Merry Christmas! May your thirsts be slaked, your bellies filled, and your hearts warmed!
A particular railroad crossing is the bane of my drive home. There are ways around it, but it happens to be on my fastest route home, hence the temptation to roll the dice and cut down McDuff to get to I-10, then head to 95 to get home. If the train’s not there, there’s no problem. If I can tell early enough that the train is there, either via visual cue or hearing the choo-choo, there’s no problem because I can head further east on Beaver and get directly on 95 without stopping at any tracks. But on occasion, I’ll get stuck at the tracks. And then the game begins.
What will save the most time? If the train’s obviously a short one, it’s a non-issue, you just wait. But if it’s long enough that you can’t see the caboose, then do you (A) assume it’s just long enough that you can’t see the caboose and wait for the train to pass, or (B) assume it’s going to be a while, make a U-turn, head east on Beaver, and get directly on 95?
Most times I make the right guess, and I save as much time as possible. But sometimes I pick (A) and it turns out to be a really long train, and sometimes I pick (B) and make that U-turn just as the gate starts going up.
It would be nice to know exactly how long the train is. More specifically, it would be nice if there were a large countdown display at the crossing, indicating/estimating how much longer it’ll take the train to pass. Even better, the display could include the actual number of train cars left so you could get a sense of how long it’ll take to get to zero.
This’d help you shave seconds–maybe even minutes— off your drive home. And if you choose to stay at the light, you could entertain yourself by counting down the number of train cars left. If the train’s going at just the right speed, you could even make a sing-song out of the countdown. Kids would love it.
I see no possible drawbacks to my proposal and hereby demand that it be implemented immediately at taxpayer expense at all railroad crossings in the whole entire country.
Over the last two weeks I have had occasion to enjoy two firsts-in-a-long-time.
The first is school-related. For several years, I hoped to teach a particular senior course. It is primarily about the major geopolitical conflicts of the 20th century. I finally got called up to teach it this year. It’s the first time since 2004 that I’ve had a new course, so it’s the first time since then I’ve gotten to design a course. That means learning five new textbooks inside and out, designing new tests and essays, developing new pacing guides and presentations, and writing about a hundred hours’ worth of new schtick for the act. Worth it so far.
The process means much more work than usual in terms of course prep, but it’s been easier than the original prep work I’ve had to do for other courses. I’ve been blathering for a few weeks now to anyone who’ll listen about how readable these textbooks are compared to the tome we use in my other class. There’s no fluff, no sarcasm, no vague allusions to events the author presumes you already know about, no referring to several other history textbooks to figure out what on Earth the author is talking about– in short, these books are actually useful so far. And that’s made an enormous difference when it comes to course prep; it’s made the process educational and enjoyable.
The second is domestic in nature. I recently purchased a lawn, and last week I mowed it for the first time. It occurred to me whilst pushing the mower around that I haven’t mowed a new lawn since the late eighties. Hated mowing lawns at first, came to enjoy it by the early nineties. It’s loud and dirty, but it also affords a meditative opportunity. Assuming there’s not too much going on around me, like neighbors hassling me, or dogs running around, or cars zipping up and down the street just as I’m approaching that edge of the lawn, it’s an opportunity for me to spend an hour or so in solitude
There is also a bit of pride and comfort in knowing that for the first time, the grass I’m trimming is mine, at least until God, Mother Nature, or the Bank reclaims it from me. It is my grass that releases that fresh scent after I mow it, my tree that I circle around and can climb if the heart wishes and the body permits, my rut that I almost twist my ankle in and have to fill in with my dirt, my flower bed that I pull my weeds from, my bushes and plants that I hopefully won’t snuff out via neglect or accidental mowing. All mine, even if only for however many trips ’round the sun.
These weeks seem newer than usual. It is nice.
Today marks ten years since I started blogging. I bought viscariello.com in May of 2005 with the intention of somehow making it a bit easier to keep in touch with people when I moved to Chicago. In September I decided to play around with the blogging software that came with a StartLogic site, and tapped away at my old laptop on a small writing desk in my apartment in Wheaton, Illinois. Then I hit the “publish” button. It was nothing profound, but fun.
The following attempt at cracking the writer’s block comes from this link here.
1. WHAT WAS THE LAST PICTURE YOU TOOK WITH YOUR PHONE? My dental insurance card. Look at that, there’s a crack in my shield.
2. DO YOU KNOW ANY BIG GOSSIPS? Wouldn’t you like to know.
3. HAVE YOU BEEN PULLED OVER BY A COP? Yep. Five times. One ticket.
4. DO YOU KNOW YOUR HERITAGE? Yes. Three-quarters Italian, one-quarter Irish, 100% Medigone.
5. WHAT HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED? DID YOU EVER GET IT? Heat vision. Not yet.
6. WHAT KIND OF SICKNESS HAVE YOU LIED ABOUT SO YOU WOULDN’T GO TO WORK? Hasn’t happened. I have to be damn-near dying to miss work.
7. WHAT WAS THE LAST LIE YOU TOLD? See #5.
8. HAVE YOU EVER DANCED IN THE RAIN? Not sure. Probably not. I don’t think so.
9. WHAT IS YOUR BLOOD TYPE? T-negative.
10. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A CAR ACCIDENT? Yes. When I was 16 I hit the back of a truck. Broke the right headlight and tore the fiberglass on the front right quarter panel.
12. BEST COMPLIMENT YOU HAVE RECEIVED? [Still redacted]
13. DO YOU TRUST ANYONE WITH YOUR LIFE? Yes.
14. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH OR WEAKNESS? I decline to answer due to the possibility that my arch-nemesis survived.
15. WHAT IS YOUR PERFECT PIZZA? One made with love. But if we’re talking about restaurant pizzas, I like Lou Malnati’s Chicago-style deep-dish with pepperoni (which you can have shipped nationwide if necessary. It’s awesome). Unfortunately, each slice takes eight months off your life. I like the margarita from Carmella’s in Palm Coast– rich marinara, good basil, a few big dollops of mozzarella.
16. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST THOUGHT WHEN YOU WOKE UP THIS MORNING? M.Q.
17. DO YOU GET ALONG WITH YOUR FAMILY? WHY OR WHY NOT? Generally. Because.
18. UGLY AND LIVE FOREVER, OR ATTRACTIVE AND DIE IN A YEAR? The former. I’ll live long enough for them to transfer my mind, and hopefully my soul, into a good-lookin’ mechanical body, or for them to figure out how to perform plastic surgery that doesn’t look weird.
20. WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO LIE TO A COURT FOR A CLOSE FRIEND IF IT MEANT SAVING YOUR FRIEND FROM GOING TO JAIL FOR LIFE? No.
21. WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO EAT A BOWL OF CRICKETS FOR $40,000? Yes.
22. IF YOU COULD HAVE ANYONE LOCKED IN A ROOM SO THAT YOU COULD TORMENT THEM FOR A DAY, WHOM WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND HOW WOULD YOU TORMENT THEM? “Could” is not “must,” thus I would not choose anyone and would not torment them.
23. DO YOU FEEL THAT CHILDREN SHOULD BE SHELTERED FROM UNHAPPINESS? Only if you want to stunt their growth and make them dysfunctional.
24. IF YOU COULD HAVE PERSONALLY WITNESSED ANYTHING, WHAT WOULD YOU WANT TO HAVE SEEN? The moon landing.
25. IF YOU COULD WAKE UP TOMORROW IN THE BODY OF SOMEONE ELSE, WHO WOULD YOU PICK AND WHAT WOULD YOU DO? If this condition were temporary, I’d be Bill Gates for just long enough to write the real me a nice check. If this condition were permanent… I’d have to think about that a while longer.
26. IF YOU COULD BE ANY AGE FOR A WEEK, WHAT AGE WOULD THAT BE? 25 or so. Everything would ache and creak a lot less.
28. IF YOU COULD ONLY HAVE ONE MEAL FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Slop, which in my family is elbow macaroni, meat sauce, and butter.
29. WHERE DO YOU GO TO GET ON A COMPUTER? This is 2015. The computer goes wherever I go.
30. HOW DO YOU START A CONVERSATION? “Hello.”
31. WHAT KEYS ON A KEYBOARD DO YOU NOT USE? The tilde, the forward slash, and F5/F6, which (on this MacBook) regulate the brightness of the keyboard backlight.
32. IF YOU HAD A BRAINWASHING MACHINE, WHO WOULD YOU USE IT ON? Dear Leader.
33. YOU ARE WALKING HOME IN THE DARK, YOU SEE SOMETHING MOVE. WHAT/WHO IS IT(GUESS)? WHAT DO YOU DO? It’s the author of this questionnaire. I pummel him for asking a stupid question.
34. WHAT IS THE STRANGEST NAME SOMEONE HAS INTRODUCED THEMSELVES AS TO YOU? WHAT IS THEIR REAL NAME? Her name was a homophone for a body part. It was her real name. She was not amused when I asked if she was serious, and if she knew what that was.
35. WHERE WERE YOU 3 HOURS AGO? DO YOU THINK SOMEONE WAS STALKING YOU? I was here. No.
36. HAVE YOU EVER EATEN A CRAYON, OR GLUE? OR, WHAT STRANGE THING HAVE YOU EATEN? When I was a toddler, I drank half a bottle of glue.
37. WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO? (GENRE, ARTISTS, SONGS?) All sorts, but most of the music I like comes from soundtracks and scores because I can associate it with movies or shows. Right now I’m repeatedly listening to David Arnold’s composition of “OHMSS/Space March”, very similar to the one used in the Propellerheads’ version back in the late 90s.
38. WHAT CHEERS YOU UP? See #16 and #28.
39. WHAT DO YOU CONSTANTLY THINK ABOUT THAT MAKES YOU SAD? I tend not to constantly think about things that make me sad.
40. IS THERE SOMETHING YOU CONSTANTLY LOSE AT YOUR HOUSE OR ANYWHERE? The clicker at work.
41. DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BOOK OR READ MUCH? WHY OR WHY NOT? I’ve answered the book question before, but I do not have a favorite read much.
42. WHAT IS THE LONGEST YOU HAVE GONE WITHOUT SLEEP? Forty hours. It was unnecessary and unpleasant.
43. DO YOU HAVE ANYONE YOU GO TO FOR ADVICE? IN PERSON OR ONLINE? Twice weekly I meet with a council of friends, confidants, paid consultants, and representatives of major world religions. A couple of them have to Skype.
44. WHAT IS THE HABIT YOU ARE PROUDEST OF BREAKING OR WANT TO BREAK? I am proudest of giving up sweet tea back in 2010. I want to stop ingesting soft drinks and most added sugars, though I don’t anticipate putting a whole lot of effort into it.
45. IS THERE ANYTHING I SHOULD KNOW? Yes, but not until it’s too late for you to do anything about it.
46. WHAT DO YOU ORDER OR NOT ORDER AT A RESTAURANT YOU HAVE BEEN TO OR NEVER BEEN TO? What idiot wrote this question?
47. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD? LEAST FAVORITE? Favorite: Accelerate. Least favorite: I.
48. DESCRIBE SOMETHING THAT’S HAPPENED TO YOU FOR WHICH HAD NO EXPLANATION. When I was a kid, there was a UFO right outside my window. It flooded the room with light. My little brother was there, he’ll vouch for me. Alien spaceship? No way, I don’t think they visited Jacksonville back in the 80s. But I can’t explain what happened. Yet.
49. WHAT DID YOU DO FOR YOUR LATEST BIRTHDAY? Cake with my folks, dinner at Latitude 30 with my M.Q. It was a good day.
50. WHAT HOLIDAYS DO YOU CELEBRATE? ARE YOU A RELIGIOUS PERSON OR NOT? The right ones. Not really.
51. IF YOU HAD TO BE NAMED AFTER A CITY, STATE, OR COUNTRY (ETC.), WHICH WOULD YOU WANT IT TO BE? I imagine that there are places named “Vincent” and “Dominic”, so I’ll stick with my name.
53. WHICH DO YOU USE MORE OFTEN, THE DICTIONARY OR THE THESAURUS? The dictionary, which I encourage everyone to study more carefully and more often.
54. HAVE YOU EVER BEEN STUNG BY A BEE? Yes.
55. HAVE YOU EVER TIPPED A COW? No. They’re salaried.
56. WHAT’S THE SICKEST YOU HAVE EVER BEEN? Back in aught-ten, I suffered from severe dehydration and resultant heart problems.
57. ARE YOU STILL LEARNING WHO YOU ARE? No, I figured that out pretty early on. I could even spell it.
58. ARE YOU AFRAID OF HEIGHTS? OR WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? I am not afraid of heights. They just make me really, really dizzy.
59. HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN DANCE LESSONS? WHO WOULD YOU WANT TO DANCE WITH? Excluding gym-class square-dancing, I have not taken dance lessons yet. I’ll dance with M.Q.
62. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE KNOCK-KNOCK JOKE? You go first.
63. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE COMMERCIAL? Too many come to mind to pick one: the Carlsberg team talk and pub team, Nike’s “Good vs Evil”, “Spa Bomb” for Hahn Premium Light, the Urlacher Fathead with the live bear, and AXE’s “Billions” set to Dies Irae.
64. IF YOU COULD SPEND THE DAY WITH ANY CELEBRITY, WHO WOULD IT BE? Sean Connery.
65. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE BREAKFAST FOOD? Tough call, tough call… I’m going to go with toasted wheat bread, well-buttered and blessed with grape or strawberry jelly.
66. DO YOU LIKE GUACAMOLE? HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A FOOD FIGHT? It’s ok. Freshman year of college, I was hit by the first dinner roll thrown in the Harcombe food fight at the end of the semester. I evacuated quickly. I have little patience for food fights. Seriously, it’s bad enough we waste as much food as we do, there’s no reason to waste it further.
67. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO SPEND MONEY ON? Food. It means I get to eat.
68. WHAT IS THE WEIRDEST THING ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU PROUD OF IT? I’ve been told I’m so normal it’s weird. No.
69. EVER BEEN IN LOVE WITH 2 PEOPLE AT THE SAME TIME? DO YOU THINK THAT’S WRONG? No. It’s not wrong if you’re single. If you’re taken, it’s a problem.
70. EVER HAD ANY RELATIVES IN JAIL? Yes.
71. GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY? OR IS THE GLASS JUST MALFORMED? Unless the glass is in a vacuum, the glass is full, period. The second question is silly and has no bearing on the first.
72. MOUNTAINS OR THE BEACH? VIEW, OR THE TV? I could go for a mountain view right about now. We’re inundated with glowing rectangles.
73. PLANE, TRAIN, OR CAR? BOAT, SUBWAY, OR TELEPORTATION DEVICE? Car. Teleporter.
74. IF YOU COULD RETIRE TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO? Probably run out of money really, really fast. I suspect you meant “afford to retire.”
75. EVER SOLD/DONATED YOUR BLOOD? IF YOU HAVEN’T DO YOU WANT TO? I have not. Maybe one day.
76. CROWDS, SMALL GROUPS, OR GO AWAY, I’M A LONER? Small groups.
78. WHAT FAMOUS PERSON DO PEOPLE TELL YOU THAT YOU MOST RESEMBLE? I choose not to engage in this little piece of vanity.
79. WHAT IS THE STRANGEST THING YOU HAVE EVER EATEN? I’m a pretty conventional eater, so I’m hard-pressed to think of an answer. An unagi roll, maybe? That’s eel sushi if I’m not mistaken.
80. IF YOU COULD BRING ANY PERSON BACK TO LIFE, WHO WOULD IT BE? Keynes, so he could get around to the retractions.
81. DO YOU BELIEVE HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY? Yes.
82. WHAT DEAD PERSON WOULD YOU LEAST WANT TO BE HAUNTED BY? Again, wouldn’t you like to know?
83. WHO WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO BE STUCK IN AN ELEVATOR WITH? The elevator repairman, but hopefully not for long.
84. WHO WOULD YOU LEAST LIKE TO BE …? Al Qaeda #2.
85. WHAT DO YOU THINK VICTORIA’S SECRET IS? Polydactyly. No one has ever noticed.
86. WHICH CARTOON CHARACTER DO YOU RESEMBLE THE MOST? I’m not sure who I look like the most, but I feel like Linus.
87. WOULD YOU RATHER GO A WEEK WITHOUT BATHING, BUT BE ABLE TO CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES? OR A WEEK WITHOUT CHANGING YOUR CLOTHES BUT BE ABLE TO BATHE. I’d rather bathe without changing clothes. I’d just devote most of the week to bathing.
88. WHICH OF THE FOUR SEASONS DO YOU MOST LOVE? OR HATE? Tough call between fall and winter. I’ll go with fall because it captures two-thirds of the Halloween-to-Epiphany Corridor of Festivities.
89. IF YOU COULD CHOOSE YOUR METHOD OF DYING OR WHERE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE? I want to die in my sleep at an advanced age on Mars.
90. IF YOU HAD TO BE TRAPPED IN A TV SHOW FOR A MONTH, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE? The Simpsons. No one ages, few die.
91. LIST SOMEONE YOU KNOW, AND DESCRIBE THEM IN 5 WORDS. Dr. Hmnahmna is tall, bald, smart, bald, and… bald.
92. YOU CAN SELECT ONE PERSON FROM HISTORY AND HAVE THEM TRUTHFULLY ANSWER ONE QUESTION, WHO WOULD YOU SELECT AND WHAT IS THE QUESTION? The person: James Madison. The question: “Could you be more specific?”
93. IF YOU JOIN THE CIRCUS, WHAT WOULD YOU PERFORM? I’d be Management.
94. IS THERE ANYTHING PURPLE WITHIN 10 FEET OF YOU? WHAT IS IT? A stress ball.
95. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU BOUGHT SOMETHING? WHAT WAS IT? I bought an ice cream cone this afternoon.
96. ARE YOU WEARING SOCKS RIGHT NOW? No.
97. HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE MOVIES IN THE LAST 5 DAYS? No.
98. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU RAN/WENT FOR A JOG? When moving out of my tower, I was parked in a suboptimal location. When I realized a better location opened up, I sprinted to the SUV, sped around the corner, and parked in the better location.
99. YOUR DREAM VACATION? WORST VACATION? BEST VACATION? Mars. Trip through southern Florida when I was a little kid. Trip to New Jersey/Connecticut in 1998.
100. WORST INJURY YOU HAVE HAD? This one.
Happy 239th birthday to the United States of America!
…and happy 143rd birthday to Calvin Coolidge.
The University of California has recently declared certain terms and phrases to be microaggressions. Among them is the statement “America is a melting pot.” Don’t believe me? Click here. Don’t believe that guy? Click here. You’ll have to dig around to find it, but I assure you, “melting pot” is on UC’s doubleplusungood list.
In retort, I hereby offer the following song from that bastion of reactionary right-wing hatred, “Schoolhouse Rock”: Click here.
Brief chat this afternoon:
VDV: Is there any serious defense of this decision more substantial than “Come on, you guys. You know what we meant”?
DR. HMNAHMNA: Not really.
VDV: Does it matter that Gruber [who helped design RomneyCare and ObamaCare] flat-out said that the law said exactly what they intended it to say?
DR. HMNAHMNA: Probably not, since he’s not a member of Congress.
VDV: Well, considering the court’s logic elsewhere… so what?
Seriously, so what? If Congressmen can’t be bothered to read the PPACA (or a host of other bills) in the first place, why should we expect the Supreme Court to care about what it actually says?
My friend Fellow Student of Economics says he doesn’t see the point of the Supreme Court– it’s essentially just another layer of legislature, not an actual judiciary. I find it harder and harder to disagree with him.
I’d like to pay brief and simple tribute to James Horner by sharing my favorite work of his.
Click here for his score for the Greatest Film of All Time. Horner’s proud, powerful, martial, vengeful, desperate, sorrowful, hopeful, serene music courses through this film, giving Trek a pulse it hadn’t had before.
The bagpipes blast “Amazing Grace” starting at 57:49. I know Horner didn’t like that bit very much– he fought against using it but was overruled by Harve Bennett– but he made it perfect anyways. R.I.P.
Question #4 in my post Questionnaire 18 was:
4. PEOPLE OFTEN TALK ABOUT THE GROWING GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND POOR. HOWEVER, TODAY’S POOR (IN THE UNITED STATES, AT LEAST) ARE MUCH BETTER OFF THAN MOST PEOPLE (NOT JUST THE POOR) WERE A CENTURY AGO. DOES IT MATTER THAT THERE’S AN INCREASING GAP BETWEEN THE RICH AND THE POOR IF THE STANDARD OF LIVING FOR THE POOR KEEPS GOING UP?
My original response was: “I started writing a few paragraphs in response to this, and thought I’d better make a separate blog post. In short: ‘Yes, but not for a good enough reason.'”
I’d like to flesh that answer out a bit now.
An increasing gap between rich and poor matters because people care about it, worry about it, and react to it. The gap causes resentment. Resentment leads to hostility. Hostility leads to instability. Thus many seek to prevent or mitigate the instability with platitudes about inequality and policies meant to alleviate it, i.e., redistribution from rich to poor via taxation.
But I don’t think inequality per se is a good enough reason to tax anyone. The mere fact that Bill has more money than Mike does not justify taking money from Bill and giving it to Mike.
An objector might ask, “What if Mike is starving and Bill is the richest man on Earth?”
That’s a different issue. I might be willing to tax Bill to keep Mike from starving (assuming Mike isn’t gaming the system, which itself is yet a different different issue). But once the necessities are covered– and we can certainly argue about how best to cover them– I can’t justify taxing money away from others to make you feel better about not having much.
And yet I suspect that one day, when worrying about a meal or a roof is a long-distant memory for even the lowest of paupers, we’ll still hear the whine of a cosmic justice warrior decrying the fact that only the rich can afford replicators and transporters while the rest of us have to settle for pizza rehydrators and fusion-powered flying cars.
Inequality matters only because we live in a democratic country with people who care about inequality. But to me, that’s not a good enough reason. The standard of living for the poor– which is the far more important matter– keeps rising, and will keep rising unless we enact really stupid policies that discourage us from producing enough to keep that standard rising. The harder you fight inequality– the more you take from the rich to give to the poor– the more you discourage that production.
It is no consolation to today’s poor that they live better than the poor of the past. After all, who are you more likely to compare yourself to: anybody in 2015 or anybody in 1915? It’s natural to compare yourself to your contemporaries; it’s difficult to compare yourself to your predecessors. And because we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to our contemporaries, we are inclined to let that tendency affect our policy preferences.
Try campaigning for office with the motto “You’re better off than you would’ve been during World War I!” After you lose that election, go back in time and do the campaign all over again with the motto “Everyone deserves the same cell phones and internet access!” Compare results.
“Take from the haves; give to the have-nots” works better on the campaign trail than “we have to allow long-run capital stock growth.” Still, to paraphrase Uncle Milt: an economy that puts equality before growth will get neither. History is rife with such lessons. And God help us if in the name of equity or fairness, we take so much that the makers stop making.
I would not trade my economic circumstances at age 38 with those of any of my ancestors when they were 38. No cell service, no internet, medicine decades behind the present day, horrible gas mileage, maladies yet untreatable and uncurable… no thank you.
13 revisions in the 32 minutes since original publication. That’s what I get for not writing in three weeks. Apologies to the subscribers.
My grandmother would’ve turned 105 today. Here she is in the late 1960s, or maybe the early 70s, holding a flower aloft:
There’s a series of photographs from ’round about these times in which my grandparents were mimicking hippies. I wonder if this was part of that set. Either way, I should make a coffee table book out of them.