Monday, May 29, 2006
Falling in love again...
(Cue Queen)

You've all met Sparky before. I'm coming up on a year of ownership. When I first bought the car, it represented a big step in growing up. I was a car owner.

Sparky first cut his (yes, it's gendered, Justin) teeth on the 3,000 mile drive over the western United States, a straight shot on I-80 from Iowa to San Francisco. I saw the fabled vast, empty stretches of the country zip by at 80 miles an hour (which, while less romantic than my long-held dream of doing it at 15 miles an hour on a bike, is much more romantic than seeing it from 30,000 feet).

But at some point, the car came to represent rockin' it on 101, where "rockin' it" can better be interpreted as "getting stuck in traffic." I had become a (shutter) freeway commuter. My car turned, in my mind, into a lame-mobile, a relic representing the stifling suburbs of the south bay.

When I moved to San Francisco, my car didn't make the trip. It lived at work, in the parking garage, where I would occasionally take it in place of the shuttle. There are two options for it: sell it, or rent a garage space.

A garage space seemed like such an extravagence. Pppt. Parking should be free, like water or air. I don't need one. I can become one of the snotty, carless hipsters—we transcend car ownership.

So, this was Memorial Day weekend, right? I drove my car up Friday night and have been travelling the (much) greater Bay area all weekend. Saturday: Camden, Point Reyes. Sunday: Justin, Berkeley hills. Monday: Joanna, Stinson and Muir. I always have this issue: the sprawling mass of development known as the Bay Area seems so extensive, I forget that it's surrounded by some of the most beautiful natural areas in the country, which remain largely undeveloped. I forget about them because they're not accessible by MUNI or BART.

And so "car," in my mind, has shifted from a confining concept to a enabling one. My car isn't a trap, it's an escape from urban life, from monitors, keyboards, and ethernet cables.

So, I love my car again. I'm getting a garage space.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Breaking and entering
I got home on Monday around 8:30 in the evening. Walking up to the house, I noticed that my light was on, which I thought was weird. I unlocked the door to see if my roommates were rummaging through my stuff or something, but they weren't. Nobody was home. I was still curious, so I walked to the living room to see if anything was missing. Nope, the stereo was still there.

I figured I had just forgotten to turn off the light that morning. I trimmed my beard and did a little web surfing.

My roommate came home. "Woah, what happened to the door?" he said. He came in the back way. I walked out there. The door had been forced open and the wood by the handle was cracked.

Somebody had broken in while we were gone during the day. My roommate would often not bother to lock the deadbolt, and the deadbolt wasn't latched. I quickly did a check of my stuff. The only thing I noticed missing was the new Casio EX-850 that I got last week. That's about $375 I lost (including the SD card). My roommate's laptop was also gone.

So, Wednesday I got a chance to go see Daniel Gilbert talk, author of Stumbling on Happiness (surprisingly small crowd for a guy with the #23 book on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestseller List—I would have gotten my copy signed but I gave my copy to a friend).

Sometimes, events in my life can totally throw me for a loop. Sometimes, I totally overestimate the impact they'll have on me.

One would think that a burglary would affect me profoundly—that I would, from that point on, feel insecure or unsafe in my own home.

Really, honestly, this being Friday, I'm pretty much over it. Gilbert talks (in the book and in person) about the impact bias, where we overestimate the severity (positive or negative) that an event will have on us. Had you asked me a week ago how much it would bother me if my house was broken into, I'd figure that it would affect me significantly.

Anyway, the book is a Doctor Awesome recommended read.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Punishing my liver
Bay to Breakers was yesterday. It's a seven-and-a-half-mile road race across town. I didn't run it, but instead followed the costumed (and the completely costumeless—that is, butt-naked) revelers that followed on the route. Suffice it to say that it was crazy.

It's a good time to show you how May Mustache Madness is going (inspired by The Liver'd One):

I went as "America Man," while Camden went as "United States Man."

Why yes, those were last-minute costumes. Why do you ask?
Sunday, May 21, 2006
I found my phone
I had misplaced my phone on Wednesday. I had looked for it everywhere—my room, my desk, my car. I was rather upset by the whole thing, as I managed to lose my wallet a few weeks ago.

On Friday, I had mentioned to a number of people that I had lost my phone, so I'd only be in contact via e-mail unless I found it.

Friday night, I made it home late (I had taken the train from San Mateo) and had settled in to watch TV. I was sitting on the cushion on the floor in our living room.

Then, all of a sudden, I felt my butt vibrating.

I reached under the cushion, pulled out the phone, and answered it:
Me: Hello?
Camden: You found your phone!
Me: Yeah! I was sitting on it.
Camden: Cool! Let's go drinking!
Me: OK!
And then I ambled up to the Noc Noc where we celebrated the finding of my phone.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Berkeley Revisited
A sold-out Giants game and a general lack of planning left me with a Saturday afternoon without anything to do, so I hopped a train to Berkeley.

I stepped out of the BART station and, almost immediately, a kid asks me to sign a petition. I chuckled. I also wandered through the farmers' market (Madison's is so much better), where cute college girls hawked copies of the Socialist Worker. I politley declined and smiled to myself, knowing that, despite the fact that I had my hair cropped short and the unkempt two-week beard of a left-wing grad student, I had a copy of The Road to Serfdom in my messenger bag.

I ended up wandering used bookstores. I need more reading material (though I'm not sure when or if I'll make it through all of these).

The haul:

Shoddy logic
The Freecycle page had this in their sidebar:
Incinerating 10,000 tons of waste creates 1 job, land filling the same amount creates 6 jobs, recycling the same 10,000 tons creates 36 jobs.
Yes, I like recycling. But this is such a terrible argument for it.

Paying people to pick their noses creates jobs too, but I haven't seen that legislated yet. If you could "create" jobs by just putting people on the government payroll, then we should have had that whole unemployment problem solved years ago.

Recycling is good because of the social benefit of reusing resources and reducing landfill usage. The fact that recycling 10,000 tons of waste takes the labor of 36 people is a bad thing, as it makes it comparatively more expensive and less likely to be used. It also takes 35 people out of the labor force that could be doing something else.

New Jersey and Oregon still have mandated full-service pumps (that is, you can't pump your own gas at the gas station, even if you'd like to). Purportedly, the law was put on the books for safety reasons, but that argument is pretty weak these days.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, N.J. clings to full-service pumps:
And Bill Dressler, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline Retailers Association, which represents 2,200 gas stations, said self-serve could jeopardize many of the 36,000 jobs at gas stations across the state. "Say you lost half of them," he said. "That's 15,000 people who don't have jobs anymore."
Ugh. The thing is, those jobs only exist because of this ill-conceived law. If you were to ask motorists to pay an additional fee (covering the extra cost of labor) to get full service, they likely wouldn't.

In essence, you're forcing people to pay for a service they don't want. You might as well pass a law requiring you to buy a scone along with coffee at Starbucks.

Update: Comment from Mr. P:
True, true. But if you're the guy responsible for the legislation that takes those laws off the books, one of those 36,000 people is gonna run against you at reelection time. Even if they have no chance, you've still got to put some resources into the race. Keeping the log on the books doesn't put your job in jeopardy. Good government? Of course not. Simple math? Of course.
Precisely. Allow me the argument that protectionism hurts the U.S. economy (yes, antiglobalists, it also encourages cultural homogenization and strengthens multinationals. But hear me out). Why, then, would the U.S. government ever adopt protectionist policies?

Because the benefits of protectionism go to a small group of people and the harm of it goes to everybody (in the form of higher prices, poorer products, and a less efficient job market). It's robbing a thousand Peters to pay one Paul—the Peters hardly notice. But the Pauls sure do, and they vote on it. See Bush and steel tariffs.

This is a problem with electoral politics. Those that would do anything to get elected are generally the ones that do get elected.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Following Sean
I was wandering around in the Haight-Asbury area yesterday when I passed the Red Vic Movie House. I glanced at the schedule. Following Sean was playing. I had never heard of it, but, from the description and the fact that it started in three minutes, I decided to plop down eight bucks and watch it. The movie concerned Sean, a four-year-old boy living that lived with his hippie parents on Cole Street during the 60's. Following Sean's director, Ralph Arlyck, had lived below Sean had made a student film with Sean as the subject in which Sean talks about pot use and living with speed freaks.

That student film garnered significant attention, but did more to show the movement in Haight-Asbury as irresponsible, infantile, and self-indulgent, and Sean was a poster child for the failures of the counterculture.

In Following Sean, the director flies back to San Francisco to meet Sean and his extended family. Sean, actually, leads a pretty normal life. He's an electrician and is contemplating going back to law school.

It was a fantastic meditation on the legacy of Haight-Asbury, the failures of the Old and New Left, and the role of choice in our lives.

It was also rather meaningful for me. In high school, I was fascinated by Haight-Asbury. I was into psychedelic rock, and I'd write my book reports on novels like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest. I'd go to Phish concerts.

Justin lived near me in the dorms freshman year. If you ask him about me then, he'll refer to me as the "bearded hippie kid that lived downstairs."

But over the course of my college career, I was lured away by the bright and colorful lights of economics and largely abandoned my high-school interests.

I never actually made it to Haight-Asbury until last year, when I stopped by for an hour after I flew out for an interview (I felt that I owed it to my seventeen-year-old self). I parked my rental Ford Taurus a block or two away and walked the street for a bit. It was, in short, a (highly commercialized) carictature.

Things like this are reminders to me of who I was before and who I am now. I had a similar experience last week when I visited Madison and my hometown (including my junior high school). I remember experiencing this when I visited Tower Hill ten years later.

And all that from just ambling into a little art film theater.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
Proof that I ran Crazylegs
I told you the story about me losing my timing chip, so I didn't get timed and, thus, have no proof that I actually ran the race.

Well, kids, I have proof now. I got an e-mail from those people that take your picture and sell you a photo for more than the price of a disposable camera and film developing.

The two photos are here:

Photo 1 Photo 2

You can tell that they're proof because they have "Proof" written all over them.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Time goes by so slowly...
I am dying in anticipation:

A Prairie Home Companion (the movie) comes out June 9.
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
May Mustache Madness

In college, winter breaks were long—nearly a month. They were, actually, the longest breaks of my year as I would normally work or take classes during the summer. I generally spent the holiday parts of them doing holiday-type things, but Januaries were time for all the videogames, piles of movies, and lazing around that I didn't have time for during the semester.

Of course, since I spent each day bumming around the house, I never bothered to shave. The above photo was me finally shaving a few weeks' worth of beard down to just a 'stache, which went the way of the beard a few hours later.

Yesterday morning, I shaved for the last time this month. At work, it's the second annual May Mustache Madness (it's only annual now because it's the second year). My friend Jeff is running it (my roommate refers to him as "Lightning Jeff," though he no longer sports the 'stache).

I've got some facial hair, but I'm no Jeff. But we'll see. It's not about what you're endowed with, it's how you use it. Or something like that.

I've got a month to brainstorm awesome mustache ideas.

P.S. I miss the Andystache.

P.P.S. I kind of like the concept of having a mustache. It makes me feel Magnuson like. And Magnuson is the man.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Are you looking for a challenge?
Open challenge to Justin (my Berkeley Unitarian theologian friend):
I will read any book of your choosing provided you read Naked Economics. We will then blog about the experience.
Ground rules:You can e-mail me to accept. You can wait until after exams if you're busy at present.

Backstory of this challenge: As Justin had blogged, I ran into him randomly on the Civic Center BART platform yesterday (I was on my way home from the airport). In the discussion, he pulled out one of his theology texts. I pulled out Naked Economics, which prompted us to begin arguing about the merits of capitalism.

Paraphrased conversation:
Me: When properly regulated, capitalism is mostly good and can be an incredible engine for economic growth and poverty reduction. Global trade is the best hope for pulling the third world out of poverty.
Him: Capitalism is oppressive, corrupting, violent, uncaring, amoral, and destructive.
Me: You nonsense-spewing postmodernist!
Him: You complacently oppressive neoliberal!
Me: Jerkhead!
Him: Dorkface!
Okay, so it didn't go exactly like that.

We'll see. He'll probably make me read "Das Kapital" or something.

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