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?"


"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."


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