Monday, February 28, 2011

The Curse of A Random Stranger's Blog

Saturday featured an e-mail from Esteban I plagiarized and presented as a guest-blogger contribution.

Sunday while I was sitting in his living room, Esteban dislocated his shoulder and had to go to the hospital.

Related? Of course.

The good part about watching his kids for four hours: I was left unsupervised with a carrot cake and cream cheese frosting for four hours. Now for the nearly-unforgivable part: I couldn't figure out how to watch a DVD on his TV. I could change the TV's input to DVD mode, but unless the disc featured three hours of blue screen, I wasn't watching anything.

To top it off, his three-year-old daughter taunted me with, "My Daddy's really good at this." But when it came to practical advice, she didn't know much beyond which remote to use. So we read a lot of books.

I'm sorry for bringing the Curse of A Random Stranger's Blog to Esteban's life.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guest Grammar Blogger: Esteban

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about the correct pronunciation of "gua" in Spanish. And although I specifically identified the required bona fides as "something more than 'I/my sibling/my spouse/my roommate served a Spanish speaking mission'," Esteban's authority is backed up by the full faith and credit of the United States government. Wait, that makes it sound like he can't be trusted at all.

First Esteban gives a short answer, for us modern Americans who "want it now."

What you've got is a tomayto/tomahto issue. Some people drop the g in gua words and pronounce it wa, but more (in my experience) don't. Neither pronunciation is better, it just depends on where you're from.

Now, before you start saying, "Holy wacamole, Batman," he then follows it up with a more-detailed answer, for those of you who appreciate a Reverend Lovejoy "short answer 'yes with an if,' long answer 'no with a but'" type of response.

If "you" are not a native Spanish speaker, then "you" need to pronounce the g.... Nine out of ten non-native Spanish speakers who drop the g sound ridiculous, just like non-natives who try to pronounce their z like th because they think it makes them sound like Spaniards.

Mental note: stop saying "Barthelona, Ethpaña."

Non-natives would be better served by working on sounds that are (nearly) universally mispronounced by non-natives but pronounced the same (nearly) universally by native Spanish speakers regardless of where they're from, e.g. the r, the rr, and the vowels (hint: there's no such thing as a schwa in Spanish). If they don't fix these basic things before they start with the fancy g-dropping, they'll sound silly.

Thanks to Esteban, our now-resident Spanish-language expert. However, I still have a question, though sadly it's one no one can really answer: are the New Mexicans I met native speakers who are dropping the g, or are they ridiculous-sounding poseurs?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Notes From Church

Here are the notes I took last Sunday in sacrament meeting, summarizing the speaker's main points.

Take it from me, a guy who has lots of stuff: you don't really want lots of stuff. Listen to me list some of my awesome stuff, the kind you don't want to have.

I worry a little bit about sharing this with you, in light of this quote from Elder David A. Bednar: "Apostasy is not anonymous simply because it occurs in a blog or through a fabricated identity in a chat room or virtual world." But I don't think it's apostasy to think the speaker is missing the point. Maybe you disagree. But I've always been up-front with my Jack Mormon status.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ready for Love

I know my last post has made your heart palpitate like that of a hummingbird on a defibrillator. I've decided to up the ante by showing you what item of sexy modern fashion you can expect to find me wearing.

This time, I'm not talking about the hat. I'm talking about the one-piece jump suit designed to be sold to a woman six inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than I am, yet large enough to fit me, as this photo sexily shows.

Sweet dreams.


Hello, ladies.

I promised JT that his awesome hat present would be incorporated into our "adult play," and here's the photographic evidence that I've followed through on said threat promise.

In preparation, I like to glance through the pages of "Tiger Beat" magazine, and for added kinkiness, we prefer the thrill of a Target.

Arab World Fact of the Day

From the latest Arab Public Opinion Poll. Even more amazing is a country-by-country breakdown on the next slide: 99% of respondents from United Arab Emirates (one of the "good" Middle Eastern countries) resent Holocaust movies.

And people wonder why America is ambivalent towards Arab democracy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rhymed Spelling

Why did I take a picture of this car in the Toys-Backwards-R-Us parking lot?

Well, it's certainly not because their personalized plate has any meaning for me. Instead, I dislike their window sticker, because it looks like it should rhyme, but it doesn't.

Fear the beer? Fair the bear? No, fear the bear. That just wears my brain out trying to read that correctly.

Since this blog is quickly earning the subtitle "Things That Bother Me," I might as well tell you I also dislike alliterative phrases that don't start with the same letter, like "shining chardonnay." I especially don't like it when it's a person's name, because then the person's initials are not the same. For instance, the character Phileas Fogg would have monogrammed luggage that read "PF." That would drive me nuts if my parents had done that to me.

What Hath Stephenie Meyer Wrought?

There was a time when a bookstore only needed to call a section "Fantasy" and that was enough.

I'm not hating on Stephenie Meyer for creating a genre; if I'm hating on anyone, it's the derivative authors who are trying to carjack her gravy train.

NB: My cellphone recently told me its memory is close to full, so the next couple posts are going to be clearing out some of the pictures that have been sitting on my phone, waiting for me to blog about them. Because if there's one thing the world needs more of, it's my unsolicited opinions on my external stimuli. Oh look, a bird! I've always had a complicated relationship with birds. I would say it all began back in 1979, when....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tiny Consumer Whores

This is one of those cartoons that was obviously drawn by someone, but no one knows who. Maybe it was the Borg.

I remember being a kid in school and getting extensive training on how to be a consumer. Aside from the obvious money-counting lessons in math, we also had a pretend store in the coat room of a neighboring classroom, and we would be sent in small groups to practice buying things. Because when your economic theories are driven by aggregate demand, being a good consumer is tantamount to be a good citizen.

With kids of my own now, it's difficult to teach them a more-balanced approach to shopping. The fact is that 90% of the things around us that aren't houses are shops. We produce absolutely none of the things we want or need. And how much of my "we're teaching our kids to not be attached to material possessions" is really just a smug way of saying "I'm too poor to buy my kids the things they want"?

When I was Christmas shopping with my daughter this past year, we stopped at Pottery Barn Kids, where we saw this:

Because it's never too early to teach your kids that name brands matter. Why get them a crappy generic pretend vacuum when you can spend twice as much and get them a Dyson pretend vacuum? That way they can be just like their status-conscious Mommys with their Dyson vacuums.

The circle of life.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Presidential Priorities

The president has no idea how to resolve the federal budget deficit, but he's an expert when it comes to Wisconsin's.

A few points:

  1. The president is completely out of order. He has no right to become involved in a state's internal budgeting issues. But then again, the guy who tells LeBron James to sign with the Chicago Bulls isn't too concerned about his proper sphere of action.
  2. Let's grant for a moment that the proposed law is "an assault on unions." What of it? Unions exist to restrict trade, in direct violation of the Sherman antitrust act. If this is an assault on unions, we need more of it.
  3. Providing a modicum of social benefit is not sufficient grounds for plundering the public coffers. No one denies that teachers, emergency responders, and the like provide value to society. However, the public employee unions argue this means they can get paid whatever they want.

Historically, teaching was not a career that provided for a family. It was something single people did when they were young and just out of school. Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls as teenage teachers is fairly accurate of how the world worked.

When state budgets need balancing, how is that to be accomplished while leaving untouched states' largest expenditures? Public employee unions have bankrupted their state but refuse to stop sucking from the teat of the dried-up carcass.

Ward Friendliness

Yesterday my family went to the zoo. I had to do some things in the District, so I drove in with them, then met them for the tail end of their zoo excursion. My wife had posted a question about the zoo on Facebook, which led to a very informally organized group making plans to come along.

There were six families from our church ward there: us, and we'll call the rest 1 through 5. Everyone of them knows the others, and they all came on the same day together, but by the time I returned from my other errands, they were three barely-interacting groups.

My family was with 1 in one group. Families 2, 3, and 4 were another group. And 5 was a third. Family 5 waved to us before disappearing, evidently going home. Who goes home from a group without actually saying, "Hey, we're going home?" Meanwhile, 2 and 3 studiously ignored me, and then that group went its own way with no warning.

Supposedly before I came they were sort of functioning as one group. So again I am left to ask what is it about me that makes our ward be so unfriendly towards my family?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Things Sound Stranger When You Explain Them to Kids

Setting: after bedtime, the night before Valentine's Day.

ARTICULATE JOE: Does the bunny come tonight?

SUPER-HOT 111: Bunny?

AJ: For Valentine's Day.

SH 111: That's for Easter, not Valentine's Day.

AJ: Then what's Valentine's Day's thing?

SH 111: Thing?

AJ: The thing that comes.

A RANDOM STRANGER: It's a naked baby with wings, and it shoots arrows.

AJ [incredulously]: Really?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Poverty, American Style

Why don't I have much compassion for America's poor?

  1. I'm in my second year of official poverty, and I'm doing all right. What I once said about the supposed "health care crisis" can also be said of poverty: as long as Wal-Mart keeps selling flat-panel TVs, there's no poverty problem in America.
  2. America's poor aren't poor. As shown here graphically, America's poorest 5% are richer than India's richest 5%.
  3. America's poor aren't even relatively poor. It's not like we're Brazilian, where abject poverty and lavish wealth exist side-by-side. Being poor in America means driving a car ("But not a Lexus!"), having a TV ("But not a flat-panel!"), owning a cell phone ("But not an iPhone!"), and eating more calories each day than your body needs ("But not fillet mignon!"). The graph from Milanovic's book shows the spread in the US is 100-68, hardly the stuff of revolution fomentation.

Dogmatic Libertarian

Scott Sumner has a proposed diagram of the spectrum of political ideas. I've stolen the picture to post here, because on his blog the picture isn't correctly sized and his sidebar covers up some of the words.

His post has an added bonus of listing six important issues currently ignored by American politics.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Give Me Your Repeat Offenders, Yearning to Breathe Free

When we were trying to decide where to go to graduate school, City Data was an invaluable website. I spent weeks at work reading everything about Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington.

One of the recurring arguments on the site is what constitutes a "safe" neighborhood. Does everyone have to be white for you to be safe, or does it merely have to be safe? Over and over, one user will write, "That neighborhood is very unsafe," and another would write, "Oh, you're just racist," and the first would write, "No, my cousin's friend was almost stabbed there." Back and forth. It (nearly) made work exciting.

A particular neighborhood of northern Virginia was always in this sort of argument. We decided not to move there, because it seemed like actual crime statistics backed up the unsafe accusations.

Thursday they had three murders there, and now a local newspaper is reporting that the accused killer is an illegal alien, ordered deported in 2002, and arrested twice since then before again being arrested this week.

The article says his other two arrests didn't warrant the attention of ICE (a much more competent-sounding acronym than INS, so we must be much safer now) because the crimes weren't "severe enough."

Sure, assault and battery, and drinking in public aren't that serious. What about being an illegal alien? Because when he was arrested in 2004 and again in 2008, he was committing that crime, too.

There's only one crime ICE needs to notice. They either were twice told and ignored it both times, or they were never told, even though it is their raison d’être.

More bureaucratic excuses are found in the line from Manassas police who say "he had been at large ever since" his ordered deportation. He was arrested twice. That's the opposite of being "at large." They're saying, "Well, the guy's still here because we never caught him," but they caught him twice.

I support broader immigration, but securely, and with respect to law. This guy did not have his security vetted, and periodically showed his lack of respect for the law. If he's convicted of murder, he still won't be deported, he'll become an American prisoner.

Friday, February 11, 2011

If You Don't Pose Naked for Government Workers, the Terrorists Win

Remember: flying on an airplane is a privilege, not a right.

Other things that are soon to become privileges: riding on a train, riding on a bus, driving a car, and not being in prison.

Staying Regular

A few years ago where I worked, we had a copy of the Bristol Stool Scale on the bathroom wall, for convenience of classification. When we got our new boss, one of the first things he did was take the chart down.

Last week when I tried to use the indoor track at school (with disastrous results, naturally), I noticed the men's locker room had this similarly handy chart.

Super-Hot 111 asked, "What are the red things? Is that blood in your urine?" No, it's actually an ad, telling how many bottles of Powerade you would need to drink to be sufficiently hydrated. Because nothing says "classy marketing" like associating your product with urine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Everybody's a Superhero These Days

It wasn't that long ago that to have an action figure, you had to be the type of person who people wanted to see actually in action. Sitting still didn't cut it. Doing something was the sine qua non of action figuredom.

Not so much anymore. Now to get an action figure, you have to have a group of consumers willing to buy your figure. And what better way to make sure a group of consumers likes the action figure than to make the figure actually be the group members themselves? It's thinking like this that led to the latest action figure for sale: the fat black office lady.

Is that Polly St. Clair from Legal Aid?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Sunday on our trip to Belle Isle, we came across this sign.

The rest of my family agrees the word "pedestrian" is misspelled, but I think the sign has an additional problem: the pedestrian (or, technically, the pedestrain) is on the left.

My sister and my wife were quick to point out that the pedestrian is on the biker's right, but I contend that the misspelling gives little reason to believe the sign's designer was capable of such deep thinking.

The crazy shading of the picture is a product of texting the picture to my e-mail account.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Activities Director

We spent the weekend visiting my sister's family in Richmond. Normally when we visit, my sister comes up with lots of fun stuff to do, but this time she took a nap Saturday afternoon, and it was up to me and my brother-in-law to plan the activities.

And that was how we ended up taking the kids to Sam's Club. It was the only suggestion they had unanimous agreement on (all five kids didn't want to do it).

The next afternoon, my sister resumed her entertainment duties and we went to Belle Isle Park. Much more entertaining than Sam's Club.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Yesterday I wrote of the president:

More recently we have Barack Obama, who wrote two autobiographies before completing one term as senator. How many autobiographies is he going to write about his presidency? Fifteen?
This got me wondering, though, about the minimum ratio of things accomplished to autobiographies.

I think we all assume it can't be zero. You've got to do something before you can write about it. Even if all you have done is written your autobiography, the book will just be a "how to write an autobiography" book, and that's at least somewhat useful.

But what, exactly, has the president done? His term is half over, and amid persistently high unemployment, burgeoning deficits, and continuing nuclear proliferation, his only, and I mean ONLY, accomplishment is an unconstitutional domestic program. A program that, despite his best efforts to sell it, was not needed at the time he burned all his political capital to achieve it.

Off the top of my head, I can name at least 10 items that need more immediate attention than "health "care "reform.""" To wit: 1. Social Security's impending bankruptcy, 2. Medicare/Medicaid's, too*, 3. income tax reform, 4. Middle East democracy, 5. Iran's nuclear program, 6. North Korea's, also, 7. federal deficit spending, 8. bankrupt state governments, 9. illegal immigration and immigration reform, and 10. the war on drugs we're making Mexico fight for us. Yet the president is interested in things like college football playoff legislation, who the Cambridge (MA) Police arrest, where LeBron James plays basketball, and penalizing Americans who don't want to buy health insurance.

*: Obamacare does not address this problem, except by exacerbating it.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Excessive Documentation

I remember reading once in high school about an Andy Warhol film entitled Sleep, which featured a guy asleep.

More recently we have Barack Obama, who wrote two autobiographies before completing one term as senator. How many autobiographies is he going to write about his presidency? Fifteen?

I took this picture at the bookstore when I saw the Justin Bieber autobiography display.

Now everybody gets an autobiography? I imagine it deals heavily with the process of writing his autobiography. Because really, how much else is there in his life to document so far?

And who the hell is his editor? My third grader knows the difference between two/to/too. Just because the Twittering generation doesn't, doesn't mean the difference has disappeared. I wonder if the word "probably" has two Bs in his book.

Of course, since then he's accomplished so much more that he now has his own biopic.

Modern fandom summed up: "I've been his fan since he posted his first video, and I'll be his fan until he posts his last video."

And not to be a pedant, but when people tell you, "You can't live your dreams," a response of "Never Say Never" is inappropriate. The people didn't actually say "never." Maybe the movie should have been called "Can't Say Can't" (which is a rule in my house, actually; maybe I should have my own biopic and book, which I will entitle First Cheeseburger 2 Fatassedness).

Friday, February 04, 2011

Beverage Issues

There are some things people say so regularly, or that so perfectly sum up their personalities, that they would be fitting epitaphs. For instance, my mother-in-law once IMed my wife, "There was something I wanted to tell you, but I forgot what it is." I told me wife, "That's going on her tombstone."

Super-Hot 111 says my epitaph should be, "I wish there was some sort of thirst-quenching beverage." I've basically been thirsty my whole life, and nothing I've ever drunk has quenched that thirst. Maybe I just need to give rum a try.

Since alcohol is not a possibility, I have to make due with what I have. And this is why I have been drinking a lot of ginger ale lately. It's a main ingredient in a june bug, and when I'm just too lazy to do the actual mixing, it's fairly satisfying by itself.

My problem is that ginger ale is in a state of perpetual shortage around here. Trying to find ginger ale is like a Soviet trying to buy bread: find a line and get in it, because there's a good chance they're selling ginger ale at the head.

Last semester I would come home from school on Wednesday, which I liked to call Grad-School Friday, and prepare to start my weekend with some ginger ale. And we'd be out, so I'd make a quick trip to the store. And amid the plenty of a well-stocked soda aisle...

...the only sodas completely missing would be the ginger ales.

Whether it be Seagram's, Schweppes, or Canada Dry, the entire stock would be empty. Even stores that carry Vernors or their own crap brand (like the hooch that comes in three-liter bottles) would be out of those, too.

This has caused me to hoard ginger ale when I can find it. Also like Soviet bread.

Deeper Meaning

Tonight I went to the store to buy candy and I ended up coming home with a copy of "Strange Brew." I spent a semester in college living with four guys from Canada, and we watched it at least once a week. But for some reason, it wasn't until tonight that I realized Pam's Uncle Claude killed her father and married her mother Gertrude, all at Elsinore. It's just like that Mel Gibson movie!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

"What Do You Think He Means By 'Literally'?"

That's a laugh line in the movie "Semi Pro," but with the way people misuse the word these days, it's a legitimate question. Aside from a spate of people using it completely incorrectly (like the word "peruse"), there are also those who just use it to add some drama. It seems everyone has something that "literally saved my life," and very often it is not, in fact, a life-saving thing.

Downloading music, hand drums, the Twilight Saga. Basically anything you like. Even the lady who says, "Medicine literally saved my life," which seems like a pretty safe usage, is still just putting a hyper-dramatic spin on something she discovered she enjoys.

I suspect most of these people are trying to hint at crippling depression without actually mentioning it. Depression is often seen as a weakness, not a sickness, and many non-depressed people think all a depressed person needs to do is "stop feeling sorry for yourself." These people who say something as mundane as "Quadrophenia" saved their lives are aware that most people's first reaction to suicide is to think, "That's so stupid." But it's not stupid to everyone, and these "saved my life" folks are celebrating an interest or pursuit that gave them purpose in living.

The problem, though, is that it takes a worthy accomplishment of the person and ascribes it to the thing. No song ever saved a life, unless it was a catchy mnemonic jingle about proper CPR technique. What saved the life was the individual, and that is a major feat, to face a problem and develop a coping strategy. These people shouldn't be saying ridiculous things like cribbage literally saved my life; they should be proudly saying, "I literally saved my life." That's a meaningful sentence, and one that rightly should be celebrated.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

NFL Executive, or S and M Worker?

Some job titles are specific to their industry. For instance, I can't think of a single job that could be called a phlebotomist other than a phlebotomist. But as Kenneth on "30 Rock" proved last week, the job of "fluffer" could refer to any number of industries.

The NFL evidently straddles that line. They have a commissioner, which is a job title reserved for the bosses of sports leagues and police departments. However, the NFL also has a "special master." And I am way too freaked out by that job title to find out more about his duties.

Recent Reading Snippets

Snippet would be a perfect name for a small bird. (That's not from any recent reading; that's just a pearl of wisdom, gratis.)

From Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse:

'Bingo,' I cried, deeply moved, 'you must act. You must assert yourself. You must put your foot down. You must take a strong stand. You must be master in the home.'

He looked at me, a long, strange look.

'You aren't married, are you, Bertie?' (p. 193)


'She criticizes him, Jeeves.'

'Indeed, sir?'

'Yes. Openly. Keeps telling him he eats too much, drinks too much, and gobbles his food. I wish you could have heard a comparison she drew between him and the late Mr Gladstone, considering them in the capacity of food chewers. It left young Bingo very much with the short end of the stick. And the sinister thing is that Mrs Bingo approves. Are wives often like that? Welcoming criticism of the lord and master, I mean?'

'They are generally open to suggestion from the outside public with regard to the improvement of their husbands, sir.'

'That is why married men are wan, what?'

'Yes, sir.' (pp. 194-5)


'Ladies, ladies!' I said. 'Ladies, ladies, ladies!'

It was rash. Looking back, I can see that. One of the first lessons life teaches us is that on these occasions of back-chat between the delicately nurtured, a man should retire into the offing, curl up in a ball, and imitate the prudent tactics of the opossum, which, when danger is in the air, pretends to be dead, frequently going to the length of hanging out crêpe and instructing its friends to stand round and say what a pity it all is.' (p. 207)

From Manias, Panics, and Crashes by Charles P. Kindleberger:

A follow-the-leader process develops as firms and households see that others are profiting from speculative purchases. 'There is nothing as disturbing to one's well-being and judgment as to see a friend get rich.' Unless it is to see a non-friend get rich. (p. 25)