Wednesday, December 30, 2009

And the winner is!

What should we call him?  The Nigerian terrorist?  The Christmas Day terrorist?

Mark Steyn found the perfect name for him.

The Panty Bomber!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Barn Door

I have published a bit of research on terrorism, beginning over twenty years ago.  So I think a lot about the subject.  The attempt by a Nigerian to blow up a plane enroute to Detroit has me musing again.

Enhanced security measures adopted after 9-11 exasperated me.  Rude, low intelligence, bureaucratic TSA screeners at airports were doggedly searching for men's razors and throwing them in the trash (no, that never happened to me--I did lose a few bucks worth of bottled water once).  I yelled at the television more than once, "Nobody will ever hijack a plane using box cutters again!  Stop it!"

I did not hear anyone agree with me until I saw a CSPAN Booknotes interview with Tom Clancy.  Clancy said exactly what I had been thinking.  The reason that box cutter hijackings worked on 9-11 was that the passengers had no idea that their plane was being hijacked as a projectile.  They thought that they would be taken to a remote location and held for ransom.

Even on 9-11, the passengers of United-93, once they had used their cell phones to find out that they would likely be flown directly into a large building, attacked the hijackers.  If the United-93 passengers had known the truth an hour or so earlier, the hijackers would have never entered the cockpit.

After 9-11, any hijacker without an AK-47 would be subdued or killed by the passengers.  Clancy's analysis was perfect.

We are always closing the barn door after the horse has escaped--searching for useless box cutters and razors.  Now, after a Nigerian attempt to blow up a plan, we are going to require that passengers keep their seats for the last hour of flight.  Uh . . . because the Nigerian chose this time . . . to prepare . . . uh . . .

If we had this rule in effect before the Nigerian attempt, he would have triggered the explosive earlier in the flight.  The new policy is regulatory lunacy.

If we had taken the box cutters from the hijackers on 9-11 the incidents would not have happened.  But afterward we closed the barn door, by preventing incidents that would never again be successfully launched.

But with the Nigerian, we are not even closing the barn door.  If we had put a new policy in place on the morning of his attempt, he would have had the same measure of success (pants flambe).  This time the horse has escaped and we are painting the barn door.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


1.  So if you are too moral to take bad gamblers' money

2.  Shouldn't you be opposed to government programs that forcibly take your money and use it to take bad gamblers' money?

3.  And shouldn't you be opposed to government programs that forcibly take your money and use it to give incentives to people to eschew productivity, the acquisition of human capital, and to create disfunctional family structures?

Cryptically yours,


Sunday, December 20, 2009


We had to debate in my high school speech class.  Tommy and I were assigned "Pro: Immigration should be limited."  Two young ladies were assigned the "con."

Everyone did a week of research and got their arguments and notes together.  My side went first with an opening statement.

Then a member of the other side said to the teacher.  "That was our argument.  We were supposed to have that side." 

Ms. McCartney looked at her assignment book and said, "No.  You had 'Con: Immigration should be limited.'  That means you should argue that immigration should not be limited."

The student said, "But we prepared to show that immigration should be limited."

Tommy and I made an easy A.  I think the teacher was so disgusted by the ladies that we looked good by contrast.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

High School Speech

Two of my best friends in high school were in my speech class.  We had lots of fun.  The funniest thing have happened in class was at the start of a speech by a guy I knew.

Joe C. stood up at the podium and said, "My speech is on Tenne."  Then he looked down at his notes and looked back up at the class and said, "Tennessee."

We laughed until we cried.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Stunning Example of Government Failure

A decade ago a probe that NASA sent to Mars disappeared.  An investigation revealed the following:

The peer review preliminary findings indicate that one team used English units (e.g., inches, feet and pounds) while the other used metric units for a key spacecraft operation. This information was critical to the maneuvers required to place the spacecraft in the proper Mars orbit.

"Our inability to recognize and correct this simple error has had major implications," said Dr. Edward Stone, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We have underway a thorough investigation to understand this issue."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Possible Turkey Disaster

We are eating ribs today.  We have had plenty of turkey and ham on previous holidays.

When I was a kid, my family would often cook non-traditional holiday meals.  We would have rabbit stew on holidays, for instance.  We were among the first to fry a whole turkey.

Back in the 1990s, I fried a turkey for my family.  On the patio, the oil was heated on the outdoor cooker when I lowered the insert containing the turkey into it.  The oil bubbled up, overflowed, and caught fire.  I turned the gas off quickly, to avoid disaster.

Then I could not figure out what to do.  I removed the big pot from the cooker and set it down on the concrete of the patio.  The turkey continued to fry.  I let the pot set there for 40 minutes, frying all the while.  Then the turkey was done.

It was delicious.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guys With Guns

Adam says to Karl, "I'll trade you two steaks for 10 pounds of potatoes."

Karl replies, "I'll take two pounds of steak in exchange for two pounds of potatoes because that is fair."

Adam says, "I don't think so.  It's not worth it to me."

Karl slots a clip into his AK-47 with a clack and says, "Think again."

Under capitalism, we trade voluntarily.  Nobody pulls a gun.  Everyone has the right to withhold from everyone else if they do not think they're getting a fair deal.

Under socialism, trade is structured according to someone's conception of what is fair?  Who decides what is fair?  The guys with guns decides what is fair.

We now have a bill passed by our representatives that proclaims that it is fair that everyone should be forced to buy health insurance if they can afford it.  Suppose you do not want to buy it?

You can be sentenced to five years in prison.

Enforced by guys with guns.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Divide

I think about what is right and wrong.

If people do not agree with me, then I am ready to discuss how they think about the subject.

A good friend of mine did an excellent job of teaching me about the other side of the argument. She said that she does not think about what is right and wrong. She just knows what is right and wrong.

My friend and I are divided. Since we are extremely tolerant, we are able to remain friends.

I first read about such the divide in a book by Thomas Sowell over a decade ago. I have heard/read similar libertarian discussions over the years. These discussions did not come home to me until my friend gave me the viewpoint above--she knows what is right and wrong, just like Sowell, et. al. said she does.

How do the people on either side of the divide view each other? Since my friend is so tolerant, I will leave her, in particular, aside in this analysis.

To me, the folks on the other side should think--should do analysis. They do not have impure motives. They are honest folks that have faulty methods.

But the folks on the other side see right and wrong as obvious observation that needs no method of analysis. So they view me--who differs from them--as purposefully choosing evil.

These are the two worlds.

A few years ago I was in the DMV, listening to a conversation between two young women.  One was telling the other how to achieve the good life.  "Have your baby.  Apply to this place for your housing.  Apply to that place for your support check.  Apply to this place for your medicaid.  Apply to that place for . . . " 

The one was teaching the other a life plan.

Young women like these end up being supported by government--never learning personal responsibility.  For me, that is no life at all.  Such a path gives no hope of achieving any meaningful purpose.  Typically, those mothers remain single and poor.  Their children will be poor.  They will more likely fall into a life of crime.

My heart breaks for these young women.  My heart breaks for their children.  I hate the system that robs them of the opportunity for achievement--though they are willing participants, I understand that a corrupt system will corrupt them, too.

But this is on my side of the divide.

On the other side of the divide, my friend's heart goes out to the single mother with no means of support.  How will her child live?  Where will they live?  We must give her housing and food and medical care and other necessities.  It is only right.

On my side of the divide the answer is to tear down the system that encourages the terrible existence.  A child must be a burden to the girl's parents if she is to be seriously taught not to bear children that she cannot care for. 

That is tough.  For me it is tough love--and the only kind of real love. For those on the other side of the divide it is hate.

Part of the divide is analysis vs. emotion.

Part of the divide is short run vs. long run.

But there is little hope convincing someone on the other side because both see the other's approach as alien.  Now and then someone has an epiphany. 

The people to whom I have spoken that have come over to my side of the divide have felt the ephiphany as powerful as being hit by lightning.  And the epiphany is as rare as being hit by lightning.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


My seventeen year old has been taking part in online political discussions lately.  Maybe because he was raised by me, he lives in my world--the world in which one cannot spin straw into gold.

My son is amazed by the ability of people to deny and denigrate arguments that come from basic assumptions that one cannot live without.

One bugaboo that these folks are worried about is "net neutrality," which, in his community seems to have no concrete definition.  There is some agreement that if a law were passed guaranteeing net neutrality, your internet service provider could not limit massive downloads that take up lots of bandwidth--such as downloading movies.

But, it turns out, that if you force your ISP to accommodate the big downloaders, you also force them to inconvenience moderate users.  So which is best?

The invisible hand smacks everyone around in this way.  The ISP wants to maximize its profit by creating a service that people are willing to pay for.  The ISP has no incentive to hurt a user for the sake of causing hurt.  The ISP likes happy users.  And when some users make others unhappy, the ISP is out to provide the most overall value for users, whomever they are, since the ISP is rewarded more for providing more value--and this works whether the ISP is a monopolist or a competitor.

We can let ISPs and individuals both have freedom.  Or we can have government decide which users are angels and which are devils and set up rules by which some are hurt while others are helped. 

But government does not have skin in the game.  The ISP loses money if they have more unsatisfied customers.  The government does not.

In addition, who knows which unintended consequences the government will create when it tries to solve peoples' problems?

When my son is overcome by the strange view that comes form the other world, he has to unburden himself. 

And that is the sound of thinking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Truth About The Balloon Boy

I was home when the balloon blew across much of Colorado, pursued by helicopters and ground rescue, possibly carrying a six year old named Falcon, possibly alive, possibly dead.

The balloon touched down lightly.  Maybe he was alive!

He was not there.  Falcon's brother said he saw the him fall out.  Could he still be alive?

He was hiding in the attic the whole time.

Yes, the hoax cost multiple law enforcement agencies lots of money.

It was the best thing on television since the chase of the white Bronco.

Good entertainment at any price.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bread and a Lie

I was an only child at age three.  My mom walked into the room and saw a loaf of bread on the seat of my high chair.  It was squashed flat.

She asked, "John, did you squash this loaf of bread."

I said, "No."

Kids have no idea how transparent their lies are.

Friday, October 2, 2009

First Time Writer

I saw another first time writer tonight.  They always start their stories the same way.  Two years ago, I was one of them.  Here's the story.

Jorgamundor laced up his left work boot, stained with oilfield muck.  Jenny was still sleeping.  Jenny had been so upset lately.  But Jorgamundor knew why.

He remembered when Jenny's mother had yelled at her in front of him last week.  His poor wife had been so ashamed.  "She never loved me," Jenny had sobbed to him that night.  And now she walked around morose all the time.

Yesterday Jenny had even forgot to pick up Smolish, their 6 year old, from school.  Now Jenny was worried that the school might report her to social services.  And they might, too.

Then Jorgamundor put on his right work boot.

First time writers want to tell everything all at once. So it's twitch a finger, long flashback, twitch another finger.

It's cute, in a way, seeing it being done over and over.  "Awww, wook at the widdow witer.  I wemember when I was wike that."

Now I have other problems!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Before It Happens

Some things cannot be taken seriously until they happen, especially for the young.  After all, the young have not seen much of the world.  (This is something I need to keep in mind while writing fiction.)

My students do not believe me when I tell them how to study for my tests.  Then they get the test back and start asking me how to study for my tests, though I already told them.  I even put it in writing on the web.

Here we go again.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


She's a witch from ancient Egypt. She watched Moses kill a man and hid that knowledge. She had a spiritual experience that led her to believe that because she had chosen right, she would never die. She exalted in the knowledge.

A few thousand years later, she wants to die. She sees a raider kill a federal agent in wartime. She knows that this is her karmic chance--that if she turns in the raider she will be allowed to die.

But is she falling in love with the raider? And if she lets him live, she will keep on living, and he will die and leave her alone for thousands of years.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Original Joke?

What do you call the fear of being enclosed in a chimney?


Friday, September 18, 2009

Fed's Parable and Joke of the Day


Ben's children were carrying their eggs to market in their egg baskets.  Ben cautioned, "You children might trip and fall into one another.  So all your eggs might break."

So Ben took each child's eggs and put them in his super basket.  That way . . .



O. K., get this--the federal government is worried that the actions of individual banks can create risks for the entire banking system--systemic risk.  So (this is too funny) the Fed will regulate the entire system of executive compensation to eliminate risks that affect the entire system!

Get it!?

They're worried that banks who put all their eggs in one basket may upset the baskets of other banks.  So . . . the fed is putting all of everybody's eggs into their big basket!  That way, if the Fed drops that big basket . . .


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just Love

We finished talking about unemployment today.  One topic was how the official unemployment rate could systematically err. (Yes, this post is really about love.)

A student asked about how illegal aliens would affect the unemployment rate.  As usual, I asked questions and had them answer. 

If you're an illegal and you get the call from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, do you tell them that (1) you have a job (2) you don't have a job (3) you are looking for a job?

I got the answer that I consider to be most likely.  If you are that illegal worker, you hang up the phone.

So the first conclusion is that the unemployment rate likely does not reflect the presence of illegals at all.

My next statement and question was this.  If illegals are not included in the official statistics, because they do not participate in the survey, will that increase or decrease the unemployment rate?  The answer depends on whether illegals are more or less likely to be employed.

I got the right answer again.  Illegals do not have unemployment insurance. And they would often find it more difficult to get any other welfare benefits.  That means they probably are more likely to be employed than non-illegals.  So illegals really lower the unemployment rate, though we never pick that up in the data.  The official rate is likely overstated.

The students' unprejudiced analytical view was too much for me.  At that moment, I just loved my students.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Letter to a Friend


On the way home I pondered your question about whether it was moral to set up the sneaker factory in Vietnam and employ 6 year olds--or maybe it's 12 year olds, since I'm not sure how much 6 year olds can contribute.

I think that those who choose to work in a new factory only do so because they think their lives would be improved by it. Perhaps they are choosing to live in the factory or die in the jungle. Unless I could be convinced that Nike is using force or the threat of force to acquire workers, I think that Nike would be immoral to forego setting up up the factory for the sake of political correctness.

Similarly, were those kids we discussed who lived in the coal mines choosing between living in the mines or dying on the city streets? As I said, the choice between living in 1600's Jamestown or living in 1800's Philadelphia is an easy one to make.

Maybe it is immoral for dad to tell the kid to work in the factory, rather than play in the jungle (and maybe die in the jungle). A middle-eastern friend of mine once said, on this topic, "That is why you have the damned kid. He is supposed to help the family. He helps support the family, he supports you in your old age, and his kids support him in his old age."

Maybe we would rather have a lot of government aid to bring those kids into Y2K America. It never seems to work, though. Self improvement through freedom is the path up. (Then once a country is up, they seem to decide that this path is distasteful and try to short-cut advancement through a welfare state that ends upward progress).

If government concentrates on eliminating coercion, individuals improve themselves. And as they improve themselves, they cannot help but improve others. Donald Trump does not want to make a lot of people better off, but his gaudy empire employs a lot of people. If we squash him because we disapprove of whatever it is that he produces, then what happens to those people who had jobs in Trump empire?

I probably did not say much that was new. My point in writing was just that I consider it immoral to bow to the utopian protesters at WTO meetings who demand that we refuse a hand up to the third world, since we can't offer them the Garden of Eden.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Capitalism Fails!

Michael Moore is right! Capitalism has failed.

The cord on yet another set of my earphones has a short. I only get sound in one ear unless I hold the cord juuuuuust right, at the plug.

Yes, I have a heavy duty set of earphones with a cord as thick as a suspension cable on the Golden Gate Bridge. The sound quality of those earphones is great, but they uncomfortably clamp onto my head.

I also have a headset that works fine, but I cannot always walk around with a mic at my mouth--and I sleep with my headphones on.

In the same way that a doctor would rather cut a diabetic's foot off, rather than treat the diabetes*, electronics companies would rather make a headset wire with the consistency of a pretzel, than than use a thicker, woven wire.


*Barack Obama, Town Hall Meeting, August 15, 2009

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Heart and the Head on 9-11

My heart takes a back seat to my head in almost all decisions. That does not mean that I never make mistakes because I think everything through correctly. By extension, my analysis of situations that I have no direct control over is primarily mental. This shapes my opinions.

I know plenty of people for whom this is not the case. Their initial reaction is emotional. I probably cannot appreciate the benefits of the emotionally centered person. But in reflecting on 9-11, I may have uncovered a difference between the two types.

My analysis of 9-11 was the following. Islamic terrorists wish to target our unarmed, untrained civilians; we must send armed, trained troops to kill them. We must discover their plots in every way possible and prevent further slaughter. Even though we supplied weapons to Afgani fighters, so that they could kick the Russians out, the Afganis still considered us the enemy. I view that as evidence that Islamic terrorists cannot be appeased. Bin Laden clearly said that he was inspired by our weakness in withdrawing from Lebanon--he was not enraged by our strength.

This reason does not fade with time. I do not see that any of these assumptions have been challenged over time.

Emotions fade with time. We burn with love for a high school crush. Later our emotions are wholly different.

We cry on 9-11 for the slaughter of thousands. But we cannot cry every day like that, for every person who was slaughtered. Our heart does not have the capacity.

I view the current political retreat in the face of terrorism to result from a fading of the emotions of those who are prone to act primarily on emotion. When the emotion fades, it is hard to find the reason to continue onward. Those who react emotionally construct an elaborate rationalization which is consistent with their changing emotions.

Some may have said on 9-12, "We must kill this enemy. If we must invade countries, then we will. If we must torture these men who slaughtered thousands, then we will.* But we cannot allow this to happen again next week or next month or next year."

But, with a year of no further attacks . . . and two years . . . and eight years, this person's emotions have subsided.

Now this person says, "We must change our behavior so that the enemy will soften their approach. We must respect the sovereignty of countries who would plot our destruction, up until the day they take hostile action. We must treat the inhuman beast in a humane fashion, even if this means losing lives. Nothing has happened in the past years and that is a sign that nothing will happen."

After eight years, what I view as my reasoned response remains.

It happened. It can happen again. They hate us. Our attempts at concession show the weakness that inspires them. Our security was lax before 9-11. We needed new rules. We still need new rules.

My emotions have faded since 9-11. The images and the testimony of those who lost sons and daughters and mothers and fathers bring some of that emotion back. Fading emotions cannot sustain the resolve of a people--even to protect themselves--only enduring reason can.

*Note that even high-level decision makers in Congress did not object when they were privately briefed on torture. They understood that protecting our sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers was worth harming the killers.

Monday, September 7, 2009


As a guy, I am deficient in writing about romance. But other than the writing, I have displayed some decent romance chops.

I have thrown multiple surprise parties for my wife. I have surprised her with romantic gifts. On one Valentine's day, I called her to the door as she was getting ready to go out. She was met by a barbershop quartet that serenaded her (I got to take their fee off my taxes, since they were a gift that I got from donating $60 to the local NPR affiliate--yeah, that part is not romantic).

Finally, on another Valentine's day, we dropped the kids at some friends' house and went out to eat. Over dinner she said, "This is so nice. I wish we did not have to go home."

I said, "We don't. I rented the honeymoon suite at the hotel across the street and dropped the kids' clothes and toothbrushes at the babysitter's earlier." And I really had.

But when my characters find love, it is usually a practical thing. Abe's family had died and so had these two women's husband. Jake Fox was forced to marry Aline Elliott by her father, Wiley. Wiley thought Jake was probably going to die and was hoping that Aline could inherit Jake's property. Bryton fell head over heels for Tonjan (literally), but she ended up rationally choosing the High Priest--but Tonjan is a Priestess of Aatar, and they are like that.

And on the horror side, one happily married couple is destroyed by her unfaithfulness--she chooses her past over her husband. And one husband has clearly invoked a power that has possessed him and will soon result in his killing his wife and child.

It is time I try to do a seriously romantic story.


James attended his church since he was young. He was surprised when the minister asked him to give a little over $5,000 to repair the homes of poor folks who were members. He usually gave around 10% of his income in donations and the $5,000 would double his typical yearly donation. He said he would have to think about it.

A month later, James's minister called him in and admonished him to contribute. James told the minister that he cared about the poor, but that the contribution would take all of his emergency savings. James was not sure that he could afford to sacrifice his family's security. The minister said that God wanted James to give and that he would be rewarded. James said he would put a check in the plate next Sunday.

James could not bring himself to donate that much money next Sunday. He had heard rumors at work that his job would be transferred to another state. He might have to move. He might be out of work. Even so, he felt ashamed not to have contributed.

The next day, two deacons visited James at his home. They asked for the check. James was alarmed--he was outraged. They left without a check.

That evening, the minister and five deacons showed up, packing guns. James wrote out the check. The minister warned him not to stop payment, or bad things might happen to the family. The minister reiterated that the money was for the poor in the church and that James was being charitable--doing the Lord's work.

The church is the government. The donation is a new tax, meant to help someone. The church in the story is only as unethical as the government is in real life.

Why do people who contribute a pittance voluntarily, from their own generosity, feel that it is right to force others to contribute? How can forced contributions be charitable?

If you have, borne with this screed, thank you. It has been building for a while.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Goodbye, St. Simon

St. Simon's Island has been wonderous. Today we leave. Alas.

I cannot afford such vacations. A part of my job involves working with a non-profit organization that lures its leaders to two days of meetings per year by holding them in a nice place.

The executive director told us of the particular donation that funds these perennial retreats. I guess that is why he seemed to have problems acknowledging my earlier thanks--maybe he sees his role as only supporting philanthropy. To me, however, he seems like a gardener who grows philanthropy.

The aim of the organization is not to hold retreats. The aim of the organization is to benefit students for the rest of their lives by teaching them how to make good decisions. The organization works through the students' teachers--helping them teach. In my state, business and individuals see this as such an important mission that they voluntarily sacrifice to see it carried out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Capitalism is Evil

Michael Moore's new film tells us that capitalism is evil. Capitalism is economic freedom. It is laissez faire (leave it alone).

Moore says that we should substitute democracy for capitalism. It is not hard to understand how the guy who seriously told us that Cuba's health care system is better than ours could mistake a political system (democracy) for an economic system (capitalism).

If I must compare the two dissimilar things (is purple wavier than 6.5?) I favor capitalism. Here is why.

A democratically controlled economy* would tell me what I should or should not buy, whom I should or should not trade with, and which profession I should choose. The majority defines what is permissible and necessary in a democratic economic system.

Would the majority keep their hands off of me? This question is out of order; if the economy were to actually run on democratic decisions, hands-off would be a cop out--it would, in fact, be capitalism.

Given this, the question is as follows. Would I prefer that a majority of my fellow citizens coerce me, or would I prefer freedom? Alas, I have begged the question.

The inevitable conclusion is that Michael Moore is an idiot of a magnitude that one can only achieve if one is bolstered by a peverse intelligentsia who does not attempt to practice what they preach. They accept capitalism's paychecks and live well, while decrying the freedom that feeds them.



*See how I try to make the two things similar. In any case, I feel obligated to repeat the oft-observed caveat: The U. S. is, more correctly, a republic than a democracy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gang of Three on Cemetary Ridge

The Gang of Three liked Cemetary Ridge. They did a great job of helping me adjust the wording to maintain the reader's trance. The little flash story is now more clear and harmonious.

I had to leave a day early for my meeting on a coastal island. The last straw was when one of the organizers warned me about massive construction on the last 60 miles of highway, which would cause me to be late to the first session. So no Stonepile this month.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Miss David Letterman

I was in college when David Letterman got his first late night talk show. He was the new thing. He was funny. His sense of humor was fresh back then.

He was a skeptic about the glam of show business while he was working in that same medium. He was a skeptic about government and of other centers of power. In short, he was a comedian, and comedians are best when they're working as an "out" and not as an "in."

Tonight David interviewed a guest who once modestly proposed that a world wide government (goodbye, U. S. A.) might be necessary to impose forced sterilization and abortion to control population. In such a regime, you would be a criminal if you had too many children. If a woman was found to be pregnant without permission she would be hunted down and her baby would be aborted--that's what forced abortion is.


Since I am an old guy, I associate such advocacy with Chairman Mao. A person who calls for such measures is crying for Big Brother to take control of the most intimate aspects of our lives. If you have read my writing before, you know I am an advocate of freedom--of people freely working out solutions to their problems.

David got along well with his guest. No, he was not discussing just how great forced sterilization and abortion would be with the guest. He was discussing one of the latest advocacy fads, which, if enacted, would result in shorter, less fulfilling lives.

But I can never take a person who, as a sober, well-trained scientist, seriously advocated Big Brother. David Letterman can now take such a person seriously.

Of course this guest is now in a position of power. David's interview was, essentially, speaking power to truth.

I'll miss David Letterman. I'm just glad the old David did not live to see the new one.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Real Life

As an expert witness, I once had to estimate the dollar loss to a couple suing for a possible malpractice that resulted in the death of their three day old child.

So I had to find an estimate of the cost of raising a kid in terms of money spent and in terms of the market value of the service provided by parents (maid, cook, chauffer, babysiter, etc.). The estimate was around $400,000 per kid.

Kids are the costliest little decisions in the world. The time and effort that one must take to raise a kid is huge.

So my three kids cost something less than $1.2 million dollars. I say less because some services do not multiply exactly--for example, hiring a cook for three is not three times as expensive as hiring a cook for one.

When I teach economics I tell my students that we undertake decisions for which the benefits outweight the costs. And I say that the benefits of each of my kids outweigh the costs. Overall, having a family is the best thing that one can do with one's life.

This idea is at the heart of economics. Perhaps we would rather dwell on benefits of things that we favor. But there are always costs. Since I can be happy, even with this perspective, perhaps I am fortunate I found my profession.

I wrote a haiku in which I attempted to express the essence of choice: we take one option, and we give up another. Whether we consider any of our options "good" or whether we consider all options "good," the getting, as well as the giving up, is the nature of choice.

Choice is all about living in the moment. All action takes place, as Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence, on the present's knife edge, cutting through a boundless, undefined future, and leaving a decided past. Here is my haiku.

Tender shoots encased
in an age of ice. The hare
Picks the best bait's trap.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


If we trade credit cards for a day, you'll buy lots of stuff that you would not have otherwise bought.

Since you would not have otherwise bought it, that reveals that the stuff was not as valuable as the stuff you bought before you had my credit card.

And I will do the same. I'll buy lots of computer games with your card that I had looked at longingly last week. I didn't buy them last week, though, because I bought stuff that had more value--stuff that was necessary.

You and I will spend lots of money inefficiently.

Oh, now let's do the same with health care credit cards. Voila! National health insurance!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Michael Vick went to prison for two years for operating a dogfighting ring.

He was recently released and will soon be able to play professional football again.

He had to confess how wrong he was. He had to say that he now loves Big Brother. Or maybe he was saying that he now loves Little Rover.

It reminds me of an old song I heard on my family's Edison record player. The record was a quarter inch thick and the phonograph had to be wound with a crank.

Eastward, westward, home's the best word,
When you're blue and all alone.
Little Rover, think it over.
Don't forget to come back home.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If You're So . . .

I am a PhD economist. When someone wants to diss me, they can easily say, "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?"

Because I am not rich. I am barely making it to the end of the month. This month, in fact, seems to get longer each day.

Warren Buffett is worth $37 billion (he was worth $63 billion last year).

Buffett was an Obama supporter. He referred to Obama's Incarnation with the words, "You couldn't have anybody better in charge."

After seven months of spending, Buffet realizes that the deficit has exploded and that the administration only wants more spending. In a recent New York Times editorial, Buffet said, "Fiscally, we are in uncharted territory.”

He warns against more spending, though the administration clearly wants more. (That is what the current controversy is about).

Warren, how could you support the candidate that promised that government fix our mortgages, fix our banks, fix our companies, give us health care, give us a carbon-free planet*, and give us a free college education? Warren, how could you support him if you do not like mountains of government debt? Did you think he could spend straw into gold?"

Look at every single aspect of Obama's background and resume. Is there one single item that says that he thinks government should be bounded by law or by economic reality? How many items indicate that he knows of no bounds for government? (Yes, we can!)

So to Warren Buffett, I say, "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"


*Yes, I know a carbon-free planet would be lifeless. I am giving a shout out to some friends who have told me that they hope mankind hurries and kills itself off, so that the planet can live in peace. I am doing them one better.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My Kid, Nostradamus, The Maya, and Obama

My twelve year old read that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012 and that many kooks believe that the world will end along with the calendar. Now he's spooked.

Tonight he told me about aliens giving a woman the correct interpretation of Nostradamus's prophesies.* He decided, consistent with something his mom told him two nights ago, that the woman was nothing special. If aliens wanted to communicate with someone they would go to a world leader.

So my son sent an email to the White House.

I asked, "How did you do that?" I hoped that he did something that resulted in communicating with nobody.

But he said, "The White House has a web site with an email address."

I await the U. S. Secret Service knock at my door.


*To help innoculate my kid against the goofballs that think that Nostradamus is coherent I found some of his prophesies and read them to him. He agreed that they were incoherent--not nearly as laden with meaning as the internet freaks would have him believe. Here is an example.

The large mastiff expelled from the city
Will be vexed by the strange alliance,
After having chased the stag to the fields
The wolf and the Bear will defy each other.

Oh, yeah, Nostradamus. I'll be sure to watch out for that mastiff if you'll keep track of that wolf and bear.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

That's Amore

My new associate dean's last name is Martin.

Today I asked him if he could sing. He did not know what to say. I said, "Now that you're Dean Martin, you've got to sing. Maybe you could practice, 'That's Amore.'"

It was the first time it occured to him that he is now Dean Martin.

He fired me.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009


The dogs got hold of an old toy that we have had for years. This one does not have a lot of sentimental value for us, though. Nontheless we were not ready to have it shredded.

The toy is the small monkey that you see in this picture. It is about as big as your palm.

Julia said that the red thread that they pulled out of its mouth looked like a tongue. My twelve year old said, "From now on we should call him Gene Simian."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

First Beating

The university's fall semester is starting soon. We had our first beating of the year today. The bad news was a 6 day furlough--goodbye to a percentage of salary, since the state is broke.

The good news was that we have some private money and will get incentive rewards to publish. Even more unusual--they made the rewards retroactive to January 2008. The rewards can't be taken as cash payments. But they can fund travel to conferences or equipment/software purchases or even be used to "buy out" a course in summer.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Wrong is simple.

I own myself. It is wrong for anyone to violate that ownership.

How can someone violate my self-ownership? By killing me. By enslaving me. Killing is the greatest evil. Enslaving is the second greatest evil.

Slavery is taking away my choice by force or by threat of force.

If all property is owned by the king, I eat and live at his sufference. I must obey him or die. I am his slave.

I can only remain alive and free if I can trade my labors (part of me) in return for property.

If property is in the hands of many individuals, then I may be able to strike a bargain. I can cut your hair* in return for a loaf of bread, which you baked.

If the king forbids me from selling my services to others, he has enslaved me. If the king confiscates the bread which I earn from others, he has enslaved me.

If my neighbor's family decides that they will be kings, confiscating my property or otherwise enslaving me, that is wrong, too. If all use are free to confiscate or enslave, we do not make much bread. We spend lots of time defending.

So we need some means by which we protect each person from being coerced by others.

There you have it. Right and wrong.

All men [have] inalienable rights . . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secured these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed.

Note that if the government takes all my property, they have enslaved me. If they take half my property, they have half-enslaved me.

How do we fund a government to protect our rights? We can only do it through coercing each person to give up some of property in return for this protection. Hence, government is an illogical creation. The anarchists cannot get past that.

Many libertarians agree that government is a necessary evil. It is necessary, so we must have it. It is evil (coercion--partial slavery) so we should keep it small.

*You do not want me to cut your hair.

Monday, August 10, 2009


My brother's backwoods friend joined the air force. I think he was looking for a solid job that did not require a college degree--those were hard to find in the backwoods.

He trained to be a fuel technician. The fuel engineer sticks the nozzle into the plane's tank. The fuel technician operates the pump. At least that is what he told us.

The personnel officer asked him where he would like to be stationed. He said, "How about Alexandria," which was forty miles from home.

The personnel officer said, "How about Guam!"

He naturally figured that Guam was the closest base to Alexandria.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Dog?

On the way to the doctor's office, an SUV in front of us had a bumper sticker that read, "Beware of Dog."

Really? Was there a dog on board most of the time which passers-by should beware of?

Then, at the doctor's office a sign on the front door said, "Beware of Dog." We did not see any blind folks. We did not see any work dogs.

Apparently dogs have become ubiquitous in society.

By the way, neither sign had quote marks. I only used quotation marks to quote the signs.

Friday, August 7, 2009

"Bitter Barrier"

I bought Bitter Barrier from OdaBall. If your dog has a chewing problem, spray this on what they like to chew and they stop, since it tastes bitter to them.

Ysabella was chewing on my Cat 5 cable. I sprayed the cable. She licked up the excess Bitter Barrier from the floor.

From now on I'll put quotation marks around "Bitter Barrier."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

People With Jobs

P. J. O'Rourke wrote about the following exchange with a friend in his book, Parliament of Whores.

"How come," I asked Andy, "whenever someone upsets the left, you see immediate marches and parades and rallies with signs already printed and rhyming slogans already composed, whereas whenever someone upsets the right, you see two members of the Young Americans for Freedom waving a six-inch American flag?"

We have jobs." said Andy.

In recent days crowds of people have packed U. S. representatives' and senators' speeches and town hall meetings to scream about current government attempts to reform health care.

The Obama administration and congress have dismissed these protesters as supported by various lobbying groups, implying that they are paid employees, not genuinely concerned citizens. The protesters have been said by Barbara Boxer, Steny Hoyer, and others to be dressed in Brooks Brothers suits.

I cannot figure out whom to believe--Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. or my lying eyes. I have been watching these protesters for nearly a week. My eyes tell me that there are old guys dressed like my dad, in untucked collared shirts with vertical scroll patterns on the front, and women dressed in light blue cotton blouses, like my mom wore. There are middle-aged guys dressed in the collared knits shirts that I buy from Wal Mart for ten bucks. There are a few young folks, dressed in polos and khakis--like my students. My lying eyes have not revealed the rows of Brooks Brothers suits such as one can see at a banking convention.

On one hand, Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. may have optic nerves that differ from mine (in fact, that would explain a lot). On the other hand, Obama/Boxer/Hoyer/etc. may not understand what it looks like when they see protesters who have jobs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Quote Marks Strike Again

At the doctor's office today, I saw signs that read:

"This is a no-smoking facility" -- GPM

Yes, the sign had quote marks on it. I previously ruminated on strange quote marks. In this case perhaps the office, GPM, was indicating that someone had, indeed, said this exact thing, so that the marks indicated a quotation, instead of adding a peculiar "emphasis."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Indian Cornbread

The simplest dish that I know of is what southerners call indian cornbread. It is also called fried cornbread or hot water cornbread in some quarters.

Pour corn meal in a bowl.
Add some salt.
Pour in boiling water--paste should not be runny, but can stop just short of runny.
Shape into palm-sized disks with hands dipped in cool water.
Put in a cast iron skillet which has a thin layer of hot oil and fry until it starts to brown.
Flip, repeat.

My mom and grandma cooked it. My wife's mom and grandma cooked it. Men cooked it in wartime, since all you need is corn meal, water, and oil--when they could get even those simple ingredients.

So few people cook anymore that I do not know if indian cornbread will survive.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Yesterday my brother told me that he did not believe that any person who could get dressed in the morning could believe that one could tax (or borrow) a trillion dollars from the economy, spend it in the economy, and help the economy.

I assured him that I know plenty of people who are exactly like that. They believe that government can levy a $200,000 tax on a business person who takes home $150,000 per year and have no effect on anything.

I said, "There are two kinds of functional adults out there. One kind believes you can spin straw into gold (ala Rumplestiltskin) and another kind of person believes you cannot."

He said, "But they don't really believe that."

I said, "I have talked with many of them. They really believe it."

He said, "But they don't really believe it."

I said, "Yes. They really believe it. Some of my friends believe it. In my economics courses, there are always a few people who believe it. Some admit that they make decisions based on how they feel and don't want to think hard, but some think much too hard."

He said, "No. I mean, they don't really believe it. They couldn't."

We were at an impasse.

At the risk of offending those who believe we can spin straw into gold (as if I had not already), I think the perception comes from being a certain kind of intellectual. For instance, there are professors who insist that words have only private meanings--that there is no common meaning. And there are non-professors who follow these folks. But you should never ever hire one of those people to build a house for you, grow food for you, or do anything else in the practical realm where people could die.

Except for the professors and a few other "thinking" classes who follow them, however, no one asserts that such propositions (straw into gold, words mean nothing) are true with regard to practical matters such as immediate food and shelter.

However, people will assert that we can spin straw into gold with regard to the aggregate, or the abstract. With sophistry, we can put aside some basics.

For instance, during the health care debate in the Clinton administration, an economic truth came home to me. And it is a hard truth to dispel.

The nation pays for the nation's health care.

We can pay through out-of-pocket payments to doctors, through insurance premiums, or through taxes. But the nation pays for the nation's health care.

So the question becomes, "Which way is more efficient?" Which methods of payment encourage people to conserve while they consume? The best method of paying would have me never consuming $100 worth of something that is only worth $25 to me. Having others pay for my health care will invariably encourage inefficiency. Inefficiency means that we are taking food, shelter, and other worldly goods from people and destroying them. In my previous example, someone does not have food for the week because I spent their money on me. I may have destroyed $100 of their value to increase mine by $25.

Recently I saw a politician* assert that by looking at the cost of health care paid for by government, we dwell on the glass being half empty. That is true. The realist realizes that the glass is half empty and is also half full.

However, what that politician is currently attempting is to pour RC Cola** from my glass into someone else's glass, siphoning off some for his own glass. Meanwhile, he tells me that if I observe that my glass is nearly empty, I am a pessimist. That is, this politician says, "Forget about that guy with the empty glass," consistent with William Graham Sumner's noteworthy essay.

Since I have rambled in this post, I cannot end it properly.

So I return to my brother. He operates a crane on an offshore rig. If he messes up, people die and property is damaged. He realizes that words must mean things. He realizes that in the abstractions of life, that there are concrete necessities. And that when one smacks into concrete, it hurts.

Perhaps most engineering professors understand concrete--most journalism professors do not.


*Who, incidentally, has a string of ethics violations pending because he did not report taxable income.

**Although I have drunk RC Cola in the past, I am not a great fan. I use the example for its folksy twang.

Friday, July 31, 2009

News Flash: Dogs Fitting In

Here are the dogs. They are both rat terriers from my dad's kennels. Jibbly is the black one with hair. Ysabella is the white one without hair.

Since I wrote about them before, they have reversed roles. Jibbly was coming out of her shell slowly, while Ysa blossomed all at once. Now Ysa seems timid, preferring to retreat to her crate until pried out. Jibbly is acting like she owns the place.

Once Ysa is on the couch beside someone, she's fine. As a pup, she has trouble with transitions. She seems frightened of going out the door. Once outside she is fine. And she is fine approaching the door from outside when she is ready to go inside. But she balks crossing over the threshold.

Both are healthy and happy and eating and fitting in.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Alma Mater

In its own way, this is the most beautiful campus in the world. Julia and I sat on that footbridge, day or night, watched and listened to the bayou.

When I did job search as I finished graduate school, I had an interview at my alma mater and at another university--one which was a cut above, with regard to research capabilities, which is what graduate students mostly consider.

I was torn. But when I got the offer to return to the bayou, I realized that I did not want anything else.

Oh, by the way, the University has classrooms, dorms, a huge library, and all the other stuff you need to educate a dozen thousand students.

Somehow, despite the fact that a medium sized university immediately surrounds this bayou, the natural beauty of this place is preserved. And somehow the administration manages to all-but-hide this jewel on their web site. I found it after a close inspection.

Monday, July 27, 2009


This is a lemma related to Murphy's law.

Even though you can't tie a knot that will hold in the face of any adversity, if you drop two sets of headphones in your bag, upon removal you will find them tied in undefeatable knots.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What's In "A Name"

Julia and I were in a nearby city with a Mexican population so large that there is a Mexican side of town (with excellent authentic food).

We passed a sign that said,

"Sanchez" Auto Repair

Yes, the "Sanchez" was in quotation marks on the sign. What the heck was that?

Was the guy's name Santanna, but everybody called him Sanchez? Was the guy's name Sanders, but, since he served Mexican customers, they called him Sanchez?

Or did the guy have some deconstructionist outlook that views language, and also names, as artificial constructions that shape an arbitrary personal reality, such that any attempt at communication does not transmit information regarding a shared reality, but only reveals the biased worldview of the "communicator."

The latter is not likely because he is still in business. You can be a deconstructionist history professor, but not a deconstructionist auto repair person. "You say that your car is not running. But your car is 'running' our environment toward a cataclysmic ruin. $525.82, please. I don't take 'checks.'"

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dos Perros

Dad let us pick out two dogs when we visted him on vacation. I had sent him a check earlier for one and he had returned it. The economist in me says, "I don't want you to sacrifice the amount of money you could get from selling a dog." But he would not hear of it.

We ended up picking out a very shy, small hairless dog. Also, the boys and Julia fell in love with a personable black hairy dog that Dad was going to give away. I did not want a hairy dog, but since she was so well behaved and playful, I relented.

Julia named the hairless one Ysabella. We call her EEsa.

My 12 year old kept trying to hang stupid names on the black dog. He wanted Rascal II, for instance. Too weird.

When he declared--probably his tenth sundry declaration--that the dog's name is Jibbly*--I perked up. She is, indeed, a Jibbly. It sounds sort of silly and fun, but unique.

Ysa bloomed at once. She became snuggly, playful, and possessive of Julia, just like Rascal was. She is so small that she could sit in an oversized coffee mug, but she does not eat food, so much as she attacks it for prolonged periods of time. She frolics, rearing up on her hind legs, throwing her forepaws up in the air, and pouncing. She's adorable.

Though Jibbly was so personable and playful at Dad's, she did not react well to the change of scenery. She wanted to sit on the couch, not get down and explore, not go outside (when I took her outside she only wanted to head to the front door to go back inside), not do anything, even eat or drink.

After we had her for about four days Jibbly began to throw up rocks. By rocks, I mean . . . rocks, like from my dad's yard. The largest one was the diameter of a quarter, and as thick as three quarters put together. The smallest was the size of two stacked dimes. There were four rocks in all. That may have had something to do with why she did not eat for so long.

After around a week Jibbly decided that our yard was not the most horrible place in the world and even got down from the couch. She began eating normally. She also began playing with us and with Ysa.

So now Jibbly is easier to like. Ysa's only problem is that she is not yet house trained. Alas. You can't spell "puppy" without a whole lotta' "p."

*The name "Jibbly" comes from a Homestarrunner cartoon. It is the sound Strongbad and others repeat over and over when they are weirded out to the point of twitching incoherence. I see Jibbly spelled on the net as Jibblie, but the pronunciation is not as clear with that spelling, a fact that been commented on by others on the net.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Morte d'Canid

I previously talked about Rascal.

The electric fence failed repeatedly. Two batteries and a collar replacement later, the fence failed for the final time. Rascal got loose and was hit by a car.

We cried a lot.

On vacation we visited my mom's grave. On her headstone was a picture of her.

With Rascal.

It was like having a grave for Rascal there, too.

I didn't want my kids to start crying so I didn't show them.

Monday, July 20, 2009


At the scene of my son's auto accident, the police asked whom I wanted to tow the wrecked truck. I gave them a name.

They could not reach my preferred wrecker service. They called another wrecker service who lived a mile from the scene.

The following day, I visited Ken's Wrecker Service. I said, "How much do I owe you?"



An expensive tow is $75. But, an economist understands that Ken was called out by the police and, as I stood there digesting that price, he had already performed the service, so I had no bargaining power. I would have bargaining power if I were stuck on the side of the road, calling different wrecker services.


I replied, "Impressive!"

He didn't know what to say.

Later, as my wife and I were looking for her cell phone in the car, calling it with another cell phone, Ken hemmed and hawed about how he had cleaned up the glass and had spread sand over the oil slick.

Yeah--I had watched Ken's labors. Some glass dust was on the road. Every window and windshield unbroken, but the front windshield was cracked, leaving the dust. The entire operation took him a minute.

But an economist understands absolute monopoly power, so I did not argue. It was nothing personal on Ken's part. It was business. He had me. He used all the power he had.

Since the month-old transmission had significant resale value, I needed the truck towed to my mechanic.

Ken did not get that job. Another wrecker service towed the truck from Ken's yard to my mechanic.

Nothing personal. Just business.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

3:30 AM

The phone rang at 3:30 AM.

My 19 year old said, "Dad, there's been an accident."

"Are you all right?"


"Is the truck all right?"


"Where are you?"

When I got there the police and ambulance were there. The officer asked questions about what happened and if drugs were involved. He took his word for it, even though police in this county have a reputation for hauling out the drug dogs even if you just failed to signal a turn.

The ambulance took my son's passengers to the emergency room and I took him.

They were all walking around. The girl had all the skin scraped off her chin, but was otherwise all right. The boy was all right.

My son needed seven stitches perpendicular across his eyebrow. His chest was cut and bruised from the seat belt, but there was nothing they could do for that.

The truck was totalled.

The truck was left to my wife and I by my father-in-law who died of leukemia in 1997. We had put around $3,000 of work into it--which was approximately the value of the truck--a month ago.

Goodbye second vehicle.

But my son is able to walk and talk and enjoy life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vacation Update III

Part I: Rook

Rook is a Parker Brothers game that uses a weird deck of numbered cards (usually 5-14). Rook is like spades with a few twists. I remember going to my grandma's house and watching mom and dad play the game with my grandparents and their friends.

My grandfather played Rook on his death bed. He lingered in the hospital for three weeks after his heart attack in 1976. He had a few intravenous drips going, for which they taped some sort of board over his wrist and palm--I guess so he could not pull the IVs out.

He tried to shuffle and cut the IV board. He would mock my grandmother's bid now and then, as he had done many times. "90, by gawd!" He would discuss his luck at the cards and talk about what was going wrong and going right in the game.

I wrote a poem about the experience. It was special to me, but is probably confusing doggerel to the rest of the world.

I watched the U. S. Bicentennial celebration from the hospital chapel. I met a girl that I really liked, named Deanne Davis, from Raceland, Louisiana. My previously planned summer camp started and my parents insisted that I go. My grandfather died while I was there.

I was not going to tell a story about Wiley Edwards's quietly cantankerous son. This was about the vacation. But you need all that to understand why I had such a great time playing Rook with my 17 year old, my wife, and her aunt.

The first night, my son and I beat them badly. The next night, they began to beat us, but then we pulled nearly even before they won by a few points. It was great fun.

Part Two: Togetherness

My 17 and 19 year old boys had planned on us dropping them off to spend a week with their friends while we visited with relatives during our vacation. But the 17 year old decided he would rather stay with us.

The 19 year old was going to stay with a friend who would be moving out of his parents' home and into an apartment. But the friend was not out of his parents' home, and his parents were not amenable to putting up my son for a week.

So all three boys stayed with us. They were often bored. We always needed two hotel rooms. Eyi. Expensive.

Though everyone was dismayed at what might have been, I don't know how the vacation would have felt if we had not been together.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vacation Update II

A low point of the vacation was going to Lafayette, Louisiana and not being able to find good cajun food.

My sister-in-law took us to her usual place--Guidry's. Guidry is a great Cajun name. I even used it in Furnace Angel, my horror short story that crossed reality TV with Cajun folklore.

Guidry's was closed for a week or so. Sis-in-law could not think of another great Cajun place and neither could a friend she called. So we ate Greek food at the restaurant beside the hotel.

The food was great. Julia and I got a sampler platter that had some dolmades, hummus, tabouli, spiced lamb and spiced chicken. My 19 year old got an eggplant stuffed with other veggies--I warned him that it was a bold move. He hated it. My other two kids got stuff they liked. Sis-in-law hated feta cheese and hummus and could barely eat the shrimp--she didn't like the spices.

But the real high point was the laugh I got from my 11 year old.

A belly dancer performed. Nice.

The 11 year old was embarassed. He tucked his head into the neck of his shirt like a turtle. As the belly dancer was walking away, the waitress came up to the table and asked us if we needed anything else.

The 11 year old tentatively stuck his head up out of his shirt and said in a quavering voice, "Therapy."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vacation Update I

I discussed our problems getting started on vacation. I was going to do regular updates, but we have not had Internet access for most of the time. We were supposed to have plenty of access, but it has not worked out.

I will try to limit myself to one gripe per post and I will try to give one bright spot per post.

The biggest gripe is the car's air conditioner failure. In Louisiana heat, the AC worked for a few minutes yesterday and not at all today. When one needs a mechanic, the answer is "next Thursday, maybe," so we have had to bear with it. We are planning on (from now on) leaving early in the morning and stopping by noon or so.

A high point of the vacation was being able to complete a 1,000 word story for an Everquest II player-written book. The adventures of the unfortunate gnomish seige engineer, Pestal Pickworthy, are (I think) off to a good start.

I am still editing Pestal's first adventure a bit, but it is mostly there. Since I'm going to give away the story, I'll eventually publish the whole thing here.

More highs and lows tomorrow.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Virtual World Literature

Everquest II, the interactive online game, has introduced "player-written books."

Players can buy virtual notebooks for their virtual characters, write about 700 words in them, save them, reproduce them, and sell them for virtual money.

I have my first story planned. I'm not sure about copyright--I bet Sony will claim it--so I'm giving the it away for only virtual money. I am going to use a tidbit that I learned in Empires of the Sea, as a pattern for my first story.

I'm still planning, but here's what is there so far. Pestal Pickworthy, a gnomish scientiest who has ambitions to be a seige engineer, has tried to approach the barbarian commander of a doomed fortress, only to be rebuffed as an inconsequential pest.

Finally Pestal corners the commander's jester, who had been left for dead, and convinces the jester to tell the commander about Pestal , who understands that the ogre trenchworks will see no success at the gates, but will endanger the fortress's ravelin, which has a fatal flaw.

The jester departs, then eventually a detachment comes from the barbarian commander for Pestal. Pestal is elated and attempts to spill all his advice to the commander, only to learn that the commander merely wishes to replace the fool, who died of injuries, with Pestal, whom the fool recommanded as the most entertaining raving lunatic left in the fortress.

Pestal's hissy fit leaves the barbarian in stitches. Pestal becomes violent and is judged to have outlived his usefulness as a fool. The commander orders Pestal to be flung from the catapult toward the enemy.

As the commander watches the gnome fly and hears his screeched curses, he realizes that the ravelin is, indeed, vulnerable and moves at once to shore it up.

Pestal miraculously survives and attempts to enter through the weakness in the ravelin just as it is sealed.

I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere. 700 words, huh . . .?

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Two months ago the car started giving the "I'm too hot!" alarm, an insistent pinging that attached to my brain stem.

The mechanic said that with no leaks and plenty of fluids, I must have a faulty sensor, which he did not know how to replace. I tried to make the car overheat by idling it for an hour--a car is at its hottest when idling. No leak, no heat. Guess the mechanic was right. Drove the car again.


I was going to have it fixed, but then I became addicted. I would get in the car and drive for a couple of minutes just to hear the


Finally it came time for vacation and my wife, who has no tolerence for substance abusers or sonic abusers insisted that the pinging be remedied. I took it to another mechanic who replaced the sensor.

That mechanic said it was low on fluid. He added water. Water poured out through the radiator, just as fast as he poured it in.

Replaced the radiator. $300.


He tested the temperature by hooking a monitor into the car's computer. The car was really hot. No faulty sensor.

Thermostat was bad. Replaced.


Radiator cap would not hold pressure, which meant that the fluid got hotter than it should. Replaced.


The only other part of the cooling system outside the engine was the water pump. The coolant is pumped into the engine and heats up, then is pumped through the radiator, a big heat sink that allows the heat to radiate into the air. The radiator works better when the car is in motion, because there is air rushing over it and carrying the heat away. But if the water pump is broken, the coolant does not circulate out of the engine so the heat will not radiate away.

Bingo! (Or maybe Pingo?)

The water pump is like a fan that blows coolant through the system. My fan blades were slightly loose on the fan's shaft, so when the fan was going slow--when the car was idling--water was pumping, but when the fan sped up, the loose blades would not turn because the shaft was spinning so fast.

So the coolant was circulating through the engine at slow speeds, but not at fast speeds. That explained the strange fact that my car got hotter when driving than when idling.

Replaced the water pump. The problem was fixed. We left on vacation a day and a half late and about 250 more dollars short.

Now where am I going to find another


Wednesday, July 1, 2009


An audio treat can be found at

I laughed. I laughed more. I learned nothing about life. The writing was excellent.

You can listen live or download it for your mp3 player. They also have a podcast, if you want to hear a horror story each week. Their usual story is not as humorous as Stepfathers, however.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Honorable Enough

Killing Words won an honorable mention in Writers of the Future, the big science fiction and fantasy contest.

On one hand hand, this is only an attaboy, because to a professional outlet an honorable is a certification that, according to one judge, this story was not the best, and they only want to publish the best.

On the other hand it's nice that a professional author put a stamp of quality on the story. Ann C. Crispin did not get Killing Words at all and thought it was a horrible mess. I disagreed, but not audibly, since she is somebody in writing and I am nobody.

So I'm putting the certificate up on my wall.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pushing and Popping

When government tries to control markets, they push on one end and something they don't like pops up on the other end. So they push on the other end and something else pops up. The Obama administration's preoccupation with executive pay is illustrative.

Early in 2009 someone realized that executives at the bailed-out insurance company AIG had earned large bonuses, consistent with contracts which had already been approved by the government bailer-outers. Death threats for these executives followed, in the wake of the furor ginned up by congress and by President Obama. Obama promised to squash bonuses for bailed-out companies.

Then the administration realized that if they cap executive pay at bailed-out companies that the companies would lose their best talent to non-bailed companies, making it more likely that the companies would require more bailouts and/or would fail (push/pop).

Government pushed again, looking at the possibility of controlling the pay of all executives, whether their firms had been bailed out or not (push/pop/push).

Of course, that would likely cause another pop, as firms in the U. S. lose top talent to other countries. So what if the American system fails? Those executives will be making great contributions to the American offices of an expanded Deutchbank, where my account will be (push/pop/push/pop).

Now the administration seems to have scaled things back. The new pay czar, a lawyer named Kenneth Feinberg, will be able to set pay at bailed-out companies--decisions not subject to appeal. Thank goodness for lawyers with godlike intelligences and tyrannical mandates.

Meanwhile there has been another pop. The Wall Street Journal reports, "Morgan Stanley has said it is de-emphasizing annual cash bonuses in its pay packages, relying more on base salaries, restricted stock and deferred cash payments subject to clawbacks if the employee's bets turn sour down the road."

"Uh, Mr. Arkwright . . . we're not going to offer you $100K plus a possible $125K bonus if you perform well. We're going to offer you $100K now, plus $125 at the end of the year. Oh, and if you don't perform well, we'll take back the $125 we promised you."

I only hope that Feinberg is not skilled enough in semantics to recognize this rephrasal of the standard bonus contract. If so, get ready for another push.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fields of Hell

I accompanied my son's fifth grade class on their field trip. In one sense, it went off without a hitch. Nobody died and nothing broke down.

We visited a cave, an aquarium, and IMax. The trip took 5 hours of driving and 5 hours of touring/eating. There were so many activities that nobody got to enjoy them. One kid in the group I was chaperoning kept lagging behind because he wanted to stop and look at seahorses, crocodiles, sharks, caves, waterfalls, etc. But there was no time! To hit our time marks we had to walk at a fast clip the whole way.

Of course, we slowed down for the IMax, but after four hours of running, both kids and adults slept through it.

When we loaded the bus to go home--2.5 hours, we got food, a drink, and an extra bottle of water. But the teachers did not want the kids to use the bus bathroom because if they let one kid go, they would all want to go.

I could never be a teacher. Or a prison guard.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I saw a little of Unforgiven tonight. It has one of the most beautiful lines in the history of film, perhaps in all of literature. Here it is. If you're the jumpy kind, you can start at 2:20.

The deep, dual, meaning of the final line is worth the price of admission.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Not Too Big To Fail

The U. S. President has proposed that the antidote to the problem of companies growing too big to fail is to shrink them. Goodbye future Microsofts and Walmarts.

However, I remain unconvinced that any company is too big to fail. I found the perfect counterexample.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center was the nexus of the entire financial world. Surely the destruction of the twin towers, along with systems and trained personnel would plunge the financial system into chaos. Surely the twin towers were too big to fail.

The towers went down in September 2001. The third quarter of 2001 did experience negative growth. Though the economy had struggled before the towers were destroyed, the recession ended in the fourth quarter of 2001.

The total collapse of the financial nexus of the world did not wreck the world financial system, or even the U. S. financial system.

Is AIG too big to fail?


Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Hunting for something on television, my wife found a TLC show on outragrously obese people. The doctor asked a 700 pound woman, "Have you always been this big?"

I nearly died.

I wanted her to reply, "Yes, I have. My mother died in child birth--all that was left of her was a husk."

Thursday, January 15, 2009


When I first heard of her, she was the unstable wife of the mayor of a backward southern town. Then her husband was killed in a bar fight. She was convinced that he was killed as a result of a conspiracy, so she ran for mayor and won.

For a while after that I saw her on television every week, raging at the town council, accusing them of all manner of chicanery. She was entertaining. The town regressed. She did not win reelection.

The next time I saw her she had a following. She was a princess of the Dugdemona tribe of Native Americans, which she had founded. She claimed five counties of a state that had been sold in the Louisiana Purchase. She based her claims on language in the treaty which referred to the Indians. She had followers. She had opened the tribe's membership to anyone who paid the membership fee.

I looked around for her on the web today, but did not find her. She may be lost to time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

WSJ Caught Up With Me

Stephen Moore, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, caught up to me on January 9th. My post was this one.

I like my example of "life imitates Ayn Rand" better than Moore's. I duely noted the same example that Moore noted in the January 9th piece, but did not link it to Ayn Rand. Moore said this, combining my two posts.

In one chapter of the book, an entrepreneur invents a new miracle metal -- stronger but lighter than steel. The government immediately appropriates the invention in "the public good." The politicians demand that the metal inventor come to Washington and sign over ownership of his invention or lose everything.

The scene is eerily similar to an event late last year when six bank presidents were summoned by Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to Washington, and then shuttled into a conference room and told, in effect, that they could not leave until they collectively signed a document handing over percentages of their future profits to the government. The Treasury folks insisted that this shakedown, too, was all in "the public interest."

I'm laughing.

I'm crying.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sad Reality

When reality television began to take hold, I told my students, "Civilization has been excellent. It is a shame to see it end."

Reality television's continual digging for the lowest common denominator is wholly depressing. But up to now, I have not been depressed because I ignore RTV, except for a few minutes here or there. I did write a story that shredded a RTV show.

Today I had a terribly sad thought. I was clicking around the dial and saw a clip of a guy at a gas station that caught his vehicle and himself on fire. He ran a few steps, then stopped, dropped, and rolled, which helped a little. Two other guys helped extinguish his flaming legs. He sustained minor injuries.

RTV displays extremes of human behavior. Video cameras are everywhere, planted for security reasons, planted to make RTV shows, and everyone seems to have a camera on their phone. Writers have the opportunity to see humanity's extremes in ways that were unthinkable fifty years ago. RTV is a gold mine for writers.

I feel like crawling in a hole and crying.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I have whined about my lousy schedule. I just found out that it is even worse. Here's whine.

At the end of my last class meeting today, the first day of classes, a student asked about the nature of a Monday/Wednesday class, indicating that I was teaching one. I answered his question then said, "This is a Monday/Wednesday class?"

It is.

I groaned. Now my day lasts thirty minutes longer. But, most terribly, my two sections of the course will not match up well. I can usually end each section on the same material and give the quizzes on the same day in each section. Not anymore.

So now, in my MWF class I will end up saying on a Friday, "We have finished the chapter. But I can't open the web quiz today because we have not finished the material in the MW section. So I will open the quiz on Monday, and will close it a week from today." People will come to me and say, "I did not find the quiz online," and I will have to continually explain that it opens on Monday. People will say, "I could have taken the quiz on Friday, but I missed it since it was on Monday, so can I take it over?"

This will open a thousand cans of worms. Issues will crop up at every turn in some ways that I can foresee and in many ways that I cannot. The class day is like a machine. When the parts work together, everything can go right if I take care. But when the parts do not work together, lots of bad stuff happens.

Yeah, there are plenty of people that have it worse--99% of the world has it worse. But even my Iraqi veteran students have their gripes when the little things go wrong.

So, there.

Monday, January 5, 2009


In one of my crazy dreams last night I was underdressed at work. I remedied the situation only to have it repeat. I have the worst schedule in my twenty years of teaching, as well as a huge service burden next semester, so I dread it and worry that I will not get any research done.

Then I dreamed about a ditch behind my house being populated with huge lobsters and crabs. I showed people and tried to figure out how to keep the population healthy, so that I could harvest this stuff and eat crab and lobster every night.


Perhaps I am the only one who does not get it. Should multi-millionaires ask for contributions when they lose a few million, though they have millions left? My answer is "no." No. No. No.


Get out there and earn it, but stop the begging. Such massive public greed is unseemly.

As an economist, I understand that we are never satisfied. The Somali woman with one meager meal per day and one tattered garment knows she is needy, but feels that she would have everything she needed if she just had three meals per day and three new garments.

The U. S. household with three people who work for minimum wage and one car feels needy, but knows that if they just had two cars and double the minimum wage, they could not want for anything.

The two-doctor household who earns half a million per year knows that if they could afford to hire their part-time servants full-time, they would not want for anything.

And the woman with $25 million knows that if she could recoup the $10 million debt she incurred, she would be doing well. So she tries to raise the $10 million by begging.

Hillary Clinton.

Write another lousy book, Ms. Clinton. Leave the freaking begging to the poor Somalis.