Monthly Archives: January 2007

Fascinating, if true:

Inmates in state prisons are dying at an average yearly rate of 250 per 100,000, according to the latest figures reported to the Justice Department by state prison officials. By comparison, the overall population of people between age 15 and 64 is dying at a rate of 308 a year.

White and Hispanic prisoners are dying at slightly higher rates in prison, but blacks more than compensate.

I’d guess that there are three factors at play here:

  1. Three hots and a cot. I’d imagine prison food isn’t the most healthy, but it’s probably more balanced than what a lot of people get outside prison.
  2. Free health care.
  3. Barriers to drug use and reckless behavior. Only 2% die from alcohol, drugs, or accidental injuries.

These numbers are despite a whopping 8% of deaths being due to homicide or suicide.

In an article entitled “The Irrational 18-Year-Old Criminal,” Joel Waldfogel explains that the latest research indicates that the threat of prison time does not deter criminals.

Maybe the 18 year old criminals aren’t so irrational after all…

Category: Courthouse

Eugene Volokh noticed a shirt that says </hate>, which presumably means “end hate”. Eugene points out that what it’s really saying is “end hate for now” and will probably resume later, since most </i> are on documents that resume italics later (or at least reserve the right to).

I bet the guy has a <hate> T-shirt in his closet that he was wearing three days before; he’s hated all the stuff between then and the </hate> shirt; and he’ll be wearing the <hate> shirt next time he’s got some hating to do. Plus he certainly wouldn’t just wear the shirt without having worn <hate> before, and on the same page — that would be syntactically non-compliant.

So the solution would then be a shirt that says </hate></html>… except that might just call for the end of mankind, which would kind of defeat the purpose.

I found this by way of Dustbury, who points out that <i> is, in fact, being retired (or at least depricated) in favor of <em> by the powers that be.

Category: Server Room

I don’t care what you think of politics or even what you think of her personally, you have got to feel at least a little bit sorry for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There she is, the first serious, office-holding politician to take a shot at the presidency. History-making stuff!

But who is she running against? The first serious, office-holding black presidential candidate in American history. And the first serious, office-holding Hispanic candidate.

With a black senator and a Hispanic governor running, a senator woman is a lot less newsworthy. She’ll probably win so I guess we shouldn’t feel too sorry.

Of course the ironic thing is that the black guy “isn’t really black“, the Hispanic guy is named Richardson, and the feminist owes her senate seat in large part to her husband. All that’s required to make the joke complete is if the white guy ends up winning the nomination.

Category: Statehouse

I’ve just updated the site’s bio page. I’d updated it about a month ago but for some reason I either didn’t save it or it reverted back to the old one. Please pretty much ignore that one. The current one is more accurate and more pertinent to the current direction of the site.

Also, there’s a Frequently Asked Questions page. That’s a bit dishonestly named since no one has really asked any questions. So in the name of accuracy in page titles, if you have any questions about me or the site, feel free to ask them.

Category: Server Room

All three tales you are about to read are 100% true.

Once in my life, I have been witness to what happens when someone did something blindingly stupid, and probably lost their life for it. On my way to work about 4 years ago, at an intersection that involves some ill-timed stoplights and a freeway underpass (leaving cross traffic a good 150 feet or so to get up to speed before the second intersection), I watched a small car try to run a red light.

Said small car was promptly compacted to probably 1/3 its former size by the dual impact of a Dodge Ram and a Ford F-250, both of which hit it on the drivers’ side. Said small car, after these impacts, flew forward and wrapped its remaining mass (minus almost all the glass and at least one door and a wheel) around the post for the traffic lights.

Twice in my life, I have been fortunate enough to have blind cosmic luck save my life.

The first time was in the first car I ever owned. It was a huge boat of a car, not that that mattered. It was probably about 10 at night, and I was on my way home from something I forget what. I’d just filled up at a gas station, and was getting ready to pull out to drive home when the car stalled. Half a second later, while I was trying to restart it, an 18-wheel Semi with two trailers attached to it blew right past my front bumper at probably double the posted speed limit of 45.

The second time was this morning; I was coming through Colosse’s downtown area (the freeways were all messed up) on the edge, to get to work. Stopped at a four-way intersection, checked both ways… clear. Hit the gas, let back on the clutch, and realized I’d forgotten to shift back to first gear.

While I was shifting, a car came down the road, again obviously speeding, and blew right through the intersection, right through the place where my drivers’ side door probably would have been.

I’m alive. My nerves are shot, and there’s this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that something or someone is REALLY watching out for me… but I’m alive to tell the tale, which is probably more than I could say had either event not happened, and it’s probably more than I can say of the person who ran the red light in my first tale.

Category: Road

I wrote my first novel when I was 17. It was something of a jumbled mess that was written after my first real heartbreak at the hands of Tracy. It was originally a nigh-autobiographical summation of all that she had done to me. But somewhere in the writing of it I could see the various things that I was doing wrong. It was twice damning of Tracy, but it was at least once damning of myself. I had intended to tell the world about Tracy and the things that she had done, but instead I opened my eyes to myself and the things that I had done.

This Is Not A Film is a movie about a movie in the form of a documentary. It’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds. The following review does contain some spoilers, though says no more about the movie than I knew about it going in.

In TINAF, Michael Conner fears that a miscommunication caused his girlfriend to leave him. He has no way of contacting her so he decided to make a movie. A “message in a bottle” as he put it. His hope is that the movie becomes big enough that someone that knows where she is has seen it, will pass along the nature of the misunderstanding, and will perhaps rectify things. This Is Not A Film is the movie that he made, wherein he talks about her and what happens and works with an annoyed actress friend at re-enacting noteworthy points in his relationship with Grace. Oh, and there’s this thing called A Laughing Circle, which is sort of the opposite of a Fight Club.

The metafictional pretense notwithstanding, I found the movie immensely enjoyable. I typically enjoy movies that set out to be about one thing and become something else entirely. The idea behind the movie is that Michael Connor needs to find and explain himself to Grace. But with the help of his refreshingly blunt and amusing actress friend Nadia, it becomes a re-evaluation of his story. As he himself puts it later in the movie, it’s amazing how when you look back at a relationship a lot of the things that you thought were huge really weren’t and some of a relationship’s most pivotal moments can fly under the radar.

I almost completely missed one of the most pivotal moments of my relationship with Eva, the last serious girlfriend I had before meeting Clancy. We were in an argument about something that was very, very important (so much so I haven’t a clue what it was) when she said, exasperated, “this would all be a lot easier if you were having fun.”

It flew over my head at the time. Who was she to tell me not to be pissed off?! She was in the wrong and since she couldn’t defend her actions (and she couldn’t, that I do remember) she was trying to change the subject or evade… something. But that was ultimately the most profound thing that she could have said. We’d both have been a lot better off if I just could have absorbed that. No, the relationship’s failure was not my fault, but my misery sure was.

One of my favorite exchanges is when Nadia objects to some of the lines she’s given because she considers them to be juvenile and stupid. He reiterates that they’re re-enacting something that actually happened. To which she replies “That makes them stupid twice!”

I know that a lot of events in my life that I wish I could rewrite. I couldn’t rewrite what ended up happening, of course, but you ever find yourself thinking about your own stupid behavior and think “That was unavoidably a bad situation, but surely I could have thought of a better way to handle it than that?!” Periodically I’ll get caught in negative feedback loops where I think only of such situations. Stupid things I said into the void that the void spits back at me at the most inopportune times.

Category: Theater

In a thread originally concerning grand theories over at Bobvis, the topic turned to relationship theories. Before Sunrise commented:

I think it just feeds the already insecure people with tactics that don’t always work. Sometimes people just get to the point where they don’t understand why they haven’t met someone decent (at the very least) and so go looking for answers and will probably try anything to succeed in dating.

To which I replied:

Here’s the problem: these books, as obnoxious as they are, are very often reasonably good predictors of human response and behavior.

To which Spungen expressed skepticism and asked for examples.

Before I get started, A story about when it was first suggested that the Earth revolved around the sun instead of vice-versa. The Catholic Church denounced the theory. The Pope, however, was approached by a bunch of mariners that said that using this theory was actually helping them navigate the waters, but they were good Catholics and didn’t want to disregard the Church. The Pope said that if the theory helped them, then they could use it as long as they didn’t believe it.

Also, there’s a movie out there that I have not seen but was explained to me. In the story, a woman ran across a book on how to train dogs and decided to use the lessons on how to train a dog to train her boyfriend. It was a remarkable success. He of course found out about it and was mad and they made up and I assume lived happilly ever after.

I do not, for what it’s worth, believe a woman should think of her man like a dog. I don’t think that she should tream him like a dog. But even though I reject the whole premise of her actions, many of the things that one does with a dog one should also do with a human. Show appreciation and reward desirable behavior. Express disapproval with undesirable behavior in a manner that he will understand, and so on. I don’t advocate to a woman to think of her man as anything but a man, but even if the premise is wrong and offensive, the advice is quite efficient.

I firmly believe that when a relationship between two people is right that games generally do not need to be played. I have driven myself crazy in the past trying to make the unworkable work and it proved, shockingly, unworkable. I have acted very strategically to try to bring relationships together and have met with some success, but the relationships that really matter are more a matter of not blowing it rather than making things work. That’s not to say that even promising relationships aren’t fraught with potential peril, but it is to say that a real relationship is generally so special that the problems presented that prove irreversible harm are special and unique to the relationship involved.

That being said, most relationships are not that unique. In fact, they fall into the category of a cold-blooded negotiation wherein both parties interests never move beyond themselves to the partner or making things work with the partner. As such, the boilerplate solutions presented by relationship gurus come in to play a lot more often than they probably should. And the good books are written by people that have caught the rhythms of these relationship failures and provided ways to avoid pitfalls with a bunch of overgeneralized if-then statements. But far from useless, these books not-infrequently bring to the attention of the reader patterns of human behavior that they could see for themselves if they knew what they were looking for.

So some examples.

John Gray, the author of the Mars & Venus books, is by most accounts a fraud. He got a sham degree from a fake university and used that as a launching pad in to pop psychology. That being said, his books were successful because they resonated with a large number of people. They resonated with a large number of people because they contained a perspective that, for whatever reason, has helped a large number of couples, my ex-girlfriend Julie and I among them.

Whatever Gray’s disqualifications for writing it, what he had to say regarding the mood cycle of women explained a whole lot of how Julie had been acting. the trite metaphor about the wave rising and crashing fit extraordinarily well. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken a book to point it out, but it did. The tidbit about how to listen to a woman when she’s sharing the frustrations of her day helped me stop making her bad days worse by trying to fix her problems for her. And the advice that it gave her, when she took it, was equally helpful. This is all despite the fact that I am hardly a masculine man’s man and she was hardly a southern belle of a woman.

But some of the positive effect it had on my relationship with Julie can be attributed to the fact that we both read it. Perhaps we started responding favorably as Gray said we would because Gray said that we should. I don’t believe that to be the case, but it’s impossible to say, really. But what proved remarkable about it is how a lot of what Gray had to say worked not only with Julie, but with her successors, many of whom detested Gray and swore up and down that he was full of crap.

Not, not everything he had to say worked with every girl I knew. Gray’s advice is built as part of a traditionalist worldview on relationships that I rejected long before I married my strong-headed alphaish doctor of a wife. Some of Gray’s suggestions regarding chivalry would not only have been wasted but resented by some of the women I’ve dated over the years. But on the whole, the advice was spot-on more than it was wrong and a reasonable predictor of what would get a positive reaction and what would get a negative one, what would keep her happy and what wouldn’t. And often quite contrary to what she told me would be the case.

I carry no brief for John Gray. I have no ideological attachment to Mars & Venus. I could care less whether it worked because of the biological differences between men and women or because society has programmed us the way that it has. What I care about is that the advice is, though not 100%, solid.

Doc Love’s The System is another.

To follow Doc Love’s advice is to apply a level a strategy that is unhealthy in a human relationship. The entire enterprise is quite manipulative. A relationship that needs this level of tactics is not likely to be a great one. It takes the thrill out of meeting and falling in love and replaces it with a game of romantic chess. But his analysis of what works and what doesn’t has proven (to me, anyway) remarkably adept.

Beware giving someone what they say they want. What a woman says that she values in a guy and what she actually places a value on are two separate things. This is no less true for men, but Doc Love gives advice to men for women and not vice-versa. When women say that they want a man that is open and honest and affectionate, they want a man that will be those things eventually. A guy that is those things too early throws everything off balance and runs the risk of coming across as desperate, insecure, and needy.

A lot of women will get impatient as a guy opens up slowly, but this is exactly as it should be whether she realizes it or not (sometimes she does, sometimes she doesn’t). Relationships often continue to unfold most successfully as she emotionally pries bit by bit as he lets out the rope hand by hand. If he moves too quickly or doesn’t move at all, problems will ensue.

This was, I have to say, a mistake that I made repeatedly. I’m a pretty open guy. I honestly enjoy expressing myself, it’s why I write! Far from being to my benefit, however, it was torpedoing chances that I might have otherwise had. Spungen is quick to point out that it’s usually the case that a chance was never had, but all I can say in my defense that in my case it was verified later, when I was more cautious and things did actually start happening (or she wanted them to but I lost interest).

The last one is the infamous Ladder Theory.

Every election people love to throw out worthless data predicting the winner of the election. Sometimes it’s that when this football team beats that football team the Republican wins and other times it’s the winner of some state will win the whole election. What they say is true, but they present it as though it’s proof that there is a connection (there is obviously a connection between Missouri’s electoral votes and the ultimate winner, of course, but it’s no more than Missouri’s electoral votes added to its winner’s totals).

The most interesting ones are the ones that track economic models. They vouch 100% accuracy in predicting who won past elections. This was repeated over and over again as proof that Al Gore would dominate the 2000 election. Whatever you think of that election, we should all be able to agree that Gore did not do as well as the economic model suggested he would. Why not? Well, because the economic model was based on the very elections it’s being judged against. The 2000 election wasn’t a part of those calculations because it hadn’t happened yet. If it were it would have changed the “foolproof” formula.

I mention that because The Ladder Theory has the same problem. It attempts to explain what has happened and then establish a causal effect even where one doesn’t exist.

The Ladder Theory was written by a bitter guy that wanted to explain away his romantic failures. It is primarily boosted by bitter guys that want their relationship failures to not be their fault and rely on a not-so-thinly veiled mysogynistic theory to do so. Personally, I got no problem accepting my role in all of my romantic failures. My theory has always been that if it was something I did, it’s something that I can avoid doing next time (by either not screwing up a chance I had or not wasting my time with a chance I never had).

I also think that The Ladder Theory is problematic in its essence. It places far too much emphasis on money and power and makes no mention of personal charm and charisma (which comes in varieties other than dominating). It also presents both men and women as automatons incapable of independent thought and direction.

But despite the relatively warped view of men and women, the notion of two ladders and an abyss is in my mind indisputable. A lot of guys make the mistake of thinking that if they just get close enough to a woman they can be promoted to romantic interest when in fact personal interest and romantic interest are two separate things. I am (I hope) on the “friend” ladder of all the women I know. I can become extremely close to one or two, but because I am married I will never end up on the other ladder. It’s nothing personal. It’s not a rejection of their worth or what they mean to me or vice-versa, it just is.

But it doesn’t have to be marriage that sticks a guy on the “Friends” ladder. I once had a female friend that I was crazy about. I wanted to be a heck of a lot more than friends, but for a variety of reasons I wasn’t what she was looking for romantically. I wasn’t Catholic, I’ve never had a small frame, I think quietly more than I talk, and the list goes on and on. She really did like me a lot and it was nothing personal. But I never had a shot.

When a guy is at the top of the friendship ladder, he can’t just keep climbing to the relationship ladder. He has to either stay where he is or take a leap. And if the leap fails, which it probably will, he will have to accept being in the abyss (which is basically out of her life) or climbing back up the Friends ladder. Not because she’s a meanie-poo (as The Ladder Theory might suggest) but because he took the leap. Envisioning the ladders, the abyss, and the leap, is an extraordinarily helpful model even if I don’t buy in to the bitterness of the theory as a whole.

In a couple of cases I was on the friendship ladder, jumped for the relationship one and missed. Ironically, in my two most dramatic tumbles I ultimately did end up on the relationship ladder. In other words I became the object of their romantic affections. When all of this was happening, I didn’t understand what was happening or why. I didn’t understand how I had gotten into a position both enviable and maddening. Or where that position was or how far it was from where I wanted to be. The Ladder Theory’s model explained it and once I was familiar with it I had a visual model as I watched other people do what I had attempted to do (or not do).

Anyway, the point that I am making is that oftentimes these things persist because they explain things that are in a way that people can understand. They’re varying degrees of imperfect, mind you, but they are often better indicators of what different people will do (or should do) in circumstances than the people themselves.

Category: Coffeehouse

I’ve been watching and listening to the British TV show Coupling over the past few weeks. It’s reminiscent of Friends, except a little more crude and a lot more entertaining. Unlike Friends it also focuses on couples that are rather than couples that might be, which is something of a refreshing change.

Coupling was brought over to the US a few years ago and became the epitome of poor UK-US translation. At the outset I should state that I have never seen the American version, though I have no doubt that it is every bit as poor as its critics suggest. By the sounds of it they followed the script to a T and I could easily see the script falling flat with increased FCC regulation and American accents.

That being said, I can’t help but escape the feeling that a lot of the critics on IMDB take on a tone of superiority by trashing the American version and the fact that they would be trashing it almost regardless of quality. When a show is translated from one audience to another, they have a few options about how to go about doing it and every single option gives these cultural snobs the opportunity to lourd their superiority over us plebian Americans:

Option 1: They take the script directly or make very small changes.
If they take the script directly, then some parts are not going to translate quite as well. Even if everything does translate, they’ll ask (and not unreasonably) why they didn’t just air the British version of the show (FCC concerns aside). Then, what little changes they may make, will be considered an absolute betrayal of the original.

Option 2: They revamp and “Americanize” the show.
The snobs need a fan from this to keep them from passing out. They’ll accuse the producers of jettisenning precisely what make the show “work” over there, regardless of what they change. Then they’ll say that whatever was changed was an example of how the show has been “dumbed down” and how superior they are for appreciating the original. It’ll be derided as “completely different” from the original.

Option 3: They take the bare elements but leave off the name to avoid comparisons.
They’ll relentlessly call the show a “rip-off” of the British show and accuse the producers of trying to take credit for someone else’s creative work. Even if the content of the show is the exact same as Option 2, they will actually accentuate the similarities and call it a “knock-off” (whereas in Option 2 the term would be “betrayal”)

In the process of deriding the new show, they will talk endlessly about how they saw the original and will attempt to use this as a reason why their opinion is valid while yours is not. If you saw the original but like the American version better, you will be accused of not have an appropriate appreciation for the nuances of non-American culture. Even if you say that you like both for different reasons, you’ll be accused of “not getting it”.

The Office, at present, is perhaps the most successful fictional show carried over. What some people forget is that it was originally derided as yet another example of how American producers “don’t get it.” Granted, the first season was weaker than subsequent seasons, but I maintain that the only reason that the critics have relented is that they have been overwhelmed by the positive response of the American version.

Ironically, the criticism that people who prefer the American version to the British don’t understand or appreciate Brit “dry humour” come off sounding a lot like Michael Scott when talking about any other culture where he feels the need to be multiculturally aware.

For what it’s worth, I have a slight preference for the American version of The Office, though I can easily recognize those areas where the British version is superior. I think in some ways they compliment one another. The American version would not exist if not for the British version, of course. However, the British version only lasted twelve episodes and a couple specials and now the American version is the only place where people can more Office-style humor is via the American version.

Category: Theater

I’m not easily stunned by the news of the day, but this one did it for me. A Sheriff’s Deputy was released for prison after one year for murdering a suspect that was handcuffed and laying on the ground

Given the circumstances (the suspect had just killed the cop’s partner), I can certainly understand taking a pass on first degree murder. It obviously wasn’t premeditated and the cop was under a great deal of stress. I can understand a light sentence. But one year? For killing an already neutralized threat? And apparently the only reason he spent a year in jail was that he used a firearm to do it. If he’d just found a pick-axe he might have gotten off on probation.

The world will absolutely not miss the guy that was killed. But we have a criminal justice department for a reason. I honestly wish the guy weren’t handcuffed or that it wasn’t caught on tape so that there were some credible excuse for what happened. But the guy wasn’t and it was. The system should behave accordingly.

Category: Courthouse

Americans have a problem with fast food and they have a problem with credit cards, so it’s not that surprising to see that the two dovetail tidely:

U.S. consumers racked up an estimated $51 billion worth of fast food on their personal credit and debit cards in 2006, compared to $33.2 billion one-year ago.

I remember a time not so long ago that fast food places didn’t even take credit cards. I remember my shock upon running across the first one that did. Any time I was low on cash, which I usually was, I would go to that one regional fastfood chain. Then Wendy’s started doing it and I could go there, too. Then McD’s. Now it’s a question of whether or not they accept the Discover Card, not whether or not they accept credit cards.

I enjoy the convenience, but it makes it much harder to diet by way of an anemic wallet.

Category: Newsroom