Thursday, May 31, 2012

Camera Work

So I never saw Hugo, but I guess this is a shot of the opening scene. What's really cool about this video is that it's shot with a GoPro on top of the steadicam as it goes through these different scenes, and you really get a good feel for just how much work it is to have everything so perfectly choreographed and synced so that everything looks so smooth and perfect. I especially liked the part where it circles around the girl and they actually pull the dresser out and have a moveable wall in place so that it can circle around her as she sits in the corner. Very cool stuff. It's seeing stuff like this and then reading about The Artist and all the details involved that really helps me to appreciate how artistic and deliberate directors must be in their films. Just thought this was kind of cool.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

And Done

Yesterday I finished my last long (and worst) long run for the marathon training season. I guess worst, only in the sense that I hate doing it. I'm thinking that this will be a good place to take a break for awhile with marathons. It really takes up so much time and requires so much planning, but I think I'd like to continue doing half-marathons and other kinds of races. I was realizing this yesterday as I took about 3 hours and 20 minutes to do the run itself, laid in pain for a good chunk of time, and then just had to lie down and rest for a few hours, and once all that time had passed, it was just after 3pm. It basically took up my whole day to go through that ordeal. Time to move on to something else, no?

The highlight of my run was around mile 9 when I was at the mouth of the canyon and I saw this other lady running towards me, and she got this big grin on her face, put up her hand, and we high-fived. That was my first time high-fiving a stranger on a run, although that's not uncommon in marathons. Totally made my day though. People will almost always reciprocate your behavior, you just have to be okay with leading out, and possibly getting rejected. I just loved that though.

Running in Provo Canyon is just one of my favorite things in the whole world, especially at this time of year. I guess Fall is pretty great too, but right now everything is so lush and green. It's breathtaking.

Everything is feeling good though. I have some slight soreness in my left hip flexor, but the knee pain I was experiencing at the start of all this training is only just barely recognizable. Joints are in good shape. Everything is good.

I'm ready to go. June 9th, here I come.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Disco Dayz

I have had a number of phases with music. I don't know where it came from because nobody in my family is really an audiophile, but I've just always gotten into different kinds of bands, music, etc.

My junior year of high school Dave and I started hanging out with these two girls and somehow I just got sucked into Disco Saturday nights, then that evolved into my picking up various disco classics.Yvonne Elliman is still at the top of my list for all things disco, but today Donna Summer passed away after her fight with cancer. The cancer won.

She was pretty great in her heyday.

Anyway, that got me thinking of SYTYCD and then I got all kinds of excited about it. You what else? I actually ran into Orem native Ryan Dilello at the gym a few weeks ago. Small world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bits and Pieces

I've been reading lately, a lot. I guess I have a lot of time on my hands, and I wish I could be cranking away at my thesis, but unfortunately, the feedback and next steps of the whole process don't seem to coincide with my calendar as well as I'd like. Anyway, all of this is a preface to my wanting to post several items that I think are incredibly interesting.

The Gay Divorcees:  This was actually an article that I wanted to post on Facebook because I know there are several people who would appreciate it, but I'd like to refrain from using that network as a place to sound off on my views that I know don't sit well with many friends of mine. That's what this blog is for. There are certain things, innocuous ones, that are easy to post because everyone can appreciate them, and then there are others that make my teeth grind. I've learned more and more that I don't want to inflict my worldviews on others where they're not seeking it out, but you have no such luxury. You found your way here and, thus, are subject to my musings. With that, here's an excerpt from this one:

Announcing the results of his long-term “evolution” on the subject last week, President Obama revived the debate over gay marriage. In the widespread discussion, however, there is one question that’s rarely asked: How interested are gay couples in getting married?

Heretofore at least, the answer seems to be “not really.” Since 1997, when Hawaii became the first state in the union to allow reciprocal-beneficiary registration for same-sex couples, 19 states and the District of Columbia have granted some form of legal recognition to the relationships of same-sex couples. These variants include marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and reciprocal-beneficiary relationships; and the most recent U.S. Census data reveal that, in the last 15 years, only 150,000 same-sex couples have elected to take advantage of them — equivalent to around one in five of the self-identified same-sex couples in the United States. This number does not appear to be low because of the fact that only a few states have allowed full “marriage”; indeed, in the first four years when gay marriage was an option in trailblazing Massachusetts, there were an average of only about 3,000 per year, and that number included many who came from out of state.

...Controlling for the ratio of homosexuals to heterosexuals does little to explain the enthusiasm gap. For rates to be similar, we would have to pretend that only 0.5 percent of the population of Sweden, 0.7 percent of the population of Norway, and less than 2 percent of the population of Holland is gay. In fact, the numbers tend closer to an average of 4 percent, which suggests that heterosexual couples are up to eight times more interested in registering their relationships than homosexual couples. It is, of course, possible that the estimated number of homosexuals is wrong, but, if anything, gay-rights groups tend to argue that the projected numbers are too low, and statistics show that the numbers of self-identified gay citizens are going up in every Western country.

...In Norway, male same-sex marriages are 50 percent more likely to end in divorce than heterosexual marriages, and female same-sex marriages are an astonishing 167 percent more likely to be dissolved. In Sweden, the divorce risk for male-male partnerships is 50 percent higher than for heterosexual marriages, and the divorce risk for female partnerships is nearly double that for men. This should not be surprising: In the United States, women request approximately two-thirds of divorces in all forms of relationships — and have done so since the start of the 19th century — so it reasonably follows that relationships in which both partners are women are more likely to include someone who wishes to exit.

Interesting, right? I could have guessed that women are more likely to ask for divorces, but I would have assumed that would have been because men tend toward abuse or violence more, but in cases where it's two women in a marriage, divorce actually increases, so that's not the cause at all. Now that I think about, I do know that women are just as abusive as men, just not in the same ways.

And another woe is California article:

California’s present condition is the direct result of welfare-state governance in its full maturity. Intransigent public-employee unions use the collective-bargaining process to maintain their inflated compensation packages, while poorly administered programs for the elderly and indigent have produced a permanent dependent class with attendant expenses that are difficult or impossible to reduce: When Governor Jerry Brown attempted to impose co-pays on some recipients of medical benefits, the Obama administration blocked him. Governor Brown’s attempts to cut spending on health care by lowering some physicians’ reimbursements and subsidies for low-income Californians were blocked by the federal courts. Governor Brown has demonstrated very little that might be called fiscal responsibility, but such attempts as he has made at spending discipline have been blocked by federal authorities when they have not been blocked by Democrats in the state legislature. Those who suspect that Obamacare may turn out to be more expensive and less effective at controlling costs than its admirers have claimed should take a good long look at California to appreciate the difficulty of rationalizing out-of-control health-care spending in a single state. (And multiply by 50.)

California’s finances will not be meaningfully reformed until its public sector is reduced and disempowered, and its health-care spending is made sensible. There are significant legal roadblocks to achieving either end, which is why California’s debt-service costs are pulling away from those of the rest of the United States and heading in a distinctly Spanish direction.

Governor Brown has, in the conventional Democratic fashion, proposed raising taxes on certain high-income Californians to try to close that $16 billion deficit. California, like the nation at large, already relies disproportionately on the high-income for its tax revenue, a situation that produces inherent instability: When less than a tenth of taxpayers provide the great majority of tax income, receipts are likely to be volatile in the best of circumstances. Add to that the fact that the very wealthy — especially Silicon Valley’s cosmopolitan entrepreneurial class — have options about when, how, and where to get paid. California expects to raise $1.5 billion in taxes from a single firm, Facebook, as employees and investors realize capital gains from the company’s initial public offering of stock. But such expectations are far from assured: The Brazilian-born Eduardo Saverin, Facebook’s cofounder, has renounced his U.S. citizenship and taken up residence in Singapore, probably not for the city-state’s rich cultural milieu but because it does not tax capital gains. Others will not go so far as to cross the Pacific; for many, getting out of California will be sufficient. As California has just demonstrated, raising tax rates is not the same thing as raising tax revenue. Capital is fungible, and people are mobile.

The indispensable Thomas Sowell has an article today on The Censored Race War:

When two white newspaper reporters for the Virginian-Pilot were driving through Norfolk, and were set upon and beaten by a mob of young blacks — beaten so badly that they had to take a week off from work — that might sound like news that should have been reported, at least by their own newspaper. But it wasn’t.

The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News Channel was the first major television program to report this incident. Yet this story is not just a Norfolk story, either in what happened or in how the media and the authorities have tried to sweep it under the rug.

Similar episodes of unprovoked violence by young black gangs against white people chosen at random on beaches, in shopping malls, or in other public places have occurred in Philadelphia, New York, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Washington, Los Angeles, and other places across the country. Both the authorities and the media tend to try to sweep these episodes under the rug.

In Milwaukee, for example, an attack on whites at a public park a few years ago left many of the victims battered to the ground and bloody. But when the police arrived on the scene, it became clear that the authorities wanted to keep this quiet.

One 22-year-old woman, who had been robbed of her cell phone and debit card, and had blood streaming down her face, said, “About 20 of us stayed to give statements and make sure everyone was accounted for. The police wouldn’t listen to us, they wouldn’t take our names or statements. They told us to leave. It was completely infuriating.”

...A wave of such attacks in Chicago were reported, but not the race of the attackers or victims. Media outlets that do not report the race of people committing crimes nevertheless report racial disparities in imprisonment and write heated editorials blaming the criminal-justice system.

What the authorities and the media seem determined to suppress is that the hoodlum elements in many ghettoes launch coordinated attacks on whites in public places. If there is anything worse than a one-sided race war, it is a two-sided race war, especially when one of the races outnumbers the other several times over.

Trying to keep the lid on is understandable. But a lot of pressure can build up under that lid. If and when that pressure leads to an explosion of white backlash, things could be a lot worse than if the truth had come out earlier, and steps taken by both black and white leaders to deal with the hoodlums and with those who inflame them.

These latter would include not only race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson but also lesser-known people in the media, in educational institutions, and elsewhere who hype grievances and make all the problems of blacks the fault of whites. Some of these people may think that they are doing blacks a favor. But it is no favor to anyone who lags behind to turn their energies from the task of improving and advancing themselves to the task of lashing out at others.

These others extend beyond whites. Asian-American schoolchildren in New York and Philadelphia have for years been beaten up by their black classmates. But people in the mainstream media who go ballistic if some kid says something unkind on the Internet about a homosexual classmate nevertheless hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil when Asian-American youngsters are victims of violence.

All of it very interesting, and important.

Birch Hollow

This last weekend we went down with some friends to Zion and did Birch Hollow Canyon. The canyon was perfect for this group since several of our people had never been canyoneering before, but the canyon is still interesting enough that anyone can enjoy it. It includes about 10 rappels, ranging from 20-120 feet, and it's a dry canyon, so just one less piece of equipment to worry about, but the best part is that it's actually just outside of Zion so no permit is necessary for this one, so you can go whenever you like.

Some people from our group were worried about my little wifey and her 22 week pregnant belly, but I knew she'd do great. She just loves this stuff too much to let anything like being a little pregnant get in her way. And she actually did just as well or better than any of the other girls with all of the hiking and rappels and what not. I'm just proud of my little lady, and everyone in the group. We met some new people and made some new friends, and everyone did really great with the rappels even though several had never been down anything that big before. The scariest moment of the day actually was on the first rappel, which was also the longest, because the cliff face is made up of a lot of loose rock. Some pretty big chunks ended up falling down and caused some havoc for those below, but thankfully no one really got hurt.

I didn't think I really got enough interesting footage to do a video, but it actually worked out okay, so I whipped this up the last couple nights and now you can see our little adventure:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Name Is MCA, I've Got a License to Kill

I know I'm a little late to this story, but I still wanted to say something about it.

Like a lot of other guys who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the Beastie Boys provided the soundtrack to much of my formative years. My earliest recollection of any Beastie Boy song is Fight For Your Right as it played during a scene in the Bobcat Goldthwait movie Hot to Trot, and the horse's party, Don, gets out of control and all of the animals are tearing the apartment apart. I remember my brother had the CD single of So Whatcha Want and listening to that pretty intensely in the early 90s. I've still got both of the CDs for Licensed to Ill and Ill Communication. Intergalactic was a huge hit the summer after my senior year in high school. They were never my favorite band, but I really do love a lot of their music. Great music videos. Catchy rhymes and good beats. I was saddened to hear of Adam "MCA" Yauch's passing last week.

One of my favorites:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Euro Crisis: Do I Have to Care?

On my long run last week I ended up listening to a This American Life episode about the European financial crisis, titled The Continental Breakdown. They started off the episode asking the question regarding the crisis, "do I have to care about this?" And what follows is a really great breakdown and analysis of all the things that have been going wrong in Europe lately, and what binds everything together.

The crisis is basically this: For many years, people in Europe have been clamoring for a United State of Europe type venture that would bring together all the countries of Europe. Victor Hugo pleaded for this many years ago, and apparently this is something that many people in Europe have been wanting for a long time. There are a number of things that keep Europeans separate from each other, but there was a major development in the last 10 years that made it so that they did become united in a very significant way - the Euro.

And herein lies the problem with the Euro. Although all of the countries now share that common currency, the economies of Europe push and pull on the value of the Euro while their financial markets remain in flux as well. It's really interesting. for the main question of this post, do I have to care? The answer, obviously, is yes, because it whatever instability is experienced across the Atlantic is also going to be felt here. That's one of the things that I find most interesting about all of these developments. Because Greece is floundering, major financial players move their money away from the country, and without that liquidity, the Greeks can't maintain their system, and if they can't, then that puts into question other countries in Europe, including Spain, Portugal, and even Italy.

Now there's a question if the Euro is sustainable, and will other major players follow suit with other countries and default on their debts, or will they reign in spending. Some writers here contend that the European governments that have slashed spending have not seen any improvement in their financial lots, but there are major questions about whether that is true or not, mainly if they have actually cut their spending.

In any case, I bring all of this up because France just elected a socialist as their newest President, and it seems that he will only increase government spending. So whatever unrest France has seen in the last few years, will probably be dwarfed by what will come in the next few.

Anyway, others, smarter than myself, have written on this subject. At Powerline in this post, they had this to say:

In France and Greece, voters have rejected “austerity”–the idea that European governments should live within their means. In Italy, too, anti-austerity candidates are currently leading in the polls. French Socialist François Hollande vows to continue running huge deficits so that he can hire more public sector workers; in a burst of stupidity, he announced that “My real enemy is the world of Finance.” I suppose there could be a surer way to impoverish your country than to declare war on the flow of capital, but I can’t think of one offhand.

What does it all mean? Two things, in my opinion. First, Southern European voters are determined to go over the waterfall in a canoe as long as there are politicians who will promise to keep paddling. One might think it obvious that no country can live beyond its means forever by borrowing money which it can’t possibly pay back. But voters in countries like Greece and France apparently think: it has worked so far, why not keep it up?

Realistically, it will work until creditors–Germany, mostly–decide to pull the plug. Then there will be default, some form of bankruptcy, some degree of chaos. That evidently is what many European voters want. In one sense, you can’t blame them: why not live on someone else’s money as long as you can?

But something more profound is going on, too. As I have written here more than once, the fundamental question raised by the current economic crisis is whether Europe is a country. If Europe is a country, it is not so unreasonable for profligate Southern Europeans to expect their more responsible fellow-citizens in Germany, and to a lesser extent Great Britain, to bail them out. But the fact is that Europe is not a country, despite the imaginings of its political class. Germans and Englishmen will not forever support Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and now perhaps Frenchmen. At some point–and I think that point is drawing very near–they will go their own way, and the European Union, most probably, will collapse.

And the editors at NRO had this to say in their piece about the French election:

François Hollande has become the newly elected president of France more by luck than by any quality he might possess. Almost anonymous, he has no ministerial experience. His platform nonetheless raised expectations mightily that he would be able to find employment and entitlements where Nicolas Sarkozy had failed to do so. Voters could conclude that there are jobs for all and everyone richer than them will pay more taxes. He likes to promise that France is not doomed to austerity, because he still believes that socialism is the magic formula for growth, and can simply be ordered up.


Poor and insincere as Sarkozy’s campaign was, in reality the Euro-crisis left him without a chance. No present head of government can hope to win an election in a Europe irrevocably tied to the single currency and the political structure erected in Brussels to enforce it. In the gathering climate of economic and political disaster, Sarkozy is the eleventh in a succession of office-holders in one nation after another to go down in electoral defeat.

Germany sets the terms for Europe, and François Hollande now has to discover whether Chancellor Angela Merkel, the architect of austerity, is willing to permit a forlorn attempt at socialist-induced growth. She had let it be known that she wanted the like-minded Sarkozy to win. But then she herself has already lost regional elections, and until and unless something changes with Brussels and the euro, she too is likely to join the lengthening list of rejected European office-holders.

And then in this piece found in the UK's The Spectator, the author writes about the one country who did actually manage to slash spending and what resulted of that:

When Europe’s finance ministers meet for a group photo, it’s easy to spot the rebel — Anders Borg has a ponytail and earring. What actually marks him out, though, is how he responded to the crash. While most countries in Europe borrowed massively, Borg did not. Since becoming Sweden’s finance minister, his mission has been to pare back government. His ‘stimulus’ was a permanent tax cut. To critics, this was fiscal lunacy — the so-called ‘punk tax cutting’ agenda. Borg, on the other hand, thought lunacy meant repeating the economics of the 1970s and expecting a different result.

Three years on, it’s pretty clear who was right. ‘Look at Spain, Portugal or the UK, whose governments were arguing for large temporary stimulus,’ he says. ‘Well, we can see that very little of the stimulus went to the economy. But they are stuck with the debt.’ Tax-cutting Sweden, by contrast, had the fastest growth in Europe last year, when it also celebrated the abolition of its deficit. The recovery started just in time for the 2010 Swedish election, in which the Conservatives were re-elected for the first time in history.

All this has taken Borg from curiosity to celebrity. The Financial Times recently declared him the most effective finance minister in Europe. When we meet in his Stockholm office on a Friday afternoon (he and his aide seem to be the only two left in the building) he says he is just carrying on 20 years of reform. ‘Sweden was a textbook case of European economic sclerosis. Very high taxes and huge regulatory burden.’ An economic crisis in the early 1990s forced Sweden on the road to balanced budgets, and Borg was determined the 2007 crash would not stop him cutting the size of government.

‘Everybody was told “stimulus, stimulus, stimulus”,’ he says — referring to the EU, IMF and the alphabet soup of agencies urging a global, debt-fuelled spending splurge. Borg, an economist, couldn’t work out how this would help. ‘It was surprising that Europe, given what we experienced in the 1970s and 80s with structural unemployment, believed that short-term Keynesianism could solve the problem.’ Non-economists, he says, ‘might have a tendency to fall for those kinds of messages’.
He continued to cut taxes and cut welfare-spending to pay for it; he even cut property taxes for the rich to lure entrepreneurs back to Sweden. The last bit was the most unpopular, but for Borg, economic recovery starts with entrepreneurs. If cutting taxes for the rich encouraged risk-taking, then it had to be done. ‘In most cases, the company would not have been created without the owner,’ he says. ‘There would be no Ikea without [Ingvar] Kamprad. We would not have Tetra-Pak without [Ruben] Rausing. They are probably the foremost entrepreneurs we have had in the last few decades, and both moved out of Sweden.’

But they were not rich, I say, when they were starting out. ‘No, but they were becoming rich. If you have a high wealth tax and an inheritance tax, people emigrate because it becomes too costly to own a company. Ownership is a production factor. Entrepreneurs are a production factor. Yes, these people are rich and you can obviously argue that we want to encourage social cohesion. But it is also problematic if you drive out entrepreneurs from your country, because they are the source of job creation.’

It's a lot of reading, but it's worthwhile. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Love Me Some Mason Jennings

Mike and I had a date night last Saturday to go see Mason Jennings play at The State Room. I had never even noticed the place before even though I had been to Decades right across the street from it several times. Heck, I had never even heard of the place, but it was great.

The venue was different than what I'm used to. Church pews lined the back half of the event room, and metal chairs lined the front. His concerts are already pretty chill, but having everyone seated and just watching made it feel even more relaxed.

The thing I'm always impressed with is how all these people can show up and pay to watch one person perform for an entire evening. Sometimes I feel like I have a hard time just keeping one person engaged, let alone a big room full of complete strangers, but that's what Mason did on Saturday night. He played an all-acoustic set with just his guitar, harmonic, and occasional song on the keyboard.

I just love the guy. I love his song writing. They're thoughtful and artistic. Somehow they strike me as being more sophisticated than someone repeating "we found love in a hopeless place" over and over. Some of my favorite lines is from Sorry Signs On Cash Machines when he sings:

Oh, my heart is a thoroughbred
I can't sleep in my bed
Everything is burning up inside me
I need something I can feel
Cigarettes and a driving wheel and
Oh, my god, when you cross your legs beside me
I know true love don't love like anybody else
I know your heart don't beat like anybody else

I was afraid he would play a lot of stuff from his newer albums, but he played a great mix of old and new, and I just loved one song that he debuted that night.

Man, I just love live music. It took me a long time to come around, but I really do love me some Mason Jennings too.

Monday, May 7, 2012

This and That

A lot of times I end up saving articles in my inbox, or my blog reader, or in other places, for the purposes of posting them on here later, or sending them to someone, or what have you. I probably only end up posting/sending/whatever-ing the stuff I save like a quarter of the time, and then eventually I delete it wherever it's stored because it's so long after the fact. Today, I'm just going to link/excerpt everything that came in the last few days that is currently in my online digital storage. So here goes...

How to buy a new car:

Here are the basics if you don't want to watch the video:

So let me lay out how to buy a car. It’s very easy. Decide exactly what car you want to buy, make, color if it matters to you, options and so forth. Then do not go to a dealership. Let your fingers do the walking. Telephone all of the dealers who sell the vehicle you’re interested in who are, say, within a 50 mile radius, a 25 mile radius, 75, however far you’re willing to go.

To each of them make the same statement: “Hi, my name is so and so. I plan to buy such and such a car today at 5pm. I’m going to buy it from the dealer who gives me the best price. What is your best price?” 

The economists over at Cafe Hayek had this to say about central planning:

My eye recently caught on t.v., in passing, an old film clip of someone trying to fly like a bird.  This would-be aviator had wing-like things strapped to his arms.  Of course, no amount of flapping would get this human being to take flight like the birds he sought to imitate.  One important reason, of course, is that we humans – as smart and clever as we are – can observe only a tiny fraction of the details of what enables birds to fly.  We can observe a handful of large details (“bird flaps limbs that extend kinda, sorta from bird’s shoulder”; “bird’s flapping limbs are made of lightweight things that we call ‘feathers’,” and so on).  But the amount of detail that we don’t – can’t – observe with the naked eye (even with a naked eye as careful as that of Leonardo) is overwhelming.  The bird’s musculature; cardiovascular system; weight and position and minuscule maneuverings of its tail – these and countless other relevant details aren’t observed.

The human being observes a bird in flight and then analogizes his – the human’s – limbs and muscle movements to what he supposes, from his observations, are those of the bird.  But the human is too easily misled into thinking that he can easily-enough mimic the bird’s body and movements and, thereby, achieve flight.

Obviously, no human can do so.  Such attempts as there have been by man to strap on wings, flap, and fly invariably failed – sometimes catastrophically for the pretend Icaruses.


Attempts to centrally plan economies are very much like attempts to fly by dressing like and flapping like a bird: utterly futile because the most that can be observed of any successful economy are a handful of large details (“assembly lines,” “retail outlets”…..).  The vast majority (99.99999999999…9 percent) of the details that must work reasonably well aren’t observed by the would-be central planner.  What Hayek called “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” – knowledge of details spread today across the globe and across billions of different human minds – is not incidental to the successful operation of a modern economy.  Utilizing that knowledge – vast, deep, changing, incredibly fine-grained detailed knowledge – is the very key to a successful market economy.

Central planning is as futile as trying to strap on wings and fly like a bird – and potentially as calamitous.

Of course, few people today advocate full-scale central planning of economies.  But smaller-scale interventions suffer the same problems as do attempts at central planning: inevitably inadequate knowledge of how to intervene.  Asserting, for example, that the key to economic recovery is to “increase aggregate demand” is a fiction borne from observing a true, but only large and inadequate, fact about successful economies: most producers, at any given time, are able to sell most of what they plan to sell.  But to leap from this observation to the conclusion that “therefore, government can stimulate economic recovery by increasing aggregate demand” is akin to a human being costumed-up as a bird and leaping off of a mountaintop, flapping away, hoping, hoping, hoping to fly.

And then I thought this post was pretty interesting. It's called the Curley Effect, which is when a politician increases his political power by driving away opponents through some kind of radical or distortionary policies. One example is Detroit. Guess the other example...right...California....sigh...

In their paper, Glaeser and Shleifer write:

We call this strategy--increasing the relative size of one's political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies--the Curley effect. But it is hardly unique to Curley. Other American mayors, but also politicians around the world, pursued policies that encouraged emigration of their political enemies, raising poverty but gaining political advantage. In his 24 years as mayor, Detroit's Coleman Young drove white residents and businesses out of the city. "Under Young, Detroit has become not merely an American city that happens to have a black majority, but a black metropolis, the first major Third World city in the United States. The trappings are all there--showcase projects, black-fisted symbols, an external enemy, and the cult of personality" (Chafets 1990, p. 177). Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe abused the white farmers after his country's independence, openly encouraging their emigration even at a huge cost to the economy.

I think something similar is happening in California. California has become a heavily Democratic state. The majority Democrats in the legislature and the Democratic governor are pursuing highly wasteful projects: a "high-speed" rail that probably won't be high-speed but will surely be high-cost, and higher marginal income tax rates (already among the highest in the United States) on the highest-income people, to name two. They don't seem to be restrained by the worry that many of the most-productive people will leave and are leaving the state. You can attribute this simply to ideology, and I'm sure that's an element. But I also think one of the Democrats' goals is to reduce the population of potential anti-Democrat voters so that their majority is assured.

Will that hurt many of the people who vote for them? Sure. But we need to distinguish between the fortunes of those who vote Democrat and the fortunes of the Democratic politicians. The California state government pays legislators pretty well in pay and perks when you consider the opportunity costs of many of them. And the state government is larded with high-paying sinecures for those few who ever lose an election or get redistricted out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Someone I know used to make a connection between the growing size of a couple's bed (full-queen-king-California King) was a parallel to how couple's seem to be growing emotionally distant from one another as well.

I was reading the other day about how the average size of an American's home has steadily increased over the past century. In 1950 the average size of a new single family home was just under 1000 sq ft, and now it is just over 2400 sq ft.

While I was running earlier this week I was thinking about distance, broadly, probably because I think a lot about how much I'd just like to be done running whatever length it is that I happen to be running that day. I just think it's kind of interesting how our homes are bigger than they have ever been, but we're also more densely packed than we've ever been in terms of houses per squared units.

It's just interesting to think how certain distances have been greater shortened (distance between houses), while others have grown (distances within households, physically, and even in one's own bed between partners).

Anyway, all of this leads me to still another article that talks about how Facebook is potentially making us more lonely. We are more connected digitally, and have more access through social media like Facebook and Twitter and blogs and such, but in many ways we are more distant than ever, and it's causing many people to feel very isolated. Kind of similar to how someone can feel completely isolated when at a party that is wall-to-wall with people.

The article leads with this story:

Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star, best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, would have been 83 last August, but nobody knows exactly how old she was when she died. According to the Los Angeles coroner’s report, she lay dead for the better part of a year before a neighbor and fellow actress, a woman named Susan Savage, noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox, reached through a broken window to unlock the door, and pushed her way through the piles of junk mail and mounds of clothing that barricaded the house. Upstairs, she found Vickers’s body, mummified, near a heater that was still running. Her computer was on too, its glow permeating the empty space. 

The article is incredibly interesting and very well written, written by a novelist actually:

Facebook arrived in the middle of a dramatic increase in the quantity and intensity of human loneliness, a rise that initially made the site’s promise of greater connection seem deeply attractive. Americans are more solitary than ever before. In 1950, less than 10 percent of American households contained only one person. By 2010, nearly 27 percent of households had just one person. Solitary living does not guarantee a life of unhappiness, of course. In his recent book about the trend toward living alone, Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist at NYU, writes: “Reams of published research show that it’s the quality, not the quantity of social interaction, that best predicts loneliness.” True. But before we begin the fantasies of happily eccentric singledom, of divorcées dropping by their knitting circles after work for glasses of Drew Barrymore pinot grigio, or recent college graduates with perfectly articulated, Steampunk-themed, 300-square-foot apartments organizing croquet matches with their book clubs, we should recognize that it is not just isolation that is rising sharply. It’s loneliness, too. And loneliness makes us miserable.

We know intuitively that loneliness and being alone are not the same thing. Solitude can be lovely. Crowded parties can be agony. We also know, thanks to a growing body of research on the topic, that loneliness is not a matter of external conditions; it is a psychological state. A 2005 analysis of data from a longitudinal study of Dutch twins showed that the tendency toward loneliness has roughly the same genetic component as other psychological problems such as neuroticism or anxiety. 

But I thought this excerpt mentions an especially interesting point:

But it is clear that social interaction matters. Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant.

In the face of this social disintegration, we have essentially hired an army of replacement confidants, an entire class of professional carers. As Ronald Dworkin pointed out in a 2010 paper for the Hoover Institution, in the late ’40s, the United States was home to 2,500 clinical psychologists, 30,000 social workers, and fewer than 500 marriage and family therapists. As of 2010, the country had 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 400,000 nonclinical social workers, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 105,000 mental-health counselors, 220,000 substance-abuse counselors, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, and 30,000 life coaches. The majority of patients in therapy do not warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. This raft of psychic servants is helping us through what used to be called regular problems. We have outsourced the work of everyday caring.

We need professional carers more and more, because the threat of societal breakdown, once principally a matter of nostalgic lament, has morphed into an issue of public health. Being lonely is extremely bad for your health. If you’re lonely, you’re more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isn’t lonely. You’re less likely to exercise. You’re more likely to be obese. You’re less likely to survive a serious operation and more likely to have hormonal imbalances. You are at greater risk of inflammation. Your memory may be worse. You are more likely to be depressed, to sleep badly, and to suffer dementia and general cognitive decline. Loneliness may not have killed Yvette Vickers, but it has been linked to a greater probability of having the kind of heart condition that did kill her.

And yet, despite its deleterious effect on health, loneliness is one of the first things ordinary Americans spend their money achieving. With money, you flee the cramped city to a house in the suburbs or, if you can afford it, a McMansion in the exurbs, inevitably spending more time in your car. Loneliness is at the American core, a by-product of a long-standing national appetite for independence: The Pilgrims who left Europe willingly abandoned the bonds and strictures of a society that could not accept their right to be different. They did not seek out loneliness, but they accepted it as the price of their autonomy. The cowboys who set off to explore a seemingly endless frontier likewise traded away personal ties in favor of pride and self-respect. The ultimate American icon is the astronaut: Who is more heroic, or more alone? The price of self-determination and self-reliance has often been loneliness. But Americans have always been willing to pay that price. 

The emphasis in that is my own.

One thing that I worry about with a child on the horizon is how I can encourage my kid(s) to engage socially, to make sure that they are functional adults, able to function normally and to be emotionally and socially intelligent. I think a lot of is simply trial and error. It's constant opportunities for interaction with others, but in a way where the child feels confident enough to venture and explore on his or her own.

I don't know. It's a lot to think about.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Verdict Is In....

This was appointment was probably the coolest part about the whole pregnancy so far. When Amy missed her period and she took the test and we found out she was pregnant, that was pretty cool, but still not real. The stick has a + or - and that's it. Then you see the doctor and he confirms it. You hear the heartbeat, but it's still foreign sounding.

For us, pregnancy has had that much of an effect. Amy has luckily avoided most of the normal and not so awesome signs of pregnancy - morning sickness, and the like.

But today felt very different. We went to the ultrasound room, the doctor rubbed the jelly on her belly, and just about everything we saw on the screen was immediately obvious. You could see the body, the hands and feet, legs, heartbeat, even brain formation. You could see the chambers of the heart, and the one thing my neurophysiology imparted unto me from last year was some knowledge of brain anatomy, so I was able to recognize ventricles and the cerebellum and other various parts from CT scans that I studied last year.

The doctor measured the head, the femur, and other parts, and everything is looking great. The baby is measuring to within two days of Amy's due date, so everything is right on track. Once he got down into the genital area the doctor was taking a noticeably long time determining parts down there. It was pretty apparent to Amy and I that the genitalia was an inny and not an outty, from not only the pictures, but how the doctor was looking for sure signs of what sex of child we were looking at.

It's a girl. We couldn't be happier. The first thing I thought was that we could have our own Lisa Johnson leading our family of children like in Amy's family, or have our own Katie that would be Amy's little clone, like she is to Lisa. It's awesome. It's fun just to know what our kid is going to be, and that everything is going so well.

It's also great because this means that the arranged marriage between ours and Dave and Caitlin's family is a "go" and it won't have to be delayed at all.