Friday, October 22, 2010

Post No. 999

The anticipation is palpable!

I'm closing in on my 1,000th post. I thought I would celebrate by having my handful of regular readers record video messages for the milestone post, but since A) I don't have regular readers, and B) even my wife thought that was a lame idea, I'm just going to record my own video message.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this portrayal of blogging from Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, a book by T.M. Shine I got from the library when I was browsing the stacks instead of studying industrial organization.

"You just need to get a blog going," Anna's mother told me. "I hear you get money every time somebody clicks on it." I've always thought blogging is for people who aren't having sex, but I guess I'd be willing to abstain, too, if there is some money to be made. [p. 40]

Feel the anticipation!

"Language Is the Liquid That We're All Disolved In"

"Great for solving problems after it creates a problem."

Modest Mouse knows of what they speak. My latest example of a confusing word is "invalid." As an adjective it's "in-VAL-id," but as a noun it's "IN-vuh-lid." Thus you can have an invalid invalid.

This word's ambiguity is highlighted in the movie Gattaca, where people with bad genes are called "in-VAL-id." The other day while walking to the bus I thought of the scene where the real Jerome Morrow says, "Call my Eugene," and I realized for the first time that Eugene literally means "good genes." It made me appreciate the movie even just a little bit more.

Title from Modest Mouse's song "Blame It on the Tetons."

Local Roadtrip Weekend

At my last job in Kansas, I could use the company's computer mapping software to produce my county trip maps. Now I'm just starting to learn how to use an open-source program that's long on data manipulation, and so short on artistic display that it makes Herve Villechaize look like Manute Bol. So you get what you get.

Two Saturdays ago, the day began with my wife trying to wake me up before she left the house. That was followed by me actually waking up, later than I was supposed to, and getting our kids ready for their soccer games. Super-Hot 111 came back to get us and we all went to the field.

Crazy Jane's game was first. Even though she started from an awfully low level of participation (stand in one spot and sort of stick out your foot), every week she gets much better. At the beginning of the season she told us that playing goalie was a dealbreaker for her, but she hadn't remembered to tell the coach, so in the standard rotation, he sent her in as goalie.

Afterwards she said, "I said, 'Are you crazy?'" I asked, "Did you really say that?" She said, "No, but I thought it." Luckily she escaped her period as goalie unscathed.

Then was Articulate Joe's game. His problem is his shyness carries over to his playing; he's nervous trying to take the ball from kids he doesn't know. He's got the skills, but not the cutthroat mentality of a winner. I'm working on that by keeping him in a metal box in the back yard.

Look at him leaning back for his kick. You know who that reminds me of?

Then, because our kids both did well participating, and because I'm a kick-ass dad (especially because of that), I took them to eat ice cream.

We came home to change out of soccer clothes before we went to the pumpkin patch. Crazy Jane went outside to wait for the rest of us.

Then it was on to the pumpkin patch. Super-Hot 111 and I are philosophically opposed on the issue of pumpkin patches. I don't like that we're paying so much for food to ruin, and that I have to take the time to do all the ruining. She doesn't like that I feel this way. So to try to get me on board with pumpkin patches, she took me to one that is built on a county line. You park in one county, then take a hayride into another. "I bet you've never crossed a county line on a hayride before," she said. Well, she had me there.

Our kids selected their pumpkins. They went with mental images of the "perfect" pumpkin, and tried their best to find the closest real-world thing.

We had to wait for the hayride to come back. If we hadn't had those pesky kids with us, I could have scored in a new county. As it was, though, we passed the time taking pictures. I contend they are not the same.

Since we were already 20 minutes west of town, the weather had been a little chilly and rainy during the previous week, and we had full weekends planned for the rest of the month, I decided that it was probably our best day to go to Shenandoah National Park and see the fall foliage. So we left the pumpkin patch and headed for the mountains.

The foliage hadn't turned that much, but our pass is good for a week (so they can charge more for the pass without too much protesting), and my family went back the next weekend to see some more.

Now before you freak out and call CPS, Nosey Parker, know that the other side of that wall was a very gradual slope. Had he fallen off, he would have been fine. Later on, where there was an actual danger, they had a helpful warning sign, which our kids thought was perfect for posing with.

It's like they didn't think this sign was talking about them.

The park brochure had some information about black bears. Super-Hot 111 said, "They don't have bears here, do they?" That was all our paranoid children needed to hear. They refused to get out of the car. After they calmed down a little, we were walking along a path that had an eroded pothole in it. Jerome Jerome the Metronome said to me, "I go down in this hole so bears can't get me."

Then the sun set.

Our camera can't really do it justice.

These last three pictures were only about a minute apart each.

We left the park and stopped at a Target in Harrisonburg. A bunch of fancy-dressed teens were out front. Articulate Joe and I went into the bathroom and there was another one of them there. I asked him what they were doing and he said it was their high school's homecoming dance. He said, "We went to dinner, and then we had some time before the dance, and we didn't really know what to do, so we came to the mall." He had the good sense to say this apologetically.

On the way home, I talked my wife into letting me go a half-hour out of our way to go to Hardy County, West Virginia. I have a trip planned that will take us through that part of Appalachia, but even on that trip Hardy County would be a bit out of the way and difficult to reach. Since we were just as close, and it was night and our kids were (supposedly) falling asleep, she agreed.

Speaking of our kids sleeping, we tried out something I read on one of the economics blogs I follow. His idea is to promise a reward to the last kid to fall asleep. He argues that this gets the kids plotting against each other, pretending to be asleep, and thus actually falling asleep. He says, "And there’s no better way to get a tired kid to fall asleep than to have him sit still, as if sleeping, in a quiet car."

Well, it half-way worked. Jerome was out first, but he's the youngest and falls asleep in the car the easiest. Jane was asleep second, which is the success story. She usually stays awake the longest no matter what. (The other night she called me at 11 PM and I said, "Why are you still awake?" and she said, "It's only 11. I'm always still awake." She's eight years old.)

The failure was with Joe. He was so hopped on over the incentive (two quarters), that he didn't believe us once he told him he'd already won and could thus fall asleep. He made certain he was awake the whole way home, where he loudly declared, "I won!" and nearly woke the other two kids.

On the way inside he told Super-Hot 111, "Make sure you give me my two dimes," and because Super-Hot 111 is taking lessons in chintziness from my correspondence course, she said, "Yep, two dimes. That was what the winner gets."

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Mind Isn't Such a Terrible Thing to Waste

I suspect most of us have heard the party-line when it comes to education, be it from former teachers or from parents: an education is so important. It is vital to success.

In September, President Barack Obama began the school year by telling students in Arlington, VA, "Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That's the opportunity an education can provide.... And no matter what you want to do with your life, I guarantee that you'll need an education to do it."

But it's not just individual success that requires an education. According to the president, "this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. The future of America depends on you."

It was at this point that the government-education complex messed their pants with joy. Because when you're selling an overpriced and marginally useless product, you need as many strident endorsements from the president as you can get.

If education was really so important, than any increase in education would be rewarded. A student one credit shy of graduating with a bachelor's degree should be able to make almost as much money as the student who has finished all the degree requirements.

Empirically, that is not what we find to be true. Nearly all the rewards of education are held for those who complete their degrees. It's not the education, but the sheepskin, that is drawing the higher salary.

Yet the president continues to shill for schools. The only reason your hyperbole meter didn't explode a few paragraphs ago when you read his statement that "the future of America" depends on staying in school was because you've heard so many similar statements in the past. Hyperbole is the new objectiveness.

Millions of American students are entering college for no reason other than because they've been told they should. They are ill-prepared for what they find there. They personify the old adage about the pig in singing lessons: they are merely wasting time and becoming annoyed.

American Institutes for Research recently attempted to find just how many resources are spent each year on college freshman who don't return for further schooling. Ignoring community colleges, which have higher attrition rates, they found 30% of first-year college students don't come back, and those students use $9.1 billion in grants and appropriations.

These students are receiving very little benefit from all this education spending. Their salaries are virtually identical to those of workers who didn't attend any college at all. In purely efficiency terms, everyone would be better off if we just divided the $9.1 billion among them and cut checks to keep them away from college. At least then parking spaces and computer lab spots wouldn't be so scarce.

Like all good bureaucrats, the president wants to solve the problem of wasted money by wasting more. His proposal to make federal education grants an entitlement program flies in the face of economic reasoning. Further subsidizing education will result in more consumption, not less.

Government spending is projected to reach Greek-crisis levels in the next two years. Throwing money at students who use one year of college as the best party ever should be curtailed, not increased. And that is something that the future of America actually does depend on.

Getting Your Christian On

What's the deal with Christians who need to use the label so frequently. I've never described someone to a friend and thought to throw in whether the other guy was "Christian" or not. I guess if we were talking about the guy because of a religious issue I might, but I'm getting to the point where, if something hasn't happened in my life yet, it's probably not going to happen before I die.

There are two problems I see in using "Christian" in your descriptive statistics. The first is that it shows your intellectual laziness. Instead of finding out what kind of person he is, all you found out was that he tells you what you like to hear when it comes to Jesus. I know in an era of high information costs, shorthand ways of categorizing people will become useful, but you have to make sure your signal is not as noisy as "Christian" is. There are a whole lot of Christians filling our prisons right now. If what you mean is "he's a good person," then say that, but if you can't say it because you don't know if it's true, calling him a Christian is just hoping everything will work out how you want it.

Secondly, it's a word with no standard definition, which means it's a meaningless word. In my experience, the people who use the term the most are those with the most specialized definitions. To these people, I'm not a Christian, despite my ready profession of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Why not include me? Because I don't subscribe to the Nicene Creed. This, I suspect, is what a friend meant when she recently told me, "Well, I know you and I have very different ideas of what counts as a Christian." I would count both of us, but she would count only herself.

There's only one person I have to convince I'm Christian, and that's Jesus. I don't care about the judgments of others, and I'm not going to sit in judgment myself. I won't use the word "Christian" as a stand-in for "nice person." I'll leave the determination of who counts as "Christian" up to Christ.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Using My Powers for Good

As most of you know, post-season baseball means just about nothing to me. But I wanted to once again point out the awesome power of my blog.

After I castigated the Texas Rangers for celebrating their division title in an alcohol-soaked manner that forced team star Josh Hamilton to change his clothes in the trainer's room, the Rangers heeded my advice and changed their victory celebration after they defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Division Series.

Congratulations Rangers, the last franchise that had never won a playoff series. It goes without saying that I hope you completely destroy the Yankees and get off the list of franchises to never reach a World Series.

Blending In

Friday night, 10:30, Wal-Mart.

My brain keeps trying to make up excuses for them. Maybe they were on their way out of town for a hunting weekend and noticed they'd forgotten something? But what's more likely is that they were just wearing their normal clothes.

Yeah, I know I don't have much room to talk. But I don't let him wear his outfit to Wal-Mart. That would be like wearing an American flag bikini top to a NASCAR race: you're going to get lost in the crowd that way.

As for running into kids at Wal-Mart at all hours of the night, it's nearly normal to me now. When Articulate Joe and I went on our country trip through Oklahoma, we pulled in to the Wal-Mart parking lot in Yukon at a little after 10. I told him, "Be prepared to get some mean looks from adults that think you shouldn't still be awake." He asked, "How do you know?" I said, "Because that's what I do when I see little kids in Wal-Mart at night." But inside the store, he just blended in with the other pre-schoolers. Of course, had he been wearing camouflage, he would have just disappeared entirely.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Missing Teeth

Q: What do you get when you have 32 [people from a disreputable social group] in a room together?

A: A full set of teeth.

The same could be said of six-year-olds. Hardly a day goes by that Articulate Joe doesn't have a tooth falling out of his head. Last weekend, it happened at halftime of his soccer game.

He had a wiggly tooth for a few weeks. He refused to let anyone give it a wiggle. We assigned him the task of giving it four daily wiggles, but every time we reminded him of it, he swore he'd already done his required wiggling for the day.

His halftime snack was apple pieces. Mid-bite he stopped chewing and wanted to gag. Super-Hot 111 asked him if his tooth was still there and he said, "I don't know."

I didn't know this. All I saw was that his face was very red and he looked really uncomfortable. Since it was such a hot day, I thought maybe he was overheated. I took him over to some shade and squirted some water on his head and neck. I thought he was freaked out because he might vomit, so I told him to spit out the apple piece. This freaked him out even more.

When he gets upset, he regresses to Grunty Joe, the kid who hardly spoke until he was nearly three. My interpretation of the grunts was that he didn't want to eat the apple, but he didn't want to spit it out. I said, "No one can see you over here." He mumbled, "You can." So I turned away and he spat the bite into some bushes, then went back to the game.

Returning to the field he showed Super-Hot 111 that his tooth was gone. So I had to go back over to the bushes and dig around in the dirt and leaves, looking for chewed up apple, and then I had to pull the apple pieces apart looking for a tooth. Why? So I could pay a dollar for the tooth later that night. What the hell?! Nobody ever said being a parent was going to be this lame.

Tooth found, dollar extorted, Articulate Joe is now busily not wiggling his other top front tooth, which has become loose.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Racist Paternalism

No, this isn't a blog post about some antiquated theory of "The White Man's Burden." This is a post about Eric Holder's Department of Justice.

Kinston, North Carolina, decided to remove party affiliation from local elections. There's nothing crazy about this. I grew up in a community where city council candidates did not identify themselves as "Democrat" or "Republican." Unless you live in Berkeley, California, your city council doesn't practice macro politics.

Kinston voters decided "overwhelmingly" that their local politics doesn't need party affiliations. But the Justice Department knows better, and has declared that black voters NEED to know who the Democrat candidate is so they can select their "candidates of choice."

The conventional wisdom is that Republicans want to repeal the 13th Amendment, that black Americans are lucky to have such a good friend in the Democrat Party. Like most aspects of conventional wisdom, this is exactly wrong.

Republicans think citizens can judge elected officials on the "content of their character," a crazy phrase once uttered by some copyrighted dead guy. Holder and Democrats think blacks 1)have a need to vote for particular candidates, 2)can only find those candidates in the Democrat Party, and 3)are too stupid to figure out a ballot unless there's a big "D" on it somewhere.

What makes this even more insulting is that the regulation was passed by the voters of Kinston, who are mostly black themselves. The DOJ is overturning an election to "help" the voters who supported the election's outcome. "No, you guys don't know what's best for you. We know what's best for you."

Why did Kinston have to get DOJ approval? Because 45 years ago the Feds declared the voters of Kinston racist. When this legislation came up for renewal in 2006, all opponents were categorically dismissed as racists. The law was renewed for 25 more years.

Black Americans are assumed to need the Democrat Party because blacks are disproportionately poor. But the destruction of the black middle class is a post-1964 phenomenon. Black America was decimated by the Great Society much more recently than it was affected by slavery. The black underclass has been made reliant on government handouts, which come from Democrats. Thus their integrity is undermined by their democratic overlords who offer not much beyond horror stories of how bad things would be under Republicans, and who stand in the way of changes that aren't in their "best interest."

Educational Incentives

Schools get paid for having kids in schools. And so we end up with programs like this.

The school district is trying to make people okay with this by announcing, "Don't worry; we're not stalking your kids, we're gaming the system!" The chips only work when the kids are on campus, they say. Often when a kid is counted absent by a teacher, he's still somewhere on campus.

My own high school experience backs this up. Getting off campus was tougher than hiding out in art or video production classes with my friends. High school isn't so bad a place when you get to pick which classes to go to.

But is that what the state is paying for, a daycare for teenagers staffed by clueless Obama voters? The school should get paid when a kid is IN CLASS, not just locked up in a pen.

The district is happy to admit that they made nearly $200,000 by counting kids who were not in the proper classes. And they're happy to admit it because they know the state will just shrug. After all, it's not like anyone at the state's Department of Education is opening his wallet and pulling out the green stuff himself.

And you wonder why I hate government and teachers' unions. I wonder how you can't.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Rethinking the Scope of Government

What would be the scope of the government if we followed this dictum from Kevin D. Williamson:

If you’re not willing to have somebody hauled off at gunpoint over the project, then it’s probably not a legitimate concern of the state.
I completely agree that, underlying all state activity is the threat of police action. (This also applies to the quasi-mob of the homeowners' association.)

What's troubling to me is the long, long list of things over which most Americans would be okay with hauling somebody off at gunpoint about. I worked for a city government that sent a man to jail for six months for not mowing his lawn enough. Williamson wants to shock readers into supporting smaller government, but the average reader is just as likely to say, "We need to get our police power on!"

Thursday, October 07, 2010

That's My Story and I'm Sticking to It

I've kept this post marked as unread in my Google Reader all week because I'm so intrigued by the ideas in it, but tonight I'm being super productive and cleaning out my Google Reader (is that a non sequitur?). But I still don't want to let it go.

How many of these am I guilty of? Of course I'm biased (even though Robin's blog urges me to overcome that), but I think I probably do Numbers 6, 7, 11, 12, 16, and 20.

6. You are uncomfortable taking a position near the middle of the opinion distribution.
7. You are uncomfortable taking a position of high uncertainty about who is right.
11. You are reluctant to agree a rival’s claim, even if you had no prior opinion on the topic.
12. You are reluctant to take a position that raises the status of rivals.
16. Your opinion doesn’t much change after talking with smart folks who know more.
20. You are reluctant to not have an opinion on commonly discussed topics.

Six is because I feel the middle ground in most debates is "I don't know," and I shouldn't be in the ignorant crowd. Seven is related; I feel a mental pressure to be complete, and being uncertain is admitting an area of incompleteness. I'd rather quickly adopt a position and change it as I learn more evidence than to say "I don't know." It's like my brain is a used car salesman, telling me, "You have to decide in the next FIFTEEN SECONDS!"

Eleven and twelve have more to do with my rivalries than my opinions. I don't have many enemies, but when I do, I can't stand to see them be right.

Sixteen is because I don't anyone is that much smarter than I am. I know there are people in the world who are much smarter than I, but they exist in an abstract, I've-never-met-one kind of way. This sounds super egotistical, but it's more a knock of the supposed "smart set" than a tooting of my own horn. Really smart people just come across as normally smart and really pretentious.

Twenty is related to seven and my inability to be okay with being incomplete.

What do you think of Robin's list? Which describe you? Which describe me besides the six I identified?

The Life of the Professional Writer

A year ago I began my first paid writing assignment: $10 per article (after two gratis) for Graduate U.'s student newspaper. The first semester I made $70.

The second semester the rate was cut to $2 per article, and all the paperwork had to be repeated, so I just forewent it. Total earnings from writing: still $70.

In Not George Washington, a book which never once makes an effort to explain its title, P.G. Wodehouse writes:

It struck me then--and I have found out for certain since--that there is a popular anxiety to borrow from a man who earns money by writing. The earnings of a successful writer are, to the common intelligence, something he ought not really to have. And anyone, in default of abstracting his income, may fall back upon taking up his time. (p. 136)

So maybe it's a good thing I have not met with success. Otherwise I'd have all you blackguards mooning about the door, trying to touch me for a tenner.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

How Can Something So Fattening Be So Awful?

Food advertising is somewhat effective on me. Super-Hot 111 would say it is very effective, meaning anytime I see a food commercial, I immediately want to go buy the advertised item and eat it. This is true even when there's no advertising involved. A TV character eating Chinese food makes me want to eat Chinese food.

It's not that I'm an impressionable idiot. It's that I am always in the mood for food. So when we get food coupons in the mail, I drop everything and go to the store.

A month ago we got a KFC coupon for something called a Doublicious. I yelled out, "Hold all my calls!" and ran to the nearest KFC.

It was every bit as tasty as I imagined. The cheapskate in me would have balked at the price (why pay anything more than a dollar for a fast food sandwich?), but the coupon held his objections at bay.

You can imagine my elation when, a few weeks later, I got a KFC coupon in the mail for something called a Double Down. I raced out the door, screaming, "Cancel all my meetings!" Super-Hot 111 called after me, "Do you think you have a secretary?"

Alas, with the Double Down KFC has flown too close to the sun. (Editor's Note: for our modern readers, flying too close to the sun is a bad thing that results in melted wings and, ultimately, death.) At first blush you might think as I did, that some KFC tastiness engineer in a fit of genius took the standard sandwich and turned it up to 11: why not substitute tasty chicken for a bland bun?

I'll tell you why not: scalded fingers. I opened the sandwich, nearly dropped it five different ways, and said to Super-Hot 111, "This is the worst idea for a sandwich ever." When I finally managed to take a bite, there was no cool bread to protect my mouth from the magma-like temperatures of the chicken "bun." The entire sandwich was hotter than that Las Vegas death-ray hotel.

Yes, that's me driving on a freeway with both hands on my sandwich. But what you can't see in this picture is that I had both knees on the bottom of the steering wheel, so everything was under control.

A sadder man but wiser now, I will stick to standard sandwiches from now on. At least until I get more coupons in the mail.

What Government Thinks About You

"If we were going to spend $700 billion," said President Obama about proposed tax cuts, "it seems it would be wiser having that $700 billion going to folks who would spend that money right away."

Tax cuts are spending programs now. By that logic, tax rates less than 100% must be spending, too. So everything we have is from the beneficence of government.

I'm sure the president would be the first to smugly tell you, "You're welcome."

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

France: Where Happiness Is 'Appiness

(If you don't get my post's title, say it out loud, with a French accent on the last word.)

Ah, France, where no unreasonable amount of money is too large for compensatory damages. In the spirit of of the Treaty of Versailles, a French court ordered a private citizen of the "regular dude" variety to repay $6.7 bil. to a bank.

Someone who knows more about French law should answer this question: does the guy get to pay what he has and walk away from the rest by declaring bankruptcy, or has he effectively been made a life-long slave of the bank?

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Warm and Cozy Thought of the Day

Scott Sumner writes:

It’s now generally accepted that the fiscal stimulus multiplier is roughly zero in countries where the central bank targets inflation.
That's not the Administration's 1.6, and it's not pessimistic Republicans' 0.9. It's zero. Like, "light that money on fire and wait for the ashes to cool down."

Just keep this in mind when your Congressman votes for Stimulus III in the lame duck session.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Thomas Sowell Doesn't Make Me Homesick

Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wonder why A Random Stranger left California in 2005?" If so, Thomas Sowell took the trouble to put together a 30-minute interview where he answers that exact question.

"Burn it down 'til the embers smoke on the ground." -- Death Cab for Cutie, When Your Heart Is an Empty Room

(Note: when a blogger reads about something on one blog and then blogs about it himself, he often gives credit to the first blog in the form of a "hat tip," abbreviated "HT." However, when I go to Cold Stone Creamery, I order a small, medium, or large, NOT a Like It, Love It, or Gotta Have It. For the same reason, I will not give a "HT," but I will let you know I first saw this on A Voice in the Wilderness.)