Friday, September 25, 2009

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I wonder...

If the author of this Washington Post piece would be so quick to point to (invent?) coded racial messages now that it's known the perpetrator of the Obama-as-Joker piece isn't some white Republican.

Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Mutually Exclusive

Memo to the President:

You can't say both this and this. You have to choose.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Found this over at Greg Mankiw's Blog:

Monday, June 29, 2009

What I saw in Vegas

Last week, I was in Las Vegas on business. Given the downturn in the economy, we were able to stay on the Strip for $45 a night, which is convenient for walking to various attractions and restaurants. I was able to enjoy the show of the fountains at the Bellagio, and though I was not able to see the art gallery, I had a pleasant enough evening.

There were the normal things you find on the Strip in Vegas - the people handing out explicit cards promising "Girls to you in minutes," some men sitting on the sidewalk with a cup in front of them for money, men selling "ice cold water, one dollar" from coolers along the sidewalk, and lots of tourists.

But the things that sticks with me the most is a scene and an image from my last morning there, as we were preparing to leave the hotel. As I waited in a chair by the elevators, a couple coworkers came up, and I asked how they were that morning. "Oh, fine - just been watching the hookers." I hadn't been paying much attention, but there were a few women in suggestive clothing wandering around the casino floor, which was largely empty that early in the morning.

When I went over to get a warm drink from the coffee shop, I was able to get a look at the woman who had propositioned my coworker, and it was that look that sticks with me. There was a rather young woman hunched over the bar, looking tired in every sense of the word. According to my coworker, she had a number of bruises on the outside of one arm, suggesting that she's been a victim of violence before, though I was too far away to see that.

I can't really capture in words how sad a picture this lady painted for me. I don't know her story - what brought her to the place she was at. I think hearing such a story would probably break anyone's heart.

And what it drives home to me is this: Jesus was a friend to the tax collectors and sinners. Here is a woman who society regards as inhuman - an object at best and a problem to be solved at worst. To see someone who embodies utter tiredness is to know the offer Jesus makes when he says "come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest."

And it reminded me of this - that God's kingdom is one in which the people you normally honor are ignored, and the people you normally ignore are honored. It can even happen within a church, where the pastor becomes the local celebrity, while someone sits in the back corner of the room alone. Bu tif I am to believe that God is Mighty to Save, I have to believe that it is not just effective - but most effective with the lonely, outcast, disillusioned, broken people that society does not even notice.

I have to believe that God can reach a tired prostitute waiting to snag a client at a bar in Las Vegas, because it is the sick who need a doctor. And I have to believe that God would leave the 99 obedient sheep in a field to chase down one that has wandered away... and if that is what God is doing, then it's what the church should be doing, too.

So if you would, pray for this girl. Pray for society's lost and forgotten, and pray for the courage and wisdom to step out in the world and love them. And pray for the same courage and wisdom for me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Local Restaurants

Recently, my Friday night dinner friends and I have broken from our normal routine a little bit to check out some new restaurants. This might not sound all that unusual, except we are all very much creatures of habit. We could go to Chili's every night for a year. So to break from our small litany of chain restaurants is most unusual indeed.

So far, though, the results have been good. First, we visited Zozo's - a little Italian restaurant tucked away in the shopping center on the North-East side of Lakeside and Virginia. The service was excellent, and the food was quite good. One of their signature foods is the raspberry vinagrette salad dressing, which seems to be mixed with yogurt for a creamier texture. The whole meal for each of use was about $25 a person.

Fresh off our success with slightly-adventuresome eating there, we next visited Naan Kabab. It looks like an old fast-food restaurant (my guess - a Long John Silver's) that has been converted into a nice little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It's next to Ruby River steakhouse, across Virginia Street form the Peppermill. It's run by a chef with many years experience cooking and teaching "culinary arts" and in my opinion, it shows. Instead of the common dinner-bread at the table, you get a basket of flatbread with a salsa that leave your mouth warm. The dinner was a good portion size, and the meat was quite savory, and unlike many restaurants, it felt like the meat was just a part of the meal - the meal wasn't "large side of meat with a couple other things." And for desert... they had a baklava a la mode called the "Awesome Dude" which definitely lived up to its name. It is... most tasty. And best yet, despite several people ordering desert, the whole meal was a little under $20 person, including tip. If you want to eat on the cheap, the large and filling pita sandwiches are under $7.

I like to support local restaurants, and Naan Kabab in particular seemed to be trying to drum up business. The chef visited us twice during the meal, gave out busines cards, and we got a carry-out menu too.

If you're looking for a place to grab a meal on a Friday night and want to try something different, I reccomend either of these restaurants. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

To Ponder...

What does it mean when upon learning that some leading conservative commentators reached the same conclusion I did about Judge Sotomayor's comments (highlighted in another post), my gut reaction was to think "hey, maybe I reached a bad conclusion?"

Normally, finding out that someone else thinks the same thing as you is a sort of confirmation of your views. But there are some people in whom such convergent thinking serves more as an anti-confirmation of my views - a reason to doubt them, not to trust them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Nomination

Just a quick thought...

From the person the President has nominated to be our next Supreme Court Justice:

"Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor [Martha] Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." [U.C. Berkeley School of Law, 10/26/2001]

Switch the phrases "white male" and "Latina woman" and tell me if a white man who makes such a statement has any hope of being nominated in today's society.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Views from Across the Aisle

I like to read the opinions of people with whom I normally would disagree. I think if you can't understand where the other side is coming from, you can't have any sort of productive conversation with them.

This is an interesting article about wages in the current economy.

Of note: "And soon we may be facing the paradox of wages: workers at any one company can help save their jobs by accepting lower wages, but when employers across the economy cut wages at the same time, the result is higher unemployment.

Here’s how the paradox works. Suppose that workers at the XYZ Corporation accept a pay cut. That lets XYZ management cut prices, making its products more competitive. Sales rise, and more workers can keep their jobs. So you might think that wage cuts raise employment — which they do at the level of the individual employer.

But if everyone takes a pay cut, nobody gains a competitive advantage. So there’s no benefit to the economy from lower wages. Meanwhile, the fall in wages can worsen the economy’s problems on other fronts."

My question would be... isn't the same thing true of the minimum wage, but in reverse? If everyone's wages are shifted upward, then we don't gain anything except inflation. It's why I don't care much for changing the minimum wage, but why I don't get too worked up over it either.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Photo-Op PR Nightmare

I just have to ask... am I the only one that hears about this and can't help but link the incident side-by-side with the tough talk on global warming recently from the President and Secretary of State?

Taking an hour-long flight at low altitudes to get a nice photo-op with the statue of liberty is nice, but how many gallons of jet fuel were burned by the F16 and Boeing airliner to take a couple pretty pictures?

If the catch-phrase is "Green your Routine," then this hardly qualifies. It's not like it was a pressing use of fuel, not a high-level diplomatic function. It was something that could have been done with Photoshop. As genuine as a real picture? No. But that's the selling point - instead of burning incredible amounts of fuel, we sat at a computer and created a graphic.

Monday, April 20, 2009

EPA Labels CO2 as Pollutant

I just want to know when they will do the same concerning water vapor, a vastly more important part of global warming. I once raised this issue in a newspaper discussion forum about the idea of Hydrogen fuel and was treated as a moron "that just turns into clouds!"

But seriously - if emission of CO2 is as dangerous to human life as the EPA suggests, for the reasons it describes, shouldn't something with about 100x the potency at causing global warming be treated accordingly?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

House of Sand?

From the President's latest address on the economy:

"We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock."

I would really like to know what, in his view, is the pile of sand and what is the rock with which he'd like to replace it. I view a statement like this as making the economic situation out to be FAR worse than it actually is - and if you want to tear down the (to be very loose) 80% of the economy that is working well to create a new foundation in your image... I really, really want to know what exactly you intend to do, and why you're utterly certain it will work.

Vague language when you talk about building the economy is, for me, downright frightening. Up until now, I was thinking that even with the majorities he has in Congress, the President's agenda would be hampered by fears of over-reaching. But talk like this - talking about re-creating the economy - that's borderline lunacy.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Military Commissions as Courts?

I admit, I was prone to err on the side of trusting the previous administration on this issues - that is to say that when they instituted military commissions, I thought the result would be justice, not theater.

And now I admit that the more I hear about the previous administration, the more I am regularly discouraged by what I hear.

Case in Point, Act 4 of the following episode of This American Life, with the experience of a naval lawyer who worked at these commissions: The Inauguration Show

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Pot and the Kettle

I'm not sure what to make of this comment. It strikes me very much as passing the buck backwards in time, blaming a previous administration for not spending money on the things that are important to you. I imagine it happens in every shift of power: "All the expenses we have to pay now are because the other guys didn't do it."

The faulty assumption is "we absolutely have to have this now, so we have to spend all this money immediately since it wasn't spent before now." I'd rather not have the Treasury Secretary calling their spending priorities the fault of the previous administration. Because in the future, we can look back and say this:

"The reason we have this massive debt now is because the previous administration didn't bother paying for everything it spent." This, however, is a real consequence - unavoidable and true regardless of party affiliation or spending priorities.

An interesting analogy I saw in the comments at Econbrowser, to help you fathom what it means when we talk about "trillion dollar deficits for years to come." A million seconds is about 11.7 days. A billion seconds is about 31.7 years. A trillion seconds is 317 centuries. 20 centuries ago, Jesus was just a carpenter who wasn't teaching or gathering disciples. 300 centuries is right around 28,000 BC. Our deficits are about the size of the wealth you'd have if you had $10 for every second of recorded human history. And that's just a single year's deficit.

Monday, March 02, 2009

As with many things in life...

As with many things in life, if something like this bothers you, then you are looking for reasons to be bothered. Life is too short for such things, but it's amazing the trivial things we sometimes let capture our atentions and passions. And like many things, it shows how often our criticisms say more about us than they do about those we intend to point fingers at.

Friday, February 06, 2009


For the record: I am in favor of one-time spending as stimulus for the economy. I do not think that the Republican plan of lots of tax cuts would be nearly as effective.

That said... this plan is so bloated with pure pork, it's obscene and Obama should be ashamed to be trumpeting this as a "the nation faces imminent collapse unless we pass this" bill.

To every Democrat who was upset with Bush for his WMD argument in Iraq, behold your new president making the same sort of argument here. This may not cost American lives, but it will cost far, far more than the war in Iraq, especially if this is allowed to be the tone of a "never let a crisis go to waste" administration.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Super Bowl and Movies

There should have been an official review of the fumble by Kurt Warner. The official take is this: "As the Steelers ran the last play, Michaels said the booth officials had confirmed that it was a fumble." The problem is, it's not up to the booth officials to make that call - they simply have to decide if it's questionable enough for the referee on the field to review the play. It certainly was questionable, so the referee should have been given the chance to make the call. Booth officials only make decisions like that in college, not in the NFL.

On Friday night, I went to go see Taken. It's an action flick in the "talented but inactive government agent goes on a rampage because of some personal injury done to him by the bad guys" theme. It was an excellent movie, though. The lead actor was believable (as an average-looking man, he's more believable than someone like Dwayne Johnson as a spy), the motivation was believable, there were a couple of unexpected twists, and the movie highlighted something that is a real world problem, affecting millions of people.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fair Pay and Guantanamo

My fundamental problem with the Fair Pay Bill recently signed into law by the new President is this:

In forcing employers who are sued for pay discrimination to prove that a difference in pay was entirely job-related, it codifies a presumption of guilt instead of a presumption of innocence.

It is, though in a different arena, the same fundamental problem that existed at Guantanamo Bay: we will assume you are terrorists, and treat you as such (granted, in Guantanamo you were even less likely to get a chance to try to prove your innocence).

Discrimination is bad. Discrimination is hard to prove. And assuming that any difference in pay is due to intentional discrimination is offensive. Towards the end of my first full-time job, I was making $12.50 an hour in a position of significant responsibility. I admit to being a little miffed when I discovered that someone else who worked there was making $2.50 an hour more for less - from my perspective - work.

Was it discrimination? NO! I, simply, was not aggressive in asking for higher pay. But if the situation were reversed and the girl were to sue because she was making less money, the company would have to prove that one job was more valuable than the other, or they'd be held liable under this new law for discriminating.

I really don't like it when the government says "prove to me you're not discriminating, or you're going to be found guilty." The positive spin you will hear about the bill is "it makes it easier to win pay discrimination lawsuits." This is true, but it does that by legally abolishing the presumption of innocence, and that - to me - is wrong.

Edit: A belated note - this diatribe is based on a description of the bill that I read yesterday. I can't find anything today that describes the contents of the bill as anything more than a deadline-extension. That, in my book, is acceptable. I'm just noting that it's entirely possible that I'm completely off base here. It certainly wouldn't be the first time...

Monday, January 26, 2009

I agree with Jim Rogers

Normally, just about everything the Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education rankles me, and I very rarely agree with it at all. But last Friday, he said this:

"The state of K-16 education in Nevada is where the public, that is you there, has allowed it to sink. Your only relationship with the education system is to ship your unprepared kids to school, not with the expectation of success, but with the demand that an education system – inadequately funded – develop and/or repair children that you as a parent did not prepare," he said. "It is the public – that means you – that has created this disaster of a public education system."

I don't agree with even this whole statement, as I think that calling it "K-16 education" continues an unhealthy obsession with sending kids to college, as he's lumping "higher" education in with "normal" education as though they are both basic needs.

I agree, however, that the expectation of many parents that it is the schools' job to educate and prepare their children - without any parental involvement - is the primary cause of the problems that schools face. The solution, however, in my mind is different from Jim's.

Jim would say "if you have this expectation, provide more money to the system." I would say "parents should get more involved, and we might well improve without any funding changes to the schools."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Martian Sunset

For your viewing pleasure: a sunset, seen from Mars. It looks odd - besides the total abundance of any signs of life - but I couldn't put my finger on it for a while. Then I realized it...

The colors are backwards. The blue sky i s around the setting sun, while the red sky is up in the air.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gibbons & Pay Cuts

Since I'm a state employee and my sister is a teacher, I have a personal stake in Governor Gibbons' plan to try to cut all state employees' salaries by 6%. I'm not too fond of it, but I've expected a freeze, and a cut in the face of Nevada's budget issues is not particularly surprising.

What I don't like is the false alternative being presented: layoffs or pay cuts. There's another option, and its one being used in California - unpaid mandatory days off. If the Governor wants to cut labor costs, then it's fair to expect less services. A 6% pay cut equates to 15 unpaid days off in the year for me.

Why is it fair? It preserves pay rates which are comparable to the private sector. It spreads the burden around the whole state, as there's a 6% reduction in services to go along with the 6% reduction in pay. It doesn't amount to more work (as in our department, we're absolutely buried with work at the moment) for less pay, it is simply less hours being worked - a situation shared in the private sector by some 8 million Americans right now.

6% off the top is "tough luck." 6% unpaid time off at least trades cash for leisure. That there's fewer clerks at the DMV, or the welfare office, or working a a time in the NHP, or the like is a consequence. To save labor costs in the long run, you need to cut services - not just reduce pay.

Sick Day Poem

Evidently, there's a controversy brewing in the UK about the website for a cold remedy, which the UK Federation of Small Businesses calls "outrageous." Having been hit by both a brief bout of what felt like stomach flu last Friday and a head cold this last Wednesday, this feels particularly timely to me.

A gem from the "e-mails to let your coworkers know you're out sick" section of the Benylin website:

I’m sick and have gone away
To get into bed and TAKE A BENYLIN® DAY.
I’m sneezing and wheezing and blowing snot,
So an auto reply is what you’ve got!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Unions and Wages

Among industrialized countries, some are more unionized than others. What do you think the relationship is between % of qorkforce unionized and % of national income earned by labor?

Make a guess, and then check out this blog.

I found the results interesting.