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


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


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


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


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


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


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?


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.