Saturday, January 31, 2009

Two Quick Links and a Funny Video

Some of you who know me well know that there is one small segment of Church history that is truly embarrassing for me. It is... the Smoot-Hawley tariff. Yup. One of the worst bills to ever be passed by the United States government has the honor of starting with the name of a Mormon apostle. Oh well. Maybe that was God's way of chastising us. :) At least we'll never make that mistake again. ... Oh wait. We are. At least this time it's name is some mumbo jumbo recovery act and we're not responsible for it.

Mark Steyn has a rather humorous article that explains the stimulus. Well worth reading, even if it's only for the entertainment value.

I haven't seen a funny new youtube video in awhile. Dave Tufte posted a great one on his blog. Here it is for you to enjoy.

On Zombie Corporations, Slaughtering Cows, and France

Just some bits of news from around the world:

I believe that knowing what is a "Zombie Corporation" is essential for understanding government intervention in markets. So, we all have a pretty good idea what is a real (is it really real?) zombie. Zombie A attacks Victim B and eats his brains, then the Victim B becomes a zombie as well and both Zombies A and B go to find more victims. Zombie corporations are similar. A zombie corporation has no life. It has no pulse. It is bleeding boatloads of red ink all over its Loss Statement (formerly known as Income Statement). It can attract no talent and all the best individuals in the corporation are fleeing for their livelihood. Normally this firm either goes bankrupt or gets acquired. However, if this corporation has political ties, it scores money from a government entity despite the simple fact that it is dead and never coming back. It has now reached zombie status. This zombie now proceeds to continue attempting to maximize all its debt from as many debt holders as possible and makes more risky and bad decisions. Therefore, if the first zombie fails, the corporation that is most exposed to the zombie's debt will fail as well. The solution, of course, is to score more government funding for both of these corporations. A new zombie is born. The process continues...

In unrelated news, GM is having a tough time retaining and recruiting good managers. It is probable that GM will let its payments to suppliers slide. GM will likely have to enter chapter 11 soon unless it receives money from somebody to continue operations so it can pay its suppliers and debtors... ... again.

Anyone who has read The Grapes of Wrath or studied productivity theory knows that destroying products to raise its price is dumb. I guess someone missed the memo (find the word "cattle" in the document).

Europe is "striking" for a better life. I'm not quite sure what they are trying to accomplish. It seems that they are trying to say that they want "more" from somebody. With a 50% income tax rate and a seizure of 2% of net assets every year it makes you wonder what else these people want to take. I usually think "fair share" shouldn't be defined by the person with the gun demanding you pay protection money.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Sticks and Stones Can Break My Bones But...

If you call us a dog we will riot and destroy you." That kind of attitude will get you nowhere in life. ... And keep you in the slums.

I haven't seen the movie, but this makes me want to see it more. Any publicity is good publicity. This is a textbook example.

In other news, I believe that the number of letters from Utah in the "letter section" of both the Wall Street Journal and The Economist is disproportionately high (there is another one today in the wsj). Utah makes up just one percent of the population in the United States. Also, letters are published from all around the world. Yet, you can see letters from Utah on a regular basis. It might just be my availability bias coming through, but considering the general caliber of the letters (they rarely land in the "crazies" of letter writers section) maybe Utahns read more business news than residents of other states. Maybe they are more opinionated. Maybe they write better and more concisely than the average. Maybe the publishers are biased in favor of Utahns (probably less likely, but maybe). Just a thought.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fun With Tutoring

I have been tutoring two boys in a nearby suburb for most of the school year. For the sake of confidentiality, we'll call them Hans and Franz. Hans is in 7th grade. Franz is in 4th. While I should have been writing the awesome things they say sometimes, I have been neglecting in this area. So in order to remember one of my personal favorites, I record it for posterity.

Me (After getting a teensy bit frustrated with Franz for not really understanding how to use the dictionary, in jest): What do they teach in your school!?
Franz (innocently): To keep our hands to ourselves.

Another day, it somehow slipped out that Jake and I don't have cable and don't watch television. Franz looked at me in wide-eyed wonderment.
Franz: How do you not have TV?
Me: We decided we could do without it because we can't afford it right now.
Franz: But you'll get it when you have kids, right?
Me: Maybe. We'll see. I kind of like not watching TV.
Franz (genuinely concerned for the welfare of my future children): But kids love TV! You have to get it.

A week or so earlier, the subject had come up with Hans.
Hans: That's so weird to not watch TV. My uncle doesn't let his kids watch TV either. They're really smart, but what's going to happen to them when they get into middle school and they don't know who the Bears are?!
Me: Some people just don't think sports are as important as other things.
Hans: But the BEARS! How can you not care about the BEARS!?

I have a lot of fun twice a week.

A Great Mutemath Video

Mutemath was recently on Jay Leno. Leno quoted some magazine that stated, "Mutemath is the #1 band you need to see live." While their performance on Leno wasn't spectacular, the statement is still true. I have never been able to find a good youtube video that truly depicted their concerts until now. I believe this does a fair job, despite the poor camera holding and slightly awkward angles at times. Enjoy.

And, if that wasn't enough... Here is one of the not so good Mutemath tour moments:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Indoor Track

Since the weather got cold (I'm talking November here, not the -20 we had last week) and I realized I no longer fit into my jeans and do not have the excuse of being pregnant (like 12 women of my acquaintance), I have been looking for an indoor track. There is a nice gym at the university, but it costs $220 per year for spouses of students. That translates to $20ish a month, but all I want is a place to run. The gym has all kinds of weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, squash courts, and an indoor track, but it seems kind of silly to pay for all that when I will only be using the track.

I researched the nearby community centers and gyms, some of which have good deals for the new year. The nearest community center looks nice, but is in a...shall we say...rough part of town. The Bally's gym also is in a weird area, and it was also pretty expensive.

Happily, I have been able to find an indoor track I can use for free: the high school. A couple of the other subs also coach, and I asked one of them if there was a track. He showed me where it is and yesterday I went running for the first time in a very long time. I'm almost not counting the two times I ran on the treadmill at my parents' house over Christmas. I am very sore today, but I'm also excited that I might be able to fit back into my clothes in the next couple of months.

Speaking of clothes, I bought some last week. These were the first items of clothing I bought for myself since moving here, and I got a killer deal. I went to the Anne Taylor Loft in Evanston and headed straight for the clearance rack. I found a great pair of chocolate brown slacks (they'll look great with my boots I bought in London 3 years ago) on sale from $59 to $19.99. I also found a pretty peach and brown floral print shirt on sale from $44 to $4.88. On top of that, they took an extra 25% off each item. Altogether, I paid $20 for the whole shebang. The pants need hemming, even with my boots, but I'll take pictures once I get that done.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Interview Humor

At the Kellogg career website you can practice interviews with your webcam. You can then watch and have others critique your timed answers (the question comes up when you start). This has become a great resource for humor as students have tried to come up with the worst answers ever to be used in an interview.

"I stopped working at Bain & Co. because they have a three strike rule... for sexual harrassment."

"What really attracts me to Microsoft is the simple fact that you don't drug test!"

"I totally forgot which company you represent, but I'm sure I'll do just as well as anybody else."

"Well, technically I was doing contract work with Pfizer. Have you checked out their latest amphetamine prescription? It has AMAZING side effects."

"I believe the answer is 'buy low sell high.' ... What do you mean that has nothing to do with the commercial trucking industry? It has EVERYTHING to do with the commercial trucking industry!!"

Do you have any great ones to add (real or fake)?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I know it's my thrid post in one day but...

The Cardinals are going to the Superbowl! Just goes to show, if you cheer for a team long enough, eventually, some day, they go to the Superbowl. Maybe now people won't ask me if the Cardinals are a football team or a baseball team.

Who knows? Maybe the Suns will win the NBA finals!

Wiggle Ears

If anybody were to post a section of the priesthood sessions of conference on youtube, this is it.

I know you all will tell me I'm way behind the times. Well, I am.

It's all about perspective...

The #1 BBC news article is:

Hamas Announces Ceasefire in Gaza
With a subtitle of: "Palestinian militant group Hamas declares a one-week ceasefire to allow Israeli soldiers to withdraw from Gaza."

However, I believe Dave Weinbaum has the better headline:

Hamas Repels Israelis by Declaring Unconditional Surrender

I have always wondered why a certain group of political positions are considered "right" and "left." For example, what does abortion, the right for Israel to exist as a nation, and school vouchers have in common? I have no idea, but for some reason if you tell me your stance on one of those issues, I can generally tell you what you believe on the other two.

I am reading (or rather listening for free) to For a New Liberty by Murray N. Rothbard. I believe that the first chapter is by far the best section of the book. I enjoy the moral foundation of what he explains. My biggest disagreements so far are the absolute extrapolations that are made from moral foundation arguments. For example, he makes a good argument that conscription is usually a bad thing. However, arguing that conscription is always a bad thing without exception can violate some of the moral foundation that he has been trying to build throughout the book (for example, when the line becomes blurred between traitorous actions and refusal of conscription. See Alma 50-55).

Anyway, this went on longer than I planned. Have a good evening.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One Random Blog

A random smattering of information:

1) We're about to hit 24 hours without breaking 0 degrees (Fahrenheit). It's one o'clock and it is a sweltering -6. The wind is roaring too. With wind chill I would guess that the temperature is asymptotically approaching zero Kelvin. We have also had nine consecutive days of snowfall. Chicago is cold.

2) I am eating the best chocolate ever. My Aunt and Uncle sent it to us (all the way from LA!). Thank you! I don't know what it's called, but it comes in a... hmm, truss shape? A long three dimensional triangle. I don't know the name of the shape... but it's delicious.

3) It is recruiting season. I think telling the interviewer, "Because I'm the man" only works once in a lifetime. Despite my success the last time I tried, I don't think I'll try it again.

4) This ties the last three points together. I am trying to get a job at Roll International. They are in LA. LA is much warmer than Chicago.

5) I found a great quote in a BBC News piece from the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. "Only stupid people would repeat everything they did in the past. So obviously if we were to do it again we would do it better." People who say, "If I could do it again, I wouldn't have changed a thing" just aren't thinking to the logical conclusion of that statement. We can always do better.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

High School Newspaper

I always like reading the high school newspaper. It's interesting to see what the kids care about and how many grammatical or spelling errors I can find in one column. I also love the parroting of ideas they've heard but actually know very little about. Here are some examples from the most recent issue of the high school where I sub.

The school was once included in Newsweek's "America's Best High Schools" rankings. In five years, the school has gone from 175 to 721. Here is an actual quote from the paper:

"Comparisons between [the two rankings] give the impression that the school's curriculum has slipped. This however [sic], is not the case.
'They don't take into consideration the unique needs of [the school's] community,' commented the superintendent."

Later in the article: "The superintendent said, 'Some schools just don't go through the same struggles as [ours].'"

Newsweek ranks schools based on AP classes, International Baccalaureate programs, Cambridge tests, and graduating seniors. The superintendent thinks rankings should be based on SAT scores, uniqueness of school (how exactly do you measure that?), awards and recognitions, and progress of individual students.

I agree that every school is different and has needs that don't always fit into one number or ranking. But maybe, just maybe, the school is no longer in the top ranking because it really isn't that great. Not everyone gets to be a winner, kids.

Headline: "Republican Club doesn't bridge political barrier". The article goes on to say how much its members like the club and how signs for club meetings and information are being pulled down within a few minutes. So according to the headline, it's the club's fault that its signs are being taken down.

Another one is the Top Ten Bush gaffes. This passes for news?

The issue came out just before Christmas break, so there were a number of articles regarding the holiday season. One leads with a horror story of a Chinese Christmas tree factory worker who burned her hand and needed skin grafts her factory wouldn't pay for. Then my favorite line: "Even though it is convenient and cheap to use this artificial tree every year, it is a destructible Christmas joy and is anything but green." The rest of the article can't decide whether it wants to talk about Chinese labor rights or being environmentally friendly, so it unsuccessfully does both.

Another column discusses the roots of Christmas in pagan celebrations like Saturnalia. (Headline: "Christmas traditions more important than religion) I always find it amusing that once students learn that winter celebrations didn't start with Jesus, they proclaim it to the world and try to convince everyone that Christianity must therefore be false or that you're at least dumb for thinking Christmas is a spiritual holiday. My favorite line: "So this holiday season, whether you are atheist, Jewish, or Christian, immerse yourself in the holiday spirit. Shower your family and friends with presents. And most importantly, enjoy Christmas for what it is: an excuse to celebrate with friends and family."

Later, there's a column called "Haterade spews static through TV." The columnist rails on TV shows with "blatant racism and homophobia." Such shows include 90210, where the only black person is the adopted son of a white couple ("Are there really no black families in Beverly Hills?" she asks), Grey's Anatomy, which is downplaying and possibly eliminating storylines involving a lesbian couple, and Ugly Betty, whose transgender character isn't on as much as it used to be. She then rails against Prop 8 in California but says she's "not here to preach."

And finally, my favorite story in the paper, "Subrbanites gunning for weapon usage." Apparently, one of the nearby suburbs has lifted its 20-year handgun ban, following suit after the same thing happened in DC. "The repeal of the gun ban has caused uproar over an amendment that should have given up its seat on the Bill of Rights long ago." Is she serious? Yes, as she mentions it again later in the column. "The answer [the town] and other places should be looking for is getting rid of the Second Amendment. People have relied on a weakly enforced right when they should have actively sought out ways to ensure their personal safety." She gives no suggestions for "ways to ensure personal safety" but simply goes on to state a few statistics on homicide rate in Chicago. In the last paragraph, the writer says that because the 6th and 8th Amendments are being ignored in Guantanamo Bay, we should also ignore the 2nd.

I'm not crazy about guns. I never touched one until I was almost 18 at girls' camp when we shot clay pigeons. However, at some point Jake and I will probably own one when we live in a city that doesn't outlaw them. I'm not excited that we might own a gun. After hearing all those stories in elementary school about kids finding their parents' guns, I get a little nervous. Guns certainly can be dangerous, but bad guys seem to get guns no matter what the laws are (see Chicago crime stats). I guess I'd just rather see guns in the hands of good guys to protect their families or go hunting on the weekends than to only see them with bad.

The most noticeable aspect about the student newspaper articles was that every writer started from the assumption that everyone already agreed with him or her, or that the writer assumed that he or she had all the answers and the I (the reader) was a moron if I didn't agree. The articles were very frustrating to read for this reason. So here is my plea: when you write a newspaper article, don't assume you have all the answers or that your audience already agrees with you. Please don't condescend to me or treat me like I'm unintelligent. There are reasons for the opinions I hold. Please ask about those reasons when you write. Thank you.

*shuffle as Ashley steps off her soapbox*

Sunday, January 11, 2009

News of the Oxymoronic

At CNN you'll find:

Pro-Palestinian rally in New york turns violent

Funny headline.

On the same subject of the Israel and Palestinian conflict (or whipping, depending on how you view it), Tyler Cowen has a very interesting post.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Book Thief

I just finished Jake's Christmas present, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It's about a little German girl who is sent to live with foster parents in 1941 because her father is a communist. On the way, her younger brother dies and she steals her first book. She makes friends with the boy next door, Rudy Steiner, and develops a complicated relationship with her foster parents, Rosa and Hans Hubermann. Things get sticky about halfway through when Max (a Jew) comes to live with them. And the most interesting bit of all: Death is the narrator. Death is tired and often wonders if humans are worth all the work. By the end of the tale, he gets his answer.

It really is a beautiful book. I may need a little more time to process it, but I think it's one of the best novels I've read about Germany in WWII. Put it up there with Maus by Art Spiegelman. It's not sugarcoated or sappy; it feels true and is well-researched. Please go check it out.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Good Ol Purevolume

As many of you know, I'm a fan of Today's featured artist has four free downloadable songs. It is pretty good... a little different though. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Well, it's official. I am a new cadre sub at the high school! During Christmas break, I was kind of freaking out that somehow it wouldn't work out and that I was going to be on the job hunt again. But at 6:30 yesterday morning, my boss woke me up with the call to start. I get $12 more per day and will work at least 50 days (whether they actually need me or not) until June 11. I may also get partial benefits, which would be great as my out-of-pocket insurance is very expensive. I thought somehow my job would be different or more exciting, but if yesterday and today are any indication, this will not be the case. I pretty much just sit and crochet a scarf for my sister or read while the kids do their homework or stare into space or sleep. Teachers try to make things pretty idiot-proof by giving simple worksheets or videos. It's a good gig if you can get it. There are, of course, the days that are not so easy--the ones where angry teenagers think they can get in your face or swear at you or be completely apathetic. But for the most part, my job is simple: be a reasonably responsible warm adult body in the room.

As you may have guessed, Jake and I got home safely from Utah, although it was rough going for awhile. Our flight ended up leaving Las Vegas 15 minutes early, which we didn't realize until after we got up and checked in online. No biggie, we thought. We'll be cutting it close, but we'll make it on time. We left New Harmony and at about mile marker 20, I had a sudden realization that I didn't pick up the keys to our house. "Jake? Did you happen to get the keys?" Nope. We frantically called my dad and turned around at the Hurricane exit to meet him halfway. This set us back about 20 minutes. My mom drove fast (I won't disclose the actual speed), and we got to McCarran Airport. My mom had to stop in the shuttle lane, for which she got chewed out by a worker, for which I snapped at him. After a shortened good-bye, we hurried to SkyCap, thinking that if we could get our bags checked, we might be able to scramble through security and still make our flight. The very nice SkyCap man informed us that our flight left in 40 minutes and that he could not check our bags. The system shuts us out 45 minutes before departure. We then had to stand in line to get on the standby list for the next flight at 11:20. We also realized that the sandwiches my mom had packed for us was still in the back of her car.

So we sat. We did not make it onto the 11:20 flight, but every time the agents would call someone up to the desk, my stomach did flips. The next flight left at 2:40, and if we didn't make it on that one, the next flight departed at midnight. Nervousness ensued (at least for me...Jake is nearly always very calm). The agents called person after person to the desk, and finally, during boarding, our names were called. We were the second-to-last group to get off the standby list for that flight. I am so grateful we didn't have to spend the rest of the day at the airport! Our flight got into Chicago at about 8 pm, and we got home at about 9:30. Happily, our car was still there, but our tire was completely flat. Since getting home, we have unpacked most everything, and I finally got around to grocery shopping yesterday after tutoring. Yay for food!

Jake started classes yesterday. Today, he doesn't have class until 1:30, so he didn't come with me this morning. For all I know, he may still be asleep. I just looked out the window, and the snow that started to fall about a half hour ago is beginning to stick to the trees and ground. I told the poor boy if it was too cold, he should take the train, but if I know Jake (and I like to think that I do), he's still going to walk the two miles up the lake to school. I feel less bad about it now that he has a warm coat and hat and gloves, but I sure wouldn't want to walk two miles in the snow today. At least he doesn't have to walk home. I'll pick him up after I get done with subbing today.

I'm surprised at how good it is to be home. All last week, I was dreading coming back, but it's nice to have our routine again. It's also nice to be making a little of the moneys.

Update: Jake was, in fact, asleep at the time of the original posting. He also did walk the two miles up the lake. I'm good at this game.