Monday, March 31, 2014

Coaching Success

Last spring I was the coach for my oldest son's U-10 soccer team. The league had developmental directors who helped train the coaches. These directors were great guys with a lot of helpful instructional ideas. They wanted us to work on skills in practice, not tactics. They seemed to be driven by the goal of developing highly-technical players for the men's national team in 10 years.

The other coaches, though, were driven by the goal of winning. And winning by so much that they got asked to coach the all-star team. Our age-group commissioner had four already-existing, stacked teams that he wanted to only play each other, then he had six "other" teams that would only play each other. His supervisor vetoed that plan, so instead the stacked teams just ran up the score against the regular teams. The league had a rule against running up the score that was observed only in breaking it. The developmental guys said, "Do not take players off the field if one team is ahead by more than four goals. Instead, change your formation or have your team follow instructions like making sure every player touches the ball once before shooting." The other coaches would run up the score until I asked the referee to intervene, then they would remove players.

I came to have a dislike for careers and their coaches. We lost every game, often by eight or nine goals. The developmental guys loved me (and I guess the careers and their coaches loved me, too), but my players and their parents hated me. I decided I'd never coach again.

Somehow that led to me coaching my middle son's U-7 indoor soccer team this winter. The league supervisor is a nice guy interested in helping kids learn and have fun. The kids are younger, and the teams seem to be (mostly) randomly assigned. We've won two, lost two, and tied one.

Last Saturday, though, we were up against the closest thing our league has to a team of careers. The team seems like it might be a pre-formed group, since the players and coaches were already color-coordinated to their "random" team color. The team practices tactics (and illegal tactics, at that, leaving one kid 30 yards offside at all times, relying on the fact our age group doesn't enforce the offside rule). We only had six players that day, so we had no substitutes. (And one of our players was the troublesome kid who gets in his teammates' way and constantly tries to pick up the ball.)

It was very satisfying when we won, 3-0.

My son had two goals, and the best girl on the team added another. We even played a man down for five minutes when my son took a bathroom break mid-game. (Thanks to efficient design, the bathroom is two floors away.) After they went down 1-0, the other team pulled a defender up to play offense. After we scored our third goal, they pulled the other defender and the goalie up to offense, as well. I was hoping their coach would be crying during the post-game handshake line, but he wasn't.

Our team would have seven points from five games, if we kept score, recorded wins and losses, and used points. Projected out to 32 games played, we'd have 45 points, which would put is just inside the top half of the Premier League. Sam Allardyce only has 34 points right now and everyone's talking about how his job is secure.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Chicago Trip (We Focus-Grouped the Title and This Title Won; In Other News, Our Focus Group Sucked)

Why haven't I been blogging so much lately? Because I'm busy writing a dissertation? [bemused chuckle] No, that's not why. Depression? Getting warmer. But specifically regarding last weekend, it was because we were in Chicago.

On the drive there Saturday I got six new counties in Indiana: Wabash IN, Fulton IN, Miami IN, Pulaski IN, Marshall IN, and Starke IN. (I got eight more on the way back: Newton IN, Jasper IN, Benton IN, White IN, Carroll IN, Cass IN, Howard IN, and Tipton IN.) Memorable features of the drive include lunch at Burger King in Celina, Ohio; seeing the outside of The Dan Quayle Center in Huntington, Indiana; consternation from Jerome when we entered Miami County and he thought we'd just spent four hours in the car to end up back where we started; and driving through both Bruce Lake, Indiana, and Lake Bruce, Indiana. Sadly, no pictures were taken. But I did make this low-quality map.

I don't have very good skills with this mapping program, so the labels are lame and the Canadian half of Lake Erie is white instead of blue. Suck it.

Once in Chicago on Saturday, we had to find somewhere to eat dinner. My wife spent days deciding our food itinerary and about fifteen minutes planning what to pack. (Slight exaggeration, with a marked emphasis on "slight.") But most of the restaurants on her list were in Chicago, not the western suburbs where we were staying. We ended up deciding on that staple of Chicago-style dining, California Pizza Kitchen, but the line there was really long, so we ate at Red Robin.

Sunday we spent all day in town. We began at Adler Planetarium, where I tried to get Articulate Joe excited about the prospect of solving some of the many "still unknown" properties of the Universe highlighted in the exhibit descriptions. He wasn't buying it. But one of our children caught exploratory fever and boldly went where no man has gone before.

Later, we posed for pictures outside.

Nice attempt at spring, Chicago. The last week of March and the temperature was below freezing, with a wind chill in the teens. Our last day in town, it snowed. I tweeted, "I'd say Chicago is a stinking cesspool, but the reality is frozen s**t doesn't stink."

We walked five miles that day.

We had lunch at Lou Malnati's, where the servers evidently are not allowed to let you serve yourself from the main pizza dish. Not just when the pizza first comes to you and is hotter than the surface of the sun, but all subsequent pieces, as well.

Ignore the straw in front of Jerome's face. It's like that Kent State picture: award-winning photojournalism with an unfortunately-placed pole.

After lunch we went through the Art Institute, then while I walked back to get the car, my wife took the kids to see the reflective bean in Millennium Park.

Then we did something I swore I'd never do again: we went to Wisconsin.

It wasn't as bad as I remembered. But part of that was that this time I wasn't getting yelled at and insulted for two years. Anyway, it was my wife's 37th state, moving her past me and into the lead once again.

That night, Jerome somehow lost swimming goggles from on his head. One minute they're there, the next minute, they're nowhere in the entire hotel.

Monday we ate lunch at Big and little's, where I had a very good whitefish po'boy sandwich. Then we went to Lincoln Park Zoo, where Jerome saw African wild dogs for the first time. This was a big deal because he loves African wild dogs. He brought his stuffed African wild dog to meet its cousins.

The dogs were great, trotting around for no reason at all, over and over. While we stood there, other zoo patrons came up and either said, "Look at the hyena!" or else tried to get the dogs to howl. Jerome patiently bore their ignorance (it turns out African wild dogs don't howl, which I only know from him telling me).

Also at the zoo we had the lion roar at us. All the times I've been to zoos, I've never heard a lion roar before.

We saw Hemingway's house in Oak Park, then ate dinner at Portillo's, which was very good. I even had a piece of the chocolate cake, even though friends of ours know someone who died just days after eating a piece. (It's been four days and I'm still alive.)

Tuesday was our last day in town. We went to the top of John Hancock Center, where we found out that everyone in our family hates the look of Aon Center except my wife, who likes it.

That's right, I'm wearing a tie on vacation. Deal with it.

Everyone saw something he likes on this trip: my wife saw American Gothic and, of even-greater cultural significance, a cupcake ATM that allows for 24-hour cupcake purchases outside Sprinkles.

Crazy Jane saw a statue of her history boyfriend, Nathan Hale.

She also saw sites associated with the books Chasing Vermeer and The Wright Three. We drove Calder and Petra's block of Harper Avenue, saw the book shop at the corner, and saw the Robie House.

Articulate Joe saw a bunch of architecture he loves, like Willis Tower, Tribune Building, and Wrigley Building.

Jerome Jerome the Metronome saw African wild dogs. Screamapilar saw L trains all over town. And I saw my off-the-cuff estimate for the cost of this vacation come out to be 99.76% of the actual cost of the vacation. One fewer chocolate croissant at Starbucks and I would have been off by only 62 cents.

I came up with a life plan for after China: we'll live in a lake-front condo across from Grant Park. Crazy Jane will hone her cartooning skills at Art Institute. Articulate Joe will study architecture at Chicago Architecture Foundation. Jerome will become an astronomer at Adler Planetarium. And Screamapilar will become a scientist at Field Museum. But before then, Chicago's going to have to do something about that crap winter. Six months below freezing is appropriate for Siberia, not a town in the United States that actually costs money to live in.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jackass Officials

Mark A. Lunn is Ventura County Clerk and Recorder. The government website is branded like an election campaign website ("preserving history," okay, but "protecting democracy," really?). His office is tech-savvy enough to maintain his re-election office website, but not tech-savvy enough to take credit card payments, so they've contracted with a third-party to increase the costs facilitate payment. An additional payment is required for the third-party vendor ($12.95). If it wasn't, the county workers wouldn't be maximizing their rents, and that would give the lie to their claim of being fit for modern government service.

The first copy of a birth certificate costs $25. Each additional copy also costs $25. Because there are no economies of scale when printing multiple copies of an identical document? None at all?

The fee is non-refundable, so if they can't find your record, you'll get a Certificate of No Record instead of a birth certificate. (The website explains that retaining the fee is "required by law," as if all legislation is just and reasonable, and as if it wasn't the same set of rent-seekers who wrote the legislation in question.) So you'll pay for the document they won't deliver, and you can't get your money back. Receiving your record (or your Certificate of No Record) costs $12.95 for USPS or $19 for UPS. It appears this cost applies to each request. In-person requests must be notarized (which--funny enough--costs money).

So getting an additional copy of my child's birth certificate will cost a $25 fee, a $12.95 third-party fee, and a $12.95 shipping fee. That's $50.90, before I then send the birth certificate to the Secretary of State for authentication ($20 fee and $6 handling per public official's signature needing authentication).

Crazy Jane and my wife would each cost $76.90 and Articulate Joe would cost $70.90 (assuming his birth certificate is notarized by the same parasite public official who notarized his sister's). Our marriage license would cost $66.90. Jerome Jerome the Metronome was born in Kansas, which is somewhat cheaper: $15 certificate, $11 handling fee, $12.95 shipping, and $7.50 authentication fee, totaling $46.45. Screamapilar was born in Virginia, which costs $12 for the certificate, $10 for the authentication, and it's unclear what the shipping and handling costs are, for a total of at least $22. My birth certificate I had to order from Pennsylvania (since September 11th rendered my old birth certificate obsolete) cost $20, and authentication will cost $15. The total cost for our entire family would be $395.05. This is $13.83 in 1774 dollars. The Tea Act charged 3p per pound of tea ($2.92 in today's money), and produced a revolution.

Recorders fees should recoup the cost of the service. No one can claim with a straight face that printing a piece of paper, signing it, and then having someone else make sure it was really you who signed it costs $77, unless the paper is watermarked with unicorn tears and pressed between the thighs of vestal virgins until dry. These fees are either in excess of the true costs (and the identical fee for duplicate copies is a good indication that this is true), or the fees are indicative of the massive bureaucracy built up on the backs of the people. Anyone getting rich--one source sites the recorder's salary as over $140,000 per year, which is actually quite low compared to other county executives; this is just about double the county's median household income--off such a system is a jackass.

Notable Passages: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (Part 3)

"If we do not get out sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us." p. 67

"I perceive that we inhabitants of New England live this mean life that we do because our vision does not penetrate the surface of things. We think that that is which appears to be." p. 70

"We are a race of tit-men...." p. 79 [Huh huh, he said "tit men."]

"In this country, the village should in some respects take the place of the nobleman of Europe." p. 80

"There can be no very black melancholy to him who lives in the midst of Nature and has his senses still." p. 98

"I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude." p. 101

"The amount of it is, if a man is alive, there is always danger that he may die, though the danger must be allowed to be less in proportion as he is dead-and-alive to begin with." p. 116

"Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations." p. 130

"But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society." p. 130

"I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State." p. 130

"I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thievery and robbery would be unknown." p. 130

"You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass--the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends." p. 132

"... he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things." pp. 155-6

"Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce between virtue and vice." p. 167

"If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact, or the description of one actual phenomenon, to infer all the particular results at that point. Now we know only a few laws, and our result is vitiated, not, of course, by any confusion or irregularity in Nature, but by our ignorance of essential elements in the calculation. Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect; but the harmony which results from the far greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more wonderful." p. 222

"A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us, like the grass which confesses the influence of the slightest dew that falls on it; and did not spend our time atoning for the neglect of past opportunities, which we call doing our duty. We loiter in winter while it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning all men's sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return." pp. 239-40

Monday, March 17, 2014

Goal Celebrations From Around the World

Here's a goal scored by Mario Balotelli.

Here's the Italian studio guy's reaction.

Here's the reaction of a Mexican studio guy when the United States scored a goal against Panama.

Here's a Japanese broadcast of an amazing goal.

Do the Japanese guys even know that someone scored?

More Ideas on What Moroni Did With His Time

I'm reading Michael R. Ash's Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One's Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt. It's a great book that's prompted a lot of ideas in me. But one thing I read yesterday is related to what I wrote last week. In a section about how prophets recontextualize events they record, Ash writes, "When Moroni abridged the writings contained in the book of Ether (Moroni likely abridged Mosiah's translation of Ether [see Mosiah 28:11-17]) he, like his father Mormon, had the advantage of writing after the fact" (p. 63).

I speculated last week that Moroni translated directly from the 24 plates themselves. This was my understanding of Ether 1:2 which reads, "And I take mine account from the twenty and four plates which were found by the people of Limhi, which is called the Book of Ether." This could mean that Moroni was working with the actual plates, but I can see how it could also mean that he was working with a copy of the book. If someone came to me and asked, "How'd you get Ether 1:2 which you just quoted?" I could answer, "It was on some engraved plates," even though I'm not the one who dealt directly with the plates.

Ether 4:1-5 does not offer much to clarify this question. In fact, Moroni's reference to Mosiah's work might be evidence that Ash's interpretation is more correct than mine. Here's what I think we can all agree on: the plates were discovered by the people of Limhi (Mosiah 8:9), brought to King Mosiah (Mosiah 22:14), and translated by him (Mosiah 28:11-17). He didn't disclose the entire record (Ether 4:1), and subsequent trustees passed on instructions to keep certain aspects of the record from public knowledge (Alma 37:21-32; Hel. 6:25-26). The entire record was disclosed during the high age of Nephite society (Ether 4:2).

So it is possible that Moroni was working from a book version of the record made after the release of the entire contents was approved. Also, it's possible that Mormon's "few things" he commanded Moroni to write down (Morm. 8:1) included an abridgement of the Book of Ether (Mosiah 28:19); it seems like something a dad would do to his son: "I just have one thing I need you to do, and that is summarize this thousand-page book and carve your summary in a foreign language on metal plates. Then you can play the Wii." And it's also possible that elements of Mesoamerican folk-lore and legend are based on the once-widely-circulated sealed portion of Moroni's account, meaning these traditions could have bits of truth we can't even recognize right now.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Paine Train's a-Comin', Baby

I was born in Pennsylvania and my parents were issued a birth certificate. The birth certificate lists my full name, date of birth, and place of birth. This document is insufficient for me to obtain a passport because it does not include my parents' full names. This change was made in response to the attacks of 11 September 2001, which is curious considering that none of the perpetrators of the attacks used a birth certificate without his parents' full names. But thinking such things is close to committing some light treason; if we don't all replace our birth certificates, the terrorists win.

Pennsylvania needs $20 to issue me a new and improved birth certificate. It was Pennsylvania that issued a now-deficient birth certificate, and it was the Federales that made the change necessary, but it is me who has to pay $20. Half of that fee is meant to cover the notarization of the birth certificate, the process whereby a government official stamps the paper and signs it to show that it is legitimate. There was a time in American history when we took a dim view of paying for stamps on pieces of paper, but now we're civilized and do what we're told.

When this document arrives in the mail (six-to-eight weeks after ordering it; like the aging of a fine wine, you can't rush bureaucracy), I will then need to mail it to the Secretary of State of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (along with $15; curious how money's always involved) to have the document authenticated.

The authentication is only necessary if the state has lost control of its notaries. The state has a process for notarizing birth certificates, and they charge for it, but then they have a separate process to make sure that the people performing the first process aren't liars. No explanation is given as to why the first, $10 signature isn't trustworthy to the Chinese government but the second, $15 signature is. I'm left to conclude that it's because it costs 50% more.

The longer and more-deeply the authorities abuse the people, the more violent the response will be when the people finally respond. It seems no one in any level of our government bureaucracy is motivated to streamline a process. They are motivated by using their monopoly power to extract the last bit of surplus value from their subjects. Eventually the subjects will attempt to get some of their own back.

Notable Passages: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (Part 2)

"No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself." p. 32

"I cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in these respects, not only less education would be needed, because, forsooth, more would already have been acquired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an education would in great measure vanish." p. 34-5

"I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end." p. 36

"Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York." p. 37

"This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet. He should have gone up garret at once. 'What!' exclaim a million Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, 'is not this railroad which we have built a good thing?' Yes, I answer, comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt." p. 38

"I am convinced, both by faith and experience, that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship but a pastime, if we will live simply and wisely...." p. 50

"The only co-operation which is commonly possible is exceedingly partial and superficial; and what little true co-operation there is, is as if it were not, being a harmony inaudible to men. If a man has faith, he will co-operate with equal faith everywhere; if he has not faith, he will continue to live like the rest of the world, whatever company he is joined to. To co-operate in the highest as well as the lowest sense, means to get our living together." p. 51

"If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me--some of its virus mingled with my blood." p. 53

"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve." p. 54

"... a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone." p. 59

"But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail." p. 61

"Why is it that men give so poor an account of their day if they have not been slumbering? They are not such poor calculators. If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something. The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for affective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?" p. 65

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and to see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." p. 65-6

"For most men, it appears to me, are in a strange uncertainty about it [life], whether it is of the devil or of God.... Our life is frittered away by detail." p. 66

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How Long Did Mormon Take Writing the Book of Mormon?

In the interlude known as Words of Mormon, Verse 1, Mormon writes that he is "about to deliver up the record which I have been making into the hands of my son Moroni...." In Verse 3, he writes that he came across the Small Plates of Nephi when he had reached the reign of King Benjamin in the Large Plates of Nephi, and Verse 5 speaks of the remainder of his record as if it were still to be written. So, the feeling I get from Words of Mormon 1:1-5 is that Mormon still has to write almost 400 pages of a 531-page book when he is "about to deliver up the record." And I thought I had to work quickly when I have to write a 20-page paper over a weekend.

Also of note: Ammaron's command to Mormon (Morm. 1:2-4) was only to take the book Ammaron was writing and write more in it. The rest of the records hidden by Ammaron were to be left alone. In Morm. 2:17, Mormon writes that he had obeyed Ammaron, meaning he had gone to the hiding place, taken only the record Ammaron was writing, and written more in it. So there is an ur-little-book-of-Mormon that our current little-book-of-Mormon summarizes. This is made clear in Morm. 2:18, when Mormon writes, "And upon the plates of Nephi I did make a full account of all the wickedness and abominations; but upon these plates I did forbear to make a full account...." He's about 34 years old when the Nephites retreat to Jashon, which is probably why he uses the past perfect tense ("I had gone"), because it had been 10 years since he'd been there to get the book Ammaron commanded him to get.

It's about 30 more years before Mormon decides to evacuate all the records which Ammaron hid (see Morm. 4:23). It isn't until all the Nephites are gathered together around Cumorah (which Cumorah is question no one can really answer) that Mormon makes "this record" (the Book of Mormon). This would explain the defeatism in W of M 1:1-2. At this point, he must be powering through the records available to him, which would explain his continual reference to his inability to include "the hundreth part" of the history. He buries all the records in the hill except the ones he hands off. Notice the 24 plates discovered by the people of Limhi (Mosiah 8:9) are not specified as having been left out; only the current record Mormon is writing is left unburied.

Moroni says he has few things to write (Morm. 8:1), that he's just going to include what his father told him. In Morm. 8:4, he indicates he'll finish his father's record and bury the plates. In the following verse he writes of having little room on the plates and no ore to make more plates. He's writing 16 years after receiving the plates.

So how does Moroni start the Book of Ether? He has to have dug up the plates found by Limhi, in all probability dug up the plates he has already finished with and buried, and found ore and made more plates. The hunted feeling of Morm. 8 and 9 are gone; here's a guy who's undertaking a large project not tied to survival.

A really large project. In Ether 4:4-5, he tells us that the sealed portion of the plates were hand-written by him. He didn't just include the Limhi plates like Mormon included the Small Plates of Nephi; he copied them over, then sealed them. Most accounts of the sealed portion of the plates indicate that it was more than two-thirds of the total record. When all is said and done, the "Book of Mormon" is going to be mostly the work of Moroni.

That indicates a lot of time, and not much worry about survival. Could this be a sign that Moroni has left the Lamanite area? Or perhaps the Lamanites are the ones who have left the area. Moroni starts the Book of Ether by writing about "this north country." He's still in Jaredite territory, where Nephites' final battle happened, but Lamanites aren't around.

He starts his own book, basically including little tidbits that come to mind (it's almost like the first six chapters of Moroni could all start with, "Oh, yeah, one more thing"). In Moro. 1:1, he says he wasn't going to write more, but he's not dead yet.

So the way I read it, Mormon wrote his part of the Book of Mormon in a very short time--maybe around a year--while overseeing preparations for the Nephites' final battle. (A cynic might say if he hadn't been distracted by the book, the battle might have ended better.) He buried the record of the Jaredites, handed off his plates to Moroni, and then went somewhere. Mormon was killed, and Moroni received word of it (Morm. 8:3). Moroni finished the book, buried it, dug it and the Jaredite record up, wrote a ton of stuff, and buried it all again. It would seem Mormon worked on the record for a year or two, and Moroni worked on it for over 30 years.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Soccer + Lego = My Kids' Favorite Thing

Last May, David Beckham ended his playing career. At the time, someone made this tribute video of his career (although it completely ignores his time in Los Angeles). My kids love it, and watch it regularly.

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If you are unfamiliar with the highs and lows of Beckham's career, or his dramatic changes of hairstyle, you might need to look some up on YouTube. I also like how he changes back and forth from smile to scowl at different moments. I'm disappointed there's not a shot of him with a cut over his eye.

Notable Passages: Walden, by Henry David Thoreau (Part 1)

First, let me note that something was wrong with my Kindle edition (shocking, I know), so it seemed the book was 243 pages, but when I got to page 243, I was only 82% finished. The rest of the book didn't have page numbers. So when my phone said I was reading page 15, was I really reading page 15, or was I reading 12? I'm going to cite these passages using the page numbers given, but I'm aware they might be wrong.

"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well." p. 1

"Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? ... The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubit feet of flesh. ... The better part of the man is soon plowed into the soil for compost." p. 2

"He has no time to be anything but a machine. ... The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly." p. 3

"It is very evident what mean and sneaking lives many of you live, for my sight has been whetted by experience; always on the limits, trying to get into business and trying to get out of debt, a very ancient slough, called by the Latins aes alienum, another's brass, for some of their coins were made of brass; still living, and dying, and buried by this other's brass; always promising to pay, promising to pay, tomorrow, and dying today, insolvent; seeking to curry favor, to get custom, by how many modes, only not state-prison offenses; lying, flattering, voting, contracting yourselves into a nutshell of civility or dilating into an atmosphere of thin and vaporous generosity, that you may persuade your neighbor to let you make his shoes, or his hat, or his coat, or his carriage, or import his groceries for him; making yourselves sick, that you may lay up something against a sick day; something to be tucked away in an old chest, or in a stocking behind the plastering, or, more safely, in the brick bank; no matter where, no matter how much or how little." pp. 3-4

"It is hard to have a Southern overseer; it is worse to have a Northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself." p. 4

"Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion." p. 4

"As if you could kill time without injuring eternity!" p. 4

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. ... A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind." p. 4

"...it appears as if men had deliberately chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it to any other." p. 5

"I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. ... The incessant anxiety and strain of some is a well-neigh incurable form of disease." p. 6

"I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters." p. 10

"All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be." p. 16

"...that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority they may have in an affair which affects me so nearly...." p. 17

"In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high." p. 18

"Consider first how slight a shelter is absolutely necessary." p. 19

"...the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it...." p. 21

"The farmer is endeavoring to solve the problem of a livelihood by a formula more complicated than the problem itself. To get his shoestrings he speculates in herds of cattle. with consummate skill he has set his trap with a hair spring to catch comfort and independence, and then, as he turned away, got his own leg into it." p. 23

"...the bad neighbor to be avoided is our own scurvy selves." p. 23

"While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was no so easy to create noblemen and kings." p. 23

"But lo! men have become the tools of their tools." p. 26

"We have built for this world a family mansion, and for the next a family tomb." p. 26

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Notable Passages: The Intrusion of Jimmy, by P.G. Wodehouse

"Inherited wealth, of course, does not make a young man nobler or more admirable; but the young man does not always know this." p. 7

"The path of the rich man was so smooth, and it seemed to lead nowhere!" p. 35

"'Personally,' said Jimmy, with a glance at McEachern, 'I have rather a sympathy for burglars. After all, they are one of the hardest-working classes in existence. They toil while everybody else is asleep. Besides, a burglar is only a practical socialist. People talk a lot about the redistribution of wealth. The burglar goes out and does it. I have found burglars some of the decentest criminals I have ever met.'" p. 98

"No collection of individuals is less vindictive than an audience at amateur theatricals." p. 195

"'By the way--' Spennie groaned inwardly. He had forgotten that a determined man can change the conversation to any subject he pleases by means of those three words." p. 196

Apastrophe Catastrophe

Last Saturday I spent two hours walking around a neighborhood in support of the Boy Scouts' annual charitable food drive, Scouting for Food. That's where I saw this sign.

So, so close. All the correct elements are there, but in the wrong order. Instead of mocking the Evanses, let's use this as a teachable moment.

A single guy named Mr. Evans got married, making two people called the Evanses. He used to own his house by himself, making it Evans's house. Now he owns it with someone else, making it the Evanses' house. ALL THREE terms (Evanses, Evans's, and Evanses') are pronounced "EH-van-zes." But they have three distinct meanings. And in no case is the option actually used (Evans'es) appropriate. That has a distinct meaning, too, namely: "I paid pretty good attention in junior high, but it's been a while since then and now I'm just confused." If that's not the meaning you want to convey, use your apostrophes correctly.

Bookkeeping

I took over as family treasurer about four years ago now. I use a computer program to record expenditures. The program allows me to take a Kroger receipt for, say, $100 and split it into "household," "groceries," "sales tax," and "refund" (the savings we receive from allowing Kroger to sell our list of grocery purchases to marketing firms). This means that I spend a lot of time looking at receipts, and as a result, I have receipt preferences. Old Navy and Target are great, while just about any restaurant is the worst.

Here's what's wrong with restaurant receipts: you get your initial receipt with each food item listed and the sales tax. But the receipt with which you go home doesn't have that information.

For instance, we went to a TGI Friday's (don't judge me, just stick with the story) in August 2012. The first receipt brought to us showed our food and drinks cost $34.75, and the sales tax was $1.74. Had we used a coupon, this is where it would show up. But when I sent the waiter away with my card, what came back was a receipt that read, "Subtotal $36.49," and then had a line for tipping. This is the receipt I took home.

If I want to have the complete set of information, I have to take both receipts home. But that isn't always possible; yesterday we had lunch at our local Chinese restaurant and I wasn't given the option of taking home a copy of the first receipt. I know Denny's does this, too: they impale the first receipt at the counter like its a character in the movie Shaka Zulu (aside: who the HELL lets their 10-year-old watch Shaka Zulu? My parents, that's who).

If you know the jurisdiction's sales-tax rate, you can compute the pre-tax subtotal (or at least you should be able to do it, since my 11-year-old daughter just learned how in school), but taxes vary by jurisdiction, sometimes dramatically so. In Virginia, our local ice cream shop printed one copy of the receipt and kept it for themselves. I had to ask for a receipt every time, and re-printing took a surprisingly long time. The receipt I got just had one figure on it. So unless you knew the place was inside city limits, or unless you total the prices from the menu, you wouldn't know you just paid 10% sales tax.

One of my actual concerns about moving to China is I expect I'll get a lot fewer receipts. I hope that's not true, but it might be.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Huxley v. Lenin

Aldous Huxley's Brave New World features, in part, a heavily-sedated populace. His point is that inebriated people are easier to control.

Vladimir Lenin, however, was an ardent prohibitionist. What up with that?

My guess is that Lenin saw a drunk people as incapable of becoming the supermen socialism would let them be: he was an earnest communist. Indeed, Soviet prohibition ended a year after his death when the ironic communist, Joseph Stalin, took control.

Just something to remember as modern politicians have their "awakenings of conscience" and support marijuana legalization. Personally, I'm ambivalent on the issue, but I'm wary of anyone in a position of power who wants to make it easier for you to ignore what he's doing.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Not Me, I'm Special

I recently finished reading Veronica Roth's novel Divergent. When I was halfway through, I thought I wouldn't read the other two books, but now that I'm finished, I think I will.

I don't think I'm giving too much away here in discussing what it means for a character to be "divergent." In this dystopian world there are five factions in society, each promoting a behavior they feel is most important: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite*. Some people show multiple characteristics, and these people are Divergent. The factions are threatened by the Divergent.

The reader is supposed to feel kinship to the Divergent. One character explains the factions' fear of the Divergent thus: "Every faction conditions its members to think and act a certain way. And most people do it. ... But our minds move in a dozen different directions. We can't be confined to one way of thinking, and that terrifies our leaders. It means we can't be controlled" (pp. 441-2).

When I read that, I imagined every teenage reader in the nation reading those lines and thinking, "Yeah! I can't be controlled! I use my brain and think for myself!" Which a whole lot of science says is pure crap. The upsetting thing about books like Gustave Le Bon's Crowd and Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds is that they show how easily the reader himself is manipulated into behaving barbarously (something Roth avoids dealing with in a bit of a cop-out).

If all members of the crowd were Divergent, there'd be no crowd to fear. Most people join the mob. The odds are you and I will be among them. I'd ask all Roth's readers who identify with the Divergent, "What hetero-orthodox opinions do you hold and loudly support?" I'd bet they don't have any, or if they do, they are now-orthodox opinions that find power in presenting themselves as continually hetero-orthodox (e.g.: it's no longer hetero-orthodox to support gay rights, but the supporters of gay rights think they are edgy).

Please note, none of this is a criticism of Roth or her book. It's a criticism of the modern American who lacks the introspection to determine if he is part of the problem and the humility to admit when he is.

* = When I finished Chapter One, I tweeted: "Amity, Candor, & Abnegation are nouns. Erudite and Dauntless are adjectives. This will bother me all book. #Divergent" (Yes, I used one of my 140 characters for an Oxford comma. It's that important.) At the end of the book is a bunch of supplemental material (so, so much supplemental material; authors should stop documenting their book-writing processes and just write books), wherein Roth writes:

People have also commented that the faction names are different parts of speech--three nouns (Candor, Amity, Abnegation) and two adjectives (Dauntless, Erudite). (For the record, I love this kind of grammar consciousness.) I am aware of that, and it was something I thought about in revisions.
She says she didn't change it to give the appearance of organic, non-coordinated naming by each faction. Sure, that might increase the verisimilitude, but it still grates the nerves of the OCD grammarian inside of me.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Ain't No Party Like a Communist Party 'Cause a Communist Party Will BURY YOU!

Remember when I was thinking about moving my blog to my website? Well, now that we're moving to China, the Chicoms might be forcing my hand.

This is the result when a service called WebSitePulse tried to access my blog from China, compared to an attempt from New York for reference. The ban on Blogger sites prohibits access to my blog. My Wordpress blog is also blocked. (Yes, feel free to mock me.)

I can blog via e-mail, but I've never been happy with the results. The formatting is off (although I won't be able to see the final product to worry about formatting). Plus, I'm not sure how I'd include pictures.

My website, though, is accessible. So we might be moving this party over to my website towards the end of this summer.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Coordinated Western Information War

Russian media like to complain about a "coordinated western information war," and today I saw the first evidence they might be onto something. On Map My Run is an ad from Merrell touting some contest that would allow you to climb Mount Blanc, which it calls "Europe's Highest Peak!" The lies of capitalist pigs! Don't believe the bourgeois dogs, comrade.

A Random Stranger's International Jamboree

So we're moving to China in August. This means that we have lots of places in the U.S. to visit before we go. Here are our tentative plans, as of right now. If you're in or near one of these cities, and want to meet in person, let me know. It might be fun. Or it might be super creepy. Either way, it'll be worth doing.

  • Dayton, Ohio
  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Palmyra, New York
  • Niagara Falls, New York
  • Toronto, Ontario
  • Detroit, Michigan
  • Flint, Michigan
  • Toledo, Ohio
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Louisville, Kentucky
  • Saint Louis, Missouri
  • Nauvoo, Illinois
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Lawrence, Kansas
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • El Paso, Texas
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Los Angeles, California

Also, don't forget ARS-Fest coming up on April 26th (like I did). Next year's ARS-Fest is going to be in Beijing, so make your plans to come to this year's! I'm sure it'll not be the worst experience you'll have in 2014.