seat and my head laying on the top of the driver seat. Articulate Joe, who had been scared of sleeping in a parking lot and quite sleepy while inside Wal-Mart, was now fully awake with how exciting our campout was going to be. Once we were tucked in it became obvious that our ears were going to get too cold, so we put our winter hats back on and went to bed.

I woke up at two-thirty and went back to bed. Articulate Joe woke me up at five-thirty and said he was too cold. I started the car to turn on the heater and started to get things ready for the day. I drove over to the Wal-Mart entrance and woke him up to go inside and get dressed and buy breakfast. He asked, “Is it midnight?” I said no. He asked, “Why is it still night?” We started driving again by six-thirty. We drove past a bank sign that said it was eight degrees.

Before leaving Oklahoma City we went by the state capitol, then headed east out of town. We listened to the rest of Ribsy, then Articulate Joe fell asleep for a while. While he slept we passed Oklahoma State Highway 52, where we took a picture to add to the collection of Highway 52 signs (which I'll have to put in a later post).

Finding lunch was a needlessly complex ordeal. We reached Tulsa at eleven and I started looking around for a place to eat since our breakfast had been so early. We both sort of wanted hamburgers or sandwiches of some sort. We got off the freeway and found a Chili’s but I turned the wrong way to see what else there was, then couldn’t find a place to turn around. I figured it was fine because there would be other places down the road. After weaving our way through Broken Arrow, we ended up at a Cracker Barrel on Memorial Drive. That was when Articulate Joe refused to eat at Cracker Barrel. Why? He would give no explanation. There was a Village Inn down the road. He said, “I guess we can eat there because I’ve never heard of it before.” I said, “They serve soups and salads and stuff like that.” He said, “Then we definitely can’t eat there.” There was a burger place named Braum’s that got Articulate Joe’s vote because they have ice cream as part of their logo, but it looked like it wasn’t open on Sundays, since the lot was empty. I wanted to find a mall, but Tulsa is full of mega-churches that look like malls until you get to them and see that they are named something like “The Church at Deer Run.” Finally we ended up getting our counties in the Tulsa area and heading north out of town, where we exited in Owasso. By now, though, all the churches were out and every restaurant was packed. I saw the empty parking lot of Chick-Fil-A but then realized it was empty because they’re not open on Sundays. There was a Cracker Barrel at that exit, also, and again Articulate Joe refused to eat there. When I asked why he finally said, "Cracker Barrel is yucky." I said, "It's not yucky," and he said, "Our mom says it's yucky." This is because, if I had my way, we'd eat every vacation meal at either In-N-Out Burger or, when not near their locations, Cracker Barrel, and Persephone hates it. She is okay with one meal each vacation there, but not three meals every day of vacation. Finally, two hours after we started thinking about getting some lunch, we stopped at a Quizno’s, which was once one of my favorite restaurants, but now I wish it would die in a fire.

The worst part about traveling with a child is the inability to poop. I couldn’t leave him alone outside the bathroom while I took some time inside and I couldn’t take him with me into a stall for any appreciable length of time without having CPS kick down the door and register me as a sex offender. I had to poop starting Saturday at my customary time of eleven in the morning, but couldn’t do anything about it. By the time we got to Quizno’s I figured I could take care of business while Articulate Joe kept eating at our table. My turd was enormous and resulted in a clogged toilet. I tried flushing and plunging three times before calling it quits. I had to go to the counter and tell the guy, “Your toilet won’t flush.” Then I told Articulate Joe, “I plugged the toilet.” He asked how. I said, “With a giant poop.” He asked, “How big was it?” I said, “It was as big as [Baby X].” I realized he’d never seen my poop and didn’t know if I was telling him the truth, so I told him, “Not really that big.”

A little further up the road we saw a break-down train on the rails. That was the highlight of the trip, as far as Articulate Joe was concerned. Shortly afterwards he was asleep again, and two hours later we were home.

All told, I ended with 45 new counties, 11 in Kansas and 34 in Oklahoma. (Articulate Joe got 55 new counties, moving him past 500 counties prior to his 5th birthday. I didn’t pass 500 counties until I was married.) I’m now more than half-way done with 13 states (Utah, Arizona, Missouri, Virginia, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Nevada, and Nebraska), and I am two counties away from being exactly one-third of the way finished.

Lyrical Interpretation

I might have written here about this before, but I've had a question about the lyrics of the song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by The Police for over ten years. In the send verse when Sting sings, "You know how bad girls get," what does he mean?

A. You know how badly some girls can behave.

B. You know the way that bad girls can behave.

I have similar questions about these two other songs:

"Good" by Better Than Ezra: "I'm not too proud to say it was good living with you."

A. My pride is not going to get in the way of me saying that it was good living with you.

B. I am not proud about saying that it was good living with you.

"The Angel and the One" by Weezer: "We are the angels and we are the ones that are praying."

A. There's reason for hope, because even though we're praying for help, we are the ones who can help ourselves.

B. There's no reason for hope, because we are the ones who are supposed to be helping, but we are praying for help ourselves.

I expect submitted opinions on all three songs from every blog visitor I have. (Sometimes I like to pretend I have blog visitors, which makes my efforts seem less futile.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Weather Reprieve of Sorts

The temperature dropped below freezing Sunday at noon and stayed down there until last night when we were all in bed. It peaked at about 40 degrees during the night, but was back below freezing by the morning and has stayed down there all day. So, even though the snow melted, I don't really think it counts as a break in the weather since most people were asleep for all of the heat wave.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Better Get While the Gettin' 's Good

Two news stories that I think should be related by all credibly news agencies, yet aren't.

"The sum of America's liabilities and other financial commitments now exceeds the collective net worth of its citizens."

"President-elect Barack Obama is considering a federal stimulus package that could reach a whopping $1 trillion, dwarfing last spring's tax rebates and rivaling drastic government actions to fight the Great Depression."

I thought we'd matured past this whole "we owe it to ourselves" deception.

Let the Fleecing Commence!

I've been trying to hold back my sucklage of the government teat, figuring I was doing the right thing. When the State of California tried to give me a "free" parenting video course "produced by Ron Reiner," I resisted. When the Feds decided to subsidize everyone's purchase of HDTV converter boxes, I wrote in this space of how horrible the idea was.

But if I hold back from using these programs, I'm increasing the chances that they won't be considered profligate. The real problem is that these stupid programs exist, and the easiest way to help these programs go away is to make them as expensive as possible.

So today I applied for my government coupon for an HDTV converter box. And I might apply for another one, since the limit is two. Even though I only have one TV, which is nearly un-American of me. I mean, even Ned Flanders's kids have a TV in their bedroom (according to "The Simpsons Movie"), but for some reason mine don't?! Why do I hate my children?

College Grad (Of Sorts)

I just passed the last test I had to pass to finish my bachelor's degree. I'm not actually graduating until May, but there's nothing left between me and graduating in May. And I nearly doubled up Tommy Callahan, so I've got that going for me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Two Degrees

Yesterday while we were in church the temperature dropped below freezing and it won't come back above freezing until Thursday afternoon. It was two degrees when I walked to the bus this morning. Right now it's six but feels like negative eleven. For my foreign friends who want to convert that to Celsius, what you do is get a calculator, get a pen, beat the pen against your leg to unfreeze the ink, feel your nuts roll down your pant leg (because they've frozen off) and into your sock (because you've tucked your long underwear into your socks), subtract 32 and divide by 1.8. It's very important that you follow these steps in the proper order.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Kiss-Up Students

So Cristin suggested that my students only laugh at my jokes because they're trying to kiss up. Five years ago maybe I would have agreed, but today's generation of college students doesn't kiss up to anyone. They are prepared to tell you why you're an idiot, why the professor's an idiot, why the material is stupid, why the answers in the back of the book are wrong, and why they'll never need to know this material in the real world, anyway. (Students' knowledge of the real world comes from four years of Tuesday/Thursday classes that don't start until 1 pm.)

Like I've said before in this space, at least when we were selfish brats, we knew enough to keep quiet about it. Students today think they're just "keeping it real." So, given they are so unlikely to flatter anyone, I think their laughter is genuine. Maybe some students are just humoring me, but I had at least ten students from last semester who intentionally took my class again this semester or tried to get in to a closed section of mine, so either I'm an incredible pushover or they honestly liked me. Or they're a new breed of super-student whose flattery is more deceptive because their fellow students' rudeness has lowered my defenses against butt-kissing. Who knows?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Giving a Whole New Meaning to American Motors

A few points:

  1. If we have to bail out the auto manufacturers, can't we at least wait until they run out of cash and shut down in January? That way we'd at least be paying lip-service to the idea of responsibility and not be blatantly rewarding morally-hazardous corporate practices.
  2. The companies we're talking about bailing out are so large that $15 bil. is like a fart in the windstorm to them. One article I read yesterday said the cash would get GM through to March. That's all we're buying, three additional months? Does anyone really think three months is enough time to restructure GM and turn it into a profitable company?
  3. What's the point of having bankruptcy laws and not using them? Why can't these companies restructure under bankruptcy protection?
  4. Does anyone really think that what's happened here is a decline in the American demand for cars? Of course not. So if the demand is still there, it will still have to be met, so the auto workers will still have to make cars. Why do we need those auto workers to do it with GM or Chrysler on their uniform? (Assuming they still wore uniforms instead of Ted Nugent concert tee shirts, but you get my point.)

Here's my ideal scenario: Congress and the president tell the Big Three to go pound sand. GM and Chrysler declare bankruptcy. Chrysler liquidates and GM restructures. They close underperforming plants and lay off those plants' workers. Honda, Toyota, and Nissan acquire the plants and hire the workers. Cars are still made. Workers are still getting paid. There is no government acquisition of car makers. The UAW is crippled and perhaps shuttered. Why won't this plan work?

Here's what will really happen: enough Republicans will want to appear "bipartisan" that the bill will pass. We will hire a new "car czar" (and that crap is completely deserving of its own diatribe, but I'm trying to get work done today). Congressmen will continue to utter asinine platitudes like Nancy Pelosi's "We call this the barbershop. Everybody's getting a haircut here, in terms of the conditions of the bill. The management itself has to take a big haircut on all of this" that insult your intelligence because they think you have no intelligence left to insult. Class envy will get a shot in the arm with the restrictions on executive pay and my dad will somehow feel better about his unchanged salary. The UAW will continue to hamstring the Big Three's business decisions, and in three months we'll be back where we are now: three giant car companies running out of money, asking for a handout.

Comrade Stranger's Glorious Weblog

Ahoy, Comrades!

Well, we own a variety of banks and we're about to own all domestic auto manufacturers, but do we own any STATES? Never fear, California is broke and they want some cash. If we follow precedents, we'll take a stake in the bailoutee. So the time has come to ask yourself, what are you going to do with your portion of California?

There are 163,696 square miles of California and 305,851,698 Americans, meaning we'll each get 0.000535 square miles, which is 0.34 acres, about the size of an average city residential lot. Of course, I've got a family of five, so when I bust some Communism on my kids and take according to my needs, I'll have 1.71 acres. With that much land, I'll have a number of options:

  1. If my land is next to an interstate, I can open a Missouri-style roadside porn shop.
  2. If my land is in the Coastal Range, I can run a herd of Shetland ponies.
  3. If my land is in the Central Valley, I can plant it all in soy beans and become a specialty soy milk manufacturer.
  4. If my land is in the desert, I can open a jihadist training camp.
  5. If my land is in Los Angeles, I can open a chain of crack dens.
  6. If my land is in San Francisco, I can open an Anti-Mormon amusement park called The Workin' the Glory Hole.

So, as you can see, I've got a bit of a head-start on you. Needless to say, all ideas have patents pending. (And when I'm charged with a federal crime for claiming patents pending where they aren't actually pending, I'll claim it was satire.)

Next Year in Moscow,

Comrade Stranger

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


An ellipsis is three periods, and a period is one period. If a sentence is ending, it needs either a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point. If you try to end your sentence with an ellipsis, the last period ends the sentence, which means your ellipsis is now only two periods and is, in fact, no longer an ellipsis, but an entirely new diacritical notation called an "I'm-A-Grammar-Retard." If you want an ellipsis at the end of your sentence, you need FOUR periods.

Here's why it's different from ending a sentence with a dash. Dashes are used when the person is interrupted, which means the sentence wasn't ended yet, and that's why it doesn't need a period, question mark, or exclamation point. Ellipses are used when a person trails off, so the sentence is ended.

And with that, I'm all the way caught up on my list from last week. Now I have to start a new list, and right now there's only one thing on it:

1. Cristin's question about whether my students only laugh at my jokes because they're sucking up to me.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Spelling Teacher

Me (to Persephone): So when I gave my students their evaluations to fill out, I told them, "Remember there's only one F in 'wonderful' but there're as many Ts in 'hot' as you want. Actually, the more Ts the better."

Crazy Jane (eavesdropping): You're a spelling teacher? I thought you just taught math.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Persephone and I have always figured you should tell kids the real names for stuff. We're not the kind of people who comment on Cristin's blog about the euphemisms they've devised for "penis." If a kid has a penis, he should call it that.

The problem is, though, that our oldest kid is a girl, and there's no real name for what a girl has. Each part has a name, but there's nothing for all of it together. As a result, Crazy Jane appropriated the word "bum" for all of her nether-regions and Persephone never really stopped her. (I think Crazy Jane figured it was all a bum because it all needs wiping at different times. Who knows.)

Anyway, our kids have a low-level but chronic need to differentiate between boys and girls. Every time Crazy Jane is acting too princessy, I tell her, "There's nothing you can't do just because you're a girl except be a dad." And Articulate Joe always says, "And pee standing up." And Crazy Jane always says, "Except sometimes I try to pee standing up."

The other day I was in the bathroom with Articulate Joe and somehow he tried to make a joke about someone not having a penis and I said, "All boys have penises," and he said, "And girls have bums!" So I knew it was time to set the record straight about the word "bum."

I told the two of them, "Girls' parts have names. They just have a lot of different names. Most people call the whole thing a vagina, but that's really just the part inside. The outside part is a vulva."

Crazy Jane said, "Volcano? Lava?"

I said, "No, vagina and vulva."

She said, "It sounds like volcano and lava, like when you have a baby it's like a volcano erupting."

I said, "The point is, it's not a bum and you should know that."

She said, "I already made up my own name for it. I call it a Baby-Maker."

I said, "Well, that's a pretty good name for it." So now, in our house, boys have penises and girls have baby-makers.

Telephone Call Transcript

Man: "He needs to pass this test on a computer."

Me [internal monologue]: [He's talking about the Gateway.]

Man: "And his deadline for passing this test is this Friday."

Me: [The deadline for the Gateway should've been a long time ago.]

Man: "And so he needs someone to help him pass this test by Friday."

Me: [Maybe he's calling me from the past. I wonder what kind of cell phone he has.]


Preemption: Yes, substance abuse is a serious et cetera. But when I read this article yesterday about Adderall addiction, I thought, "That stuff sounds great. I wonder if I should try to get some." Yes, I read the part about hallucinations and death, but I was more interested in the part about reading retention and weight loss, and if we mixed some of those effects, like reading retention and hallucinations, it would be like getting sucked into a book, like Thursday Next, and what cooler way is there to learn economics and mathematics?

So Much to Say!

Just two days ago I thought, "It's too bad I have nothing to say on my blog these days." Now I have too much! I'm going to spread it out over the day, but I want to make a list so I make sure I cover it all:

  1. Adderall
  2. Telephone call transcript
  3. Baby-maker
  4. Spelling teacher
  5. Ellipses

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Stupid People Are Inferior Goods

The place where I work has been poorly managed since before I got here in 2005. They made money during the first half of the decade, when any idiot could draft a business plan on a napkin and get an interest-only loan to buy Aeron chairs for all his cousins. (What was Steve Martin’s line in the last episode of “30 Rock”? Something like, “Here’s the pitch: wind power, Chinese market, bandwidth.”)

Well, now it takes more than three buzzwords to make money and this company isn’t cut out for that type of marketplace. So they’ve been ignoring the problems and firing productive people and telling us all that the rest of us will be fired soon. They’ve been doing this for three years now.

Every time we have one of these “bill more time to non-existent projects” talks, I start looking around for what else I can do to make money. My problem has always been that I’ve been in school and I could never find another job that would be as accommodating to my class schedule as this place. (This place is only so accommodating on accident; once they realized what they’d done, they tried to take it back, but I said no. That’s one of the reasons I’m especially keen to have a back-up plan: when the revolution comes, I’ll probably be first against the wall.) Now I’m in my final semester of major classes, meaning in two weeks I could be done with college if I wanted to be. This opens up my employment possibilities some, but I’d still like to finish my minors and some other projects I’ll be working on next semester, so if I can stay a student until May, that would be great.

Last time we had one of these talks at work I tried to get hired as a tutor for the athletic department, but I don’t think I qualified because I am an instructor. So this time I went all back-alley and just added my name to an online registry of tutors.

I got my first e-mail two weeks ago. I replied, and heard nothing. Then, the day after Thanksgiving (I refuse to call it Black Friday, just as I refuse to use composite names like TomKat, Benniffer, and Brangelina) I was in some snooty toy store in Chesterfield, MO (you know who you are) and I got a call from another interested student. I asked her to e-mail me, but when I replied to her e-mail, I heard nothing. Today I got a call and an e-mail from a student’s father, and if the deal would have been between the two of us, we would have met already, but he forwarded my information to his son, and I’ve heard nothing.

Persephone thinks I’m getting all this interest now because students went home for Thanksgiving and got in trouble for their grades. I think she’s right. The problem is, though, that these people obviously aren’t the most committed students on campus, or else they wouldn’t really need tutoring in the first place, right? So they call me to get their parents off their back, and then they don’t follow through when it comes time to decide to hire me. Which totally sucks because, in another giant error on my employer’s part, I have an ENORMOUSLY inflated hourly pay rate for this area of the country, and no other line of work could possibly pay me as much, but tutoring comes closest, so if I actually do end up fired or laid off, I would want to replace as much work as possible with tutoring.

So when I was sitting here wondering if this guy’s son was going to call me or not, I realized that dumb people are inferior goods, in that you only deal with them when you have to. If I was independently wealthy, I wouldn’t be trying to get tutoring jobs. The main reason is that they are flakes. It’s like being the hiring manager at Burger King: the good news is there are plenty of high school students who will work for what you offer, but the bad news is you are only hiring high school students. And people with either a criminal record or no ambition. But when you offer minimum wage, you know you’re getting a minimum wage worker, and when you work in tutoring, you know your getting a tutee: someone who has no commitment to the class or the work, but who wants to avoid confrontation with his parents because they are footing the bill for his “Thursday is the new Friday” lifestyle.

All of these flake students have reminded me of another line of work I explored last time it looked like my work was shutting down: life coaching. I know it was a joke back then, but all life coaching is a joke, and if people can make money at it, why not me? This town has to be full of potential clients. Last year I wanted to put up a flier just to see what type of response I’d get, but I thought I’d feel bad about actually taking someone’s money to life coach them. (Is “life coach” a verb? It is now, baby!) But I’ve recently decided I’m super qualified for this line of work. Here are my reasons:

  1. These students who call me at the end of the semester wanting me to help them avoid the F they’ve earned.
  2. A recent article in the student newspaper about alcoholic college students.
  3. A survey last month that found over 20% of respondents here at our school admitted to driving after having at least five beers. When you consider that these are the students who admitted it, and that you can be legally drunk way before five beers, you’ve got to figure half the student body has driven drunk. (Although according to the article this new breed of superdrinkers is impervious to alcohol, so maybe not half.)

I’m totally going to start a life coaching job next semester. I’ll have plenty of students who just went home and got yelled at for failing their fall classes and I’ll get them as clients because they’ll have made New Year’s resolutions or something.

This next semester is going to be awesome. First, I’ll be done with my major requirements. Second, three of my five classes will be the kind of class that never actually meets. Third, I’ll be done with the part of school that grad schools will have seen when they made their decisions. Fourth, I’ll be a freaking life coach and make money by telling people, “Don’t get drunk and have anonymous sex tonight. Call me tomorrow and we’ll see how well you obeyed.”

I think 2009 is going to be my year.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I saw this headline today and I had to click through all 12 entries to make sure my blog hadn't made the list. I can breathe more easily now. (Not literally, since my sinuses are fuller than Tokyo subway cars, but figuratively, you better believe my previous statement was accurate.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"I Just Have to Stay One Lesson Ahead of the Kid"

Once on "The Simpsons" Marge said she'd teach piano lessons to bring in extra money. When reminded she doesn't know how to play the piano, she said, "I just have to stay one lesson ahead of the kid!"

I thought of that when I read this article. It's a good thing people like me, who have actually learned high school math, are basically barred from ever teaching it, and instead they have a bunch of moron teachers who are learning the material the night before. That must be a really effective way of teaching, since every state in America practices it. I'm sure it has nothing to do with cynical teachers' unions using children's educations as bargaining chips in a bid to increase their own power and influence. Of course not. It's all about teaching our precious children. Because, in the words of world-class educator Whitney Houston, "I believe the children are our future." And by "our future," she obviously means, "teachers' futures as boat owners."

Monday, November 24, 2008

This Linear Algebra Test Just Keeps Getting Better

Okay, two weeks ago I had an exam in linear algebra. This class is sort of interesting, but at the same time very boring. Every day in class I make a little countdown in the margin of my paper, where I list five-minute intervals between 1:00 and 2:15 and then cross them off as they go by. Every day I do this.

Well, I blew off my first two classes of the day to study for this exam, then I went to take the test. For some reason when I got to class I immediately began thinking it was a Monday, Wednesday, Friday 50-minute class and budgeted my time accordingly. I finished the first problem and thought, "Man, that took me longer than I wanted. I only have 40 minutes left." The professor kept writing the time on the board, but not the time remaining, so I kept thinking I had to finish at 1:50. Eventually it was 1:40 and I had three problems to go. I flew through two of them, looked at the last one and saw I might not know how to do it, and decided I'd better turn in my test since it was 1:50. A lot of times professors will let you work later, since the next class to use the room doesn't start right away, but I had to get across campus, print out some stuff, and get to my next room in that ten minutes, so I turned in my test and left. However, I made sure to write in the empty space for the last problem, "I think there was too much material here for a 50-minute exam."

When I got outside and saw that no one else was walking around campus, I realized what I'd done. I said a sort-of prayer: "Where were You on that one?!" I couldn't really go back in and start working again, since I could have gone out in the hall and consulted my notes. Besides, I only had one problem left and I wasn't sure I knew how to do it. But the other six problems that I had answered could have had errors since I had been working so quickly.

I went to my next class, which I teach, and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I had some numbers on the board I was trying to add. All I could think was, "I can't believe I did that." Eventually I drew a squiggly line and said, "This is a column of numbers, but I don't know what they are." I explained what had happened to me and my students were merciless. "Didn't you realize what was happening? Didn't you notice no one else was leaving?" Thanks for the constructive criticism, guys.

I e-mailed the professor to explain the little comment I'd written, since it was me being an idiot and not the length of the exam that was the problem. He e-mailed back and told me I could have an extra half-an-hour in his office right then, but I had another class I had to teach.

This exam was on Thursday. It ruined my night. I just stayed up late watching "The Simpsons" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" on DVD. It ruined my Friday, and then the rest of my weekend. Monday was the last day to drop a class, and I wondered all weekend if I should drop and take it again next semester. Since I couldn't drop without the professor's signature and I was too embarrassed to go see him, I decided to let it ride. When I got my exam back on Tuesday, I'd scored 82/100. (The class average was 73.) The question I'd skipped was worth 12 points, so of the answers I'd supplied, I got 82/88 (93%). Next to my note about there being too much material for a 50-minute exam, he'd written, "Because it was a 75-minute exam," but then once he got my e-mail, he crossed that out.

Well, it just keeps getting better. Because he'd messed up some of the notation in class prior to our exam, he gave us a curve. In true math professor fashion, the curve is an addition of (500-5p)/17, where p represents our score. This means my 82 became an 88. Now he's e-mailed us again and said the curve is an addition of the greater of 13 or the previous curve, which means my 82 is now a 95. Maybe I should get confused about the time on all my exams!

Friday, November 21, 2008

BCS Problem

Here's the biggest problem with the BCS format: it tries to force a dynamic environment into a static system.

Who knew the ACC and the Big East were going to suck this year? Wasn't Clemson ranked higher than Alabama when they met in the first game of the season? But now it's obvious that those two conferences are horrible, yet they still get their automatic bids this year. The Mountain West surprised a lot of people by sticking it to the Pac-10 this year, but they have to have an undefeated team to get a bid.

Bowls have eligibility requirements, and the BCS should, too. Just because your conference has an agreement with the Bowl to take their fourth-place team, if that team hasn't won at least six games, they don't get to go. Well, a conference's "automatic" bid should be subject to some sort of oversight. If you win the ACC but aren't ranked in the top 20 (using humans or computers), your bid should go to a conference champion who does meet those requirements. Under that system, this year the ACC and the Big East could lose their bids to the champions of the Mountain West, the WAC, or the MAC without requiring these champions to be undefeated.

I think the Mountain West is in a great position to demand inclusion as a major conference, especially if they steal Boise State from the WAC. The BCS would actually win in that scenario, since it would get rid of most of the "BCS crashers." Boise State, Utah, Brigham Young, and Texas Christian would all be included in the system, and the crashers would then be teams with great records from truly middle-of-the-road conferences. I'm not dissing Ball State or Hawaii, but their conferences aren't as strong as the Mountain West, so it's harder for them to dispel the criticisms they receive. And maybe Hawaii deserves some dissing, since it was Hawaii's blow-out loss in a BCS bowl that gave credence to the idea of discrediting perfect records from smaller conferences.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Words I Hate

The verb “to put” has a present participle. I just don’t know how to write it. “Puting" would have a long U and be slang for “computing,” basically, while “putting” looks like the present participle of the verb “to putt,” and would be used to say, “Last week on the golf course I did a lot of putting.” So how do I spell the present participle of “to put”? And if it’s “putting,” like my word processor is forcing on me, how does one distinguish the type of putting that happens on the golf course? Three Ts, or just context? Imagine you’re making a list of skills required for golf success and there’s some debate between you and a friend about whether a golfer needs to be able to putt. You decide to add it to the list and you say, “I’m putting putting on the list.” Confusing!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bailout Boogaloo

Hey, it turns out the bailout is just $700 bil. of "walking around" money for the government. Good thing Congress took its time to ensure there are plenty of oversights in the final legi--oh crap, I forgot, they were in a hurry because they "had to do something." Well, they've done something, all right.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Cures

Erin mentioned that she's disappointed that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle doesn't have any real cures. Well, one cure of hers that my kids wish we'd try is Lester the Pig. In that chapter the kid has horrible table manners so Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lets his mother borrow her pet pig, Lester, whose table manners are impeccable. Since we read that chapter, our kids are fascinated with the idea of Lester the pet pig. Just a few nights ago I said something along the lines of, "Why don't you kids clean up after yourselves?" and Crazy Jane said, "Get Lester the pig!" I said, "He was a cure for bad table manners, not for messy living."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election Story

Persephone request that I write about this:

Election morning I took my two oldest kids with me to vote while Persephone and Baby-X were still asleep. When I finished voting we went over to the kids' voting area. I don't know if they do this other places, but in our town they let school-aged kids vote for president and then they announce the results. Anyway, as I've written before in this space, both Crazy Jane and Articulate Joe are big John McCain fans, and they had planned for weeks to vote for him. (In contrast, I voted for Bob Barr and my wife didn't decide to vote for McCain until she was practically in the voting booth.)

The volunteers running the kids' table told my daughter to write her name, school, and grade. That's a problem because Articulate Joe isn't in school yet. I said, "He's in pre-school," which is sort of true in that he should be in pre-school. I asked, "Can he still vote?" The volunteers hesitated, so I said, "I can just say he's in kindergarten." They said okay, so I signed him up as a kindergartener. I said, "He's getting his first experience with voter fraud." The volunteers didn't think that was too funny. (It's not like they were running a binding election; what's a little voter fraud to them?)

Crazy Jane filled out her ballot, which to her meant filling in every box except McCain's. I told her, "You've voted for too many people. Only mark the box you want." So she erased them all and put a checkmark in the box under John McCain's picture. Except the box labeled with McCain's name was above his picture; she'd voted for Charles Baldwin. I said, "You've voted for this guy," pointing to Baldwin's picture. "Here are the boxes," I said as I pointed to each box and said whose it was. She then, on her third try, voted for McCain. (It only took her two tries to vote for McCain when she made us vote at home.) This entire process made it look like I was browbeating my daughter into voting for McCain. Really, I just knew who she liked and wanted to help her vote that way.

Articulate Joe, who can't read, asked me what the words said. I pointed to each box and read each name. He immediately voted for McCain, all by himself on the first try. Then he drew some hair on McCain. 'Cause that dude is bald.

I took the kids back home, then walked to the bus. On the bus I listened to two girls talking. One was registered to vote in Johnson County (we live in Douglas County), but she planned to vote at the polling place across the street from her apartment here. She told her friend, "I should be fine because I have my ID and I have my registration card to prove I'm registered in Johnson County. I mean, they can't really expect me to drive all the way to Johnson County [30 miles] just to vote!" (Meanwhile, an informed if somewhat paranoid friend of mine, fearing her county election officials wouldn't count her Barack Obama vote otherwise, drove 60 miles Monday night after her evening class, voted Tuesday morning, then drove back before school that morning.)

I realized on the bus that the idiot to whom I was listening had just as many votes to cast as I did, and that is the problem with democracy. I voted against both state supreme court justices on our ballot because I disagree with the court's ruling in Montoy v. State (2005), but many more voters made their decisions based on Justice Lee Johnson sharing a name with a former NFL punter. The good news, though, was that this bus girl would find out later in the day that she wasn't, in fact, "fine" with just an ID and her registration card, so at least one fewer idiot got to vote.


I actually DON'T have that much in common with SuperDell, Cristin.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Election News SHOCKER

In my diligent effort to fill the work day with things other than work, I was reading election results on the New York Times website when I came across this stunning bit of news: Super Dell (or, as he prefers, SUPERDELL) was the Libertarian candidate for governor of Utah, and received nearly 23,000 votes. Why must Super Dell destroy my new party? I wish he'd go back to what he used to do: selling totally awesome computers.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Book Reviews

All right, fools, I've recently completed a few of the books on my long to-read list.

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic

I suspect our kids get ideas on how to misbehave from the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Within days of reading a chapter, our kids exhibit the same symptoms as the kids in the book. When I unveiled this theory to Crazy Jane, she said, "I don't act like the boy who doesn't like to go to school." But the rest of it (refusing to clean, talking back, not eat, not going to bed) gets worse right after we read about it.

(ASIDE: Why do I call her Crazy Jane?)


This book was pretty good. (That's a good thing for me, since it's the first of a series I will almost definitely be reading aloud.) I guess Crazy Jane is growing up, because it was the first book we've read together that has a "message" (unless you count Stewart's Cape when he's worried about not making friends). I remember getting suckered into reading some "message" books when I was a kid, and I was furious. Like when my parents gave me Pardon Me, You're Stepping on My Eyeball, which seems like it should be a zany, screwball type of book, only to find out it deals with depression. The same thing happened when they gave me There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom. When I read those books, I felt like I did when I watched the dance scene in "First Kid." Why does every kids' book have to have a message? No wonder our kids are so militant these days; they're always on with the substance and meaning. Luckily, girls love that kind of crap in their books, so Crazy Jane enjoyed Clementine. Just as long as Sara Pennypacker puts the series to rest before Clementine starts dealing with bras, I'll be fine.

Cricket Explained

I have two Indian students this semester. A few weeks ago they had cricket bats with them. I asked a little about it and they both offered to teach me to play. (I think it's because they are poor students who hope to get better grades by becoming my friends. The jokes on them, since I'll be their friend and still fail them! Ha!) Anyway, I read this book so I have a general idea of what's going on when I step onto the pitch (if that ever ends up happening). I expect to bowl all kinds of googlies from silly mid off, or whatever.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Following Instructions

I have a student whose handwriting is so atrocious I had to give him zeros on the essay portions of his last exam simply because no one could read it. I told him to take it home and type up what it's supposed to say and turn it back in to me so I could give him credit where he'd earned it. I told him, "Just transcribe what you wrote on the original exam." It took him three weeks to get it back to me because, as he said, "I'm having trouble reading my own handwriting." Now that he's turned it back in, I can use it as a sort of Rosetta Stone to decipher the chicken scratch, and it is very clear that there are whole sections of his typed response that differ from his hand-written response. I TOLD him to just transcribe. Now I'm angry with him for trying to fool me. He only got back two of the 30 points he missed, though he also got a little note about following instructions.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Reading List

Currently working on:

The Economics of Discrimination by Gary Becker

The Book of Mormon by God

Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison

Nets, Puzzles, and Postmen by Peter M. Higgins

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic by Betty MacDonald

The Mortal Messiah, Vol. 1 by Bruce R. McConkie

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Following the Light of Christ into His Presence by John M. Pontius

Race and Economics by Thomas Sowell

Markets and Minorities by Thomas Sowell

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Meanwhile, I have to watch the following television shows on DVD:

"30 Rock" Season 2

"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" Season 1

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Old Man

My horribly stinky farts seem to be correlated to my milk consumption. My wife has grabbed the bull by the horns and now I drink soy milk.

Soy milk, for those of you who don't know, is the beverage of choice in nursing homes throughout the land. I think it's because regular milk (or "devil juice," as retirees have been known to call it) "angries up the blood."

What kills me is: how can a milk made from beans help with the farting? Even my kids can tell you that beans are "the musical fruit."

Math Fail

All right, in my last post I talked about the limit as X approaches five of 1/(X-5). The problem with that is, of course, that that limit is undefined. As X approaches five from the left, the function approaches negative infinity, but as X approaches five from the right, the function approaches positive infinity. For a limit to exist, those two would have to be the same, and they aren't.

I should have said something like "as X approaches five of 1/(|X-5|), which would then make the denominator positive for both X greater than 5 and X less than 5, so the limits would agree. Of course, I could have just not been a dork and avoided trying to make a math joke in the first place, but I have a goal to surpass the Dennis Miller Ratio.

Monday, October 20, 2008

When the Mitchell Kids Sing in Sacrament Meeting, It's All Greek to Me

This post has nothing to do with the Mitchell kids’ part in the upcoming Primary program; I thought that was a funny thing to say and I couldn’t come up with an actual title, so there it is.)

Pheidippides, the Athenian soldier who ran from Marathon, was declaring victory. It wasn’t like he had to tell them to send reinforcements, or tell them of a loss so they’d have time to flee the Persians. He could have taken his time. This would have accomplished two things: 1. he wouldn’t have died (at least not right away), and 2. there wouldn’t be a “marathon” in our culture, and I wouldn’t have just run one.

I haven’t been telling most people about this, because that’s just the way I roll. (I’ve written extensively in this space about such things, like how my parents thought our second child was unwanted because I didn’t want to tell anyone about it, but really I just didn’t want to tell anyone about it because I don’t like talking to other people more than necessary.) The people I’ve told have all responded thus: “Really? Did you run the whole way?” When I say, “I ran the first 14, nearly all of the next six, and half of the last six,” they immediately adjust what I’d done from “run a marathon” to “run 14 miles.” And I immediately say, "Why don't you kiss my ass?"

I began training with the half marathon I ran in April, and I was pretty consistent through the end of July, and then I just didn’t have time anymore. This semester is killing me and I haven’t run regularly since the beginning of August.

It turns out training is worthwhile. As with my half marathon six months ago, I was fine until I ran up against the outside limit of my training, and then I fell apart. In April my training runs had reached 10 miles, and in the half marathon I was fine for the first 10 miles, ran the next mile thinking, “I really wish this race were over already,” and then collapsed for the final two miles. The same thing happened to me this weekend. My training in July had reached about 14 miles for my long runs, and sure enough, I was fine for the first 13 to 14 miles. The next six miles I ran most of, thinking, “That would be great if the race were over.” I remember being excited at 16 and 17 miles because I had fewer than 10 to go. But by the time I was at 20 miles, I was ready for the race to be over.

I have heard (mostly read, actually) about “the wall,” and I don’t think this was it. I always imagined the wall as a point of exhaustion or cardiovascular failure, like what Pheidippides experienced. I wasn’t out of breath, or even tired, really. I just had legs that couldn’t really move anymore. The insides of my thighs, right above my kness, started to hurt. I ran with my hands pushing against them so that moving my legs created a massage. Then my lower back hurt. I ran with my thumbs pushing on my kidneys, massaging as I ran. Then my left shoulder had a pinched nerve. I spent all of Mile 20 reminding God that He’d promised me that I could “run and not be weary.” It didn’t work. The mile markers became progressively further apart until the distance between Mile 21 and Mile 22 resembled the limit as X approaches five of 1/(x-5). (Belated nerd alert.) When I started feeling worse at Mile 14, I thought, “Why won’t You help me with this?” The other part of my brain said, “Hold on; you’re only half-way through. The time for recriminations will come later.” Sure enough, at Mile 23 I thought, “I can’t do this if You won’t help me,” and the other part of my brain said, “Yes, now’s the time for recriminations.” At Mile 24 I realized that, had Pheidippides not unnecessarily run, the entire idea of a marathon wouldn’t exist and I could be home, enjoying my Saturday morning tucked up in bed.

But I finished. (Persephone’s put pictures up on the family blog, so you can all relive my shame with me as quickly as your Internet connection allows.) As a volunteer removed the timing chip from my shoe for me, I told her my idea of blaming Pheidippides. She just sort of shrugged it off. I’m sure she heard a lot of inane babble throughout the day.

Here’s what I got out of it: free Gatorade and Gummi bears while I ran, two free shirts (an ugly one for registering and a nicer-looking one for finishing), the promise of a medal in the mail (because they’d run out by the time I finished), a free massage, a $25 gift certificate to a good barbeque restaurant in Kansas City, a lifetime of being the fat acquaintance who’s completed a marathon to the bafflement of all and sundry, and a daughter who whispered to me when I tucked her into bed that night, “I think you did really well in your race today.”

Friday, October 17, 2008

Change of Nickname

Oh, I forgot: The Friendly Jerk is getting a new nickname. Now he'll just be The Unadulterated Jerk. Because there's nothing friendly about him anymore.

Crap Clients

I wrote a long post about this crap client I'm working with, but then I realized nobody cares. I often realize, about two-thirds of the way through a story, that the person listening to me doesn't care. By then it's too late; it's easier to finish the story than to stop and explain why I've stopped.

I'd tell you now why we're going to Louisburg, Kansas, for the weekend, but I already know you don't care, so I'm going to save everyone some time and not start the story at all.

Nos vemos.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Because I'm Such a Special Guy"

Once while Googling people I used to know, I found the blog of a woman who is now roommates with a woman I used to know. This blogger girl (who needs a nickname, so I guess I'll call her the Fun Girl) turned out to live a super interesting life. I check back on her blog every month or so now just to see what she's doing in her life.

Why isn't my life like that? Nobody stumbles across my blog and thinks, "Man, I wonder what he's going to do NEXT!"

Here's my day so far:

6:30 AM: My alarms start going off. I have three alarms on my phone, my stand-alone alarm, and my wife's Pampered Chef timer. I stagger their times to be clustered around the time I want to wake up, figuring if I have to turn off several alarms in a row, there's a better chance I'll get out of bed.

8:00 AM: I wake up. My kids wake up and I get ready to walk to the bus. My wife says, since they're all up already, they can just drive me.

8:30 AM: I get dropped off at school. I have all kinds of plans to do a lot of productive work, but I end up spending two and half hours sitting at my desk, talking to my friends. Topics included: whether to call someone a stay-at-home mom, a housewife, or a career mom; Facebook pictures; the greatness of western Pennsylvania; cats, dogs, badgers, horses, and hamsters; optimum interior temperatures; students with bad handwriting; econometrics.

11:00 AM: I go with one of my friends to the lecture for the class we TA for. She gives me a hard time for doing the crossword, the Cryptoquip, and Sudoku instead of taking notes; I give her a hard time for staying up until two last night reading the textbook chapter for a class we're not even taking. I read in the student newspaper about 1. a student who was severely beaten a few weekends ago, 2. a cat mutilator at large in town, 3. the obscene kickoff chant that has more support now that the coach has asked the fans to stop it, and 4. someone's letter to the editor arguing that Jesus is cool with abortion.

11:50 AM: I tell one of my students she got a D-minus on the last test, thereby ruining her Fall Break. Then I have to run to catch my bus, which is about to pull away from the stop without me.

12:05 PM: I get to work. I read some news articles, eat Bumble Bee Sensations Spicy Thai Chili Tuna Medley, and find a Sudoku in the office bathroom book with an incorrect solution in the back of the book.

1:00 PM: I start listening to the "Coffee Break Spanish" podcast while I work on road name maps for a county and three Indian reservations in New Mexico.

Here's what I have planned for the rest of the day:

Finish the road maps and send them to the plotter, which has to be turned off and unplugged before every print job these days.

Take the bus home.

Eat supper with my family.

Read Treasure Island and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle's Magic to my kids.

Mess around with the TV antenna to see if I can watch the baseball game.

Finish reading The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody while I watch the game.

Add student numbers to a spreadsheet of grades and resubmit it.

Finish my linear algebra homework (HA HA! If that actually ends up happening before next Tuesday afternoon, I'm a better man than I thought!)

Check Facebook, my e-mail, and my blog to see if anyone had anything to say to me.

See? Nowhere near as cool as Fun Girl's blog. And I can't tell you who Fun Girl is, because then her roommate would know that I Googled her, but just know that she lives a way cooler life than I do.

Title from Weezer's song "Troublemaker."

Obama, Change, and Job Descriptions

I was reading the Wall Street Journal yesterday and came across this article where the following quote from Barack Obama's Dreams of My Fathers appeared:

When classmates . . . asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn't answer them directly. Instead I'd pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House. . . . Change in the Congress. . . . Change in the mood of the country. . . . Change won't come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots. . . . I'll organize black folks.

Here he is, trying to get another job, and doing nothing but talking about change. Does this mean that, like his gig as a community organizer, he also doesn't really know what a president does?

I mean, his campaign signs should basically say, "Obama: Whatever You Want Him to Be." If we really wanted change, we'd elect a brutal dictator. I mean, we haven't had one of those before. Isn't that real change? And as for it being "change you can believe in," the people whose heads were in the baskets were the ones who most believed the French Revolution was a real change.

McCain has friends, Obama has change, and both of them think you're stupid enough to be swayed by their tactics. Elect the 'Stache: Bob Barr in '08.*

* It's incredible to me that Bob Barr hasn't tried to make his moustache into more of a campaign issue. If it were me, I'd have the 'stache at the top of the ticket and me as the undercard.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Random Stranger Presidential Endorsement

All right, fools, as if you care what I think, I'm about to explain my presidential endorsement.

I'm voting for Bob Barr, and I think you should, too.

I had two questions about endorsing Barr: 1. Did he support declared deadlines for leaving Iraq? and 2. Did he support the legalization of banned narcotics? I don't support declared deadlines in Iraq, as it is tantamount to telling Iraqi terrorists (what the New York Times would call "insurgents" or perhaps even "freedom fighters"), "Wait around until this declared date and you win." I also don't support the legalization of all narcotics, but I have to admit that I see little good from the criminalization of marijuana. All it does is make criminals out of people who would otherwise be really easy-going. I've written here before about the Mormon take on Prohibition, and that's really the only reason I have for not saying, "I support the legalization of marijuana." I obviously don't have any figures, but it seems the social costs of alcohol far outpace the social costs of marijuana, and I still don't see how a pro-Prohibition (or perhaps it's "Pro2Hibition") view is in keeping with free agency.

Last week Crazy Jane wanted to have a presidential election in our house. She made a ballot box which commanded "VOT NAW!" Before I cast my ballot I went to Bob Barr's website to see how he felt on Iraq timetables and marijuana legalization. His website specifically says published deadlines for withdrawal from Iraq would be counterproductive, and on marijuana he says the Feds shouldn't interfere with state initiatives. I'm fine with a punt on the pot issue, since I am basically punting myself. So I decided I'll support Bob Barr.

"Why not Barack Obama or John McCain?" Well, Obama is pro-choice, pro-tax (as this Wall Street Journal chart shows) and pro-bailout. McCain is pro-campaign finance reform and pro-bailout. I can't vote for either one of them.

"But shouldn't you vote for one of the two 'main' candidates?" Seriously, do you want me to spit in your eye? I've already written about how meaningless it is to limit your choices to only those you think other people also like. My duty is to vote for the best presidential candidate, and this year, that’s Bob Barr.

The result of the family election: Crazy Jane accidentally voted for Obama and wanted to pull her ballot back out. I told her she couldn't. She said, "You can't tell me what I can't do; this was my idea in the first place." Touché. So she pulled her ballot back out and voted for McCain. (She decided she liked McCain because he looks like a nice grandpa. Shows what she knows!) I voted for Barr. Articulate Joe voted for McCain. Baby X voted (via Persephone) for Obama, and Persephone voted for Palin. So, in a four-way race, John McCain was elected president of our house.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

"Do We Have Any Spanish Speakers With Us Today? Well Buenos Dias!"

I'm trying to find Internet resources for learning Spanish for free. So far I found some free mp3 files from UC Davis that are designed to help Anglo farm managers speak to their employees, so the vocabulary is heavy on farm words and is all spoken by a Chilean. I've also found a thing called "Coffee Break Spanish" which podcasts episodes of a Scotsman speaking Spanish-from-Spain Spanish. I'm going to have so many accents I'll be Eurotrash!

Maybe if either of these things turns out to be any good, I'll let you know more about them.

Title from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Citi Sues Wachovia--Where'd They Get the Dollar Amount?

So the Feds tried to force Wachovia into Citigroup, and Wachovia has since been seeking a deal with Wells Fargo. Citi doesn't like that, and today filed suit against the two other banks. Part of the suit identifies $20 bil. in compensatory damages.

Compensation for what? Did Citi spend $20 bil. planning this acquisition? Of course not. The only thing that can account for this $20 bil. figure is the fair-market value of Wachovia that Citi wasn't going to have to pay for since the government was forcing it all through. Again, haste makes waste. Again, the Feds wanted to be seen "doing something" instead of possibly doing the right thing. Now Citigroup is telling us just how great a deal they were being given at the expense of Wachovia's shareholders.

First AIG wants out of their assistance, and now Wachovia. It seems Ronald Reagan was telling the truth when he said, "The eleven most-feared words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" (Ronnie counted contractions as two words. Don't bust his balls; the man is dead.)

In Bed Last Night

A RANDOM STRANGER: I've ruined everything.

PERSEPHONE: [pulls back covers to issue a smack]

ARS: You might not want to uncover that.

P: [quickly replaces covers and tucks them tightly in]

ARS: [farts] Ohhh! I know that one is stinky because it was so HOT! It burned my ass!

P: [smelling said fart] Ohhh!

ARS: [lifting covers to smell own fart] Ahhh! It burned my throat!

P: I haven't even fed you anything weird lately!

Ivy League Idiot Lacrosse Players in Suits

So the markets opened down today, because foreign markets were down overnight, because "investors realized $700 billion financial rescue plan won't work quickly enough to unfreeze credit markets," according to Seriously? I've been led to believe investors are smart people, but if it took them all weekend to come to the conclusion that I've known for three weeks, they're nowhere near as smart as I thought they were.

To borrow a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut, $700B is like a fart in the windstorm compared to the amount of bad debt that needs "fixing." And all along everyone's known this "rescue plan" (don't call it a "bailout" because for some reason that sounds like a bad thing) won't begin to do anything for at least a month while it gets created and organized. Hmmm. If only there was an existing lender of last resort, perhaps one that's been in existence for nearly 100 years already, one that has virtually no statutory responsibility other than just being the lender of last resort, that would be great. Oh well. Congress couldn't just sit around and wish the Federal Reserve into existence; they had to "do something."

I realized the other night while laying in bed that I've been searching for some way to communicate how bad an idea it is for government to act quickly, but there was no need for me to wrack my brain because it's a principle that's been recognized by most people for so long that there's a folk saying regarding it: Haste makes waste. When the Supreme Court, in a chamber with murals of Moses on the wall, finally rules our money can no longer bear the motto "In God We Trust," maybe they can replace it with "Haste Makes Waste."

Friday, October 03, 2008

"Critical County Services"?

County services are critical now? I'm learning so much from this House debate. I expect soon I'll be told that the under-carriage wax option of an automated car wash is critical, as well.

Ron Paul: Not So Wacky

There were plenty of reasons during the Republican primaries to think Ron Paul was a wack-job, but he just spoke in the House and made more sense than anyone else so far. This bill will extend and deepen the crisis, not solve it. Government interaction took what would have been known as the Crisis of 1929 and turned it into the Great Depression.

Idiot Statements on the Floor of the House

"Markets are plagued with fear." Paul Ryan (R-WI)

That's what happens when the government spends two weeks spreading fear.




About four months ago I said to my brother, "I don't believe any member of Congress cares about anything beyond his own reelection." My brother said, "None of them?" I said, "I don't have any reason to believe that any of them do."

AND NOW I'M TOTALLY VINDICATED! A building of 535 vultures. All of them. Every single one of them. The Republicans as well as the Democrats. The Mormons along with the others. There are no "sides" anymore. It's a venue of vultures circling the walking carcass of America. They pretend to have sides because they can't run for election with platforms like "I'll take all your money." So they take issues that Americans care about, pretend to support a particular side, and then take all your money.

This bailout has the following problems:

  1. It's now called a rescue package. Obviously you think "bailouts" are bad, but who hates "rescue packages"? Only Communists and child molesters! Are you a Communist or are you a child molester?
  2. This bill has worthless language that's meant to make you think it's important. Specifically, the suspension of "mark-to-market." The SEC already has the authority to suspend it; they put this in the bill to tell the SEC, "We really think you should look into it."
  3. There is a lender of last resort. The Federal Reserve is statutorily responsible to fill that role, not Treasury. The Fed is not authorized to "combat inflation," which is all they do. So much of the debate has been about adding oversight, but the existing oversight provisions are not exercised.
  4. Everybody wants a bailout. American automakers are next in line. California wants $7 bil. Originally it was just a joke that anyone who wanted money should call Paulson, but now it's not looking like such a joke.
  5. Government acts worst when it acts in haste. The bailout of AIG was put together in two days, and now looks like a horrible idea to many of the people involved. We were told this had to be done last weekend or the market would fall apart on Monday. It's now Friday and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is still above 10,000--a far cry from the 8,000 that was talked about.
  6. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is not the entire economy. Idiot congressmen were quoting the DJIA as grounds for supporting this heist. Again, they think you're too stupid to know that the Dow doesn't determine whether you have a job.
  7. This bill started from the bankrupt notion that the government is supposed to protect people from the negative ramifications of the market, and it's been argued from there. The original premise is wrong. How do you debate when the underlying premise is something untrue? "We shouldn't go outside because the earth's gravity is weak and we'll float into space. Do you think we should go outside or stay inside?"

Idiots, idiots everywhere and nary a congressman to lead.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lender of Last Resort

I realized yesterday morning that the (temporarily) failed bailout was completely, COMPLETELY unnecessary. We're told this bailout has to happen or people will die, all because there's no credit, anywhere, nowhere at all, none to speak of, none! I remembered a throw-away detail from a Wall Street Journal article I read three weeks ago about the negotiations surrounding the demise of Lehman Brothers. As representatives from other firms met over that weekend and talked about a LTCM-type bailout, they decided they didn't have enough money to do it. Someone floated the idea of borrowing from the Federal Reserve, but that type of borrowing usually carries a negative stigma. The suggestion was made that, if all major financial institutions borrowed from the Fed at the same time, there wouldn't be a stigma for any of them. Ultimately, they decided against it because no one knew how bad Lehman's debt was, so no one wanted to purchase it.

We hear from all sides that credit is drying up. Congress was supposed to engineer this bailout because without it, credit could disappear. But the market already has a lender of last resort. If the Fed can't assure credit continues to exist, then it's even more useless than I suspected.

This new proposal before the Senate is worse than the bill the House voted down. Firstly, what is so hard about making sure your FDIC-insured accounts don't have more than $100K in them? Why do we need to raise the limit to $250K, and why is this proposal talked about like it will help get votes behind the bailout? Secondly, why is a massive government liability being shopped around in conjunction with tax cuts? I don't think I've ever met a tax cut I didn't like, but even I know you can't balance your books this way. Thirdly, if this is truly so needed, why are they wasting time tying it to things like tax breaks for wooden arrows intended for use as toys by children? I kid you not, that is part of this Senate bill. Is there any more fitting indictment of our current political system than the tax breaks for wooden toy arrows or "wool technology" that are being included in this bailout? Fourthly, doesn't the fact that executive pay increase oversight provisions lessen the chance that firms will participate sort of show us exactly how useless this bailout is? If they can forgo government assistance just to protect their own exorbitant pay, they can forgo a bailout no matter what. Fifthly, why were the provisions regarding date of ownership removed from the bailout terms? Foreign investors are going to receive most of this bailout money for bargain-basement deals they picked up after Lehman collapsed.

A system is in place. The Fed is the lender of last resort. Let it function that way.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bailout Bailout

My father called me yesterday and he sounded frightened that the bailout might not materialize. As he drove along and talked to me, he ran out of gas. I thought I was off the hook, but he called me back once he was at a gas station and continued the conversation. I'm pretty anti-bailout, so I didn't really enjoy the conversation.

"But wait a minute, A Random Stranger, didn't you argue in favor of bailing out AIG a couple weeks ago?" Yeah, I favor limited, targeted bailouts that are designed to stop the spread of financial problems from the sources to innocent parties. That's not what this general bailout does. (And I hate how the government isn't even shying away from the term "bailout.")

I was watching the vote on my computer at work when nature called. I left my computer with the motion well ahead. When I returned, it had failed. I was secretly pretty pleased. I know my father is probably crying in a corner right now, but maybe he should have paid cash for his house like he could have, instead of taking out a mortgage and playing the market with the money.

This much we can all agree on: Kramer on "Morning Joe" is so much easier to take than Kramer on "Mad Money." He's arguing in favor of the bailout, but then he acknowledges that provisions against exorbitant executive pay will keep banks from participating. They'd rather have their businesses fail and their customers lose all their money than restrict their pillaging. I know he's anti-Chris Cox and anti-short selling, but this Swiss dude in the Journal today argued in favor of short selling. And I stand by my earlier statement that whoever that broad is on "Morning Joe" just destroys the quality of the program by about a billion percent. (Wikipedia break: she's Mika Brzezinski and she's the daughter of the Polish dude in the Carter administration. I KNEW I didn't like her!)

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Dude Didn't Already Know This?

All you have to do is look through one issue of Parenting magazine (don't worry, your wife has a subscription) and you'd already know that women resent men for not parenting enough and then resent them more when they're good at it. But in case you didn't see an issue of Parenting (any issue will do, since they're all the same inside), here's an article written by a petty woman with similar feelings.

The Mother of All Bail-Outs

Hypothetical Fan Mail: "Dear A Random Stranger, Why don't you update your blog more often? Also, is it wrong for me to have detailed fantasies about you? Signed, A Loyal Reader."

Hypothetical Answer: "Dear A Loyal Reader, I'm actually kind of busy. Either I'm doing stuff I'm supposed to be doing, or I have temporarily lost all motivation. I almost didn't even have time to submit football picks this week for the office pool (no longer run by me, thanks to The Friendly Jerk). Secondly, it's never wrong to have detailed fantasies about me. Ever. I'll even help you out with some starter scenarios. Scenario One (for the ladies): We're in a plane crash and only the two of us survive on an uncharted island. Due to the nature of the accident, I lose my shirt and 50 pounds, and you become hot (if you're not hot already). Scenario Two (for the dudes): I come over to mow your lawn on the hottest day of the year. The lawnmower eats my shirt and 50 pounds from my torso, while moving so quickly it cauterizes the wound, leaving only a small scar resembling that of an appendectomy. Frightened at the near catastrophe, I cool off by spraying myself with your garden hose, while you watch from the kitchen window, reevaluating your sexuality. Happy fantasizing! Signed, A Random Stranger."

All right, when I wrote last week about being Communist, I still thought I had my tongue in my cheek. Now it turns out I unwittingly had my tongue wherever it goes when you're telling the truth. Seven hundred billion dollars? It sounds like a line from an Austin Powers movie. Here are my reactions:

  1. The president has been taking correspondence courses from the School of Pulling Numbers Out of Your Ass. It reminds me of Franklin Roosevelt's fool-proof plan to end the Depression by having all the unemployed plant a million trees. Oooh, a million trees! Um, what are they going to do after the third day of work? It turned out Roosevelt's backup was to have them die fighting even more dictatorial fascists. One thing that's nice about being a fascist is you've always got your other fascists to bail you out.
  2. This is seriously the best we can do? Buy everything that anyone might want to get rid of? I wonder what type of debt these private companies want to sell to the government, the good debt or the bad debt? I mean, the government has a lot of people working for it who are supposed to know a thing or two about the economy, but their solution is to write off all the bad debt by printing enough money to cover it. That's what you expect out of a Beavis and Butthead episode. (Aside: there were times when Beavis was hilarious. Butthead, not so much.)
  3. Any plan is suspect when the people proposing the plan say, "You'd better approve it or we're all going to DIE!" Actually, the markets were recovering pretty well last Thursday and Friday, with oil at its lowest price in seven months, until the government unveiled this plan.
  4. Alternatives exist, but you wouldn't know about them. All we hear is that $700B is some magic number that will solve the problem. Politicians who talk of "solving" problems are cynically betting you believe them that "problems" can be "solved." Lo, some experts fear a bailout might cause a bigger problem. It's like no one's ever heard of the Depression.

Speaking of the Depression, here's the conventional wisdom: Hoover did nothing, allowed a bad situation to become worse, and generally ruined everything until Roosevelt saved us all. Here's the truth: Hoover was a proponent of government coordination and tried to get markets to freely institute many of the reforms Roosevelt later mandated. These reforms made a bad situation worse. Following the 1930 midterm election, the Democrat congress frightened Wall Street, which advanced during congressional recesses and retreated while Congress was in session. After his electoral defeat, Hoover appealed to Roosevelt to make calming statements, but Roosevelt instead preferred to take the oath of office amidst a massive bank failure so he could dramatically declare a "bank holiday." Roosevelt then proceeded to deepen and lengthen the Depression to an unbelievable extent. And for all this talk last week about "moral hazard," what can be more morally hazardous than inflating away the consequences of firms' decisions? Remember the beginning of Dr. Faustus, when he takes a couple scriptures, turns them on their collective ear, and then runs with it for five acts? It seems like the people behind this plan have done the same thing with the supposed Keynesian quote about the national debt being no big deal because we "owe it to ourselves." This argument was actually featured in a Beavis and Butthead episode once, sort of. They were selling candy for school (a hallmark of serious educational pursuits found in all good public schools, along with magazine sales and trips to amusement parks) and ended up just using the same dollar to buy candy back and forth from each other. They ate 60 candy bars and only turned in one dollar. It seems like Secretary Paulson also saw this episode, and he was taking notes.