Thursday, December 31, 2009

Must-See TV

The Fox Network is negotiating a new contract with Time-Warner Cable. The current contract expires at the end of the year, and unless an agreement is reached by then, Time-Warner subscribers could spend at least some time without access to Fox.

This being America, the situation is a national emergency. The nation that brought you government coupons for HDTV converter boxes is now bringing you injunctions in Florida against NOT televising the Florida Gators' football bowl game. Because, hey, John Marshall's grave hasn't seen that much spinning of late. It's been nearly five years since Kelo v. New London.

This article also contains other evidences of America's awesomeness, including the fact that a senator is involved in the dispute, and the murmured line towards the end that the Fox signal will still be completely available, for free, to anyone who wants to watch it. Oh, but that's broadcast TV, which is the purview of the poor and shiftless. We can't expect REAL Americans to watch their TV that way. Better to engineer a phony crisis.

If only this article ended in a call to wear surgical masks in public, it would be worthy of a modern news source. I'm sure that, if there's no agreement by Friday and Fox is unviewable for some erstwhile viewers, we'll get our surgical masks, along with a senatorial intervention and a court injunction. If Fox is off the air, there's a chance people might end up watching C-SPAN, and that's a risk the government just can't take.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Travel Safety Tips

Where are you safer getting on an airplane, westernized Holland or stateless Somalia? While the Dutch allowed an identified terrorist to board a flight with a one-way ticket, African security forces taking the place of the nonfunctional Somalis stopped their bomber, and I'm willing to bet it was without a fancy-schmancy backscatter scanner.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bastard Critics

Listen, fools: spelling is hard, okay? There are plenty of words in the English language that use "EA" to get a "EE" noise. Such as: bead, mead, lead (the one that's pronounced like "leed"), heat, meat, peat, seat, cheat, fear, gear, hear, near, sear, tear (the one that's pronounced like "teer"), wean, bean, dean, lean, mean, dream, cream, gleam, seam, team, and ream.

Moreover, few words in English use "EA" to make a "EH" noise. Of course they do exist, like: bread, dead, head, lead (the one that's pronounced "led"), bear, pear, tear (the one that's pronounced like "tare"), and stead. But my point is that the preponderance of evidence would lead one to believe that the word "sweat" is pronounced "sweet."

And another thing: you can all kiss my ass.

Idiot Profiling

When my daughter was two years old, she was randomly selected for a more-intensive airport security check. I think it was because so many of the September 11th hijackers were two-year-old girls. The airport screener (federalized, for my safety) was annoyed that my daughter wouldn't stand with her arms out from her body unless my wife was next to her. Those wily terrorists pretend to have legitimate reasons to disobey security rules, like needing their mommas.

Since racial profiling is out, the Transportation Security Administration has gone to something just as good: idiot profiling. The idea is to make flying so inconvenient that the only people willing to go through the hassle are terrorists. When this plan is fully implemented, checking flight availability on an airline website will be tantamount to lighting your underwear on fire during landing.

But that's still weeks away. For now, we'll just have to settle for confusion.

The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What's confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.

"It keeps them guessing," transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said.
Well, if confusion is what we're going for, not many things are more confusing than autocracy. Transparent democracy is just a breeding ground for terrorist activity. If a citizen has some semblance of an idea whence come his laws, so does a terrorist. Better to replace all laws with the personal whims of distant, unknown (possibly fictional) figure. After all, ignorance is strength.

What's great about this plan is that it works on two fronts. If it doesn't make our country so confusing that terrorists won't be able to figure out how to attack it, it will at least make it so confusing that democracy and capitalism are stifled, and that's what the terrorists dislike, anyway. There's a reason terrorists don't attack Mexico. They only visit on their way through to Arizona.

JT writes:

I'm just waiting for the new TSA rules about pockets in underwear. Tighty-whities, which have a maze-like semi pocket, would instantly be banned.
I disagree. If we're trying to baffle people, few things are as baffling as tighty-whities. In fact, it might have been the confusion caused by the semi-pocket that saved Detroit.

But aren't we about 40 years late to save Detroit? This raises the question: why are terrorists targeting Detroit? Is that the best they can do? Is this an indication of the extent to which they've been neutralized? On September 11th they targeted what is arguable our principle city; now they are targeting our worst. I'd say the War on Terror is working. Soon they'll be left with only four targets, the four worst cities in America: Bakersfield, CA, Cynthiana, KY, Tonopah, NV, and Amarillo, TX.

Or are they trying to win over the American public? If Al-Qaeda hired Vince from Slap Chop to make an infomercial that said, "We will remove Detroit from the map," I think most Americans would say, "I'm intrigued by your ideas and wish to subscribe to your newsletter."

First Contest Is Dismal Failure; Blogger Blames Friends, Others

Last week I made an allusion and promised a friend review to anyone who could site the original source of inspiration. Only Cristin tried, and she didn't get it right.

That might be because her kids don't watch "The Restoration" several times every Sunday like mine used to do. The line comes from the passive-aggressive neighborhood preacher on the Fourth of July. After Lucy tells Joseph she's going to fetch more gingerbread, the preacher comes over and says, "You haven't been coming to church, Joseph."

Joseph says, "I'm trying to do what you said--decide which church is right."

The preacher says, "Well, beware of pride, boy. Your eternal soul is at stake."

Sadly, no friend won the glowing review. Which is too bad, really, because I've got some sweat pictures of JT to use in a friend review.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Baseless Feelings of Security

When it comes to form over substance, nobody does it better than the government. In response to yesterday's terrorist attack, passengers are being limited in the number of carry-ons they can have and when they can leave their seats.

Why? Did Umar Mutallab, yesterday's terrorist, use a carry-on or leave his seat? According to news reports, he had "a sophisticated explosive device strapped to his body." Also, "the suspect had a blanket on his lap." The lap, some of you might remember from childhood riddles, is something you lose when you stand up.

In short, the new "safety" rules, had they been in place yesterday, would not have altered Mutallab's activities in the least. So why do we have them? Because it's a lot easier to make people feel safe when "something" is being done, even if it's completely the wrong thing. (For instance, the administration's response to the recession is to kill small business hiring through health care "reform.")

How about some REAL safety measures, such as making sure people who shouldn't be flying into the country aren't, in fact, flying into the country? Mutallab was on a terrorist list, but he still managed to enter the country with a one-way ticket yesterday. But we have nothing to fear because airport screeners were made federal employees in 2001, remember? Unless, perhaps, that was another case of the government embracing form over substance.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

There's a Reason Football Commentators Are Considered Stupid

Remember 2001? (If not, don't feel bad; most people don't anymore.) Specifically, I'd like to talk about Brigham Young University's 2001 football season.

That was the year the Cougars began the season with 12 straight victories, peaking in the rankings at Number Eight. BYU had one game remaining on the schedule, at Hawaii. Before the game was played, the BCS announced that the results didn't matter; an undefeated BYU would not be invited to a BCS bowl game. When BYU lost the game, football pundits took it as a mark of their wisdom in doubting BYU, instead of a mark of the ability of the BCS to affect game outcomes by demoralizing one of the teams.

Now let's come back to 2009. Remember 2009? (If not, you're probably a stoner.) Earlier this week, BYU destroyed Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Football pundits have an explanation for that one, too: Oregon State was demoralized by losing to Oregon and missing out on the Rose Bowl. And that's why BYU isn't as good as the football game showed them to be.

The thing about football pundits: they are always trying to explain away the results of the actual football games. Time was, football teams play football games to decide who's better. Now they play the games for revenue, and the job of deciding who's better is left to the pundits.

The pundits, in turn, decide which team is better with a few easily remembered criteria:

  1. Did I go to school there?
  2. Did I go to school at a school in the same conference?
Some might wonder if two criteria are too few, but when you remember the caliber of brain we're dealing with here, you begin to wonder if two might be too many.

So to recap: disappointment is an acceptable reason for a football loss if you're from a Bowl Cartel Series conference, but if you're from the Mountain West, it's just a pathetic excuse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yankee Imperialist

I'm not trying to be a chauvinist or anything, but I'd prefer we keep the comments to English, K? With the way that some blog comments are malicious links, I can't really allow a blog comment full of a Chinese-charactered hyperlink to go undeleted.

Just so we understand each other: I'm sure your language is really great, but keep it to yourself.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Church at Home

Today I went to the best sacrament meeting I can remember in my entire life. There was no false doctrine, and all the speakers kept it short and sweet. The entire meeting took less than half an hour, and that included three testimonies. Every Sunday should be this great. Even with the amount of shoveling I've had to do this weekend to get church at home, it's been worth it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Miracle

Due to our "treacherous, frightful" snowstorm (the people around here are serious winter wimps), church has ALREADY been canceled tomorrow. If we want, we can get approval from the bishop to have the sacrament in our homes. In short, God has given me my Christmas present.

The Year in Economics

I am NOT recommending this blog for general reading (unless you feel a need to atone for some fairly heinous sins, and like to make your atonement by reading long, dense blog posts that read like the index of an especially boring encyclopedia), but his summation of the economic failures of the past year is worthwhile.

Richard Bushman Is Speaking My Language

From his Believing History, about church members acknowledging the failings of their institutional church:

More than a little of that spirit has infected the Latter-day Saints. We sometimes hear discontented young people say they believe the gospel while having trouble with the Church. The prevalence of this idea led Eugene England to give a sermon on why the Church is as true as the gospel. To a degree, the young people may not be entirely wrong. Perhaps we have let our enthusiasm with organization carry us too far. (p. 166)

I feel I can disagree with Eugene England, though, because his book was published by Bookcraft, which we all know means it's only 40-percent believable.

Honestly, though, I should probably read that book, but it's $13.99 on eBay. Who wants to hook me up? Remember, boy, my eternal soul is at stake.

(I'll write a glowing friend review to anyone who can identify to what the previous sentence alludes.)

REAPPRAISAL (Apr. 2012)

Friday, December 18, 2009

A New Hobby

As some of you know, I keep track of things, specifically places I've been.

  • I've been to 33 states (AZ, AR, CA, CO, DE, FL, GA, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MD, MI, MN, MO, NE, NV, NM, NY, NC, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WV, WI, WY)
  • I've been to 22 state capitols (AZ, CA, CO, DE, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, MD, MO, NE, NV, NM, OH, OK, PA, UT, VA, WV, WI, WY)
  • I've been to 1,115 counties (I won't list them here, but I have two links in my sidebar for websites that DO list them all)
So it only makes sense that I would add something else. I recently decided to start visiting each state's highest natural point. To start, today we went to the highest point in the District of Columbia, which doesn't even count on my list, since it's not a state.

Since we're dealing with the "highest natural point" here, in some low-lying states it's possible that land has been graded as a building pad which is higher than the "high point." Such is the case in Washington, where just next to the high point in Fort Reno Park is the higher land of historic Fort Reno. But hey, at least it's not as bad as Delaware, where the "high point" is actually a step DOWN from the sidewalk.

I declared that everyone needed to have a celebratory jumping pose for the pictures. Articulate Joe complied with the request, but you can tell from the look on his face that his heart wasn't in it. Jerome the Metronome didn't quite get the idea of raising his hands above his head.






However, we've summitted our first high point, and only have fifty more to go.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Wish That Were My Name

In reading this news story I learned that the vice president of Nigeria is named Goodluck Jonathan. Why can't I get a name as cool as that?

Oh, and also Africa's most populous nation is two weeks away from a constitutional crisis. Good thing for us they're a major oil producer.

Leslie Asked for Something Funny

This newspaper gig is not fun anymore. Which means it's more like a real job than any other writing gig I've ever had.

Who Are These People?

When I had children, I knew they were going to grow up. If I brought my daughter home from the hospital with the idea that she would forever stay tiny, I realized soon enough that wasn't the case. And when she traded out her cute newborn cry for a shrieking wail, I realized she would do things that would make me want her to grow up much faster.

What I didn't realize, though, was that my children would turn out to be tiny strangers. I guess I figured they would be small versions of me, or of my wife, or a mixture of everything good from both of us. Given the gene mixture, and the influence of growing up in our home, how could they turn out to be anything different?

Lately, though, my children have been exhibiting strange symptoms of being their own people. Especially my seven-year-old daughter, who has let it be known that her parents' level of holiday cheer is decidedly lacking.

It was before Halloween that she said wistfully, "In Kansas I knew a Christmas music radio station to listen to, but I don't know one here." My wife and I, for reasons of sanity preservation, have a rule against Christmas music until after Thanksgiving. This meant we spent the entire month of November turning down my daughter's radio requests.

Thanksgiving evening, on the way home from our relatives' house, we no longer had an excuse and I had to find a Christmas music station. The first song we heard was Frank Sinatra's "We Wish You the Merriest," which has as honest-to-goodness lyrics, "We wish you the merriest, the merriest, the merriest, yes the merriest, we wish you the merriest, the merriest, the merriest Yule cheer." Sinatra's intent is not made clear in these lyrics, but in many contemporary news sources he gave the reporters to believe that he wished the listener the merriest.

This song was followed by "Jingle Bell Rock," which was written by a man who firmly believes that all things are made more festive by attaching the words "jingle bell" to their names, and he spares no effort in making this belief known to all and sundry.

Two songs into the holiday season and I wanted to puncture my own ear drums. My daughter, meanwhile, was riding contentedly in her seat, smiling out the window.

The next afternoon she began a relentless agitation to decorate our Christmas tree. I told her that, in the old days, people didn't decorate their trees until Christmas Eve. She just looked at me as if to say, "And that's why no one liked living in the old days." By bedtime, the tree had been assembled (another thing they didn't have to do in the old days) and decorated.

I said to my wife, "It turns out she's the type of person who's going to grow up and listen to Christmas music six months every year."

My wife said, "And wear holiday sweaters with ironed-on reindeer and elves."

This realization has caused me to repent of all the negative things I ever thought about the inadequate rearings of such ladies I've seen in grocery stores. I'm here to tell you, it's not their parents' faults.

This be-your-own-person stuff can only go so far. I knew eventually I was going to have to put my foot down. When raising children it is important to draw a line and say, "This far and no farther." I didn't know when she would drive me to my limit, I only knew it would happen one day.

That day came sooner than expected. I came home last week to hear from my wife-cum-homeschool teacher that my daughter had been assigned a report on any president she wanted, and she had chosen Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

My feelings about FDR are not complex and can be best summarized by Albert Jay Nock, who called Roosevelt's 1945 death "the biggest public improvement that America has experienced since the passage of the Bill of Rights." Nevertheless, my daughter had been to the library to get many books for her report, and most of my Roosevelt books, such as FDR's Folly and FDR vs. The Constitution are beyond her reading level.

When she finishes her report, my daughter wants to visit FDR's memorial in Washington. I told my wife she could take the kids, but I wouldn't go along. Maybe I will give her bad directions, or at least suggest stopping off at the hospital for a DNA test to make sure this seven-year-old changeling is really ours.

(c)2009, Broadside.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Boss Didn't Want Me to Work Overtime Because My Production Function Exhibits Quasi-Concavity

Paul Samuelson died this week. Robert Lucas has said of Samuelson's influential textbook,

"I loved the Foundations. Like so many others in my cohort, I internalized its view that if I couldn’t formulate a problem in economic theory mathematically, I didn’t know what I was doing. I came to the position that mathematical analysis is not one of many ways of doing economic theory: It is the only way. Economic theory is mathematical analysis. Everything else is just pictures and talk.”

Now, before I offer my own take, I'd like to point out these facts:

  • Number of Nobel Prizes won by Samuelson and Lucas: two.
  • Number of Nobel Prizes won by A Random Stranger: zero (so far).
Still, though, I disagree. Economics has gone to the point now where the ability to formulate a problem in economic theory mathematically often covers the fact that the economist doesn't know what he's doing.

If economics is a collection of principles of human action, then no principle should be so obscure as to not make intuitive sense. After all, how often do we make an economic decision, the motivation for which was too complex for us to understand? If a problem can't be explained WITHOUT mathematics, at least in a rudimentary form, it probably isn't true economics.

But, like I said, those guys have two Nobels, and so far I have none.

You've Got a Problem? We've Got a Czar for That

For months we had news stories about how those bastard banks were going to use taxpayer money (the money we were told they absolutely needed, but they didn't) to pay their executives large salaries and bonuses, so in response we got a federal pay czar. Then the banks didn't like the idea of a government official reviewing their contracts for "decency," so they decided to pay the taxpayer money back.

Okay, at this point in the story, I'm ambivalent. I hated the bailout, and I hate the pay czar (not personally, but he is speaking at my school this week, so maybe I can get to know him and since I'm a misanthrope THEN I can hate him personally), but if the two things are going to work against each other, if the threat of a pay czar is going to get the bailouts paid back, and then there will be no one's pay that needs czarring, what's not to love? It's like the Iran-Iraq War, or the Oakland Raiders playing the New York Yankees and everyone breaking his leg.

However, this news story makes me wonder if the "geniuses" we have running the federal government aren't a little closer to the "Forrest Gump" end of the IQ scale than we think. To get Citi to pay back its bailout, we let them not pay their taxes. But I thought they were already getting a sweet deal by not being subject to the pay czar. So what happened? Did we just pay Citi billions of dollars in exchange for them running their company the way they want? That sure is a nice deal for Citi, but how nice is it for us?

The only thing I learned from writing this blog post is that there is only a one-letter difference between the words "running" and "ruining." And, the misanthrope in me feels compelled to point out, "running" isn't "ruining" until "I" get involved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Italian TV is Freaky

A blog I read linked to this other blog where I watched this clip of Italian TV. The point of the post was to show us what foreigners think Americans sound like, but the thing I take away from it is this: Italian variety shows are weird.

And yes, now that my finals are over, you can look forward to a month of posts like this one. Don't bother pinching yourself; I'll tell you right now you aren't dreaming! It's really true!

Advice

Should I keep my newspaper writing position, even though
  • they only pay me in campus credit
  • my editor hacks my stories in inexplicable ways (such as changing the spelling of words that weren't misspelled, thus turning them into new words that don't fit in the sentence)
  • my editor is an insufferable bore who doesn't respond to e-mails for weeks at a time and then tells me that forwarding the previous e-mail to him is "unprofessional"
Who am I kidding? I'll probably keep doing it. Shakespeare gotta get paid, son.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This Place Makes Washington Heights Look Like Hanover Park

I know this post is just going to make Jill laugh herself silly, but we're surrounded by crime. Firstly, a student from my school was arrested in Pakistan for being a terrorist. Since we have a lot of Muslim students, I'm hoping this leads to some good finals-week drama. Secondly, our local newspaper tracks so many fugitives that they have a "fugitive of the week" column, and this week's fugitive (or Fugee, as they like to be called) "has been known" (in newspaper parlance) to frequent our neighborhood.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Schedule

Exams today, Monday, and Tuesday. So don't expect too much from me until at least Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Monday, December 07, 2009

Sabotaged!

The link in my last post went to an article entitled "Climate finale may have happy ending." Since then, Yahoo has changed the article at the end of the link, so the massage parlor reference is gone. However, now I know that Nathan is on the prowl for any news I can find regarding massage parlors. I'll keep my eyes open for you, guy.

Copenhagen Massage Parlor

Caring about climate change just became a lot more interesting. No word how many Asian massage technicians will be working the gathering, but if anyone knows how to make a finale have a happy ending, it's those ladies.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hating People Is So Easy

Crap like this makes me hate everybody.

First of all, I hate football articles that start with a bunch of ass-covering "Don't get me wrong, guys; I love the BCS." Is the BCS the Pope or something? I absolutely hate the BCS. I hate that, for over ten years now, a group of thugs has been allowed to say it's interested in crowning a national champion when really it seems to be only interested in extortion and racketeering.

"Oh, A Random Stranger, that's libelous!" Is it? Extortion is obtaining money through coercion, and the BCS conferences continually coerce the conferences they force out of their organization to give up money they could otherwise obtain. Racketeering is the running of an illegal business, and the college football cartel is an illegal business. In fact, I'm going to start referring to the BCS as the Bowl Cartel Series.

Every year the BCS conferences' fear of having their "dominance" shown to be fraudulent is more apparent. They plead innocence, claiming they can't do anything about the fact that Boise State can only get one ranked team on their schedule this season (a team that is Ranked in the Top 10, is going to the Rose Bowl, and lost handily to the Broncos), but then they refuse to schedule Boise State. And scheduling doesn't matter, because anytime an opponent looks tough, you can just pay money to not play the game.

I hate that some teams, all through Duke's record-setting losing streak, profited from the BCS system, while teams like Boise State, that haven't lost a regular season game in two years, don't. There is no reason for Duke to profit from the BCS; it's not the fact that Georgia Tech had to play Duke this year that made Georgia Tech look good. Football conferences are geographically based, and when a BCS fan says, "You should be in a better conference," they are saying nothing more than, "You don't live in the right part of the country." By spreading the wealth around the conference, you end up with clear conflicts of interest, like the Big 12 officials mysteriously deciding Texas should get another shot to beat Nebraska. They had a shot, and their "Heisman Trophy candidate" quarterback was too stupid to spike the football when he was supposed to. That's part of the game, unless there are millions of dollars at stake. Then, suddenly, well, there should be another second on that clock.

I hate that this year the BCS has decided to contain the interlopers. Not only do perfect Boise State and perfect Texas Christian not get to play for the national title, but they have to play each other in a game the BCS might as well just call the We Wish You Would Go Away Bowl. These two teams played as recently as last season in a bowl game, and most of their bowl appeal is to see if they can beat "real" teams from the cartel conferences. Making them play each other limits the BCS's exposure (imagine if both won their BCS bowls) and limits the number of undefeated teams at the end of the season.

I hate that politicians have anything to do with this. The laws that prohibit cartels do not require Congressional action to be enforced. But every year the team that's left out of the BCS has a home-state legislator ready to open an investigation. What is there for Congress to investigate? This is a matter for the Department of Justice, not for a Congressional subcommittee.

And, finally, to say, as this asinine article does, that "the computers weren't as impressed," is to forfeit your right to breathe. Are we really supposed to believe that computers sit down with the sports section of the newspaper and say, "Let's see which team is impressive"? A computer is only as "impressed" as the HUMAN BEING behind the computer's program. Blaming computers is just another way of saying, "People are biased against your football team," without actually having to say it. And when the computers are accidentally impressed by the wrong team, the computer program is changed (by itself? or by humans? It's hard to say) to make sure it doesn't happen again the following season.

The BCS is an illegal sham. It's equivalent to a baseball playoff system that always had a spot for the Yankees, regardless of their record, and made other teams, like Tampa, play flawless baseball to earn the "privilege" to play for second place.

Boise State beat Oklahoma. Utah beat Pittsburgh, and then beat Alabama. These results are discounted in the most convoluted of ways, and the system continues to profit the cartel at the expense of the "non-traditional" conferences. This is not a football championship system; it is a back-alley shakedown that involves a football.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

I Respect Your Opinion A Lot. Okay, Actually, Not So Much

What happens when people whose opinions you respect pull crap like this on you? This revelation causes such heartache that it leads me to write poetry. To wit:


Thought I knew you
Dr. Mankiw.
Your econ's fine
(most of the time),
but your music
is confusic.
Lady Gaga?
I could flog ya.
Dismal science?
In defiance
you got nerve on.
Get your swerve on.
Don't care who knows
what moves your toes
'cause you've been blessed
with much success.
This is you. Who?
Dr. Mankiw.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bits and Pieces

1. I saw a headline today that said Putin might run for president in 2012 and I thought, "This is what we get for letting foreign nationals in our elections."

I keed, I keed. I worked with a guy in Kansas who was a big Birther, but I'm not that into it. I do believe, however, that the idea that no one in the nation has standing to challenge whether the elected president meets the Constitution's presidential requirements is pretty appalling. So we get all the "living document" crap that comes from judicial review without any of the actual Constitutional enforcement? That doesn't sound like a deal.

2. Climate-Gate continues to get no mainstream media coverage. Again, I don't believe that this one batch of e-mails completely disproves an entire field of science, but I think it is telling that this group of "scientists" is more committed to their outcome than their process. On what basis do they continue to qualify as scientists? If you give up on the scientific method, you're just egghead religionists.

3. Congratulations to the following regular readers: Cristin for buying a fancy new car, JT for having a new baby, and Nance for repairing that computer of mine that you broke.

4. Ten days to my hardest final.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Decision 2012

If there is any sense remaining in the American political system (and there's not, but bear with me), Mike Huckabee's presidential aspirations are over. I'd say I'm glad I no longer have to worry about a bigoted candidate winning the Republican nomination, but as long as Mitt Romney remains in the race, there is a bigoted wing of the Republican party that will seek one of its own to support. So even if Huckabee isn't the bigoted candidate, there will be one in the mix.

In Soviet Russia, Government Controls YOU

Ah, Yakov Smirnoff. Where are you now? Well, Wikipedia says you're a professor at Missouri State. I almost went to Missouri State. Maybe we would be BFF right now if I'd taken a job with Camden County, Missouri.

The point is, Yakov could have told us this would happen. Why are the banks surprised? Did they think the government hands out money without taking control? Only in foreign countries, friends, where we continue to pay them whatever they want while they continue to undermine our foreign policy. Here at home, when you take the Feds' cash, you're taking the pay czar, too.

Incidentally, I bet Yakov could tell us a thing or two about how countries that use a lot of czars turn out.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Reading Update

I have one month left in the year, and nine books to read:

  1. The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom
  2. Believing History, by Richard Lyman Bushman
  3. Cicero, by Anthony Everitt
  4. The Punic Wars, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  5. The Mortal Messiah, Book 1, by Bruce R. McConkie
  6. The Power of Positive Thinking, by Norman Vincent Peale
  7. Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence, by John M. Pontius
  8. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope
  9. Something Fresh, by P.G. Wodehouse
I hope to have finished the Wodehouse book by Monday night, and be halfway finished with the Peale book. That will leave me with about 3,200 pages to read in December to reach 20,000 pages for the year. My best month ever was 3,600 pages in December 2006.

I think I can do it. My wife thinks I can't. It's going to be totally sweet to rub her face in it when I finish it on December 30th, leaving me an entire day to gloat. Because nothing gets the ladies hot for some New Year's Eve lovin' like pointing out how wrong they were.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What's Wrong With America, Thanksgiving Edition

I'd like to give thanks for our forefathers, who blah blah blah, this country is full of idiots now.

Specifically, I hate the fact that we've become a nation that values form over substance. Case in point: the president pardoned a turkey today.

This isn't an Obama problem; every president since Harry Truman has pardoned a turkey. Why? Do they not eat turkey? No, every single one of them has turkey at Thanksgiving. So why pardon a bird just to eat a different bird? Because it's now part of the inane cult of the presidency. The photo opportunity is a "tradition," and the bird gets flown first class to Disney World. (Seriously.) I'm sure in a time of 10-percent unemployment (or is it 17.5 percent?), that would go over well with the masses, if it were ever presented to them.

Along these lines, I read an article this week about how Mary Landrieu (D-umbass) had been bought off in the Senate for $100 mil.. (As the old Winston Churchill joke ends, "We've already established what kind of woman you are, now we're just bartering on price.")

When Harry Truman was known as "The Senator from Pendergast," at least people knew what they were getting. Landrieu's whoring takes two pages and never once comes out and says, "We bought this lady off to the tune of $100 mil." Why? Because form is more important than substance. Landrieu's going to give a Senate speech (maybe she'll sell her vote for a prime-time speaking slot like Al Gore did in 1991) and not ONCE is she going to mention how she was bought off. There will be plenty of talk of "the children" and "the poor" and "the struggling," because those are the things that make it okay to nationalize health care, but no talk of "backroom shenanigans."

Incidentally, I think an appropriate name for ANY congressional bill is "The [First, Second, et cetera] Backroom Shenanigans Bill of [Year]."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Born-Again Frenemy

Since we moved I have some new friends, and that means a new set of blog nicknames. In particular, I have one new friend who is very nice to talk to, but I think she has a crisis of friendship every time she interacts with me. Her worldview is such that I'm going to hell for "not being Christian," and that's a huge deal to her, so much so that she almost can't be my friend. She goes for three or four days ignoring me, then will talk to me again.

In high school I had a friend like this. She wanted me, but was convinced I was going to burn in a lake of fire and et cetera. I took it as a sign of my kavorka when she ended up making out with me: my animal attraction was too strong for her to resist.

Another friend of mine in Kansas was conflicted over her friendship with me, but instead of her objection being religious in nature, it was political. We got along fine until she saw my Rush Limbaugh tee shirt. Then she was ambivalent. I never had a problem being her friend, even when she went to New Orleans to work for ACORN. But her sensibilities were offended.

Another new friend of mine, who we could call Flamboyant Editor, I think would have a big problem if he found out my religion, even though I totally know he's gay (thanks to his 1,000-word opinion pieces in the newspaper dealing with penis size or the pleasures of male anal penetration) and I'm fine with it.

And of course I lost my Facebook "friend" when I criticized President Obama's Nobel Prize. I guess I'm just a naturally offensive man.

The great thing is, I don't really like my friends enough to care about losing any of them. Having friends just fills me with anxiety as I constantly wonder how much they secretly hate me and how long it will be before they stop talking to me. So the Born-Again Frenemy continues to change her mind two or three times a week, and either way I'm fine.


PS: Weezer's "Red" album was almost entitled "Either Way I'm Fine" because Rivers said that so much about every production issue that came up. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.


PPS: "Knowing is half the battle" was how every episode of "G.I. Joe" ended, right after Snake Eyes or one of the other Joes taught some kids to not play with matches.

A Fan Club, Or Possibly a Club of Haters

Last night in class I noticed a student reading my article from this week. He then passed it to his neighbor, who read it and then passed it to his neighbor. That alone represents my largest confirmed readership ever.

The thing is, though, I expected them to know who I am, since I'm in all their classes, and my name is right there on the stinking article. The last one to read it is even a Facebook friend of mine, which is as close to legitimate friendship as I'm willing to go these days, what with H1N1 and all. But none of them said anything to me, or even looked my way.

I speculated this might mean they didn't like it, but when I shared that with another friend of mine (let's call her the Born-Again Frenemy), she said, "I don't think those guys know enough about polite society to not say something if they didn't like it, so I think they just don't know who you are."

Either way, it only took three months before someone read one of my articles. Huzzah huzzah!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Checking In

I don't have much to say, and I'm supposed to be quite busy with the stuff I have to do, but I don't want my die-hard cadre of loyal readers (last count: 3 followers) to despair, so I thought I'd just drop you a line.

So. Um. What's up?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Too Emotional

Today at Theodore Roosevelt Island we were talking about how Jerome, to some extent, is named after President Roosevelt, and Joe shares one of his names with President Roosevelt's successor, President Taft. Jane became disconsolate, complaining, "I'm not named after any president."

I said, "There hasn't been a woman president yet."

"You still could have named me after one of them."

"Would you have wanted to be named George?"

"No."

"What about Rutherford?"

"Who was that?"

"Rutherford B. Hayes."

"Oh, no! But you could have named me after one of their wives."

"You share a name with three first ladies."

"Oh."

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bus Driver Social Club

I recently became friends with another guy who rides my bus regularly. This morning while we were waiting at the stop he said, "That guy who drives us home in the evenings is weird. He's so random. Did he try to give you some guy's phone number?"

Not Having a Job Isn't the Same As Not Being Busy

In honor of my taking the missionaries to a doctor's appointment tomorrow morning, I'd just like to remind everyone that, just because I don't have to punch a time clock, it doesn't mean I don't have things to do with my day. I am going to bring a book and ignore the crap out of those guys in the waiting room.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Necessities of Life

Did you like the idea of flat-panel televisions becoming more affordable? Well, the State of California didn't. Thanks to the unanimous decision of five unelected Californians, the lowest-cost way of manufacturing most large flat-panel TVs is now illegal.

But I thought if we'd learned anything from last summer, it was that television is a vital necessity. I expect the Feds to lean on these guys eventually; imagine terminal-stage-republic Rome trying to make the switch to early-empire Rome without its Colosseum.

Haste Makes Government

Remember last September, when we were told unless the House of Representatives immediately passed the president's stimulus bill, the world as we knew it would end? I do. I also remember saying at the time that "crisis" spending is a good way to make sure money is wasted.

So some might have been surprised by this news article, but I was not among them. This waste comes to over $1,300 for a family of four.

"A Random Stranger, what's the big deal? The government (presumably) is not burning this money; it's spending it on something, so even if it's nothing more than a hand-out, it's helping someone." The big deal is the efficiency of it. There's a reason they call this "waste." The best way to maximize utility is to allow individuals to spend their own money on themselves. And there's something to be said about piles of cash being stripped from Americans to hand out to other Americans who file the most convincing fake documentation. That's just kleptocracy.

But the president took time out of his schedule today to tell Israel not to build apartments and to undermine the legitimacy of our justice system in the eyes of the world by saying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be executed. Sometimes it seems like that teleprompter puts out words without thinking.

Pearls of Wisdom From Professor Williams

I didn't get started on this until late in the semester, but I've been writing down the better lines from Dr. Walter E. Williams's lectures. My wife is afraid I'm going to get in trouble for sharing them, so I'll just include one from tonight. "Who cares about whales, anyway? I got through my day today without a whale."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Professional Cartographer

I've been making maps since before I can remember, but it wasn't until I was a teenager that I tried to make money from it. My father's company was going to hire someone to make maps he thought I would be able to make, so he coached me through putting together a proposal, but I was denied. My mother's boss needed a map for a promotional brochure he was making for his business, and I made it for him, but I don't think I ever ended up paid. The first time I actually got something for my map-making, you might say, was when I made the map directing guests to our wedding reception. As far as I know, everyone who wanted to attend, who had a gift, got there safely. (Those who didn't have gifts might have died in fiery accidents, for all I cared.)

Five years ago when I moved to Kansas for a job that said, "Just kidding," I spent some time putting together a map of Lawrence, in case I needed to start a cartography business, but the first job said, "Just kidding again," and hired me.

Two years ago I made four maps for a professor's book and got to create an invoice for the school's history department. It was invoice number 2007-1. There was never a 2007-2, although I did get to follow up with menacing phone calls, since payment was not received within 30 days, as the invoice requested. The book was fairly obscure, and the only reason I found a library copy for me to see my own maps in print was that the author was on the faculty of the library's school. The department budget was $100 and I drained the entire thing, much to the consternation of the professor. Another professor friend of mine in that department told me, "Those bastards are so cheap."

Most recently I made some initial maps for another history professor friend of mine (I didn't realize I have so many of them), but it turned out he could get better maps from a guy who had data I didn't have, so it ended there.

The point of all this is I have a little experience with maps, more than just as a hobbyist. So when I opened up my mailer from History Book Club and saw the map from David Reynolds's America, Empire of Liberty (there is no indication the title is meant to be ironic or oxymoronic), I had one more thing to file away in my brain under the heading "Life, The Unfairness of." For the map shown (for which I'm willing to bet the cartographer got paid more than $100) shows four cities in the wrong location. Yorktown and Williamsburg are about 50 miles further north than they should be. Richmond is about 100 northwest of where one would expect to find the modern-day Richmond, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which the cartographer decided to call "Pittsburg," is over 100 miles southeast of the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela. The map also shows New Hampshire, instead of Massachusetts, as owning Maine.

What do I have to do to get a sweet job like this? I can make maps with no regard for actual geography and just cash the checks that come rolling in. Any interested history professors can leave their contact information in a comment on this post. I look forward to making inaccurate maps for you at inflated prices.

Hours of Operation

Last night on the way home from school I was reading Psmith, Journalist, and came across a passage where Psmith notices a ginger ale ad. I thought, "Man, I sure could go for some ginger ale right now." So when I got home I drove to our new Wal-Mart for a bottle of ginger ale and a pecan pie. (I had to have something to rinse down the ginger ale.)

When I got to the store, I wasn't sure if it was open or not, so I drove slowly by the door and tried to read their hours. They didn't have a big "Open 24 Hours" sign, and the numbers on the smaller sign were too small for me to read, so I parked and looked around for other people going in or out. When I saw a man pushing a baby in a stroller (at a little after 11:30), I realized two things:

  1. Yes, they were open.
  2. Yes, this was a Wal-Mart.

When I got out of the car and approached the door, I could read the hours more clearly, and the sign said, "Monday: 7 to 12."

After my shopping, when I was driving home, I thought about how a literal reading of the sign would make it seem the store was only open five hours each day, when in fact it is open 17 hours. And I was willing to bet the reason the sign made no reference to WHICH 7:00 or 12:00 was because most Americans would be confused by the idea of "12 a.m." If the sign said "7 a.m. to 12 a.m.," most people looking at it would STILL take that to mean the store was open for five hours.

How many other things do we do intentionally incorrect only so people will understand us? When Persephone and I were both reading The Lost Symbol, I pointed out that one character in the book uttered the dreaded phrase "PIN number." Persephone was willing to give Dan Brown the benefit of the doubt that he was writing incorrect dialog for his character, not that he personally thinks one should say "PIN number." I blew this theory out of the water a few pages later, though, when the narrator also used the phrase, so it wasn't a matter of characterization. Persephone kept up her apologia, though, and insisted Brown was being incorrect so his readers wouldn't complain. (Does she have a crush on Dan Brown or something?) So she would say that's an instance of intentional error, but I would disagree.

Can you think of any others?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Tax Rebels

I should probably know my place, and that place involves not disagreeing with newspaper articles written by prominent professors in my department, but I have one major disagreement with this article by Don Boudreaux.

Dr. Boudreaux compares the current thievery by the State of California to the historical thievery by Charles I. I like the comparison. Dr. Boudreaux tells of John Hampden's refusal to pay a 20-shilling forced loan and notes:

In a parliamentary speech defending the American revolutionaries, Edmund Burke recalled Hampden's courage: "Would twenty shillings have ruined Mr. Hampden's fortune? No! But the payment of half twenty shillings, on the principle it was demanded, would have made him a slave."
I like Burke, I like the quote, and while I don't know anything other than this about Hampden, I can tell I'd like him, too. Finally, Dr. Boudreaux ends with this statement: "...this country is full of people who will not be slaves to any government."

And this is where I must disagree. Because what we're talking about is California's withholding from paychecks. Say what you will of Charles I (and I think I've made it painfully clear all over this blog on countless occasions that I'm no Charles I apologist), at least he had to ask Hampden for the money. This meant Hampden could refuse, which he did, and he could go to prison for his principles, which he did.

If a California worker doesn't agree with the new withholding, what can he do about it? The state isn't asking for money; it already has the ability to take however much it wants. Charles I was less despotic than the State of California because Charley could be refused.

So in the final analysis, this country doesn't have anyone in it that "will not be slaves to any government," because the citizens of this country have no means of refusing the role.

We're all slaves of government now. Allowing for state withholding means the state has theoretical claim to 100% of all income, and the workers get whatever the state doesn't want. I've been telling this to friends for years and they've been saying, "Oh, A Random Stranger, you're overreacting," but California has shown us that I'm exactly right. Not even serfs had it this rough; they got to take what they needed for family support off the top before giving the rest to their seigneur. We get whatever the state thinks it's going to take to keep us from taking to the ramparts. And the State of California just discovered that number is 10 percent less than they previously thought.

Russian Kebabs

One thing about northern Virginia that has surprised me is the prevalence of kebab shops. We live in a Hispanic neighborhood, but we still have two kebab shops within a half-mile, and other neighborhoods have many, many more. Of course, we're too poor to eat at any of them, but every time we drive past one I say, "I wish I had a kebab right now."

Maybe I should specify what type of kebab I want. The type available in Moscow, for instance, are not of much interest to me. In fact, they might make me give up on ethnic food entirely.


PS: I put a link in the previous paragraph. I don't think they show up very well given my current blog color scheme, and I'm too lazy to change that right now (or ever, as a matter of fact). So just move your cursor randomly over my posts and maybe you'll be surprised by a link.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I Am a Horrible Racist

I was about to quit screwing around on the Internet and get to work, but then this happened and I figured I should blog about it. Because the world really cares what happens to me, and what I think of it. Isn't blogging the perfect commentary on man's response to alienation in the modern world? Again with forcing a human connection by electronically disseminating my worthless opinions.

But anyway, I am sitting in the "library" at school. I say "library," complete with "air quotes" (and that had air quotes, too) because it's sort of a student union with a food court and some books. Yesterday I watched three guys play soccer in here at the end of the stacks, and two girls spend an hour trying to remember their high school cheerleading dance routine. If this building doesn't qualify for air quotes when being called a "library," I don't know what would. Maybe the porn-strewn men's room of a bus station.

To recap: I'm sitting in the "library." A black woman who is sitting a few seats away says, "Excuse me, will you watch my stuff for a moment?" I say sure, and she walks away, exiting stage left. (Neal Gabler must piss himself in frustration when he sees those "soundtrack of my life" TV commercials. If he watches TV.)

Three or four minutes later, a black woman enters stage left and sits at the table. I nod at her, wanting my nod to covey the words, "Nobody stole your stuff because I did a good job guarding it." Then, about two minutes after that, a black woman enters stage RIGHT and says, "Thank you," to me before she sits at the table.

And there you have it. I am a horrible racist. Because only racists confuse two black women. After all, the phrase "they all look alike" is only slightly less well-known as a racist hallmark than the phrase "some of my best friends are black."

Now that they are sitting next to each other, I can see that they look nothing like each other. The one that asked me to watch her stuff is older, with a much shorter haircut. But how much was I supposed to learn about her in the one second that I looked up to see who was talking to me and then agreed to watch her bag? And what was she doing walking a lap of the building instead of coming back to her table from the direction she left it? And why did this other woman show up and sit at a table that she hadn't been at before?

When people start to learn about a thing, they start with big classifications and work down, and they tend to focus on what is different about the thing from themselves. So I look up and think, "Woman, black," and then she leaves. That's all I got through. When her friend came to the table from the same direction, and she matched the two items I'd checked off, what else was I supposed to think?

I don't get angry when people make assumptions based on my race. I once went to an NAACP awards dinner and had a woman come up to me and ask, "Are you in the right place?" I didn't throw a fit; I ate their food and got my certificate with my misspelled name. Once at Temple Square in Salt Lake City I turned around to make sure my two kids were keeping up with me and caught a Chinese woman taking their picture because they were pale blond kids, and she and her friends were acting like they'd never seen anything so crazy. I didn't demand an apology. But there is no way I can tell this woman I confused her with her friend without being a racist who thinks all black people look alike.

Sometimes, though, black people DO look alike. Like Tiki and Ronde Barber. But I've never met either of them in the "library."

Newspaper Tension

I didn't post this week's article here because I'm trying to not think about the newspaper. The whole thing is bothering me and I just want to quit.

I finally got an answer to the question of payment, though. At the end of the semester I will be paid $10 (in campus store credit) for each article beyond my first two, to be paid at the conclusion of the semester. I think I'm up to eight now, which means I've earned $60. Since the only thing I need to buy on campus is books next semester, I guess that's what I'll use it for. Either that or I can be king of Chick-Fil-A all spring term.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New States

Maybe it's the part of me that likes keeping track of new places I've been, but I think there should be more than 50 states, and I think one of the reasons is the preservation of the republican form of government promised by the Constitution.

Without the creation of new states, existing states can grow disproportionately large. Such is the case with California, which many people know would be the eighth largest economy in the world if it were a separate nation. Because California accounts for 13% of the nation's GDP, California's legislative decisions impact the rest of the country. Many in California know this and seek to exploit it, as when the state made requirements for the sales of zero-emissions and electric vehicles. No company will voluntarily write off the California market, so commercial rulings in California show up in markets across the country.

This is happening again with HDTV sales. If a particular style of television will no longer be legal in California, it makes no sense for the manufacturer to continue making that style. Thus California's spuriously democratic process becomes an outright dictatorial process in Kansas or Virginia. The televisions available to me now that I've left California will be limited by officials I can no longer accept or reject at the ballot box. We're all Californians now, or at least ruled by them.

Various environmental groups want to exploit this fact. They know they have a better chance of finding sympathetic leaders in Sacramento than in most other state capitals, or in Washington. There's no need to fight for national legislation if California state legislation can do the same thing. This is not republican government.

Somewhere in the past 100 years, political boundaries in America have become sacrosanct. States stay the same size while their populations change. Some states become economically dominant, like California. This also makes the Electoral College look worse than it should, as the two "automatic" electors of each state represent groups of such disparate sizes.

The last state to be split was Virginia, but that was a result of war, not consideration of dominance. Texas has the right to split itself, and in terms of demographic and economic hegemony it is not too far behind California. However there's so much personal identity that goes into being a Texan (try finding a Kansas state flag bikini for sale online) that no one will ever agree to be split off.

It's not just states. County boundaries are held inviolate. When New Mexico was surprised by the creation of Cibola County in 1981 and Arizona by the creation of La Paz County in 1983, the states responded by making it more difficult to create new counties. Los Angeles County now has a population of over 10 million, with the only elected representation being a five-member Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile, 43 states have fewer residents, but govern those residents with fully-formed, three-branched state governments. A resident of New Mexico has a state representative, a state senator, and a governor who all represent fewer people than a Los Angeles County supervisor.

The problem comes from the advancement of government as an economic entity of its own. Boundary decisions have to respect the level of services of the residents "left behind." The effort to split Santa Barbara County had to be "revenue-neutral," meaning the new county would be making transfer payments to the old county, thus removing any incentive residents might have for making a new county.

"Oh, but it has to be this way, or else rich people would vote themselves out of jurisdictions with poor people, and then who would care for the poor?" Who used to care for the poor before government did? It's a fallacy of the modern socialist state that, without Big Government, people used to starve and freeze in the street. It was Big Government that bulldozed all the flophouses that used to provide housing for the underclass. It would be interesting to rewrite Down and Out in Paris and London from a modern perspective, and see how much has changed. Being poor wasn't a nice thing, but it was self-managed. Now our poor know nothing but how to stand in the right line for the right service to be dispensed. Government doesn't exist to care for anyone, and the extent to which it now does is the extent to which government has failed.

No one considered revenue when the federal government created the State of West Virginia (and the Commonwealth of Virginia is probably grateful they didn't). It was decided that the western counties were not satisfied with the way their state government represented them. Voters in northern Santa Barbara County, or in the San Fernando Valley portion of Los Angeles, showed the same, but because government is now a source of revenue first and a means of governing second, they were denied.

At least they got to vote on it. As a resident of Virginia, I'm not sure how I'd go about letting my Californian overlords know I don't support their television restrictions. There used to be something in some document somewhere that said something about governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, but that document fell out of vogue because it advocated a political boundary change without concern of revenue neutrality.

Stepping It Up

I just found out I have a blog follower that is someone I don't know. This is shocking. And a little intimidating. I looked to see what other blogs this person follows, and they're better and more insightful than mine.

I can kick my blog up a notch by any of the following methods:

  • Giveaways
  • Contests
  • Drawings
  • Raffles
  • Drawings

So, as you can see, I've got quite a few tricks up my sleeve. The problem is, I don't have anything to give away. Or the desire to pay postage.

Maybe I can give away glowing friend reviews, like the one that earned Cristin 6.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys. Who wouldn't want one of those, huh?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mailbag - Delayed Edition

Several weeks ago, Gary wrote:

Okay, I had a few more comments. 1)can you expand on "...economically beneficial program like Cash for Clunkers.." was it? Certainly for anyone that bought a new car it was economically beneficial.
2)referring to point #8, hasn't President Obama really more strong-armed Israel than do nothing, like with the whole settlements issue and all that, clearly more adversarial than previous admins

First, Cash for Clunkers can be seen many ways. In one sense, it only moved 4th-quarter auto purchases into the 3rd quarter, which boosted GDP growth enough for the administration to declare the recession is over. In that way it can be seen as beneficial, in that it got people to spend money on a durable good. At the same time, though, it was just a redistribution of welfare to people with bad cars, who then gave it to American auto companies, two of which are owned by the government. And the environmental benefit of the program is negligible, since the most-common purchase was of a poor fuel economy truck or SUV. But if you're only looking at what makes people go out and spend money (even if it's not theirs), it did its job.

As for Obama strong-arming Israel, I just don't see this administration engaged on a single international issue, other than undermining our moral position with pariah states by opening negotiations before receiving concessions. I think the administration no doubt doesn't like Israeli settlements, but can't be bothered to do anything about it. I mean, beer summits don't just organize themselves, yo. It takes time.

While I'm on it, I remember the picture to come out of the beer summit, and how, of the four people there, the most respectable looking were the college professor and the police officer, while the president and vice-president of the United States couldn't be bothered to unroll their sleeves and put on their suit coats. Stay classy, San Diego.

Life-Changing Decision Full of Import and Whatnot

Ever since I got to Graduate U., I've been worried about friends. I used to make friends so easily. Now I can't even buy them. (I'm too poor to have tried buying them, but I did some market research and found any attempts to buy them would have proven futile.) I was worried that it was something wrong with me, something related to the fact that I am now older than some grandparents in the world. In my old age I've become one of those cranky people who fears change, eying all new people with suspicion and distrust.

Well, I recently took a load off my mind when I realized the real problem is that these people aren't worth becoming friends. Now I don't have to worry about how to try to talk to them. Besides, what's the point of friends, anyway? The title of the blog is "A Random Stranger is Kicking Life's Ass," not "A Random Stranger and His Friends." In television and movies friends help each other through their problems, but in real life a person only wants friends to help shoulder his burden, not to also make him bear some of theirs.

Think about it like an adverse selection problem. Five people are going to become friends and pool their burdens. On the ten-point Random Stranger Burden Scale, they have burdens of 5, 7, 8, 9, and 9. Their average burden is 7.6, meaning the guy with the level-5 burden is increasing his workload by being friends. He drops out of the group, which raises the average burden to 8.25. The guy with the level-7 burden had originally seen only a minor increase in his workload to 7.6, and maybe he sucked it up because of social pressure or because he liked the other guys. Now that it's an 8.25, though, he's gone, raising the average burden to 8.67, which causes the level-8 guy to leave. Thus we arrive at A Random Stranger's First Theory of Friendship: any long-term stable group of friends is filled with needy people. From this follows A Random Stranger's Second Theory of Friendship: anyone who wants to be your friend is more needy than you are.

In conclusion, friendship is for squares, and I'm lowering my burden level by not being friends with anyone around here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Time Bandits

I've got a life full of people trying to bogart my time, and I'm about to tell them all to sit on it*. I've got people at church telling me I'm not doing my calling well, I've got people at school telling me I'm not studying enough, I've got people at the newspaper telling me I've got to attend pointless three-hour meetings while they continue to butcher my articles (latest offense: substituting the word "Even" for the feminine proper name "Eve"), and I've got Facebook friends who send me messages and then send follow-up messages berating the speed with which I replied.

Just to set the record straight: if you're unhappy with the way I'm spending my time, I totally, completely don't care. And if you want to TELL me about your displeasure, I hope you like getting stabbed in the neck.


*: my sister owned a pair of underwear that said "sit on it" across the ass, but once she had a friend spend the night, and the friend wet the bed, so my sister let her wear those underwear home, and she never saw them again. Thirty years later, my sister still pines for those underwear. Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: my "sit on it" underwear was stolen by a bed-wetter.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Al Gore's Seven Million Solar-Paneled Wal-Marts

I've written before about how much I love watching Yahoo's Primetime in No Time and Daytime in No Time webshows. That's how I know about all the TV shows Cristin writes about on her blog, and I can have believable conversations where I say things like, "I can't believe Kim sang "Don't Be Tardy for the Party" on Real Housewives of Atlanta," even though I don't know anything about the show, Kim, or the song. (The Wikipedias just informed me that it's Kim's new single. If only I bothered clicking on the link to find out who Kim is.)

Tonight as I was catching up on this week's episodes of PiNT (as they abbreviate it), I saw Al Gore on The Daily Show, where he said:

Let's take solar energy, just for starters. More sunlight falls on the surface of the earth in one hour than is necessary to provide the energy for the entire world for a full year.
Now, when he says things like this, he's going for the "that's a crying shame!" reaction. The idea is to make it seem like such a negligible request that only heartless Satanists and Republicans (but wait, I already covered them, right?) can oppose it.

So I paused my browser and opened another window. First, I had to use a calculator to figure out how many hours are in a year (8,760), then take its reciprocal (0.000114155), which would be the percentage of the earth we'd have to cover in solar panels to get that much energy in a year.

Al Gore's looking pretty smooth right now. You're thinking, "That's a hundreth of a percent! Those oil-loving fascists!" But now here comes Debbie Downer with an, ahem, inconvenient truth or two.

First: it would have to be twice that area, since every spot on earth averages 12 hours of sunlight per day over an entire year.

Second: the earth is pretty big. "How big?" About 510,072,000 square kilometers big. (I know, I'm a total Commie for using kilometers, but that was what the Reds over at Wikipedia were using.) Now, only half of that is lit up in any given hour, but which half that is is always changing. Stationary panels wouldn't be able to move with the sun. We would need 58,227 square kilometers of solar panels in activity all the time. To assure that amount was in sunlight, we would have to have twice that area in existence. That's an area larger than Hungary, Cuba, or South Korea.

Third: the earth's population density is 13.1 people per square kilometer. That many solar panels, if laid out in a solar farm that didn't allow for underlying development, would displace over 1.5 million people.

"Oh, but we'd put the solar panels where nobody lives!" Then you'd have a bunch of solar energy where nobody uses it. Because energy is typically used in high-density areas, you'll have incentive to place the panels as close to high-density areas as possible.

Fourth: what's with an environmentalist advocating covering up 116,454 square kilometers of land with giant black tarps and crap? An average American Wal-Mart covers 173,000 square feet (weighting the averages for 2,705 supercenters of 197,000 square feet and 883 regular stores of 102,000 square feet). This means the solar panels would be larger than 7,221,057 Wal-Marts. I wonder what Al Gore would think of a plan to build seven million additional Wal-Marts.

Now, not all solar panels would have to be on vacant land; buildings are routinely fit with solar equipment on their roofs. But if most buildings currently don't have them (and most currently don't), there must be an economic reason for it. What would be the cost of a kilowatt of energy derived entirely from Al Gore's seven million solar paneled Wal-Marts? If some of these panels are placed in high-yield areas, like Arizona and New Mexico, what would be the environmental impact of huge areas of pristine desert becoming energy plants? And if we think the Arab world dislikes us now when we buy their friendship with trillions of dollars of oil money every year, how much will they like us when we turn off the dollar spigot? All this talk of energy independence never mentions the fact that, however much of a half-assed job the Saudis do keeping their people out of our high-rise office buildings with car-jacked airplanes (last count: 19), at least they're doing a half-assed job. How much of their ass will they use when no one needs oil? Remember what Saudi Arabia was just 100 years ago. T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom basically could have been written anytime between 500 and 1900, aside from the Turkish trains he helps the Arabs blow up.

So in the end, Al Gore went on The Daily Show and said, "I've got a plan to built seven million new Wal-Marts and antagonize the financial backers of militant Islam." And the average viewer ended up thinking, "Man, that guy's smart." Yeah. Too bad he wasn't more successful undermining Florida's election laws in 2000.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Who Was Behind Sept. 11th?

The father of a Sept. 11th victim wants his small town's memorial marker to mention that the attack was the work of "Muslim terrorists." The town leaders don't like the idea. So who was responsible for the attacks? According to the reporter, it was machinery.

...he was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center by jetliners that flew into the twin towers.
In this reporter's view of history, John Kennedy was killed by a bullet that forced itself into his head, or possibly by a rifle in the window of the Texas Book Depository. Julius Caesar was killed by a collection of knives finding their way into his body. No wonder gun control is such a good idea; it's the weapons that are going around killing people. Don't kid yourself; if given a chance a jetliner would kill you and everyone you care about. Maybe the town plaque should mention "jetliner terrorists" instead.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Library Cards

Tomorrow I'm making my wife check a book out of the Arlington library for me because she has a card there and I don't. We are collectors of library cards. In my adult life I've collected nine library cards:

  1. Ventura County, CA
  2. Burlington, WI
  3. Provo, UT
  4. Orem, UT
  5. Oxnard, CA
  6. Lawrence, KS
  7. Topeka, KS
  8. Prince William County, VA
  9. Fairfax County, VA

And that's not even counting the myriad schools I've attended. I'm pretty sure that the only library system I owe money is Ventura County. I figure that's a pretty good percentage; if I had nine baby mamas and was only late on child support to one of them, you people would be justified congratulating me and throwing a party in my honor. Maybe tomorrow I'll get my own Arlington library card. The next time we're in the District on a weekday I plan to get a Library of Congress readership card, too. That will boost my percentage of balanced library accounts from 89% to 91%. In which case, there damn well better be a party.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Bus Driver Blind Date - LATEST UPDATE

My bus driver wasn't there tonight. In his absence a bus friend of mine (who the driver has roped into sitting up front with him) was free to sit with me. We compared notes. The driver had also given his friend's phone number to my bus friend, also with the explanation that "you guys should be friends."

Here's the important part, though: my bus friend also thinks this is all highly irregular, AND my bus friend is an Indian national who has been in America for only three months. When the F.O.B. kid can sense something's fishy, something's very, very fishy.

My bus friend said of the driver, "He told me he wants us to all get together for Thanksgiving." I said, "You should tell him Thanksgiving is the biggest Indian holiday there is. If he doubts you, you can say, 'I swear, there were Indians at the first Thanksgiving.'"

As for reader recommendations: Jill recommended that I hang out with this guy. I know the way Jill thinks, and she just wants to hear the awesomely awkward stories that would come from such a meeting. But the thing is, I'm very busy and I live far away from the other people in my metro area. Hanging out would be way more of a pain than any story could make up for.

Cristin recommended that I just talk to my driver and ask him why he wants me to hang out with this friend. The problem is, I'm trying to cool things down between my driver and me. He's already sent me two e-mails and said he would give me a call some weekend. Again with the busyness. I'm not looking for a new friend to have strained conversations with; I've already got plenty of those. The less I can talk to my driver, the better.

Both JT and Erin made me feel bad for not being more friendly. Suck it, do-gooders! I'm friendly enough, but I draw the line at spending time with people. (I was going to qualify that with something like, "who I don't know well," but really the statement is truer as it now reads.) This is why I'm not a good member missionary. I can live with that.

Finally, Erin got her wish: I had to write about this topic again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Shuttle Bus Driver, Shuttle Bus Driver, Make Me a Match

It turns out my shuttle bus driver wanted my telephone number because he wants to give it to a guy he's recently met. He told me, "I'm sure you two would get along great."

What's weird about it is that he's always smiling when he talks to me about it (which is twice a night, three times a week). Does he think I'm gay? Is he setting me up on a gay date?

I know several of my readers (at least three of the five of you) are now asking yourselves, "Wait, this guy isn't gay? In the words of Dave Attell on Arrested Development, 'If this guy's straight, then I'm sober.'"

It's true; I am not gay. But my shuttle bus driver seems to think I am. Last week he gave me the other guy's telephone number. He told me to write it down, and when I pretended I couldn't find a pen, he gave me his. As I was writing it down I said, "Why am I doing this?" He said, "I just think the two of you would get along really well."

Persephone says, "Maybe the other guy is thinking the same things, so he's never going to call you." Or maybe not, since the other guy is foreign, and my experience with foreigners is that, for the most part, they don't recognize awkward situations as quickly as we do. Most normal Americans would know it's strange for a driver to try to set up two people he barely knows. Most foreigners (at least the ones who come here) think there's nothing wrong with it.

I really hope I don't have any future updates on this topic.

I'm Not Falling On the Sword

I'm not above blaming the editor, when problems are the editor's fault. At Undergrad U. I wrote an article entitled "Campus Is Not a Sailor's Convention" about the high level of profanity overheard everywhere. (And I mean serious profanity, not the mild "ass," "damn," and "hell" you read here. That's PG profanity; I'm talking PG-13 or even R profanity.) In a paragraph where I allow that swearing has a use, but not when overdone, I began a sentence with, "I don't swear myself...." My editor turned it into, "I do swear myself..." which totally neutered the column.

My column this week suffers from the same type of editorial meddling. In one case I used the word "harsh" as a transitive verb, and my editor rewrote the sentence to use it as an adjective, which killed the meaning completely. I could cite a few other instances, but instead I'll just say you're lucky you get to read the unadulterated version here.

Detroit's For Sale, But Nobody's Buying

About once a week I have a serious discussion with myself, the one that starts with, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” And usually near the top of the list is “auctioneer.” The career combines the best of all other jobs. Fast, unintelligible talking (“do I hear five, five, five, do I hear wharlgurlgarble hamanahamana?”), but at a much higher wage than working a fast-food drive-through. Describing people's shameful character traits (“sold to the obese balding woman in the back row”), but with more regular gigs than an insult comic. Forcing people to buy things they don't want (“I'm sorry, sir, but I did see a slight motion of your head, and now you own a Rembrandt”), but without the criminal record that accompanies a career in racketeering. Auctioneering has it all. No wonder our nation's children are beating down the doors of auctioneering schools. It is the wave of the future.

The future is already here in Detroit, a city poised to become the first in America since the days of railroad speculation to be sold completely on the auction block. Last month Wayne County (Mich.) officials auctioned off just under 2,000 seized properties. The problem was, they had offered 9,000, totaling about 1.3 square miles of land, or three percent of the vacant land in the city. According to professional statisticians, the technical term for such a small percentage is “a fart in the windstorm.”

Four-fifths of the properties received no bids at all, even though the minimum bid was only $500. If they had sold for the minimum, they would have cost $3.6 million. That much money can also buy a closet in financier Martin Zweig's $70 million New York condo. Or at least half a closet. On a time-share.

At this rate, selling the estimated 40 square miles of vacant land in Detroit is going to take a while. And once the vacant land is finally sold, they can start in on the estimated 17 percent of residences that are unoccupied. The city seems to be pacing itself because there's a rumor going around that the last guy in the city gets all the copper wiring that's been left behind.

I blame the Will Smith movie “I Am Legend,” which made living in a vacant city appear chic again. Prior to Smith, Americans had been conditioned on decades of Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel music to believe vacant cities were unexciting and sad. One must go back to The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough at Last” in 1959 to see the last glowing portrayal of an empty urban landscape.

Now things are different. Detroit is emptying the city faster than a junior high dance floor when the slow songs start. What remains is called “urban prairie,” empty grasslands overlaid with a gridded street system. A Google Maps search for the intersection of Butternut St. and 17th St. in Detroit vividly shows the result.

One man who can't get enough urban prairie is Alan Weisman, author of “The World Without Us.” Weisman ends his 2007 book by recommending the “intelligent solution” that “would henceforth limit every human female on Earth capable of bearing children to one.” He assures us this would be “fairly applied,” but doesn't bother to clarify if this policy would be enforced through mandatory abortions or mandatory sterilizations. There's no need to get into specifics and harsh the buzz that comes from enlightenment.

The buzz is all over Detroit. From enlightened auto manufacturers who failed to produce cars that would sell, to enlightened unions who failed to leave enough blood in the host industry to keep it alive, to enlightened national politicians who thought a good fuel economy standard would be a great one if it were only doubled, to enlightened local politicians who race bait at city council meetings, the place is lousy with enlightenment. You can hardly though a brick without hitting the next American Buddha.

All this enlightenment might be intimidating to some, and that might be why Wayne County can't hardly give away Detroit. No one wants to move into Utopia only to find out he has to worry about whether the neighbors think he's smart enough. Better to wait for all the enlightened thinkers to leave town before coming in with the buzz-killing reality that a single condo in New York is probably worth more than the entire city of Detroit.

(c)2009, Broadside. Reprinted by permission.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

You Light Up the Wind Beneath My Wings

Cristin recently conducted a shake-down on Facebook wherein she demanded a prize from me. On the Internet, where laws don't exist, this is a legitimate interaction between friends; had this been a brick-and-mortar shake-down, she'd be charged with racketeering. (How do I know so much about racketeering? It is listed on my Blogger profile as one of my hobbies.)

So I have to meet her demands, which were as follows:

Maybe you could just write nice things every once in awhile on your blog about me or something like that. Maybe it would make up for that one time you said you would punch me in the mouth for saying that 5 Guys was better than In-n-Out.
Okay, I was about to say she'd misquoted me, or at least quoted me out of context, but then I looked up my old blog post, and she has it pretty much word-for-word. So I guess I do owe her a nice review on my blog.

Review of Cristin

her most flattering picture available on the Internet

Erik told me he was going to try to date a girl who'd moved to our hometown while I was a missionary, so I'd never met her. The problem was, she was dating his cousin. I thought, "Man, what's with this girl that she's so in demand?" I soon found out the answer: she was a former contestant on the New Dating Game.

Erik's mystery woman turned out to be from Arizona, where she'd already graduated from NAU (which, according to their school website, stands for Not A University) with a degree in political science, or maybe economics, or maybe both. I don't remember. I just remember thinking, "Hey, she's all right." Erik liked her accomplishments because it made her the perfect complement to his heroic self, which manifested itself in his saving babies who would otherwise plummet to their deaths.

probably dropped from an airplane by a negligent mother

What sealed Cristin's place as the best of all my childhood friends' wives was the way she was genuinely happy to see us when we dropped in on them in their Utah apartment the winter after they got married. She even let us wear her Salt Lake Olympics beret (sadly, no photos survive).

So there you have it: my review of Cristin. Like my book review blog, I'll finish with a rating on the inflatable monkey scale. Rating: 6.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Practical Socialism

"Comrade Walderwick is merely the man to whom the umbrella belongs."

Eve's eyes opened wide.

"Do you mean to say you gave me somebody else's umbrella?"

"I had unfortunately omitted to bring my own out with me this morning."

"I never heard of such a thing!"

"Merely practical Socialism. Other people are content to talk about the Redistribution of Property. I go out and do it."

P.G. Wodehouse, Leave It to Psmith, pp. 74-5

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kid Synonyms

Articulate Joe was a late talker. It seems one of the results of that is difficulty remembering exact terms for things. There are times when he starts a sentence, and you can tell he knew all the words at the beginning, but by the time he gets to the end, he's forgotten one of them. What's kind of neat about it is he's very willing to describe the forgotten word in other words. He's an expert at using other words for the ones he can't remember.

As a result, we get to hear fun synonyms that we probably wouldn't have thought of ourselves. Just now he built a boxing ring out of building blocks and told me, "It's a punching stadium." I don't think I ever would have thought of a boxing ring as a punching stadium, but that's basically what it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Am (Possibly) a Professional Writer

Still no word yet about whether I'm getting paid for my newspaper gig. In my initial interview my editor expressed dismay that my last newspaper didn't pay me, and he assured me this one did after my fourth article. Then he e-mailed me to tell me it was actually after my second article.

This past Monday they ran my fifth article, so if his e-mail was correct, I've got three articles' worth of pay coming my way. But my editor is much more hands-off than any previous editor of mine (meaning everyone Monday I open the paper to find out if they've run my article or not). I e-mailed him, but he has an aversion to responding to e-mails. Maybe there are some sweet paychecks sitting out there with my name on them, possibly totaling upwards of $10. I just have to find out where they are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

These Are Not the Websites You're Looking For

Today I read that ICANN, the group that governs Internet protocols and stuff, is going to approve domain names written in non-Latin characters. This article makes it sound like it's a giant step forward for world democracy. An article I read several months ago about the prospect of this change, though, brought up the fact that some non-Latin characters are visually identical to Latin characters. Thus a website can be called something like www.yourbank.com, only the "b" isn't a Latin "b," but a Cyrillic one. This website is distinct from the actual website of your bank, but looking at the address wouldn't let you know it. Typing in the address yourself will still be fine, since you probably won't use non-Latin characters in the middle of a line of Latin script, but seeing the address in a link won't tell you if the site is valid of bogus.

Just something to think about today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Being on a Newspaper Staff Is Not As Exciting As the Movie "Fletch" Would Have You Believe

I feel so smarmy when I write a newspaper article with good structure. I start with a joke, write the article, then end with a joke related to the first one. It makes me seem like a hack. I don't know why; I don't think others who do it are hacks. Just me. But then, I've always been a very special boy.

The headline is mine, the subheadline my editor's. He also likes new paragraphs much more than I do, which I think they teach in journalism school.

Weapons of Mass Employment: Find the Perfect Job in a Not-So-Perfect Economy

President Barack Obama has a lot on his plate. Between adjudicating misdemeanors in Cambridge, MA, opining about the proceedings at the MTV Video Music Awards, demonizing a non-friendly news agency, and advocating for a college football playoff, no one can really blame the man if unemployment is on its way past 10 percent. Clearly he's busy.

Not to fear. While our country is shedding high-wage technical jobs, others are growing in those very sectors. If you happen to enjoy sunny Mediterranean climes, pistachios that get your fingers all red, gasoline that costs less than 50 cents per gallon, and oppressive Islamic republics, scores of jobs await you in the promising field of nuclear technology.

According to Mark Hosenball in Newsweek, Iran followed its 2003 “halting” of its atomic weapons program by, well, immediately restarting its atomic weapons program.

In Iran's defense, though, it should be noted that, since even Denny's now closes for Christmas, every business can be said to “halt” every once in a while.

It's the length of the halting that matters. One man's halt is another's dramatic pause.

The problem is the nature of diplomatic language, which doesn't really differentiate between halting and catching one's breath. This deficiency might need correction soon, as it seems every time the International Atomic Energy Agency secures promises of halting weapons programs, the promising nations start things back up pretty quickly.

To slightly exaggerate, on one particular trip to Iran, Hans Blix was shown the “halted” centrifuges and left to catch his plane back to Belgium (official name: Netherlands Junior).

When he got to the car he remembered he'd left his hat inside, whereupon he opened the door to find centrifuges spinning like a toked-up hippie girl at a Phish concert.

The world's thugs have been of two minds about how to handle weapons inspectors. Some end their programs and say they didn't, while some don't end their programs and say they did. The first group was lead by Saddam Hussein, who thought the international community should be satisfied with a, “Come on, guys, you know me” level of verification.

Iran subscribes to the other school of thought. Hardly a month goes by that it isn't halting its nuclear program. But don't let that discourage you from applying for one of the technical jobs. Somehow the program has a way of starting itself back up every month.

I once had a radio like that. I gave it to Good Will. Iran is not seriously considering doing the same.

Of course, we have nothing to worry about. Americans have a Nobel peace laureate in the Oval Office. Not so much for anything he's actually done for peace, but more for the fact that, you know, he likes peace. And that should be worth a fancy dinner in Norway.

Unfortunately, some people aren't swayed by fancy awards. I was a two-time geography bowl champion in high school, but not everyone wanted to be my friend as a result.

Peace prizes have a way of not bringing peace as effectively as strength. David Von Drahle of Time recognizes as much when he argues that the Nobel prize should more rightly be given to nuclear weapons than to those seeking a nuclear-free world.

Perhaps the president's lack of focus on the nuclear threat is really just a way to kill two birds with one stone.

If nuclear weapons make us safer, then handing them out like toasters with new checking accounts is the safest thing of all, and if our country isn't going to make any more jobs on its own, allowing every tinhorn despot to start up an expensive weapons program is a great way to find work for unemployed scientists and technicians.

If he keeps coming up with ingenious employment schemes like this he might find himself with the Nobel prize in economics, an award that historically is more rewarding of actual results than grand intentions. And if his plan doesn't work, it's not like any of us will still be alive to say, “I told you so.”

©2009, Broadside. Reprinted by permission.