Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Great Writers

This article is one of Thomas Sowell's best. His work keeps reminding people that you can produce both enlightening and entertaining writing into the golden years.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

From my Goodreads.com review:

Dan Brown's latest novel is in most ways not nearly as earth-shattering as his previous Robert Langdon adventures. There's no effort to destroy the Masons as there was in previous books to destroy the Catholic church. There is also no delving into Mormon ceremonies as some of my acquaintance had feared. But some will see this book as faith-destroying because so many characters sincerely believe that man can become as God. This is not a problem for me. A central tenet of my faith is that I can become as God now is. Life is a constant search for expanding my capabilities and my knowledge of spiritual and physical things. Certainly, not all the ideas in the book jive with my doctrinal beliefs, but that core principle of becoming something more rings true.

On a more specific note, the book is fun and exciting. I finished it in less than 24 hours. In typical Brown fashion, each chapter ends in a total cliffhanger. The plot takes some fantastic twists and turns, and all of the important concepts are explained in enough detail without becoming textbookish. I would also compare it more to The Da Vinci Code more than I would to Angels and Demons. The excitement is finding the next piece of the puzzle, not in the roller-coaster ride. I wouldn't rate it much higher than The Da Vinci Code, but all of Brown's novels are solid, fast-paced intellectual thrillers.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

"I've gotta say, I've always been hip."

Do you ever rent a movie you've never heard of, and you have no idea whether it's going to be good or not? The answer is nearly always that the movie is terrible, your time is gone, and there is no way to get that time back (e.g., Day of the Triffids, Knowing, and Doogal). Well, we finally have a counter-example of greatness. Ashley and I got a free new release coupon and grabbed a movie that neither of us had heard of, The Great Buck Howard. I mean, the movie has Steve Zahn in it, how bad could it possibly be (Rescue Dawn ended up being great!)?

Anyway, we grabbed the movie and watched it. I was thinking about doing some homework during the movie. That definitely didn't happen. I hate movie reviews because they always tell you things you didn't want to know beforehand (e.g., "Rosebud's the sled!"). So I'll just tell you that it's definitely worth watching. It's been awhile since I've seen a classic PG drama with a very clever and sophisticated grownup story. (Of course, having John Malkovich, Tom and Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Conan O'Brien, Tom Arnold, Martha Stewart, Gary Coleman, Motormouth from Police Academy, Regis Philbin, and George Takei didn't hurt either.)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Just a Small-Town Girl

I took a break from reading Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol to watch the second episode of Glee, a new show on Fox. It was good, but I just keep thinking about the show-stopping number from the pilot episode. Yeah, it's Journey, but so what? This is possibly the most joyous moment of television I've seen in a long time. Here's the link on Hulu (I know it won't be up forever, but this works for now). If you don't have time to see the whole shebang, fast forward to about 43:15 and get ready to--dare I say it--sing along. Don't stop believin'.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fantastic Point and a Curious One

Greg Mankiw wrote his best op-ed... ever. I highly recommend it. I believe the highlight of the article is this:

"Imagine that someone invented a pill even better than the one I take. Let’s call it the Dorian Gray pill, after the Oscar Wilde character. Every day that you take the Dorian Gray, you will not die, get sick, or even age. Absolutely guaranteed. The catch? A year’s supply costs $150,000.

Anyone who is able to afford this new treatment can live forever.... Most likely, thousands of upper-income Americans would gladly shell out $150,000 a year for immortality.

Most Americans, however, would not be so lucky. Because the price of these new pills well exceeds average income, it would be impossible to provide them for everyone, even if all the economy’s resources were devoted to producing Dorian Gray tablets.

So here is the hard question: How should we, as a society, decide who gets the benefits of this medical breakthrough? Are we going to be health care egalitarians and try to prohibit Bill Gates from using his wealth to outlive Joe Sixpack? Or are we going to learn to live (and die) with vast differences in health outcomes? Is there a middle way?"

In completely unrelated news, I got an email from the school that said this: "[W]e are extremely pleased that the incoming class of first-year undergraduate students, compared to last year, has a significant increase in the number of students of color." My question is this, what is the difference between "students of color" and "colored students." Supposedly just one of the two is widely offensive? Why? Why does adding a suffix to a word offend people, but the original form of the word does not? (Btw, until today I thought both usages were politically incorrect.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Andersen Fun

(Being the first in a series of wildly belated posts)

We were invited to attend Jake's cousin Jenet's wedding on June 27. Jenet is one of Jake's favorite cousins and possibly one of the nicest people on the planet. She had waited a long time for someone really great, and she found him late last year and married him this June. I think the entire extended family was more excited about this wedding than just about anyone else's in the time I've been acquainted with them. It was a lovely day...kind of hot (as I was foolish enough to wear my black dress), but gorgeous.

Jenet has 10 siblings and therefore many nieces. They were all in pink and very eager to hold up Aunt Jenet's dress so it wouldn't get dirty. Say it with me: "Awwwwwww."
View from the Joseph Smith Memorial Building 9th floor, just a few rooms south of where our own wedding luncheon was held exactly 18 months before. The weather was much warmer for Jenet. :)
And her flowers were pretty. That pink dressing in the bowls? Delish.

A few days later, we headed down to Orem to attend the annual Andersen family reunion. Here is Jake playing frisbee with the many, MANY cousins. Did I mention Jake has a lot of cousins?
And I must have done something right because this year I was given the coveted "Awesome Andersen" family t-shirt. Apparently, this is a rare occurrence. Thanks, Aunt LaDawn!
Twinners! Say it with me: "Awwwwww."

New Websites and... My First Final Already?

I had never seen this website until today, stuffwhitepeoplelike.com. My favorite article was about being offended.

The site has the "it's funny because it's true" hilarity, and because it makes fun of white people you don't end up with people screaming "I'm offended!" Don Boudreaux makes this excellent related point in a recent blog post.

I just finished my first final of the quarter (yes, already). I wrote two single-spaced pages within the 90 minute time-limit and I was able to include the following words: stakeholder, coalition, insinuates, precipitously, corporate corruption, comeuppance, liars, tumultuous, kerfuffle, do-nothing, and open communication. I learned when I was 16 how to get an A in courses with very liberal professors. I credit about .25 of my cumulative GPA to this ability.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Catsup

I'm feeling ambitious today, so I'm planning on writing many blog entries to be released about once per day over then next few days. I haven't written for almost a month (for which I am very sorry), but I have been doing more than eating bonbons and watching soap operas.

General update:
Jake and I spent the summer with his brother Benson and his family. We're back now. School started for Jake two days ago, and while I'm still employed at the high school as a sub, I am no longer on contract. Read: I haven't worked a lick since we got home. This has been frustrating, as there are bills to pay. Tutoring should start soon, and I'm now looking for something full-time. Unfortunately, many organizations aren't real excited to hire someone who will likely only be in the city for another year. I have renewed my commitment to working out every day by signing up at dailyburn.com. It tracks nutrition, workouts, and weight, which has been rather eye-opening. I made vanilla ice cream the other day. It apparently has a billion calories! In a 1/3 c. serving! Poor Jake. No more homemade ice cream. It also has ready-made workouts, some even with video. So now there's really no excuse for my being a lazy bum. Now all I have to do is find a scale....

We got home last week and had a week to ourselves, which was fun. We went to lunch with our friends Katie and Jacob Runyon, put together a puzzle, and went to a BBQ with a bunch of friends on Saturday.

We were surprised at how much we've enjoyed being home. While Chicago is not top on our favorite places in the world, it is home. I LOVE seeing all the new babies in our ward. Church suddenly got far more interesting. :) We also love sleeping in our own bed and on our own pillows. I love knowing where all my kitchen utensils are and having that lemon zester handy.

Right now, the best job prospect for Jake is in Cleveland, Ohio. Pretty much all we know about Cleveland comes from this episode of 30 Rock. (You can stop watching the clip at about 2:20) More details as this story develops.

Well, that's all for now. Look forward to posts about Hawaii, Alabama, and the rest of the summer.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Want My Birthright Back!

So my last blog title was a bit bold because it made no sense by itself. I was predicting a strong retaliation from China... and it came before the weekend was up. Giving up a decade of goodwill from trade deals to appease the tire lobby and some union groups is like selling the birthright.

Here is some background of the situation from tomorrow's WSJ. Unfortunately, it looks like it was printed before today's story broke:

"A full-blown trade row erupted on Sunday night between the US and China after Beijing accused Washington of “rampant protectionism” for imposing heavy duties on imported Chinese tyres and threatened action against imports of US poultry and vehicles.
Trade
relations between two of the world’s biggest economies deteriorated after Barack Obama, US president, signed an order late on Friday to impose a new duty of 35 per cent on Chinese tyre imports on top of an existing 4 per cent tariff."

I was wondering what would take more "courage," backing down or doubling down? I guess it depends on how you define it. Anyway, I guess it doesn't matter because neither is likely to happen really soon. I predict some "mediation" and "time to calm ourselves" along with a little "mutual ground can be found." And... the Chinese won't care. That would be kind of ironic though if China threw down a huge tariff on American cars (I'm looking at GM's very few profitable segments, one of which is China).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Porridge Please!

Since school starts Monday and my free time will be mostly gone, here are my last throes of blog writing. I now hand... a bit more of the baton to Ashley.

So Ashley and I were watching State of Play last night, and after watching the first few minutes I said to Ashley, "Man, this plot was stolen from a British miniseries I once saw." The British miniseries is named, State of Play. Hmm, fancy that. some of us are a bit slower than others.

Here is something irksome indeed on the latest... Trade Wars!

"The White House badly needs Chinese help to confront climate change, nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea and global economic turmoil. China is the world's third-largest economy and a veto-holding member of the United Nations Security Council."

However... "President Barack Obama on Friday slapped punitive tariffs on all car and light truck tires entering the United States from China in a decision that could anger the strategically important Asian powerhouse but placate union supporters important to his health care push at home."

But don't worry, slapping a 35% tariff on incoming goods was a way to "compromise." The tire lobby wanted 55%. Virtually every economist (and American consumer) wanted 0%. The President came halfway at 35%. I'm not a big fan of these kinds of compromises. "To increase profits, the tire lobby wants to kill you, but for some reason you want to live. We'll maim you and call it even."

From my studies of tariffs from yonder year, I vaguely recollect that 35% is about the same tariff for imported North Korean goods.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The First Cool Vanity Plate I've Ever Seen

ARRR M8Y

It's in front of our house right now. I would take a picture, but I'm unsure of the legal ramifications...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Horror Movie of the Year

Coraline. Pay close attention to the last second or two before the credits roll. Ugghhh. Jibblies.

And Ashley and I rented it from Redbox because we thought it was a nice relaxing kids movie. Very incorrect. I can't believe it was only rated PG.

Lulls...

Ashley is on the verge of posting stuff... until then I have two quick points, the first of which I found to be a bit more interesting:

1) I have been watching The Twilight Zone lately. Ashley and I have been getting it from the library when it's been available. I was impressed by quite a few episodes and I highly recommend watching them. There was a point made in one episode, "I Dream of Genie," that I found very intriguing. Mr. Hanley rubs a lamp and a genie comes out. He is allowed one wish. He considers asking for millions of dollars, but then realizes that he will be in the 92% tax bracket. He then decides that wishing himself free money isn't worth the hassle.

I read recently (but couldn't find it, arg!) about how income inequality lessened when top tax brackets were above 70% (sometimes as high as 93%). This was mainly caused by a drop in productivity of those in the top tax bracket. Imagine you own a company with 100 employees and your 5 best employees decided to stop working. Is this a good thing? It's not a zero-sum game. When the sum of a group's productivity drops, it's generally bad for everyone.

2) Why was there ridiculous inflation from 1978-1982? Well, the most straightforward answer is that the money supply was expanding very quickly, but why did the money supply expand? Because James Carter wanted it to. Here is the answer (HT: voluntaryXchange):

"Rather, it was the expansion of the money supply in 1978-79 by Federal Reserve Chairman G. William Miller that caused the spiraling inflation of the late 1970s. For this reason, many in the economics profession to this day rate Mr. Miller as the worst chairman in the history of the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Miller was a professor of mine in 1984. I privately asked him why he unleashed the money supply he did in his years at the Federal Reserve. He told me in no uncertain terms, "That is what the president wanted.""

Read the rest for the full information. I believe this reaffirms the statistically proven fact that the more independent a central bank is, the less inflation it has had historically. I hear people complain about the Fed, but the number one alternative that these same people assert is to hand the printing press over to the President or congress. ...

... I'll stick with the nerd from Princeton.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blogless :(

We've been lazy... very lazy. For lack of anything to write about... here is a list of books that you might be interested in reading, most of which I've blown through since Ashley went on her little vacation. The number of books I read will probably drop precipitously once I have someone to talk to again. :(

1) "The Speed of Trust" by Stephen M. R. Covey. I highly recommend the first 75 pages. Fantastic stuff. ... The rest of the book is better summarized in other books. The book can be summarized as Competence + Integrity = Trust. (FYI: If you do read it, his use of math to explain concepts really struggles in some places and is painful to read.)

2) "David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism" by Gregory Prince and Robert Wright. A burly 400 pager (big pages). Lots of good info, but it feels like the authors get side-tracked on 40 page tangents multiple times. It fees like the authors thought, "this is real juicy information, but not really relevant... let's include it anyway!" You can tell the difference between the two types of readers on Goodreads. Those who gave it three stars included in their review "too much mostly irrelevant gossip" and those who gave it five stars called it a "page turner." My advice: ignore the title of the book, know that it's not a great general summary of the time period, and just enjoy it.

3) "Click: What Millions of People are Doing and Why it Matters" by Bill Tancer. The book is all about what humans search for on the internet (e.g., when do the most people search about dieting? (Answer: December) Do pornography and social networking sites compete directly with each other for user time? (Answer: Yes) The author does a great job explaining "what millions of people are doing," but never really addresses the "and why it matters" satisfactorily. It's an extremely entertaining non-fiction book full of mostly useless info. :) Enjoy.

4) "Man's Search for Meaning" by Victor Frankl. How many psychologists write about their experience as a concentration camp prisoner? I'm not sure, but it's not many. Great read. Great stories. Lots of great points. The book stays general enough so that you don't have to subscribe to his philosophy in order to enjoy it.

5) "The Paradox of Choice" by Barry Schwartz. If nothing else, it is a great collection of psychological studies. I highly recommend the book for people who don't believe everything they read. He draws some pretty strange conclusions in some areas. However, he makes a lot of novel points that you probably won't see in very many other places (e.g., "refundable decisions" can make you unhappy, the concept of the "hedonic treadmill," etc.,).

Random intriguing economic point of the day from Bryan Caplan: ""Where did this 'monopoly power' come from?!" I'd ask. My inner rant then continued: "If the firm has a monopoly because the government made competition illegal, the solution isn't antitrust; it's legalizing competition. If the firm has a monopoly because it's the best, the solution isn't antitrust; it's a little freakin' appreciation.""

The source of monopoly power is very relevant. Lockheed Martin and Google are very different companies. Breaking up companies and declaring "antitrust" provisions does not usually make the public better off.