Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Better Late Than Never

I haven't believed in God for many years now, but the God I don't believe in is very much the Americanized Protestant Christian one, which means I measure the dates Jesus wasn't born, wasn't crucified and didn't rise from the dead all by the Gregorian calendar. Orthodox Christianity, however, still measures such things by the old-fashioned Julian calendar, so they don't celebrate Christmas until January 6.

For the purposes of today's post I'll pretend I do the same, because this last-minute gift warning I wrote for (which actually went up four days ago, while I was on a road somewhere in New England, to visit friends for the holidays) would still be a current piece.(Confession: my landlady really did gift me some very upscale English muffins for Christmas, which inspired this column.)
Still scrambling for a last-minute holiday gift? Perhaps a Secret Santa offering for a colleague you hardly know? Then buy a scented candle, a decorative paperweight, a coffee mug with a stupid cartoon on it — buy anything except a gift box or basket filled with deluxe gourmet luxury versions of everyday foods. These make cruel presents, especially for recipients trying to be frugal about their grocery costs.
In other delayed news, at the Daily Dot today I reminded everyone that Christmas also marked the official birthday of the Internet.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Little Drummer Girl Next Door

It is Christmas ba rum pum pum pum
I got some cool new gifts ba rum pum pum pum
I'm not the only one ba rum pum pum pum
The kids next door did too ba rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

They are nice kids but ba rum pum pum pum

Noisy too.

Children next door ba rum pum pum pum.
I have a headache now ba rum pum pum.
You sure can shriek real loud ba rum pum pum pum.
Your parents must be proud ba rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Someone gave to you ba rum pum pum pum
A new drum.

Who the hell gives ba rum pum pum pum
A drumkit to a kid? Ba rum pum pum pum
Some sadist that's for sure ba rum pum pum pum
I bet he hates your mom ba rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

You'll be extra loud ba rum pum pum pum
with your new drum.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Standard Well-Meaning Holiday Greeting

I went back to New England last weekend to see some friends for the holidays. Now it's Christmas Eve, I'm home in northern Virginia, and as I type this, it's even snowing. So far, the snow's been sticking to the grassy ground but melting upon contact with paved surfaces, giving me all the benefits of a white Christmas with none of the shoveling-obligation downsides. It's a holiday miracle!

Well, no, not a "miracle" so much as a "validation of scientific principles regarding heat absorption and retention rates of soil versus pavement," but who cares. I hope everyone has a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, illuminated Solstice or whatever celebration your sociocultural upbringing leads you to prefer. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Constitutional Violations: Not Paranoid When We Do It

My friends on Facebook have a wide panoply of political opinions, so I've seen more pro-and anti-gun posts these past three days than I likely did in the entire previous year. Of course, most of the anti-gun posts are also anti-gun-owner and anti-second-amendment-supporter, and quick to assure me yet again that I am paranoid and mentally ill at best; evil and psychopathic at worst.

Here's one I read today from a blogger honest enough to call himself "The Rude Pundit," but too angry to notice the glaring logical inconsistencies in his argument. He starts out well enough, criticizing the craven, cowardly paranoia that compels certain people to support the TSA ... but somehow ends up conflating second-amendment supporters with fourth-amendment violators:
If keeping a crippled child away from her mother because you're afraid she's got a bomb, even when a search produces no bomb, seems fine but allowing Americans on the terrorist watch list to buy guns seems logical, then you are crazy. 

I agree: that is crazy. But -- this is a serious question -- who are these crazy people, who support gun rights and the TSA? I know that whenever I've written against the TSA (in my columns at the Guardian and whatnot) the only TSA supporters who criticize me are the same ones who support gun control. Which is not surprising; both opinions are based on the attitude "If only we can ignore enough of the constitution and pass enough laws, the government can keep us perfectly safe."

The Rude Pundit's attitude toward the second amendment and its supporters is similar if not identical to TSA boosters' attitude toward the fourth amendment and its supporters: Constitutional rights can and should be ignored in the name of "safety," and anyone who disagrees can ONLY be either evil or a "guntard." You know, like the people who swear that since I oppose TSA molesting American travelers, that can ONLY mean I'm a terrorist supporter who gets off on the thought of, say, 3,000 Americans dying after a plane brings down a skyscraper.

The anti-second amendment folks and anti-fourth amendment folks both point to very real, horrific occurrences to justify their rights violations. I've even seen some of the same "technology" arguments for both -- the second amendment was written before modern firearms, ergo it does not apply to modern firearms; the fourth amendment was written before airplanes and mass transit, ergo it does not apply to airplanes and mass transit. (After all: You can't shoot up a school with a single-fire musket, just as you can't bring down a skyscraper by crashing a horse into it.) And, sadly, both are based on the erroneous beliefs "Perfect safety is possible, if only we give up enough freedoms" and "If something bad happens, that can only mean we didn't have enough laws."

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ornery, Scandalous And Evil. Most Definitely!

I am so very tired of self-righteous people assuring me that my support of second amendment rights means I personally favor the mass murder of children. It's similar to how my support for the fourth amendment and hatred of TSA molestation policies means I personally favor terrorist attacks (the more casualties, the better!). And, of course, my firm belief in freedom of speech and religion means I heart Fred Phelps and the Dingleberries (plus it's my fault they plan to harass the grieving parents of Newtown), and I'm glad Prohibition was repealed because I want alcoholism to tear families apart. Know what else is awesome? Life insurance: an entire industry dedicated to providing economic incentives for evil people to murder their parents or spouses and get rich as a result!

It must be very comforting to believe "MY side has a monopoly on virtue." Almost as comforting as the belief "The world can be a place of perfect safety if only we pass the right laws, which is why we need to abolish any rights and freedoms which a suicidal criminal with a wide murderous streak could use to do harm."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Things Fall Apart

When I lived in Connecticut I used to work in Newtown, and recall at least one colleague with kids at Sandy Hook Elementary (though the kids I knew have almost surely aged out of the school by now).

Of course nobody expects their town, their school, their kids to become subjects of a horrifying international news event … wait. I just answered my front door to accept a delivery package. (Procrastinating Me was a little late with her holiday shopping this year.) How many parents in Newtown today will take delivery of gifts that can never be given? How many have gaily wrapped Christmas or Hanukkah presents still hidden away on a closet shelf?

Not since 9/11 have I felt this odd, sickening feeling: Not only has something horrifying happened, it happened somewhere I’m personally familiar with. I know that place—what the hell is it doing on the news? And not since 9/11 have I felt the same worry that the fear generated from this outrage will be used as an excuse for the government to take rights away from good people in the name of hindering the bad.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Let's Go Crazy

Rather than print copies of the new DSM 5, the American Psychiatric Association could've saved a lot of time and paper had it simply emailed every therapist in the nation and said "Being human is a mental disorder."

Henceforth, it is psychologically unhealthy to grieve when someone you love dies. The healthy response is to either not give a damn or rejoice if you're the deceased's insurance beneficiary; otherwise. you have Major Depressive Disorder.

Small children no longer have temper tantrums; they suffer from "Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder."

I am now a binge eater, because (unless I get a very disappointing entree) I usually eat until I'm stuffed when I kick off the weekend with a restaurant visit every Friday, and the DSM 5 says that "excessive eating" 12 times in three months make you a binge eater.

No distinction shall henceforth be made between a hardcore drug addict and a first-time abuser. I wonder how much the DEA bribed them for that diagnosis?

Falling Birthrates, Falling Down On The Job

To paraphrase Voltaire: the comfort of the rich requires a vast population of the poor.

You’ll notice this whenever (for example) you read comment threads about movements like OUR Walmart (seeking better pay and working conditions for people at that company), or the Hostess/union bankruptcy story a couple weeks back: anytime any worker asks for higher wages or better working conditions, there’s plenty who’ll argue they don’t deserve these things because they’re so very replaceable: “If you don’t like your job, there’s plenty of people who’ll take it!” And that’s true, especially in this dismal economy.

So color me unsurprised to learn that pundits like Ross Douthat and Megan McArdle (both of whom oppose minimum-wage laws for sundry reasons) are extremely concerned about America’s declining birthrate. Douthat tut-tutted about it last week in a New York Times column titled “More Babies, Please,” and McArdle agreed with him a few days later when she worried about “Our Demographic Decline.”

It’s true that our current pay-as-you-go Social Security system can’t survive without an ever-growing base of younger workers to support retirees. But that’s true of any Ponzi scheme; the housing bubble would still be inflating, if only America had a few hundred million extra suckers and some additional too-big-to-fail banks willing to lend them money with no concern about repayment. So even if my generation (X) had enough kids to support us in retirement, that would only kick the can down the road a generation or two.

Of course, to address an argument I’ve had thrown at me before, it’s absolutely true that humanity would go extinct if everybody decided to travel the childfree route. (Though pretty much any life choice would be catastrophic if adopted by every adult on the planet: “You want to be a doctor? But if everybody became a doctor then we wouldn’t have any farmers, and we’d starve to death!” “You want to be a farmer? But if everybody became a farmer then we wouldn’t have any doctors, and would die of easily treatable diseases!”)

Not that Douthat or McArdle resort to the extinction-of-humanity strawman argument. McArdle instead offers the following thought experiment:

… picture two neighboring towns, sharing all the same infrastructure and economic opportunities, with one key difference: their median age. In the first town, which I’ll call Morningburg, the average resident is 28. In the second, which I’ll call Twilight City, the average householder is 58.

Research indicates that even with all the same resources at their disposal, these two places look very different, and not just because one’s grocery store does a booming business in diapers while the other’s has a whole aisle devoted to Centrum Silver.

In Morningburg, young workers are rapid, plastic learners, eager to try out new ways of doing things. Since they’re still hoping to make a name for themselves and maybe get rich, they take a lot of risks. They push their managers to expand into new markets, propose iffy but innovative product lines, maybe start their own firm if the boss won’t let them advance fast enough. For the right opportunity, they’ll put in 18-hour days for a year or more.

In Twilight City, time horizons are shorter—people aren’t looking for projects that will make them rich or famous 20 years from now. They are interested in conserving what they have. That’s mostly rational, given Twilighters’ life stage; but studies show that older people worry more than younger ones about losses and are therefore especially averse to risk. Twilighters also tire more easily and need more time off for illness, so hours worked slowly decline each year. Wages stay steady, however; Twilighters, like most people, get very angry if you try to cut their salary.

That makes Twilighters expensive—so when they lose a job, finding another is tough. As a result, Twilighters tend to cling fiercely to their positions, and may block younger workers from getting a foothold in the labor market.

That’s happening already; high unemployment among the young is exacerbated by Baby Boomers clinging to their jobs because they can’t or won’t retire. But adding more young workers to the competition isn’t going to help, either. Nor is America running short of upwardly mobile young entrepreneurs. The one thing we’re low on these days is jobs that pay enough to support a family, for non-entrepreneurs who aren’t destined to found the next Facebook or Twitter or Apple. (And for every twentysomething American today working soul-crushing hours in hope of getting rich, there’s a far greater number working just to keep themselves housed and fed.)

No, even if American births remain at below-replacement rates, we won’t run out of upwardly mobile entrepreneurs, or of service workers to make their lattes and care for their elderly relatives in nursing homes. But if birthrates don’t increase, there will be a shortage of people desperate enough to work such jobs for poverty wages. And it truly is an amazing coincidence, the large level of overlap to be found between those who oppose minimum wage laws, and those who tut-tut over falling birthrates.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Unified Theory Of Almost Everything Annoying

Today, in a single op-ed ostensibly about the Pope's Twitter feed, I managed to work in complaints about TSA, NDAA, drone warfare, Obama, Bush, Democrats, Republicans, declining American civil liberties AND church policies I don't like. 

There are days when I truly love my job.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Outdating The Bill Of Rights: The Owning Of Piers Morgan

I still haven't bothered opening a Twitter account because I have a hard enough time limiting a blog post to 140 words, let along 140 characters. But between my job and my Facebook account I still read plenty of Twitter feeds, and wanted to share this little exchange between Piers Morgan, who hates guns so much he hallucinates new words into the constitution about them, and Carol Roth, my  heroine du jour even though I have no idea who she is and never heard of her before today:
Piers Morgan: The 2nd amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.

Carol Roth: It was devised 4 people 2b able 2 protect themselves w same type of weaponry used by those from whom they might need protection

Piers Morgan: Where exactly does it say that in the Constitution - must have missed it?

Carol Roth: Right next to the word "muskets."

Of course, I've heard variants of Morgan's argument before: the second amendment was written in the eighteenth century; ergo it only applies to eighteenth-century technology. By that argument, freedom of the press should not apply to photocopiers, let alone the Internet:
The first amendment press-freedom thing was designed with hand-cranked printing presses in mind, not cable TV stations and the high-powered Internet. Fact.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Fiscal Cliff

Two thoughts on the fiscal cliff:

One, the election is over so Obama and the Democrats need to quit making their super-secret bribes to Republicans (I'm assuming bribery is involved, because why else would the GOP work so hard to make the Democrats look good by comparison?); and ...

Two, Fiscal Cliff would be a good name for a children's educational show about budgeting and saving money. "Hi, kids! I'm Fiscal Cliff, and today we'll decide what's a better choice: spending all your allowance on candy today, or saving your money to buy something nicer later?"

What do you think, kids?

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