Friday, March 30, 2012

Imagine This Title Is a Pun on Sense/Cents

The U.S. Congress might force the dollar coin down the nation's collective throat. (Not literally; that's something they do individually with call girls at the Watergate.) Although 70% of surveyed Americans support the continued production of the dollar bill, using a coin instead of a bill would save hundreds of millions of dollars.

There's an idea in economics that people should be willing to pay the same amount to keep something as they would need to be paid to give it up (remember that 52-weeks-of-pay you get for losing your penis and think about that). When someone is willing to pay no more than $2 to get you to stop smoking but says you'd have to pay him $10 for the right to smoke, he's inflating the second number. After all, if $5 is not enough for him to allow smoking, then he should be willing to part with $5 to create a smoke-free environment.

Americans think they have a right to a dollar bill, so they will overvalue what they need when you take it away. But if we could make the use of dollar bills correctly reflect their production costs by charging, say, $1.25 to buy one, you would see dollar bills fall out of circulation all on their own.

Instead of asking people, who have a status quo bias, this change just needs to happen, like Canada's retiring of the penny at the end of the year. America needs to retire the penny, nickel, and one-dollar-bill.

Neither Rain Nor Something Else Nor Penis Loss Nor Snow

The Post Office never seemed this dangerous to me. (Aside from the whole "gone postal" metaphor, I guess.)

How can you lose the function of your penis on the job? ("Attacked by a dog." - My wife.) And at nearly four years' pay, I am seriously tempted to join the Post Office and lose my penis.


I had to talk about advertising for three hours today. It turns out I hate advertising.

Advertising is indistinguishable from rent-seeking. They both spend money unproductively to do nothing but increase monopoly profits. And when advertising is successful it increases deadweight loss, so some consumers are worse off because they now know about products they want but can't afford.

Also, advertising is said to be needed to inform consumers, but if that were true, increasing information would decrease the need for advertising. Instead, the proliferation of media has increased advertising.

I think we think we need ads because we think our economy is based on consuming. Consuming doesn't produce anything. Resources that are consumed are extinguished. Advertising spends billions per year (the 25 American companies that spend the most of advertising annually all spend more than a billion dollars EACH) to convince you to either buy non-productive resources or to feel bad about not being able to afford to.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Turing Test for Christians

From Wikipedia:

The Turing test is a test of a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour [sic]. In Turing's original illustrative example, a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test.
What about something similar for judging Christianity?

A judge asks questions of a person and based on the responses, has to determine if the person is Christian or not. The questions have to have a legitimate basis as determinants of Christianity (I can't say only people who like green M&Ms are Christian and then ask your favorite color of M&M). What would be a legitimate basis? I think a scriptural reference from the Bible would be good enough.

How quickly would such a test lead the questioner to say, "But I know you don't really believe that"? My experience as a missionary was that the conversation devolved to that quite quickly. One such conversation is instructive. The man told me I was not Christian. I asked him what he did to be Christian. He said he "accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior." I said, "I've done that, too." He said, "No, you haven't." I said, "Even if I've never done it before, I'm doing it right now." He said, "I've got someplace I've got to be."

Not only can self-professed "Christians" not judge the Christianity of another without placing words in God's mouth, they often have little compunction making a dime from the atonement of Christ. Last weekend we drove through Stanardsville, VA (which my wife dislikes for not being named Standardsville, a name which seems easier to say). The town (population: 476) has a business named Virginia Computer Guys. The "T" in "computer" is a glowing cross.

What does it mean to label your business as "Christian"? Our local "Christian" talk radio station has ads for just about every "Christian" thing you can think of. Mechanics, health insurance, gutter repairmen. It means one of four things.

  1. It's a stand-in for "honest," "moral," or any other positive trait. Then why not just say "honest" or "moral"? Because those don't signal bigotry. If two mechanics are both "honest," but only one is "Christian," the bigoted customer needs to know where to take his business.
  2. It's a more-serious signal than "honest". Maybe someone will dishonestly label himself "honest," and you think it's less likely he'll try to profit off fake Christianity. But how Christian is it to try to profit off Christianity at all?
  3. It's a way to profit off religion. The mechanic is not being rewarded for his honesty, but for his religion, which is now a marketing ploy.
  4. It's a stand-in for "like you." Again, this is just a signal of bigotry.

A friend of mine talks about how her doctor is a "good Christian." I couldn't care less. How is he as a doctor? As a moral person? Our first obstetrician could have been Hindu, and I didn't care; she was competent, professional, and ethical. Since those are the things that actually matter in a doctor, I didn't bother finding out if she was Christian or Hindu.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Angry Dad

My kids have seen the episode of The Simpsons where Bart makes his "Angry Dad" comic (and I think they have seen the one where the comic gets optioned for a movie), so Crazy Jane had that influence when she decided to offer her expertise to other tormented children.

The "mad dad" appears to be loosely based on me (it might be a coincidence that I own a t-shirt that reads "Watch Out: Mad Dad!").

More Church Comics

Mail Bag - Mail-Order Edition

My wife writes:

I can't believe you have an entire post about the Sears catalog and failed to mention that your grandma bought a monkey from one.
Actually, my grandma bought her monkey from the Spiegel catalog.

Photo from here.

Evidently the monkey hated my father and would attack him. He bit my father's finger to the bone. My grandpa killed the monkey and buried it in the yard.

And this is what's wrong with America today. How am I ever going to have the experience of killing a monkey? Come to think of it, there are all kinds of experiences my grandpas had that I can't have, like shooting Germans. Thanks a heap, "progress.", Circa 1900

I gave my class an assignment to write about any aspect of the history of Sears Roebuck they wanted. In reading their responses, I realize that the Sears Roebuck catalog of 100 years ago was the of its day. It allowed small-town customers to see a wider variety of products at lower prices than their local stores could give them. It would be interesting to see if there was social pressure to "buy local" back in the day. Did you get evil looks from the local tractor salesman when your new tractor arrived on the train?

Needless to say, Sears Roebuck did not usher in the demise of society. I'll keep right on buying my books from Amazon (including e-books!). Arguing against technological advancement is arguing for poverty. Of course you have the right to be voluntarily poorer, but have the decency to allow others less fortunate to make their own decisions about how wasteful they want to be.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Baby Beavis

"We should name a baby Beavis so when it gets crazy Daddy can say, 'Settle down, Beavis.'" - Jerome Jerome the Metronome

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I used to say my motivations for homeschooling changed when the kids got older: in earlier grades it was because of teacher and curriculum concerns, and in later grades I had the additional concern of classmates.

Maybe I shouldn't make that distinction. I don't want my fourth- and second-grader kids in classrooms where oral sex is happening.

"Just live in a good district," you say, which is tantamount to saying, "Just be rich." There is an argument that most second incomes fund real estate bidding wars to secure homes in such districts. Homeschooling is how a one-income family can make sure oral sex isn't happening in the classroom (at least until "parent-teacher conferences," which can get a little wild).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tax Gouging in Harrisonburg

After a long day hiking, we ordered $22.37 of Taco Bell in Harrisonburg. (I thought if you spent more than $20 at a Taco Bell, they gave you a franchise.) We paid $2.46 in tax. That's an 11-precent tax rate.

We needed more food and went back to buy $3.57 more. We paid $0.39 tax. That's a 10.92-percent tax rate.

The City of Harrisonburg's website says it charges a six-percent tax on prepared food. The County of Rockingham's website says it doesn't collect sales tax on businesses within the city. So the 11-percent tax rate is a mystery.

Why were we even in the Harrisonburg Taco Bell? Because the Taco Bell in Staunton had a broken steamer. My kids had spent all day looking forward to Cheese Roll-Ups for dinner (such are the anticipations of the children of the poor). The cashier said, "We can try to cook it on the grill," but when she went to get approval, her supervisor said there was no way that could happen. They had the ingredients for Cheese Roll-Ups, and they had a means of cooking them, but they could not sell us Cheese Roll-Ups. So we drove to Harrisonburg and paid $1.50 in "mystery tax."

Every Taco Bell in the Shenandoah Valley should be struck by lightning tonight.

I Don't Feel Like Coming Up With a Title

We recently had a family discussion about best names for a baby. Here are the results:

  • Jerome Jerome the Metronome:

    BOY: Darth Vader, Jacob, or Blanky-Drakey

    GIRL: Princess Leia

  • Articulate Joe:

    BOY: Clone Trooper

    GIRL: Death Star

  • Crazy Jane:

    BOY: Jacob or John

    GIRL: Kate or Katelyn

  • My Wife:

    BOY: Henry

    GIRL: Adelaide

  • A Random Stranger:

    BOY: Calvin

    GIRL: Astra

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Useful Advice From Jesus

"Remember, my children, what my brother said to you, and to whom he commended you; and know that if you refrain from this filthy intercourse you become temples holy and pure, being released from afflictions and troubles, known and unknown, and you will not be involved in the cares of life and of children, whose end is destruction. But if you get many children, for their sakes you become grasping and avaricious, plundering orphans and deceiving widows, and by doing this you subject yourselves to most grevious punishments. For most children become unprofitable, being possessed by demons, some openly and some secretly. For they become either deaf or dumb or paralytics or idiots. And though they be healthy, they will be again good-for-nothing, doing unprofitable and abominable works. For they will be detected either in adultery or in murder or in theft or in unchastity, and by all these you will be afflicted. But if you obey and preserve your souls pure to God, there will be born to you living children, untouched by these hurtful things, and you will be without care, spending an untroubled life, free from grief and care, looking forward to receive that incorruptible and true marriage, and you will enter as groomsmen into that bridal chamber full of immortality and light." - The Acts of Thomas, Chapter 12

Ehrman, Bart D. (2003).Lost Scriptures: Books That Did Not Make It Into the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press: p. 126-7.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lyrical Interpretation

Today's ambiguous lyric comes from the song "Simple Math" by Manchester Orchestra. The line in question can be heard two ways:

  • What if you believed me? Everything is brilliant.
  • What if you believed me everything is brilliant?
The first option seems to indicate that things would be brilliant if the listener believed the narrator, while the second option seems to indicate that the narrator wants the listener to believe specifically that everything is brilliant.

Other great lines from the song include "I want to rip your lips off in my mouth," (but that one's slightly less ambiguous) and "What if you were crazy, would we have to listen then?" Just to make this post seem more substantial, I'll include the music video, which is pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gun Shy

Now I'm afraid to share anything until things are going well for me. That might mean this blog will be on indefinite hiatus.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Best Candidate Not Running

National Review has a piece wondering why Paul Ryan isn't running for president.

Wouldn't a Ron Paul/Paul Ryan ticket have awesome campaign signs? RON PAUL RYAN. It's like promoting Major Major Major to the rank of major: it just has to be done.

Network Fixed

Expect nothing but blogging from here on out.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Various Bits

  1. Three months ago I wrote

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

    I want to thank our anonymous benefactor, but I also want to say it never has to be repeated. Not that I've exaggerated our situation, but we are all still alive and our current bankruptcy-expected date is over a month away, and no matter how close we come to that date (in the past we've been as close as three days), something always pushes it a little further into the future. I'd feel terrible if our donor went without needs when I'm sure our needs will eventually be met. (Smart-ass response: didn't this push the date into the future? Touche.) Anyway, thank you, but try not to do it again. And I'll try to provide for my family like a regular person should so you won't feel like you need to do this again.

  2. Baseball fans aren't supposed to read too much into spring training results, but for a Pirates fan like me, spring training results are all we've got. So I'll take a moment here to note Wednesday's 11-5 victory over Baltimore and Thursday's 17-6 victory over Minnesota (complete with a 10-run first inning). I fully expect the rest of my baseball posts this season to be filled with much more complaining.

  3. I've written before how much I love Paul Ryan. Just yesterday I told my daughter, apropos of nothing, "If Mom died, I'd marry Paul Ryan." She just sort of blinked and walked away. But watching this video of Paul Ryan makes me sadder with the current crop of presidential candidates.

  4. Speaking of videos that make me sad, here's another. The fact that Judge Napolitano got fired for this makes me despair for our country.

  5. Crosby's back again, and the Penguins destroyed the Rangers. Pittsburgh's won 10 in a row. Things are going great for the Pens right now.

  6. It's the holidays for me this week. The weather's been great. I've done some reading and thought about what I should be doing for my dissertation. (Thinking about it's more than I've done in the past. Baby steps.)

  7. Our home network is still down, and with it being the holidays, I haven't been going to school. Hence the relative lack of blog posts. The network might get corrected tomorrow night. We invited a family over for dinner whose husband can fix such things.

  8. Of course this story has a lot of problems (data are "still being collected," the report is by an organization with a vested interest in the achieved outcome, et cetera), but I think the general conclusion is pretty irrefutable: overpopulation and anemic food production are not the sources of poverty. Vast amounts of food go to waste. As God has said, "For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare."

  9. I could totally see the end of the world coming in the next six months. Not that things are terrible right now, but that things are set to get terrible really quickly, you know what I mean?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Running Image

My running comes and goes. My most-recent bout began in November. The first week of January I was very worried that people would see me running and think, "There goes one of those idiots who made a resolution to run and will quit after a week." I wanted to carry a sign that read, "I've actually been doing this for months now."

The weather this week is wonderful, and my school is on Spring Break, so I've had more time to run. Again, I'm worried people will think, "He's only out here because the weather is great."

It's sort of weird how much I'm worried about what people think. My actions don't depend on what people think, mind you, but I am concerned about how my given actions are perceived. I'm going to do what I want, but I'll be uncomfortable with how it might look.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

High-Brow Conversation

MY WIFE: I saw this show once about the genetics of babies, and how women who have affairs pick men who look like their husbands. It may be because they have a 'type,' but it also may be so the baby will look like their husbands. This particular show was about women who were having affairs with their husbands' brothers.

A RANDOM STRANGER: At first it sounded like you'd watched an educational show, but by the end it was obvious you just watched Jerry Springer.

MY WIFE: It wasn't Jerry Springer. It might have been Montel Williams, though.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Another Fundamental Truth of Life Discovered

Our chapel has horrible acoustics and is filled with screaming children, so I haven't really understood anything that's been said in church in two-and-a-half years. I think that obliviousness has made me think I've become more charitable. Because last week I shared my testimony, which meant I had to sit up front waiting my turn, which meant I couldn't be reading my book. I had to listen, and I learned a new Fundamental Truth of Life: it's much harder to be charitable when you're paying attention.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Political Paranoia

Some background for any non-Mormon readers: the Introduction to the Book of Mormon reads in part

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas.... The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites....
Ezra Taft Benson, 13th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said was written for our day. The Nephites never had the book; neither did the Lamanites of ancient times. It was meant for us. Mormon wrote near the end of the Nephite civilization. Under the inspiration of God, who sees all things from the beginning, he abridged centuries of records, choosing the stories, speeches, and events that would be most helpful to us.
One of the major themes of the Book of Mormon is the way "secret combinations" destroy free government.

Here are my thoughts: a secret society is only good so long as it remains secret. Mormon writes 400 years later about how Kishkumen killed Pahoran, and then notes, "Kishkumen was not known among the people of Nephi, for he was in disguise at the time that he murdered Pahoran." In other words, at the time of the murder their secret was still under wraps. So wouldn't Kishkumen and his followers have appeared to the average citizen as a conspiracy theory?

Part of me wants to be reasonable and think, "Political conspiracies are crazy talk." But my belief in the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon leads me to believe there are secret combinations seeking power and authority today, and those combinations would be unknown to the average citizen, and conspiracy theorists who think they know something about them would appear to be crazed wackos. Shouldn't more Mormons be into conspiracy theories?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Life At the Margin

My son flushed a toilet before we left town for the weekend. The toilet ran all weekend. Our water bill for the month is $110 more than it would have been. And that's how we go bankrupt.

I can't even begin to describe how much I hate my life. Everything in it is terrible. Everything in it is wrong. I have ONE THING I'm supposed to be doing, and it's the one thing I can't do because I have to spend all my time and effort trying to scrape together cash for a water bill. And nothing gets better. Nothing will ever get better. All that happens is we get miraculously saved from starving to death. Yeah, there should be some gratitude for that, but I can't help but notice it's the absolute minimum that was required. It's like a guy sinking in quicksand being given a tuna can to stand on. Okay, it helps, but barely.

We entered the school year expecting to get $Y in grants, loans, and scholarships. In September we found out we were going to get $(Y-20,000). Then in January we found out we were going to get $4,000 less than THAT. Then my school tried to charge me a $2,000 penalty. The penalty has been removed. That's great, but my enthusiasm is somewhat tempered by the $24,000 we planned on getting that we don't have.

Let's say resources, r, are distributed on an interval 0 to 10, where r=0 means you have nothing and r=10 means you have everything. There is some amount of resources, X, that is the minimum required to keep you alive. For any value of r less than X, you die. How can you tell when you are at X?

You have your initial endowment, r*, and you subtract off an arbitrarily-small amount, ε. If r*-ε keeps you alive, then you know r* did not equal X. You continually repeat this process.

Here's the thing: you cannot discover the value of X without moving beyond it. When r'-ε kills you, then you know r'=X. Trying to find the minimum amount of resources necessary to sustain life requires killing the test subject.

The same thing is true of strength tests. Product testers don't see if the product can withstand 10,000 uses and then quit; they use the product until it breaks and then declare it withstood one fewer use. You cannot determine how strong something is without breaking it.

And how much joy is there in a life spent with X resources? Joy is unnecessary, so by definition anything in your life which gives you joy is superfluous. The subsistence life, where r=X, must be joyless. Welcome to my subsistence life.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Blogger Conference

We had Miss Jill over for dinner last night, and she didn't embarrass herself (too badly). She expressed overwhelming concern for our well-being when she learned that our home wireless network is down. I believe her direct quote was, "I couldn't live like that!" Then when she found out it had only been down for one day, her concern vanished.

I hope I said something awful enough to make an appearance on her blog.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Truly Marvelous Invention

I need to get one of these. Just off the top of my head, I can come up with half-a-dozen people on whom I'd use this.

  1. Girl on the bus who yells on her phone
  2. Primary singing time leader
  3. Crazy-ass ward member
  4. Student who pontificates during class
  5. Classmate who pontificates during Q-and-A sessions
  6. Classmate who always mentions how awesome his research agenda is
The freedom of speech aspect of it is intriguing, but I am willing to trade in your First Amendment rights to get me some peace and quiet around here.

Friday, March 02, 2012

World's Greatest Moments in Hyperbole

What does a 6.7 GPA even mean? I feel like Garth Tralawney: "Nine thumbs up? What the hell is that?!" I mean, a 6.7 GPA would be expected for someone like Kim Jong-il:

The first time he bowled, Kim Jong-il scored a perfect 300, according to North Korean media. Similarly, in his first-ever round of golf, he had five hole-in one holes for 38-under par round.
I guess this is what happens when everybody's above average.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

"Gets Her Through Her Busy Day"

Every year on her birthday, I tell Crazy Jane it's high time she got a job. Well, she's finally listened.

This all started the last time we visited our cousins. Evidently Girl Cousin (or maybe just Girl Cousin's friends, I'm not sure) works as a "mother's helper," which is sort of like an entry-level babysitter. It's for girls who are too young to be left alone with your kids, but who can watch your kids while you're elsewhere, getting your productivity on. When we came home, Crazy Jane mentioned to my wife that she wants to be a mother's helper. My wife (who has been blog-nickname-less since I asked for suggestions and got no responses) told her that might not work because we don't know any rich moms.

Crazy Jane was offended that my wife thought she was in it for the money. Apparently she just wants an excuse to play with younger children, and her brothers are busy shooting and cutting things. (Example: two days ago Jerome Jerome the Metronome acted out the Luke v. Darth lightsaber battle from the end of Return of the Jedi while narrating the entire thing for me. "Luke is looking out the window at a 'Tar Destroyer and his lightsaber is just a handle sitting next to the Emperor and then Luke turns and forces it into his hand and turns it on and they start battling, and the Emperor laughs, like this: 'Heh heh heh.'")

A friend in our ward was interested in a mother's helper, so Crazy Jane got her first customer. She started work yesterday.

At dinner I asked her, "How was work?" (It's been a long time since there's been a need to ask anyone that question in our house.) She said it was good. My wife asked, "Did you have to carry [Baby]?" Crazy Jane excitedly answered, "Yes!" My wife asked, "Did you have to carry [Toddler]?" Crazy Jane answered, less excitedly, "Yes." My wife jokingly asked, "Did you have to carry [Four-Year-Old]?" Crazy Jane answered, "Yes, she wanted me to carry her, too."

Later, she casually mentioned that she would get paid later in the week. This was when it all made sense to Articulate Joe, who is a capitalist pig at heart. He muttered to himself, "I need to get a job," and then was very embarrassed when he realized we'd all heard him.

Title from The Rolling Stones' song "Mother's Little Helper."