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.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Teaching is LAME, Yo!

I know everyone says it, and I know they usually don't start saying it until they get old, but kids these days suck. Big time.

One time when I was talking about it with Persephone I said, "When we were teenagers we wanted the world to revolve around us, because that's what teenagers do, but we had enough common sense to know it was rude to say so out loud." People ten years younger than me and below (which is like, eight years old, right?) have no problem insisting that everything should always be about them.

Why do students get mad when you tell them, "I don't care about your grade any more than you do"? They don't take it seriously, but for some reason I have to? That's dumb.

The best part about teaching: I get to go bowling with the grad students tonight! Oooh! I'm betting it's going to be pretty lame, and I'm going to feel pathetic for even being there. I would go so far as to wager I'm going to be the only person who shows up. I have a history of taking social events too seriously.

To wit: since we moved to Kansas we haven't had cable (and judging by how many worthless toy commercials were on TV in the restaurant last night, we're no worse for it). In 2006 (when we didn't even have a TV antenna) I worked with a single guy with a huge TV and an interest in soccer. I jokingly said to him, "I should come watch the World Cup game on your TV this Saturday." He said, "Yeah, you totally should. That would be awesome." I got his address from him, and he gave me his telephone number, saying, "Call me that morning to wake me up before you come over."

Okay, it sounded like a "man date" (which is the primary reason I don't have any guy friends, but that's for later), and on Saturday morning I called him. No answer. I call again at kick-off time. No answer. Around what would have been half-time he called me and said, "You called?" I said, "Yeah, I was going to come over and watch the game." He said, "Oh. I'm not at home. I went to watch it at my friends house because I thought you were joking about coming over."

Second example: In high school I got "ding-dong-ditched," with a note left on my porch asking me to backwards Homecoming or Sadie Hawkins or some sort of "girl-asks-guy" dance. The note had a telephone number on it. It was the number for a local land developer office. I hung up and called back, just to make sure I hadn't misdialed.

Third example: When I was in College Republicans (Nearly 10 years ago! All right!), I got a mailer advertising the national convention in Washington DC that summer and I thought, "I'd like to go to that." I was young and single and liked the idea of being able to go on a vacation wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, seeing only the things I wanted, and doing it all super cheap since there were no women with standards of cleanliness to impress. I got my airfare, lined up a spot in a hostel (or so I thought), and secured my spot at the convention. The mailer said there would be a dinner and reception and that "formal wear was recommended." They even had a list of formal wear rental shops in the area. So I lined up my tuxedo. When the event actually came around, I was the only person in formal wear. Even the dignitaries, like then-Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson and perennial presidential candidate Steve Forbes, were just wearing suits. I showed up for the convention at three in the afternoon, like it said to, and I was the only person there for over two hours. Steve Forbes's daughter Moira (as in, "The machine is still on, Moira!") felt sorry for me and talked to me some. Then after the dinner that evening, when I was the only person in a tuxedo, I had an opportunity to have my picture taken with Steve Forbes, but he wasn't looking at the camera and it looks like I Photoshopped myself into the picture. When I get home and can scan the picture in to the computer, I'll post it here for you to see for yourself.

If We're Going to Go Red, Let's GO RED

I read this article last night and said, "Good." Persephone said, "What? You're the guy who thinks the government shouldn't be allowed to own anything, ever." I said, "But the government is on the hook for paying when these homes fall over. If the government is going to give you money when your home falls down, it should be allowed to tell you not to build your home there." Since we're already in Communist territory, we might as well go native.

My most-desired option is to allow these folks to rebuild if they want to, but they can't get insurance and they can't have FEMA money, ever. Since that won't happen, they shouldn't be allowed to build there. When Ike was heading towards Galveston I said to The Friendly Jerk, "It's almost like Nature is intentionally seeking out poorly-designed cities and destroying them on purpose!" First a coastal city built below sea level was flooded (New Orleans), and then a coastal city built on a ten-foot island was covered by a 20-foot sea swell (Galveston). A good rule of thumb for house building is: if sea walls and stilts are required, you will live to see your house float away. Now, I admit, that might be kind of exciting in a nihilistic sort of way, but I don't understand why taxpayers have to foot the bill where there are plenty of other nihilistic thrills out there (like rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

---

In answer to Cristin's question: "what about people that can't afford to go on [pay roads]?" if you can't afford to drive, maybe you shouldn't. That being said, people would be able to afford a basic level of driving if they kept their federal and state fuel taxes. Then, being forced to pay for use instead of thinking roads are "free," usage would decrease dramatically. Traffic problems, fuel problems, and environmental problems would all decrease. Personal sovereignty would increase, as you get to decide what road projects are worth your support. Private industry would get involved in public transportation projects because there would be a market for them. Poor people would still move around--not as much as they used to, but as much as they needed to.

---

JT asked: "Isn't the basic premise of the open market is that micro level failures will occur, but macro level failures won't?" I think that's what's promised by the idea of general equilibrium. As long as people have need of a free market, it will be there. If everyone stopped selling their labor or the products of their labor, markets would go away, but the only reason to stop selling would be if you already had everything you needed, so no one would miss the missing markets. The problem, again, is government. It does a half-assed job of regulation, which creates problems, and then responds to those problems by saying, "It's because we don't have enough government regulation." For instance, they were compelled to act on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because they'd so thoroughly controlled those companies that most investors saw them as already being government programs. When Countrywide went down, no one expected government action and the market took care of the problem.

Another problem is the paternalism citizens have come to expect from their government. A common complaint regarding an "out of touch" politician is that "he doesn't care." For instance, Kanye West insisted that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." He wasn't elected to care, he was elected to execute laws. Legislatures were elected to enact impartial laws. By nature, their members aren't supposed to care. Caring is partiality. The law should protect all citizens equally. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Americans seek for cheap substitutes to fill the void created by their failure to believe in God. If God can't care because He doesn't exist, then George Bush or FEMA or the chairman of the SEC needs to care. I don't believe there are any true atheists in the world, because the despair it would bring would be soul-crushing, so instead they just find something else to relate to in a person-God relationship. It's the environment or it's science or it's family or it's government or it's friendship or it's sports or it's work. Whatever it is, it provides meaning by representing something larger than the self, something that promises some sort of permanence that will outlast our lives, granting us a measure of immortality. We care for it and it can't be proven to care back, but we have arguments with questionable verifiability for why it's not a one-way street. They're just different forms of religion.

---

Blogger is giving me all kinds of problems this week. I worked with it for an hour (and gave Persephone instructions through Instant Messenger for her to try to fix it at home) and my last post still has problems. When I get to the "edit" page, many of the existing features of the post go away. Two days ago the post had a link that isn't there anymore. If I delete my cookies and my temporary Internet pages before every time I refresh, it appears to work. I never had to do that before. So let me say here what the changes are that I want to make to the previous post:

  • I wanted to add a link to a Mapquest page showing where Harvard and Summerfield intersect.
  • I wanted to clarify that by "poor neighbors" I meant "bad neighbors," not "unfortunate neighbors" or "destitute neighbors."
  • I wanted to add that I would have much rather seen a one-on-one interview between Joe and Jim than watched that "round-table" fiasco. I almost would have preferred to see Eleanor Clift on the panel than the lady they had (and that's really saying something).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Look at Me, I'm a Billionaire!"

I’ve thought long and hard about what I plan to do with my stakes in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG, and I can come up with only two answers:

Hookers

Blow

But then those are my answers for how to spend every unexpected windfall. I guess I could use my ownership of so many foreclosed mortgages to set myself up with a home. Or at least go around my neighborhood foreclosing on some poor neighbors (like the people on Harvard Rd. somewhere around the intersection with Summerfield Way who park at the very back of their driveway so their rear bumper always extends over the sidewalk, even thought they have, like, 30 feet between the front bumper and the garage door). It turns out I get a lot of mileage out of this “Napoleon Dynamite” quote: “There’re just so many choices.”

The Friendly Jerk has a big problem with government seizing private businesses. He said they should be allowed to fail to make the decision-makers pay the price of their poor decisions. He said, “People need to learn a lesson.” I said, “There’s a scale of responsibility. How much are they going to have to bear, and at what cost? They aren’t getting away from this without having any pain; the government owns 80% of AIG now, and they insisted on a price for Bear Stearns of two dollars per share when the market value was something around $20. But they are getting something out of it, and that’s because the collateral pain required to make them pay the full price would be too great. You could make AIG bear 80% of the pain, and only 1,000 people lose their jobs, or you could make them bear 100%, and then the business’s failure pulls down other businesses and tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. What good does a failed AIG do the economy? Now thousands of people no longer have life insurance or homeowner insurance? And you can’t even argue that’s fair because they should have done due-diligence before selecting their insurer, since a lot of insurers use AIG as a reinsurer. So a private individual might have done a great job picking a sound insurance company, but then that company used AIG as their reinsurer, and now you want that guy to lose his insurance to learn a lesson? What lesson is there to be learned by those people? The people who have to learn the lesson are learning it from the terms of the loan.”

He said, “I don’t like the government taking over segments of the economy we’ll never get back.” I said, “They already took over those segments. This isn’t new policy; this is the result of 70-year-old regulations from Roosevelt and Glass-Steagall, from the Depression. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a problem 60 years in the making, since the government allowed the public to view those companies as publicly-backed. When they had problems, the government had to seize them. But Stearns was screwed on the terms of its sale, so much so that a few weeks later it was renegotiated up to $10 a share, which was still less than half the market price.”

He said, “Detroit’s next on the list.” I said, “I think financial service businesses have more of a claim to public bailout than manufacturers. You have to look at connectedness. GM isn’t financially connected to enough other segments of the economy. If they failed, it wouldn’t really be a problem. That was the government opinion about Lehman.” As an aside, though, I think if Lehman Brothers hadn’t happened over a weekend, there would have been a bailout. Luckily for us, it didn’t go that way.

Now, the thing is, even with all this conversation at work today, I hate bailouts. I hate government ownership of anything. I think roads and the postal service should be privatized, and in a perfect world, the government would lease its buildings and own no land (instead of owning over 80% of Nevada). I watched this clip of Jim Cramer this morning (he’s only yelling for the first ten seconds; after that he calms way down), and I thought it was incredibly accurate when he paraphrased Nixon to say, “We’re all Communists now.” But the alternative is a Great Depression to honor principles. I can make that decision for myself, maybe, but I would have a hard time arguing that someone else should lose his job for the idea of a free market, and I think most Americans would take a dim view of that as well. I mean, look how much everybody hates Hoover, and that guy tried everything he thought he was allowed to do to get us out of the Depression. (It took someone like Roosevelt, who didn’t care what he was allowed to do, to turn the Depression into a decade-long fiasco).

(Aside: listening to this MSNBC clip again, I want to stab most of the panel in the neck. The one guy brings nothing to the table but a lame "optimist/pessimist" joke, the lady seemed to get her job because she can respond to everything with, "Oh, geez! Oh, no!" and someone just said, "This was the result of greed." Well, duh. But not the greed he wants you to believe it was. This was the greed of the average American, who wanted to own homes he couldn't afford and take equity out to buy jacuzzi bathtubs and tall lattes. Without that, these problems don't exist.)


Title quotation from Homer Simpson.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'm a Freaking Gourmand, or Whatever

Persephone spends 87% of her waking hours reading blogs like this one, where the bloggista just happens to whip together a 20-course meal while taking professional-grade photographs of each step in the process. I don't begrudge Pioneer Woman her lifestyle, I just wish she didn't have it and I did. Well, I guess that's basically begrudging. I'd say, "So sue me!", but that's not the hyperbole it used to be and I can't afford to defend myself in a frivolous lawsuit, so don't.

(Aside: Regarding frivolous lawsuits, I walked past a woman on campus today who was wearing a shirt that said "FREE HUGS." She was talking on her cell phone, not paying attention to anything. I was very tempted to walk over and hug her, but I figured I'd lose my teaching position, even though she was freaking ADVERTISING that I should hug her! Life, like many other things, is not fair, and that's why our kids aren't allowed to say anything is not fair. Crazy Jane has said, "You make it hard to speak with all the things you don't let us say." Just as long as she doesn't say it's not fair, I'm cool with it.)

Anyway, this morning I opened a banana for breakfast and realized it was too mushy for me to eat it without gagging, so I made a bowl of oatmeal to put it on. When the oatmeal was done and I cut up the banana on it, I thought it was very stylish and deserved a Pioneer-Woman-esque write-up. I went to find the camera (the auto-focus feature being primarily responsible for the out-of-focus picture that follows), thought about documenting my family while they slept, decided to do that on a different morning, and then took the oatmeal picture. So here it is:

Today's secret ingredient is...[dramatic music and sword play]...BA-NANA! I followed the directions for the oatmeal that my wife cut out of the box and put inside the oatmeal container so I can always find them. Then I cut up the banana. Then I ate it.

Bon Appetite!

Monday, September 15, 2008

What Is There to Like About the Electoral College?

It’s a trick question, suckers! The only correct answer is, “What ISN’T there to like about it?!” And to receive full credit, it must be said with a sufficient level of indignation.

Firstly, the Founders had their reasons for its creation, while only two reasons are ever given for its destruction: 1. “My side didn’t win the electoral college,” or 2. “It’s too hard to figure out.” The electoral college preserves the trappings of state sovereignty, like license plates and age of consent laws. Remove these three bastions of anti-federalism and you’re left with one state: America. And Barry Goldwater will turn in his grave. Our republican form of government is a little tricky to defend, seeing how we continually create parliamentary forms of government when we overrun our enemies (Germany, Japan, Iraq). However, this difference seems like the product of American history. We were (are? Oh, I slay me!) a union of sovereign states, which was not the case for any of these other countries.

The Founders, however, had some pretty detailed arguments against direct democracy, which I feel we ignore at our peril. I predict that, without an electoral college-like system, we are within four elections of having the presidency be a really big American Idol. All hail Commander-in-Chief David Archuleta! There is a reason that, if I vote this fall, I’d be selecting a group of people to select Kansas’s vote for president. If this system seems useless, it’s because it’s done its job so well for so long that we’ve never seen the alternative: the most popular American every four years elected president.

Secondly, geography becomes important every four years. States matter. Where Nebraska is, and how its unicameral legislature has decided to apportion its electoral votes, is worth noticing. And math proves useful for something besides tallying Oscar votes. It turns out if enough small states disagree with California, California can’t use its overwhelming population to determine national policy (like how it uses its “consumer protection” laws).

As an aside, why are state boundaries held sacrosanct? The line around California was not drawn by God; it was drawn by bureaucrats. (Boo, bureaucrats!) The federal government has a constitutional responsibility to guarantee a republican form of government to all citizens, and when one or a few states so thoroughly demographically dominate the others, I wonder if that guarantee needs to be cited as a reason to resist. Just like how county boundaries have, in the past 100 years, somehow become solidified, state boundaries are no longer serving their purpose. There are more Californians than Canadians. There are more people in Los Angeles County (run by five county commissioners) than in 43 states (with fully-formed state governments).

Is that a republican form of government in any sense? I guess as long as someone is making decisions for anyone else it can be argued it’s republican, but I think it’s telling that our government has grown larger, more distant, and less responsive as we’ve moved further in time away from the men who created it. A representative in 1790 had a constituency around 30,000 people; today that number is around 670,000. For people who complain that anything larger than 435 would be unwieldy, I remind you that the Roman senate at times had upwards of 600 members, and Athenian governing bodies could swell into the thousands. Large districts and year-round sessions are largely responsible for the unresponsiveness of Congress (a factor in its unbelievably low approval rating of nine (so low the rules of type-editing dictate the number be spelled out) percent).

Monday, September 08, 2008

Six Reasons the BYU Football Game Isn't the Travesty It's Been Made Out to Be

  1. It was not a judgment call.
  2. Commentators have been saying the referees shouldn’t have taken the game out of the hands of the players, but the rule that was enforced was not a judgment call, like how much roughness is unnecessary. That’s not (Pac-Ten) referees taking the game into their own hands, that’s the player putting the game into their hands. Remember, if Washington didn’t want a penalty on the play, their quarterback should have complied with the rules.

  3. He didn’t follow the rule.
  4. The rule says he needed to hand the ball to the official or place it on the ground. He did neither. The FSN guys calling the game said players “practice celebrating in practice when they score.” Aside from how stupid this sounds, if it is true, perhaps they should practice appropriate celebrations that won’t result in penalties.

  5. It took no points off the board.
  6. This decision didn’t alter the score of the game. Usually when people complain about “referees deciding the outcome,” they mean changing the numbers on the scoreboard.

  7. A kicker should make a 25-yard attempt.
  8. And a line shouldn’t completely break down like Washington’s did. Were they unaware of their field position? Didn’t they know everything about “a lower trajectory”? So why didn’t they protect their kicker sufficiently? And most kick attempts within 30 yards have pretty high trajectories, anyway. At least, when struck correctly. The Washington line and kicker blew that attempt. A kick that close to the goal shouldn’t have been so low.

  9. BYU blocks kicks.
  10. People are talking about this like BYU needed help to block a kick. Actually, this is the second time in their last three games that they won due to blocking a kick. That’s a pretty high percentage. This outcome does more to show BYU’s special teams ability than it does to show any referee error.

  11. Overtime is not a victory.
  12. This didn’t take a victory away from Washington. It did nothing but preserve the lead BYU already had.

The real issue here? Of course I think it’s BCS bias. Should BYU go undefeated this year (which is itself an absurd requirement for consideration of invitation to games where “legitimate” teams make millions more), this game will be the fodder necessary to justify keeping BYU out of a national championship bowl. They’ll get invited to the Fiesta Bowl, to play an over-rated 8-3 team from a bloated “established” conference. Then, should BYU feel let down by their exclusion and fail to perform, the same BCS-conference apologists will call it justification. “Going undefeated out west doesn’t mean what it does here in the Big Ten/Big 12/SEC/ACC/Big East,” or any other conference that jealously guards millions of dollars, refuses championship systems that determine the champion on the field without prejudice, and generally succeeds based on its reputation of succeeding 50 years ago. Under the current system there will never again be a non-BCS-conference national champion. (Of course, if BYU threatens to finish undefeated this year, they can just try what they did in 2001 and announce before the final BYU game of the year that the outcome doesn’t matter, then call the subsequent loss justification of the decision.)

Friday, September 05, 2008

Voting For a Major-Party Candidate

Some have suggested here that the correct strategy this November is to vote for the “major-party” candidate you find least offensive. If you people keep making suggestions like this, I’m going to have to revoke your commenting privileges, or at least institute the comment-review option allowed by Blogger and now being used for home run calls in Major League Baseball. (Sixty-forty.)

I first hated this suggestion in 2001 when we voted in the California recall election. There were three main candidates: Cruz “Bust A Move” Bustamante, Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger, and Tom “Too Serious For Nicknames” McClintock. As the election neared, nearly everyone I talked to had this to say: “I like McClintock best, but he can’t win, so I’m voting for Schwarzenegger.”

What makes a candidate win? Getting more votes. (Yes, this is true even of the presidential election, which is really 51 simultaneous elections. I’ll be voting in the Kansas presidential election, and the winner will be the candidate who gets the most popular votes.) When a candidate is ahead in the polls, all that means is that a sample of other voters favor him. Casting your vote based on what the sample wants transfers your vote to them.

Let’s say there are ten people voting for something and you’re one of them. Before going to vote you check the latest polls. It turns out Zogby talked to the other nine voters (they all have land-lines and you don’t), and the polls show Candidate A is leading, five to four. You say, “Well, I preferred Candidate B, but he’s behind in the polls,” so you go vote for Candidate A.

“Bu-bu-but that’s different! I’m not the deciding vote in this election!” Why not? How do you know until the votes are counted? Why vote at all if you only take your choice seriously under threat of being the “deciding vote”? No presidential election in history has been decided by one vote, so we should all phone it in and allow the other voters to pick for us.

If we all phone it in, there are no other voters. Keeping a vote from Candidate A is not voting for Candidate B; it’s nothing more than not voting for Candidate A. I don’t know if I can support Obama, but I know I cannot support McCain, and that’s not a contradiction.

The two major parties have a lot invested in convincing you they are the only choices (like car companies want you to think they’re the only viable transportation option, or Middle Eastern countries want you to think they’re the only viable energy source). The Republican Party was a third party that began when both the Democrats and the Whigs refused to properly address the slavery issue. In a few years, however, when the Republicans finish their transition from being pro-life to being “open-minded,” they will tell you that you have to hold your nose and vote for them.

If McCain wanted my trust to “protect and defend the Constitution,” he should have protected and defended it when he had the chance in the past. His campaign finance reform law is the largest infringement on the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts (also the work of an old man named John).

Tune in tomorrow when I discuss why fear of Supreme Court appointments is not a sufficient reason to vote for or against a presidential candidate. (Although I probably won’t, because tomorrow is Saturday and I’ll be busy.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Book Review My Wife Will Hate

[Actual cover is quite orange, but teh Interwebs aren't cooperating with me right now.]

One day at work last month I read an excerpt from the book How to Live Well Without Owning a Car, by Chris Balish. I was intrigued, yet poor, so instead of buying the book, I checked to see if our local library had it.

They didn't, but our library gets mad props (do the kids still say that?) for pretty much buying any book (or TV show on DVD) any patron requests, so a few weeks later I had a brand new copy of the book waiting for me to pick up.

I like this book. It contains no earth-shattering information, but it helped clarify what I guess I already knew (which was why I read the excerpt in the first place): our car costs more in hassle than it provides in services.

We had a car when we got married, but it started to break regularly. Two months in a row we had to spend over $400 to repair it. I thought, "That's a new car payment." It didn't make sense to be making payments for an old car that was getting older when I could be paying the same amount of money for a new car. And when most auto manufacturers were offering zero percent interest (thanks, al Qaeda!), we bought a new car.

I realized soon after that we were paying for the car without paying ourselves for the depreciation. The best way to own a car, I guess, would be to buy it outright and then make monthly "payments" to myself to save for a new car when the current one broke. When I drove to Redlands for work and my employer gave me fifty cents per mile, it looked like I was making money, but really I was getting paid for the tiny bit of breaking my car had done on the trip, and if I was being honest, I would put that money aside.

Anyway, when our car was paid off we still had car related expenses. There's only so much that can be done by changing driving habits. The best way to eliminate those expenses is to eliminate the car.

Needless to say, Persephone hates this idea. I've conceded that we won't do anything until at least next year, when we will (I hope) move to Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Saint Louis, or Chicago. (Persephone has a whole different set of worries about living in a big city. This is a woman who went to London basically by herself for a summer. Now she gets the shakes just driving to Topeka. Well, not quite, but sort of.)

Today while at work I was IMing Persephone (I told you, I do very little work) and sent her all kinds of information about Zipcar, a car sharing company that operates in most of the cities we could move to. She is interested in the idea, but not on board with the carfree lifestyle. At least not yet. If it's like everything else in our marriage, she'll eventually decide it's a good idea, but by then it will be too late because I will have heard for six months how much she hates it, so I'll keep saying to her, "You're angry with me for making you do this," and she'll keep saying to me, "No, I like the idea," and I'll keep saying to her, "No, I know you really hate it; you used to say so yourself."

The good news is that, on Balish's recommendation, I have the book Divorce Your Car! by Katie Alvord waiting for me to pick up at the university library. Maybe if I read enough of these books Persephone will pick up the salient points.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Republican National Convention

I'm up way past my bedtime (8pm Central) watching the convention, making cynical asides to my wife. Right now Rudy Giuliani is speaking. He said McCain had been a POW. I said, "What? McCain? He was a POW?" Then Rudy said, "When I was Mayor of New York," and I said, "Oh, I forgot you were mayor. I wonder if there was some sort of major attack against the city during that time." Also, Rudy is a horrible public speaker. How did he become a major national political figure? I mean, besides 9/11.

My wife is changing my daughter's monthly magnet calendar for September and she asked why it had no Ramadan magnet. I said, "I think you should write to them and suggest it and see if you get placed on a terrorism watchlist."

What's wrong with me? Have I spent too long in Lawrence? I don't think so. I'm not a Republican anymore, but it wasn't me who changed. The party has become a caricature of itself. There are wings of the party that boo single mothers, gays, and foreigners. When Rudy said Obama had an "Ivy League education," I thought it was a boo line.

Sarah Palin is on now, and she just said of her husband, "it makes for quite a package." Can she talk about his package on network TV like that?!

And she just said, "We're going to lay more pipeline." This lady must have used Andrew Dice Clay for a speechwriter!

Tiger Cage! If Persephone and I were making a drinking game out of this broadcast, we'd both be taking a shot right now.

Persephone liked her, I think. I like her, too, but I can't vote for a guy based on the tacit promise that he's too old to last long. Persephone pointed out that his mother was there. This guy could have 20 years left in him!

Women and Sarah Palin

Hey, Stay-at-Home Moms,

You don’t have to hate women who make choices different from yours. Even before Bristol Palin and her K-Fed came to light, there were an incredible number of woman-generated blog comments to the effect of, “Well, she’s decided to ruin her children, whereas I love my children too much to do that to them.”

She didn’t decide to ruin her children. You have no idea what type of arrangement she and her husband have for child-rearing. At the time she became governor, all her children were school-aged and she wasn’t pregnant yet with the most recent. As for any negligence associated with having a baby as governor, I think the words of Lt. Frank Drebin might apply: “Accident? Having a kid at 60: that’s an accident!” While she’s not quite 60, she’s over 40, and from where I stand (barely 30), that’s the same thing.

Personally, I think many stay-at-home moms have an inferiority complex and they feel the need to lash out at anyone who realizes outside-the-home success. This makes as much sense as weekend golfers hating Tiger Woods. Just because someone else is doing something doesn’t mean you have to explain why you aren’t also doing it. Maybe Sarah Palin really can “do it all.” Why do you feel the need to speculate on her failures? No one is looking at her and then saying to you, “And you couldn’t even manage to clean the living room!”

Now you feel justified in your hatred by Bristol Palin. “See! She was spending time being governor instead of keeping her daughter from getting knocked up!” As if one anecdote makes insurmountable evidence. Plenty of knocked up teenagers have working moms, and plenty have stay-at-home moms. Feeling morally superior to another woman because of decisions her child made seems stupid. Wait until your five- and six-year-olds are teenagers and see if you want to be judged based on their decisions.

Aside from all the questions this selection raises about McCain (and maybe I’ll look into those soon if work stays boring), the near-hatred from stay-at-home moms has been very surprising to me. I figure I can quote anonymous comments on a friend’s blog.

“I am less than impressed with the choice of Sarah Palin and her mothering....If they wanted a woman (which I think they really did) Olympia Snowe would have been far more respectable choice.” [How misogynistic is this, thinking women are exchangeable just because they both lack penises, completely discounting Snowe’s liberal political record and Palin’s conservative political record?]

“...I do not think that she has her priorities in order (families first).... Since Bristol already takes care of her three younger siblings, I wonder who will help her with her own baby,... her parents seem too busy for that.... I am not condemning Sarah Palin for her daughter’s mistake, but I still think that she doesn’t have enough time for her children.” [Says you, Chairwoman of the International Bureau for Adequate Family Time, Political Families Division?]

“Not to judge anybody, but does Palin's baby know that Palin is his/her mommy?” [The baby’s a boy, so he doesn’t have a “his/her mommy,” and he’s four months old, so like most four-month-olds his understanding of relationships doesn’t conform to yours. If we’re just asking unanswerable questions, does Palin’s husband’s gay lover profit from the heroin trade?]

“...you are actually raising your children and she delegates that responsibility to someone else while she goes to work.” [Actually, I’d imagine being governor allows for a lot more family time than a typical job. You’ve assumed someone else is the children’s primary care provider. Perhaps it’s Palin, perhaps it’s her husband; you don’t know.]

“I guess if I went out to work too, I'd have A LOT more energy. But, my daughter would pay the price. So, I'll stick with being tired, mothering my daughter and have no regrets :) [emoticon in original].” [Again, where has it been shown that Palin’s choice was between being governor and mothering her daughter?]

I’m awestruck with the amount of sexism in these comments. If Palin is to be condemned for having a public life aside from her family, why do McCain, Obama, and Biden all get passes? People look at Obama and say, “Having kids in the White House would be neat!” but they look at Palin and say, “Having kids in the Naval Observatory would be shameful!” Until Dick Cheney, the vice-presidency was an historically undemanding position. I’d suspect a First Lady Michelle Obama would have more to do than a Vice-President Sarah Palin. But Michelle Obama’s okay with these ladies since her position is an offshoot of her husband’s, while Sarah Palin has the audacity to have outside interests and (gasp!) pursue them with success.

Ladies, come off it. Stop assuming you know what Sarah Palin’s family is like. She’s been married to one man for 20 years, has five kids, and other than that, you know nothing. Unless her family is complaining about her behavior, or her actions constitute legally-recognized negligence (not just “oh, how negligent to allow a three-year-old to watch TV!” negligence), kindly shut up.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Mormons and Democrats, Vol. 4

While I was looking around online for material regarding Heber J. Grant's Prohibitionist views, I came across this page, where a guy has transcribed several sections of the book Presidents and Prophets by Michael K. Winder. It turns out, as impossible as I thought it was, there's been a man who actually hated Franklin Roosevelt more than I do: President Grant. My favorite line is when President Joseph Fielding Smith says of Roosevelt's death, "“there are some of us who have felt that it is really an act of providence." That reminds me of this from the introduction to The Roosevelt Myth, by John T. Flynn:

In April, 1945, [Albert Jay] Nock [author of Memoirs of a Superfluous Man] wrote a cheery letter to two of his friends, describing the death of Franklin Roosevelt as "the biggest public improvement that America has experienced since the passage of the Bill of Rights," and suggesting a celebration luncheon at L├╝chow's. (vii)
Another fascinating bit of Winder quoted by "Geoff B." is how Marion G. Romney reacted to a Deseret News editorial against Roosevelt. Winder should thank "Geoff B." who has made it reasonably certain I'll read Presidents and Prophets now, whereas before I thought the book was basically going to be full of those annoying vapid antecdotes that come out of personal meetings, like when Elvis met Nixon.

Mormons and Libertarians

In answer to JT's question, "Why aren't more Mormons libertarian?" I think the answer is entirely centered on the Word of Wisdom and the church's stance during the Prohibition Era.
There are two conflicting ideas: one is the idea that an individual should be free of government coercion, and the other is the idea of prohibiting narcotic use. It seems most Mormons adopt a classically liberal (meaning old school liberal, like Burke and Locke) view of government's proper role. If God has given me free agency, the notion goes, government shouldn't take that agency away. This seems tailor-made for libertarianism.

Most Mormons are uncomfortable with libertarianism's acceptance of drug use. As much as it might seem illogical given the church's stance on agency, the fact is President Heber J. Grant was a huge proponent of Prohibition (Heber J. Grant Priesthood manual, p. 157), and regretted that Utah was the deciding state in its repeal. The Book of Mormon is full of stories regarding a righteous people prohibiting actions they regard as morally repugnant and prosecuting those who participate in them.

As much as I sympathize with the notion that we should teach correct principles and then allow for decisions to be made, the church's history in the Prohibition Era gives me pause before pulling the lever for a Libertarian. That's why I'm stuck in this position: I can't vote for Bob Barr, I can't vote for Barack Obama, and it'll be a cold day in hell before I vote for John McCain.