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.