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.