Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thought Exercise

The other morning I picked up Jerome Jerome the Metronome and said, "I can't believe people come in this size. What if everyone was as tiny as you?"

Here are my thoughts on that question: in some things, we wouldn't notice. Houses would be the same relative size, as would cars and chairs and tables.

What would be different would be the state of technological advancement. For instance, cell phones would just now be invented. Why? Because 80s cell phones would have been too enormous to be practical. Not until circuitry advancement allowed for modern-sized phones would we carry them around, and they would be as clunky to us as 80s phones were to the cavemen who used them.

Also, the list of "world's most dangerous animals" would be totally different. Hippos would probably not be the deadliest animal in Africa as they are now, because they would be the size of a house and only a fool would go anywhere near them. The number of dog-related deaths would be much higher than it currently is. Would dogs have even been domesticated? According to Jared Diamond's ideas, their living in a pack is a plus, but they are carnivores, which is a big minus, so probably not. (Right now Cristin is staring wistfully into the middle distance, saying softly, "For all sad words of tongue or pen....") Instead of being man's best friend, they would probably be our greatest nemesis. Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King would be about a man on a dog hunt.

What else would be different if a full-sized adult could expect to be 3'1"?


My wife got a teaser e-mail this morning from the Relief Society president that church would be canceled and more details would follow. Those details haven't been forthcoming, and I'm starting to wonder if the lady was just toying with our emotions. When I look out the window all the streets look to be as plowed as they can be. If I end up having to go to church this afternoon, it's going to be even worse because I'm going to know there once was a hope of not being there. "Of all sad words of blah blah blah, going to church is lame."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

School Bathrooms

At Undergrad U., every men's room stall was covered in solicitations for anonymous gay sex. (This is not a hyperbole; I cannot remember a single stall that didn't have at least one offer penned on the wall.)

Things are different at Graduate U. First of all, nearly all of the men's room graffiti is political in nature. (I say "nearly all" because, after a scary experience I had with a motion-sensing energy-saving light, I penned the warning, "If you sit here too long, you will be pooping in the dark.")

Secondly, most of the men's rooms have diaper changing stations. Coming from Undergrad U., where I wrote a newspaper opinion piece about how the level of campus profanity made it inadvisable for me to bring my children to school, only to receive online comments about how college campuses aren't supposed to be kid-friendly, this was so welcomed of a change that I took a picture.

Thirdly, the toilet seat covers have the brand name "Rest Assured."I think it's wonderful that they managed to fit the word "ASS" in the product name, and I would bet anyone anywhere that it's not a coincidence.

Finally, a topic for discussion: why do toilet seat covers exist? Even if I concede the point that you are incapable of wiping the seat clean with a piece of toilet paper before beginning your business, no orifice makes contact with the seat, so no contamination can occur. The worst that can happen is you have other people's biological effluence on your ass cheeks until you take your next shower. Is that so bad? Are you rubbing your food on your cheeks before eating? You are probably putting your cheeks away inside your pants until your next shower. I cannot think of a single reason to use a toilet seat cover.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Where Babies Come From

Giant mailboxes in hardware stores, obviously.

And can you believe the price of babies these days?! I know the Fed has more-than-doubled the money supply, but $34.97 is just ridiculous! My first two babies were "free."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Limit to the Madness

Everyone knows that you can't go cold turkey when it comes to shelling out cash. You might think, "I've got to stop spending like a drunken sailor," but that doesn't mean the same thing as, "I've got to stop spending." After all, a fellow's got to eat, right?

The question is, where do you draw the line? What type of price tag is extravagant enough that it's covered by the ban, and what slips under the gate?

Two days ago the president said he wants to freeze spending. Fast forward to today, where he wants to spend $8 bil. on high speed trains. My question is, if $8 bil. isn't enough money to be considered "spending," what is?

Follow up: how much buyer's remorse comes with spending $8 bil.? I know I get angry when a Redbox movie turns out to not be good. Perhaps there's diminishing marginal buyer's remorse, and maybe marginal remorse even goes negative. Is that true of all people, or just our elected representatives, senators, and presidents? And is that a trait we want in those controlling the public purse?

People Look Their Best While Eating

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fun Girl Ends the Fun

I've written here before about the blog of someone I called Fun Girl. I don't know her, but I found her blog because she's a former roommate of a girl I once dated, and about a year or two ago, I became a regular reader.

Her blog has two main themes: travel, and dating. She travels a lot and posts tons of pictures of where she's gone, and she also dates a ton. She's had a spot of unluckiness in the dating department, and I have been rooting for her to find someone nice because she seems like a nice girl.

However, her blog is pretty open, meaning she writes things like, "Today I went out on a date with [the guy's real name] and I had a horrible time." I knew she really wouldn't be able to go on like this forever, and I figured she'd either have to start giving people pseudonyms, or she'd have to make her blog private. Unfortunately, she's gone with the second option.

I feel cheated. I wanted to follow the drama until she got married. Now, as far as I'll know, she'll be single forever. But I can't really request permission to be a blog follower based on "you're the ex-roommate of a girl I once dated."

I've tried to convince my wife, who has been following this girl's life with me, to request permission to follow the blog with an explanation like, "I found your blog through the roommate of a roommate" or something like that. Mormon ladies' blogs are like high school STDs: they're all connected somehow. However, I've also written here before about my wife's inability to initiate any interaction that might end uncomfortably; if she won't ask a grocery clerk where the baking aisle is, I don't think she'll ask a stranger for permission to follow her blog. So if any of you know a single girl in Utah named Heidi, keep me abreast of her latest developments.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When I Have Nothing to Say, This Is What Comes Out

Favorite Simpsons character (right now): Gil Gunderson.

Amount of crap I'm going to get done tomorrow: an ass-load.

Seriousness of previous assertion, given that I'm watching TV on DVD at 1:13 am: negligible.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Highest Point in Ohio

Articulate Joe and I went to the highest point in Ohio. It's a drive-up that involved less walking than Fort Reno Park in DC.After we took our pictures and left, I realized we'd forgotten to take them with our hands above our heads. Joe said it was okay anyway. I said, "It'll be our only one not like the others? Should we go back or not?" He decided to go back.

High points visited so far: District of Columbia and Ohio.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thoughts on Sheboygan

I served in Sheboygan for five months. Once we tracted into a guy who let us in, but he wanted to continue watching Jerry Springer. When I asked if we could turn it off, he muted it. I could still notice the episode topic displayed in the corner of the screen: "My pimp runs my family." I asked again if we could turn it off, which got him angry.

So while this lady obviously fits right in there, I can't say I remember meeting her.


It's days like this that I'm glad I have no blog readers, so I can write whatever I want and not worry about how it sounds. This is what I want to say right now and, if someone ends up accidentally reading this and has a problem with it, that someone can kiss my black ass.

There have been times in my life when I have lacked the desire to do pretty much anything. One of them was the week after I didn't graduate from high school. My girlfriend left town to start college, and I stayed home all week creating a map of southern California. (I still think it's an awesome map.) My mother told me I should take a summer school class at the community college, and when I said I couldn't afford it, she gave me the money. She must have really wanted me out of the house.

Another time was right after I met with the mission president to get told, "What makes you think you should have it easier than this? What makes you so special?" Six months into my mission I'd had my trainer threaten me, a companion who didn't let me speak, a companion who disappeared in the night and stole my weekly letters to the president to make sure I didn't rat him out, and a companion who had a collection of gay porn. I'd had my first investigator who knew the truth but backed out, anyway. I had just realized that two years is just about as long as forever, and I began looking around for who could help me get through it. My parents were afraid I'd scare my younger brother off missionary service if I didn't write home that everything was great. My girlfriend was making plans to break up with me so she could wait for a different missionary, one who left after I did, and was gay. (Still is, actually.) My zone leaders told me to just get my numbers. My broken brain was beginning to fail me.

A group of four of us had gone mountain bike riding and my companion had injured himself. My kids like this story because in it I get to ride in the front of an ambulance. (I've also been in the back once. The front is more fun.) My most recent letter to the president expressed exasperation, and that morning he called to say he needed to meet with me. I thought, "Finally, someone's going to help me." I thought he'd help me see an answer to my problem and it would all be smooth sailing from there. I thought, "Today's the day things start to get better."

The missionaries on the other side of town invited us over to their place to barbecue that night but I said, "No, we've got to work." We had to take the bus to the meeting, and on the way we stopped for lunch. My attitude could be described as "festive."

At my meeting with the president I got in trouble for writing negative letters to the president, and for going mountain bike riding, which had not been against mission rules until just then. I said I didn't understand why all the guys from my home town went to foreign missions and had success, and I was having such a hard time. That was when he told me, "Somebody's got to be here. Why shouldn't it be you?"

After the meeting when the president asked if he could drive us back to our apartment, I said, "Actually, can you take us to the apartment across town?" We barbecued bratwursts and drank caffeinated soda and were late getting home.

I'm once again in a motivational lull. I have my theories of what's going on, but I don't feel like disclosing them. (Maybe it's because I'm not motivated to disclose them.) I feel like I'm in that period of time between realizing you've made a horrible decision and meeting the consequences, like when your feet have slipped out from under you on an icy sidewalk and you have a moment before falling on your back where your brain says, "Oh, this is going to suck." I'm just waiting for the fall now. Until then, I can't really be bothered to do much of anything.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Inadequate (And How!)

My broken brain gets in the way of me doing all kinds of cool things, like being the kind of world-rockin' blogger you expect me to be. Sorry, people, I'm not feeling up to it. I think instead I'll watch three or four episodes of Bones and eat a big-ass bowl of All-Bran in almond milk.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I'm Back! (Yelled Like James Brown at the Beginning of "Get Up Offa That Thing")

I'm now back home in Virginia after a nine-day trip to Ohio. I'll write all about it tomorrow; for now I just want to enjoy the balmy (22-degree) weather and watch episodes of Bones on DVD.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

"Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Fourteen percent of people know that."

Here's some interesting unemployment data. And now, because it's what my readers demand, here's some kick-ass analysis.

How were the forecasters so wrong? I believe that they left "health "care "reform""" out of their analysis. Perhaps unemployment would have behaved this way without the nationalization of one sixth of the economy, or without the uncertain costs of hiring new workers, but when businesses don't know the costs of hiring, they don't hire, and the more the administration has focused on health care legislation, the worse their unemployment forecasts have become.

Productivity numbers are way up, and I believe that means there is work to be done, but no desire to hire the people to do it. This is a rational response when employers have no idea what is going to happen to such a large portion of their employment costs.

Secondly, these data show that the stimulus package was projected to keep unemployment rising from 8% to 9%. Seriously? We spent $700 bil. on THAT? If we would have made direct payments to that one percent of the labor force to replace their previous salary, just a straight dole, it would have cost less. Even if you compute the area between the two curves, I think cash handouts would have been cheaper.

Title quote from Homer Simpson in "Homer the Vigilante."

Friday, January 08, 2010

A Personal Affront

My blog is not on this list of top influential economics blogs, and if I ever find out who made the decision to exclude me, I'll spit in his eye.

Winter Weather Prompts Winter Wear

Like all sensible people, I've come to spend my vacation driving around Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. In the 1790s these states were part of the Northwest Territory, which until its demise in 1803 had polar bear license plates.It hasn't been above freezing the entire time we've been here, and it's snowed every day. I've been to two presidents' graves, a state capitol, a state high point, and 41 new counties.

I can upload pictures when we get home to Virginia.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scriptural Thinking

There seems to be a common interpretation to this scripture:

But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good....(Jacob 2:18-19)
Most people will raise their hands in Gospel Doctrine and say this scripture means you shouldn't be interested in money. But that's not how I read it at all.

Jacob says it's totally cool (possibly not his words, but close) to want to be rich, and he even tells you how to go about doing it. What I take away from this scripture is not a discouragement of seeking riches, but a process for HOW to get them:

  1. Obtain a hope in Christ
  2. Obtain riches
A good indication of whether you've finished with Step 1 is the qualifier on Step 2--seeking riches for the intent to do good. Moroni also makes a connection between hope and charity when he tells us "if there must be hope there must also be charity" (Moro. 10:20). So the presence of charity is a good indication of the presence of hopefulness.

Here's the only hang-up: it's possible they've been messing around with us by talking in metaphors.

Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich. Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich. (D&C 6:7)
But the truth is, I'm not worried about eternal life. I figure there's no reason to worry about the afterlife, since it's a by-product of the current life. Live the current life correctly and the afterlife takes care of itself. When religion tells poor people, "Don't worry because you'll be rich when you're dead," it's following the Dark Ages pattern of justifying the oppression of the poor. Once the church became an extension of the government (cleverly disguised as the government becoming an extension of the church), the rulers kept down rebellion by having the church tell people that their mortal oppression was earning them immortal rewards.

I don't believe that's God's plan. This life isn't supposed to be a giant reality show where we live lives of depredation in the hopes of a big payday at the end. In his book To Draw Closer to God, President Henry B. Eyring talks about a "promise of joy in this life." I'm not putting in time in a living hell for a promise of a future heaven. I don't really care for promises to be rich in the future; I need money now. Jacob tells me I'll get it if I want it for good reasons. Well, I've got my good reasons, so bring on the cash.

Monday, January 04, 2010

More Baseless Mass Hysteria

A few days ago I read this "news" story about how there's not going to be a single bookstore in Laredo, TX, and then within fifteen seconds I disproved the entire story.

Evidently the article's writer means "there's not going to be a single chain bookstore," but the school kids who are campaigning to keep their B. Dalton open can just start frequenting City Limits Adult Entertainment, which I'm sure they'd enjoy more, anyway.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Year End Summation

I didn't get to 20,000 pages read last year. I had a schedule to get there, and I was on schedule, and then my broken brain decided to spend three weeks uninterested in anything, and without the motivation, I decided to stop at 18,000. My sister demanded I start a book review blog, so I did. Here are the 75 books I read:

  1. Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse
  2. The Story of Trains by Jane Bingham
  3. Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
  4. Markets and Minorities by Thomas Sowell
  5. The Buried Biscuits by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  6. Straight Man by Richard Russo
  7. Race and Economics by Thomas Sowell
  8. Hello, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
  9. Mortal Syntax by June Casagrande
  10. The Ezekiel Option by Joel C. Rosenberg
  11. The Lying Postman by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  12. Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton (Elisabetta Dami)
  13. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  14. A Damsel in Distress by P.G. Wodehouse
  15. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
  16. Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
  17. A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  18. Hotel for Dogs by Lois Duncan
  19. The Economics of Discrimination by Gary S. Becker
  20. Ivy and Bean and the Ghost That Had to Go by Annie Barrows
  21. Bubble and Squeak by Philippa Pearce
  22. Amberville by Tim Davys
  23. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
  24. The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel
  25. Dog Den Mystery by Darrel and Sally Odgers
  26. You Can't Be President by John R. MacArthur
  27. I Love You, Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
  28. Blue Genes by Christopher Lukas
  29. Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
  30. Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  31. Brooklyn's Dodgers by Carl E. Prince
  32. The Littles to the Rescue by John Peterson
  33. The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox
  34. Dare to Prepare by Ronald M. Shapiro
  35. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
  36. The Dodgers Move West by Neil J. Sullivan
  37. Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald
  38. The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman
  39. How Children Learn Mathematics by Richard W. Copeland
  40. Veeck as in Wreck by Bill Veeck
  41. Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
  42. Laughing Gas by P.G. Wodehouse
  43. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  44. The Adventures of Sally by P.G. Wodehouse
  45. The Case of the Invisible Dog by E.W. Hildick
  46. Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks
  47. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
  48. Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersad
  49. Danger at the Zoo by Kathleen Ernst
  50. Big Money by P.G. Wodehouse
  51. Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  52. Psmith in the City by P.G. Wodehouse
  53. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
  54. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes
  55. Candyfreak by Steve Almond
  56. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  57. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  58. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
  59. Vanishing Vapour by Brandon T. Minster
  60. Leave it to Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse
  61. The Proper Role and Improper Role of Government by Ezra Taft Benson and H. Verlan Andersen
  62. Herbert Hoover by Joan Hoff Wilson
  63. On the Beaten Path by Robert Alden Rubin
  64. Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
  65. Seeing With an Eye of Faith by Grant Von Harrison
  66. Drawing on the Powers of Heaven by Grant Von Harrison
  67. Latter Days by Coke Newell
  68. Something Fresh by P.G. Wodehouse
  69. The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
  70. Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence by John M. Pontius
  71. Nicholas by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  72. Believing History by Richard Lyman Bushman
  73. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling
  74. Nicholas Again by Rene Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempe
  75. French Leave by P.G. Wodehouse

I also had a goal to visit 100 new counties this year. I was at 73 with a plan for a day trip from my sister's in Richmond, VA, through northern North Carolina to 40 more, but that weekend we had the big snowstorm that shut everything down around here. My wife wasn't too keen on my driving for 10 hours by myself, and since my motivation for most things was gone, I called it a year at 73. So here are the new counties I visited:

  1. Mason IL
  2. Fulton IL
  3. Peoria IL
  4. Tazewell IL
  5. Woodford IL
  6. Marshall IL
  7. Stark IL
  8. Putnam IL
  9. Bureau IL
  10. La Salle IL
  11. Lee IL
  12. Ogle IL
  13. DeKalb IL
  14. Kane IL
  15. Rush KS
  16. Ness KS
  17. Lane KS
  18. Scott KS
  19. Finney KS
  20. Kearny KS
  21. Wichita KS
  22. Greeley KS
  23. Hamilton KS
  24. Stanton KS
  25. Baca CO
  26. Prowers CO
  27. Kiowa CO
  28. Bent CO
  29. Otero CO
  30. Crowley CO
  31. Mineral CO
  32. Hinsdale CO
  33. Gunnison CO
  34. White Pine NV
  35. Routt CO
  36. Grand CO
  37. Jackson CO
  38. Gilpin CO
  39. Broomfield CO
  40. Boulder CO
  41. Cheyenne CO
  42. Wallace KS
  43. Sheridan KS
  44. Edgar IL
  45. Vermillion IN
  46. Parke IN
  47. Owen IN
  48. Johnson IN
  49. Shelby IN
  50. Rush IN
  51. Fayette IN
  52. Union IN
  53. Clinton OH
  54. Fayette OH
  55. Pickaway OH
  56. Ross OH
  57. Pike OH
  58. Vinton OH
  59. Jackson OH
  60. Gallia OH
  61. Jackson WV
  62. Anne Arundel MD
  63. Queen Anne's MD
  64. Talbot MD
  65. Caroline MD
  66. Sussex DE
  67. Kent DE
  68. New Castle DE
  69. Kent MD
  70. Cecil MD
  71. Harford MD
  72. Baltimore MD
  73. Baltimore Independent City MD

Other accomplishments this year: I got a bachelor's degree, and learned how to actually swim (instead of the "not drowning" I could do before).

Saturday, January 02, 2010

More Things Only Idiots Don't Know

Throughout the "health "care "reform "debate"""" the argument was limited to either:

  1. Talking about how great the Democrats' bills were
  2. admitting you hated women and children
Now that the bill has passed, it's okay to acknowledge a few other positions, such as: every health care problem is caused by the current amount of government involvement.

Real health care reform would destroy HMOs and make everyone pay for the level of health care he wishes to receive. Nice care would cost more, and a basic level of care would be provided at county general hospitals (which you might remember were once the basis for the name of General Hospital).

But two weeks ago, we weren't allowed to say that removing people from bearing the costs of their decisions allows them to make more expensive decisions. That was unhelpful. There were eleventy billion Americans dying every second from the rising costs of health care, and something had to be done.

I've written before about how, as a beginning economics student I tried to limit the costs of my daughter's birth. I knew insurance costs didn't just disappear, and I thought, "I'll do my part to keep costs down for all of us." The nurses were incensed when I refused to take home some items. One nurse offered us a $40 ice pack. I thought, "My refrigerator makes ice cheaper than that," so I said no thanks. (Probably because it wasn't me that needed icing, although I will gently remind the reader that the next six weeks were pretty trying on me, too.) The nurse demanded, "But this is free."

Now that I'm a full-fledged economist (at least I own a piece of paper which says so), my attitude has changed. I recently sought to tie up more government funds for TV converter boxes than I needed, hoping to make a small contribution to the program's bankruptcy. I can modestly claim credit for last year's extension of the TV signal conversion deadline from February to June. My economics professors would be proud.

Friday, January 01, 2010

They'll Always Be the Washington Bullets to Me

Just last night I told a guy at a New Year's Eve party, "I like college basketball more than professional basketball. The pros just seem like thugs to me."

In the Wizards' defense, though, who among us can honestly say he's never pulled a gun when settling a gambling debt? I mean, is there another way to settle gambling debts? If there is, I'm unaware of it.