Thursday, April 30, 2009

Bad Teacher

It used to be a "bad teacher" was someone who didn't teach well. Now it's a 35-year-old fatty who runs off with a 12-year-old boy. When I say I'm a bad teacher, I'm thinking of the old-school definition, like when I say I'm gay because my wife is hysterical.

I teach three discussion sections that are tied to a professor's lecture. The professor has said the students need to attend discussion at least 12 times. Depending on the discussion section's day of the week, that means they can miss two, three, or four times.

One of my sections meets at 8 am and only has five students enrolled (one of whom never shows up). Since the other four have all been there more than 12 times, they suggested that next week we meet in the food court and have breakfast together.

I would probably have said no, but this is my last semester here, so I'm more open to doing things that could get me in trouble. I said we'd look into it. Well, in looking into it, we discovered that the food court omelet table isn't open on Thursdays. One student suggested we go to a coffee shop off campus. Again, I probably should say no, but I didn't. And this is how next week's discussion section is being held at Milton's over breakfast.

I am reminded of the mythical Sunday School lesson taught by the man who is now my brother-in-law. The month before I turned 12 and entered the class, he taught a lesson on "what not to do on Fast Sunday" that featured going to the convenience store to buy candy and soda. All I knew was, when I finally entered the class, he'd been replaced as the teacher and the students couldn't stop talking about how awesome it had been. (Four years later he was my Priest's Quorum adviser and we watched "Blazing Saddles" as our activity. This was actually an improvement over our Teacher's Quorum adviser who let us watch "Aliens" and "Aliens 2" as an activity. I wonder why I was the only member of my cohort to serve a mission.)

I keep thinking this discussion section is going to get me in trouble, but maybe I will gain legendary status among my students. And what are they going to do, fire me?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Medication

So we've taken over General Motors and Chrysler without compensating the shareholders, given ownership stakes to the unions that ruined the companies, and have put out word that banks are next, yet more Americans feel like the nation is headed in the right direction?

Gettin' Biz-Zay

Since getting married (eight years and one day ago), I've maintained that the best weekend is the weekend that sees me come home from work on Friday and only leave the house for church on Sunday before leaving for work Monday morning. This might qualify me as something of a "home-body" (which, while differing in just one letter from "homeboy," has a bit of a different meaning). Be that as it may; my consciousness transcends labels, moron.

This summer, though, I'm becoming one of those people who has something happening every weekend. I don't want to be one of those people. Those people tend to go to tri-county antique shows and their nephew's out-of-state wrestling tournaments. Nevertheless, here's how my summer is shaping up.

Apr. 25: Articulate Joe's fifth birthday party in Kansas City, KS, and a Royals game in Kansas City, MO.

May 2: The Killers concert in Kansas City, KS.

May 9: Going to my brother's house an hour away for my grandparents visiting from Pittsburgh.

May 16-17: Math department luncheon and economics department evening reception. University commencement.

May 23: Train ride to Saint Louis, MO.

May 30: no plans (right now)

Jun. 6: Crazy Jane's early birthday party.

Jun. 12: Baby X's heart doctor appointment and a Royals game in Kansas City, MO.

Jun. 20: Persephone's birthday.

Jun. 26-28: Driving from Kansas to southern Utah.

Jul. 4: Still at the cabin in Utah.

Jul. 11-12: Driving home from southern Utah (and maybe a Rockies game in Denver, CO).

Jul. 18: Packing.

Jul. 25: Packing.

Jul. 31-Aug 2.: Moving from Kansas to Virginia.

This is what I imagine it's like being in the Lassen family; every weekend there are three family events you have to attend. I'd stab myself in the neck to get out of that. The good news, though, is once we're in Virginia school doesn't start until the end of August, and then I never have to worry about having time for weekend activities ever again.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I keep track of the baseball stadia I’ve been to, but today I realized I might want to see just how many teams I’ve seen play.

American League (8 of 14)

Baltimore Orioles: I’ve never seen them play, but I figure we will go to at least one Orioles game while we’re living in Washington.

Boston Red Sox: I’ve seen them play in Anaheim and Kansas City.

Chicago White Sox: Never seen.

Cleveland Indians: Never seen.

Detroit Tigers: I’ve seen them play the Royals twice.

Kansas City Royals: I’ve been to five Royals games and plan to go to another next month.

Los Angeles Angels: I’ve been to the Big A four times, I believe. (Once I was nearly run over by Gene Autry’s driver.)

Minnesota Twins: I think I saw them once in Milwaukee.

New York Yankees: Never seen them.

Oakland Athletics: Never seen them.

Seattle Mariners: I’ve seen them in Kansas City once.

Tampa Bay Rays: Never seen them.

Texas Rangers: Once in Kansas City.

Toronto Blue Jays: Once in Anaheim.

National League (9 of 16)

Arizona Diamondbacks: Never seen them.

Atlanta Braves: Once in Los Angeles, and Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 1992 NLCS in Pittsburgh.

Chicago Cubs: Never seen them.

Cincinnati Reds: Twice in Los Angeles, and again next month in Kansas City.

Colorado Rockies: Never seen them.

Florida Marlins: Never seen them (but I might come this August).

Houston Astros: Once in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Countless times at Dodger Stadium and once in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers: Twice, once as an American League team and once as a National League team.

New York Mets: Once in Los Angeles.

Philadelphia Phillies: Never seen them.

Pittsburgh Pirates: About a brazillion times. In Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim, Saint Louis, and Pittsburgh.

Saint Louis Cardinals: Once in Saint Louis, getting in to the new Busch Stadium for free in the eighth inning.

San Diego Padres: Once in San Diego.

San Francisco Giants: Never seen them.

Washington Nationals: Not yet, but we’re making plans to see them play the Marlins this August when we get to Washington.

So I’ve seen 17 of 30 professional baseball teams, and could very well see four or five more before the end of this season. That’s not too bad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let's Hear It for the Buccos

The Pittsburgh Pirates are three games above .500, and just SWEPT the Florida Marlins, who had been the hottest team in baseball (until they had to go to the 'Burgh, baby!).

Of course, it's very early in the season to be celebrating a winning record, but we haven't been this far above .500 this late in the season since [Internet research ensues] we were 15-12 on May 3, 2002. I didn't even have any CHILDREN yet back then! (That I knew of, anyway.)

Also of interest to the Yinzer fan, the Penguins are about to close out the Flyers in their first-round playoff series, and of course, the Steelers are current Super Bowl champions. In short, Pittsburgh has the greatest sports teams in the world.

PS: And in my Internet researching I discovered a great site for baseball statistics,

Monday, April 20, 2009

Kid Comments

Two weekends ago I took the kids to the grocery store. (Actually, I did it this past weekend, too.) First we stopped at Best Buy, where Crazy Jane and I tried to play the demonstration version of Rock Band, but we couldn't figure it out. As we were leaving, she said a classmate of hers has a guitar like that at his house, so he must have Rock Band. I said, "Well, I know there's a different game called Guitar Hero. Maybe he has that one." She asked, "Why is this one called Rock Band?" I said, "It has more than just a guitar, right? It has drums, too." She said, "But it just has guitar and drums. If they wanted to be like a rock band they'd have more instruments, like a triangle."

Then we went to the grocery store where they both tried to talk me into buying every sugar-based snack item in the store. (Thus arose a new family rule: you can't ask for anything in a grocery store.) When I turned down one item, Crazy Jane said, "Then why does [maternal grandma] buy these all the time?" and Articulate Joe said, "Because she has a ton of money."

Four Months to Live

Okay, not really, but sort of.

So I just started thinking today about the stuff I want to do with my summer. And the first thing that came to mind was watch all the "Planet of the Apes" movies in a row. Not because the movies are wonderful or anything; it's just the type of thing I've always thought, "That would be a relaxing way to waste some time."

Also on my list for this summer are:

  • catalog my maps (I'd estimated I own over 500 maps)
  • organize my computer files on our back-up drive
  • finish two personal projects I'm working on
  • read 10,000 pages
  • Lord of the Rings, extended edition, movie marathon
  • The Simpsons, seasons 1-11, non-stop

Friday, April 17, 2009

Time's Winged Chariot, or Whatever

I haven't written a blog post all week. The thing is, I don't have much to say. I went to a forum on Tuesday night where one of the speakers said, "I know Congressman Moore was very uncomfortable with the size of the stimulus package," and I was the only person who laughed. What the hell is THAT about?!

The Pirates were above .500 with over a week of the season behind them, but now they're one game under.

We had the missionaries over for dinner last night.

This is the type of exciting stuff that's been going on in my life, and this is why I haven't written a blog post.

Okay, here's something, I guess: I feel like a fraud when I share "uplifting" stories from my mission, because the only thing that makes them uplifting is cutting them off before the end. Does that make me a liar? Am I misleading people? For instance, I'll share this story with you in two parts; the first part will end with the uplifting portion, and the second part will be "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey used to say.


I was on splits with the district leader in his area. Towards the end of the day, he pulled into a shopping center parking lot. "Okay, let's get out and invite 20 people," he said. "If it looks like the manager is coming out to yell at us, just head back to the car and we'll go."

"I don't feel comfortable with this," I said.

"Why not?"

"Because we know it's wrong."

"We don't know it's wrong."

"Then why would we be on the look-out for the manager and leave before he told us to?"

"Well, how do you guys invite 20 people a day?"


"But that would take hours."

"I know, but it's what we have to do."

He was angry about it, but we went tracting. We only had about an hour left until our splits ended, so we went into the neighborhood behind the shopping center and began knocking doors. Within the first few doors we found a gourmet chef who was not interested in the gospel, but who loved to cook for missionaries. He said he and his wife would always have the missionaries over in their old town, and any time we wanted dinner, call them up and he'd cook for us. The district leader wasn't so grumpy after that.

Then, on the next street, we had this girl answer the door. She was in her mid-to-late teens and had been sent to live with relatives because she had been misbehaving in her hometown. We taught her a first discussion on the front step and she seemed interested in learning more. Our splits ended, but the district leader and his companion subsequently taught her the rest of the discussions and she was baptized.



Meanwhile, my companion and I were teaching the baby-daddy of a girl in our quarter of the ward. Because the girl was a minor, he was on probation for knocking her up. He couldn't be baptized while he was on probation, so he'd been taking the discussions for over a year, planning on getting baptized as soon as he was cleared. My companion and I both felt bad about this guy; it was obvious to us that he was only joining the church so his baby-momma would take him back. His probation was set to expire and he asked me to baptize him. I told our mission president I didn't feel comfortable doing it, but our mission president said it wasn't our call and we just had to do it. His baptismal date would be the same as that of the girl from the district leader's side of town.

She was one of those investigators who confused the good feelings of the Spirit for good feelings about the missionaries. She had a crush on the district leader's companion. He, however, was involved in a relationship with the under-aged baby-momma, and would be sent home in a few weeks. The investigator told the elder she liked him, he told her he didn't like her, she became distraught and wanted to back out of her baptism.

Baptismal Sunday came around. The guy I had to baptize was upset that he was being confirmed second, because he was hungry and wanted to leave early to get something to eat. He met the girl investigator. A ward member told us the next week that she'd seen them naked together at a party, and that my baptism told the other one that the church wasn't true. Neither of them ever came to church again.

If it weren't for a baptism the night before I came home, that would have been my only baptism on my mission.


So when the missionaries were over for dinner last night, we were talking about tracting and I shared Part One, but I couldn't get all goose-bumpy about it like they did because I knew Part Two. I obviously wasn't going to tell these two sister missionaries Part Two, but should I then have not even told Part One?

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Paper Trail of My (Coming) Brilliant Success

So I've created a Twitter profile. Not because anything I'm doing is worth noting, but because it will allow me to slowly amass a massive backload of data when I becoming amazingly successful and my adoring public attempts to find out as much about me as it can. Here is a worthless factoid (or twenty) about me that will become a bon mot for use at parties to establish your status as a "true" A Random Stranger fan:

  • I once had to look up "bon mot" on the Internet to see if I was using it correctly. When it was questionable if I was, I went ahead with the usage, anyway.
  • As a young child, my newlywed uncle would watch us on Friday nights while my parents went out. We would eat macaroni and cheese and watch "Solid Gold."
  • I assume I was mentioned in the newspaper in a birth announcement. The second time was on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where my name was misspelled. The third time was in the Camarillo Daily News, where my name was misspelled and I was referred to as "she."
  • I vowed to quit playing Minesweeper once I got an expert-level score under 100. My expert-level score is 80 and I have basically retired from the game.
  • I once explained to a German tourist in Washington, DC, who William Sherman was. I said, "Er brannte alles." He said, "Warum?" I said, "Es war ein Krieg."
  • For Thanksgiving one year I lined up a ride to Kansas City on the BYU ride board. I ended up making out with one of my fellow passengers during the drive back to Provo. I didn't care if it made the other passengers uncomfortable because, after 20 hours in the car with them, I hated them all. (Except for my make-out buddy, of course.)
  • I have never hitchhiked yet, but every time I might be late for my bus I think, "Today might be the day."
  • I once promised 20 random facts about me and then only delivered eight.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Grad School Final Decisions

So with the dust (mostly) settled, here are the final results:

Washington University: rejected

Boston College: rejected

Rice University: rejected

George Mason University: ATTENDING

Vanderbilt University: rejected

George Washington University: accepted

University of Illinois-Chicago: accepted

University of Kansas: accepted

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: accepted

Temple University: accepted

Northeastern University: accepted

Rice's waitlist turned into a rejection, and then two days ago I got accepted by Kansas, even after my face-to-face rejection last month. But we're moving on. The truck is already reserved with Penske (at a third the price we had to pay to leave California).

Las Cucarachas Entran, Pero, No Pueden Salir

Noticible differences:

  1. Vince respects the deep-rooted cultural Christianity of the Hispanic community by making no references to his nuts when he demonstrates how to chop nuts with the cover.
  2. Vince hits the window with the over-the-shoulder toss.
  3. Vince says nothing about "making America skinny again."

Noticible simmilarities:

  1. That's still Vince.
  2. He includes the "linguini, fettuccini, martini, bikini," line.

Closing the Deal

It's Friday, which means there is a crossword puzzle in today's Wall Street Journal. After working on it for half-an-hour before class, various boring bits of class itself, and the bus ride to work, I have seven squares left to fill. The problem is, I'm stuck.

It's more frustrating getting stuck this close to the end than it would be to barely be able to start. The puzzle is 21 squares square, with 67 black squares (I'm sure they have a technical crossword puzzle term). That means I supplied 367 of 374 letters, or over 98% of the puzzle. Are you kidding me?! Two percent left and I can't finish it?! Come on!

(time passes)

Okay, I looked up some things on the Internet and finished the puzzle, but that's nowhere near as satisfying as actually finishing the puzzle. Now I have to wait an entire week for the next Journal puzzle.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Going to Class Pays Off (Sometimes)

Today in one of my classes, the professor said, "And now we'll see the power of the Heine-Borel Theorem," and I thought, "He just said, 'the power of the heinie.'" And that made me not so angry about being in a boring class.

Once a Chinese professor of mine said, "Why are you freaking the bear?" When I looked up from my notes, though, he'd written on the board, "What about inflation?" And a Japanese professor of mine would say "bid-ask spread" and sound exactly like he was saying "big-ass spread."

Other than those three moments, going to class has usually been a waste of time.

Friday, April 03, 2009


The good news is I was able to concentrate enough the last few days to study for my differential equations test today. The bad news is that I did it by convincing myself the reward for concentration would be my receiving notification from the final few schools whose decisions I'm awaiting, yet that hasn't happened yet. I'm sitting here at work, watching my gmail tab continually say "Gmail-Inbox (2)." Then when it says "3" I get excited and click over, only to find it's a frequent flier e-mail from American Airlines or something. Honestly, people, if you're not a graduate school, don't e-mail me right now.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Can't Stop the Idiocy

I think I've probably used this title for a blog post before, but when you've had a blog as long as I've had, and come to be ashamed of how poorly written it is as I have, you try to put things like that out of your mind. I imagine I'll have another post with this title next week.

I know I wrote my review of You Can't Be President already, and the idea was to get all my hatred for the book out of my system, but as I've kept reading, I've come across more and more idiotic statements from MacArthur.

Sometimes books specify on their title page that you can quote the book for the purposes of a scholarly review. Now, I already know MacArthur has pretty high standards for who can be called a "scholar" (and Joshua Muravchik doesn't pass muster), but I think this counts as a scholarly review, since I'm going to back my critique up with some philosophy and stuff. Plus, MacArthur's title page doesn't say jack about quoting, so suck it, Johnny.

Here he is bemoaning the fallacy of the American ideal of economic mobility: "Of the poorest fifth of American families surveyed in 1988, 53.3 percent were still in the bottom fifth of the economic ladder in 1998. Another 23.6 percent made it up one rung to the second-lowest quintile of income earners, 12.4 percent made it to the third, 6.4 percent reached the second, and only 4.3 percent settled in the top fifth" (149).

I read those data and I am amazed at just how MUCH economic mobility there is in this country! What this is saying is that, given a cohort of the nation's poorest people, within only 10 years nearly half of them will have advanced out of that group, and over 4% have become the richest of Americans. If we say there's a 50% chance of moving out of the group every decade, then someone born poor, by the end of the average lifespan of 70ish years, has a 1-((1/2)^7) chance of not being poor any more, which is 99.21875%. (And yes, I'm exchanging "bottom 20th percentile" for "poor," but if more than 1 out of five people counts as poor, the word "poor" doesn't really have much meaning any more.)

MacArthur saves his best whining for the statistics about how FEW rich people become poor in ten-year's time. "53.2 percent of people in the top fifth of income earners in 1988 remained in the top bracket a decade later, 23.2 percent fell to the second-highest bracket, 14.9 percent dropped to the third quintile, 5.7 percent fell to the fourth quintile, and 3.0 to the fifth quintile" (149).

Again, the richest Americans have a nearly 50-50 chance of no longer being so in just ten-year's time. But to listen to people like MacArthur tell it, the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The rich as a group might control a larger share of the nation's wealth, but who is IN that group is constantly changing, and controlling a larger share of a growing base doesn't mean that the other amounts are shrinking. Hence the poor don't get poorer, they just get not poor much more slowly than the rich get more rich.

What really gets me angry, though, is when MacArthur complains that rich kids aren't becoming poor kids at a large enough pace: "Only .5 percent of children belonging to the richest quintile fell to the poorest quintile 10 years later, and only 1.7 percent dropped into the lowest two brackets" (150).

Now you're going to take your class warfare out on kids? I thought juvenile poverty was something to combat. It turns out it's something we WANT to have happen, as long as it happens to the children of the filthy rich. After complaining, "Oh, man, if you're born poor you should just give up because the cards are stacked against you, man," he doesn't see childhood affluence as a means of ensuring a lifetime free from the worry of poverty. Only SOME people shouldn't be poor, I guess. (And given his views on the estate tax, evidently MacArthur wants us all to start out poor, even though his statistics "prove" that being born poor makes you stay that way.)

So MacArthur has proven, in a round-about way, what is true of liberal economic policy: it seeks to make everyone equal by making everyone equally poor. Conservative economic policy, however, doesn't care about equality, and just seeks to raise all income earners. When the number one health problem of America's poor is obesity, it's questionable just how "poor" poor people are. Just because you don't have as much as someone else doesn't mean you're hurting.