Monday, January 30, 2006

Article: Bush Administration Giving Billions to Churches


Read this in the Post this morning...


New groups are springing up to win a piece of President Bush's $15 billion AIDS program, with traditional players and religious groups joining forces to improve their chances in a competition that already has targeted nearly a quarter of its grants for faith-based organizations.

The administration is putting out a call for new community and church groups to get involved in HIV prevention and care in 15 target countries, most in sub-Saharan Africa. It is reserving $200 million specifically for groups with little or no government grant experience.

Groups that have deep local ties in the countries and focus on abstinence and fidelity - instead of just condoms - are faring well.

...

The abstinence emphasis, say some longtime AIDS volunteers, has led to a confusing message and added to the stigma of condom use in parts of Africa.



This doesn't surprise me at all. The administration has already spent tens of millions of dollars supporting abstinence education, even though studies show that it is counter productive. (I would link to the studies, but most have graphic discussions of, well, things that we all know go on in high school that parents like to pretend don't happen - and I don't want to get anyone in trouble if they read this at work. You'll just have to Google it. Here's a hint - it has to do with the opposite of abstinence).

The administration has done a good thing by increasing AIDS funding. And for that, I applaud them.

And I once had a very open mind when it came to alternative ways of reducing teen pregnancy and stopping the spread of disease. But having studied it at length, I've concluded that abstinence education just doesn't work. They've read the same studies, but continue to fund these programs out of moral conviction and/or political calculation.

Also, I purposefully wrote "Giving Billions to Churches" in my headline, and not "Religious Groups" as the Post misleadingly writes. There are almost no mosques, synagogues, temples, or other religious groups receiving this money. The vast bulk of it is being steered directly to evangelical Christian Churches and, to a lesser extent, the Catholic Church.

They are using AIDS money as a cover for political patronage.

[Insert Expletive Here]

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Article: Seven Myths about the Challenger Shuttle Disaster

This article is just plain interesting.

Message to the world - history is not destiny - tragedy can be avoided. Here are the myths, click on the link if you want to read the article...


  1. Few people actually saw the Challenger tragedy unfold live on television.

  2. The shuttle did not explode in the common definition of that word.

  3. The flight, and the astronauts’ lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch.

  4. The design of the booster, while possessing flaws subject to improvement, was neither especially dangerous if operated properly, nor the result of political interference.

  5. Replacement of the original asbestos-bearing putty in the booster seals was unrelated to the failure.

  6. There were pressures on the flight schedule, but none of any recognizable political origin.

  7. Claims that the disaster was the unavoidable price to be paid for pioneering a new frontier were self-serving rationalizations on the part of those responsible for incompetent engineering management — the disaster should have been avoidable.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Stupidity



Couldn't decide on the caption (again), so this week you get two.


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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Distraction: Movies

Hey everybody. Regular commentator and all around intelligent and interesting person Jamy has a new site up about movies. So the next time the theatre bug bites you, stop by.

Sadly, this is the funniest picture I could find
to represent the theatre bug.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Article: Google Even More Evil

As I've blogged before, Google is an evil company. Their only motive is profit, just like every other corporation. This is essential for the efficient allocation of resources - i.e., capitalism, which I'm a big fan of. But just like a person who is psychopathically motivated solely by the desire for more money, Google has no conscience:

Google's launch of a new, self-censored search engine in China is a "black day" for freedom of expression, a leading international media watchdog says.

Reporters Without Borders joined others in asking how Google could stand up for US users' freedoms while controlling what Chinese users can search for.

Its previous search engine for China's fast-growing market was subject to government blocks.

The new site - Google.cn - censors itself to satisfy Beijing.

I'm a very moderate sort of person when it comes to most issues, but on free speech there should be no compromise. Anyone who assists Communist dictators in preventing free speech is complicit in their sins. They are trading money for freedom, plain and simple.


Never Forget.

Hellenism: Typhoid Fever Behind Fall of Athens

There are precisely two people in the world who would be interested in this article. And since it was Qui-Gonn Jesse who emailed it to me in the first place, I'm really not sure why I'm posting it. But since I'm a serious Hellenophile, I've decided to start posting articles and websites related to my favorite past time so that they're all in one place the next time I want access to them. Enjoy (or, if you find this kind of stuff boring, I'm sorry).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Politics: DC is Simultaneously the Safest and Most Dangerous City to Live In

Via DCist, I found the Incident Log Website. It links the police reports for major crimes from most major U.S. cities to Google Maps. Looking at the map of DC for the last two years, a very clear picture is painted...


1) If you live in Northwest DC, you live in one of the safest cities on the planet.

2) If you are a tourist and stick to the National Mall, Downtown, NW, and the other touristy areas, the likelihood of anything happening to you is quite low.

3) If you live anywhere else in DC, you live in one of the most dangerous cities on the planet.

There were exactly two crime related deaths in NW in the past two years, and one of them was accidental. Around the touristy areas, there were a couple robberies, one homicide, and a fatal accident. Over the river in Anacostia, and in the heavily Hispanic neighborhoods in NE that are plagued by gangs, there is a ton of crime.

I studied this a great deal in college, and when I was a social worker I observed it first hand. Crime occurs in clumps. A few neighborhoods, and even a few streets in a select neighborhoods, are very, very dangerous.

Others are relatively safe, even if they are in very poor parts of town. There are huge swathes of residential, working class neighborhoods where very little serious crime occurs. In upscale NW, it almost never occurs.

With rare exceptions, gangs, drug users, and other criminals don't take the Metro across town to terrorize the city. Statistically, most Washingtonians will live their entire life without being touched by crime. And oddly, this is obfuscated by the statistics themselves, which by definition are aggregates. So there is no reason to fear for your life every time you step outside your doorstep. Just be aware and be careful.

Also, I wanted to find a way to work in one of my favorite Mel Brooks quotes into this post:
"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." But I'm not really that good of a writer, so I'll have to put it as a non sequitur. Maybe the manhole covers will start exploding again in Georgetown, and I'll have a chance to use it again later. Meh.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Article: Starbucks Screwing You Further

If you're like me, you love coffee but hate paying $3-4 for it. But there are some days where you are so tired, so caffeine deprived, that you would strangle a basket of kittens to death with your bare hands if you thought you could squeeze a cup of coffee out of them - or, similarly, you might even consider going to Starbucks.

Well it turns out that for "just $2.35" you can actually get a "short cappuccino" from them, with a higher coffee-to-milk ratio then any other cappaccino they serve. The only catch is that its not listed on the menu...

But why does this cheaper, better drink—along with its sisters, the short latte and the short coffee—languish unadvertised? The official line from Starbucks is that there is no room on the menu board, although this doesn't explain why the short cappuccino is also unmentioned on the comprehensive Starbucks Web site, nor why the baristas will serve you in a whisper rather than the usual practice of singing your order to the heavens.

Economics has the answer: This is the Starbucks way of sidestepping a painful dilemma over how high to set prices. Price too low and the margins disappear; too high and the customers do. Any business that is able to charge one price to price-sensitive customers and a higher price to the rest will avoid some of that awkward trade-off.

...

"The bottom end of any market tends to get distorted," says McManus. "The more market power firms have, the less attractive they make the cheaper products."

That observation is important. A firm in a perfectly competitive market would suffer if it sabotaged its cheapest products because rivals would jump at the opportunity to steal alienated customers. Starbucks, with its coffee supremacy, can afford this kind of price discrimination, thanks to loyal, or just plain lazy, customers.

The practice is hundreds of years old. The French economist Emile Dupuit wrote about the early days of the railways, when third-class carriages were built without roofs, even though roofs were cheap: "What the company is trying to do is prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from traveling third class; it hits the poor, not because it wants to hurt them, but to frighten the rich."


I don't know if this is actually true or not - but the next time I need a fix, I'm going to test this theory, and I'll let you know.



Pic stolen from ">Alien Luvs Predator.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Nutrition


I stole this picture from vlad9 at Fark.

And yes, I have thought of the joke a 14 year old would make - his name is Javva (and Donuts) the Hutt. I have no shame left - and apparently, no sense of humor left either.

For the record I love Krispy Kremes, but rarely get an opportunity to eat them. I guess that explains why I look more like pasta.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Article: Girls Against Boys?

This little nugget is from The Nation, a pseudo progressive magazine, which includes a bizarre quote from John Tierney at the New York Times...

What a difference a few decades and a gender revolution make. Now, although both sexes are much more likely to go to college than forty years ago--the proportion of the population enrolled in college is 20 percentage points higher today than in 1960--girls have edged ahead of boys. Today, women make up 57 percent of undergraduates, and the gap is projected to reach 60/40 in the next few years. This year, even manly Harvard admitted more girls than boys to its freshman class. So of course the big question is, Who will all those educated women marry? "Advocates for women have been so effective politically that high schools and colleges are still focusing on supposed discrimination against women," writes John Tierney in a recent New York Times column. "You could think of this as a victory for women's rights, but many of the victors will end up celebrating alone." If the ladies end up cuddling with their diplomas, they have only themselves--and those misguided "advocates for women"--to blame. Take that, you hyper-educated spinster, you.

Wow, this is insulting on so many levels, I don't even know where to start to get angry.

The conservative mindset is not just misogynistic, its just plain factually wrong. As I've written before, while pursuing higher education delays the age of first marriage, it makes the likelihood of divorce much lower.

Over 95% of Americans marry at some point in their lives, a number that has been relatively constant since the U.S. Census began. Furthering your education doesn't prevent marriage, it simply delays it, and the false impression that education is somehow creating "hyper educated spinsters" is based on the media driven, Sex in the City/Friends/soap opera angst over that delay. In reality, going to college is one of the best things anyone could do to improve their future marriage. Just look....


Divorce Education Age Race
Furthermore, the way the arguments are posed by the article's author Katha Pollitt are a horrible way to frame the discussion that plays directly into the conservative mindset. It starts out talking about historical discrimination, proceeds to an idiotic quote by a conservative which states that choosing marriage is more important then choosing education, and then goes on to talk about how gender discrimination is still very real in education and in the workplace.

It sets up marriage and family as opposed to education and feminism. Given that false choice, many women will choose marriage and family. But it is a false choice - life is not a zero sum game. Women do not have to choose between being educated and having a career or getting married and having a family, and implying that they do is does a disservice to everyone.

Now, in Katha's defense the article tries to make a progressive argument (though it does so poorly), and she writes about feminism on a regular basis, which most writers ignore. Still, why raise the subject if you're not going to do a thorough job exposing even the most basic facts and statistics on marriage?

Hat tip to Feministing for catching this. I'd also link to the NY Times directly for the Tierney article, but they require paid membership now for much of their content.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Distraction: What Would Chuck Norris Do?


Hilarious. Go read the full list if you're interested, or just check out my favorites...

  • Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.

  • Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.

  • Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.

  • Chuck Norris' penis is so large that it actually warps the fabric of space-time. Indeed some physicists now theorise that the passage of time is mearly a byproduct of Norris' colossal erections. This is known as the "Chuck Norris' big cock theory of space-time".

  • The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.

  • Oxygen requires Chuck Norris to live.


What would Chuck Norris Do?

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Article: More Republican Corruption

From CNN:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Bob Ney gave up his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee on Sunday amid an influence-peddling probe that has roiled the Republican Party, but he predicted the investigation would clear his name.

Ney, a six-term Ohio Republican, was under heavy pressure from House Speaker Dennis Hastert to give up his chairmanship after Ney was implicated in the scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to corruption charges January 3.

...

According to court papers filed in that case, Abramoff and his business partner, Michael Scanlon, supplied a member of Congress -- identified only as "Representative 1" -- with gifts in exchange for getting the lawmaker to help their clients, including agreeing to support specific bills and placing statements in the Congressional Record.

Government sources have told CNN that Representative 1 is Ney, who has acknowledged being subpoenaed in connection with the investigation. He denies wrongdoing and predicted Sunday that he "will be vindicated completely at the end of this difficult process."

The Committee on House Administration oversees federal elections and the day-to-day functions of the House of Representatives. So essentially, the guy in charge of ensuring fair elections and enforcing the basic rules of the House is unethical and broke the rules for money.

Irony is dead.

Favorite Republican Art

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Friday, January 13, 2006

Demotivational Friday: Compromise

You're Wrong and I'm Right
This week's Demotivational Friday requires a certain level of historical knowledge to find funny.

Sorry. I'm a dork.

Also, I couldn't decide what caption to use, so this week you get two. Enjoy.


Half Wrong

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Article: Man Wears "Cocaine Snowman" T-Shirt to Court

File this story under, "Deserves What They Get."


Patrick Powell stood before a judge this week charged with murder, slumping his shoulders as though trying to hide.

But clearly visible and adding to the questions surrounding Daniel Columbo’s stabbing was the frowning snowman T-shirt the Milford teen wore, part of a shirt line hip-hop artist Young Jeezy and his record label Def Jam began distributing this year to promote an album.

"You wouldn’t even think anything of it, really," said Ashland School Resource Officer Luann Tomaso. "It looks like a cute T-shirt if you just glance at it."

The rapper hinted the shirt meant trouble in an MTV interview this fall, saying the snowman symbolized someone was a "young hustler," a "cool dude," and a "gangsta."

But the real symbols of cocaine and drug dealing have started to sink in for many as they listen to the rapper’s music and learn he is a former drug dealer.

In Jeezy’s hit "Icy," he rapped, "In my hood they call me Jeezy da Snowman/Ya get it? Get it? Jeezy da Snowman/I’m iced out, plus I got snow, man."

I'm an idiot, please send me to jailIdiot

Free speech is great. Everyone should be able to say and wear whatever they want, as long as it doesn't incite violence. And having the freedom to do whatever you want includes the freedom to do something stupid. Wearing a snowman t-shirt is like wearing a t-shirt that says "arrest me, I think drugs are cool."

I find this to be a sad development, because one of my favorite t-shirts is the They Might Be Giants snowman, warming his hands over a pile of burning money.

Ironic SnowmanExistential

I've been stopped on the street while wearing it and told what a great "gangsta" t-shirt it is. Which, if you've ever seen me or They Might Be Giants, is ridiculous.

I vaguely look like John Linnell, on the leftWhite

So I avoid wearing my TMBG Snowman, simply because our culture has once again taken something innocuous and interesting and turned it into something crappy and base. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Books: Dog Days

I haven't read this book yet, but based on this Washington Post article, I think I might want to:

Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words "Write what you know" is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don't. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad , how much combat do you think he saw?

I shamelessly stole this from Wizbang. Any laugh you get from this should be credited to Kevin, not me.

Just for the record, I'm anti-labor camp and pro-Homer.

Greatest Figure of Western Poetry"Okay, whatever to take my mind off my life."

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Article: The Death Penalty

The New Jersey Assembly has approved a one year moratorium on the death penalty with bipartisan vote of 55-to-21. It has already been approved by the state Senate by a similar bipartisan margin of 30-to-6. It will now head to the desk of Governor Codey, who has indicated he will sign it.

Interestingly enough, one of the major factors in the moratorium is the cost of administering the death penalty. Since it was reinstated in 1982, the death penalty has cost New Jersey $253 million to put 10 people on death row, but it hasn't actually executed anyone. The last prisoner executed by New Jersey was in 1963. The comparable cost of simply incarcerating the 10 current death row inmates until they die is only $15.1 million.

It is now patently obvious that a sentence of life without parole is cheaper and more effective then the death sentence. If New Jersey had spent the $237.9 million on extra police officers to patrol the streets and investigate crimes, we would have fewer murders then any deterrence provided by the threat of the death penalty. This moratorium is a good step in the right direction.

On the same grounds, a good argument could be made by a Texan that the problem is not the death penalty, but poor administration. If you lowered the number of appeals and the burden of proof, the cost of administering the death penalty would drop to about $2.3 million per person. But that is still more then twice as expensive as sentencing someone to life without parole. And it leads to a higher likelihood of executing innocent people.

Even in the most extreme cases, it doesn't make sense. Assume we capture Osama bin Laden Laden - would executing him prevent his followers from attacking America? In a world of suicide bombers, the answer is no. Murdering another person, by definition, is almost never a logical thought process.

"I was going to shoot my wife, but that's not the rational thing to do, considering that I could be executed, as opposed to just spending the rest of my life being sexually assaulted by other prisoners in a federal penitentiary."

pound me in the assMurder in Progress

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I go out of my way to listen and learn from people I disagree with. But I have yet to see any strong evidence as to why we should execute anyone. It costs more. There is no evidence that it is a deterrent. And as long as we execute any large number of people, we are going to execute some number of innocent people. And that is morally reprehensible.

Hat tip to Blue Jersey and MyDD.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Distraction: Proof that there is a God: Spammer lands $11 billion fine

Hat tip to Slashdot:

CIS Internet Services won $11.2 billion from James McCalla, from Florida, who was found to have sent millions of unsolicited e-mails advertising mortgage and debt consolidation services through the ISP's network.

A lawsuit claimed that McCalla sent more than 280 million illegal spam e-mail messages. Frims advertised in the spam had already been ordered to cough up a billion dollars in damages.

Prosecutors argued that under state law in effect at the time, CIS was entitled to $10 per illegal e-mail...

CIS acknowledged that it is unlikely to see any of the judgement money but said that it was time that spammers learnt that their actions would result in an economic death penalty.


Next, onto whoever keeps sending me unsoliced emails in Chinese with no return email and no apparent attempt to extract money from me. Why? Why?

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Distraction: 10 Reasons Gay Marriage is Wrong

Oddly, I stole this list from uber-dork cartoonist Scott Kurtz over at PvP, who got it from his wife, who no doubt stole it from someone else. Enjoy...


10 Reasons Gay Marriage is Wrong:

1. Being gay is not natural. And as you know Americans have always rejected unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because, as you know, a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed. The sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.


As you can no doubt tell, I'm 100% in favor of gay marriage. However, I think that the anti-gay forces of the world have at least two very potent arguments working for them.

One is polygamy. The United States outlawed polygamy in 1862. But legalizing gay marriage rests upon the same argument as legalizing polygamy - consenting adults have a right to enter into a contract together.

Furthermore, polygamy is quite common in many Muslim nations. What's to stop a Saudi or Senegalese man from immigrating with his 4 wives and suing under whatever law protects gay marriage to have his multiple marriages recognized? Now I'm not a fan of polygamy as its traditionally practiced. It tends to be very misogynistic, in contrast to gay marriage, which is perhaps the ultimate form of gender equality. But I think that if you did a national survey of Americans, 99% of them would be opposed to polygamy, and a great number who would otherwise be inclined support gay marriage would oppose it if they knew that legalizing gay marriage would lead to the legalization of polygamy.

The second is precedence - gay marriage is currently illegal under federal law, in 49 States, and in the District of Columbia. Precedents are sometimes wrong and/or immoral (see Plessy v. Ferguson). But they are still the basis of our legal system, and without a precedent, a lawyer has few grounds to rest an argument upon. Perhaps the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling coupled with some statutory changes in a few of the more liberal states will change that.

So, to reiterate, I'm 100% pro gay marriage. But I think we need to seriously engage the opponents of gay marriage on the merits of their arguments, and not just make fun of them for being associated with the Neolithic wing of the radical right (which is still enjoyable to do by itself anyway. Just not particularly useful).

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Article: Cats and Evolution

From the NY Times:

Researchers have gained a major insight into the evolution of cats by showing how they migrated to new continents and developed new species as sea levels rose and fell.

About nine million years ago - two million years after the cat family first appeared in Asia - these successful predators invaded North America by crossing the Beringian land bridge connecting Siberia and Alaska, a team of geneticists writes in the journal Science today.

If cats are still evolving, who knows what form they will take next?

Cat Evolution

I, for one, welcome our new kitty overlords.

Also, I'd like to point out that the actual cat in the above picture is taken directly from the NY Times article. And from the looks of it, its in the clothes dryer. I don't know why, but for some reason people think its cute when kittens attempt to commit suicide - harassing the dog, playing with the lawn mower, jumping from stair wells, getting into the dryer, fireplace, or microwave, etc. Just saying.

Demotivational Friday: Commercialism

Holy Eucharist
This was the Demotivational Friday for Christmas. Last month I posted about my brother instead - I guess I'm just a big softie.

I also saw this picture which I considered using under the caption of "Santa Claus."

Santa PlaneHe knows when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're awake,
He doesn't know much about air traffic patterns.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

Article: Intellectual Property Law

For some bizarre reason, I find intellectual property laws hugely interesting. Initially, the entire point of this website was to serve as an online library of things I read. Then I realized that reposting other people's work is illegal. This is annoying, as reporting snippets is only mildly helpful, and links to whatever I initially read often go dead or get blocked, especially at newspapers.

I guess I could just print out everything I read, but my bookshelves and filing cabinets are already overflowing. Sigh. Anywho, this site's Blogger's FAQ on intellectual property is a very useful. I'd repost it here, but, you know, the law and whatnot.

On Gambling

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame had a hilarious post that perfectly sums up my opinion on gambling...

One of the downsides of interacting with other people is that they keep uncovering defects I never knew I had. For example, I recently discovered that I can’t learn to gamble...

In order to learn something, first you must have enough interest to activate whatever brain chemistry it takes to first concentrate on the subject and second to burn the rules into your long term memory. Apparently this is easy for people who believe that their gambling decisions have a strong influence on whether they win or lose. To me, every casino game except the slots looks like an annoying set of rules layered on top of what should be a simple process of taking your money and giving you nothing in return.

Apparently when other people hear the rules of card games they think This is how I will become rich. I must pay attention. Whereas my brain just activates the fight or flight response. I don’t know whether to run away or start punching the dealer.

I once had a very strong interest in gambling. I even took a doctoral level class in game theory (for unrelated reasons), learned how to count cards, and studied virtually every game of chance.

Then I realized that there is no form of gambling where the odds are in your favor. None. Why would there be? Gambling is a business. They are there to take your money, and they do it more efficiently and at a lower cost then a mugger with a gun.

The game which you have the best chance of winning at, if you make every decision perfectly, is blackjack. Even then a player only has a 49% chance of winning (because you have to go before the dealer). If you can count cards, you gain a 1-2% advantage, giving you a 50-51% chance of winning, if you play perfectly.

The odds of winning at most other forms of gambling are much, much lower. The odds of winning most lotteries are less then 1 in 1,000,000 - they are essentially a tax on people who can't do math (or refuse to for some reason).

Once I realized this I lost all interest in gambling. But I also lost the ability to even care about gambling, to understand why people gamble, or to remember the most basic mechanics about the different games.

Over the winter break, a friend asked if I wanted to play in his weekly poker game, and I couldn't even remember the ranking of hands. I can recite in detail thousands of years of human history, the minutia of hundreds of laws, dozens of variations on my favorite recipes, the circumstances of the first kiss with every woman I've ever had a crush on, and the words to virtually every They Might Be Giants song ever recorded. But I couldn't remember rules to a game that most eight year olds with access to cable t.v. have mastered.

Odd how the brain works.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Spirit of the Holidays


No greater magnifying glass can be found hovering over human behavior than the first couple weeks after the New Years. (Some would say that it stretches back to early December, but I'd like to harbor a little hope.)
How many people hold doors for others the week before Christmas, in the "spirit of the holidays", that cut people off in traffic January 2nd? Why do people use the holidays as a crutch for acting nice? "Hey, it's Christmas, so I'll do something for another human being that I normally wouldn't DREAM of doing."
I think there's a subliminal reason for this. Flow with me, people. When we were little kids, we were told to be good, or we'd get coal in our stockings. If we were good, we'd get presents from Santa... After all, he knows if we've been bad or good. This is what most of us hear when we were really little. This is before we're actually taught to be good to other people for goodness sake. (Yeah, I really need to quit quoting Santa's Comin to Town.)


Problem is - more folks teach goodness with Santa than goodness just because. How many idiots did we know growing up? How many of them have bred? Do you really think they'll "get it together" and break the ignorant chain? Last time I helped Some Guy move, I read an article in the City Paper about a couple who let their baby die, because they kept forgetting to feed it, and because they watered down the baby formula to stretch it out a little bit more. Point is, these folks are *not* breaking that chain, and are in fact, instilling the same (de)values into their kids' behavior. However - all of those kids heading down the wrong path were still taught to be good for Santa.

So.

When the holidays come around, people that aren't normally good turn the cheek and hold doors for folks, let the other car pass, etc. because "it's the holidays", which is the adult way of saying "Santa's watching me." Even though they don't believe in Santa consciously, that response to the jolly stimulus with the beard is instilled in them very early, and thusly, hard to break.

Then, from the 26th until New Year's Eve, people are filled with hope for "resolutions" on how they're going to improve their behavior over the next year. As if somehow, January 1st fills us with a new level of resolve. In reality, this is just people putting off the task of bettering themselves. I made a resolution to lose weight. I didn't make it last Saturday night. I made it three months ago, when I said "enough is enough", and my sweetheart expressed her concern. I've already lost 18 pounds, and I have 22 to go. My point is, every day is a new opportunity to make a resolution to improve yourself. Not waiting for the new year, or after you graduate high school, or when you get married, or as soon as you get pregnant, or some other *made up* deadline that just gives you more time to do what you naturally do, and ignore the fact that you're not doing what you think you should. This is why most New Year's resolutions have a two-week shelf life - because in fact, January 1st does *not* fill us with a resolve that wasn't there the day before. People with a natural reservoir of resolve have what it takes to stick it out, even when it gets hard. Anything you want to do that's worth something is going to be hard to do, or you wouldn't need a resolution, you'd do it already. Or did I miss folks saying, "This year I resolve to eat more chocolate, do my duty to support the cigarette economy by buying a carton a week, and see how long I can fool my wife into thinking I'm faithful."

Which brings me to my original point.

What would you do if you knew that you'd be the last person someone talked to before they died? More likely than not, the two of you wouldn't know each other. What would you do? You are the last piece of human contact this person will ever receive in this life. Would you send them off right? "Have a great day!", "Let me get that for you!", "Thank you so much!" Of course, we don't know when that situation will happen to us. Keep in mind that it happens every *second* of every day. It might happen to you, and you might never know it. It probably already happened to some of you. And some of you probably dropped the ball.

The other day, as I made a delivery (my second job is delivering pizza. No adult-film jokes, please.), I asked for the woman's credit card. She had made a purchase with it, and I needed to swipe it in my "swipey thingy" (that's the technical name for it, honest!). After fumbling around for five minutes, she brought it over. It was a debit card. To the same credit union I go to, Police and Fire Federal Credit Union. You can only be in this credit union if you or a family member is a member of Philly's Finest or Philly's Bravest. Keep this point in mind.
"May I see some ID?"
You'd've thought I asked her to let me take her first-born back to the store with me. (Who was a very cute little girl, dressed up as a princess. Aww..) "YOU DON'T NEED TO SEE MY ID!! IT'S A DEBIT CARD!!" I guess people don't steal folks' debit cards, and I don't need to perform this safety measure. Guess they just steal credit cards.
The situation degraded quite a bit from there. First she told me I needed to wait. She was on the phone with someone, and couldn't attend to me just yet. So I stood out there in the pouring rain. Good thing I had a hood. Then, after showing me HER BADGE and ID, she yelled at me for giving *her* attitude. She yelled at me to "shut up" when I was asking her why she felt the need to be so rude. She slammed the door in my face, requiring me to knock again, for a signature. (God forbid!) She slammed the door again, and I didn't bother asking for the second signature. (Next time folks, just pay cash.)
Yes, folks, this was one of Philly's Finest, showing me just how fine she could be. It was right then I conceived the idea for this article. What if right after that delivery, I died in a horrific accident on the way back to the store? Delivery drivers make lots more trips in their cars per day than most folks, and as Some Guy will agree, they also up their chances that one of those trips could be an accident, even a fatal one. How would Officer Jackhole feel knowing that she sent a human being off to the next whatever in such a fashion? How would you feel? This happened on January 2nd, folks.

So to wrap up - this world would run a little smoother if we all did our part to just look out for other people. Hold the door. Say hello. Smile at a stranger. Let someone ahead of you. Don't try to beat someone to the red light. You'll both have to wait anyway. Use your turn signal, even when you're not sure if you should. No one ever got pulled over for using their turn signal too much. Put your cart back in the cart caddy after you finish shopping. Someone else might care about their car's finish more than you do about yours. Don't drive across empty lanes of parking spots in a parking lot - drivers aren't expecting that kind of opposing traffic, it'd be like trying to dodge a car that came out of the middle of a block of rowhomes. When you're waiting in the line at the bank, say hello to someone who's just standing there. Ask them how their day is. You'd be surprised at the gems of wisdom you might get from asking the right person the right question. A gem you can take with you, even if you never see that person again. I learned once to never let someone else's bad attitude or poor behavior dictate my mood for the rest of the day. I easily could've chewed out my coworkers, girlfriend, or mother after dealing with Officer Jackhole. I didn't, though. Remember, each day living above ground is better than living below it, and it's up to you to make it a great one. Some people laugh at the end of my voice mail, when I tell folks to "Make it a great day." But in the end, it's true - whether or not you feel good at the end of the day is solely contingent on how *you choose* to respond to the challenges you faced that day, however trying.

Take it from E.T.: "BE GOOD."

Some Guy tells me about 40 people read this blog. Do me a favor - if you enjoyed this, if it made you think, please show this to at least one person in your life that otherwise wouldn't see it. And if they feel the same way, tell them to show it to someone in their life. Maybe we can spread the idea that you should be good just because it's the right thing to do. Not because of a fear of coal. And what goes around comes around - one of my coworkers, who is a flagrant racist despite being a minority, had her brand new car stolen Christmas Day.
Will she learn? Probably not. Will you?

Happy New Year's, everybody.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Distraction: Link Roundup

Sadly, I'm back inside the Beltway. With the exception of the normal family histrionics on Christmas, my break was awesome. New Year’s Eve produced yet another funny story involving stuff I don’t write about on this blog. I got to see a lot of old friends and family members I don’t normally get to see. Good times, all around.

Since I haven’t picked up a newspaper in the last two weeks, here are a variety of random links...

Ex-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was robbed. In other news, D.C. residents have decided to make up for past crimes with vigilante justice.

A Jersey girl blogger over at On Life As I Know It was nice enough to link to my blog. Stop by and enjoy the Democratic goodness.

Replacement Spokane mayor sworn in, vows to choose more discreet gay.com chat handle than predecessor. (Hat tip to Fark).

Christmas comes really, really early this year (or just a little late). Jack Abramoff to name names.

The AP reports that two 16 year-old girls were expelled from a California Lutheran high school “because they were suspected of being lesbians.” (Hat tip to Feministing. Also, WTF?)

Kossak RichardG writes about how the McCain torture amendment actually permits torture. Also, black is white, up is down, and the end of days is neigh. (Hat tip to the Lyceum).


Bumper sticker.
Stolen from Basic Juice.


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