Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Stupidest Crayon of All

Several months ago I was cleaning out our crayon box (because our kids don't do a damn thing for themselves), and among all the stubs of blue, green, black, and red, I found the following:

Eleven full white crayons. Some in relatively-pristine condition.

What incentive does Crayola have to keep forcing white crayons on us? They could save money by just removing them from the box, but then people might object to the price staying the same while the quantity went down (but a quick trip to the grocery store shows you that this technique does not lead to an economic standstill). They could replace the white crayon with one we would actually use. One would suspect the cost to them would be identical. And if we assume you buy a new pack of crayons as soon as one gets too warn down, replacing the white crayon with a more-heavily used one could be expected to shorten the time it takes for replacement.

Why does Crayola insist on selling me crayons I don't want?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Doing God's Work

A man in England runs something called the Apostrophy Protection Society. And I wish him the best of luck.

His general approach is to educate, not berate. But in my view, education's overrated. Sometimes a little well-placed beratement can accomplish more than endless attempts at education. It's not like these folks going around abusing apostrophes haven't heard the rules before. I mean, there are only two of them:

  1. If your subject is singular (or irregularly plural), add an apostrophe AND AN S.
  2. If your subject is a regular plural, add an apostrophe.
Notice there is no allowance for spelling.

Bob and Sally Jones own a house. They are the Joneses, and it is the Joneses' house. Bob parks his car at work in his personal parking spot. He is Jones, and it is Jones's parking spot. ALL THREE words, Joneses, Joneses', and Jones's, are pronounced the same: JONE-zez. When you write Jones' you are saying there is something called a Jone, and that several of them collectively own something. Since this isn't what you mean, this isn't what you should write.

I Can't Find The Text of My Current Remarks, Senator

I've often wondered about the prophetic statement that "all the people of the earth" will be gathered together against Israel. I figured this would have to be after the destruction or severe limitation of the United States, as most nations would not risk America's wrath by attacking Israel.

Of course, the president's animosity towards Israel and the new defense secretary's thinly-veiled hatred of it can produce the same results.

Happy Armageddon, everybody!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Negotiating With Psychotics

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, I read a book entitled The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack. His main argument was that standard diplomacy wouldn't work with Saddam Hussein because the guy was nuts (my term, not Pollack's). Diplomacy requires sanity; you need the other guy to respond rationally to the incentives you create. If he's insane, threats don't deter.

Barack Obama is just such a psychotic.

He's out there saying the sequestration will require air travel to end, criminals to be set free, and teachers to lose their jobs. Rational opposition is saying, "None of that is true." But here's why it is: because he will make it true.

I just heard Newt Gingrich on the radio saying, "There's plenty of room to cut at the Department of Transportation." But Newt is thinking rationally, where the least-painful services should be cut first. Barack Obama thinks perversely, where the worst cuts happen first to "teach" Americans that all cuts are bad.

How do you get people to hate cuts, by shutting down barely-seen services, or by shuttering police departments? It is the Washington Monument Syndrome out of control, with no regard for economic health or physical safety.

The opposition is either unwilling or unable to see Barack Obama for what he is: a political hack with no conscience to hold him back from realizing his agenda. The president wanted sequestration and will make sure it is as damaging as possible, because he has 49% of the American people willing to believe anything he tells them. He can single-handedly destroy the nation (as he is well on the way to doing) and tell his acolytes he had nothing to do with it.

The end of America is going to be painful.

Advances in Commuting Technology

Evidently Newcastle United Football Club is proposing to add slides to long slopes between the gates of St. James' Park and the subway station. The article notes a slide exists at a Dutch train station, where it is called a "transfer accelerator." (Actually, since it's in Dutchia, it's called a "trjansfjer aksjelerjatjor".)

These actually wouldn't be so crazy if they weren't flush with the ground. Sitting down on something seat-high and getting off something seat-high would be a better fit for commuters. If it's just designed to be a bit of whimsy, or to give kids something to do while their parents take the stairs, then an at-grade slide is fine, but if they actually want to increase the number of people using it, a slight improvement will go a long way.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Little Late

The year was 1997. I can't really tell you much of what was going on in the world; it was the first year of my mission and I was a good missionary then. (I can tell you anything you need to know about 1998, though.) I was serving in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the bishop's wife was the seminary teacher. She asked me to memorize 2 Nephi 4:16-35 to recite to the class about six weeks later. She said, "I think it would have more power if they heard someone really say it instead of just read it." I told her that wouldn't be a problem. She said, "Are you sure? It's long, and it's only a few weeks away." I swore it would give me no trouble at all.

So confident was I that it would be easy, that I spent the first several weeks taking no action at all. Then, with about a week to go, I looked at the scripture and saw that she wasn't lying: it was long. So I began...hoping I'd get transferred that week. Which I did. The day I got the call I called up the bishop's wife and told her I was so sorry, that I was totally ready, but I was being transferred. I believe she said, "If you would like to come recite it tomorrow morning, we can hear it a little early." Unfortunately, I would be unavailable tomorrow morning.

For nearly 16 years now, I've thought, "I'm supposed to have that scripture memorized." And it had been on my plan of things to do. (I'm like a Communist; I've got all kinds of 16-year plans. Like learning Spanish and the piano.) In his October 2011 General Conference address, Elder Richard G. Scott recommended scripture memorization. "Great power can come from memorizing scriptures," he said. "To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change."

So for 2013 I've set a goal of memorizing 12 scriptural passages, and in January I started with 2 Nephi 4:16-35.

Like my effort in 1997, I spent the first several weeks not doing it. As a result, I didn't finish my January scripture until the middle of February. But I did finish it. (You'll have to take my word for it; the only way to prove it would be to post a video of me reciting it, and that seems a little weird.)

I'm back on track now, having finished February's scripture (Jacob 4:4-11), and tomorrow I'm even going to start March's scripture (D&C 121:34-46) early. That doesn't sound like me at all.

Left My List at Home

I have a list of my next few blog posts. But it's at home. And I'm not.

There's this insufferable guy in my program who has taken the "humble brag" and gone one-better by jettisoning most of the humility. He's told me before about how superior his intelligence is because he keeps all his documents on Google Drive, so he can access them from anywhere, ANYWHERE!, on any device. If I was doing that, I'd have the list right here with me. But I'm not. The list resides on an actual piece of paper, on my desk, at home. So no blog post today.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Credentialism, Part 2

Why do students waste their time in college? Because they can't get jobs otherwise.

The article quotes Adam Slipakoff as saying, "Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck." What Mr. Slipakoff's college education failed to teach him was that no one is seeking a paycheck qua paycheck; seeking a paycheck is the way in which we finance our futures. And spending tens of thousands of dollars for the right to earn $10 per hour is a commitment to the bleakest future possible.

What right does he have expecting a "career orientation" out of someone he's only paying $10 per hour? If you expect me to jump through your incredibly expensive hoop, you'd better demonstrate to me that you're as committed to our relationship as you expect me to be.

Continuing to be ignored is the issue of the varying returns to a college education. Not all bachelor's degrees are created equal. The article mentions Megan Parker, who incurred over $100,000 in debt for a bachelor's degree in fashion and retail management from an art institute. It would be easy for me to now write, "Ms. Parker is stupid," but is it really her fault that no responsible adult in her life pointed out to her that this was a stunningly poor choice, that the Federales didn't withhold the money from her when her career plan didn't match the costs, that she did exactly what everyone has told her to do since she was a little girl? This ad (the English-language version runs constantly on Fox Soccer Channel, but I'm too lazy to find the English-language version right now) makes the claim that every student can and should go to college. That is patently false. But the article's writer actually takes pains to hide that message: she (always a she these days) writes of the success story of the college-graduate file clerk who quickly moved up to paralegal. In an unconnected line, she notes that paralegals don't need bachelor's degrees, either. And the "gofer" is going to ruin his life forever by applying to law school, but the foreseeable tragedy goes unremarked upon.

Will I send my children to college? I don't think so. I have to believe they are talented enough to signal their skills without an overpriced degree that denotes no actual learning. I just hope the impending collapse comes by then so they aren't heavily penalized for failing to behave like the other drones.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Social Brutality Harnessed by the State

Prison is a brutal place. It doesn't have to be. But the authorities who could control it have decided that they get more value from prison brutality, so at best they allow it, and at worst they outright foster it.

This is unconscionable. If the State places me where all parties have a reasonable expectation of my rape, and I am then raped, the State is the guilty party.

Correcting this terrible injustice gets no traction because we like the idea of criminals being punished. "If you don't want to experience prison, don't break the law," we say, as if only law-breakers end up in prison and as if inhumane punishments are okay for a wide assortment of crimes. But the intentionally Byzantine tax code has made felons of us all; there but for the grace of Eric Holder go you.

In Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago he makes the point that the Soviet authorities got more mileage out of unspeakable prison behavior than they could ever get otherwise. Who wanted to go to the Gulag? It was a death sentence.

I know Oscar Pistorius isn't American, but this article could just as easily been about any high-profile American suspect not yet convicted. Surely we can agree that pre-conviction suspects don't deserve the "prison experience."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Advertising and Fixed Costs

I saw an article the other day that warned of the "re-fi apocalypse." This morning I listened to a talk radio commercial break that was comprised entirely of re-fi ads. The commercials told me that the article is probably accurate.

How do you know when a bubble is about to burst? When those with a lot at stake in the bubble's continuation are desperately trying to gin up business to avert the end. Think 2000 Super Bowl.

So when business turns down, what makes the difference between shutting down shop and increasing your advertising budget? When fixed costs are zero, the end of the bubble just signals that it's time to move on. When fixed costs are positive, you can't costlessly move on, so you have reason to advertise instead. We should expect the industries that most-vociferously fight business downturns to be the industries with the highest fixed costs. Is this what we see? Sort of: airlines and car manufacturers are known for not yet meeting a dollar they couldn't spend on advertising.

But what explains the Dot-Com Super Bowl? I would think those companies had quite low fixed costs. If I shut down my esoteric web-based business, I can sell all the computers to other businesses and auction off all the Aeron chairs. Maybe we have to look at opportunity cost: when I work at a place with free bagels, a ping-pong table in the conference room, and pizza parties every Friday, I'm going to really fight to preserve that lifestyle. The massive spending on dot-com Super Bowl ads reflected the high valuations the dot-com crowd placed on their phoney-baloney jobs.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Linguo Dead?!

I drove past a quarry today with a sign that read "STONE YARD."

I'd like to believe this is just a business name, that the majority of Americans know what a quarry is. But part of me is frightened that's not true.

A quarry, of course, is a fancy-pants term for a question.

Credentialism

I'm teaching an Industrial Organization class. It has a prerequisite of Intermediate Microeconomics, which has a prerequisite of Calculus I.

I have been showing them how to get from a demand equation to a marginal revenue equation. All hell has been breaking loose. Here are some of their problems:

  • Some students can't take Q = 10 - P and solve for P. They just switch Q and P, which works in that example, but doesn't work with Q = 15 - 3P.
  • Some students don't know the notation for a derivative. I write "dTR/dQ" and in their notes they write "2 TR/ 2Q".
  • Some students don't recognize that a derivative is not a fraction. They read "dTR/dQ" as "the derivative of total revenue divided by the derivative of quantity."
  • Some students don't know how to take the derivative at all. I tell them to use the chain rule and they wait for me to tell them what that is. I had to use the quotient rule last week and pandemonium ensued.
  • Some students don't know how to solve for consumer surplus with a linear demand function and a given price. When I said, "It's the area of this triangle," they needed me to tell them the formula for the area of a triangle.
This is an upper-division course at a fully-accredited university. I don't know what to do. I'm not really in a position to fail everyone, job-security-wise. If I produce a class GPA substantially lower than 3.0, I'll have some 'splainin' to do. We've got to keep up the credentialism.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Money for Nothing

I have a new theory that it's never worth fighting someone over money. Why spend time getting angry, planning my arguments, and having the actual confrontation, when I can just pay the money and be done with it? It feels so much better to write checks that make my problems go away. I wish all of my problems could be bought off. How much money do I need to throw at my dissertation to make it write itself?

My theory doesn't hold up, though, if more and more people are going to take advantage of me for larger and larger sums. Then I just go bankrupt. So I couldn't quite bring myself to write the last unjust check to T-Mobile without calling and complaining about it.

This was, of course, stupid of me. Now I've paid the money and had the hassle. I need to do one or the other, not both.

WL SHKSPR 4 DA MDRN READR: Julius Caesar

from Act III, Scene 2

Dudes, listen:

this is a funeral, not a roast.

Bad crap sticks around

but the good stuff doesn't.

Same for Caesar. Now Brutus

said Caesar was all too cool for school:

if he was that's bad,

and now he's dead.

If Brutus lets me--

'cause Brutus is totally cool, right Brutus?

And all you dudes, just be cool, right?

--I'll talk about Caesar.

Me and him was tight, yo.

But Brutus said he sucked.

But I thought Brutus was gonna be cool, right?

Caesar conquered some people

and made us all mad rich:

was this sucky?

When bad stuffed happened to you, Caesar was totally bummed out.

Sucky people don't do that crap.

But Brutus said he sucked.

Wasn't Brutus gonna be cool?

Remember when we had that party

and I was all, like, "Caesar, you should be king"

and he was all, like, "Nah"? Like, three times! Was this sucky?

But Brutus said he sucked.

And Brutus was totally gonna be cool, right?

I don't mean to say Brutus is full of crap,

so I'll just say this.

You thought Caesar was awesome, 'cause he was:

so why aren't you all sad and crap?

That don't make no sense, like you all animals and whatnot.

You crazy. Hold up:

I'm totally sad that he's gone

and I have to wait a bit until I'm not all "FML, Caesar's dead!".

Exuent.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Knowledge vs. Its Pretense

I walked into class last week and said, "You know, there's something inherently fraudulent in what we're all doing here."

One of my students said to his neighbor, "This ought to be good."

I said, "I present this material as if you're going to learn it, and you sit here like you intend to learn it, but no actual learning is going on. In terms of what it used to mean to be a college graduate, it doesn't mean that same thing anymore. I'm not blaming you; you're just functioning within the system that's been created for you. And I'm not saying I'm dramatically better; I was in the same system not that many years before you. But there's no real education going on here. It's all just credentialism."

Students want a degree to get the benefit of the degree, and the less work the degree requires, as long as it still produces the same benefits, the better. So students push back on instructor expectations and tell me how there's too much math in my course and don't attend class and expect lower standards because they've asked for them, and yet more students are in college and for longer periods of time than ever before.

How do I know they want credentials instead of knowledge? Because knowledge has never been more-widely available and cheaper than it is now, yet the cost increases of college continue to outpace inflation year after year. World-class educations are available for free, so why are we paying for substandard ones? Because the substandard education comes with a credential.

The reason I brought this up was because I was walking to class behind a seemingly extremely unintelligent college "student"* and it reminded me of Paul's description of people in the Last Days: "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." Stay in school for 20 years and then vote for statists once you graduate, thereby proving you didn't learn a single thing at all.

* = In Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind he mentions a college president who liked to respond to the question "How many students does your school have?" by answering, "Oh, probably six or seven."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nothing to See?

New Media has taken exception with the government ordering 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. So the Federales have dispatched an apparatchik AP reporter to tell us that there's really no controversy here.

DHS says it runs training programs that use "as many as 15 million rounds every year" as reason for it buying 750 million rounds this year. That's a 50-year supply. How many other government programs stockpile a 50-year supply of a material?

The article references SSA's announced purchase of 174,000 hollow point rounds last year. Not to worry, though: it turns out they are for fraud investigators. Because everyone knows a major component of investigating fraud is piercing armor.

This article doesn't actually contain a government explanation at all. At least not a credible one. And to end the article by noting Alex Jones didn't respond to a request for comment makes it seem like he's been shown up, whereas the biggest idiot in this whole story is the AP reporter who just said, "Oh, okay; I knew you probably had a really good reason you needed all those bullets!"

So do I think the Federales are going to put five bullets in every American (and have nearly 100 million rounds left over for shooting into the air on New Year's Eve)? No, but I suspect a 50-year stockpile looks prudent if you suspect your suppliers are about to be put out of business. But the AP tells me there's nothing to see here. Maybe back when the AP was credible, I would have believed it.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Daddy/Daughter Book Club 4: Penguin Cuisine

Crazy Jane and I discussed our Ernest Shackleton books. (I read his autobiography South while she read Jennifer Armstrong's Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.) She disliked that they ate penguins so much. I don't really get that; she's normally fairly level-headed, so why can't she see that starving men will eat birds, no matter how adorable?

She also really disliked that the dog handlers were in charge of shooting the dogs. (Mentioning it made her weepy.) She would have liked Shackleton to give someone else that job. But maybe he was initiating the trainers into his crime family* and testing their loyalty.

I pulled the following quotes for in-depth discussion.

A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground. (p. 75)

I have marveled often at the line that divides success from failure and the sudden turn that leads from apparently certain disaster to comparative safety. (pp. 173-4)

We had flung down the adze from the top of the fall and also the logbook and the cooker wrapped in one of our blouses. That was all, except our wet clothes, that we brought out of the Antarctic, which we had entered a year and a half before with well-found ship, full equipment, and high hopes. That was all of tangible things; but in memories we were rich. We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had "suffered, started, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole." We had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of men. (p. 200)

We also discussed the stupidity of war, as highlighted by the men who survived a year and a half stranded in Antarctica only to be killed by European civilization upon their return.

Of the fifty-three men who returned out of the fifty-six who left for the South, three have since been killed and five wounded. ... McCarthy, the best and most efficient of the sailors, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances, and who for these very reasons I chose to accompany me on the boat journey to South Georgia, was killed at his gun in the Channel. Cheetham, the veteran of the Antarctic, who had been more often south of the Antarctic Circle than any man, was drowned when the vessel he was serving in was torpedoed, a few weeks before the Armistice. (p. 333)
Governments have killed hundreds of millions of their citizens in the past 100 years.

The moral to take away from the Shackleton books was summed up in Roald Amundsen's quotation, "Do not let it be said that Shackleton has failed. No man fails who sets an example of high courage, of unbroken resolution, of unshrinking endurance" (pp. xii-xiii).

Next up for us is the Theodosia Throckmorton series by R.L. LaFevers, then Moby-Dick, and then Crazy Jane wants me to read Half Magic by Edward Eager.

* = Conversation.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Can you think of a movie or book where someone is given the task of murdering a family member to prove their commitment to the group? I know it's a common plot device, but I can't think of any specific instances right now.

MY WIFE: It seems like it's used a lot in any movie with a fraternity or a family. Like Legally Blonde.

ARS: Legally Blonde featured no murder.

MW: You mean actual murder? I thought you were giving an example.

ARS: No, real murder.

MW: Then maybe a gang autobiography or something.

ARS: Like Legally Blonde?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Signs and Wonders

Here's the hard part about trying to predict the end of the world by watching for foretold cataclysmic events: there have always been cataclysmic events. Does that meteor strike mean Jesus is just around the corner? Not necessarily. What about when combined with this afternoon's asteroid fly-by? It's open to interpretation.

But it's not a fool's errand to look for signs of Christ's coming; Jesus specifically commands his followers (in Matt. 24) to do so. I mean, there's really no reason to show signs in the heavens if we immediately discount them all as random natural phenomena.

Here's something else that's been sort of interesting to me lately: Baba Vanga's supposed prediction that America's 44th president would be its last, and Saint Malachy's supposed prediction that the incoming pope will be the last and Rome will be destroyed during his reign. Do these mean anything? I don't know. Far be it from believers in continual revelation to say these are prima facie false.

I'mma

I'm fascinated by the word "I'mma." It is a contraction of four words: "I am going to." It is then followed by the infinitive form of a verb. (It would be improper to say "I'mma the store." Instead, you would say "I'mma drive to the store.")

I don't really have much more to say about this. Just that I think "I'mma" is one of the most innovative changes to English in some time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

About Me, According to My Daughter

My wife was helping Crazy Jane clean her room last week and discovered this list my daughter had made of my personality traits.

Is this a contingency plan in case she gets amnesia? Or maybe she's checking me for consistency, to see if I'm a doppelgänger. Like when Homer Simpson got replaced by a German interloper.

Most of these items don't need explanation. (Actually, I'm kind of happy that the image of me she's picking up isn't that different from the one I thought I was displaying.) And the "songs that go 'uh' in the middle" is because of my senseless love of this song. (I ain't ashamed. Haters gon hate.)

Hiding My Squalor

I'm sitting in my office, and just now I was opening my nuts container (not a euphemism) and I accidentally spilled my nuts on the ground (still not a euphemism; will you grow up?!). I gathered them up, and then I had a decision to make. I could eat them or throw them away. Influencing this decision was the presence of a co-worker in the office.

So I took the gathered nuts outside the office to the hallway, where the trashcan is, and I then ate them. While using my free hand to fiddle with the lid of the trashcan so my coworker inside the office would hear the expected noise.

I feel like Lenny Leonard: "Please don't tell anyone how I live."

St. Valentine's Day

From the rap "No Lie" by 2 Chainz:

Thug life: one wife, a mistress, and a girlfriend.
It's an interesting point Mr. Chainz makes here: men have distinctive relationship needs. A wife is your respectable peer in public settings, manages your household, and raises your children. A mistress satisfies sexual urges and gives approval of your success. A girlfriend gives affection and is a focus for your affection. A man needs all three aspects of a relationship, and if any one is missing, he'll go find it in another relationship.

In terms of meeting these needs, my wife scores a 100% on being a wife and a 100% on being a mistress. (She's only "70% [my] girlfriend," though*, so she's got something she can work on in the future.)

Happy Valentine's Day! According to 2 Chainz, I'm living the thug life!

* = Direct quote of my wife, first week of January, 2001.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Who Is Worse?

Crazy Jane asked me an intriguing question a few weeks ago: "Who do you think is a worse president: Franklin Roosevelt or Barack Obama?"

I had to think about that one for a while. Here's what I came up with.

Franklin Roosevelt was ignorant of the implications of most of his policies. Some of this was because they'd never been tried before, so it could be said their results were not certain. (Although plenty of people at the time correctly foresaw the implications, but others had their reasons for disagreeing.) Some of the ignorance was because he wasn't bothered by implications. This seems to be because he wasn't smart enough to understand them.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is using policies that have been tried for the better part of 100 years in various statist havens. We can't say no one knows the coming outcomes. And he is, by all accounts, smart enough to understand the effects of his policies. While Roosevelt ignorantly pursued policies that destroyed personal liberty, Obama is doing it willfully. The loss of personal sovereignty is a feature, not a bug, of Obama's agenda.

This is why Barack Obama has replaced Franklin Roosevelt on my list of Worst Presidents Ever.

Panglossian Economics

A student passed along this article to me. I was intrigued by a few things economics professor Michael Smitka had to say.

"There is no chance whatsoever that hyperinflation will happen in the United States," he said. "Only countries that are on the brink of a complete political breakdown ever face this."

Um.

"The Federal Reserve in Richmond has multiple billions in cash reserves that can be infused into the Virginia economy if needed."

Infusing "multiple billions" into the economy isn't inflationary?

"I'd fear the competence of a state-level monetary board and state-level financial regulation more than the federal level."

What's to be feared is a monopoly of regulation and a monopoly board. Competing states introduce market discipline. A monopoly rules by political expediency. Hyperinflation comes when a government exhausts its traditional streams of revenue and reverts to money creation. If Smitka is so convinced we are not approaching such a moment, what is his explanation for why the White House took several days last month before speaking out against coin seigniorage debt solutions?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Derelicte

As I was driving today, I was thinking of how Europeans have to adjust to our car-centric society when they come here. I thought of how European society has not been built around individual car ownership in large part because Europeans aren't as rich as Americans (especially 30-40 years ago). This made me realize just how much of what we consider "sleek, sophisticated European styling" is really just compensation for comparative poverty. Minimalist design is necessary when you can't afford enough material to do the job the standard way.

Yet we lionize European styling. It seems to me like the original Derelicte campaign.

Paragon of American Education

In this informally-written news article ("her professor ... awarded her a big, fat zero for classroom participation") a student is suing her (always a her) university for breach of contract and sexual discrimination because she was given a C+.

As a university professor, no one has made me aware of any "contract" that promises the student a particular degree. But I've had plenty of students who begin finals week by letting me know what grade they "need" to graduate. Like I have a standard I'm supposed to meet. "You gave me a C, but I thought I told you I needed a B. Go back and try harder!"

The problem starts with terminology; students don't receive grades, they earn them. I don't give them a grade, I do the calculating to determine the grade they have earned for themselves. This student has demonstrated a complete inability to function in the modern world without favoritism and privilege (and an inability to perform a proper cost-benefit analysis; she shouldn't be compensated for the entirety of her foregone wages, only what would be in excess of her second-choice profession--which her finance professor father should know).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rankings Update

I took a nap the other evening, and when I woke up my wife told me, "[Jerome] has a lot more soccer players on his favorites list now." It turns out he came up with Nos. 7-9 (Robin van Persie, Peter Cech, and Fernando Torres), and he also rattled off his ordered list of favorite teams (Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Reading, DC United, Borussia Dortmund, Wigan, and Espanyol).

Once we got out the video camera, he was a lot more bashful, but still manages to list them all. It's worth watching the beginning just to hear him say "Zlatan Ibrahimovic."

Twenty-Eight Days of to Awesome

I didn't do enough prep work in January to hit the ground awesome on February 1st. So I think what's happening is February is when I'm getting my crap together, and by the end of the month, things will be running flawlessly.

Bee tee dubs, I have a bit of a bleg: I'm looking for a to-do-list app that doesn't suck. So far I've tried Remember the Milk and Astrid. My issue with them is that they don't allow me to dismiss an item. Let's say I schedule exercise for every weekday, and then something comes up and I say, "Well, it's not going to work out today." I can't dismiss the item without having accomplished it. That doesn't seem like a very useful to-do list. If any readers have good ones (preferably free), let me know.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

WL SHKSPR 4 DA MDRN READR: Hamlet

from Act III, Scene 1

[texting] 2 B / not 2 B? ??? [end text]

Is it better to be

totally pissed or to say

FML and die?

Death doesn't suck like life does.

It sounds totally awesome.

But what if what's next

sucks even worse than this?

I mean, tons of people have it way rough

and they could just off themselves

with, like, a knife,

but they don't.

Maybe the next life's problems are like this life's problems on CRACK?

Nobody knows, dude!

No one's ever come back to tell us, you know?

So we suck it up and just stay alive.

It's like we're total wusses.

Shh, here comes a hot chick!

Exuent.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Feeling Smart (Without Being Smart)

I browsed a bookstore tonight (one that sells new books, which I haven't done in a long time). In the "Drama" section there was a new series of Shakespeare plays. I am used to the two major series being Folger and Arden, but now there is a major new series, "No Fear Shakespeare." It promises a translation of Shakespeare into "Modern English" (the language in which Shakespeare actually wrote). It is side-by-side with the text, like some editions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (not the edition I used in college, however, which was entirely in Middle English).

The reason Shakespeare is part of a modern education is to expand students' language. The star-crossed lovers trope has been done more engagingly than Romeo and Juliet; it is still assigned because of the linguistic knowledge it imparts and the cultural continuity that comes from 400 years of reading the exact same work. This edition throws in the towel on the language fight, but allows the students to still appear as if they are reading Shakespeare. It is the semblance of intelligence without the threat of any actual intelligence.

However, this has given my blog a new semi-regular feature I will be debuting soon: WL SHKSPR 4 DA MDRN READR.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Looking for Help in All the Wrong Places

I keep trying to like Mormon Girl's blog. And she keeps making it so damn impossible.

I'm fed up with the number of e-mails she gets of the "I'm a Mormon and a feminist: HELP!" variety. They invariably follow this pattern: "My sociopolitical ideology conflicts with my religious beliefs. I don't want to quit the church because I have a testimony of its truthfulness. What's a girl to do?" They see the conflict, they know which one shouldn't change, and then they wring their hands about how they can change the church so they can stay committed to both.

Most of these e-mails create problems with "the church" out of problems with its members. Ladies, if annoyingly provincial members were reason to leave the church, we all would have left years ago. But in the instances where their brand of feminism conflicts with actual gospel doctrine, it's their idea of feminism that needs adjustment, not the rest of us.

The "I'm gonna show those bastards what-for by wearing PANTS to church" logic is almost laughable, like when Homer Simpson thinks he's getting even with Ned Flanders by starting a day-care center. We show our respect to God by wearing our nicest clothing to church. Over the past thousand-plus years of European history, that has come to mean women wear dresses. That's European secular thinking, not anyone's idea of what God thinks. As history progresses, our social norms of "respectful dress" can (and do) change; why aren't these women writing about how confined they are by the requirement to wear a scarf on their heads in church? Oh, because nobody does that anymore. Did Moses wear a shirt and tie up Mount Sinai?

I've written before about how so much of what we do in church is based on the circumstances of 1820s New York, not on God-approved practices. He says, "You want to play an organ in church? What do I care?" Then we say, "Woodwind instruments must be the Devil's tools!" Settle down, people; there are a variety of ways to show respect to God.

And I think that's why the "pants on Sunday" movement was so disappointed in the "reactions" they (didn't) get. People said, "Huh," and went on with their lives. (And where they didn't, it was more a response to the "I'll show you" attitude than the legs each in its own pant-hole.) What the ladies thought was a conflict wasn't one at all. Most of the e-mails Mormon Girl gets are the same. And the e-mailers who have legitimate problems between their ideologies and their religion know which one needs to change or else they wouldn't be writing to Mormon Girl for help, they'd just be quitting the church.

Family Politics

A RANDOM STRANGER: Oh, by the way, our Dairy Queen shut down.

MY WIFE: What?!

ARS: The windows are all papered over.

MW: This makes me so mad when the stores I shop at close because the president is doing a terrible job.

ARS: So I'm mad at the president because I can never get a job again, but you're mad at him because Dairy Queen closed down?

MW: And Borders, and maybe our Barnes and Noble, too!

JEROME JEROME THE METRONOME: That's why I want to push him into lava.*

* = Our kids have strong independent political opinions. In 2008, while I supported Bob Barr and my wife tepidly supported John McCain, Crazy Jane and Articulate Joe were whole-hog McCain backers. ("Because he looks like a nice grandpa," they explained.) When Barack Obama won, Crazy Jane was happy because he has daughters close to her age.

For the first three years of his presidency, my wife and I did not criticize him in front of the kids. However, in answering their questions about items in the news, they came to dislike the president. In this past election, Crazy Jane was the biggest Romney supporter in our house.

Before the election, Jerome said wistfully to himself one day, "I wish lava was real so I could push President Obama into it." I said, "Lava is real, but you shouldn't want to push someone into it."

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Don't Fix Our Schools!

Some public schools are terrible. (Well, all are terrible, just on different metrics.) And the latest trend in neighborhoods served by terrible public schools is to oppose fixing them.

Say what?

Yes, this article points out that community members want their schools to be good, but to not change. I'd say these folks aren't strict adherents to logic, but I could say the same thing in fewer words by labeling them "Obama voters."

"The recurrent theme is that communities are fed up with substandard education, but want solutions that will not create upheaval at the schools, which are often seen as pillars of stability in neighborhoods where social fabric is fragile," the article notes. As if these schools are failing because of peeling paint and outdated computer technology.

Perhaps the problem is that these community members are the products of the failing schools themselves. You know, the schools that have taught Americans government is inherently good, redistribution has only good consequences, and people who have more than you must have come by it nefariously. No wonder they think that "different but the same" is a valid option.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

State of the University

I got an e-mail from my undergraduate university. Here's the picture it included.

The picture shows seven people. Six of them are women. The lone man is the most-marginalized of the models; he's watching woman go to college more than going to college himself.

I've written before about the reversal of sex roles in society. (I usually link to past posts I reference, but I can't find it right now.) A few years ago I read an essay in National Review that hypothesized college was a luxury that young women's parents provide for them, but since it is less-acceptable for parents to care for male children into adulthood, the male percentage of college students is falling. To be more precise, education has become a taco party.

KU's e-mail depicts the state of the university more accurately than they know.

How to Murder Americans

Let's say you either can't or won't become a professional football player. Don't worry, you can still get away with murder! All you have to do, according to a Justice Department memo, is identify your target as a "senior operational leader" of an undesirable faction. Then you can kill him all you want, without even having to demonstrate the presence of an active plot to attack the country.

In 17 states, though, you can't execute a convicted criminal, no matter how heinous his crimes. So it's not enough to convince your target to become a raping murderer. Instead, you have to get him to associate with undesirables. Then you're home free.

L'étudiant Terrible

I have a problem student. He monopolizes the class and won't stop talking. I've thought of sitting down and turning the marker over to him, to emphasize the impropriety, but I honestly think he would just take the marker from me and start teaching whatever he wants.

I ask questions of the class and he wants me to call on him every time. I ignore his raised hand and wait for another student, so he's stopped raising his hands and he just calls out his answer before anyone else has an opportunity. The other students laugh at his rudeness and he either doesn't notice or doesn't care.

Last week a student came up after class to ask a question. She said, "I'm not sure if I understand this," and before I could answer he said, "I think I can handle that one." I ignored him and interacted with the questioning student, so he went to the board to begin writing up his answer, because he was going to respond next.

Today he made the argument in class, and then carried it over after class, that government has a moral right to restrict the decisions of the individual when they impact anyone else. I said government has no right to do anything that the individual cannot do. I cannot enslave you, so my government cannot do it for me. I said, "I belong to myself and to God and to no one else." He said, "Each of us belongs to the rest of us collectively." I said, "We are slaves to government?" He said, "No, to the collection of everyone else." I said, "Government is a representation of that collection. We are all slaves to government?"

He said, "Yes."

What the hell am I doing here? This is pointless. The country is lost and it can never be regained.

I forcefully told him, "That's not true," and I walked away. But trying to educate him is a lost cause, and trying to educate anyone else while he's around is, at best, an uphill struggle.

Monday, February 04, 2013

More Pedantry

I wrote a little while ago about things that are correct that most people think are wrong. (Like correct apostrophe usage, sometimes.) Well, I thought of two more. And since this can be a regular feature, it got its own label.

First, I think I've written before that the preferred English-language way of referring to the nation most people call "the Czech Republic" is "Czechia." (Preferred by the Czech government, that is.) I have trained my kids correctly, but I know anyone else who hears us is going to think we're nuts.

Second, a (singular) schedule for running a meeting is an agendum. (And all the other Latin plurals, like stadia and data.)

Hi-Tech Traditionalists

At the shuttle stop this morning, I saw a woman in a hijab get out of a car, and then I noticed the driver of the car had her cell phone tucked into her hijab and was having a phone conversation.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Is that your mom?

WOMAN: Yeah.

ARS: That's cool how she uses her scarf to hold her phone.

W [exasperated]: She does it because she knows she shouldn't use a hand-held device while she's driving, but we tell her, 'Mom, your still using a hand-held device.' But she recently got a new iPhone so she thinks she's so cool when she does it.

ARS: I think it's pretty cool.

W: No, but she thinks it is.

ARS: When you get home you can tell her that I agree with her.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Driving Mode

Articulate Joe and I went to the hardware store today to watch the scissor lift. Well, we actually went for a Pinewood Derby car-building demonstration, but we were next to an aisle with a scissor lift, and that held Joe's attention throughout.

On the way home, my phone dinged to notify me of soccer game updates. Since I was driving, I handed the phone back to Joe and gave him instructions on how to pull up the results. It was like having a voice-activated phone, only more squirrelly and I was more worried that the voice-activated operator would somehow ruin everything.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Twenty-Eight Days of Awesome

This is the month that I do everything right. (Am I cheating by picking the shortest month of the year? Or am I really just doing it right?) What does that look like for me? It looks like this:

  • Morning personal scriptures
  • Morning family scriptures
  • Exercise
  • Dietary diligence
  • E-mail
  • Blog post
  • Tweet
  • Journal entry
  • Lesson plans
  • Personal reading
  • Dissertation work
  • Spanish
  • Kids books
  • Evening family scriptures
  • Evening couple scriptures
Every day.

Wind and the Fear of Freedom

I've mentioned before the discussion I've had with my wife about whether God invented teenagers or not. Once she made her argument, I came to think she's right: society invented teenagers, so God doesn't get the blame.

I was thinking of this today because it was so incredibly windy today, and with teenagers off the list of God's worst inventions, wind moves into the top spot. I hate wind so much. As I told my class today, "If wind was a corporeal thing, I'd stab it in the neck."

But back to teenagers for a moment: I thought today of how the problem with teenagers (an adult's body and adult's capacities but a child's responsibilities) is being extended well beyond the age of majority. The travesty of a healthcare law (cheapest Obamacare plans will start at $20,000 per year) allows "children" to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 30. I thought of how students have been told for years to "stay in school." That advice was given as preparation for the real world, but now it is taken as a dodge of the real world. You never have to go be an adult if you just keep attending class.

Here's how I know we'll never be free again: the average American is scared to death of freedom. Nobody takes care of you. Time was a fully-formed adult could have faith God was doing it, but now that we don't believe in God anymore, we need the government to fill that role. One-third of the heavenly hosts chose Hell over personal accountability. When the Chinese come to take over our country, the rising generation will throw flowers at their feet and cry, "What took you so long?"