Thursday, June 28, 2012

Terrible Apostrophes at the Movies

This movie is called Looper. The eponymous character is one of many so-called "loopers," time-traveling assassins. So if this wall file is for all the loopers, the apostrophe should go at the end of the word. As it is, the sign applies to only one looper, which is a less-credible interpretation, given that the sign refers to multiple "guns." This could be a gramatically-correct sign, but only in the third- or fourth-most-obvious reading. The safer bet is that someone just threw a random apostrophe in there.

Nine thumbs down.

Tyranny and Choice

You always have a choice.

Imagine the most naked tyranny possible, an autocrat who declares, "Do as I say or be destroyed." Even this edict is presented as a choice. You can a) do what he says, or b) be destroyed. It's up to you. It's always up to you.

This is important to remember, for it gives the lie to those who would argue that the presence of a choice means an absence of tyranny. "Look, the government isn't tyrannical; it allowed you to choose between several options." Choice alone does not signal the absence of tyranny.

The Supreme Court today ruled 5-4 that the Constitution is meaningless, that compelling action under threat of taxation does not destroy liberty. The Affordable Care Act says simply, "Do as we say or be taxed," and the Supreme Court found that the presence of a choice meant the citizens are still free. John Marshall said, "The power to tax involves the power to destroy." Congress can now tax any behavior it wants, which means it can destroy any citizen not complying with its wishes.

Yes, the court's majority writes, "The payment is not so high that there is really no choice but to buy health insurance" (11-393, Syllabus, 4.b), which is more of a challenge to Congress than a guiding principle. Do the justices know my finances? Who are they to say if "the payment is not so high"? This is a recipe for revolution; Congress can tax anything it wants at whatever rate it feels, and we'll know it's overstepped its bounds when the people rise up. A court that makes such rulings is destabilizing and dangerous. It is inviting both sides to dig in, fight harder, and fight dirtier. You'll know you've reached the limit when people start dying.

The Chief Justice's opinion sites "our own limited role in policing [the limits of the Government's power]" (p. 2). So now he's going to get all anti-Marbury on us? "Look, there's only so much I can do" doesn't work when the other two branches of the government don't behave the same. Prior to 1803, each branch was supposed to police itself; for 209 years now, the executive and the legislative see what they can get away with. Now the judicial branch is saying, "Well, I can't make them behave." So now two branches of government run amok, and it falls to the states to oppose them. Again, this is destabilizing and dangerous. It turns the clock back to the 1850s and invites nullification efforts. A second Civil War looms in this.

Roberts begins his opinion with a tutorial on the limitation of powers and the Tenth Amendment. Fine if not for the decimation the Tenth Amendment received this week. It's one thing to say "Congress can't do anything it's not expressly allowed, and states can do anything they aren't expressly forbidden," but quite another to find Constitutional provision for requiring commercial action and find Constitutional prohibition of a state enforcing its borders. The Chief Justice's citation of the Tenth Amendment is the legal equivalent of pissing on our collective leg and telling us it's raining.

The Chief Justice writes, "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices" (p. 6). The problem is the people have been conditioned to expect that very thing from the court. And this raises the question: what if the people's political choices are blatantly contrary to the Constitution? Is the Chief Justice saying the court would acquiesce? Then what is the purpose of the court, anyway?

This is a terrible decision that moves us much, much closer to disunion and anarchy. When we reach that point will be our choice. There's always a choice.

My Future Inclusion in the Local Paper's Police Beat

Ah, the police beat. At BYU, the policy beat of The Daily Universe was where you went for funny stories of harmless college pranks and for cautionary tales of wayward church members. The local paper in our current town, Bakersfield-Near-the-Potomac, contains a "fugitive of the week" feature. We're yet to personally know a fugitive, but we've shared a neighborhood with many.

I've never been included in the police beat myself, but that might all change now that I've learned you can find your way there through farting. I expect I'll be next week's highlighted fugitive.

Decadence

When I watch highlights on mlb.com, I often have to watch this commercial.

This is infuriating. Not only do we get the willies if we are unable to send and receive texts, and not only do we experience withdrawal if we can't watch something moving on a screen, but we have to be able to do them simultaneously. That's an appropriate use of human endeavor. Oh, and we have to be a total dick about letting other people find out about this new technology. "Yet I'm doing it, jackass!"

A few months ago we saw an ad touting the ability to watch TV anywhere on your phone. In the ad is a guy sitting on a basketball sideline, temporarily out of the game, watching TV. Because only a sucker would continue to look at flesh-and-blood friends longer than necessary. You could be watching last night's primetime television instead!

I totally get the fact that most Americans are ashamed/disappointed/pissed/despondant over their meaningless lives; I'm right there with you, compatriates! But this need for constant technological entertainment is no different from a crack addiction, except that crack will make you skinny, while sitting on your ass staring at a screen will not. The government's effort to ensure every citizen has access to television makes it the modern version of a Roman circus. Don't think, citizen, just watch the latest superhero movie instead.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Revolution Will Be an Awkward Surprise

Saturday we went to run some errands as a family. Driving away from our town, we were passed by a Toyota Land Cruiser (with gold lettering) bearing an enormous rear-window sticker of Che Guevara.

A Land Cruiser starts at $78,000. Median household income is less than 2/3 of that. If Che were alive, he'd shoot those people, sell their car, and give the money to the poor. But, you know, it's cool to be down with the revolution, bro. Che didn't hate plutocrats like me, he just hated all the other plutocrats.

Driving back home, we were stopped at a traffic light behind a Chevrolet Suburban with a sticker declaring the owner is one of "the 99%." You know how I know you suck at math? You're an American driving a $42,000 car, yet you think you're in the bottom 99% of the world's wealthiest people.

These people aren't poor, they're just not as rich as others. Is that the new working definition of "poor"? These people are the gentleman socialists who will be surprised to find themselves against the wall when their cherished revolution finally comes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Elevator Repairmen Conversation

Elevator Repairman #1: "Kenny Chesney's a fag."

Elevator Repairman #2: "Kenny Chesney's my father-in-law."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

An Unflattering Economic Theory of Stupidity

My wife and I have commented to each other about the money seemingly left on the table by Craigslist scammers with poor grammar skills. If they just enrolled in a correspondence class, they'd be millionaires! (More so, anyway.)

Here's an article speculating about why scammers write terrible e-mails, and it's probably not a comforting theory for the victims: they write that way to make sure you're stupid enough to scam.

This might smack of blaming the victim, but doesn't it seem like we cut victims too much slack these days? I wonder if this theory would allow for a sufficient defense. "Your Honor, the e-mail was an obvious scam, full of garbled English and repeated claims of Christian values. By responding, the plaintiff indicated a willingness to be scammed. I merely complied with those wishes."

Poor Talk

A Random Stranger [recording receipts]: What did you buy that was $9.47 each for two of them?

My Wife: Nine forty-seven? Two of them?

A Random Stranger: Yeah.

My Wife: Oh, it was your Father's Day present. I couldn't think of it and I was wondering, "What super-expensive things would I have bought like that?".

In related news, I was looking at the Verizon FiOS mailer that came today and I thought, "I cannot believe that there are people on earth who spend $100 per month on television."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"How Do You Think He Rides a Bike?"

First, let me explain my history with the movie "The Breakfast Club." No, there is too much; let me sum up. Growing up, I saw the movie repeatedly on TBS (like how Lifetime is always showing "Office Space"). I wasn't yet aware that movies were edited for content when aired on television, so when I went over to a friends' house and saw they had "The Breakfast Club" on tape, I suggested we watch it. It wasn't too much later that their mother came in and told us we had to turn it off. It turns out there're a lot of scenes they don't show on TBS.

This isn't one of those.

What got me thinking about this today? Well, first my friend Miss Jill blogged about hard-up middle-aged globe-trotting women. (Don't worry; she's a globe-trotter, but I know she's not middle-aged (and I'm supposing she's not hard-up).) I read the story she linked to, and at the bottom, saw this unbelievable story here.

Based on the pictures, I'd say he doesn't ride a bike at all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

It's Actually Cheaper to Hoard

I've written before about our borderline hoarding tendencies when it comes to books. My wife and I love books and read a lot, and we have built up a substantial little library. But as our crushing poverty dragged on, I began to wonder if part of the lesson we were supposed to learn was a changed relationship to money and things. Things aren't important, and that includes books.

So I went through our books and identified about 20% to get rid of. And then, because I was busy with other things and we never actually got down to needing the book-resale money to buy food, I hadn't done anything else with them. They were still a pile when my parents came for a recent visit. My mother asked why they were set aside and I said, "We're going to sell those." She said, "I never thought I'd hear you say those words about books!" Then I upped the awkward quotient by saying, "I never thought we'd be this poor."

Saturday I took the first batch of them to the local used-book store, which gets its stock through buying from folks like me. When we first moved to town we took a small collection of books to them and got nearly $30 in store credit. (They offer slightly more in credit than in cash.) With that as our measuring stick, I took the first portion of our resell stack (total list price: $650) to the store to see what they would give me.

I knew going into it that I couldn't expect $650. I couldn't expect half that, or even a quarter. But based on our previous experience and my observations of the store's pricing, I was hoping for maybe $40.

They offered me four dollars.

Then, when I called the sale off, they had to go around gathering up my books, which had already been scattered to the shelving winds. They gave me a smaller stack than I brought in. I said, "Is this all of them?" The clerk said, "Yeah, we were going to buy ten books and I brought you ten." Except when I got out to the car and checked against the list of books I'd brought, two were missing. I had to go back inside with my list to show them what to find. When they brought the kiestered books forward, they had been priced to sell for a total of over five dollars. The 12 books they were going to buy had been priced at over $22.

I know I can't expect the store to pay me their resale price. They have to pay clerks, electrical bills, and rent on their tenant space. But 500% markup seems excessive. And now I've got about 200 books that I don't know what to do with. Maybe I should open a used-book store.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"You Will Find True Love on Flag Day"

No, fortune-writing Homer, I didn't find true love on Flag Day. I spent the day in Baltimore. I'll blog more about it tomorrow (because if my reading public wants anything, it wants half-assed summaries of day-trips to Baltimore). In the meantime, whet your appetite with this absolutely true conversation transcript.

MY WIFE: They must have a lot of police in this town. Why have we seen so many around?

A RANDOM STRANGER: Are you kidding? Because Baltimore is a black hole of murder and drugs.

MY WIFE: Oh, yeah.

As an added note, when I checked the news this morning I found this article ranking Baltimore as the ninth most-dangerous city in the U.S. So even when it comes to crime, Baltimore puts in an underwhelming performance.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lots of Piddley Crap

I wish I could tell you I haven't been posting regularly because I'm very busy with important things. But I'm not.

My dissertation is still nothing more than a (very) poorly conceived idea. Instead, I'm busy accumulating low-pay, no-benefits jobs. I'm about to get hired for Job #4, it seems. Job #1 is requiring a lot of me in June, and Job #2 has suddenly gone the same way. Job #3 starts the first week of July, so June will involve some preparation, and Job #4 doesn't start until the end of August, but it's 100 miles away and we're going to have to decide whether to move at the end of the summer. Meanwhile, our fourth kid is due in August, also. (Maybe it's just something about the number 4. I have four jobs and four kids, I'm working on my fourth degree, and my net worth is about $4.)

Anyway, I am busy, but not with anything that actually means anything. Just a bunch of grading and lesson planning and taking notes of phone conversations.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

People Shouldn't Be Allowed to Do What I Shouldn't Have Done

I met my wife at the age of six. When we got married, I was 23 and she was 22. We've been married for 11 years.

I'm not going around advocating that, because it worked out for me, everyone should be forced to marry a childhood acquaintance. But then, I'm not an idiot "public relations professional" writing for the Huffington Post.

I don't understand the complete lack of rational thought displayed here. Even chimps can understand cause and effect. One chimp falls out of a tree and the others don't think, "Maybe we shouldn't be in these dangerous trees!" Instead they think, "Huh, some idiot chimp doesn't know how to keep from falling."

It's a regular feature of liberal thought to advocate removing liberty where someone once misused it. Jennifer Nagy is no different, generalizing from her poor decisions to the idea that no one should be allowed to make similar decisions. This thinking would lead to keeping all people from doing anything that caused anyone harm or sadness.

Sometimes it's hard to argue against such thinking, because it's not really thinking at all. I feel like Mr. Hand: "What are you people--on dope?!"

Which Downton Abbey Character Are You?

If you're an American, you watch a lot of TV. And if you're like most Americans, you watch Downton Abbey. Here's a helpful guide to your inner psyche.

  • You Identify With: John Bates You think you're humble and polite, and that you're much harder on yourself than you have reason to be. You think you carry inner scars and somehow soldier through in a most resilient fashion.

    You're Actually Like: Thomas Barrow You're quiet because you're spiteful, plotting the downfall of all and sundry. Your inner scars are self-made, but you let yourself off the hook with shocking alacrity.

  • You Identify With: Anna Smith You think when you love, you love for ever. It doesn't matter what the other person does, you are sure you're loyal. You learn other people's business so you can help them when they sex up a Turkish diplomat to death (honestly, who hasn't been there?).

    You're Actually Like: Sarah O'Brien Love may come and go, but a grudge lasts forever. You learn other people's business so you can insinuate yourself in their lives to either subjugate them or destroy them. Also, your hair is terrible.

  • You Identify With: Daisy Robinson You might not be the smartest person around, but you think you are honest and kind-hearted.

    You're Actually Like: Edith Crawley You're smart enough to know you're not smart, which makes you angry at the world. You oscilate between feeling sorry for yourself and undertaking misguided attempts to exact revenge on those around you.

  • You Identify With: Sybil Crawley You know you've had a lot of advantages, but you still want to do something meaningful and rewarding. You think you want to help other people, and if it weren't for the need to eat at a subsistence level, you'd immediately undertake some program to enrich the lives of the less-fortunate.

    You're Actually Like: Isobel Crawley You're convinced you know more than you do, and your devotion to your profession is just your way of constantly talking about your supposedly superior knowledge. You might have had some advantages, but you can always point to others who have more, which allows you to rationalize your excesses as "not as bad as others."

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Family Sensitivity

I was bitten by a dog Sunday evening. It began to swell, so my wife gave me some ice packs.

The dog that bit me wasn't as friendly-looking.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Meme Park

I know the tone of this article from The Weekly Standard wants me to think memes are destroying our culture, but even the author repeatedly references how funny some memes are. I'm ambivalent; I know late-stage empires devolve into navel-gazing, and I know America's gaze has been firmly fixed on its navel for at least 10 years now, but I can't deny lots of this crap makes me laugh.

Perhaps the most shocking quote from the article is this:

“Bed Intruder Song” (YouTube views: 101,883,932) lodged in the Billboard 100 and hit number one in Sweden.
Say what?! It turns out Sweden is even more culturally bankrupt that we are? To quote a meme, that's unpossible.

The Poop Abates

A plumber came Thursday afternoon and now we can use our toilets again. (I had to clean the back patio on my own, though.) Before he left, he made sure to tell us our landlord is a great guy who fixes problems. Five days without toilets doesn't seem like "fixing a problem."