Wednesday, December 28, 2011

25,000 Pages Read

12/29/10The Fourth BearFforde382(382)
12/31/10Book of Mormon Stories for Young Latter-day SaintsPetersen302(684)
1/4/11Hector and the Search for HappinessLelord178(1,310)
1/14/11Denationalisation of MoneyHayek108(1,418)
1/16/11A Dog Called GrkDoder260(1,678)
1/19/11Invasion From Planet DorkTrine138(1,816)
1/22/11The Phantom MudderOdgers & Odgers78(1,894)
1/31/11Very Good, JeevesWodehouse275(2,169)
2/19/11Lehi in the Desert/World of the Jaredites/There Were JareditesNibley476(2,645)
2/22/11Manias, Panics, and CrashesKindleberger303(2,948)
2/28/11The Name of This Book Is SecretBosch374(3,322)
3/8/11Money and Foreign Exchange After 1914Cassel289(3,611)
4/6/11The IliadHomer472(4,083)
4/7/11Grk and the Pelotti GangDoder202(4,285)
4/10/11Abel's IslandSteig119(4,404)
4/13/11Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued AboutMillington378(4,782)
4/17/11The Theory of Monetary InstitutionsWhite272(5,054)
4/21/11Tom Brown's SchooldaysHughes466(5,568)
4/22/11Apostles and Bishops in Early ChristianityNibley270(5,838)
4/22/11Chasing VermeerBalliett286(6,124)
4/23/11The White FeatherWodehouse148(6,272)
4/24/11William Tell Told AgainWodehouse92(6,364)
4/28/11The Man Who Was ThursdayChesterton215(6,579)
4/29/11The Mugged PugOdgers & Odgers78(6,657)
5/8/11The Puzzling World of Winston BreenBerlin220(6,877)
5/21/11Understanding IsaiahParry, et Al.651(7,896)
5/23/11The RepublicPlato490(8,386)
5/26/11Amazing MontyHurwitz106(8,492)
5/29/11Grk and the Hot Dog TrailDoder218(8,710)
6/6/11Martin Bridge Blazing AheadKerrin110(8,820)
6/7/11One of Our Thursdays Is MissingFforde367(9,187)
6/9/11The Last TemplarKhoury406(9,593)
6/10/11Man Out at FirstChristopher60(9,653)
6/11/11The Great BrainFitzgerald177(9,830)
6/11/11The Hunger GamesCollins384(10,214)
6/15/11Going RoguePalin413(10,627)
6/17/11The Blue StealerOdgers & Odgers81(10,708)
6/18/11Economics in One LessonHazlitt214(10,922)
6/22/11More Adventures of the Great BrainFitzgerald142(11,064)
6/26/11The Punic WarsGoldsworthy402(11,466)
7/8/11Long Stretch at First BaseChristopher148(11,614)
7/11/11The Not-So-Great DepressionKoss266(11,880)
7/18/11Empire FallsRusso483(12,481)
7/28/11Mostly MontyHurwitz86(12,567)
7/31/11Me and My Little BrainFitzgerald137(12,704)
7/31/11The Book of MormonSmith (trans.)541(13,245)
8/10/11Catching FireCollins378(13,623)
8/25/11The Happiness ProjectRubin333(14,352)
9/6/11The Closing of the American MindBloom382(14,734)
9/12/11My Man JeevesWodehouse125(14,859)
9/18/11A Confederacy of DuncesToole409(15,268)
9/23/11Inspector JacquesOdgers & Odgers81(15,349)
9/28/11101 Commonsense Rules for Making Things HappenBrinkerhoff265(15,614)
9/28/11Grk: Operation TortoiseDoder234(15,848)
9/28/11A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 1Robinson & Garrett296(16,144)
10/2/11Honus & MeGutman140(16,284)
10/6/11Alas, BabylonFrank339(16,623)
10/10/11The Advanced Genius TheoryHartley268(16,891)
10/15/11The Wright 3Balliett333(17,224)
10/16/11A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 2Robinson & Garrett370(17,594)
10/17/11Optimum Currency AreasBleier, et Al. (eds.)114(17,708)
10/18/11Beric the BritonHenty404(18,112)
10/19/11The ECB: Safe at Any Speed?Begg, et Al.58(18,170)
10/20/11One Money, Many CountriesFavero, et Al.88(18,258)
10/21/11The Crystal BridgePulsipher364(18,622)
10/22/11Comet in MoominlandJansson192(18,814)
10/25/11Less Than ZeroSelgin81(18,895)
11/2/11A Journey to the Center of the EarthVerne580(19,475)
11/12/11The London Eye MysteryDowd325(19,800)
11/18/11Competition and CurrencyWhite263(20,063)
11/19/11Mighty MontyHurwitz106(20,169)
11/23/11Richard IIIShakespeare429(20,598)
11/28/11Grk Smells a RatDoder210(20,808)
11/28/11Cranky PawsOdgers & Odgers87(20,895)
11/30/11A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 3Robinson & Garrett317(21,212)
11/30/11A Canticle for LeibowitzMiller347(21,559)
12/15/11Money MischiefFriedman288(21,847)
12/16/11Doctrine and CovenantsSmith, et Al.305(22,152)
12/17/11A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 4Robinson & Garrett334(22,486)
12/22/11Henry Reed, Inc.Robertson239(22,725)
12/22/11King LearShakespeare383(23,108)
12/23/11Economics of a Pure Gold StandardSkousen188(23,296)
12/24/11The Depression CureIlardi288(23,584)
12/25/11Becoming MetropolitanWood274(23,858)
12/25/11The Pig ScrollsShipton293(24,151)
12/26/11When Money DiesFergusson274(24,425)
12/27/11Managerial DilemmasMiller264(24,689)
12/28/11Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse WomanMiller443(25,132)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Counting Pages

So how do I determine which pages to count? I used to just write down the page number on the last page of text. Then I read Sister Carrie, which had 84 Roman numeral pages of introduction, so I started adding those pages in. Then I read The Gathering Storm, which had nearly 100 pages of endnotes, so I started adding those pages in, too. I don't count the index (because I don't read it), but I do count bibliographies, because I look through them to see if anything else would be interesting to read.

So here's an example of how this all works: I recently finished Economics of a Pure Gold Standard, which has its last page of text on Page 153. However, I count it as reading a 188-page book, because it has a bibliography that ends on Page 164, it has xxii pages of prefaces, and it has two pages of author biography and "about the publisher."

What's more, I've decided that, starting next year, I'm counting journal articles in my reading total, as well. They are recognized separately-titled works that have pagination. I will still NOT count magazine articles, though, because that doesn't seem very sporting. I mean, when I go out to eat I read the menu, but that's not really an accomplishment, is it?

  • King Lear, by William Shakespeare

    FINISHED 12/22

  • Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson

    FINISHED 12/22

  • The Pig Scrolls, by Paul Shipton

    FINISHED 12/25

  • The Depression Cure, by Stephen S. Ilardi

    FINISHED 12/24

  • Economics of a Pure Gold Standard, by Mark Skousen

    FINISHED 12/23

  • When Money Dies, by Adam Fergusson

    Page 0 of 274

  • Managerial Dilemmas, by Gary J. Miller

    Page 101 of 264

  • Becoming Metropolitan, by Nathaniel D. Wood

    FINISHED 12/25

  • Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

    Page 0 of 443

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Excitement

Yesterday I was lying in bed reading when out on the street there arose such a clatter I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what that was," and waited for my wife to look out the window. A car had lost its tire, nearly sideswiped our car, and come to a rest, leaving a trailing scoring of the pavement. A few hours later the car, now abandoned with its hazard lights on, attracted four police cruisers, much to the delight of my sons.

But on to the real business at hand: a reading update.

  • King Lear, by William Shakespeare

    FINISHED 12/22

  • Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson

    FINISHED 12/22

  • The Pig Scrolls, by Paul Shipton

    Page 150 of 293

  • The Depression Cure, by Stephen S. Ilardi

    FINISHED 12/24

  • Economics of a Pure Gold Standard, by Mark Skousen

    FINISHED 12/23

  • When Money Dies, by Adam Fergusson

    Page 0 of 274

  • Managerial Dilemmas, by Gary J. Miller

    Page 101 of 264

  • Becoming Metropolitan, by Nathaniel D. Wood

    Page 78 of 274

  • Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

    Page 0 of 443

Friday, December 23, 2011

Vote Early and Often in South Carolina

South Carolina thinks voting should be as secure as renting a movie. The Justice Department disagrees. The DOJ's explanation is complete nonsense.

"The state's data demonstrate that non-white voters are both significantly burdened" by the law and "disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification" needed, Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, said in a letter to the state.

Long-distance bus rides require an ID. Getting a library card requires an ID. But the DOJ is fighting to keep voting less secure than those processes. Of course, driving a car requires an ID, yet no one is out making the argument that minorities are disproportionately burdened when they want to drive cars.

What if the state had a mobile ID lab that came to minorities' houses and gave them a free ID? Would the DOJ drop its opposition. No, because this isn't about racial equality. It's about allowing inelligible voters to participate in elections. That's what same-day registration does, that what "provisional ballots" do, and that's what the DOJ wants in its fight against voter ID laws. Preserving a republican form of government requires oversight of the voting process. The federal government is making travel as burdensome as possible while snuffing out any attempt to safeguard the actual basis of liberty.

Christmas Slow-Down

I'll probably blog about random things over the next few days, but most of my time is going to be spent reading.

  • King Lear, by William Shakespeare

    FINISHED 12/22

  • Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson

    FINISHED 12/22

  • The Pig Scrolls, by Paul Shipton

    Page 100 of 293

  • The Depression Cure, by Stephen S. Ilardi

    Page 94 of 288

  • Economics of a Pure Gold Standard, by Mark Skousen

    Page 74 of 188

  • When Money Dies, by Adam Fergusson

    Page 0 of 274

  • Managerial Dilemmas, by Gary J. Miller

    Page 101 of 264

  • Becoming Metropolitan, by Nathaniel D. Wood

    Page 26 of 274

  • Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

    Page 0 of 443

My first choice would be to finish this all by the end of the 26th. If that doesn't happen, though, finishing all of this by the end of the 28th will accomplish the same goal. (On the 29th I have 382 pages expire, so I'd have to replace them.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Another Day At the Office

When I first got my sweet office, I didn't know this was going to be part of the deal.

Two hours in the office, then upstairs for a while to return circulation to my feet. Hence my recent bleg regarding space heaters.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrity Switch

I have a negative opinion of most celebrities. I think there's something wrong with people who need to be known to strangers. (I differentiating between celebrities and just plain actors, musicians, and athletes. Albert Pujols is an athlete; Alex Rodriguez is a sports celebrity.)

I also have a negative opinion of people who have favorable opinions of celebrities. Once I watched Rita Wilson be interviewed on Oprah Winfrey's show. An audience member asked Rita if her husband (Tom Hanks) would consider running for office because "I just love him and think he'd do a great job." I thought, "You don't KNOW him! You know the characters he portrays and the persona he adopts for publicity events. You have no idea what his position is on ANYTHING (aside from an informed guess that he toes the elite statist line)." I already had a low opinion of the audience member (because she was in the audience at a taping of Oprah), but it fell a little lower after her question.

So I don't really subscribe to celebrity worship. But there is one celebrity that I WOULD trade lives with: Michael Bublé. That's just a no-brainer. The guy is super good-looking and rich, and he can sing like nobody's business.

When I first realized I wanted to switch lives with Michael Bublé, I thought, "Provided I could take my family with me," but then I thought about it some more and realized that proviso was unnecessary. Because Michael Bublé could bag my wife in about thirty seconds. (But then she'd have to learn to say "Bublé" without saying "Bubliet." Something tells me that, given those circumstances, she'd find a way.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

"The Government Hates Competition"

I remember being a kid and seeing the bumper sticker, "Don't steal: the government hates competition." I didn't really understand it (don't governments stop people from stealing?), but, like I said, I was a kid.

On Marginal Revolution I read this excerpt from a Financial Times article:

Indeed, the basic functions of organised crime – protection rackets, narcotics, extortion and prostitution, have increasingly been assumed by the Russian state.

Just an aside ("Just an Aside" would be a very good name for a blog): I hate the Financial Times registration requirement. Yeah, I know it's free, but it requires me to log in. If you're going to inconvenience me, at least make some money from it, right? What ends up happening is I click on the link, see the log-in box, and then think, "Oh, yeah, I forgot I don't read the Financial Times," EVEN THOUGH I HAVE AN FT LOG-IN. Just make your ad revenue from counting visitors like a normal website, FT, okay?

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I refuse to use fad terms. I feel like I'm in an impossible situation: I'm being insufferably trendy if I do, and insufferably boorish if I don't.

When a blogger writes about something he saw on someone else's blog, he sometimes gives the original blogger a "hat tip" for being his source. That would be bad enough, but this gets abbreviated as "HT." I can't stand that crap. I refuse to give hat tips; instead I note who pointed it out.

When we frequented Cold Stone Creamery in Lawrence (high school friends' nickname: Stone Cold Creamery), I refused to use their size names of "Like It," "Love It," and "Gotta Have It." I hate myself a little (more) for even typing them out right now. I said I wanted a "medium," and the scoop-jockey knew what I meant every time.

There have been times when I've been in an IHOP and wanting to eat the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N' Fruity breakfast, but have ordered something else to keep from having to say the name to the waiter. Don't make me say something stupid when ordering. I won't do it.

I feel like Michael Bluth in Season 2, telling everyone in his family who uses the term "The O.C." to not say that.

In Celebration of Ebenezer Scrooge

Stephen Landsburg writes on

In this whole world, there is nobody more generous than the miser—the man who could deplete the world's resources but chooses not to.
Pointer from Robin Hanson.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In My Sights

If I finish reading this stack of books before midnight on December 26th*, I will have read 25,000 pages in a year.

In the stack:

  • King Lear, by William Shakespeare
  • Henry Reed, Inc., by Keith Robertson
  • The Pig Scrolls, by Paul Shipton
  • The Depression Cure, by Stephen S. Ilardi
  • Economics of a Pure Gold Standard, by Mark Skousen
  • When Money Dies, by Adam Fergusson
  • Managerial Dilemmas, by Gary J. Miller
  • Becoming Metropolitan, by Nathaniel D. Wood
  • Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

* = Midnight is technically tricky. Actual "midnight" (meaning 12:00:00 AM) on December 26th is at the start of the day, but in standard usage, "midnight on December 26th" means the end of the day. I'm using it here in the standard usage sense, even though I know it's wrong.

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Overturning the Existing Basis of Society"

Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become 'profiteers,' who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery.

Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.

John Maynard Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)


As Forrest Capie points out in a fascinating paper (1986, p. 117), it took a century for the inflation in Rome, which contributed to the decline and fall of the empire, to raise the price level "from a base of 100 in 200 AD [sic] to 5000...--in other words a rate of between 3 and 4 percent per annum compound."

Milton Friedman, Money Mischief (1992)


The inflation rate in United States was last reported at 3.4 percent in November of 2011. From 1914 until 2010, the average inflation rate in United States was 3.38 percent...., "United States Inflation Rate"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not Dead (Yet)

I don't have anything blog-worthy today. (Careful readers of this blog will know that that's really saying something.) I'm finishing a paper and giving an exam. My last paper had its deadline extended to Monday, so I'll be working on it this weekend.

I got bumped from teaching Money and Banking next semester to teaching Industrial Organization. That's annoying because I enjoyed Money and Banking and had already taught it once, so would be able to cut down on preparation time (which would mean preparing for negative amounts of time). But it's not all bad because it'll broaden the teaching experience I will have when it comes time to find a job. And I/O is a fun topic. Lots of simultaneous equations to solve.

I told you I didn't have anything blog-worthy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Highs and the Lows of Pittsburgh

Last month I drew attention to Pittsburgh being the only American city on National Geographic's list of "must-see places."

Don't let it be said I only look on the bright side of life. (I know lots of people have been saying that about me lately.) The truth is: if you live in Pittsburgh during a bioterrorism attack, you will probably die.

I think I'm going to be okay, though, because I have plans to move away right before any attack comes.


When a third-world dictator asks his supporters to report which of their friends have dissident political views, we would bemoan the creation of a thought police Gestapo. But when it happens here, it's just for purposes of friendly persuasion.

Obama's reelection campaign is asking contributors to submit the names and e-mail addresses of Republicans. "Oh, but it's just for a joke e-mail." Only if the campaign wants it to go no further. There's no disputing the fact that the administration is compiling a list of citizens who don't support its policies; the only question is what they will do with it. Instead of trusting they use it appropriately, wouldn't it be better if they didn't create it at all?

Oh, and it goes without saying that I've already informed on all of you. I can squeal faster than a pig in sexual congress. Consider yourselves Gestapoed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jill's Cousin Mitt Is In the Hands of Demon Vice

So Mitt Romney took a page from the Bryan Caplan playbook and tried to make a bet with Rick "Somethin' 's wrong in the world when them queer-folk can act all respectable-like" Perry. And now everyone has their collective knickers in a twist.

Romney is rich, but so are the rest of the candidates. It's another example of hitting a guy with whatever is handy. Romney's rich, Gingrich's divorced, Bachmann's depressed (which should get its own blog post in a week or so). Not only do these things barely matter (if they matter at all), when it comes to riches, they all have them.

Gingrich says Romney made millions bankrupting companies. It's called liquidation and it's a vital economic activity. Attack the guy for a real position, not for a negative portrayal of a legitimate job.

Monday, December 12, 2011

They Don't Teach Geometry at Columbia

President Obama said this week: "Steve, the math is the math. You can't lower rates and raise revenue, unless you're getting revenue from someplace else."

Tax revenue is the tax rate multiplied by the tax base. Call tax revenue "area," call tax rate "height," and call tax base "length." Now we're dealing with third-grade geometry. If one rectangle is 4*6 = 24, is there a value for X such that 2*X = 30?

Of course there is. But Obama thinks there isn't. You can't possibly lower rates while increasing revenue, he says.

This is unsettling. Is he ignorant of grade-school mathematics, or is he really this much of a demagogue? Neither is a condition desirable in a president.

Boredom Practice

A note from my daughter:

I am Practiceing Sitting still for christmas eve. can You Please tell me some long convortation about something or other. Plus I need some thing to look forward to like on christmas eve we have presents.

I asked her, "So you want me to get you excited about something and then tell you a boring story?" She said, "Yes, so I can practice for when we have to listen to scriptures before we open presents."

Lame Dreams

I got an interview with the board of directors of my father's company for a cartography position for them. I showed up to the board meeting and told the secretary I was there, and they completely blew me off.

So I left and ended up at the Saint George Deseret Book, which was gigantic from the outside, but the inside was totally lame. It was like a crafting store on the inside (which isn't too different from a real Deseret Book), with nearly no books at all. I asked a worker where the books were and she pointed to one low shelf of one display, and it was behind the legs of an unfriendly-looking old lady, so I just left.

Next I was at the Camarillo Stake Center, where I was hosing down cars. One of the cars tried to drive away and I chased it. I followed it all the way across Constitution Park and City Hall before my hose ran out. I had to wind the hose back up, and some guys from Camarillo showed up to help. Erik's brother Christian was one of them. He had tattoos on his wrists and he was frustrated with me for getting the hose tangled up in a bunch of plants. When we were done with the hose, I suggested we all go swimming at a local apartment pool.

While at the pool, I got a call from my dad's company's board of directors that didn't tell me anything, so I went back to the meeting and found out they were very angry with me for leaving. I was supposed to have waiting for my turn, but it hadn't been obvious to me that I was ever going to have a turn. My father was mad because I made him look bad in front of his bosses.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stressful Dreams

Dreams are supposed to be relaxing. That's why people say "in your dreams" about unreasonably nice things. But lately my dreams have been about my regular life. That's not relaxing at all.

Last night's dream: I exited the freeway at an offramp that had an unexpected toll booth. I turned off the engine to save gas, and I started looking for change. The booth worker said the toll was $25. I didn't have $25, so I decided to drive to the next exit. But then my car's starter, which has been slowly become less and less reliable over the past three years, wouldn't start at all. I had to call Triple-A and I was deciding to get towed to our house instead of a mechanic when I woke up.

This is bogus. I want relaxing dreams. What's the point of going to sleep if it's just going to be like being awake?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Don't Make Me Turn This Into a Private Blog

I should be able to write stuff without you people getting all weird on me. My wife is concerned that I'm oversharing lately, and that someone might go and do something awkward as a result. Well, don't.

In other news, now that my semester is nearly over, I've requested Nathan's book from the interlibrary loan program again. Last time I got Georgetown's copy, but now that one is missing (I swear I returned it), so I'm going to get American University's copy. I hope not to lose every copy in the DC metro area.

What can any of you people tell me about space heaters? Aren't they huge fire hazards? Or was that just old models? Maybe the fire hazardness of it has been corrected.

Current reading: King Lear; Doctrine and Covenants; A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants, Vol. 4; Money Mischief; Henry Reed, Inc.; and The Mortal Messiah, Book 2. I hope to top 23,000 pages by the end of the year, and top 25,000 pages for year-running by the end of February.

I want to make a vinyl lettering sign that reads "Vinyl Lettering Is Over-Rated," takes its picture, and pin it on Pinterest. (Yes, I'm a dude on Pinterest. I'm confident in my sexuality.)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Spreading Some Cheer

Yesterday I had a student come to office hours. She's failing badly and wanted to talk about what her options were next semester. I respected that she was taking responsibility for her grades and wasn't coming to me with pleas for unfair leniency. To help cheer her up, I told her about how I failed out of school and switched majors twice. It worked like a charm; she went away smiling and even came to class later in the day.

Not the Blog I Envisioned

I don't want to write one of those complaining-about-everything blogs. Seriously, when I envision my blog, I see it filled with humorous self-deprecating tales, insightful economic analysis of mainstream appeal, and occasional sardonic anecdotes. I don't see this as a place to vent frustration, mainly because venting is not shown to actually improve mental health, but also because it doesn't really increase readership.

However, comma, my brain does need to unload some things. There are times when I need to move on to something else, but I can't because my brain keeps cycling the problem. This was why I paid our previous landlord's bogus fee; I couldn't concentrate on school when my brain kept thinking, "Those bastards need to receive the following angry letter...."

I have to finish three papers this weekend, and had plans to finish two today, but then I woke up and opened yesterday's mail and today's e-mail, and now I've spent a good part of the day contemplating alternative employment.

My non-teaching job is an independent contractor position. I work from home because the company has no physical office space. A couple times every month I have to go to meetings in DC, which requires a lot of commuting time for me (we live in a fringe suburb, Bakersfield-Near-the-Potomac). Since it is not my regular office, I bill for the travel time. Yesterday my November paycheck came in the mail. I was at school all day, so I didn't open it until this morning, when I saw that it was $70 light. Then I got an e-mail explaining that I'd get paid for travel to a different city, but not to a meeting in town because it's like going to work.

Except that it's not like going to work for me. I took the job agreeing to a commute of walking down two flights of stairs. That's my office commute. Three hours of travel time and $8 of Metro expense was not part of my accepting the job. If I'd get paid to attend a client meeting in Chicago, I should be paid to attend a client meeting in DC.

I know a normal person would say, "It's only $70; walk it off." Except for the whole crushing poverty thing I outlined earlier this week. I don't have a $70 cushion to absorb unpaid work. And the two-weeks-before-Christmas timing of the thing pisses me off, too. As does the weak-ass way of handling it. Thanks for the phone call and the discussion. Oh, wait, you just told the bookkeeper to write a smaller check and didn't mention it to me until the check had arrived.

I can't afford to work for this company anymore, but I also can't afford to leave the position until the end of January. I don't think I can avoid DC meetings for six weeks, and I don't think I can explain that I'm no longer available for DC meetings without leaving my position. I went from interviewing with an understanding that I'd get $X/hr. to being offered 80% of X, to an after-tax pay of 68% of X, to an effective wage of 34% of X when I have client meetings. This upsets me, and I think justifiably so.

Okay, now to finish two papers today ("The Vox Populi as the Vox Dei: Voter Preference and Opinion Polls" and "Prison Money: Metallist Convergence in the Post-Cigarette Era") and one tomorrow ("Optimum Currency Areas Within the United States: A Beginning Look at Region-Based Currencies").

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Grammar Overthought Right(ly)

Somewhere along the way, I ended up with a blog entitled "Overthinking It" in my Google Reader feed. Here I've read about such things as the economics of The Hunger Games, Belle's delusion in Beauty and the Beast, and why Justin Bieber's early songs will sound bad when sung by an adult Justin Bieber. (Curiously, though, this is not where I read about the Endor Holocaust.)

Today on "Overthinking It" is a post about verb conjugation when a singular noun has a compound name (like the singular television show "Beavis and Butt-head"). It yields gems like the following:

The Smurfs (the show) was adapted as a movie, but the smurfs (all the little blue pests themselves) were awful in it. Or, more generally, though The Smurfs smurfs smurfily, the smurfs smurf smurfily.
In summation: "The Kardashians is a terrible show, but the Kardashians are terrible people."

My daughter needs to read this. She hasn't met a compound subject that she doesn't think can include the pronoun "me." First I told her I would tickle her. She persisted. Then I told her I would bite her. She persisted. Then I told her I would sit on her head and "toot" (our family's vulgar term for farting). She persisted. Now I tell her I am going to punch her in the face. She laughs and moves on with the story about what "me and Grace" did.

My Future Epitaph

"I am unhappy with what I have done but even more unhappy with the most obvious alternative." - Milton Friedman, Money Mischief, p. 98.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Christmas Comes Early

In August I began another semester of graduate school. If our student loans had worked out the way we were led to believe they would, we would have eased our way out of chronic poverty and into the lower-lower-middle class.

"Why would he put all those qualifiers on 'our student loans worked out'?" Well, because they didn't. And while we were trying to figure all that out, our last landlords tried to cheat us out of a thousand dollars. Writing letters back and forth and worrying about the next step was a distraction from the things I needed to be doing. While I was trying to figure out what to do, I remembered Doctrine and Covenants 19:35. "Pay the debt thou hast contracted with the printer. Release thyself from bondage." So I paid the disputed bill, telling myself it would be fine when our student loan money got released to us.

When we found out the student loan money wasn't going to come to us, we went from chronic poverty to crushing poverty. Our kids will still have some things to open on Christmas because of grandparents sending presents, but that will be it.

(Luckily we laid the groundwork for a small Christmas after last year, when our kids got new toys even though they were perfectly content with their old toys. It's a lot easier to keep Christmas small when they aren't competing with classmates* and don't see TV ads. And it was just a trivial step from "small Christmas" to "no Christmas." But grandparent presents have pushed the needle back to "minuscule Christmas," and since we never qualified "small," we can pretend this is what we meant all along.)

My wife and I were planning on not receiving anything (at least I was; if my wife wasn't, she should be once she reads this). Her parents sent us a little money to spend on presents for each other from them. And this is how...we got a new shower curtain rod today!

Our last one broke in September and we've been using the other shower since then. (Good thing we moved to a place with two showers this past summer.) Today I got my Christmas present shower rod from my in-laws and used it for the first time. It worked admirably.

A post like this should end with a life lesson about what really matters in life. You know what really matters in life? Money. Because without it a modern man cannot provide jack crap for his family. Can my kids eat explanations of covered interest parity? They cannot. (I tried.) Will they be excited on Christmas morning to open a lecture on the Long Run Phillips Curve? I doubt it. Will my landlord take payment in plans for restructuring the Federal Reserve? The contract doesn't say he will. I have one responsibility that's mine alone: to provide for my family. That means get them the money they need. Life is terrible right now.

*: Last spring I was sort of an assistant to the assistant coach for my son's tee ball team. Once I stood by and heard two six-year-olds compare their video game systems. "I have a Didj, Nintendo DS, PlayStation3, and xBox." "I have a Nintendo DS, PlayStation, and Wii." This past fall the same thing happened between kids on his soccer team, except they went into more depth, comparing particular games. It's when I spend time around other people's kids that I'm happiest we homeschool.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Sunday School Lessons

Our previous bishop would give small pieces of candy to kids who could report to him what their Sunday School lesson was about. Not so much for the Gestapo element as to give the kids reason to remember, at least for the ten minutes it takes to walk to the bishop's office and repeat.

Our current bishop is now locked into the arrangement, because who really wants to be the guy to cut off the candy gravy train? Now all three of our kids make the after-church pilgrimage to the bishop's office. We've started policing their reports after learning that Articulate Joe was walking in, saying, "I can't remember," and expecting candy. So now when they show up at the car with candy, I ask them, "What did you tell the bishop?"

Last Sunday, Jerome Jerome the Metronome said his lesson was about "not killing our pets." Crazy Jane said, "Yeah, that's what he told the bishop." We suspect it was probably about something like "God made animals for us," the teacher mentioned our responsibility to care for them, and the three-year-olds ran with it from there.

Oh well. It's a true principle (we shouldn't kill our pets), and that was good enough for a piece of candy.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Things to Do

Tomorrow night I make an in-class presentation, and I'm fifty-percent committed to blowing off Thursday night's class. That's the end of me having to attend class. Ever.

Of course, this doesn't mean I'm necessarily done with school. I have a pesky dissertation to write. But it does mean that I can start thinking about what I'm going to do with my life when I'm done with school. After all, I'd like to think the dissertation will be slightly easier for me based on the fact that I've written two novels. Yes, a novel isn't a dissertation, but it is a thing that you make yourself sit down and write.

So what am I going to do when I have free time again? Well, I've been making a bit of an informal mental list over the past few years. I decided I should have a place where I write them down so I don't forget any. That place is this blog post.

  • Run a marathon in less than four hours.
  • Complete an Olympic-distance triathlon.
  • Learn Spanish. (I'll have to use some sort of objective standard to judge when this is completed. Do they allow random adults to take the AP exam?)
  • Complete my next novel.
  • Read the Journal of Discourses.
  • Learn to play the piano.
  • Learn Chinese. (This one reminds me of Lt. Frank Drebin: "Uh, that's a pretty tall order, Nordberg. You'll have to give me a couple of days on that one.")
  • Through-hike the Appalachian Trail.
  • Learn to play the clarinet.
  • Visit every county.
  • Summit every state high point.

Inappropriate Children's Literature

"Mrs. Claus and the elves got busy."

from Laura Rader's How Santa Lost His Ho! Ho! Ho!

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Awkward Silences

INSURANCE REPRESENTATIVE: You got that notice because your policy is no longer offered. The Affordable Care Act banned your policy and we applied for a waiver to be allowed to continue offering it, and we recently learned our application was denied.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Funny, I thought the rhetoric said "if you like your plan you can keep it."


A RANDOM STRANGER: So what are my options? Do you still offer insurance?

INSURANCE REPRESENTATIVE: Yes. What are you looking for in an insurance plan?

A RANDOM STRANGER: I already had what I was looking for and it was taken away from me by an idiot who said he was doing me a favor.


Friday, December 02, 2011

The Family That Stays Home Together Stays Slovenly Together

I work my non-teaching job from home, and we homeschool our kids. That leads to conversations like the one I had this morning with Articulate Joe.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Why is everybody else dressed for the day but you?

ARTICULATE JOE: You're not dressed.

A RANDOM STRANGER: But I never get dressed.

Disclaimer: He and I were in pajamas, not naked. Even I have limits to my casualness. (Said limits are imposed by my wife.)


A woman who requested to follow me on Twitter wrote by way of explanation: "Dorky guys turn me on BIG TIME!!!!"

Thank you?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Qwerty Question

I would think the keyboard would be set up such that the most common of a key's multiple functions is the one that happens with a single stroke, and the next-most-common function is the one that requires a concurrent use of the "SHIFT" key. Wouldn't you agree? So then why does the key to the right of the "L" give you a semicolon on the single stroke and a colon when used with "SHIFT"? Isn't the colon a MUCH more common punctuation mark than the semicolon? I'd guess 90% of computer users couldn't use a semicolon correctly in a sentence; they just stay away from the mark altogether and over-use the comma. Is this a programming thing? Is the semicolon much more prevalent in computer code?

Thinking Time

So I was playing Minesweeper, imagining that someone else was watching. This person was disparaging my ability to play, saying that clicks which uncover a lot of empty space are unfair. I was saying that that's not true, because there are still 99 mines to find, and if there is a lot of empty space, that means the mines are concentrated, which will make it harder to pick out the safe squares. There's a gain (a lot of board cleared quickly) and a loss (the remainder of the board is harder to clear), and so it's probably a wash. The only way it would be an advantage is if the mines were concentrated such that there were NO safe squares left to find, because the game automatically completes once all the safe squares have been uncovered.

I began to wonder if every game has about the same number of "big clearing" clicks in it. A game can start with a huge area cleared, or it can start modestly and have a large area cleared by a single click later on. I thought how one would find out would be to stop after each game and count the number of clear areas above a certain size (say, 10 squares), and see if the number of them is fairly constant across games.

Right when I started to think how I would implement such a plan, I said to myself, "You don't have time for that; you have school work to do." Then I thought, "You know who's smart enough to do weird stuff like this and also has the time to see it through? Doctoral candidates." And I suddenly understood who came up with analyses like this one about the Endor Holocaust.

New Favorite Novel

circa 1992: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

circa 1995: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Dec. 31, 2000: The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck.

late summer 2001: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

January 2002: Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

May 25, 2005: Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

Apr. 5, 2010: A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

Nov. 30, 2011: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

A quote from the book that I think relates to my previous blog posts about the underlying motivation of the Affordable Care Act:

To minimize suffering and to maximize security were natural and proper ends of society and Caesar. But then they became the only ends, somehow, and the only basis of law--a perversion. Inevitably, then, in seeking only them, we found only their opposites: maximum suffering and minimum security. (p. 326)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"What Is It Good For?"

Here's me from class yesterday: "What eventually destroyed the Bretton Woods system was the fact that a fixed exchange rate was exporting American inflation to other countries, who decided they didn't want it. Remember, in the late 60s and early 70s the US was fighting two wars, one on Poverty and one on the Vietnamese, both of whom won."

Title from the original title of Tolstoy's War and Peace.

The Deserving

Everybody deserves everything, it seems.

Photo from Reuters here

What is a pension? It's either pay you haven't earned, which is robbery, or it's pay you have earned, just earlier, which is forced saving.

Most people demanding a pension would take umbrage with the "robbery" characterization, so let's look at the second claim. A pension is not the world's only saving vehicle. If you can't get a pension, create your own through saving. Problem solved.

"But wait," you say. "What if you planned on the pension as your method of saving and are now finding out it's not available?" That's a serious problem. But if you earned the money, the money should be there. If it's not, you either didn't really earn it (so we're back to "pension = robbery"), or it was mismanaged.

The thing about claims of mismanagement is that these are all constitutional democracies that are having these problems. The managers were chosen by the sovereign people. The managers spent the money in broad daylight. The people didn't replace the managers, thereby giving tacit approval to the looting of the pension. They earned the value of the pension, and they were repaid in expanded government programs and services. Now the erstwhile pensioners tell us we have to cover the costs, in effect paying them twice. Unless our calculations of the value of their work was off by half, they want money they didn't earn. And now we're back to "robbery."

Looted savings, when undertaken by a non-governmental agency, is a crime. But it's also a secret while it's going on. No one can really claim surprise that Social Security's "lockbox" is a filing cabinet in West Virginia filled with records of how much Social Security money the government has already spent. That's not saving; that's spending.

So no one "deserves" a pension unless he's earned it. If he's earned it, it should be there. If it's not, it was mismanaged. If it was publicly mismanaged, pensioners have a revealed preference for not receiving pensions. Why does this then impose an obligation on anyone else?

Recent History

PROFESSOR: "[The use of the term 'inflation' to refer to an increase in the money supply, as opposed to its modern meaning of a rise in prices] was still occurring in the Mississippi Bubble, and that was in 1720, which is very late."

A RANDOM STRANGER [to himself]: "Wow, that is late!"

What has been going on in my brain that makes 1720 seem like recent history? I have no idea. Maybe it's because I've been reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, which, despite being set in the centuries after the 2600s, feels like it's set in the fifth century.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Squeaky Shoe Gets to Kick Your Face

There's a guy in my program that I don't really like. Let's call him Phil. I could catalog all the reasons, but I'm sort of busy today. (Or, rather, I'm supposed to be busy today. I mean, how busy can I really be when I'm blogging, right?) Suffice it to say, I don't like the guy.

Phil requested me as a Facebook friend and I accepted because I don't actively wish him any harm, which is my standard for becoming someone's Facebook friend. (Note: if we're not Facebook friends right now, it doesn't necessarily mean that I am actively wishing you harm; I might just not know who you are.) A few weeks later, however, he came up as a suggested friend, meaning he had defriended me.

I wasn't too broken up about it, since we weren't REAL friends to begin with (defined as someone who will help you bury a body with no questions asked), but it definitely has cooled what was an already-chilly relationship.

A few weeks ago, I walked into class a few steps behind another student. Phil said to the other student, "Oh, I heard your squeaky shoes and thought it was [A Random Stranger]." I said, "Do my shoes squeak?" Phil said, "Usually."

What? Firstly, my shoes don't squeak unless it has rained, in which case EVERYone's shoes squeak (except those of James Fenimore Cooper characters).

Secondly, why would a guy decide I wasn't worth taking one of his 5,000 friend slots, yet dedicate brain bandwidth to tracking the noises of my shoes? (Unless the reason he unfriended me was the shoe squeaking, but I refer you to my first point.)

Thirdly, Phil has a way of saying everything that is the opposite of friendly. Someone else could joke with me about my supposedly squeaky shoes, but when Phil says it, it's accusatory, as if my shoes are responsible for his terrible haircut and his boring-as-hell interest in robots and feudal Japan. (Hey, it turned out I wasn't too busy to catalog his faults after all!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Richard III 1

Holiday Travels

K. Jack Riley writes in his paper "Flight of Fancy? Air Passenger Security Since 9/11"

Researchers have estimated that the 9/11 attacks generated nearly 2,200 additional road traffic deaths in the United States through mid-2003 from a relative increase in driving and reduction in flying resulting from fear of additional terrorist attacks and associated reductions in the convenience of flying. If the new security measures are generating similar, or even smaller, substitutions and the driving risk has grown as hypothesized, the new methods could be contributing to more deaths annually on U.S. roads than have been experienced cumulatively since 9/11 from terrorism against air transportation targets around the world.

Happy driving, everybody!

Riley's paper appears as Chapter 12 of The Long Shadow of 9/11: America's Response to Terrorism, edited by Brian Michael Jenkins and John Paul Godges. It was recommended in Timothy Taylor's "Recommendations for Further Reading" in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Fall 2011), which was blogged about by Scott Sumner here. One of Sumner's commenters claims TSA is not designed to prevent lives, but to protect the macro economy. If this is true, the TSA is a massive tax of the "corporate welfare" variety that gets the 99% all hot in the pants. My privacy is invaded and my body is given cancer so corporations can operate in a slightly-less-risky environment. Why are there no unwashed hippies occupying airport screening lines?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cynical Lies and the Cynical Liar Who Tells Them

Since this is going to be a short week for me, I'm trying to get some stuff done in the office today (and failing spectacularly). That means I don't have a bunch of time for blogging (or do I? No, no I don't.), so I'll just jot down something I've been thinking about.

It seems pretty obvious that the "supercommittee" is neither super nor a committee. It's a collection of sound bytes about how the problem is the other side's fault. The decision has been made to miss the deadline and win voters next year.

And missing the deadline is not a bad thing. That means that the decision of what gets cut becomes automatic, getting out of the politically-inviable world of taking action against an entrenched interest.

The last time the specter of automatic cuts came up, the president said it would require withholding pay from military personnel. And that's the biggest thing I want to make sure everyone understands: THAT IS NOT TRUE.

Military pay would be withheld at the president's discretion. It wouldn't be a case of Obama saying, "Oh, I wish it didn't have to be this way." He would actively DECIDE to make it that way.

The problem is that the guy will do it in a heartbeat and lie about it for the next 11 months. Of all his lies ("I'm going to close Guantanamo," "My health-care law is deficit-neutral," "If you like your plan you can keep it"), this would be the worst, because it turns the lives of military personnel into a political tool. It would be like invading Canada to get a bump in the polls. If the public is fully informed, there will be no bump in the polls. Realize that military pay is a discretionary item when the automatic cuts kick in.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"It's Been So Long Since I Have Felt Fine"

At the end of September, I realized it was the first time in over six years that I felt like I imagine a normal person feels, the previous time being May 2005. The bad news: that feeling left about the middle of October. The good news: it's still possible for me to feel like a normal person.

Title from Jim Croce's "New York's Not My Home."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Talking to Me

About a year ago, I read Alison Weir's Princes in the Tower. Now I'm reading Shakespeare's Richard III. Last night my daughter was standing in front of the bookshelves, with her head blocking the SE section, which reminded me that I should add Desmond Seward's biography of Richard to my "to read soon stack." (It's a real stack, which teeters at 17 books. I feel like one of those ladies on "Hoarders" whose stack of newspapers shifts and crushes a beloved cat.)

I had Crazy Jane find the book behind her head and hand it to me. (Now the stack is 18 books.) I turned it over and noticed the dates of Richard's life: 1452 to 1485. I said to my wife, "Here's another guy who accomplished great things by the time he was 33. One more person who makes me look like a failure."

"I'm fine with what you've accomplished," she said.

"By the time he was my age, Richard was king of England."

"But that was something he was born into," my wife said. "He didn't have to do anything to get that."

"Are you kidding?" I asked. "He had to murder a lot of people. He had to kill Henry VI and his son, his brother Clarence, his nephews Edward V and the Duke of York, and a bunch of their uncles on their mother's side. That's, like, ten murders. Then he had to marry a couple times. All that's a lot of work."

Anyway, not only did Richard accomplish more by 33 than I did, but I'm almost 34 now, and Wikipedia says Richard died before his 33rd birthday, even. So I've spent a lot of this morning feeling like a terrible failure.

George Mason University economist Robin Hanson (whose Industrial Organization class I had) has a blog post today about this very thing:

In 1993, at the age of 34, I began a Ph.D. at Caltech, which I finished four years later. I probably didn’t make much more money afterward, but I’m a lot more satisfied with my life.


Human lives are long. If you are willing to work, you can radically change direction, even at the age of 34.

So I guess I'm not so bad off. I started my Ph.D. at 31; I might even be done before my 35th birthday. If Richard III is a better man than I, at least I have some company.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On the Prowl

So I'm ready to move.

Which is terrible, because we just moved to a new place that I actually like quite a bit. But I want to get out of this town. (I'm unsure if that means my particular suburb, Bakersfield-Near-the-Potomac, or the Washington area completely.)

I'm done actually needing to be in the Washington area in less than a month. We probably shouldn't move until next August, when our lease expires, but a sufficiently-nice opportunity could entice me to incur the lease-breaking penalties. The difficulty is that there are no opportunities around, let alone sufficiently-nice ones. So I'm stuck working four hours per week as an independent contractor.

Now is the time for all good readers to come to the aid of their blogger. I mean, I've spent YEARS cultivating my five-member readership; now that capital is going to pay off. Find me an economics job and you will be repaid with a handsomely-glowing review of your friendship on my blog. (How handsomely glowing, you ask? THIS handsomely glowing. Damn, that glow is HANDSOME, yo.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blaming Everybody

I suspect most of my readers (three of the five of you) don't know who Jason Whitlock is. He's a sports columnist who wrote for the Kansas City Star and is syndicated nationally. He also writes for, where he's been among the ignorant masses howling for Joe Paterno's head on a pike.

I usually like Whitlock. Not that I always think he's right, but I think he's a pretty straight shooter. But on Penn State he is allowing illogical emotion to run roughshod over things like reason and truth.

In a hyperventilating Nov. 8 column, Whitlock claims Paterno could have reprimanded a non-employee, knew information Paterno says he didn't know at the time, should have contacted the police with the nuclear option of all possible criminal charges based on hearsay, and somehow delegitimized every victory in a 46-year career.

In his Nov. 17 column, Whitlock defends Mike McQueary thus:

I bring all this up because I think I understand the situation Mike McQueary faced when he walked in on Jerry Sandusky allegedly raping a 10-year-old boy in 2002. I bring it up because I believe many of the people loudly and quietly crucifying McQueary for apparently doing next to nothing to stop Sandusky would make the same choice as McQueary.




He's got to be kidding me. He's got to go on a few more paragraphs before typing, "Ahhh, I'm just messing with you!" Right?

Not at all. Whitlock, the man who says Paterno's reasoned nonresponse to a rumor deserves condemnation, says McQueary's senseless nonresponse to witnessed child sex abuse deserves understanding.

Whitlock says we hate McQueary because we see ourselves in him. To which I say, don't you dare tell me who I see myself in, Jason. First you claim Paterno has some sort of moral shortcoming that should bar him from his past accomplishments, and then you claim every American has a far-worse moral shortcoming. If we're all McQueary clones, then why can't Paterno keep coaching? Whitlock isn't giving up his columnist position. Everyone's terrible, but only Paterno has to lose his job for it.

Whitlock thinks replacing an S with a $ amounts to a cogent argument. In the first article he writes, "There should be an asterisk next to JoePa’s 409 victories. And if not an asterisk, at least a dollar sign, America’s favorite religious symbol, our justification for valuing institutions more than human beings." Then in the second column he writes, "Brooks wrote that people 'suffer from Motivated Blindness.' Not that I disagree with Brooks, but I believe he would’ve strengthened his column by referencing Motivated Blindne$$, America’s most powerful force when it comes to willfully ignoring lapses in ethics and adherence to law, common decency and morality."

A kid in my fifth-grade class, Marc, had a habit of repeating things he couldn't understand that he'd heard from his grandfather. Among his repertoire was the phrase "the almighty dollar." He'd bring it out at random, hoping he might one day stumble across an appropriate setting. (Sadly, fifth-grade never yielded one.) Aside from differing in age, name, and race, I'd swear maybe Marc grew up to be Whitlock. Blaming Paterno, exonerating McQueary, blaming dollars (and calling on Obama to fix it!) seems like the work of a guy making arguments he can't possibly understand.

Officeless Office Hours

At Undergrad U., my office was a "bullpen" type of cubicle setup. Here at Graduate U., I get a workstation open to the public that I have to share with seven other instructors. And since it's open to the public, a random student is using it as study space right now. So I'm holding my office hour on a couch in a hallway.

Fortunately for everyone, nobody comes to office hours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Relying on the Smallness of the Mormon World

Once I was a regular reader of a stranger's blog until the blogger decided to make it private. Then I discovered that my wife's friend knew this blogger, and so the friend asked for an invite and then gave us her Google login information so we could continue reading.

That opened my eyes to how the smallness of the Mormon world can work for me. So now there's some information I want, but I don't know the involved parties well enough to just ask for it. I'll describe the situation to you, and I hope one of you knows the details I need.

A high school friend of mine is rarely on Facebook. When I requested him as a friend, his wife friended me, too, since she actually updates stuff. At first I was all, "I don't even KNOW you, mister," but now I've seen that it is actually quite sensible. I have a general knowledge of their family's activities and have a way to contact them.

So now I'm Facebook friends with a woman I've never met. And I happened to notice once that she was tagged in a photo with some friends/relatives of hers. And here's the situation I want to learn more about: one of the women in that picture has an enormous tattoo on her shoulder of either 1. Marilyn Monroe, or 2. herself. I want to know which one it is, and (in either case) what the hell it's doing there.

So think it over and let me know if you know a woman with this tattoo, and then give me the background information I seek.

Welcome to Fabulous

I feel the need to turn things up around here. And I figured if I started with my blog layout, the rest of my life would follow.

Here's the history of the blog layout, for those who care. A Random Stranger began 2 January 2006. It had a regular title across the top. Three years later, I learned how to change the background picture of the title space to create a headline image. On 3 January 2009 I uploaded a picture of the Flint Hills I'd taken the previous summer and unveiled "A Random Stranger IS... Your New Best Friend."

That lasted for about nine months. Then, like all harbingers of non-violent change, I realized violence gets things done. I gave up being your friend and threatened to beat you into submission. On 25 September 2009 I downloaded a picture of Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, used Paint to add enough original content to satisfy fair use laws, and unveiled "A Random Stranger IS... Kicking Life's Ass."

Now the time has come for another change. Life isn't an adversary whose ass needs beating; life and I are working together to produce all kinds of awesome. (Plus, three of my kids can read now, and I don't want to have to explain to them why my blog title contains the word "ass" when they sneak up behind me in my office.)

And so today, I unveil "Welcome to Fabulous 'A Random Stranger' (A Good Blog)."


Hilarious Jokes That Aren't So Hilarious Anymore

From 1933 to 2009, fiscally conservative types used to say things like, "The national debt is a problem," and the more knowledgeable among us would laugh and say, "It's not a problem at all! We owe it to ourselves!" Steven Landsburg has a chapter of his book The Armchair Economist about how the national debt only looks bad when you don't understand what you're talking about.

In 2009, we saw the return of the sovereign debt crisis. It turns out national debts do matter. This made some fiscally conservative types uneasy about the large amount of American government debt held by China. "Well," laughed the more knowledgeable among us, "national debts matter for small countries. But you don't really think China's going to take over if we default, do you? That's preposterous!"

This year, we are seeing the European Union (the largest government there is, based on GDP size) start into a sovereign debt crisis. As Europe tries to find a way to pass around the bailout bill and somehow have it disappear in the process, China has come up as a possibility. Some fiscally conservative types question how independent EU policy will be when they are on the China payroll. French President Nicolas Sarkozy dismisses thus: "our independence will in no way be put into question by this." And then the EU delegation to China is presented a series of concessions China would like. They didn't give in to them now, but once French bonds get over 5%, they will.

Of course you lose your independence when you are indebted to someone. That was why non-landholders couldn't vote in a republic. The basic unit was not the individual, but the economic interest. One economic interest, one vote. (It also keeps the voters from stealing so much if they already have stuff themselves, and have stuff that other voters can steal right back.)

Ultimately, the final response to any lingering sovereign debt crisis is a loss of independence. Greece thinks they've already experienced this (but the reality is that it'll really be coming next year). Newfoundland lost its independence when the government went bankrupt. In Georgia, Campbell County and Milton County ceased to exist in response to economic conditions. These things have happened before, and they will happen again.

And it's not a bad thing, actually. Bankrupt companies are evidence of the failure of their directors, and their resources are sold to non-failure directors. We're better off having non-failures control more resources than failures do. The same thing will happen at a geopolitical level. If China ends up reducing America to a protectorate, it will be the result of the failure of the American government, and I couldn't very well support free market principles in one arena while saying failures should be insulated from their decisions' consequences in the arena of government.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Economics Genius

The eponymous genius is not me. (I wouldn't even know the word "eponymous" if I wasn't an REM fan.) It's my son.

I raked the back yard with the two boys this morning before heading off to teach. At the end of raking, Jerome said, "We didn't get all the leaves," and Joe said, "[Jerome], you couldn't get all the leaves unless you spent, like, 20 hours raking."

Yes, my seven-year-old understands diminishing marginal returns. Half of my upper-classman students don't get it. And more than half of America doesn't get it.

We got most of the leaves, but we didn't spend most of 20 hours raking. So why would we have to spend so much time to get our yard leaf-free? Joe understands that the first leaf raked is the easiest leaf to rake, and the last leaf to rake would be the hardest. After an hour we called it quits because the marginal benefit of raking had fallen below the marginal cost of the additional work.

What is my evidence that most Americans don't get this? The prevalence of "no child left behind" thinking. Honestly, some children should be left behind. The last kid to learn how to read--the one who just cannot learn how to read--is going to cost billions of dollars. Is it really worth that to us? Well, let's ask if it's really worth that to HIM. Who was the last person to spend billions to learn how to read? If no one makes such an effort for his own benefit, why should we collectively make such an effort for him?

I'm so happy that my son intuitively understands this. It's the best thing that's happened all day.

I'm a Person, Not a Resource

It's like my ward thought, "He might be losing his opinion that the church is only here to use him; let's do what we can to reinforce that."

I believe I've written before about my mission president who responded to my plea for help by telling me that I was taking time he needed to be spending on people who REALLY needed help. And that pretty much sums up the entire church, but especially my ward. When they need me to do something, they know my phone number; otherwise, they are not quite sure who I am.

Some of my friends have said, "You should go have a chat with your bishop." I said, "No, he's busy helping the crazy people (person?) of the ward." My friends said, "He'd rather be meeting with a normal person like you." But that is supposing that he has a fixed amount of time he's spending on his calling. The reality is that the crazies are going to get their share, and anything beyond that is coming out of his personal time. And, just like my mission president, when you're looking for someone to be angry with, it doesn't make much sense to be angry with the crazies, since they can't help it, so who does that leave?

To sum up: people sometimes like to think that God is pushing them to their breaking point to show them how strong they are. Instead, I think He does it to show me that I am breakable.

Point taken.

Early Morning Conspiracies

Once I was at the KU library late. At about 4am I headed home, wanting to get some food on the way. I went through the "Open 24 Hours" Burger King drive-thru on 6th Street, and they told me that they were balancing their receipts for the day and wouldn't be able to serve food for 15 minutes. So I went through the "Open 24 Hours" McDonald's drive-thru on the next block, and they told me that they were switching the menu over from dinner to breakfast and wouldn't be able to serve food for 15 minutes.

And do you know what I did next? If you guessed "bit my boyfriend on the arm and tore off his shirt" like this lady, you were wrong. I drove home and made a sandwich.

And I was even more wronged than this lady! At least she could buy food. I was blatantly lied to by TWO different neon signs. Maybe I should have bitten my boyfriend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Fake Morality

So here's the Penn State scandal, neatly summarized by Wikipedia.

Jerry Sandusky allegedly did horrible things. James Calhoun says he saw it first-hand and told his supervisor, Jay Witherite. Neither James nor Jay told the police nor anyone further up the university chain of command. Mike McQueary says he saw it first-hand and told his supervisor, Joe Paterno. Neither Mike nor Joe told the police, but Joe told his supervisor, Tim Curley.

Tim and his supervisor, Bill Schultz, told Jerry not to bring kids to the university facilities anymore. Bill's supervisor, university president Graham Spanier, approved the decision (although it's unclear to me if Graham's approval was of the "Bill says he's a little concerned about Jerry having kids in here" variety or of the "Bill says Jerry is sodomizing kids in here" variety).

Jerry Sandusky's been arrested. Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier are said to have known about the crimes and have been fired. Mike McQueary, who says he SAW the crimes, has not been fired.

False accusations of sex crimes ruin lives. Joe Paterno had no knowledge (being told something is not knowledge), and so probably thought, "Hell, it isn't my job to investigate further," and passed along the tip to the man whose job it WAS. Tim Curley and Bill Schultz decide to cover it up. Graham Spanier signs off on something he probably wasn't told was a cover-up.

Fire Sandusky, obviously. Fire Curley and Schultz, fine. But also fire McQueary, the guy with first-hand knowledge. And don't fire Paterno--the victim of his supervisors' crimes--and probably don't fire Spanier--seemingly the victim of his underlings' crimes.

Pundits say Paterno "failed as a human being." But his decisions reflect uncertainty and the modern world. Uncertain of the truthfulness of the allegations, but aware of the modern world, where a single misconstrued event or sentence can ruin a man's career and reputation, Paterno acted rationally. With hindsight his critics now say he "should have done more." But at the time, he correctly balanced concern for the alleged victims with concern for the possibly-falsely-accused man.

"Acting with concern for the criminal?! That's repugnant!" That's the hindsight talking again. Critics who want a single baseless accusation to create immediate certainty of guilt are destroying our legal system in the name of "the victims."

Here in the DC area, a woman murdered her coworker. At the trial, it was said two employees of the shop next door heard arguing and someone ask "Please help me." These eavesdropping employees are said to be terrible people for not responding.

Responding how? Is the only way to be a "decent person" to be all up in everyone's bidniz? They employed Bayes's* Law and said, "Hmm, most disagreements aren't workplace murder."

Of course, Bayes's Law has had a tough time of it lately, being thrown out of court in England. We're entering a world where serial killers' neighbors no longer say, "He was so quiet," but now face prosecution for not TELLING someone the killer was so quiet. After all, murders are usually quiet, aren't they?

I feel bad for the Pennsylvania victims and the murdered DC worker. I condemn the crimes. But I cannot support spreading blame from those who knew and should have known to those who COULD have known.

* = Eighteenth-century is not ancient enough for me to give him the "just an apostrophe" treatment. Of course, with grammar you also have this "court of public opinion" issue, where continually referring to "baseball stadia" doesn't do anything but confirm your status as a pedant. Stephen Fry has an interesting take on language pedantry, but the video is too annoying to watch for me to imbed. Here's the link; be aware that it involves words flying around the screen for five minutes (pedants call it "kinetic typography").

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Clean Cleaning

Every day for the past two weeks I've told the kids to go clean up the playroom. A few minutes later they come back, claiming to be done.

Today my wife and I spent four hours down there cleaning. And we're still not done yet.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Hopelessly Lugubrious"

Remember two months ago when I thought everything was going to be awesome? Yeah, me neither.

Title from "These Days" by The Rentals.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"I Don't Know. Awesome?"

Articulate Joe can read now (hell, even Jerome Jerome the Metronome can read now), but that doesn't mean Joe wants to. He has progressed from fleeing the scene whenever I suggest we read together, to fleeing whenever he suspects I'll suggest we read together. And it's not a matter of the material: we read books that he claims to greatly enjoy. He just always has something he'd rather be doing than reading.

The result: when I finally corner him with a book, it takes a while for him to get back up to speed. Last night we sat down to read Mighty Monty by Johanna Hurwitz and it was the same routine; the first page was all guesswork, and then he actually read for a while, but two pages later, we got to a scene break and he tried to run out of the room.

I tried to explain to him that we were going to keep going, because he needed to read more often and for longer periods of time to limit his regression between attempts. We had this conversation.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Did you notice a difference between the first page you read and the other two? How did you do on the first page?

ARTICULATE JOE: I don't know. Awesome?

ARS: No, you did terribly. But then you remembered to read instead of guess, and you did really well. It's because you have to practice to stay good at something. That's why practice was invented. Even professionals practice; that's how they stay so good. You haven't practiced piano since July, so how well do you think you're going to play the piano when you finally decide to try again?

AJ: I've been practicing in my head every day.

ARS: This is why adults can't take children seriously, because kids say things that fly in the face of all received human understanding. Since the beginning of time people have known that it takes actual practice to get good at something, and then a kid says, 'I can get good at it by practicing in my head.'

AJ: I have!

ARS: There's a quote by a famous musician--I think he was a cellist--where he says--

AJ: What's a cellist?

ARS: A person who plays a cello.

AJ: What's a cello?

ARS: It's a giant violin that stands on the ground because it's too large to hold under your chin. And he says if he doesn't practice for one day, he notices a difference. And if he doesn't practice for two days, his wife can notice a difference. And if he doesn't practice for three days, the audience can notice a difference.* And he's one of the best cellists there is.

AJ: Did a piano player ever say that?

* = Internet sources are now telling me that it is violinist Jascha Heifetz, and his second day person isn't his wife, but critics. I think I communicated the truth of the quote in my paraphrase, though.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

You People Bring Out the Worst in Me

Last week I was goaded by benniegirl into writing insensitive things about allergies. Yesterday when I mentioned I came away from stake conference with complaints, reader Richard Strang was quick to comment, "I'd like to hear the complaints."

On a not-unrelated note, I came home Sunday thinking of this "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

Specifically, I was reminded of the part when he says, "Did I try soapy water?! Soapy water was the first thing I tried! And then it was the tenth thing I tried! And then it was the hundreth thing I tried!"

You see, I've got some problems in my life. Not "oh, I had to get the Cadillac with suede seats but I really wanted the leather ones" kind of problems. On some parameters, my life is downright terrible. And so I left stake conference a little angry about messages like, "When you're having trouble in your life, you should pray."

It would be like going to a cancer specialist and getting a reminder to eat an apple. Is it a cancer-killing apple? Because if it is, that would be great. Otherwise, it might be a little too simplistic of an answer.

It might seem like I think prayer is useless. I don't. I just think MY prayers have been useless, and I could have used something more insightful to help me understand why.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


Sometimes I think, "What if there was a lot of money to be made in scuba-diving in Port-A-Potties, looking for lost change? Would I still do it?" But here's an entirely different question: Would I have the good sense to not speak to reporters about it?

What is with Americans who are so stupid they don't realize they're stupid? Remember three years ago when I linked to the article about the lady who was complaining that she couldn't shop at Whole Foods anymore, and she felt like she was endangering her family as a result? (I do.) This lady didn't have the presence to keep her bidnez private.

Here's someone else who should keep his lips buttoned:

A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—-puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand, he went looking for work at his old school. [...] So even though Joe’s old principal was excited to have him back, she just couldn’t afford to hire a new full-time teacher. Instead, he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”; he writes his own curriculum, holds regular classes and does everything a normal teacher does. “But sub pay is about 50 percent of a full-time salaried position,” he says, “so I’m working for half as much as I did four years ago, before grad school, and I don’t have health insurance…. It’s the best-paying job I could find.”

This is not one of those ubiquitous "people cause their own problems" articles (aren't you getting tired of how many of THOSE there are around lately?). It is instead one of the Occupy Wall Street fluff pieces passing for journalism these days.

Here are the facts: a guy quit a full-time job to incur debt to get a master's degree in puppetry. END OF STORY. Anything else is unnecessary; we already know we're dealing with an idiot here.

"But, but, but, it's his passion!" Then he has a revealed preference for poverty. Which is not to say that, just because I don't share that preference (or do I?), his preference is wrong. But he can't very well expect us to foam at the mouth at the temerity of those who have a revealed preference for wealth. Nobody got rich from Joe's idiocy. There's nothing to protest here. Go back to your puppets and poverty and leave the rest of us alone.

What's My Accent?

I had a meeting today with two guys from New York. They obviously sounded to me like they were from New York, but what did I sound like to them? Do I just have a "rest of America" accent, or can you pinpoint my past states of residence?

Here's what you should do: watch my last vlog (not all of it, just enough to refamiliarize yourself with my speech), and see if you think I sound like anything more than just an American.

Yes, we all agree this is a terrible post topic, but it was either this or complaints about stake conference. Which one would you rather hear?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Raising the Bar

Blog reader Erik came to town yesterday to take me and my wife out to dinner (and pay for the whole thing), thereby setting a new standard for adequate blog readership. Let this be a lesson to the rest of you deadbeats.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Can't Say I Agree With the Sentiment

Evidently Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is "bothered by groin tightness." To each his own, I guess.

Mail Bag: Allergies Edition

Last month I was going to write an insensitive post about allergies, then decided to censor myself. Long-suffering reader benniegirl wrote, "I'd still like to hear about the allergies though." Which just goes to show: my public demands the uncensored version.

You want uncensored? Well, all right, motherfu-- Just kidding. I'll keep some censoring in place. Just not any regarding allergies.

I never had allergies as a kid, so I grew up thinking that it was another way of saying "I didn't like something." I spent most of my childhood claiming to be allergic to watermelon.

I wouldn't go so far as to claim that ALL allergic reactions are psychosomatic, because people have reactions to unknown exposures. Sure, some people might feel fine until they see your cat, and then their eyes water, but other times the watering eyes cause them to look around for the hidden cat.

Allergies seem to have gotten out of hand, though. My daughter's Girl Scout troop is gluten-free because one member is gluten-free. Screw that! She can eat her crap snacks in the corner. The rest of us are having delicious cake.

Thirty years ago, what happened to the kids with the deadly peanut allergies? They died, I guess. It seems terrible until you remember that we all are going to die eventually. John Tavolta's character in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble was supposed to be dead. I mean, if you are allergic to EVERYthing, the chesty girl next door isn't going to be able to save you (unless she goes to a lot of medical schooling first).

If I had kids with allergies, I think I'd understand that the burden is on my family, not on society, to prevent my kids' exposure, and that there will be times when my kid is having a different experience. The other kids will be eating their peanut butter cookies and my kid will be eating his gross Fig Newtons. We don't have to make everybody have an equally miserable life just so my kid doesn't feel left out.