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Rubber chickens in Moscow
 
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in whymc's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, March 25th, 2012
8:14 pm
Summer Plans
I've a fairly firm date set for the submission of my final revisions (well, final before the defense, anyway, there is generally a bit of tinkering after that). That date is the second week of June. I do have a summer class to teach, and I'll still need to be visiting my mom every couple of weeks... but I'll also, finally, hopefully have both some free time *and* the brain/energy to do something with it. I have a few things planned for the summer:

1 - Writing. I've several ideas for Brass & Steel, which I've partially sketched out, but haven't had the time to finish, including a fictionalization of one of the adventures that I'll be running at GenCon. I might, also, try to arrange to do a test run of one or more of the scenarios before heading off to con. I'd love to run the LARP version of the game for folks I actually know, but I don't know how feasible this will be.

2 - Outdoorsy stuff. I'm in pretty good shape these days, and I'm wanting to take advantage of that. There will be hiking and camping, even if it's only a couple of bitsy day trips in the area. Heck, if I'm clever, I can arrange to spend an afternoon at Devil's lake when I'm headed to or from my mom's.

3 - Costuming. I have two different sets of costume stuff to work on. I *really* need at least a couple of decent steampunk outfits. I've a few bits and pieces, but I want to work on building some accessories, and I'd like to build a costume pistol using some of the gas cartridges that I've dredged up. I'm also thinking that I might try to do a better job with my SCA wardrobe. Most of my garb hands pretty loose on me these days. That's less of an issue with garb than with street clothes, but I'm still thinking that some sewing is in order. Specifically, I'm thinking of making a bit of a shift in persona, and moving myself back in time about 700 years, so that I can be a kievan varangian in the varangian guard rather than an oprichnik. Brass & Steel has really brought out my inner Byzantinist...

I've other things that I'd like to do, as well, including just spending some time with people, but these are a few things to focus on to help keep myself going through the next few months. I've also discovered that, for the first time in years, Pennsic and Gen Con *aren't* at exactly the same time... hrm...

Current Mood: determined
Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
11:57 pm
Paying attention...
I am easily distracted.  Most famously by cleavage, but by video games, books, daydreams, home improvement projects, ideas for novels, political websites, science, shiny sparkly stuff, and a variety of other things as well.  This is not always a bad thing - I think that it is related to my sense of curiosity and wonder about the world, which is near the top of my 'stuff I like about me' list.  However, I do have a habit of not paying attention to things.  When the things in question are piles of old papers, that's not terrible.  However, I get the feeling that there is room for me to pay more attention to my own life and life goals/priorities as well.  I'm not a big believer in resolutions, but given the recent success of my dieting project, based mostly on paying attention, I think that working to focus on a few other priorities as well might not be a bad idea.  I'm still pondering the specific things that matter, and that I want to focus on, but I'm sure of two: friends and family.  Both of those take a little work, these days, because my clan is badly scattered, but a few visits with old friends, and time spent with my family have reminded me just how important both my family and all of you are to me.  I'm going to try to make the effort to call more, write more, and visit more.  More on the exciting new focus program later....

Current Mood: mellow
Sunday, December 5th, 2010
1:17 pm
Multiple layers of debt
I was reading this rather gloomy article in the Times today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/05/us/politics/05states.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

This article made me think of one way in which America seems to me to be more vulnerable to financial woes than most European countries.  Since we have a system of government that features loose integration between federal, state, and local levels, each level budgets independently.  I'm inclined to think that this is a disadvantage at the best of times, as it involved redundant agencies and operations at each level, which could be combined for savings via economies of scale.  In hard times, however, this could be a disaster waiting to happen.  As the article suggests, we have debt building up not just at the federal level, but also at state and municipal levels.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e0/Components-of-total-US-debt.jpg

This graph brings brings the point home - considering all forms of debt, in *2008*, we owed 350% of GDP.  That's a lot of debt.  The situation is worse now.  I'm increasingly of the belief that we need to seriously reconsider how we view debt.  I'm not opposed to debt - borrowing in ways that make medium-long term financial sense is not a terrible practice.  Well-planned mortgage debt, corporate debt that actually increases profit, or borrowing by government either at a modest ongoing level that will be eroded by inflation or for capital improvements that will strengthen the economy are all perfectly rational.  More and more, however, I read stories of debt being used not to foster growth, but to defer payment.  Unfunded pensions, consumer debt (for non-essential purchases), borrowing to fund tax cuts... all of those strike me as absolutely crazy financial practices.  I don't propose to limit the activity of individual consumers, but I'd very much like to see changes in governmental and corporate budgetary rules that limit their ability to employ unfunded mandates, while modifying the compensation structure of employees so as to avoid legacy costs, which seem to me to make less and less sense in a world where economic conditions may well be completely different when pension obligations come due than it was when those obligations were incurred.

Current Mood: melancholy
Monday, November 29th, 2010
6:44 pm
I am capable, but dumb sometimes
I did a bit of work re-wiring my basement today.  Pulled a badly-mounted and located circuit, moved it to power my workbench and the TV area.  No problems there - safely grounded and everything.  Then, I tested it by plugging in a clock radio.  The receptacle where I'd plugged it in began to emit a low but mysterious buzz.  I was terrified!  Was I about to burn my house down?  I called my dad.  He asked if my clock radio was a newer one with a transformer in its power supply.  I sheepishly replied in the affirmative.  Stupid transformer buzzing and freaking me out.  Not fair, I tell you!

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, November 24th, 2010
10:33 pm
errant computer stories, part 1...
One downside to having students with whom I get along is that they will talk to me after class, and distract me.  Yesterday, this led to a failure to pack up my netbook.  Fortunately, it was picked up and turned in to security... and the 'robots without orders' sticker on it made it *very* easy for me to uniquely identify over the phone...

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
12:12 am
Having my groin touched
I'm startled by the amount of concern being caused by the new TSA safety procedures.  I don't think that either turning me into c- grade porn or having a bored tsa guy pat me very thoroughly will make me any safer... but at the same time, I'm startled and a little annoyed by the fact that this issue has gotten far more coverage than many of the provisions of the deeply, deeply invasive patriot act, or than issues such as warrant-less wiretapping.  If I have to choose between having the NSA monitor my every communication or letting the TSA periodically get to third base with me, I'm going for the TSA every time.  I know, I know, we're a puritanical people, and this *is* an invasion of privacy... but the other things that the government is doing in the name of fighting terror bother me far, far more, and have, I think, much more dangerous implications for the continued health and well-being of American democracy.

Current Mood: discontent
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
5:54 pm
vexing...

The beginning of my day went very well - good progress on academic matters, finished the window-well backfill, and everything looks snug on that side of the house.

The commuter portion of my day has been more vexing - first, and most importantly, I forgot my delicious turkey sammich for the second time in a row!  Grr!

Perhaps more actually importat... it seems that the schedule shift announced last week was *not* meant as a punitive measure, but was, instead, the least well-explained attempt to balance enrollment among instructors *ever*.  I've been told that the odds are decent that I''ll have a third section after all... but I'm not willing to count on that at this juncture...

MY head hurts from all the annoyance and bad management... oh well - off to teach in a few minutes...




Current Mood: annoyed
Monday, November 15th, 2010
3:07 pm
standards and practices
As many of you know, my basement has had a few water issues.  I'd previously determined a large part of the cause (one collapsed window well, one below grade window well).  Today, I think that I figured out most of the rest... after much dawdling, I replaced the second window well on the east side of my house.  It was, as I'd expected, a pain in the ass to dig out the concrete... but I'm very glad that I did.  It seems that, when this window well was installed, not only did it not rise far enough above grade (which I can forgive, that having been the code at the time the house was built), but the people who built it also decided to line the entire bottom of the unit with cement - cement with no drainage... in other words, basically a giant basement-flooding concrete funnel.

Oh well.  After dulling two masonry bits (why do I buy masonry bits at Menards???), I've installed the new window well.  The caulk is setting now, and I'll back-fill tomorrow before heading to campus.

Side note: smashing up concrete makes my arms sore.

Current Mood: accomplished
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
5:40 pm
progress
Two pages written today.  Will do more after I've fed.  Made it back to the gym.  Ran errands of various sorts.  It feels good to be doing things - after the couple of days of cranky, and far too many days of sick.

I think that, after some consideration, I'm going to have to prepare to write off Columbia.  I hate having to do that, but I hate working in an environment so rich in conflict and so poor in respect even more.  That means maximum effort on the dissertation (which is not *that* far from done), and the f'ing academic job market.  I thought that I'd dodged that particular bullet - I'd have happily worked twin adjunct gigs, and done twice the teaching and no committee work, but I'm thinking that this isn't going to be an option, or at least not one I can rely on...

I'm not thrilled about this, and I'm pissed about the likely prospect of having to sell my wee house, now that I've only just gotten it fixed up to the point where I like it... but them's the breaks, and I'll at least get to spend another year+ in it, so I'll enjoy... and I've learned a great deal for the next house...

Current Mood: thoughtful
Monday, November 8th, 2010
4:32 pm
Thanks, internet!
So... I've been serving as a secondary shelving facility for the U of I for a long time now...  and being pissed about having to constantly check up on my library account, when I don't really do much of anything else through the U of I at the moment.  I'd return all of my books, and check them out again later, but I'm only about 20 pages from starting revisions, and I'll actually *need* those books (yes, I could have returned them two years ago... feh...).  Today, I partially solved that problem.  My long-suffering mailman will be delivering a series of small packages to me over the next week.  I really should have poked Amazon about this before - they've made accessing used scholarly books so easy, and so cheap... I've replaced half or so of the library books that I keep checked out for an average of less than 10 bucks each... a win, I think, and now I'll have them for reference for the decade or so before they're all available online....

This does, however, count as the least-exciting birthday present to me that I've ever purchased....

Current Mood: calm
Saturday, November 6th, 2010
2:23 pm
Musings on a dinner
So, I found myself at a dinner for a wedding rehearsal last night.  Everything was delicious, albeit much more on the rich cream sauce side of things than I'm used to these days.  As I was enjoying my entree - two thin slices of chicken breast, breaded and pan-fried, with a delicious white french cheese and some prosciutto between the two pieces of chicken, I began to experience this odd sense of familiarity... and I realized that I was eating a very up-market version of: http://www.kfc.com/doubledown/ .  Not that it wasn't delicious... but...

Current Mood: amused
Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010
1:43 am
Thoughts on politics...
I'm not thrilled, obviously, with the results of this election.  One of the two people in the Senate that I've genuinely looked up to as something of a personal hero is no longer going to be there.  The house has flipped.  The Senate will be deadlocked.

Still, some good things have come out of this night.  Most importantly, it looks like California, Illinois, and New York will all have Democratic governors.  This matters, more than a little.  Those three states combined control a large share of the country's GDP, and can have a major impact on policy nationwide.  Granted, Paladino was a fairly pitiful candidate, but the other two races were tight, and Democratic wins in both states will actually mean something for many people.

The ranks of the blue dog democrats in congress will be vastly diminished.  That's a good thing.  Blue dogs, while useful for padding party numbers, were utterly unreliable on key issues, and, particularly in the Senate, seriously hindered the party - nominally having 60 votes, with a crucial 6 or so in the hands of people who are basically republicans who aren't creepy on social issues is not a good situation to be in - it isn't the kind of no-nonsense majority that can actually get things done, but it *seems* to be a large majority, and thus leads people to expect results.  In retrospect, I'm convinced that the rahmist centrist candidates being elected in 2006/8 should be viewed as a Pyrrhic victory for the Democrats, a victory whose price has now been paid.

We'll see what the republicans manage to put forward in the area of actual legislation now, and I'll be hoping that the Democrats are strong-willed enough to stand up to them.  I really do think, also, that if I'm still in this area in two years, I *will* run for county board as an independent.  I want nothing to do with the Democratic party in Illinois, but if we're don't all try, actively, to play a role in making government work better for everyone, then we're all responsible for any failures of government.  I've been attentive, and at least somewhat involved, but I can do more, and I will do more.

I just wish... for a platonic ideal of the two parties - a Republican party that *actually* stands for personal freedom, small government, and limited foreign involvement, and a Democratic party that *actually* stands for a modest social safety net, the protection of ordinary Americans from wealthy and powerful interests, and a progressive and tolerant social agenda... and I'd like *both* parties to *actually* support increased prosperity for all Americans, honesty, transparency, and accountability, and the rule of law.  I'd also like a magical unicorn to appear, whinny three times and then turn into a massage therapist to give me a relaxing backrub after a very long day.  Sadly, I think the odds on the unicorn look slightly better.

Current Mood: pessimistic
Monday, November 1st, 2010
3:32 pm
blargh
I'm not a fan of being ill.  I'm especially not a fan of being ill over the bestest weekend of the year.  There were no parties for me.  There was oozing and being cranky.  Feh.  Now I'm at that vexing stage where I'm no longer so sick that I'm just dead beat tired... but I'm not focused and clever enough to do anything other than be annoyed at the fact that I'm not focused and clever.

I've tons of stuff to do, too.  I have schoolwork, and writing, and work in the basement, and some winterization tasks around the house.  I'll need to work on lectures for the week this evening - here's hoping that I'll have the energy to make the tasty peanut chicken that I'm planning for dinner - the delicious red pepper sauce always perks me up a bit when I'm ill.

This month continues my secret theme of weddings... at this point I'm just wondering why my friends couldn't all join a cult, have a mass wedding, and get things over with in one fell swoop.  So. Much. Easier.

I'm also distressed about politics - which should come as no surprise.  I find candidates on both sides in most races to be seriously deficient - there is literally nothing on the ballot in Illinois that I feel good voting for... I'll vote anyway, but I *miss* being able to vote for Russ and Tammy, and feel that my vote was actually for, rather than against, something.  Add in the fact that I'll likely have to deal with speaker boehner, and with the loss of Russ... and this is a pretty grim election season.  I might be ok with a changing of the guard in congress if I felt that the republicans actually had any kind of useful plans... but they don't.  We'll get more de-regulation, more privatization, and, worst of all, much more corporate welfare... feh.

Current Mood: cranky
Thursday, October 28th, 2010
3:22 pm
really?
I just noticed a headline blurb in the Times:

"Despite a finding by the State Department, the Obama administration will allow military aid to Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Yemen."

That left me wondering why we were giving military aid to those countries in the first place.  Seriously.  In addition to their use of child soldiers, at least two (Congo and Sudan) are directly linked to genocide, and all four are terrible and corrupt.  Here, I think, is a budget line item that I'd be happy to cut.  Hell, I can't think of a country, with the possible exception of Iraq (under the pottery barn clause) that *should* be receiving military aid...

Current Mood: angry
Wednesday, October 27th, 2010
11:52 pm
Liberty and economics
I read Hayek's Road to Serfdom on the train ride home today.  It was... interesting.  I was initially a very hostile audience, having only ever encountered his ideas at second hand.  I came away from reading his work with a much more positive view of Hayek and his ideas.  The versions of Hayek's thought that I've encountered have been very one-dimensional: planning --> socialism --> fascism and then you get shot for trying to be different.

A few points that I found interesting:

- he absolutely does see a role for the state/ government in economic life - primarily, to ensure fairness, transparency, and to limit monopolies.

- he's not opposed to welfare and social safety net programs - roughly, he'd argue that we're wealthy enough that we can and should offer basic protections - food, shelter, health care - to everyone, and only after that leave people on their own in the market.

- he distinguishes between economic planning in those sectors that are, basically, natural monopolies and economic planning in areas that are not - where he argues that planning --> concentrated power in the hands of a few --> loss of freedom.  This model makes some sense to me, as he focuses on the potential for state structures to be suborned by private interests - a process that we've clearly experienced (look no further than the incestuous relationship between business and government)

I think that I'll read more of his work, as I was left with the sense that his ideas and those of Keynes are *not* actually so diametrically opposed as one might at first believe (why not have the government work as a counter-cyclical force, but do so by collecting more taxes during prosperous times, and deferring necessary government capital expenditures until lean times - this would serve to balance the business cycle, and would also make more efficient use of labor, since the government would not be competing with the private sector for workers during boom times, when labor is likely to be a limiting factor for development and growth).

Have any of you read Hayek?  If so, what do you think of him?

Current Mood: thoughtful
Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
10:34 am
an update
This has been a slow week, mercifully - after wearing both wedding DJ and best man hats at Z & J's wedding over the weekend, I was *exhausted*.  That was a stressful experience.  Everything went well, however, save for perhaps letting Z get a bit too drunk at the bachelor party late in the evening when I'd stopped monitoring his drink intake.  The ceremony was beautiful, and the reception went well.  My DJ setup performed quite well on its first outing.  I'm even considering advertising on Craigslist as a discount DJ... we'll see...

I'm so happy for those two.  I plated only a very small role in nudging that relationship along, but that role is one of the things that I've done in recent years of which I can be, and am, unambiguously proud.  The world is a better place with those two together.

I was very glad to be able to give my students a mid-term in one class last week, though, when I came home - I'm only just now getting un-tired enough to be 100% useful again.  (I evolved my personal theory of honeymoons over the weekend - that the modern honeymoon is not about sex, but is about recovering from the massive levels of stress caused by modern weddings...).

Current Mood: sleepy
Wednesday, October 13th, 2010
9:06 pm
Curse of the monkey idol, continued...
So today, the laptop and projector that I use for powerpoint slides in one of my classes (only one of my two wednesday classrooms has a built-in projector) vanished.  The department literally doesn't know what happened to them... argle...

I'm able to give a lecture without ppt, but without *any* notes... that's not a good time...

Oh well, I survived.

Current Mood: amused
12:39 am
The curse, part II
I had a new experience in class today.  One of my students asked if they could go home, because they weren't feeling well.  Of course, I said yes.  Sadly, they didn't make it out of the classroom before throwing up all over the floor, and all over one poor student's laptop.  Ack.  (I suppose... perhaps this was more of a curse day for the guy with the laptop...)

That's an experience I hope never to have again.

Current Mood: tired
Saturday, October 9th, 2010
4:03 pm
time and numbers
I've been dieting some, lately. Part of this process involves paying attention - something that I never *really* did to my food. That is a good and useful and helpful thing. It has gotten me thinking about the numbers involved in other parts of my life, as well. I'm decent at keeping to a budget - being a cheapskate with no real debts helps here. I'm not so good at keeping to a time budget. I've been pondering how I use my time, and I think that I might need to make a few changes. I have deleted all of the strategy games from my PC. I don't plan on re-installing them, or on purchasing any more. I've already come to the conclusion that MMOs do not offer rewards that match the amount of time they suck out of my life, and I've come to suspect that I have long had a similarly unhealthy relationship with strategy games.

I've always enjoyed structures and shapes and forms. I like making things and creating patterns. I like imposing attractive and elegant order on chaos. Strategy games allow me to do this - but in a way that is not real outside of my own head... and are, I think, a bit like junk food. I *could* be imposing beautiful order on the world, but instead, I've spent far too long imposing it on imaginary worlds. Some of these were quite beautiful, albeit staggeringly ephemeral... but still not things that I can look back on with any measure of real pride.

I'm not swearing off video games - due to the limited replay value of FPS and RPG games, I use them in a way that I am more comfortable with, and I feel that I do get some real intellectual value out or the better games on the market... but I'll be thinking long and hard before I purchase or install another strategy game... although playing actual strategy games, with real people is still definitely part of the master plan.

Now... to get two weeks worth of class materials ready, so that I can go away to do wedding dj stuff next weekend without getting too badly swamped.

Current Mood: weird
Monday, October 4th, 2010
3:49 pm
Why did Rick Sanchez lose his job?
I was watching a bit of coverage about Rick Sanchez's dismissal from CNN. Granted, the meaning behind what he said was much more than the simple words, devoid of context, would imply, and absolutely struck an inappropriate and anti-Semitic tone, but I was struck by how similar his remarks were to others that I have heard, and about which there has been no outcry.

I guess I'm not so worried about Rick losing his job, as I am about the many other media figures who have said far more reprehensible things, but targeted groups where we are not as sensitive to slurs and insults. Why does Rick lose his job, when any number of figures, largely on the right (but not exclusively), are able to get away with calling this or that group of Americans traitors, or accusing one or another ethnic subgroup of the most hideous things. Why do we tolerate people spewing anchor-baby nonsense, or the stories about welfare queens in luxury cars? Why do we allow righties to call lefties traitors and scum, and why do we allow the more fiery lefties to reply in kind? Is the difference mostly that Sanchez had the poor sense to pick on a group that has the resources to fight back, or am I missing something? Thoughts?

Current Mood: contemplative
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