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Bits

Posted by Apostropher
on 06.19.10

Al Franken's speech to the American Constitution Society is excellent.

Faye Dunaway eats an egg.

Susan Powter eats an organic pear.

And here's a mix full of mopey dudes with beards.

I'm off to swim with the kids.


 

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Thank Goodness For Large Families

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.19.10

At eleven this morning, our ancient Ford station wagon died at a traffic light in New Jersey as we were heading to Buck's uncle's funeral. We coasted into a parking lot, and started trying to figure out how to get the last fifteen miles. About eight minutes later, one of Buck's cousins spotted him standing there, and pulled over to give us a ride. Couldn't fault her timing.

So we won't know until Monday, but odds are the car is totaled. Any thoughts on what you'd buy if you wanted a cheap reliable used car big enough for four big people and a dog? Mileage isn't a big concern, because we don't drive much. On the other hand, Zipcars? Anyone use those much, or at all?

Afterthought: Jefferson Township police. I didn't get the officer's name, but friendly, helpful about getting the car to a garage, and got there fast. Thanks!


 

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I failed to include a solution

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.18.10

I keep composing grandiose tirades in my mind that deflate to angst-ridden fifteen-year-old style ramblings when I try to actually compose them. On my nightstand paper pad there is a diagram of circular arrows going back and forth between the words greed and income inequality. Nearby, "Republican Misinformation Campaign" is written, but there are no arrows. What makes this all immature is that there's no specific context. I keep trying to explain the universe with these loose wires. I suppose it's what you do when you feel powerless and impotent and angry.

On the plus side, writing this post serves to purge my angst and now I find it kind of funny.

(The gist of the Explanation of the Universe is that greed and inequality thrive off each other, and there are two equilibria: First, everyone has equal wealth and forgets to care about greed, but this is an unstable equilibrium, and hence you have to create machinery (governments) to nudge us in this direction. Second, complete income inequality where everyone is consumed with increasing their wealth, especially those at the top end, which is the stable equilibrium, but completely unhappy and unstable in the traditional political sense. But Forces of Good nudging us towards income equality have been hijacked by the Republican Misinformation Campaign, and so the hand-wringing commences.)

Really it reads like a) another "water is wet!" post, and b) the backstory for a new super-hero. Writing this down makes it all seem funny and less devastating.


 

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Actually, I rather like football.

Posted by Stanley
on 06.17.10

But but this hippy-dippy anecdote cracked me right up.


 

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I failed to include a kitten.

Posted by Stanley
on 06.17.10

An old friend, who doesn't follow news or politics very closely, e-mailed me today, asking why people are blaming Obama for BP's ongoing shit show. I've excerpted my off-the-cuff response below, as I'm curious what you lot might have said differently and more intelligently.

My somewhat edited response:

There's not a simple reason why people are pointing the blame finger at the President, but I can identify at least three separate (and quite distinct) groups of people with different motivations and goals.

1. Political conservatives/Republicans - This is the easiest group to understand. Basically, they're being politically expedient, as any chance to beat up on the President is seen as good for them. (This may backfire, as many of these same folks are catching flak for saying stupid things like, "The President's being too harsh on BP." Statements like that do *not* sit well with the general public, who, as polling data reports, trusts BP much, much less than they do the government.)

Some of the crazier things coming out of this crowd includes allegations that Obama intentionally conspired with environmentalists to make the leak happen, thus shutting down all deepwater drilling forever. It's important, should you find yourself confronted with such a person, that you locate the nearest sharp object and poke the person in the eye repeatedly. That's batshit nuts.

2. Joe and Jane Sixpack - Regular "folks" who aren't particularly politically aligned or engaged to any real depth with the news look at a problem that continues without a fix, despite multiple attempts, and they look for someone to blame. Here, fair or not, the President sits as a clear, singular, easy target for their blame, even though BP (and Halliburton and Transocean -- the other two companies operating on the failed rig) much more deservedly should get the lion's share. The "advantage" of being a company is, there's no single person to focus one's anger on, so it's a much more diluted sort of blame. Whereas Obama's a recognizable person who's been actively putting himself out in front.

The real bad news of this crowd's largely misplaced anger is, they're generally composed of swing voters, so the President really ought to be concerned with changing their minds. (I think he's actually taken some recent steps in the right direction here, but he's got much further to go.)

3. The political left/Environmentalists - [Stanley waves hello!] This is an entirely different set of angry people. Already disappointed with what they see as a perceived move by Obama to the center on a number of issues, including Health Care Reform, Financial Reform, the war in Afghanistan, detainee interrogation, etc., this particular political group was totally dismayed when, a few weeks before the leak began, Obama ran to the right of most Republicans by announcing several new offshore drilling leases.

Viewed by some political observers as a brilliant political move that would draw in GOP votes for the Climate Change legislation currently making its way through Congress, it was seen by the lefties and enviros as a total sop to the "drill baby drill" wing of the Republican Party---a preemptive surrender on an issue that the Democrats actually hold the moral high ground on. (That is, people love offshore drilling---as long as it's not off their shore. {Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi are kind of the exception to that rule, because they don't have any jobs if the oil jobs go away.})

Moreover, ever since the spill, this group of people thinks the President has been too deferential to BP, trusting that the company was being forthright when, it's now quite obvious, BP was much more concerned with its public image and with limiting its liability, than it was in stopping or containing the leak with any sort of acumen. This is rightly placed anger, in my view, and the government has since stepped up its response to a less-trusting posture. Regardless, extra, unnecessary damage was certainly done, both to the environment and to Obama's standing; and both he and BP do share some of the blame for that, with the lion's share being BP's to own.

A final, generalized explanation (and what people are saying Obama might have done to prevent it) rests in the curious case of the Minerals Management Service or MMS, the government agency that oversees the offshore-drilling industry. It came to light during the Bush administration that the MMS employees were way too cozy with the industry people----literally, they were in bed together; there were several documented instances of employees and agency people having sex- and cocaine-addled parties. Super crazy.

Moreover, just from an oversight point of view, the MMS is set up in a really insane way. They have two jobs:

1. Sell leases for drilling.
2. Oversee safety and environmental regulations once the drilling has begun.

So they have a perverse incentive to sell the leases and then stay out of the way of the companies, so they stay happy and keep buying more leases.

So, the story goes, when Obama came into office, he should have acted more swiftly to change this agency. That's a fair critique, and the government had been moving slowly to do so, as far as I understand. It will now move more quickly, likely splitting the agency in two to put the two functions in two separate agencies, so the selling people worry about making good sales, and the oversight people worry about doing a good job overseeing and regulating, with no concern for sales dollars.


 

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Making Prison More Unpleasant?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 06.17.10

Several months ago, I read Mark Kleiman's recent book When Brute Force Fails: How To Have Less Crime And Less Punishment, and wrote a long post on it which I failed to save and never got around to reconstructing. This is not that post, and is not about the primary argument of the book at all, but about a half-page aside Kleiman tosses off in his chapter on enforcement strategies.

Some additional deterrent value might be squeezed out of existing capacity by making confinement more aversive to those confined. That might well be consistent with making it less horrible, threatening, and destructive of the inmate's future well-being and social and employment prospects, and thus more rehabilitative as well as more deterrent. An orderly, quiet prison where inmates spent much of their time working or studying alone might be less congenial to many offenders than the current combination of noise, violence, idleness, and sociability, which has a strong resemblance to many inmates' pre-incarceration social settings. It is important to reflect that offenders may not have the same tastes as policy-makers, or as the author or readers of the present volume, perhaps especially as to noise and interpersonal conflict: a prison that resembled a Benedictine monastery rather than an urban street corner might seem more unpleasant to most actual inmates, even if in prospect it seems far less horrible to you or me. It may be possible to design prison stays that will be shorter and less damaging to offenders' well-being and future prospects, but which will also be recalled by them, and communicated by them to others, as more unpleasant and therefore more to be avoided.

I had a strongly conflicted reaction to this paragraph. Taking it apart in cold blood, it sounds like an excellent idea: it seems very wrong to me that prisons are unsafe, and that part of the punishment inflicted when we imprison someone is putting him at risk of being victimized by other prisoners. And it also seems like the sort of thing that really might decrease the extent to which a prison sentence makes you more likely to become a career criminal.

On the other hand, I was really offended by it, in the sort of way that usually means I have a valid objection to something that I just haven't thought through. I may simply have been reacting to the tone ("Those people actually enjoy noise and violence," is how it came across to me), or to the idea that the problem with prison is that it isn't unpleasant enough. And if that's the only thing wrong with it, that's a problem with the way Kleiman's selling the idea, not with the idea itself. But I'm still wondering if there's something else wrong with it that's underlying my hostile reaction -- any ideas?


 

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Speakeasy

Posted by Stanley
on 06.16.10

Let's say, hypothetically, that I knew someone who had to use a non-native foreign language for his or her job. Let us posit further that this language is Spanish and this person has a Master's degree in the study of that language and, by all accounts, writes the language and speaks it masterfully—conjugating like a champ, dropping the subjunctive (including the elusive past subjunctive!) where need be. To posit further, let us also say that this person has a very gringo-sounding accent.

Is there a polite way to tell someone his or her foreign-language accent could probably be better with a bit of mimicry of native speakers? Am I wrong to think that this accent intervention probably ought to have occurred at some point already, what with the Master's and all?

Again, totes hypothetical here.


 

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It's really songy out.

Posted by Stanley
on 06.15.10

Man, the weekend's travels really left me feeling wiped, despite being a really good trip. The only thing I can report is that I have two ongoing earworms from the trip: Mumford and Sons' "Little Lion Man" (which a bandmate kept insisting on playing) and The Script's "Breakeven" (which I'd file under guilty-pop-song-pleasures, and which was in heavy rotation on central-Kansas radio).

Also, Kansans are crazy polite.


 

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It's really hot out.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.15.10

It strikes me as marvelous and decadent when coffee shops have sugar water to stir into your iced coffee drinks. Possibly because I didn't notice it or ask what it was until a year or two ago. But so thoughtful!


 

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Knowing when to play Go Fish.

Posted by Stanley
on 06.13.10

I'm in Wichita on a flight delay watching my three fellow co-travelers add a surprising level of strategy to the card game Go Fish.

Consider this the registry of my complaints against (1) the state of modern-day air travel and (2) the refusal of These Kids Today to grow up and act like adults.


 

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Knowing when to fold.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.13.10

If I were writing a letter to my 20 year old self, I think my key advice would be relationship-based: that dating someone is not the same as marrying them. The evaluation process should go on, and rigorously, the entire relationship up until the moment you get married, (at which point you should probably scale it back. Eyes wide-open before, eyes half-shut after.)

I had this belief that when you agreed that you are dating each other exclusively, you should stop evaluating each other, or else you are sabotaging the relationship. Also, I'd fret about sunk costs - "we've been together so long that I'll excuse this behavior that would be unacceptable in someone I just met." Heebie, for each month you date someone, you should hold them to an increasingly high standard. Like a filter, so that eventually you're only dating someone truly worth spending a lot of time with.

I had a lot of other lessons to learn in my 20s, but I don't think I'd have been receptive to hearing them from Old Heebie. This one, I wish someone had told me.


 

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