Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cobb talks of aging, respect, and knowing where you are:

It hit me almost at once that I was in America. The America I remember from before 9/11 when I used to think about the wonderment of fancy restaurants. In any fancy American restaurant, the guy two tables away from you just might be a multimillionaire. Of course that truth remained after 9/11 but we started getting all dysfunctional about what America meant. I’m talking about the open society that we still are. Free parking on the street in Carmel.

One of the things I remember most about that book I read about the rich, the wealthy and the super wealthy was that a lot of the wealthy are pretty peculiar folks, meaning that they are the guy who spent 20 years perfecting goat cheese, or ball bearings. If you were the guy who invented the Maglite, you started off with a dream to have a really good flashlight and then one day everybody in law enforcement wanted one. Four years later, you’re a regular old guy with time and millions to burn in Carmel. You go to all the Red Sox games. You buy the wife a new Benz. Yeah the watch costs 6 thousand, but whatever. You just buy stuff that works, not all that flash. You can find things out if you really want to know. You have time. You have money. You have patience. You’re not under pressure to make a whole lot of mistakes. You appreciate a good meal. You realize you have been blessed, and you take your freedom seriously. By my reckoning, a reasonable man, once rich, will get over the hump and mellow out or wreck his life within 5 years.

Separately, he wrote this:

A bucket list is not a good way to think of maturity. Adding adventure is for young men. For old men it’s about subtracting the useless. It’s about not being restless for action for it’s own sake. It’s about not letting desire to prove something get in the way of just doing something. For me, being this age is about your ability to know the truth of your life’s experience and always tell that truth. But also being prepared if everybody else does that or if nobody else does that.

Being still relatively young, I don’t have a whole lot to say on the meat of his post except that I am going to really, really try to remember that paragraph from the second post. But while I am relatively young, I am passing the point where I am young.

I have something of an egalitarian streak. And I have a preference for the casual. I don’t like pretension. Yet at the same time, I do have relatively inegalitarian and more rigid views on self-presentation. At some point, I am going to need to go through and cull my wardrobe. With the exception of things that don’t fit, one of the things I am going to be looking at more closely are those things that are age-appropriate. Once upon a time, I found the perfect clubbing shirt. I didn’t wear it clubbing, because I rarely went clubbing, but I still wore it around. But that is a shirt for a man in his twenties, which I am not anymore in body or spirit. A few years ago I tried to grow my hair out. It wasn’t successful, but that was just as well because I was already too old for long hair.

There’s something about the agebending that Rufus talked about here that I am not sure I will ever be comfortable with. This is true of how we behave and how we dress. For some reason, it’s the latter that bothers me more. I mean, if you’re in your thirties or forties and you enjoy video games or superhero movies, well that’s what you enjoy. There is something tragic about being expected not to. Life is too short. But appearance? That strikes me as a place where it’s quite easy to conform. To avoid being that fifty year old guy with the ear-ring. But the expectation is lost.

Cobb also talks quite a bit about class. In addition to abandoning my night-club shirt, I also find myself becoming more particular when it comes to certain things in part because it feels wrong for myself, the husband of a doctor, a father, and a degreed individual, to dress a way that I am not. When I can come up with a utilitarian reason for it, such as my famous steel-toed boots, I do it without shame. But other than that, I feel like one of the minimal obligations of my fortunate life is to at least nominally live up to it. My twenty year old self would have called it elitism or snobbery. But in a way, it’s the other way around. It’s not a disrespect of myself to downgrade my appearance with holey jeans or gas station shirts. Rather, it’s a disrespect to the people for whom these things are authentic. For me, it is not. It feels like pretending not to acknowledge this.

Category: Coffeehouse

Back when I was living in Deseret, I saw an ad in the local paper about a couple of workbenches for sale. $10 a piece. The ad said they would make good computer desks. I went there with the intent of buying one, which is all I had room for, but ended up purchasing both because $10. That was the best purchasing move I made that year. Possibly ever. The desks have since followed me on five moves. They’re perfect computer desks. Legroom underneath where I could place the computers. And they were easy to break down and transport. Because they were workbenches, they were sturdy as all get-out. It felt like they were never going to die and as long as they didn’t, I fully intended to use them.

The movers destroyed them. I don’t mean that they failed to pack them properly. I mean that they destroyed them. For better packing, they tore out pieces that were not meant to come off. I don’t think I am going to be able to put it back together. Finding a suitable replacement looks like it will cost between two and six hundred dollars. Each.

I would put in a claim, but but I am not sure I want to raise a stink. The whole billing process was rather opaque, but what we believed we would be paying was considerably more than we paid. Over $1200 more, in fact. Ordinarily, when this sort of thing happens, I am very quick to insist that we pay the full amount. But we don’t know what the full amount was. It wasn’t explained to us. The contract had multiple amounts on it. I can’t figure out how they came up with the figure that they did.

I’m not usually the guy that does this. In fact, my conscience has been eating at me and I have been mulling over what my obligation here is. I am the guy who last fall drove back to the tire place to explain to them that they had under-charged me by $300.

But now… they destroyed my workbenches. (And some lamps, and a bookcase…)

All is not lost, though. I’m not going to be able to replace the workbenches, but since I live near actual cities, there are a few options on Craigslist. Under $100 to replace both. Which will give me something to use while I look for the pieces of the workbenches and see if maybe I can put it back together.

Category: Market

A little while ago, Slate had a series on marriage that poked at some concerns that folks like myself have about liberals and marriage. But some of them left the hair on the back of my neck firmly resting. One of them involved David Plotz writing about wedding guests:

When you are in the throes of wedding planning—the epic, Iranian-nuke-level negotiations with your fiancée about invitations, the masterful diagramming of every possible seating permutation to maximize hookups and minimize family arguments—it seems inconceivable that somewhere in this group, the group of people that you are closest to in the entire world, the people with whom you will share the most extraordinary moment of your life, are dear friends you will never see again after your wedding day. You don’t know who the last-timers are—in fact, you can’t know—but they will be there on the dance floor and in photos. And suddenly, one day—two, five, 20 years on—you will think to yourself: I haven’t seen her since our wedding. And then: How did that happen?

When I talk about last-timers, I don’t mean those old friends of your parents who got invited over your protests. Of course you’ll never see them again. I also don’t mean the various disposable plus-ones. Any wedding of any size will be populated by boyfriends, girlfriends, and even spouses who will have been dumped or divorced by the next time you see your friend. My brother-in-law’s then-fiancée is all over our wedding photos. She was on her last legs as a fiancée, but we didn’t know it at the time. Sweet, kind Liane: Where are you now?

Some people focus on Friends From The Present. My brother Mitch did that.

This was a way in which my wedding different from my brother Mitch’s (Ollie had two weddings, one like mine and one like Mitch’s). Mitch focused on Friends From The Present. I focused on Friends From the Past. I invited people I hadn’t seen in years. I hadn’t invited people I considered myself close to at the time. Not that I would have protested the latter’s presence. But I had an inkling that things would probably break off whenever I next moved away. Or I wasn’t sure. But the people I hadn’t seen for years, and who I thought to myself “I really want them to come” were people that I knew I had relationships with that were far from circumstantial or relationships of convenience.

According to experts, both of these are wrong. The focus was supposed to be on Friends From The Future. Like Plotz, I just can’t agree with this due to the lack of a crystal ball. I mean, a part of my rationale of Friends Of The Past was that I was projecting future friendship based on past performance, to a degree. But as much as that, my motivation was that they could see the capstone of the person I was when they knew me. When I ceased to be that person and became a person that was enjoined with another person. In some cases, it truly didn’t matter if I would see them again. They had invested enough in me and who I was that I felt an invitation was something of an obligation. I invited some people I am not sure I really cared if I would ever see again, but whose role in my life demanded their invitation.

Of course, in the age of Facebook, the question of the future is somewhat even more moot than Plotz suggests. These days, you end up keeping track of people long after you would have in yesteryear, but only if they regularly Facebook or remain tied to you online in some other way (an online community).

Category: Coffeehouse

jalapenoBenquo discusses an attempt to make a hot pepper less than hot:

The story goes something like this. A Mexican restaurant somewhere in the central US makes and serves a salsa using the original, spicy Jalapeño pepper. A lot of people try it. Many of these people do not like spicy food at all. Maybe they are unusually sensitive to capsaicin. Maybe their bodies do not release the usual endorphins in response to spice. Maybe they just aren’t used to it. Regardless, there are people who do not like it, who ask for something milder. But they still want a salsa made with Jalapeños. This is the thing that puzzles me, and I’ll come back to it later, but for now we’ll accept this as a given: they do not like spicy food, but they want to eat a salsa – a mild, unspicy salsa – with Jalapeños.

So the restaurant has a few options. They can refuse to accommodate their customers, and either teach them to appreciate spice, or lose their business. They can make the salsa milder by putting less Jalapeño in it. They can try to sell the customers something different than what they asked for. Or, they can do the least convenient possible thing, and try to change the constitution of the Jalapeño pepper itself. Naturally, they do the least convenient possible thing, and demand a hot pepper that is not hot.

It would be interesting to see if bell peppers were used in in replacement of jalapenos if a non-foodie like me would be able to tell the difference. Perhaps not, though I am less sure than he (she?) is.

As someone with diminished tastebuds, I crave spice. As much as possible, this side of the ghost pepper. So a part of me would be quite bummed if they ever do create a non-spicy pepper. (I’m surprised it’s that difficult. Isn’t it mostly like the jalapeno version of the seedless watermelon?) That was one of my huge complaints about Arapaho cuisine, they didn’t believe in spicing things up.

On the other hand, it’s easier for me to add spiciness than it is for someone else to remove it. Give me a bottle of Sriracha or whatever and I can make it to how I like it. On the other hand, I whine bitterly when I am forced into alchemy. I like it when I get it exactly as I want it and don’t have to worry about it.

I do wonder – particularly in Benquo is right about bell peppers being an identical non-spicy substitute – if it does say something about our culture or perhaps humanity in general . I mean, there is a certain familiarity with the notion of not wanting to be considered so weak as to have the jalapeno removed or replaced with bell peppers, and yet not wanting to admit to it for self-esteem purposes or somesuch.

Category: Kitchen

yellowobject has a list of seven coastal cities at great risk due to global warming.

Darwin and aliens.

Marijuana shops can be their own worst enemy, perception-wise.

Repairing bad memories.

Jessica Lahey points out how we’re shafting boys in school and offers some supported ideas on what we can do about it.

Miles Klee explains how you’re ruining the things you love. Actually, it’s more about how off-putting the wrong fans of something can be.

Did you enjoy the play? Well, it may be the product of child actor abduction. Well, if you were attending a play in olden times, anyway. Seriously, interesting article.

Distracted walking injures more people than distracted driving.

As Canada has figured out, if you don’t pay people for sperm, you don’t get enough sperm. Fortunately, the Canadians can just leach off America.

Relatedly, he’s another interesting article on Marginal Revolutions about egg donation and the price-fixing thereof.

How to have a conversation like a gentleman.

Category: Newsroom

PortraitOver at The American Scene, PEG makes a rousing case for the obligation associated with National Service:

f you won the sperm lottery and were born in a wealthy, democratic nation, you have a life whose charm is simply incommensurable and incomparable with the lived existence of the vast, vast majority of human beings who have ever lived on Earth.

You have the privilege of not dying of hunger and easily preventable disease. You have the privilege of having attended schools that, yeah, could be much better, but still taught you how to read. You have the privilege of access to technology and a standard of living that would have been simply unimaginable even to most kings of old. You have the privilege of not having to keep a spare set of clothes under your bed in case the secret police knock in the middle of the night. You have the privilege of being able to spout off whatever nonsense on the internet and not get thrown in jail for your opinions. You have the privilege of medicine which cures most ailments and is relatively available to you. You have the privilege of a relatively much much higher likelihood of having work that is not back-breaking and awful, and perhaps even meaningful and fulfilling. You have the privilege of having a life expectancy which is basically twice the life expectancy of most of the people who came before you. That’s right: you basically have A WHOLE OTHER LIFE on top of your “natural” life, as a reward for the hard work and toil of being born in the right place and the right time.

And the simple fact of the matter is that if your sperm was lucky and you were born in one of those countries, the only reason you enjoy this incredible, unimaginable privilege is because people who lived before you sacrificed, and toiled, and gave their lives so that you would have it. They fought wars and they gave their blood and their lives so that a certain political community to which you belong shall not perish from the Earth so that you could enjoy this.

We owe this incredibly charmed modern life not just to scientific progress and capitalism. We also owe it to the stubborn fact that many of our forefathers were willing to put on a uniform, swear an oath, and lay down their lives, for us, their children and their children’s children. Your blessed life is built on the blood and bones of your forefathers.

This will warm the heart of some liberals who have been stressing the social obligations inherent in a society (and some conservatives with their appreciation with upholding a tradition of service). Eat right, don’t smoke, you owe it to your fellow citizens. PEG is falling short of actually making a case for national service because he accepts numerous objections, but he really, really hates the notion of social obligation being laughable or comparable to slavery.

I am of a mixed mind on the subject. On the one hand, PEG truly makes a good case that we are the beneficiaries of a society and there is an obligation associated with that. Yet such a stance often makes me quite uncomfortable. In large part because it is a bottomless obligation. If the government’s investment in my health care gives the government control over what I do with my body, then what we’re talking about actually goes beyond obligation and into ownership. If I am alive but for the willingness of the state (or the community) to keep the barbarians at my gate, then what sense of individuality can I morally claim?

Some liberals mock the rugged individualist, but look: liberals make a big deal out of individuality, too. We all claim certain things – albeit not the same things – as being off-limits regardless of the state’s putative interest in our bodies, our finances, and our relationships. At some point, at least, it’s the healthiest thing to scoff at the notion of an obligation incurred by virtue of either (a) the security afforded by the state and the culture, or (b) the benefits given shared. We can argue that some of the things we do privately aren’t really private and are therefore not subject to approval. And that other things are not sufficiently private because, hey, we are where we are at the pleasure and with the resources of the state.

And so it is with the notion of national services and a draft. I find myself cringing at the notion that of course the state has a right to demand two years of your service.

And yet, and yet, it is quite hard to dismiss PEG’s arguments out-of-hand. Forcing people into military service is perhaps the most intrusive thing that a state can do. But I cannot, out of hand, say that the state should never have a right to do it. I used to make glib arguments that a society that requires a draft to defend itself probably isn’t worth defending. But that’s overly glib and simplistic. Something easy to say when you live in a country without proximate threats to its livelihood.

And if I can, at least in theory, support a draft. And in part on the basis of collective obligation, then national service should be a no-brainer, shouldn’t it?

The answer ultimately is “Yes” that I can support support mandatory service outside of the military just as I can inside of it. It’s just that in the post-Vietnam era, I see non-military as much more ripe for abuse and obligation-creep than military service.

While war has become taken lightly, a war with a draft is unlikely to. And it would require an ongoing, existential threat for there to be a permanent military draft. Otherwise, it’s akin to political suicide to suggest it as anything other than an attempt to make a point about something else (which is problematic in its own way).

I have a harder time coming up with any pressing national need sufficient enough to justify civil conscription. Which, unlike military conscription which requires both the obligation to society and the pressing need, civil conscription would be relying almost entirely on the former with some “Because we want” thrown in there. Because those kids aren’t right.

Ultimately, I have to believe that in order to overturn the presumption of liberty, a case has to be made that is so strong that the obligation we ostensibly have to the greater society is at most a marginal part of that argument. If the solvency of the nation rests in the balance, you institute a draft. If a society depends on somebody going down into the mines, and you simply can’t bribe enough people to do it, then maybe you consider conscription. But as long as you can rely on a volunteer army and you can pay people to go into mines, you simply need not fall to that last resort. Relying on the sence of obligation that PEG refers to so eloquently is, at best, the very beginning of an argument before you get to the actual important part.

Having said that, there is a strong difference between conscription and social pressure that is downplayed in some of the commentary surrounding this issue. I do think that there is value in social expectation of service of some sort. “If you ride alone, you’re riding with Hitler” is worlds apart from mandatory carpooling.

Where I could personally see a role for national service of some sort would actually involve the role that the military has often portrayed in the past: a path for non-college bound young people to have done something worthwhile as a way to avoid the post-high school “drifting” that a lot of people do. Or, honestly, for college graduates who are so inclined. I knock around in my mind some ideas for such programs that might be productive.

I think it’s great that we’re drawing down from war abroad. I do somewhat lament the lost opportunities some may have with the need for less military personnel going forward. And I like the idea of such programs at least on a conceptual level. But I wouldn’t want to go to war to justify such labor utilization, and I have less than a clear idea of what, precisely, we could do with them. Or, for that matter, how we would pay for it.

Category: Statehouse


Category: Road


Category: Road


Category: Road


Category: Road