Monday, December 31, 2012

Back to Ohio

Today I visited the last four counties of Ohio. This is my eighth completed state.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Doppelgänger

Today I ran on my parents' treadmill, then went outside to shovel their driveway. While I was working, their neighbor drove past and gave two friendly honks. I realized that, when my dad exercises, he's dressed pretty much exactly how I was dressed. (In fact, we both have the same shirt from Richmond's Monument Avenue 10-K.)

I know I sound like my dad on the phone. Tactless people tell me I look exactly like him. (He's in his sixties, people! Come on! A little decorum?!) But I made my peace with their neighbor's confusion by telling myself, "Right now they're thinking, 'Damn, [A Random Stranger's dad] has never looked so good!"

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Credit Design Failure

While I was working on something else, my wife put on Sweet Home Alabama. I looked up during the opening credits (and, to be honest, pretty much for the rest of the movie, too) and noticed a problem with their credit sequence design.

They took the first and last name of the actors and mashed them together without a space, typing the last name in bolder font to distinguish the break. The problem is that they had an actor named Fred Ward and an actress named Jean Smart. Mashing those names together makes the words "fredward" and "jeansmart." The first is a direction of travel when you're moving toward Fred, and the second is a discount denim retailer.

It seems if I was the producer of that film (the real producer that does the work, not one of those fake producers that's a high-maintenance actor or one that's a vain bag of money), I'd tell the credit designers, "That idea doesn't work with these names."

Success At the Little Things

Last year I accomplished my long-time goal of reading 25,000 pages in a single year. And with this post I have reached another piddling milestone that gives me inordinate satisfaction: I have written my 366 posts in 2012, which means I will have averaged at least one post per day. (I was going to celebrate with my 365th post, but then I remembered that this was a Leap Year.)

Luckily for me, I have no shortage of unimportant goals in my life, like visiting every county in the United States (currently I've been to 43.29% of them) or summiting every state high point (currently I've been atop five of them) or seeing every state capitol (currently I've viewed 24 of them). Which meaningless goal will I accomplish in 2013?

Friday, December 28, 2012

His German Ancestry Shining Through

Jerome doesn't just tell you he likes something, he tells you its ranking on his list of favorite things. For instance, his list of favorite soccer players is

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo
  2. Landon Donovan
  3. Lionel Messi
  4. David Beckham
  5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  6. Joe Hart.
His lists are remarkably consistent, too. He doesn't just rattle off players, but has real preferences. Joe Hart used to be Number Five until Zlatan Ibrahimovic entered the rankings. (And if you want to hear something cute, have a four-year-old say the name "Zlatan Ibrahimovic" as many times as you can before he catches on that you're punking him.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

"They Say It's Your Birthday"

Today was my birthday. It was pretty good, I guess. At least, the things wrong with it were my own fault, like running 3.5 miles and then scrubbing three bathroom floors; my knees certainly feel like the knees of a 44-year-old.

One of the smashing successes of the day was my birthday party. Previously, I've had two birthday parties. With a birthday right after Christmas, it was difficult to catch my friends in town, or not busy with visiting family. In 1985 my mother tried to orchestrate a party for me and one kid (sometimes-commenter Erik) showed up. She tried to play it off like Erik had just come over to play, but then Erik asked, "When are all the other kids going to get here?" They never did.

In 1989 I realized that, if I wanted something done correctly, I had to do it myself. I rode my bike to the store to buy invitations, then distributed them at school. One kid showed up. We watched Big-Top Pee-Wee, a puzzling choice when you consider I'd seen the movie in the theaters and so was under no pretension regarding its merits.

But reflecting the fact that 2013 is the year that "everything's coming up A Random Stranger," so to speak (phrase held-over from 2012, where it proved untrue), I figured I'd get a head-start on the awesomeness and have a birthday party. I mentioned to my wife earlier this week that we should invite over some friends. She sent an e-invite to four couples and all four RSVPed affirmatively.

Three of the four came tonight. (One got the flu, which is going to some extreme lengths to avoid my party. My hat is off to them.) So I just had a birthday party with seven attenders. Discounting my wife, who couldn't really not come, and counting a couple as one attender instead of two, it still blew away both my previous parties, combined. (And the party reaches "epic" proportions (for me) if you count the children watching a movie in the basement. We had 20.75 people* here tonight!)

* = One woman is 30 weeks pregnant.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We Want Your Positive Externalities

A newspaper in New York has published the names and addresses of gun owners in Rockland and Westchester counties. Two groups of people are upset about this: the gun owners, who fear anti-gun violence (such a thing is not an absurdist term, but should be), and the gun non-owners, who fear they will be singled out by criminals.

That's the thing about positive externalities: their existence means the item in question will be under-provided. The higher the chance I break into the house of a gun owner, the less likely I am to break into any houses at all. This is the very argument that the anti-gun crowd says is hogwash, and yet it is non-owners making its case now in New York. Theory is great until it's actually your family's safety undermined by theory.

Youth Gone Wild

This is the last day of my youth. Tomorrow I turn 35, which--according to Walmart's online survey--is indistinguishable from 44. In the eyes of the world's largest retailer, I might as well be 44. I'm going to start telling people that's how old I am.

As Bill McNeal once said, "When I was a child I thought as a child and spoke as a child, but when I became a man I took that child out back and had him shot." I feel like this is my last day to live my half-assed life. Starting tomorrow I have to get up a six, exercise, not wear t-shirts unless I'm doing yard work, shave every day, not eat chocolate or Taco Bell, and keep a clean desk.

So basically the rest of my life is going to suck. This is the last day of awesomeness.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Money and Things

In 1999 I boycotted Chinese-made products. I had a bumper sticker that demanded, "Boycott Red China." I took a girl on a date and she didn't understand what it meant. That was how I knew she wasn't the girl for me. (That and when she didn't want to go on a second date.)

I didn't like that Chinese exports are funneled through companies owned by the Red Army, and Chinese generals in the late 1990s were making veiled threats of nuking Los Angeles, my hometown. I figured I shouldn't be funding my own destruction.

Back then, boycotting Red China was still a possibility. I remember lamp shopping at Lowe's, looking for a model not made in Mainland China. Some were made in Thailand, some in Korea, some in Taiwan. (I believe the model I eventually bought was Taiwanese. That way I was stickin' it to the Chicomms twice!)

I maintained my boycott of Red China until I got married in 2001. I explained it all to my wife, who said, "Huh," and then bought whatever was cheapest (read: whatever was made in Red China).

Family members made fun of my boycott. My father bought Homer Simpson slippers for me made in China. A few years later I read an article in National Review about Charles Lee, a Chinese political prisoner who made that specific style of slipper. It's harder to see the whimsy in the work of slave labor.

Today I read this article about a woman who found a secret note from a Chinese prison laborer in her Halloween decorations. The note says the workers have been targeted for reeducation because of their religious views [just like American schoolchildren--Ed.] and that they work 105 hours per week for ¥10 per month ($1.60 per month, or a third of a penny per hour). It sure is easy to afford festiveness when the labor is so reasonably priced.

There are two schools of thought on trade with China: one says we should withhold it to express our displeasure with social and political practices, while the other says we provide motivation to liberalize their draconian measures when we increase the average Chinese* person's standard of living. When the second argument was first presented to me, it made sense. After all, we've tried to keep the Cubans as poor as possible and haven't seen political change there in over 50 years. Maybe China will change faster if we help them westernize. But I've come to doubt that richer people are freer people. They don't demand freedom as much as they demand security; they get rich and then will do whatever it takes to stay that way. In which case, making the average Chinese person richer gives his thug overlords an additional (and very effective) tool for keeping him down.

It's frustrating that it's so difficult to avoid Chinese products, because almost nothing made in China is actually necessary. They don't make our food and housing, and they don't have a monopoly on clothing. What they completely control is the market for worthless crap. Good luck finding a piddly fifty-cent toy they didn't make. So why is it so difficult to just not buy worthless crap?

Today might not be the right day to ask that question.

*: What do you call a Chinese person? It seems the term "Chinaman" is verboten, even though we have no problem with "Englishman" or "Frenchman." A few weeks ago in class a student used the term "Chinaman" and I said, "I don't think you can say that anymore." He asked why not. Since we had a Chinese guy in class, I asked him, "Would you be offended if someone called you a Chinaman?" He said confusedly, "But...that's what I am." So I said, "I guess in this class you can use the word, but be careful outside of class."

What I've Been Doing

Why haven't I blogged lately? Because I've been working on this project. I made shirts of my family members' favorite soccer teams. I violated the teams' copyrighted images to create life-long fans who will buy licensed merchandise in the future. They're welcome.

I saw a pin on Pinterest showing how to stencil crap onto fabric. I thought nothing of it. Then a few days later I realized I could make shirts for my kids. I decided to make them each a shirt of their favorite soccer teams.

I asked the older kids their favorite teams. Articulate Joe said, "Either Arsenal or Barcelona." I said, "I asked for your one favorite team." He said, "Um, Arsenal." Then Crazy Jane answered, "The U.S. Women's National Team." Then Jerome Jerome the Metronome answered without any hesitation at all, "F.C. Barcelona."

My wife's choice of "favorite" team was more round-about. As a native of Pittsburgh and life-long Pittsburgh sports fan (for worse or for worser), I figured I should support a Sheffield team in English football. My wife read that her favorite singer is a Sheffield Wednesday fan. She asked me about the team and I said, "I actually started liking Sheffield Wednesday lately." I showed her the logo and she said, "That owl is adorable." So she was hooked.

I started by printing copies of each logo to the scale I wanted, then tracing them onto freezer paper.

Then I used my X-Acto blade to cut the stencils.

One problem I had was loose pieces of the stencil, like the middle of the letter A. The tutorial connected to the Pinterest pin I saw looked like the lady just eyeballed it, but that wasn't sufficient for me. What I ended up doing was leaving small connections (like when plastic army men come attached to the extra plastic connectors) until after I ironed the stencil on, then carefully cutting the small connections and removing the extra stencil pieces.

I was worried about that approach, though, because I didn't want the freezer paper to leave a residue that would need to be washed off before I painted. It turned out it didn't. Everything worked out perfectly, except for my wife's shirt, which the stencil didn't hold as easily as the other shirts.

Then I painted. My wife's shirt and Joe's shirt only needed one color. I started with Joe's and was dismayed when I saw how poorly the white paint covered the bright red shirt, but online it said it would need several coats. I waited half an hour and tried again, but it wasn't that much better. Someone else online said to let it completely dry, which the paint directions said takes four hours. I was doing all this Saturday night/Sunday morning (I worked on it until six, then slept until noon before one o'clock church), so I let it dry all day Sunday and did a second coat on Monday. That turned out good enough that I didn't even have to do a third coat Monday afternoon as I had planned.

I hadn't planned to do anything for Screamapillar, since he doesn't have a favorite team and he doesn't wear shirts yet, but then I thought it would be mean of me to exclude him, especially since he's my least-favorite kid right now. (If he ever stopped screaming, he'd be tied for my favorite with the rest.) My wife suggested I make him one for my favorite team. I was in the middle of cutting out Jerome's stencil, which was more involved than the other four combined, so I didn't want to do any additional work at all. But then I remembered that Dortmund's logo is super easy, so I made him a Dortmund onesie. It was only two colors, as was Crazy Jane's. (Since the women's national team doesn't have a distinct logo, I used the federation's logo and girly colors.)

Then there was Jerome's shirt. It was a pain. I had to do several coats of every color because the shirt is so dark. There are about a billion different areas. There are five different colors. I had to specially mix the one shade of red. Then today he tells me Barcelona is his second favorite team. I wish he would have said something four days ago!

Anyway, here are the results.

Everyone seems pleased.

Except for the Screamapillar. But then he's not usually pleased about anything.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Negotiations

More evidence of the worst president being the worst president:

Mr. Obama repeatedly lost patience with the speaker as negotiations faltered. In an Oval Office meeting last week, he told Mr. Boehner that if the sides didn't reach agreement, he would use his inaugural address and his State of the Union speech to tell the country the Republicans were at fault.

At one point, according to notes taken by a participant, Mr. Boehner told the president, "I put $800 billion [in tax revenue] on the table. What do I get for that?"

"You get nothing," the president said. "I get that for free."

It wasn't just a slip of the tongue when Obama said he wished he could operate outside the Constitution. He is categorically incapable of being anything but a dictating thug.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

This Is Why I Blog

I had to grade a slew of final exams this week because my TA is worthless, so I haven't blogged in a few days. I was going to wait until tomorrow, but then I saw a news story that simply cannot wait until tomorrow.

A federal employee has been reprimanded for farting at work. I'm still not in a place where I can discuss the disaster that is the federal government and its employees, so I'm instead bringing attention to this article from a "farting is funny" perspective. Because thinking about this any deeper than that will drive you to drink.

So about this post title; why do I blog? To make veiled references to things my conscious mind finds too distasteful to address head-on? To get all worked up about things no one can fix, like a country that used to be great and a people that used to be honorable? To bully zero-marginal-productivity workers with gastrointestinal disorders? I'm probably revealing a little too much of my psyche with this post title.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Thumbs

You know those things that completely disgust you any time you think about them? For Articulate Joe, one of them is the part of The Simpsons episode "Trilogy of Error" when Homer gets his thumb cut off. He can't stand to watch it, talk about it, hear others talk about it, or be reminded that it exists.

Which is why it was a big deal that I got him to use a miter saw today. While I was setting it up he said, "You're doing the cutting," but eventually I got him to make two cuts. It was probably because I was holding the wood in place. As long as it's not his thumb, he's cool with whatever mishaps might come along.

Soccer Game

Our two oldest boys often play soccer inside with a stuffed soccer ball from Ikea. So the other day when my wife said, "[Jerome] is playing soccer in his room," I thought that's what she meant.

That night when I went to tuck him into bed, I saw that wasn't the case. He had used their rug as the pitch, two books as the goals, and two sets of checkers as the players. The red checkers were deployed in positions, but the blue checkers were in a pile. He explained, "Manchester City just scored a goal, so they are celebrating. They're beating Reading three-nil. Reading almost scored but Joe Hart made the save." His game sounds more exciting than a real Manchester City v. Reading game would be.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Moustache Mathematics

I asked an extra credit question on a final exam this week:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 1 being bad and 5 being good), how awesome was my moustache? (You can be honest; you'll be graded on the presence of an answer, not what the answer is.)
With 87 responses, the average turned out to be 3.466. Which is somewhere between "okay" and "pretty good."

For some reason most students felt like including a lot of commentary. Here are some comments:

  • It looked weird but at the same time very manly.
  • Not into moustaches but looks ok on you. (No homo.)
  • It was so bad I stopped coming to class.
  • To be honest, I couldn't even notice the moustache from my seat until you brought attention to it.
  • It was a power 'stache.
  • I didn't even know you had it until you told us to enjoy our last glimpses of it.
  • I cried when you shaved it.
  • A moustache is badass. It shows no fear, and leadership.
  • Too many people in Richmond have huge distasteful ZZ-Top style beards which in theory sound epic and trendy, but I think yours is right on the money.
  • I have seen sophomores in high school do better than that. You should of [sic] never entered a moustache competition. You had to have known you wouldn't place, right?
  • Your moustache was a 2 for a grown man but a 5 for a teenage boy. All in the perspective.
  • Grade A badass moustache.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

LDS Feminism

Last year I became aware of the blog of Joanna Brooks, a self-described "national voice on Mormon life and politics." And over the course of the year her posts have bothered me more and more.

She seems either unwilling or unable to separate the cultural norms of the members from the doctrinal teachings of the leaders (especially when the members with the norms are the leaders). She seems overly willing to foster feelings of separation expressed by those who write for advice. "I don't know how I can stay Mormon when [misconstrued and over-magnified cultural practice] is happening all around me," they write, and she often responds, "Yeah, you're right to feel that way." She seems like a woman who would jettison the whole thing if only for her pesky conscience, a woman who would rather explain the peculiarities of Mormonism to her non-believing friends as outdated cultural relics than have that awkward moment when she has to testify of the truthfulness of things her listeners don't want to believe are true.

My sister-in-law brought to my attention an article written by a different type of Mormon feminist, Valerie Hudson Cassler. Interestingly (and convincingly) she doesn't try to justify her feminism with a seemingly-incompatible Mormonism, but rather argues in favor of feminism on the basis of Mormon doctrine.

I have a 10-year-old daughter who has been a militant feminist all her life. As she matures I will be very grateful for voices that will tell her that feminism and Mormonism are compatible rather than conflicting ideologies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How I Use Pinterest

You can bet I'm usually on Pinterest at five o'clock. That's when I'm hungry, but I can't go get something to eat because dinner is about 15 minutes away and my wife would stab me. So I pin tasty recipes.

Last night I had a largish dinner and then some dessert, so I was very full. I had a few minutes to kill while my wife finished something else, so I browsed Pinterest. I said, "I'm too full to be on Pinterest right now." Then I saw "Panko crusted chicken stuffed with ricotta, spinach, tomatoes, and basil" and I said, "Even full I know that sounds delicious."

Rat Poo Smell Bad

In my dream last night, I was walking around Provo (it was a long, weird dream) and I came across a small unmanned candy shop full of bins, a scale, and a voluntary contribution box. You were supposed to weigh your candy and pay what you owed.

Either the nerd in my started thinking of the economics of it as soon as I woke up, or my dream version of myself is just like my real-life nerd self. Either way, I wondered how a business like this would forecast its revenue. The owner must figure out not just volume, but also apply some sort of "compliance factor." And this compliance factor would be a measurement of public honesty.

Then I thought of how you would go about measuring public honesty as a means of setting your compliance factor, and I ended up realizing that what a firm pays to not have voluntary contributions must be the dollar-value of the loss it would incur if it did have voluntary contributions. So if I pay a worker six dollars per hour and the worker does nothing but run the cash register, then I would expect to lose six dollars per hour with an unmanned cash register.

There are two problems I see to this thinking. One is that having a worker who can make change boosts sales because people don't have to buy candy equal to their set of cash values available. (Although having a POS machine available takes care of that problem.) The second problem is related to the broken window fallacy: in the world with cash register jockeys, we don't see the cleaning out of the shop that would happen otherwise. It's not just a few dollars' worth of candy that the worker is protecting, but the entire stock.

Basically, like all ideas that seem wonderful in a dream, in real life they're not so great. This reminds me of a Sunday School lesson I had as a teenager. The instructor said he and his friends once stayed up late drinking wine, and after a while they thought they'd discovered a very profound truth. Wanting to be sure they didn't forget it, they wrote it down. In the morning they read the paper and saw that they'd written, "Rat poo smell bad."

Naming Tropes Gone WILD!

I recently* read a friend's** blog where he wrote about TV tropes. One in particular, the "His Name Really Is Barkeep" trope, came to mind this week when I realized my wife's gay relative has a partner by the name of Manfull.

I'm sure it's difficult enough being gay in the world as it is, but being gay with a gay name, well, I can't decide if that makes it more likely the guy would fight the gayness or if it's almost like Fate tying his hands on the matter.

*: Yeah, I'm a month behind on my Google Reader. I've been busy, okay?

**: We've never actually met, but his wife read my blog, recommended his blog to me, and now we comment back and forth a bit. It seems like we'd get along really well if we met in real life, but maybe that would just screw up what we've got going on.

Scratch and You Shall Receive

I awoke this morning with my brain contemplating a turn of phrase I've never really understood. It's the "Scratch a [noun] and get a [different noun]" saying, such as, "Scratch an environmentalist and get a communist."

Are we saying that the environmentalism is a patina that can be scratched away to reveal the communism, or are we saying that the environmentalism is an act that, when the superficial environmentalist is angered, he drops, thus revealing his true self?

The first one is less nefarious. It makes it seem like the environmentalist himself doesn't even know he's a communist at heart. The second ascribes chicanery to the environmentalist, like he thought he could get away with fooling us all by pretending to not be his true communist self.

I don't know which I'm supposed to think is correct. I'm leaning toward the first option, but I'm open to arguments.

The Atheist Holiday Spirit

This week on the bus I overheard the following conversation.

BUS DRIVER: So have you finished most of your holiday shopping?

MILITANT ATHEIST: Well, it's not my holiday, so no.

BD: Oh.

MA: But we have a number of friends who celebrate Chanukah, and also a number of friends who celebrate [resignedly] Christmas. We give small presents to those friends, and yes, we've bought most of those presents.

So the correct answer to the driver's first question was "yes." Idiot.

The driver was trying to make pleasant conversation with this guy, and was even courteous enough to talk about "holiday" shopping without specifying which holiday. Could be Kwanzaa, could be Festivus. But the atheist saw an opening for rubbing his atheism in the driver's face, and he ran for daylight!

And the assumption that the noun was "holiday" is facile, since that leaves no purpose for the word "shopping," since we've already heard the verb "have finished." It is obvious to even a grade-school listener that the subject of the sentence is shopping, so the "your" modifies shopping, not holiday. Nobody was making an assumption about your belief system, dude. You don't have to always be "on."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Extra Credit for Family Drama

On an exam this week I asked the question

Your uncle's business made a loss last month but is still open. What must be true about his revenue and costs? Can he continue like this forever? Why or why not?
One student concluded his answer with the note, "This doesn't apply to my real uncle because he is irrational."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Questions That Have Answers

I recently saw a web comic about how, pre-Internet, when you had a question you had no way of finding out the answer. (That's a slight paraphrasing; it's also a slight exaggeration, but not much--I read a book from 1996 that read like it was from the 1800s with its advice to go to the library, get a librarian to give you the reference book full of addresses, mail away some SASEs, and then wait six-to-eight weeks to get a promotional brochure.) I'd find that comic and link to it for you, but I'm feeling super lazy right now. [internal struggle] Oh, fine.

Anyway, the point is I spent most of my life wondering why the trucks that said "YELLOW" were all painted orange. And it wasn't until this week that I decided to look for an answer on the Internet.

It turns out Wikipedia has a section about it, but I deal with Wikipedia like Reagan dealt with the Soviets: trust but verify. (My family continues to claim one of the funniest things I ever said was, "It's true, and if you give me a couple minutes, Wikipedia will back me up." To tell the truth, that was a throw-away joke; I've made tons of jokes I thought were better than that one, like when my brother came to Christmas dinner in a silk shirt and I said, "I see you've donned your gay apparel." I feel like Hugh Grant's dad in About A Boy, a movie my wife and I watch about once a month.) So I went to the source and found out it's true.

Now when I see a Yellow truck, that question won't be the first thing that pops into my mind. Unfortunately, it will now be the (possibly misheard) line, "You're skin, oh yeah, you're skin and bones."

PS: So I always thought he sang "You're skin and bones turned into something beautiful," but all the lyrics websites I'm finding right now say he's singing "Your skin and bones turn into something beautiful." So is the subject "you" and the verb "are," or is the subject "skin and bones" and the verb "turn"? Chris Martin, feel free to leave a comment and let us know which one it is. Right now Wikipedia doesn't lean one way or the other, but if you give me a couple minutes, that will change.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Junior High Redux

I just gave a final exam to 100 college upperclassmen.

  • Ten of them showed up late (one over half-an-hour so).
  • Many of them had no calculators. Before the exam began I said, "If you didn't bring a calculator, you may write unsimplified expressions. If they are equivalent to the correct answer, you will receive full credit." During the exam three students came to tell me they didn't have a calculator and ask what they should do. One said, "Should I just write an estimate?" I said, "Write an unsimplified expression." He said, "So I can just write an estimate?" I said, "You can write an unsimplified expression."
  • One student had to leave during the exam to move her car because, she said, "I didn't know I'd be here this long." (The exam period was only about half over.)
  • At least five students turned in paper with the notebook fringe still attached, even though all their paper had perforation strips.
  • One student asked me mid-exam if one of his answers was correct.
  • Despite verbal instructions at the beginning of the exam and written instructions that stayed on the board throughout, a quarter of the students came to turn in their work without returning the exam paper with their names written on it.
  • Three students didn't understand the phrase "in keeping with."
  • One student pointed out a question that needed a bit of clarification. I stopped everyone and announced the clarification. I then had to repeat it 30 times over the next two hours in one-on-one conversations.
  • I've already had my first "I have to pass this class to graduate" post-exam e-mail.

But the students don't have a monopoly on unprofessional behavior. My exam period was to last until 3:50. Another class had an exam scheduled to begin at 4:00. At 3:45 a man came in, looked around in anger, and left again. At 3:48 he returned and said, "I guess you have a few more minutes." At 3:50 when I told the remaining students to finish, he came in. I said, "Do you teach in here next?" He said, "What?" I said, "Are you a student in here next?" He said, "I'm the professor of the next class." Students were coming to the front to turn in their papers. He said, "I have 100 students that need to come in here and get started." I was interacting with my students. He then called to his class in the hallway, "Okay, come in now!" He then said to me, "And if you have a problem with this, you can go right to the dean's office. My name is Dr. Brooks [real name, since he's a jerk] and I'm the director of my school." I gathered up the papers and placed them in my bag while he slammed some tables together. As I headed for the door he called to me, "My name is Brooks. I have students who have to take an exam." I said, "Why are you so beligerent? Your students can take their exam at 4. My students have the right to work until 3:50." But now that he had goaded me into arguing, he ignored me.

A Weird Aside

"About the same age as Richard, he [Sir Marmaduke Constable] was popularly known as 'little Sir Marmaduke', and perhaps his small size helped recommend him to the King; little men tend to like other little men."

Desmond Seward, Richard III: England's Black Legend, pp. 184-5.

This Is Going to Get Ugly

Promise people free stuff. Run out of money. Take away the free stuff.

Sounds easy enough, but then there's the last step you forgot: those people get stabby.

I watched this video on a computer with no sound (which I pitied until I met a computer with no screen), so I can't vouch for the cleanliness of the language used by the thugs noble workers. But I can say this: the law they're protesting restores the freedom to NOT belong to a union. Their venom and hatred is generated by their desire to control others. This is not righteous indignation; there's nothing righteous about using violence to preserve your subjugation of your fellow man.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Scallion

Lately I've been coining portmanteaus. It started a few weeks ago when Jerome threw his stuffed Snoopy at the hand puppet I was wearing; the puppet ducked and Snoopy fell down the stairs. The puppet (Señor Perro) said, "Now Snoopy is dead!" When Jerome went downstairs and retrieved Snoopy, Señor Perro said, "It is Zombie Snoopy, also known as Znoopy!" Then it really took off a couple days ago when I told my wife, "I have a tiny wiener; it's called a 'twiener.'"

The other night I was looking at Pinterest recipes and saw one that called for scallions. I said, "A scallion sounds like a scandalous stallion." That immediately seemed like the best blog nickname for myself ever. In the style of Lionel Hutz, "Say goodbye to Turd Ferguson. Say hello to Scandalous Stallion."

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Standards of Learnding

A few months ago, when I was going to the local library, my wife sent me a list of famous Virginians the commonwealth's Standards of Learning required our kids to know. I was supposed to check the children's section for biographies of them. And for most of them, the library had nothing.

Well, it turns out the legislature just needs to require kids to learn about Triple H, because our library has two biographies of him.

Unfortunately, Triple H was born in New Hampshire, so I guess when it comes to famous Virginians, we're going to have to stick to the biography-less Arthur Ashe, Maggie Walker, and Harry Byrd.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Nullification

Some states are seeking to block implementation of Obamacare in their states. Liberals sneer, "We already had the nullification argument in the 1860s, and your side lost."

These same liberals pass gay marriage and marijuana laws in defiance of existing federal law. How is the new marijuana law in Washington* not an act of nullification? It either seeks to supersede the federal law or it's pointless; I don't decide whether to murder people because of what laws my commonwealth** has on the books when the Federales continue to have anti-murder laws. Nobody smokes pot because their state won't hassle them when the Feds have locked them up.

We're all nullificationists now. Instead of half of us wanting to nullify the other half's laws, wouldn't things be a lot easier if we allowed for political devolution?

* I hate the term "Washington State" because it's unnecessary. There is no capital city called Washington anymore, and there hasn't been for over 100 years. In 1871 Congress merged the City of Washington with the Territory of Columbia and created the District of Columbia. Everything official in "Washington" is named for the district. Since there's no such thing as "Washington, DC," there's no need to differentiate the state.

** I live in one of four states named commonwealths, and a surprising number of people around here know that. They use the term regularly when others would talk of "the state."

Friday, December 07, 2012

I'm a Democrat Now!

The Tax Policy Center (just in the name you can hear the panties coming off at their Christmas parties, right?) has a calculator to help you see how your tax bill will differ under four possible tax regimes: a continuation of 2012 taxes, the currently-legislated 2013 taxes, the Senate Republican plan, and the Senate Democrat plan. Here's how the numbers come out for my family.

With 2012 rates, my family would receive a refund of $X. With 2013 rates, our refund will be $0.1*X. Under the Senate Republican plan, it will be $0.45*X. Under the Senate Democrat plan, it will be $0.9*X.

Where do I sign up to abort me some babies?! After all, Jesus didn't ride a elephant, right?

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Lame Football Proposal Becomes Not So Lame

There's been talk lately of taking the kickoff out of the NFL. When the proposal was to give the would-be receiving team an automatic touchback, I hated the idea. It destroyed a lot of competitive action (skill, strategy, execution, momentum shifting) to remove the evidence of the bigger problem that would still be unaddressed (namely, that men in full-body armor intentionally try to injure each other).

But what the league is talking about now is actually kind of interesting. The scoring team gets the ball for a fourth-and-fifteen from their own 30 yard line. If they go for it and convert, that's the new version of an onside kick. If they decide to punt, it still allows for kick returns, but a safer version (punt returns are safer than kickoff returns).

I like this a lot more than the automatic touchback idea. But the league's in a tough place; too much tinkering with the game to eliminate blatant danger might draw the public's attention to how dangerous the game actually is.

Late-Night Theological Discussion

MY WIFE: How do Catholics feel about their great football season being led by a Mormon player?

A RANDOM STRANGER: I don't think they care. They're all Jack Catholics anyway.

MW: Is that a thing?

ARS: No, they're just called "Catholics."

MW: I think your grandma told me they're called Pancake Catholics.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Thing I Learned Today

Farting in a parking garage is even more awesome than regular farting. (I didn't know anything more awesome than regular farting could even exist.)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Reaganing

I had a 25-item to-do list today. In 30 minutes I'm going to do No. 23, then at 11:30 I'm going to do No. 24 and No. 25.

In short, I'm Reaganing today.

My Fantasy Obituary

My mother-in-law sent this news article to me, probably because she figures I will end up a dead map hoarder.

I should be so lucky. I'm not going to lie: part of what motivates my map-and-book collecting is the desire to bestow them all on some small-time library in the future. The more I read about libraries destoying books, the more I worry it will never happen. So I'm glad to see the Los Angeles Public Library is very appreciative to end up with this huge addition to its collection.

I Do Not Think Your Inspirational Quote Means What You Think It Means

Various versions of this are circulating on Facebook and Pinterest (and probably wherever else you waste time, but those are my two).

This means it's okay for me to feel superior to someone as long as I'm helping them out while I'm doing it. I don't think this is correct, or what the people sharing this picture mean. I think these folks should post fewer made-up quotes by Ghandi or Shakespeare or Lincoln or the Dali Lama and just quietly live a fulfilling, charitable life. (At least that's what Albert Einstein once said!)

NB: I've created a separate category for fools, because calling them idiots is a bit harsh. Fools don't know any better, but idiots should.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Tiny Pharaoh

This morning Jerome complained to me with a quiver in his voice that we are all out of pink mini-wheats.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Then I guess you have to eat something else.

JEROME JEROME THE METRONOME: But I don't like to eat anything else.

ARS: Well, it sounds like you're going to die of starvation soon. When you're dead, can I have your Angry Birds?

JJTM: No.

ARS: What are you going to do, be buried with them?

JJTM: Yes, I'm going to be buried with all my stuff!

It's great to see that I'm raising him with the proper attitude towards money and things. Hugh Nibley would be so proud.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Girls Are Different From Boys

I read an article today about how terrible Lego Friends are. Except they aren't.

A group of humorless cranks invented an award for "Toys Oppressive and Destructive to Young Children." These are the people you meet at a party thrown by that guy from one of your elective classes who has completely irresponsible political views but who is okay to talk to as long as you keep the conversation light. Then you find yourself standing in a corner of his living room getting harangued by his good friend about the ways in which your lifestyle is responsible for the murder of Third-World children and you think, "Dude, even Pol Pot thinks you should lighten up."

On this list of terrible toys is a Lego Friends set. Lego Friends is a girl-oriented Lego line that debuted sometime last year. My 10-year-old daughter loves them, so we have noticed the slow-but-steady stream of articles complaining about the sexist nature of a girl-oriented Lego line.

Who is more likely to know what kind of Lego line girls want to play with: the company that stands to gain millions of dollars if they meet girls' tastes (and stands to lose millions if they don't), or the company's critics with no skin in the game but an agenda to shill? Perhaps when the girl-oriented line has more pastels than other lines, when the figures have facial features and back-stories, Lego is responding to the types of toys girls want. But we're told girls should play with the Ninjago line (the Lego line I hate the most) and anyone who says differently is a chauvinist.

The cranks take issue with the Butterfly Beauty Shop set. After falsely claiming there's no building involved, they then pin their hangups on Lego, reasoning that the presence of a park bench must be so the girls can play at gossip.

Girls are physiologically different from boys. Lego did not invent the idea of a girls' toy; nature did. Plenty of animal species have gender-specific role specialization, and no one is stupid enough to argue that it's because the male of the species is oppressive. Only one species is stupid enough to intentionally scrap the roles assigned to it by either God or evolution. If the role assignments came from God, we risk His disapproval when we claim to be too smart to obey. If the role assignments came from evolution, we risk extinction when we seek to do things differently from how our sexually-successful ancestors did them. Either decision is stupid. Complaining about those who acknowledge the roles is like getting angry at the sky because you don't like the color blue. Stop blaming Lego for your stupid agenda's impossibility.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Redistribution Is a Fantasy

A few weeks ago after I cited Doctrine and Covenants 104:16 as reason for voluntarily contributing your resources to others. Angela commented

Ironically one of my fb friends used that same scripture (D&C 104:16)to make a case for voting for Obama.
Obama is a great believer in redistribution (the "that video was edited" critique doesn't undo what he clearly said and meant), stating as recently as the first presidential debate in October that everyone should get "a fair share."

I've written before (here and here, for starters) about the inability to square individual liberty with socialism. I either control my resources or you do. Since my resources were accrued through my labor, if you control my resources you have enslaved me.

But let's assume for a moment that socialism is somehow desirable and in keeping with my inalienable right of liberty. Two problems remain: an accounting problem, and a choice problem.

First, the accounting problem: on what metric do we level everything up? In dollars? Then what happens immediately after the Great Leveling when the first transaction is made? One person now has more dollars than the other. Of course, it's because the one with more money gave up resources, so maybe we should level things up on the basis of dollar values of resources. But which valuation do we use? The transaction (say, a CD for $15) happened because the original owner valued the CD at something less than $15, while the purchaser valued it at something more. Many Americans look at Bill Gates (net worth estimated at $66 billion) and think it's terrible he has accumulated so much wealth, but he could only do that by providing more than $66 billion of value to his customers. If Bill Gates got wealthy from you buying Microsoft products, so did you. Before you demand the government take some of that wealth, you should volunteer some of your own.

Second, the choice problem: to keep all things even, freedom of trade must be abolished. Individuals will choose (just like they do now) to surrender cash for things, immediately. There will never be a time between a redistribution and a need for another redistribution.

In The Vicar of Wakefield, William Goldsmith's protagonist writes

I would have all men kings. I would be a king myself. We have all naturally an equal right to the throne: we are all originally equal. This is my opinion, and was once the opinion of a set of honest men who were called Levellers. They tried to erect themselves into a community, where all should be equally free. But, alas! it would never answer; for there were some among them stronger, and some more cunning than others, and these became masters of the rest; for as sure as your groom rides your horses, because he is a cunninger animal than they, so surely will the animal that is cunninger or stronger than he, sit upon his shoulders in turn. Since then it is entailed upon humanity to submit, and some are born to command, and others to obey, the question is, as there must be tyrants, whether it is better to have them in the same house with us, or in the same village, or still farther off, in the metropolis.
The vicar foolishly concludes that we're better off having our tyrants further away, so we don't have to have the unpleasant experience of actually seeing the tyrants, a notion President Obama heartily endorses. Much better to leave all the tyranny to him, tilting at the windmill of unequal cash holdings in the name of fairness, never able to get it right, so never needing to stop trying.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Family Resemblance?

Angela writes

I have always thought Anne Hathaway looked like a female version of Bob Saget.
For comparison purposes:

I even went to the hassle of getting one of those super-expensive celebrity DNA analysis places to generate an estimation of what a Hathaway/Saget baby would look like.

In closing, Angela is crazy, and will have to start being careful what crazy crap she says because I might be moving close enough to drive over and slap her when the stuff she says is just too nuts.

Casual Doctors

There are a number of issues that come up in teaching economics that make all my students think I'm an idiot, and one of them is the end of professional licensing for medical practitioners. They can't begin to imagine a world where a spectrum of competency is available for the discriminating customer.

It turns out that back in 1766 it wasn't such a crazy idea.

We now sate down to dinner, which was almost cold; but previously, my arm still continuing painful, Sir William wrote a prescription, for he had made the study of physic his amusement, and was more than moderately skilled in the profession: this being sent to an apothecary who lived in the place, my arm was dressed, and I found almost instantaneous relief.
Thus William Goldsmith's titular vicar of Wakefield gets medical care when he can't afford a real-life doctor, and he relieves his suffering. Today, the vicar would be told that he has to pay for a whole-hog doctor, and if he can't afford one, well that's tough titty.

And for some reason, healthcare costs keep going up.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Intelligent Political Discourse

Yesterday I read this opinion piece in the Washington Post by the Romney campaign's chief strategist. He claims that Romney's loss was not so overwhelming as to begin the self-destruction of the Republican Party that's been going on this month. (Amnesty? Tax increases? It's like being Republican doesn't even mean anything anymore.)

At the bottom of the story, the most-recent commenter wrote, "Romney wanted to kill Big Bird! He was wrong for America."

Today driving down the Interstate I spent time behind this car.

The bumper sticker on the left originally read "JESUS DIDN'T RIDE A ELEPHANT." Then someone reminded the driver of what she should have learned in second grade, so she took a Sharpie and added her own "N," so now it reads "JESUS DIDN'T RIDE ANELEPHANT."

I form my political opinions based on fact and reason. I'm outvoted by those who form them based on talking points and ungrammatical non sequiturs.

How completely, utterly stupid must a person be to think that removing government funding from an incredibly popular commercial enterprise is tantamount to ending that enterprise? Is Mickey Mouse dead because Disney is a private company? Is Snoopy dead because Charles Schulz didn't take a cartooning subsidy? But we are asked to believe that Sesame Street would be destroyed if it didn't receive tax dollars. And the same idiots who believe GM bankruptcy would leave millions of auto workers unemployed, who believe that Hostess bankruptcy means the end of the Twinkie, believe this obvious crap and vote accordingly.

While I'm refuting the obviously wrong, the proclivities of a late-19th-century political cartoonist had little-to-nothing to do with the preferred transportation of the Son of God. But supporting the candidate whose life most-closely resembles that of Jesus seems to be popular: Jesus also didn't have an un-doctored birth certificate. Just this morning my family read John 7:41-42, where the Jews are confused about the Savior's birthplace. If it doesn't require any documentation to be the Messiah, I guess it's okay that the new "Lord and Savior"'s life is undocumented, as well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The 1950s: A More-Complicated Time

My father is a model train enthusiast. (Not that he's the type of train enthusiast whose example you'd follow, but rather that he's an enthusiast of model trains.) His father before him had model trains, too. So I grew up with model trains running under the Christmas tree.

My parents have divided everything up four ways (which is really awkward when our fifth sibling wonders why he didn't get anything, but it's okay because he's not real) so their kids can carry on their tradition. And now that I'm an adult with kids and whatnot, each Christmas my parents say, "Do you want your trains this Christmas?" But we've never had room for a train setup. (We barely have room for a tree. A few Christmases ago we were Skyping with my sister-in-law who happened to see our tree in the background and asked incredulously, "THAT's your tree?!" Because Christmas wasn't already enough of a reminder of my failure as a provider.)

Anyway, during 2012 my parents came to visit and they made the executive decision that we have enough space for trains, so in October they showed up with trains and said, "Here you go, they're yours now."

With a loop of train track surrounding the tree, my wife had no way of getting the light cord to the plug. So I decided we'd use the model signal bridge to hold up the cord.

The problem was getting the thing built. The box has no instructions, so we went searching online, where we a picture of the original (1953) instruction manual.

That's right: put the rivets on the outside, and then look at the box. Oh, the box, by the way, has this super-helpful diagram for guidance.

Embarrassingly obvious, right? Forgive me if I'm being gauche, but I've isolated the portion of the box that functions as the template.

What, was everyone an engineer in the 1950s? Then why didn't we build Sputnik first? This makes me glad I live in the age of 15-page instruction booklets written by Chinese political prisoners. At least they give you some good existential pondering about the true meaning of words.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Magazine Tranny

Some beautiful people age gracefully, like Blythe Danner. Others, however, turn into pre-op trannies. The latest cover of Vogue magazine suggests Anne Hathaway is in the second group.

How do you make Anne Hathaway ugly? I'm still not sure how Annie Leibovitz accomplished it. But accomplish it she did.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Surrounded by Hyenas

Just another Thanksgiving in America.

Previous Black Fridays left me laughing at the materialists. This time I'm frightened. I see these people demolish a pallet of cell phones and think nothing would be different if it was me and my food. They would rend me with their bare hands.

I showed this video to my students and they told me I was over-reacting. "Where was this?" they asked. "Georgia," I told them. "That's why," they said, smug in their prejudice.

Well then what explains this scene in Overland Park, Kansas?

I used to live in metropolitan Kansas (a term I like to use because it confuses the more ignorant), and those people are as middle-of-the-road American as you can get. When their teenage daughters nearly riot over lingerie being sold for a price still greater than zero, the country is beyond hope.

When I watch that video from Kansas, I think: "There is no way that manager is being paid enough."

As a comparison, here's a somewhat-orderly crowd.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Heartfelt Gratitude

I have a lot to be thankful for this month. It started when I discovered a growth on me. I sought a professional opinion and was told it was metastasized awesomeness.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm giving thanks for my awesome moustache.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Different Type of Football Fan

My family has started following European soccer* a lot more. Our kids like Barcelona because of Lionel Messi, and consequently they passionately hate Real Madrid. In our neighborhood seemingly every third car has a large rear-window decal for one of those two clubs, and our kids are either elated or incensed each time we see one or the other.

In the Bundesliga, I support Dortmund. My German ancestors were from a village right outside Dortmund, so this was an easy decision. But in the Premier League, I don't want to commit to any particular team, since I keep thinking, "We might end up living in England, and I'll need to be allegiance-free when that happens." But I guess I lean toward Chelsea. My eldest son is a big Arsenal supporter, and my daughter likes Fernando Torres, so she likes Chelsea.

Last week I thought I should probably be a Sheffield Wednesday fan, since Sheffield is the Pittsburgh of England. (My wife said, "They probably would prefer you say 'Pittsburgh is the Sheffield of America.'") I remember watching Sheffield Wednesday games in high school, but they've been out of the Premier League for a while now, and in danger of falling even further. The other night my wife mentioned that her favorite singer is a Sheffield Wednesday fan, and when I went to their website to show her what it was, she thought their owl mascot is adorable. So now we're both Sheffield Wednesday fans.

My long history of Pirates disappointment has prepared me nicely for being a Sheffield Wednesday fan: they've taken eight points from their last 14 league games.

* = British people who insist soccer be called football are lame. Soccer is an English term for "association football," a name which distinguished it from rugby football one hundred years ago.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Gradually Increasing Tempo

As a missionary, when we sang "In Our Lovely Deseret" at district meeting, it was understood that each verse was sung faster than the previous verse. One missionary said, "Imagine at the top where it tells you how to sing it, it reads 'gradually increasing tempo.'"

I was reminded of that this past Sunday in stake conference, when someone bribed the organist to plow through the intermediate hymn as quickly as possible. We stood up* to sing "How Firm a Foundation," and then we were off to the races. Everybody was skipping the last two words of each line to get back in time with the organ. I guess somebody replaced the organist's decaf coffee with crack.

But I'm torn about the result. On the one hand, hymns are supposed to be slow enough to be intelligible. On the other hand, this stake has a problem with meetings that never end. (The previous night it was 8:35 in a meeting that was supposed to end at 8:30 when the musical interlude came around.) If this is what it takes for meetings to end on time, then I guess we're going to be speed-rapping every hymn from now on.

* = When the hell did we become Pentecostal? Why are we standing for every hymn? When I was in the MTC our branch president said they'd recently been chewed out by a General Authority for standing every time they sang. Let's get that crack-down going again.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Blogger: John Galt

In April 2011, a Swedish friend in my program put together a group of people to go see Atlas Shrugged. I thought, "I should be friendly and get to know people better," so I agreed to go. I had to drive a long way to get there, I had to drive a guy who told me all about why American students are too stupid to learn in graduate school what Filipino students learn as undergrads (surprisingly, this guy is Filipino), and then when we got to the movie I couldn't get a ticket because I had a voucher that didn't work for online sales, so I had to wait until I got to the box office. Having had some prior experience with movie-theater shenanigans, I bought a ticket to whichever movie had the closest start time to Atlas Shrugged, with the intention of sneaking in with my friends (I have so few friends that by this time the Filipino kid counted as one). The theater had ushers guarding the doors of the actual theater, though--something I hadn't experienced since I went to see Showgirls. (Hey, don't hate: it was everything 17-year-old me wanted in a movie.)

And that was how I ended up seeing Hanna by myself. Actually, I only saw the first 80% of Hanna, because my friends texted me when their movie was out and I had to leave to meet them. I saw up to when Hanna gets to the shut-down amusement park (also known as "the start of the most-exciting part of the movie").

I asked my friends how their movie was. "Terrible," the Filipino insisted. The Swede, a huge Ayn Rand fan, reluctantly agreed. They said the acting was poor, the dialog was stilted and preachy, and the special effects were distractingly bad.

Last week Hostess announced that they would shut down due to a union strike. While I was instant-messaging my wife about this, she asked why the world is falling apart and I decided we needed to see Atlas Shrugged. We rented it from Amazon On Demand (which subsequently refunded our money because their streaming wasn't that great).

It wasn't as bad as I'd been led to believe. The acting was fine. The dialog wasn't stilted until near the end, when Dagny and Hank have a voice-over conversation about the dangers of not setting wages equal to the value of marginal product of labor, but then that was it. The special effects were one scene that wasn't terribly bad, it was just obviously cheap. I think the movie was good. My wife said afterward, "I didn't expect to enjoy it at all, but it actually was okay."

In related "you didn't build that" news, the bankruptcy judge isn't allowing Hostess to shut down until they negotiate with their union some more. His job is to determine if Hostess's plan to pay their creditors something less than full-value is equitable, but instead he's making business decisions for them. It's so very Atlas Shrugged of him.

Oh, and in "Americans are idiots" news, after three days of people thinking Hostess shutting down means the end of the Twinkie, and a weekend run on Hostess products, we're finally seeing news stories about how Hostess will sell its assets, and that valuable assets will be highly-sought, so the Twinkie won't be dead after all. Just like how a GM and Chrysler bankruptcy wouldn't have killed American auto manufacturing. Oh, wait, I forgot that one presidential candidate tried to make this type of level-headed argument and had it presented as proof that he hates America.

The past election told me that the median voter is stupid. I'm detaching from politics until all the stupid people die or until something happens to make them want to get educated. The collective "oh noes!!!! no more twinkies!!!!!" of this week has shown me that nothing has changed yet.

When will John Galt come take me away to Atlantis?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Over-Reacting

Tonight in our family scripture reading, we found that Shiblon of Ether 1 is Shiblom of Ether 11. "Huh, that's interesting," I thought. We talked about various reasons this could have happened. We quickly came up with several, including Joseph Smith's error, Oliver Cowdery's error, E.B. Grandin's error, Moroni's error, Ether's error, or allophones (like L and R to some Asians).

Later I looked online a little and found the blog of a guy whose response was to become an atheist. Seriously.

I was looking more for an analysis of Jaredite phonology than just pure stupidity.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Plato's Nursery

Do you remember the part of The Republic where the Aristotle character recommends taking children away from parents to raise them in the interest of the state? Of course you do, because everybody reads Plato for fun, right?

A woman in California worked for a public school district caring for children between the ages of six months and four years. So I guess that Carter's ad had it wrong: you really only have to care for your children until your maternity leave ends. Then they're the state's problem.

Just Skip the First Reading and Start Crying Now

I believe I've written before (but I'm too lazy to find it right now for you sons of perdition) about an insufferable nerd in my junior high school named Keith. At the start of seventh grade word went around that Keith was trying to create a time machine. Really, when you're already socially unacceptable, you don't make things any better with stories like that in circulation. Early in eighth grade I was standing next to Keith when some seventh-graders came up to make fun of him. "Are you building a time machine?" they asked incredulously. "No, I'm merely working on a project that would enable man to travel faster than the speed of light," he replied. Disappointed, the seventh-graders walked away. I said, "Keith, that's a time machine," and he said, "Shhhhh!"

In junior high I started reading Don Quixote. I was enjoying the ridiculousness of it until Keith came over. "They say the first time you read Don Quixote you laugh, and the second time you read it you cry," he said. I probably replied with something like, "Shut up, Keith."

But then when I went back to reading, I could totally see Keith's point. And that totally pissed me off, that he had completely changed the way I was seeing a book I was really enjoying without thinking about the tragicomedy of it. Now I can't think of Don Quixote without thinking of Keith.

I've recently been reading The Vicar of Wakefield, a 1766 comedic novel that was supposedly the Arrested Development of its day. (It was so popular that the cover artwork is a museum painting depicting a scene from the novel itself.) It's the story of the Primrose family, their fall into poverty, and the indignities they experience there.

Needless to say, this storyline isn't as funny to me as it might have been to 18th-century readers.

The Primroses have ridiculous schemes to win favor with aristocrats, to land well-paying jobs, and to act according to their refinement instead of their circumstances. Basically, the Primroses are just like me, except they say "sate" when they mean "sat." Which shows the level of absurdity prevailing in my life.

Who knows, maybe Keith invented his time machine and went back in time, but Oliver Goldsmith beaned him and stole it, using it to come observe me and record my family's failures. Then he went back to the 1760s and just "modernized" all my uses of "sat" to read "sate." His peers probably said, "You have a vivid imagination for foolishness, sir," and he just thought to himself, "I couldn't've made this crap up if I'd tried."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are Garage Elevators Advertised in LDS Living? Because If They Are, It's Okay to Get One

Alanna writes:

...unless we started living the law of consecration without me knowing it....
I would submit that you have already covenanted to live that law, without any "someday, when I'm asked to do it" caveat.

We are under a commandment to "seek to bring forth and establish my Zion" (D&C 14:6). Zion is where the people are "of one heart and one mind ... and there [is] no poor among them" (Moses 7:18). It is not God's plan to come down and redistribute material possessions, but it is his plan that the redistribution happen voluntarily, now. "... this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low" (D&C 104:16).

How individuals go about following this commandment is a personal choice. They can give 30% of their income to charity and have a garage with an elevator, and that's up to them. My specific complaint is about merging church with excess to give the excess a patina of acceptability. It would be like getting your garage elevator to play hymns as it lowers the cars.

So don't try to justify your foreign travel by visiting religious sites. (In California we had a high council speaker tell us his children had testimonies of the gospel because he and his wife had taken them to Palmyra, Kirtland, and Nauvoo.) Just have the balls to say "some people in my neighborhood don't have enough food but I'm going on an elaborate vacation because I care more about my leisure than about their survival." And if you can't own that sentence, then change your spending.

In a possibly related note, a Facebook acquaintance linked to a story about the lifestyle of Uruguayan president Jose Mujica. Interesting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cover Me, I'm Gonna Sin

I recently bought a book (which I intend to sell to a family member looking to buy a Christmas present for me) that came with a tiny ad-pack for LDS-targeted businesses. It's ads like these that make me despair of Mormons generally.

There are two types of these ads. The first type is over-selling stuff Mormons should buy. There's the smart way to buy food storage, and then there's the way advertised by religious profiteers in LDS Living magazine.

The second type is selling stuff Mormons shouldn't be buying in the first place. Yes, you should have a picture of the temple in your home. But a 500 dollar picture? It's okay though; it's a picture of the temple. Should you spend thousands on needless travel while others lack clothes and food? Well, if you can say it's a lecture tour, everything's okay.

The folks who buy these things are aware enough of the gospel that they are uncomfortable with their natural desires for conspicuous consumption, but uncharitable enough to their fellow man that they never seriously consider going without something nice so someone else can have something necessary. The companies that advertise in LDS Living allow them to spend all their money on themselves while thinking they're doing something good.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ancient Cultures and Ancient Knowledge

The Book of Mormon tells of God's dealings with a group of Israelites who migrated to the Americas. After his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus visited these people in accordance with his saying recorded in John 10:16: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice." The people responded to the teachings of Jesus and consequently he revealed to them additional knowledge. Hundreds of years later, the people fall into wickedness and internal warfare. The survivors became ancestors of at least some of the pre-Columbian peoples.

This means that native societies are descended from societies that had greater gospel knowledge than we now have. While some of that knowledge would have been discarded (after all, they were rebelling against the gospel of Christ, so they probably viewed the teachings of the gospel's acolytes as unimportant), not necessarily all of it had to be thrown away. There's a bumper sticker on a car at my bus stop: "Christianity Has Pagan DNA." When it comes to received Christianity (as opposed to revealed Christianity), I agree. And now what I'm saying is that pagan American religions have Christian DNA.

As a result of this, there could be true knowledge contained in ancient legends and traditions. I'm not necessarily arguing in favor of the Mayan calendar thing, but I'm also not one to dismiss it out of hand.

Speaking of the Mayan calendar, I know there are some people who say, "Mayans didn't have Leap Day, so their calendar would be incredibly off by now and the end would have already happened, and it didn't happen, so the whole thing is crap." But that requires us to accept that the people who oriented their massive structures specifically for certain effects on the equinoxes didn't have a way of keeping the equinox from moving around in their years. That seems unlikely to me.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Even His Vote Counts

A Facebook acquaintance just posted what I'm sure he thought was a very insightful comment about how the Director of Central Intelligence is not prohibited from doing his job just because he had an affair. This Facebook acquaintance was also appalled that the FBI was investigating someone's private sex life.

He was not being ironic.

It's like he's completely unfamiliar with the concept of blackmail, and that plenty of blackmailable stuff is legal. Yet this guy is closing in on a PhD and was allowed to cast a ballot last week.

What about a "median-voter" model that has the two types of voters as "smart voters" and "stupid voters." Every genius is countered by an ignoramus, and the median voter is just sort of knowledgeable. Is that how we want to run the most-powerful nation on earth, at the direction of the sort of knowledgeable?

Of course it is, because anything else would be racist, and we don't want to be racist, do we?

The average American is incapable of distinguishing between a racist policy (such as keeping voters away because of their race) and a policy that has a racially-biased outcome (such as keeping voters away because they don't have photo IDs). Prohibiting the second type of policy puts form above substance and means our prime directive is to "look right." Which, given the re-election of the president, I guess is a pretty accurate description of the prime directive of most Americans. Destruction is acceptable, as long as we look good when it comes.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Old Text Messages

I'm cleaning out my phone because I keep getting error messages that I've got too much crap stored on it. (The error message somehow knows the quality of my texts and pictures. Uncanny.) Here are some of the vital communiques from my recent past.

  • 26 October 2012

    Persephone, to me: "Overheard smoking mom with newborn proudly talking about how he was six wks early."

  • 25 October 2012

    Crazy Jane, to me: "SPIDER. THE worlds biggest and scaryiest and jumpyest spider is down stairs. What do i do? QUICK!!!!!!!" Follow-up: "Please hurry. It is scary"

  • 22 October 2012

    Persephone, to me: "Did you say they [our kids] could play the game cube today?"

    Me: "No. No one asked me. I told them they had a lot to do today. I could see how a kid would take that to mean 'play video games.'"

  • 19 September 2012

    Me, to Persephone: "[Articulate Joe]: I flushed my poop. Mom was in there. Me: Mom does not forget to flush her poop. [Articulate Joe]: When she came out, there was no flushing."

  • 22 June 2012

    Me, to Persephone: "Text ambiguous. Thought you meant 'want to pet groundhogs,' which could be dangerous--they could be rabid."

  • 7 January 2012

    Me, to Persephone: "Surprise, surprise, a church meeting without regard to a schedule. The hour is over, we're only halfway done, and no one is speeding up."

  • 8 December 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "I want a wonderful sandwich. I'm sad we don't have anything to make that happen."

  • 3 November 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "Fun fact learned from a missionary on campus today: missionaries in our mission call Manassas 'Manasty' because 'It's definitely the ghetto of the mission.'"

  • 29 October 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "If the college kids who volunteer to read aloud are this bad at actual reading, the rest must be illiterate. This is the result of being told their whole lives that they are wonderful at everything."

  • 19 October 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "The boys and I are at a strip club because I'm incompetent."

  • 6 October 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "I feel terrible. I'm lightheaded, hungry, tired, and need to poop." Follow-up: "I have blister on my little toe, which makes me seem like a sissy."

  • 27 September 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "Your reply was unintelligible. Are you texting drunk?"

  • 6 September 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "You're hot. And I'm rich (I got a $4,000-check today). We should have sex."

  • 24 August 2011

    Me, to my sister: "I have a monetary theory exam in 4 hours. In theory, money is nice--in practice, I wouldn't know."

  • 5 July 2011

    Me, to Persephone: "Save that sexy pirate talk until I get home."

  • 22 June 2011

    Me, to my sister: "Just kidding. Pee all you want."

  • 25 May 2011

    Me, to Persephone, during her book club: "Come home naked or don't bother to come home at all."

  • 19 February 2011

    Me, to Persephone, while she was watching someone else's kids: "Hi. Are you going to sext me like a modern babysitter?"

  • 15 February 2011

    Me, to my younger brother: "From Hugh Nibley's 'There Were Jaredites,' regarding ancient Egypt, 'Here we have some lively descriptions of community snake hunts....' The Egyptians had Whacking Day!"

And My Father Dwelt on a Map

I like geography and I like the Book of Mormon. You'd think this would mean I like Book of Mormon geography. Well, I like the idea of it, but the actual thing sort of angers me.

Too much of it is forced. Take, for instance, this website I found today. The author is not alone in identifying the Isthmus of Tehuantepec as the "narrow neck of land," but this approach has a major flaw. At this point, the only way the land would appear to be "north" and "south" would be with an understanding of the geography of the entire supercontinent from Alaska to Chile. Anyone who had no knowledge of the land beyond what he experienced himself in the Tehuantepec area would not think of the land as north and south, or the seas as east and west.

All of the detailed geography descriptions contained in the Book of Mormon are from the period prior to the Savior's visitation, and the book tells us that cataclysmic geographic changes happened just prior to that visit. Meaning there's no way to equate modern geography with Book of Mormon geography.

This is just as well, as the book is not intended to be "proved," but to be believed based on answer to prayer. Moroni doesn't tell us to know of its truthfulness through lecture tours of Chichen Itza, but through prayer.

This doesn't mean I'm opposed to all Mormon archeology. But don't try to make it do more than it can. It can show connections between Hebrew culture and Mesoamerican culture, and it can show the veracity of aspects of the Book of Mormon which were ridiculed in 1830 for being contrary to then-accepted "knowledge" regarding Mesoamerican culture. But it can't help you overlay a Book of Mormon map onto Mexico (or the Lake Ontario region, for that matter). So give it a rest.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"An Unrelated Matter"

The guy behind "Innocence of Muslims" has been sentenced to a year in prison. But the Associated Press assures us it was due to "an unrelated matter."

The byzantine legal code is designed to make criminals of us all (especially the tax code). Then, when the Federales want you in prison, they have a reason.

Is this paranoia? Does anyone think this guy went to prison for anything other than his film? "Oh, he violated his parole." Not criminally. He was originally convicted of using a computer to commit a crime, not using a computer to upload a poorly-produced video. His parole officer needed to know about this, and his restrictions should be tightened.

Instead he's going to prison with the general population, which means he's going to die. The Feds' refusal to protect him makes it a state-sanctioned murder. And the reason is his erstwhile Constitutionally-protected speech.

When Music Videos Were Awesome

This video kicks all kinds of ass. Maybe it's the red patent-leather codpiece. Or maybe it's just the... no, it's the codpiece.

Yours Until You Hand Them Over to the State

This ad bothers me.

My wife objects to my objection. Yes, I know Carter's only makes clothes for younger kids. But the entire monologue is told from a "your work is done here, mom" point-of-view. Here's a hint, ladies: if you have a hard time doing something, it could be a sign you shouldn't. "Oh, but that's not true with getting a colonoscopy!" But it is true of handing your children over to the government.

And while I'm writing of things I think that all of you will hate, let me tell you about this: the other day, when I was already in a bad mood, I was behind a woman with a bumper sticker that read "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Really, are you making history, strange lady? Driving your eight-year-old Dodge Durango and living in Bakersfield-Near-the-Potomac? Assuming you have children, within 30 years of your death nobody alive will remember you at all. Actually, it might even be sooner than that, depending how you raise them. You're not "making history." You're a nobody, just like everybody else. But, oooh, you're a unique rebel, so contrary and whatnot. If you were truly making history, you wouldn't need a bumper sticker advertising the fact.

I've mentioned to my wife that my parents will probably end up living with us. My siblings' situations don't lend for it as well as I imagine ours will. But when I mentioned this to my mother, she swore she and my father will "never do that" to their kids. Like it was a terrible injustice for families to be families.

I know I'm putting a lot of baggage on a Carter's ad. Oh well. As Bobby Brown once said, it's my prerogative. (I loved that song when I was a kid. In fact, I believe I'll close with the music video for it right here.)

Friday, November 09, 2012

District of Columbia Statehood

Statehood for the District of Columbia is a terribly stupid, unconstitutional idea that is the worst possible solution to a much-more-easily solved problem.

Congress created the District of Columbia in 1791, and for the next 10 years its residents continued to function as citizens of Maryland or Virginia. They had congressmen and senators. It wasn't until the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 that the residents were disenfranchised.

Acts of Congress can be repealed by acts of Congress. Undo the Organic Act and the problem goes away.

Completely retroceding the land to Maryland violates the constitutional requirement that the seat of government be separate from the states. Cutting the District into the Capital Service Area and the remainder, with the idea of retroceding the remainder, doesn't account for the fact that Maryland doesn't want to touch that crap with a ten-foot pole. But repealing the Organic Act would keep the residents out of Maryland while still giving them representatives and senators and presidential electors (through Maryland, not their own).

For the past five Congresses, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has introduced a bill to do substantially this. This correction of a serious civil rights problem can't get out of committee, but every damn post office in the land can get an honorary name.

How do I know this bill will also die in the 113th Congress? Because it's sensible and appropriate, and we've seen that Americans don't understand such things anymore. (Wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about it.)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

TSA and the Economic Recovery

I wonder sometimes how much of the lethargic economic "recovery" can be attributed to TSA. Here's the connection:

People travel for business when they expect the travel to produce at least as much value as the travel costs. Thus business travel creates economic growth.

People avoid unpleasant experiences. Thus TSA pat-downs and body scans reduce the amount of traveling.

So reducing the amount of business travel creates a drag on economic growth.

This seems plausible to me. I don't know about you, but I took only one airplane trip (there and back) since the TSA went all Gestapo in 2010, which represents the fewest number of flights I've taken in a three-year period since I became an adult. A large part of that is my desire to avoid TSA. For any location this side of Kansas, I'm either driving or I'm just not going.

A study estimated that TSA thugs could be responsible for up to 275 additional driving deaths per year. This is just about exactly double the average number of airplane deaths in the U.S. from 1999 to 2003 (September 11th excluded).

That's some fine citizen protection you're doing there, TSA: killing twice as many people as you're saving. Is it really that far-fetched that all this TSA thuggery would result in less economic activity?

As Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, "man is a creature who can get used to anything," and living in a police state is no exception. According to this article, more than half of Americans think it should be illegal to disobey a TSA agent, and a third of respondents would accept a body cavity search as a condition of flying.

I know citing the Constitution is tiresome to most Americans these days, but I'd like to point out the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches was never formally repealed. Wanting to get from here to there is not probable cause. The Supreme Court is hearing a case this term regarding the constitutionality of sniffing dogs, but naked scans, under-clothes pat-downs, and bag x-rays aren't "unreasonable"?

TSA's operating directive is to violate all of your rights and then see who protests. After all, you know who else would protest the loss of his rights? A terrorist. And now defending your constitutional rights has become probable cause.

Puerto Rico Statehood

I'm glad Puerto Rico has voted in favor of statehood. I hope Congress acts on it. I think it is inconsistent with our founding documents to maintain a colony, and when Puerto Ricans have no electoral votes or congressional representation, that's basically what they are.

I've long wanted Congress to force the issue for our territories by telling them they can either be states or independent and giving them a deadline to decide. Assuming none chose independence, some have populations too small to be states on their own. Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa should become part of the State of Hawaii, the Virgin Islands should be part of the State of Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia should go back to the status it had before the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801.

An acquaintance of mine (I find it's closer to the truth to call everyone "acquaintances" rather than "friends") said he didn't think Congress would act on this because it would give electoral votes to Democrats and Republicans control the House right now, so they can block it. I don't think that's a valid assumption (Puerto Rico had a Republican governor who just narrowly lost reelection), and even if it was, I don't think we should keep people from freedom because of what we fear they might do with it.

(Just for reference, Puerto Rico has 3.7 million people, which would mean it would probably have five congressmen and seven presidential electors. Other states of that size are Connecticut, Oklahoma, and Oregon.)

Americans Don't Have a Monopoly on Irrationality

Here's some third-world irrationality for you.

"If Obama did not win, I believe most projects here [in Kenya] would stall," Joseph Onyango told the Kenyan media outlet.

How in the world would a Mitt Romney victory have halted economic activity in Kenya? How in the world does a Barack Obama victory keep it going?

Joseph needs to scale back his expectations; if Obama can't even get 25 million Americans to work, he can't very well be expected to get Kenyans to work, too.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

In Other News...

I don't want to talk about it. And I won't for a while. What is there to talk about? There's no turning back now. It's just a matter of managing the decline.

Meanwhile, there's something I've been hearing on the radio that drives me absolutely IN-SANE: Laura Ingraham's inability to pronounce the word "regularly." She does this ad for a computer back-up service where she says, "Back them up regurly!" I don't understand why the producer didn't say, "Cut! Laura, try that again and read all the letters this time." Maybe they only had so much tape on hand? Or maybe Laura can't actually say the word "regularly." My father-in-law can't say the word "oranges." Ain't no shame in it, Laura. You should just respond how my father-in-law does, with elaborate circumlocutions to avoid the word. "Back them up at rhythmic intervals!" Problem solved.