Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Oh Really, Fool?" "Really!"

"Keynesianism, as a school in itself, was largely discarded after the failure of the 1970s. Nobody now believes that it is possible to fine-tune the economy with the judicious application of public-works spending and interest rate manipulation/currency devaluation." -- Nathan Lewis, Gold: The Once and Future Money (2007), p. 225


Title from a debate between shampoo and conditioner in the cinematic masterpiece, "Billy Madison."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

"Like a Very Hairy Jake Gyllenhaal to Me"

Let me make a provocative statement here: people are better than all other animals.

I would have thought this type of thinking wouldn't be too controversial, but I've known several people who would take umbrage at this idea.

In California I worked with a guy who insisted his choice to have pets instead of children wasn't a transference device: pets were better than kids. Once at an office pot-luck he said, "If I was driving my car and I had to decide whether to run over a person or run over a dog, and I could be reasonably sure I wouldn't get in trouble for it, I'd run over the person." Such sentiments really punched up the party atmosphere.

In Kansas, I worked with a woman (the one who laid her boobs on me) who heard of another coworker's friend who was refusing to leave an abusive relationship, and Boob Lady kept anxiously fretting over the welfare of the abuse victim's dog.

Today I read that Tucker Carlson can be added to the list of those who've drunk deeply of the Purina Kool Aid.

Now, I know Vick did his dog-killing in my home state of Virginia, where we still execute criminals fairly regularly, but capital punishment for animal cruelty is a stretch even for us. I mean, the Connecticut home invasion guy is probably going to die peacefully in prison, and Carlson is outraged that Vick is still breathing? If Carlson doesn't watch himself, he's going to be invited to a City Hall pot-luck to make things more festive.


Title from the "Saturday Night Live" song "Iran So Far," which is funny enough that I'll include it here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Church Lesson Comments

There's a trend in church lesson comments that I cannot stand. It is when the commenter wants to talk about how all possible learning on the topic is to be done by other people.

In a lesson about raising children, these people want to talk about what a horrible job "society" is doing. "It's really scary to think my kids are going to school with these kids." (Then stop sending your kids to school with "these kids.") In a lesson about apostasy, these people want to talk about the faulty reasoning of inactive members.

No lesson is ever about them, or for them. The lesson is always for the people who aren't there, either inactives or nonmembers. Then why did these commenters come to church?

Church isn't a club for people to talk about how horrible other people are. It's a club for horrible people who want to be better. My first reaction to every lesson is "how does this apply to me?" These commenters' first reaction is always, "Who do I know who has this problem (who naturally isn't me)?"

Last year I taught a lesson about raising sons, and the commenters quickly turned the discussion to "society"'s boys. What about YOUR boys, commenters? Today the lesson began with John 6:66-7: "From that time, many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?" The teacher was doing a good job, but it was the commenters who wanted to talk about their favorite inactive story.

The question was "Will YE also go away?" These folks can't even begin to fathom how they could. Peter also couldn't understand how he could deny Jesus three times, but he did it anyway.

The lesson was based on the most-recent conference talk by Elder Andersen. He starts by saying, "In my own mind I have answered that question many times: 'Absolutely not! Not me! I will never leave Him! I am here forever!' I know you have answered the same way." When I read that I thought, "Actually, when I answer this question in my own mind, I usually think, 'Crap, I hope not.'" This is just the first of what I suspect are many differences between Elder Andersen's spirituality and mine.

But then I began to wonder if maybe Elder Andersen isn't actually trying to sneak one over on these "nope, it's never my problem" commenters. He starts by saying, "I know none of us are every going to fall away," but then he says, "but how about you still listen to 15 minutes of me talking about how to make sure you never fall away?" Quite wily of him, tricking the self-assured that way. I just sit there wanting to stab these commenters in the neck. (Number 2 on the list of our differences.)

Giveaway Winner

And the winner of my first ever giveaway is...not my wife.

I ended up with four entrants: Steve, a totally different kind of Stephen, JT, and Erik. Let's, for the purposes of random number generation, call them 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Using random.org's random number generation (because I'm on a couch with my legs under a blanket, and frankly this is easier than putting slips of paper in a hat), I decided to declare the winner to be the first number to come up five times. Here are the results:

3, 1, 2, 1, 4, 2, 1, 4, 3, 3, 1, 3, 3.

Congratulations, JT! You've shown that the results would have been the same if I had just gone with the first number generated and stopped!

Last week at the used book store I stopped by the free bin to find the ironically horrible gift book, and ended up finding a book I own, have read, and really like. (What does that say about me that the used book store thinks it's worth $0?) I can't decide if I should use it or go back to the free bin again. Either way, JT can expect a book in the mail soon (probably with some postage due).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

They Don't Know Us That Well At All

Al Qaeda thinks poisoning salad bars is going to kill Americans? This article (complete with gratuitous chesty "average salad bar patron" picture) says so.

I thought they would be better informed. The greatest carnage would come from targeting the nation's trans fat supplies. It's unclear to me if a poisoned salad bar would even get noticed before the poison lost its toxicity.

Optimal Social Media Strategy

In the modern world, there are two choices when something happens to you: post it, or don't post it. Whether you're blogging, tweeting, or status updating, the great debate of life has come down to this. To post or not to post, that is the et cetera.

To help you choose, you might ask what type of news it is. Is it good news, or bad news? Both have their pros and cons.

  • Good News
    • Pro: you're celebrating.
    • Con: you're bragging.
  • Bad News
    • Pro: you're venting.
    • Con: you're complaining.

Perhaps you think you've discovered the mythical Third Way: cryptic, leading statements. You're neither celebrating nor bragging when you write, "I'm ecstatic!" Nor are you venting or complaining when you write, "I can't be bothered to care anymore." But rest assured: your friends still hate you. With this sort of douchery, that much is certain.

When my cohort took our qualifying exams, Facebook was awash in either over-the-top bragging by those who passed or all-too-telling silence by those who didn't. I didn't want to brag, but my pride was threatened by allowing the busybodies to think I had failed.

What is the optimal strategy? What do you want to see when you get status updates or read blog posts? Good news? Bad news? I'm beginning to think the optimal strategy is to not use social media at all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

William Hung's Wikipedia Page

Here are the most "huh?"-inducing bits.

  1. "He was a student at University of California, Berkeley, and later dropped out to pursue his music career."
  2. "Hung was not admitted through to the next round."
  3. "William Hung was offered a $25,000 advance on a record deal from Koch Entertainment in 2004, and released three albums on that label in 2004 and 2005."
  4. "Despite solid financial backing and the involvement of Nancy Sit, the film was a box office flop."
  5. "'(i)t's really difficult for Asian American males to break through....'"
  6. His album Inspiration peaked at No. 1 on the U.S. Indie charts.

"Well, You Already Said 'Spite'"

Earlier this week my wife had a give-away on her blog. She only had two rules: 1) leave a comment, and 2) live in North America (so she didn't have to ship stuff overseas).

I complied with both rules. I thought my chances of winning were pretty good, until I read about her blatant impartiality as a judge.

The contest is over. And, eliminating my husband's entry, there were 8 of you.

What, I ask you, gentle reader, the hell?!

Not since the early days of the BCS have I seen a contest so brazenly unfair. Even "American Idol" lets William Hung* compete.

I immediately commented:

Rigged!

"Eliminating my husband's comment"?!?! Maybe I'll eliminate all of YOUR comments when you try to win a give-away on MY blog. Which I'm going to have now, just to spite you.

As I'm sure I don't need to tell you, we have a very healthy relationship.

So my first blog give-away is officially on. Just leave a comment, being careful to comply with my only rule: don't be my wife. Foreign entries are okay, as are multiple entries! The winner will be mailed a book of my choosing from the free book bin outside our local used book store. (Erik is a recent recipient of my free book bin largesse. He can leave a testimonial comment of how helpful my book was in his life. It'll count as his give-away entry comment.)

The contest ends on Christmas morning, fools!


* William Hung's Wikipedia page is so fascinating, it's deserving of its own post.


Title from the "Seinfeld" episode "The Wig Master."

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Everything's Coming Up Milhouse!"

Wednesday I finished my semester. Friday we went on a county trip through central Pennsylvania. I got 12 new counties (Perry PA, Juniata PA, Mifflin PA, Snyder PA, Clinton PA, Lycoming PA, Northumberland PA, Montour PA, Columbia PA, Schuylkill PA, Berks PA, and Lebanon PA), raising my total for the year to an even 100.

I didn't realize until just now that I forgot to label the new counties with their names on my map. Well, my map program is totally lame to work with, so you can just suck it. The new counties are yellowish, and their names are listed above. If you want more than that, you need to find another blog to read.

First we went to Gettysburg, where the unsavvy tourist gets to pay something like 17 bucks per head to hear Morgan Freedman narrate a movie that will tell them nothing more than they should already know. We saw the free aspects of the museum (the restrooms and gift shop), then went to Wal-Mart to buy new windshield wipers. Which I think is what the Confederate troops were doing in town in 1863.

Next we went to Dillsburg to see my great-grandparents' graves. The headstone prominently features our last name. I said to my wife, "Someday we'll have one of those of our very own." She didn't like that.

On the way out of town we stopped at the house they lived in at the end of their lives. I remember visiting the house when I was three. My kids were fact-checking my story. "I don't see a creek in the backyard!" I was three; stop busting my balls.

Next we saw the state capitol in Harrisburg. The neighborhood between the capitol and the Susquehanna was full of really nice row houses. Right when I said it looked like a good neighborhood to live in, we saw a giant gay bar called Stallions. Not that gay bars don't make good neighbors; I just don't want to explain homosexuality to my kids right now, when they barely have an understanding of heterosexuality. I'm not raising "intolerant" children; I'm raising children.

After that, it was just an ass-load of counties. Super-Hot 111 was very pleased to see so many Amish. And I was strangely pleased to drive on Interstate 83 north of Baltimore, because in high school we read some short story about a man who faces economic hardship after the building of that highway, and although I cannot remember the title of the story nor the name of the author (and--let's be honest about High-School-Me--I probably didn't read it), I remembered that the story exists. On our way back through Maryland we stopped to see the Christmas lights at the temple.

When we got home, I had an e-mail from a professor, praising my term paper and telling me that it would require just a few easy-to-make changes to be considered publishable. Hurray for my paper "The De-Cigarette-ification of American Prisons"!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Horror, the Horror!

That titan of the American media, Newsweek (market value: $1), has made the Fourth Estate proud by cataloging the 13 worst trends of 2010. And Number Two on their list: KFC's Double Down sandwich.

Astute readers will remember my scintillating review of said sandwich, which was vivid enough to cause Erik to go out and buy what his wife called "that heart attack explosion sandwich." But Newsweek has too much journalistic integrity to get on that bandwagon. (Bandwagons they're okay with joining: Al Qaeda's.)

They bemoan the horribleness of the sandwich while noting dismissively that it has fewer calories than a Big Mac. So what makes it so horrible? In a Big Mac/Heart Attack Explosion bimodal world, it's the Heart Attack Explosion that is actually the healthier choice. Boo, healthy eating! It's one of the 13 worst things of the year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Secrets

I just read a headline about a local man who won $1 mil. from a state lottery "scratcher" game, and I thought, "I don't know if $1 mil. would be enough to make it worthwhile to reveal to my friends and family that I'm stupid enough to play lottery scratcher games." I'd want that part to stay secret. Maybe instead I'd tell people I invented a new type of popcorn seasoning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday Morning's Dream

Just so I don't get any "Dallas"-esque blowback, let me be explicit about what aspects of this post are from my dream. ENTERING DREAM SEQUENCE NOW.

My daughter has edited the Wikipedia page about dingoes to say they are a cross between dogs and flamingos. I am worried she will get in trouble and I am trying to change it back, but when I search the Internet to find out what a dingo really is, all I can find is her vandalized Wikipedia page.

LEAVING DREAM SEQUENCE NOW.

Unconsti-WHAT?

Nancy Pelosi would respond to this by asking, "Are you serious?"


PS: I'm in a school computer lab, where I can see a guy on another computer taking notes from the Wikipedia page on Mao Tse-Tung. That's going to be a high-quality term paper.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"And Now For Something Completely Different"

Today our kids got Miss Mingo and the Fire Drill by Jamie Harper from the library. I read it to them this evening. Going along with the story, we suddenly got to the line: "At that moment, a very big bear entered the room."

I said, "That's a great line. Anytime you're writing a story and you don't know what should happen next, you should use that line." It's like a writing exercise. You just get a pen and paper and start and at some random moment I'll tell you to throw in "At that moment, a very big bear entered the room."

If you remember, I've done the same in past blog posts.


Seriously, though, this is a good book. It's enjoyable to read, it's well illustrated, and it's very informative (both about fire safety and about animal behavior). So make my copyright infringement worthwhile and buy half a dozen copies of this book.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thanks for Nothing, Science

Once again, science is telling us what we all already knew. A Journal of Economic Literature article entitled "Neuroeconomics: How Neuroscience Can Inform Economics" by Colin Camerer, George Leowenstein, and Drazen Prelec tells us:

Zak et al. (2003) explored the role of hormones in trust games. In a canonical trust game, one player can invest up to $10.00, which is tripled. A second "trustee" player can keep or repay as much of the tripled investment as they want. Zak et al. measured eight hormones at different points in the trust game. The hormone with the largest effect was oxytocin--a hormone that rises during social bonding (such as breast-feeding and casual touching). They found that oxytocin rose in the trustee if the first player "trusts" her by investing a lot. (They also found that ovulating women were particularly untrustworthy -- they did not repay as much of the investment.)

To which every praying mantis on earth says, "You're just finding this out now?!"

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wal-Mart: Brilliant Capitalists, or Dicks?

Do you browse the DVDs at Wal-Mart as often as I do? If so, you have probably had this experience: you take a movie off the rack to look at the back of the box, and then you can't for the life of you get it back on the rack.

The secret, I've discovered, is to push on the very bottom of the movies in the rack, as hard as you can, until they eventually shoot backwards and you slice your hand on the front of the rack.

Last week during my wife's book club, I took the three kids to the mall until we got a phone call that it was safe to come home. (Three hours in four different toy stores is what makes me a hero dad.) As it was getting late and I didn't want to get disapproving stares from other parents for having my kids out late on a school night, we ended the trip where we were sure to fit in with a nearly-three-year-old out of bed at 10 pm: Wal-Mart.

Crazy Jane wanted to read the back of a movie, and then she couldn't get it back on the rack. She asked me for help, and I told her my secret. She asked why it had to be this way. And my first suspicion is that it sells more movies.

Could it be true? Is it possible that having the movie in your hand and having difficulty putting it back could make you slightly more likely to buy the movie? The economist in me said it was more than possible. There's a lot of literature regarding how people are more attached to the things they've touched. Lengthening the amount of time the shopper is touching the product is tantamount to raising the probability he will buy the product.

But then I realized there's another, simpler explanation: this is Wal-Mart we're dealing with, here. They are using the absolutely cheapest racks they can find, and it's quite likely that they got a sweet deal on an ass-load of racks from Guangzhou Prisoner-Made Hand-Slicing Movie Rack Concern, Ltd. I imagine Wal-Mart's chairman, Freddy Wal-Mart, Jr., asked, "Now what's all this about hand-slicin'?" and the Chinese factory manager said, "They srice hand, lear bad!" and Freddy said, "Hell, it ain't my hand what will be bein' sliced! Gimme fourteen million of 'em."

So you see, once again Wal-Mart has shown that, when it comes to choosing between being a brilliant capitalist or being a dick, there's no need to choose at all. "Just make like Alexander the Great," says Freddy Wal-Mart, "and cut that sumbitch right in TWO!"

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Medical Mumbo-Jumbo, Conveniently Mapped

This Slate article promises to show the spread of diabetes across the nation, but really all it shows is the spread of diabetes diagnoses, which is a very different thing.

Your BS meter should start clacking like a Geiger counter when you can see state boundaries in the data. I would wager rural western Texans live a lifestyle very similar to that of rural eastern New Mexicans, yet their diabetes rates neatly follow state jurisdictions. The same is true of western Kansans and eastern Coloradans, northern Wisconsinites and western Youpers, southern Iowans and northern Hillbillies. Everywhere you see a state boundary, you see evidence that the "march" of diabetes is actually a political phenomenon, not a medical one.

Viewing the time series maps, you can see when Illinois got in on the diabetes racket (2006), and Kansas (2007-8). Of course, an alternative story could also be true: states like Colorado are artificially suppressing legitimate cases of diabetes. Whichever is true, the fact that diabetes diagnoses is depending on something other than blood sugar or insulin levels is startlingly obvious.

Good thing we just upped the level of government found in health care decisions. That should clear up the confusion.

Craigslist Responses

2:38 PM: ad posts

2:48 PM: "HEY, I Do agree! I've had similar experiences!"

3:00 PM: "yo whatup / ive got the same problems. nobody ever replies to ads i put up but its all good / have a good one man / take it easy and happy holidays!"

3:22 PM: "I sell my kids things that they outgrow all the time on craigslist and ALWAYS respond to everyone that emails me. I even check my spampbox. Also, when I am looking for something on craigslist and email someone about it I get a response 90% of the time."

3:34 PM: "Good Afternoon: / I have experienced the same issue many times, but, I have also gotten all kinds of good deals on craigslist. I have also sold and given away quite a bit!! I think it is all in the timing. If the posting is popular and it has been up a while—less likely to hear from anyone!! Good Luck and don’t give up!!! / Peace"

3:36 PM: "Hi, / I have had similar experiences with Craigslist. I have more success with responses to employment ads (but that was a long time ago - years), but out of all the numerous emails I have sent out for merchandise, I have only had ONE response. I will add that my responses were very brief and did not contain much personal information at all, so they may not have been taken as serious requests. / Hope this helps"

3:53 PM: "Hello / Yea, I'm a real person. But don't send me any spam or otherwise I will contact Craigslist and have your account deleted. Not to be mean, just to let you know."

4:07 PM: "if you are trying to get anything ,from craigslist in metro area ,you have to answer ad within 3 minutes of it being posted,"

4:29 PM: "Hi there! Real person here. I think that ad might have been a prank, but I feel for it :)"

4:31 PM: "This isn't a cyborg programing or monkey dating site hahaha their are real people with real needs of stuff and money some bad people just take advantage of that"

4:33 PM: "I agree with you! The other thing that people are very rude about is saying they will come to pick something up and then never show or call or email. I would never do that and I don't know why people do not have manners anymore."

4:57 PM: "Hi, / I saw your post and couldnt help thinking that happens to me all the time. NO one ever bothers to respond when you answer an ad. Sadly, makes you wonder about people. / I just wanted to give you a response. Have a wonderful Holiday!"

5:51 PM: "Its real but most people are just too rude to let you know that they have already sold, or given away what ever it is that you are responding about. If it is a for sale or free item there are people that are constantly searching the list and respond to almost everything within 45 minutes to an hour from when it was posted. You have to be quick or lucky. Better luck in the future."

6:38 PM: "it works sometimes it is a bit much! but it has worked for me.sometimes when you go to a store there are things on the shelf that have been there a long time it is like that."

6:53 PM: "you know i feel the same damn way it gets on my last nerves people post things on craigslist and then on top of that dont even respond like they posted something just for the heck of it...smh"

7:11 PM: "Your posting has been flagged for removal. / Approximately 98% of postings removed are in violation of craigslist posting guidelines. / Please make sure you are abiding by all posted site rules, including our terms of use: / http://www.craigslist.org/about/terms.of.use.html / If you need help figuring out why your posting was flagged, try asking in our flag help forum: http://forums.craigslist.org/?forumID=3. Include posting title, body, category, city, how often posted, any images, HTML markup, etc. / If your posting was wrongly flagged down (2% of flagged ads are) please accept our apologies and feel free to repost. / Sorry for the hassle, and thanks for your understanding."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Craigslist, Vis-a-Vis Hide-Chapping

Last summer my wife and I wanted to move, so we started looking around, in real estate magazines from the grocery store, online, and we even went so far as to (gasp!) buy a newspaper, even though we had no bird cages that needed lining nor fish to wrap in our freezer.

This was when I first became aware of the horrible nature of Craigslist. Until this time, I only knew what I read about it in online news articles: it was a website for hipsters to find apartments to trade when they ventured out of Brooklyn, or to find anonymous sex.

It turns out Craigslist has a different, more immediate function: it's a place to post an ad if you never intend to respond to the inquiries it generates. Apartments, jobs, lawnmowers, and bookcases are just a few of the things on Craigslist I've e-mailed and never heard back about.

Today, I cleared the 45 different anti-spam hurdles and posted this ad:

For over a year, now, every time I respond to a Craigslist ad, whether it be real estate, employment, or furniture, I have been ignored. I theorize that Craigslist is in fact a social networking site for advanced cyborgs, or possibly a dating site for monkeys, and that there are no real people involved at all.

To test this theory before submitting my scholarly article to the journal Science, I am posting this ad, requesting only a response. All who respond will receive a response in kind, since that's the polite thing to do when someone responds to your Craigslist ad.

If I get any responses, I'll let you know (assuming they're not from smart cyborgs or randy monkeys).

Mormonism on the March

Today while waiting for the shuttle, I watched a local bus pull up to the stop. A bummish-looking man got off the bus and removed his bike from the front rack. And what type of bike did he have?

I'd declare this a wonderful breakthrough in bum-Mormon relations, but my memory of my mission is that there wasn't really much more of a breakthrough to make. Bums and missionaries get along just fine.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Scholarly Work

You know you're really writing a great piece of academic literature when one of your sources is an online forum entitled "How to Find a Gay Pen-Pal in Prison."

It's the Little Things That Bug Me the Most

Every time I ride the shuttle to and from my school, I pass the offices of a company called Creative Touch Interiors. Their logo absolutely drives me nuts.

I want to like it. It looks super sleek and cool. If I had an interior to design (and--more importantly--money to pay professionals to do it instead of just browsing through the home decor section of a Super Target), I'd hire these guys, just based on the logo. I want my interior to be as understated and crisp as their logo. But that doesn't change the fact that the "C" is the color green, as defined by the white space, while the "T" and "I" are the white space itself.

It's a small matter, but ever since I've noticed it, I can't notice anything but it, you know what I mean? It's like a bare boob in the park. Given everything to look at, you'd probably never notice it, but once you do notice it, good luck noticing anything else.

My recommended fix is to change the "C" to match the other two letters, so the white space is the actual letter. To demonstrate how this will work, I made a little prototype.

Now, I know the person who designed this logo is probably flipping out. "He used Paint to change my work?! Why not just scribble on the Mona Lisa?!" Relax, anonymous dude. I didn't use Paint. I used the open-source Paint knock-off that comes with Ubuntu.

My wife recommended changing the other two letters to match the "C" so the letters are the colors, not the negative space. That would look something like this.

I realize I'm the only person in America who cares about this, so I'm not going to hold my breath until CTI caves to my demands. I just wanted to let you know exactly how big of a loser I am (as if even a perfunctory reading of my blog hasn't already tipped you off).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Punk'd?

Nothing better encapsulates America's ambivalence for its celebrities than it's love of the television series "Punk'd." The show gave us our fill of the stars we love, while also cutting them down to size like the bastards deserve.

Lately I've been wondering if our elders quorum presidency is punking us. Every week we have a compulsory recitation of Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-29, which says in part, "For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward."

They cover themselves nicely by going all the way through verse 29, which condemns those who have "a doubtful heart" concerning such things. I assume it began as a prank, and now even the presidency is thinking, "Ah man, I can't believe we have to do the recitation again. I wish someone would call our bluff."

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Metro Expansion

Going into the District for me means an hour's drive before an hour's train-ride. I live beyond the end of the Orange Line, which stops at Vienna.

Wikipedia says the plan to end the Orange Line at Vienna was made in the early 80s. Here are some population comparisons for communities beyond Vienna.

COMMUNITY1980 POP.2008 POP. (est.)
Bristow--15,137
Centreville7,47350,996
Chantilly12,25944,113
Gainesville--28,662
Manassas15,43834,098

What does this mean? It means on Thursday of this week, a fairly typical weekday as things go, all of the nearly-6,000 parking spaces at Vienna were full by 8:30 am. I had to drive to West Falls Church, which is not the commuting pattern anyone wants to encourage, and when I got there, all 2,000 of its parking spaces were full, as well.

Who is driving to the train? The people who don't live where the train runs. Hundreds of thousands of people now live beyond the end of the Metro, requiring them to drive in to stations that do not have sufficient parking to accommodate them.

I'd prefer to see the lines expanded, especially Orange, Blue, and Green. Why does the Red Line go so far north, while the Green Line doesn't even leave the Beltway?

Of course, the Silver Line is showing all of us how ridiculously financed public projects are. A massive Metro expansion to respond to the last 30 years of demographic growth is probably off the table. But at least parking can be expanded. Vienna has two garages, but also two surface lots. Turning those surface lots into garages could nearly double parking, at a much lower cost than lengthening the entire line.

But since I have a mapping program on my computer, not a parking garage designing program, here's my proposal for an extended Orange Line.

I know one of the problems with extending lines is that they're already so long, but why does each line need to completely transverse the system? Orange can run from Virginia into the District, and the New Carrollton end of the line can get a different name. The system was invented to move government workers into town, not to help Virginians get to Maryland and vice versa. Require people who want to transverse the system to make a transfer, and then you won't have incredibly long lines that are prohibiting extending the system to where people actually live.

Friday, December 03, 2010

High-Class Fashion Model

I came home from my Thanksgiving travels to find a present from JT. Let that be an example for the rest of you slackers.

I wanted to document the present, but my stroke-victim smile made the photo shoot problematic.








Thanks for the hat, JT. The first time I wore it to school, a classmate of mine complemented me on it. The next morning I woke up to Jerome Jerome the Metronome wearing it, running into my room and yelling out, "I you, Dadda!" And Super-Hot 111 has responded to it like Marge Simpson to the Mr. Plow jacket, incorporating the hat into our "adult situations." Which makes me wonder if we should never allow JT to visit again.

Saving Seats

During my visit to AEI for the debate, I had another experience with people saving seats, which means I had another experience with an overwhelming desire to stab people in their necks.

I hate saving seats, and I hate seat savers. Of course I make an exception for someone who was once in the seat and is temporarily out of it, like a restroom visitor, but saving seats for people who have not yet arrived gets my blood angry.

Imagine a room with N seats. I'm the Qth person in line, such that Q < N. The basic rules of common decency state that I get a seat. But if the Kth person in line (K < Q) wants to save W seats and W > (N - Q), then I don't get a seat, even though Q < N. Well, then why doesn't the first person just push W to equal N, stand at the door and tell everyone else, "I'm sorry, all these seats are taken"?

Why do we use lines to apportion things? Because it is assumed that the amount of time spent in line is an approximation of how valuable the thing is. If I'm ahead of you in line, I put more time into getting the thing, so it must be more valuable to me, so I should get it. But saving seats then pools the costs, and allows a bunch of people to get seats who don't value them as much as those who don't get seats.

Let's say there are five friends. One of them values the seat sufficiently to make sure he gets one, while the other four don't. Actually, as long as he values the gained esteem of his friends, he doesn't even need to value the seat that much. He can be induced to act like he values the seat, because now he's not just getting the seat's value, which is insufficient to compel him to wait in line, but he's also getting the good will of his friends. So all five people end up with seats, none of whom values the seat enough to pay the full cost of the seat, in terms of time spent waiting.

Saving spots in line works the same way. The only time I don't care about saving spots in line is when N is non-binding. Then place in line just carries proximity value, like friends who want to sit together once they get inside a non-crowded theater. (Although in that situation the binding constraint could be not just seats, but good seats, but I'll ignore that for this argument.) Then I say go ahead and cut in front of me. What do I care? I'm not such a misanthrope that I'm going to keep friends needlessly apart.

But that's almost never what's happening. It's nearly always people who don't value the item as much as I do, who are using their friendship to get the item. And I hate it.

It's not just when I miss out on a seat that it bothers me. At AEI I got a seat, but then the people around me saved seats for friends. Because the bathroom visitor is a legitimate reason to save a seat, you can't just move the coat to the floor and take the seat (which is my preference). You have to ask, "Is this seat taken?" and then they say, "Yes," even though it's "taken" by someone not even there, and possibly not even coming.

And that's what bugs the crap out of me the most, I think. That you're saving a seat for someone who has self-identified as the least-interested party in contention for the seat. They are possibly so uninterested that they don't bother to come at all. We have a lady in our ward who continually saves half a bench for her husband and children who only make it to sacrament meeting once every two months. When it is obvious that the saved seats can be re-released into the pool, they are then available for a different late-comer, who also has indicated how unvaluable the seat is to him by arriving late.

One guy behind me told people, "I'm holding it for someone who's in the elevator." Like their proximity matters. "My friend is just 10 places behind you in line, not 75, so you should let her cut in front of you." Your friend is not here, so she should not get a seat.

For these reasons, I won't save seats, or spots in line. So don't even ask me. If you wanted a seat, you should have put in the time in line like everyone else.

I can't stand seat-saving in all its environments. This is probably why our ward hates me; I don't limit my neck-stabbing desires to secular activities. If I come in the chapel and you have three coats taking up an entire pew, I get stabby. Especially if you don't have a single family member there, i.e. the folks who mark a pew after Ward Council before driving home to get their spouse and kids. Those people need to get stabbed in the neck, like, eight different times. One stab for each wasted seat.

Minor Celebrity Death Match: Paul Ryan v. David Brooks

Yesterday I went to a debated at the American Enterprise Institute between Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and New York Times columnist David Brooks. The topic of debate was "How much government is good government?", building on some op-ed pieces they wrote in September (Ryan's here, and Brooks's here). Video and other stuff regarding the event is available here.

While I watched, I quickly noted a few of (what I thought were) the more salient points. From Rep. Ryan, he noted Brooks's call for "energetic government" and posited that "energetic government is impossible without limits." Later he averred that a "European-style welfare system" requires a future of austerity and managed decline.

While I find myself philosophically closer to Ryan than to Brooks, I thought Brooks had a few more interesting points. One was his charge that Republicans spend their time out of power coming up with ways to cut government, not ways to use it, so when they return to power, they have no governing philosophy. I found that especially true of the tail end of the last Republican Congress. Brooks also said he is okay with the New Deal, but not the Great Society, because it undermined personal character and responsibility. I feel the New Deal did the same, but I could appreciate his point.

Lastly, and most controversially (given who his audience was), Brooks claimed a need on the horizon for more paternalistic government to correct issues of the developing social breakdown. It's interesting to me that he would be anti-Great Society but then think the solution to the problems it caused would be more government destruction of personal character. Why not rolling back the misguided social programs instead?

Anyway, intellectually stimulating material that I pass along to you as a token of my affection.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Lyrical Meaning

What do you make of these lines from Young MC's "Bust a Move"?

Your best friend Harry

has a brother Larry

in five days from now he's gonna marry.

He's hoping you can make it there if you can

'cause in the ceremony you'll be the best man.

I understand if I was the best man in Harry's wedding--after all, he's my best friend--but Larry's? Really? Wouldn't you figure there's someone higher up on Larry's friends list than his brother's best friend? Like--oh, I don't know--Harry?! He's going to pass over his brother to ask his brother's best friend to be the best man? This makes no sense to me.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Pennsylvania High Point

On our drive home Monday, we stopped at Mount Davis, the highest point in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That morning Crazy Jane had expressed hope that there would be snow. We told her there probably wouldn't be. When we got there and saw that there was, she used her newly ubiquitous expression of joy: "Woo hoo!"

In the desolate parking lot, we met a hunter. He said, "Are you going up to the tower?" We said we were. He said, "You're going to freeze." I said, "We were at West Virginia's high point last week and it was incredibly cold there." He said, "What is that?" I said, "Spruce Knob." He said, "No, I mean how high is it. We're at 32 here." I consulted my map and said, "It looks like it's about 45." He said, "Oh, they got us." I liked the idea of competition among the states for bragging rights regarding the higher high point.

There was a plaque, a tower, and a boulder with a USGS iron marker hammered into it. I posed at all three.

High points completed: District of Columbia, Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

Movie Review and County Map, Together At Last

While I made a map of my most recent trip, my wife watched "Eat, Pray, Love." I think I got the better end of the bargain.

The standard disclaimer applies.

So for Thanksgiving we went to my parents' house in western Ohio. Tuesday we left before noon, visited the highest point in West Virginia (Spruce Knob), and spent the night at a hotel in Bridgeport. I got six new counties that day. Wednesday we finished the drive. I got four new counties, filling in a hole on my map (a collection of counties I had not visited though I had visited their surrounding counties), which was very satisfying. Friday morning I woke up early and went by myself to 10 counties in Ohio and Indiana. Monday we drove home, getting four new counties on the way, and visiting the highest point in Pennsylvania (Mount Davis).

Now for the movie review. It might seem a little callous to review a real-life lady, but that hasn't stopped me before. (Even for ones I know.) I found the movie sort of boring, and by "sort of," I mean "incredibly," and by "boring," I mean, well, "boring." That part stays the same, I guess. She just doesn't do much of anything, and then turns out okay at the end. Well, she could have done that on her couch. That's what I do.

County trip: satisfying. Movie: unsatisfying.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Taking a Leak

The previous round of WikiLeaks disclosures had information which was dangerous to our soldiers in the field. I think it was important to show the real effects of the war, though I would have liked it done in a more-responsible manner.

This round, though, is hard for me to see as anything but a public service. The entire world should know that the very things they hate America for doing are the things their governments are secretly begging us to do. Who knew that Saudi king Adbullah could out-McCain John McCain? Certainly not the Saudi people, that's who.

The international community likes to talk a big game when it comes to America, because that's what plays back home. Anything that shows foreigners this truth can't be all bad, can it?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Can Think of a Few Reasons

"I don't know what would possess them at all," a policeman said of two parents who "hid" their children from society. To show them how unwarranted their fears were, he arrested the parents and took their five children away.

I know some of my readers have very little tolerance for child abusers. I would just like to remind them that once you've moved beyond child-oriented violence, the definition of "abuse" is a slippery slope I don't think they want to find themselves on.

Midwest Familiarity

We left the Midwest 16 months ago, and I guess I've quickly adjusted to once more living surrounded by total dicks, because during this visit in Ohio, Midwestern behavior is taking me by surprise.

Friday I went to Kohl's with my wife and youngest kid. On our way in, two ladies on their way out said, "Do you want our cart? They're really hard to find inside." They had managed to find a double stroller cart, even though they had no kids with them.

Maneuvering the double stroller in tiny aisles with a ton of other shoppers was difficult. In the toy section, I ended up getting in one lady's way quite a bit. Half an hour later I came around a corner in a different section and was in this lady's way once again. I said, "I'm just trying to bother you as much as possible." She said, "Oh, you're fine," and she slapped me on the shoulder.

She touched me, a random stranger. (But I guess by that point I wasn't a random stranger; I was the jerk stranger who kept getting in her way with a double stroller.)

Later in the day, we went to Cairns Toys, where the teenaged clerk began explaining their frequent shopper program until I told her I'm not from Ohio. At the end of our transaction she said, "Enjoy Ohio," probably just like they taught her in her high school Local Tourism Banter class.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Dateline: Witch's Teat, OH

In preparation for our trip to Ohio, Crazy Jane checked out several library books about the state. She told us it was going to snow, since her books said "you can expect snow starting in mid- to late-November." We told her the forecast showed clear skies for our entire visit.

Last night it snowed for an hour, and then today was below freezing with strong winds. It was so cold that when I drove around this morning getting ten new counties, I didn't pull over to pee until I was at a rest stop and my dong would be sheltered from the cold.

New counties today: Mercer OH, Jay IN, Adams IN, Blackford IN, Wells IN, Huntington IN, Grant IN, Delaware IN, Madison IN, and Randolph IN. I am now more than halfway done with Indiana, the 19th state I'm at least halfway done with. I didn't go to Hoosier Hill, the highest point in Indiana, because Articulate Joe didn't want to wake up this morning at 6, so I was flying solo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Dateline: My Parents' Couch

Why did I eat two pieces of pecan pie? Because I'm a fat ass.

This morning at my parents' ward's Turkey Bowl, I quarterbacked a come-from-behind victory that pleased no one. My team wanted long, impressive pass plays, which my arm can't do. In the huddle I said, "I feel obligated to tell you guys running deep routes: you're just making yourself tired." I threw five-yard passes, and we came back from 21-7 (when I took over the quarterback position) to win 35-28.

Add to the list of things not to tell my dad: it might not be okay to have a man-crush on money.

My inability to interact with a large group includes groups of my immediate family. We're at a 23-person family gathering right now, and I'm going hours at a time without speaking.

Yesterday morning we woke up and left Bridgeport, West Virginia, heading into the backwoods without remembering to get gas before leaving civilization. When I remembered, we were unsure if we would make it to the next gas station. We came to a small "town" (collection of three homes with a shady-looking general store) that had gas prices outside. The prices were reasonably up-to-date, so I figured it wasn't shut down. Once we stopped and I got out of the car, I noticed the guard goose, casually patrolling the parking lot. As I approached the door, it approached me. I used my body language to tell it I didn't want any trouble, and it mercifully let me pass.

The ridiculous TSA security procedures are handy for identifying your idiot friends who think, "Just as long as I'm safe, everything else doesn't matter."

New counties yesterday: Wetzel WV, Monroe OH, Noble OH, Morgan OH.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dateline: Bridgeport, WV

Six new counties and a new state high point, and I'm getting ready to spend the night for the first time in West Virginia.

Last time I had to make a county map, I pled incompetence with my new mapping software. Since then our hard drive died, and with it my map data. Until I get to my parents and download some new county layers, there'll be no mapping of our travels. Just take my word for it, we drove a lot today.

The new counties are Grant WV, Pendleton WV, Randolph WV, Tucker WV, Barbour WV, and Upshur WV. The new high point is Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. The weather everywhere else today was actually quite pleasant, but atop Spruce Knob it was incredibly windy and frigid. If I don't appear to be enjoying myself in this picture, it has accurately captured my feelings. And if the picture is blurry, it's because there were no second takes.

So how did we make the six-hour drive more pleasant? By turning it into a cultural experience for our kids. Since the only culture inherent in the part of West Virginia we toured is Confederate battle flags (two notes, morons: the South lost, and West Virginia was never in the South), we supplied our own culture: a chronological tour of the Weezer discography.

  1. My Name Is Jonas
  2. No One Else
  3. The World Has Turned and Left Me Here
  4. Buddy Holly
  5. Undone—the Sweater Song
  6. Surf Wax America
  7. Say It Ain't So
  8. In the Garage
  9. Holiday
  10. Only in Dreams
  11. Tired of Sex
  12. Getchoo
  13. No Other One
  14. Why Bother?
  15. Across the Sea
  16. The Good Life
  17. El Scorcho
  18. Pink Triangle
  19. Falling for You
  20. Butterfly
  21. Don't Let Go
  22. Photograph
  23. Hash Pipe
  24. Island in the Sun
  25. Crab
  26. Knock-Down Drag-Out
  27. Smile
  28. Simple Pages
  29. Glorious Day
  30. O Girlfriend
  31. American Gigolo
  32. Dope Nose
  33. Keep Fishin'
  34. Take Control
  35. Death and Destruction
  36. Slob
  37. Burndt Jamb
  38. Space Rock
  39. Slave
  40. Fall Together
  41. Possibilities
  42. Love Explosion
  43. December
  44. Mykel and Carli
  45. Susanne
  46. My Evaline
  47. Jamie
  48. Paperface
  49. Lullaby for Wayne
  50. I Swear It's True
  51. Beverly Hills
  52. Perfect Situation
  53. This Is Such a Pity
  54. Hold Me
  55. Peace
  56. We Are All on Drugs
  57. The Damage in Your Heart
  58. Pardon Me
  59. My Best Friend
  60. The Other Way
  61. Freak Me Out
  62. Haunt You Every Day
  63. Troublemaker
  64. The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)
  65. Pork and Beans
  66. Heart Songs
  67. Everybody Get Dangerous
  68. Dreamin'
  69. Thought I Knew
  70. Cold Dark World
  71. Automatic
  72. The Angel and the One
  73. Miss Sweeney
  74. Pig
  75. The Spider
  76. King
  77. (If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
  78. I'm Your Daddy
  79. The Girl Got Hot
  80. Can't Stop Partying
  81. Put Me Back Together
  82. Trippin' Down the Freeway
  83. Love Is the Answer
  84. Let It All Hang Out
  85. In the Mall
  86. I Don't Want to Let You Go
  87. Get Me Some
  88. Run Over By a Truck
  89. The Prettiest Girl in the Whole Wide World
  90. The Underdogs

That lasted us from the gas station by our house to our hotel, 270 miles later. We didn't have time to get to "Hurley," and we only have "Death to False Metal" and the bonus "Pinkerton" songs on our phones, and our car is not sufficiently cool to allow us to play MP3s on its stereo.

Budding Economist

Last week at breakfast (family breakfast time: 10am), I was singing Rivers Cuomo's song "Lemonade." Specifically, the lines, "Would you like some lemonade? No this ain't no Minute Maid."

Crazy Jane asked, "Is that a real song?"

A Random Stranger: "Yes. I just sang it."

CJ: "I mean, from a real band?"

ARS: "Yes, it's a Rivers Cuomo song."

CJ: "Did he have to pay Minute Maid money?"

And that's how we got around to discussing fair use over breakfast, and how well-heeled companies (fake cough, Disney, fake cough) can intimidate users into not making use of their rights, which Super-Hot 111 speculates is why the main characters in John Green's Paper Towns are trying to break into Sea World and not Disney World.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interesting Ideas From Economics Reading

From Gold: The Once and Future Money by Nathan Lewis, I have these:

Floating currencies are not a phenomenon of the free market but the market's inevitable reaction to unceasing currency manipulations by world governments. (p. 15)

and:

...fixed-rate systems such as currency boards are market-based systems, while a floating currency, in which a government determines the money supply through its policy boards, is a centrally planned system.... (p. 57)

No discussion necessary. These are just two points that made me stop reading and think for a moment.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When There's Competitive Nose-Picking, I'm a Shoe-In for the Hall of Fame

Time was, to qualify as "the most dominant athlete in sports," you had to be an athlete, and at least in a sport.

No longer are we bound by such archaic notions, as Yahoo Sports columnist Jay Hart breathlessly bestows the title on NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson.

I don't want to knock Johnson. It's Hart I'm after. Johnson is a driver who, according to those who know such things, is incredibly good. But driving is not a sport. It's a skill, like painting a house. If there was a house painting competition, and one dude won it five years in a row, I'd say that guy was a kick-ass house painter. But I wouldn't say he's a athlete.

I've got a son with a heart condition, and so my wife and I have to steer his interests towards the activities he can compete in, like bowling or golf. Basically, if he can do it, it's not a sport. And he can totally drive a car.

"Oh, but A Random Stranger, it's not just driving a car. It's driving a car really fast." So when I set the table for dinner, if I do it at regular speed it's a chore, but if I do it at break-neck speed, it's athletics?

Again, I'm off topic here. The point isn't whether Johnson is an athlete. (He's not, but let's ignore that for right now.) It's whether he's "the most dominant athlete in sports." And I hate to deflate Jay Hart's NASCAR boner, but there's no way this is anything but hyperbole.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Government's Kids

I thought of this news story today and realized I never linked to it on my blog. That's too bad, because it's a wonderful story of restraint and humility on the part of a public official.

Just kidding, it's about a judge (of sorts) ordering a girl to attend public school because she's too committed to her religion.

It's hard to pick what I like best, the naked paternalism or the acknowledgement that public schools are designed to undermine religious instruction. It's also refreshing to read of petty bureaucrats who abuse the power of the state.

The only reason your kids are still in your care is that no county official has decided to take them away (yet).

Friday, November 19, 2010

World's Tallest Couple

I'm 6'3". In 2000 I dated a girl who was my same height. One night when we went to Blockbuster to rent a video (oh, the crazy way we lived 10 years ago!), the cashier asked us, "Are you two, like, the tallest couple in the world?" My girlfriend said, "We might be."

Well, if we ever held the title, we have to relinquish it now.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

These folks have us beat by just over a foot. To catch back up, I'd have to ditch my wife for a lady who's 7'4", which is pretty hard to find. I guess my wife can sleep easier.

Navel Gazing? There's an Ap for That

I read this story about Bill Nye and felt less secure knowing these are the types of people surrounding me.

Some might say, "But they didn't know if he was joking or serious or whatever." But we have other instances which show us it doesn't matter: murder victims aren't joking, and they're just as ignored.

What makes this worse is that college bills itself as the training ground for our future leaders, and college students have whole-heartedly bought the myth that they are society's best. But when society's best can be bothered to do nothing more than tweet, society is a cesspool.

The three books I've read which best explain what's happened to the social fabric are Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman, and Life, the Movie by Neal Gabler. I think we're in a combination of the three: everything exists for our entertainment, and as long as that's coming in, we don't mind the rest.

One book about this that I'd like to read (and that I've honestly been avoiding because of it's completely disgusting cover picture) is Our Culture, What's Left of It by Theodore Dalrymple. I don't need that sitting around the house, freaking out all and sundry.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Advertising Academics

Once a week I have a class in a room with a bunch of posters on a bulletin board.

They tend to follow a general rule: "Use attractive people in your ads."

The models are still normal-looking people, but good-looking at the same time. Like Bonnie Hunt.

They might be overdoing it with this one, but it's a Caribbean medical school; they've got to try a little harder than normal.

Shazbot! Who are they hoping to get at their school? Hobbits? I don't want to be too mean, since this school had the malice aforethought to include his full name on their poster, but a lot of his unattractiveness is avoidable. If he had just been beaten with the ugly stick, I'd probably not post about this at all, but the combination of his horrible haircut and dopey pose leave him looking as unflattering as this new fashion trend:

Even the Army could afford to make their model as cute as possible. If this guy is Ross University's most photogenic student, that school has some problems.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Edumacation

I saw on Tyler Cowen's blog an article written by a guy who works at a paper mill. In keeping with my insensitive opinions about public school teachers, he has this to say:

...it's hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)
Don't shoot the messenger.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Does Gap's Fall Line Include a "Scarf to Mollest a Dog In"?

I understand the existence of the flight jacket. I understand the existence of the bomber jacket. But in the modern world, I don't understand Gap marketing this:

Of course it's incredibly bad, from a sensitivity standpoint. But doesn't it also make horrible economic sense? Can't marketing foresee that having a product called "the flight bomber" is going to hold down sales?

Perhaps this is just what happens when Generation Y gets in charge. The decision maker at Gap probably would say, "What? What's wrong with it?" And should you mention to him things such as Lockerbie and September 11th, he'd probably say, "People are still worked up about that?"

Yes, people are still worked up about that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Explanatory Proviso

My last post wasn't meant to imply that my sister, my brother, or my two friends have done anything wrong. I understand the idea that you stop reading a bad book.

"It's a Thousand Pages Give or Take a Few"

You know how I know I'm lame? I can start a sentence with, "When I wrote my first novel...".

But in my old age I'm making peace with myself. I don't need to be everyone's friend, I don't need to impress strangers. I don't need to waste time and energy working on a persona.

When it comes up that I've written novels, friends and family are usually intrigued. They express an interest in reading it, and I sure could use reader feedback, so I agree. Then comes the awkward silence.

When I wrote my first novel (see, there's that sentence starter), my sister wanted to read it. I sent her the first three chapters, and then it was never spoken of again. In that sense, my sister would fit right in at a publishing house.

For my second novel, I've spread the awkwardness out more. My brother asked to read it, and I gave him a PDF of it. The subject has been studiously avoided ever since. Two of my friends are "reading" it right now, and have been for nearly a year.

My wife, to her credit, has read both, more than once each. But there's only so much evisceration she can hand out to her husband's work. I need outside eyes, and when I think I find them, they are always subsequently averted in shame.

So here's the deal: who of my readers wants to read a novel and take notes on what works and what doesn't work? Here are my requirements:

  1. Seriousness. I don't want another "yeah, I'll do that, oh wait, I won't" on my hands. Of course any agreement is unenforceable on my part; just don't volunteer unless you're going to do it.
  2. Familiarity. You should be someone who's had some blog interaction with me in the past. Past commenters, especially ones I've responded to, either in my comments or on your blog, are preferred.
  3. Usefulness. I don't really need a "that was good" or "I didn't like it." I'm looking for something more substantial in the way of feedback. It doesn't have to be an MFA thesis, but it should be more than a cocktail napkin's worth of criticism.

So if there are any volunteers, let me know. I have comment moderation on, so you can leave a comment with more info than you want floating around on my blog, I'll read it, and just not allow it on the blog. (That's how I became real-life acquaintances with Purple Cow.)

The way I see it, this is a great opportunity for any aspiring novelist to get a boost to his confidence. You can say to yourself, "Well, at least my novel's not that bad!"


Title from The Beatles' song "Paperback Writer."

What Can Happen and What Should Happen

Can TSA paycheck-cashers touch my--in the current vernacular--junk? Sure. I've had a variety of people touch it over the course of my life, from my infancy (parents and babysitters) to my adulthood (doctors and my wife).

What about seeing me naked? Well, then, even more people have done that in my life, thanks to my lax attitude towards nudity. So what's one more TSA guy?

I read a lot of passenger comments online today, and they tend to be of two types:

  1. Keep your eyes and hands off my goodies.
  2. It's a small price to pay for safety.

So if I were walking through the airport and someone said to me, "Can I see you naked? It's nothing sexual, I swear. I just want to take a quick peek," I might agree to it. But when the government says they have a right to see me naked, or that it's a requirement to free movement, I don't think any of us should take that lying down. And I am completely baffled by the airline industry not at the forefront of this battle. They've already alienated their customers with their bag fees and drop of service level; you'd figure they'd be willing to win back some of that good will by going against over-reaching government.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ahead of My Time

In July 2009 I wrote more than one blog post about how lame the ward activities committee is. In response, shortly after we moved our new bishop "felt very strongly" I needed to be called to the activities committee. Cristin cackled with glee.

Well, the joke's on YOU, people: the activities committee was abolished in today's leadership training broadcast. It turns out the General Authorities were on the same page as me. (As usual.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Out of Touch, Hopelessly So?

I thought this recession was starting to teach people to be less materialistic. 'Fraid not.

All these cruise ship passengers who claim "nightmare conditions" seem to forget that they spent three days living how many people around the world live their entire lives. Except on a big-ass fancy boat. Their money will be refunded, and they are being offered free cruises. Still, though, some passengers are acting like they are emerging from Darkest Africa, staring into the distance and muttering, "The horror, the horror."

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in Atlanta to make it clear to local officials that the prospects of another Super Bowl in town are contingent on replacing the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992. An 18-year-old, $214-million (before the $30-million renovation), entirely publicly-financed stadium is now a decrepit dinosaur that demands imploding. You know how best to help your economically-downtrodden fans forget that you've all become millionaires by playing a game? Demanding new stadiums is not the answer.

Building new monuments, blowing them up, then rebuilding them. John Maynard Keynes nods in approval.

"Make Sure to Never Do It With a Singer 'Cause He'll Tell Everyone In the World"

Aren't we about three years past when everyone figured out that John Mayer is a huge idiot? But last month I read that he had been "linked" (tabloid-speak for "we think they're doin' it") with Taylor Swift, and now I read that he's been "linked" with Giada De Laurentiis.

Maybe I'm just taking this personally because he's moving in on my celebrity crushes. I know Giada can be the Richard Simmons of food, somewhat over-the-top in an "ouch, that hurt my brain" way, but I still think she's great.

That is, unless she's lame enough to "hook up" (again with the tabloid-speak) with a fool like John Mayer.

Ladies: 1. John Mayer is not attractive. I can judge when a man is attractive. When women have a thing for Taylor Lautner, I get that. But John Mayer is nearly as unattractive as Zac Ephron. 2. John Mayer's music sucks. You know how, back when elevators had music (ignore how old I am and stick with me on this one), they had to re-record the song? They took "Wind Beneath My Wings" and gayed it up for the elevator, right? John Mayer music needs no gaying up. It comes pre-gayed, straight from John and his suck-ass guitar. 3. John Mayer is nuts. He says ridiculous things, to anyone who will listen. Being "linked" to John Mayer means having every personal detail shared with every possible news outlet, from Stars and Stripes to The Daily Fourth Gradian.

In short, there is no reason to ever, not ever, be linked to John Mayer. Women should find the idiot stragglers who have yet to learn this lesson, who are giving the rest of you a bad name, and administer rubber hose beatings until the stain is removed from your escutcheon.


PS: I wanted to make sure I spelled "escutcheon" correctly, so I looked it up. It turns out to also be a medical term for "the distribution of pubic hair," meaning John Mayer is a stain on the female sex's escutcheon in more ways than one.


Title from The White Stripes' song "The Denial Twist."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sex and Sexuality

How many sexes does the human race have? While some say three, four, five, or more, I stick with two. Government forms make sex a binomial variable. Restroom choices are either/or (unless you opt for the "family" restroom, but I don't think "family" counts as a sex; in fact, "family" usually means "much less sex").

But we know that sex has no direct bearing on sexuality. (I might be adding to the confusion by using "sex" instead of "gender," but gender is a linguistic term that squeamish people use because they think the word sex is somehow wrong. It isn't.) Some men are attracted to women, and some are attracted to men.

This pretty much destroys the reason for separate sex bathrooms and locker rooms. Why keep me out of the women's showers? Basically it's because it introduces sexuality to (what should be) a non-sexual situation. But in a world with some non-disclosed gay people, we don't know where sexuality is and where it isn't. And the number of locker rooms required to remove the problem is incalculable. We need one for "straight men," one for "straight women," and then one additional locker room for each pair of a gay man and a gay woman. And without a requirement to disclose your sexual preference, there is incentive to lie, and no way to verify the correct category.

People don't put this much work into figuring this out. They just say "men together and women together," which is as moral as putting all adults in one big locker room, but for some reason is perceived as "better."

For instance, I read this article where we find the old stand-by argument: "The TSA says privacy is an important consideration and stresses that the searches are done by personnel of the same gender as passengers."

But am I getting a certificate that says my screener isn't gay? And if I'm not, then it might as well have been a woman. This might come off as anti-gay, but that's not my meaning. What I want is to stop being told a fake concern has been addressed by a fake correction. If the worry is that my screener can take sexual pleasure from touching me, there's no way around that worry, so ignore it.

A few weeks ago, I was at the gym. I had swum and showered, and was getting dressed at my locker. A boy in swim practice needed something out of his bag, so he asked his mother to go get it. She had to send in a different, younger son, who was clearly in over his head. She had to prop open the locker room door, turn her head the other way to make sure she "didn't see anything," and yell directions to him. This went on for over five minutes.

Why couldn't the mother just come in and get what she needed? Because I was naked and she might see me. But I was being seen by dozens of men, any of whom could have been attracted to me (if he has a thing for fat, ugly dudes). Once I decide to be naked anywhere outside my home, I've signed off on the idea of having someone take sexual pleasure from seeing me. The fact that it's only men who can do it is no consolation if I'm concerned about that kind of thing. Just send the damn mother into the locker room and stop yelling directions from the door.

Instead, we'll keep on separating men from women and pretending that it makes everything okay.

Homeschool History Lesson

I wrote these lyrics to go to the Weezer song "Ruling Me."



500 B.C.

Athenians lived so freely

They would dance and break some plates

Spartans liked war

That's what their boys were born for

They wouldn't want to tempt the Fates


You've got me sneezin'

Pelopennesian

War brought disease


CHORUS:

In the war fought in Greece

For a time there was no peace

Lots of Athens and Sparta died

Persians came just to die

At the place Thermopylae

It's no mystery

It's just history


Socrates was teachin'

Subversiveness wasn't pleasin'

The elders of town wanted him stopped

They're hard to sate. Oh!

The Apology of Plato

Says the defense made a flop


We learn in school now

Socrates' hoosegow

He drank hemlock


CHORUS


Zeus and friends liked to shout

Naked Games creep me out

I can vote

And tend goats

I'm a Greek


CHORUS

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Competitive Whistling

No, I haven't been watching ESPN-8 ("The Ocho"). I had a run-in today with a competitive whistler.

You know those guys (always it's a guy) who hears you whistling and thinks, "That's a good idea; I should whistle right now, too!"? What are they trying to prove? They're better whistlers? They have better taste in musical selection? They're pricks?

They're only successful on the third count.

So Jerome demands we listen to Weezer's "Smart Girls" whenever we're in the car. "Wanna listen to 'mart guhls. Number eight." And as a result, I spent all day today walking around school thinking about "Smart Girls." While everyone was getting set up for class tonight, I whistled the "never get enough" snippet to myself.

Five notes. That's all. But by the time I got to the fifth note, one of my classmates (a really nice but insufferably smarmy guy who referred to professors as "us" last week) was already whistling some competing ditty.

I had a mission companion like this. The apartment was completely silent. I started whistling a little something while I made my signature dish, macaroni and cheese with a can of tuna (an excellent concoction I made for lunch last week), and then he had to start whistling, too. And never the same song. It wasn't like he was building camaraderie. He was trying to whistle me down. Like if he let me finish my song, somehow the terrorists would have won.

I had a friend in high school whose grandfather had been a professional whistler. When a cowboy movie called for an actor to whistle, this guy was the voice-over whistler. But I bet not even that guy was this antagonistic in his whistling. Back then it was all about the whistling. Now it's all about trying to outshine the other guy, securing your spot on The Ocho.

Associated Propaganda

I read this news article about the ways people have changed their spending habits in "the Great Recession" (a label I hate). Four paragraphs in, I come across this:

EDITOR'S NOTE - The Great Recession has been over for nearly a year and a half, and the economy is slowly growing again. But many of the drastic changes that Americans made in how they spend money have endured - and may be here to stay, some economists think.
Ten percent unemployment (or is it 17?) and the Fed is resorting to massive inflationary actions, but the recession's been over for nearly a year and a half, Comrade. There's nothing like groupthink to make something true.

The actual point of the news story, as far as I can tell, is idiot consumers stop using brands as status markers when they can no longer afford to do so. The return of layaway gives me hope that maybe fools can change their stripes (although most items being bought are still needless crap). But we can't expect consumer whores to change everything at once. They're still consuming, but at least they're no longer whoring.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Grammar Nazis Aren't Real Nazis; They're More Like Oskar Schindler

Super-Hot 111 came up with another word that changes pronunciation when it changes parts of speech. I searched my blog to see if I had already written about it, since it's so horrible to be redundant that it's horrible.

That's when I discovered that I've written two posts about "try and" v. "try to" (here on June 13, 2008, and then because redundancy is so horrible, here on April 27, 2010). So irrespective of how horrible redundancy is (which it is, by the way), I'll write about whatever I want, as often as I want.

CONDUCT v. CONDUCT

Conduct (verb): con-DUCT

Conduct (noun): CON-duct

You should change how you conduct your conduct.

Have I mentioned how horrible redundancy is. It's complete horrible.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Kid Geography

While discussing the Year Without a Summer (1816) today, I explained that one of the causes was a volcanic eruption. Crazy Jane asked, "Was it that volcano whose name sounds like Cracker Barrel?"

No, it was not Krakatoa.

Lyric Interpretation: Harvey Danger Edition

In Harvey Danger's song "Wrecking Ball," we find:

Who has a friend? Who needs one?
Is he asking "Who needs a friend?" like, "Would anyone care to have a friend right now?" Or is he asking it like, "Are you claiming people need friends?"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

"The Content of Their Character"

I'm using the quote in this post's title without paying a licensing fee to the King family. In modern America, that counts as civil disobedience.

I'm also running afoul of grievance merchants, who think my skin color disqualifies me from associating with Dr. King. Claiming, without irony, "King is ours," they disapprove of the race of the selected sculptor for the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Because if there was one thing Dr. King worked for during his life, it was judging people by the color of their skin.

In a way, all the controversy surrounding the King National Memorial is perfectly fitting for what his family and sycophants have done to his legacy: monetary shakedowns and racial quotas. And what better way to commemorate his late-life dabbling in Communism than to use a Red Chinese sculptor and marble? It turns out the memorial will better capture his memory than anyone even suspected.