quick hits

--Situational libertarianism: gated communities in New York suddenly very interested in having the state and city involved in their infrastructure, for some reason...

--We may owe single moms (especially those that raised their kids through the late 80's and 90's) an apology.

--I was interested to learn that despite the fact that Mexico's murder rate has nearly doubled in the last decade, there are many parts of the country that are statistically a lot safer than many cities in the US. For example, the murder rate in Mexico City last year was 8.7 per 100,000, about the same as Nashville. Guess which one I'm spending Christmas in?

--In case you were wondering: there is an outside chance you might be able to outrun a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but you wouldn't have a prayer with any of the smaller carnivorous dinosaurs.


black friday and the heart of darkness

(re-posted from 11.25.2011)
 I have participated in exactly one Black Friday in my entire life.

The year was 1994. I had just turned 17, and was working my first part-time job at a certain Jesus-y chicken joint at the local mall. Having started there the previous December and worked 3 nights a week for the better part of the year, I had worked my way "up" from washing dishes (which I hated) to working the grill (which I actually kind of liked) to working as a cashier (which I hated more than washing dishes.)

The next step was management, one which I had no intention whatsoever of taking.

Suffice it to say, I had through a completely ill-considered combination of work ethic and generally pleasant demeanor made myself sufficiently valuable to the management of the store that my presence was considered indispensable when the mall would open at 7AM the day after Thanksgiving. My shift would start at 6AM.

A digression is in order. If a mall-based food vendor serves breakfast at all, it is generally a very small part of their business. Most fast food outlets stop serving breakfast around 10:30 or 11, and most malls don't typically open until 9 or 10. Also, (typical) weekday morning traffic is a trickle; when and where I grew up, it was mostly old folks doing laps to exercise in a climate-controlled, safe environment. They might have stopped in for a coffee afterward, but that was pretty much it. Saturday mornings were much busier, but the mall didn't open until lunchtime on Sunday, and our store never opened on Sunday at all.

As such, the oven in our store that we used to bake biscuits--our one and only breakfast item at the time--was actually smaller than the ovens found in most homes. I think it could handle two trays of maybe 20 biscuits each. It takes about 20 minutes to bake biscuits properly. So the maximum biscuit generating capacity of our store was about 2 per minute on average, but of course this actually meant a batch of 40 coming out every 20. (You could stagger trays and get 20 every 10.)

As I walked up to the storefront a few minutes before 6, I saw a crowd of about two dozen people lined up, apparently, for chicken biscuits.

We didn't open for another hour. The crowd only got bigger.

Never mind that there was  a  McDonnald's out in one of the lots that ringed the mall, that surely could crank out breakfast biscuits at 10 times the rate we could, or that (being suburban Atlanta) there were no fewer than 3 Waffle Houses within a mile (one right across the street) that had been open all night, as they always were every day of the year. Never mind that if one were a halfway competent southerner, they could themselves whip up a batch of biscuits, and have time to do bacon and eggs on the stove while they baked, in far less than the hour plus they were willing to stand like a bunch of assholes in a not-yet-open mall so that we could do it for them.

When we opened the gate at 7AM, all 12 registers were manned. I didn't stop taking and filling orders for the next 9 hours. By lunchtime, it was fine--pretty much like a Saturday shift on crack, but manageable. But breakfast was pure hell.

I look back at that morning as the day I entered adulthood. I don't think I really understood man's bottomless capacity for entitlement and general depravity until I saw it etched on the angry faces of a thousand middle-aged women demanding a chicken biscuit in a timely fashion on their way to buy Nintendo games at 25% off.

Since that morning, I've found myself in genuinely life-threatening situations a couple of times. I've watched somebody I love die. I've had guns pointed at my face. Strangely, none of these experiences haunt my dreams.

But the hordes of people demanding breakfast on Black Friday still do, and I have a feeling that they always will.

The following summer, I got a job selling swimming pool supplies, and I never looked back.

Been pretty busy on the home front. Last weekend four very good friends surprised me by showing up (three of them from the other coast) to help me celebrate my constitutional eligibility for the presidency. Next week I am squeezing into the window between Thanksgiving and Christmas travel (which I find hateful, not to mention expensive) to go meet my brand-new nephew in Georgia. Pressures of work and career are mounting in ways that I cannot really get into, but suffice it to say I spent yesterday in the lab to make all these other diversions possible (we still had dinner with friends yesterday evening, so it was not a total loss.)

So I dunno. Consider this an open thread. Or don't. Hope you are well. Talk at you later.


seattle pop quiz

Apropos of nothing: match the name of the business to the type of business that it is (each answer will be used only once):

1. Dick's                                   A. sports bar
2. Auto Battery                        B. hardware store
3. Diesel                                   C. coffee shop
4. Fuel                                      D. gay bar
5. Tool Town                           E. hamburger joint

First person to submit the correct answer in the comments section (without using Google to cheat--honor system) wins a pint of Manny's on me*.

*Must be in Seattle to collect. 


the authority, the boys, and the future of the superhero genre (part 1)

[NB: Once I really got to working on this, I realized it was just too long for one post.]

In the last decade or so, Hollywood has gone through two Spider-Mans, three Hulks, and a whole lot of X-Men. Christopher Nolan just finished a trilogy of Batman movies that re-invented him as a "darker, grittier" character, a couple of decades after Tim Burton re-invented Batman as a "darker, grittier" character, just three years after Frank Miller re-invented Batman as a "darker, grittier" character in The Dark Knight Returns (which, as noted in this space recently, has been recently re-made as a surprisingly good direct to video animated feature.) I didn't watch Green Lantern because I don't care to have green CGI pixels projectile vomited at me for two hours. (I'm told it was actually slightly worse than that.)

Marvel is poised to make approximately 73 Avengers and Avenger-tie-in movies in the next week alone.

The current cycle of comic book movies is certain to play out, eventually. And joking aside, there have been some good ones: The Dark Knight was a seriously good film. X-Men: First Class, Iron Man, and The Avengers were all a lot of fun. But for every one of those, there's a musical number from Spider-Man 3.

And really, we ought not call these "comic book movies" because comic books are not just about superheros anymore. (Non-superhero comics have a similarly spotty track record of translation to other media: The Walking Dead is pretty amazing, and Sin City is a great guilty pleasure, but Keanu Reeves as freaking John Constantine..?) Anyway, the appeal of superheros to movie studios is obvious: well-known characters with a large, built in audience is about as safe a box office bet as a studio can make these days.

But I cannot help but wonder if there is an untapped market for--if I may clumsily coin a phrase--indy superhero movies. The main barrier to making decent superhero movies for the longest time was special effects. Digital technology has cursed us with the ability to literally make anything we can imagine happen on film, if you just have a big enough budget (which is why so many movies are so big and stupid now.) But the upside of this is that special effects are now really accessible to independent filmmakers; off the top of my head, Iron Sky was made for about $10 million and District 9 for about $30 million. That's not "cheap", exactly, but it's chump change compared to the $220 million it took to make The Avengers.

In the next installment, I'll talk about a couple of comics that have done much more interesting things with the superhero genre (even more interesting than Watchmen!) and how they could maybe serve to rejuvenate the genre at the movies.

"a surveillance state run amok"

I don't have anything remotely unique or interesting to add to the discussion of l'affaire Broadwell, but I have to agree that Glenn Greenwald has a good point here:

So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime - at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment" more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people - and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.
Anyone who has been paying attention for the last 11 years knows that the capacity that exists for monitoring electronic communications is essentially limitless. But what we have here is a high-profile, concrete example of how readily it is used on the thinnest of pretexts.

That this led to some salacious news and/or (serendipitously, it would appear) uncovered a possible breach of national security ought not distract us from this fact.


future of the left

 Despite the title, this is not a post about politics.

 FotL is a band from Cardiff, Wales, that I saw at Neumo's last night. They kicked some serious ass, and they weren't even headlining. I didn't stay for the last band because I didn't want to sully the experience.

Also, it was the first time I'd seen someone trash the stage at the end of their set since (I think) I was in high school.


dusting off the black things in my wardrobe...

...otherwise known as "my wardrobe".

My buddy's Depeche Mode cover band has a gig tonight, and I'm really looking forward to it. Between me and it is a crazy busy day of actual work, so in the meantime...


3 suggestions for the gop

This is more of a jot list than a well thought-out proposal. Here are three (serious) ideas for how the Republicans--especially those in the House--could actually govern better and regain some political credibility for their brand. From most to least plausible:

1) Work with the president on immigration reform. Seriously, this is a no-brainer. Our system provides no legal means of migration for unskilled workers, a byzantine, slow, and expensive process for permanent residency even in the "easy" categories (trust me on this one), and cruelly punishes children for their parents' choices. Specifics could be tough to hammer out, but a robust guest worker program and something resembling the DREAM Act (though I am not a fan of the college/military requirement) would be a damn good start.

And there is that elusive Hispanic vote. Putting a Cuban guy at the top of the ticket isn't going to solve that for you.

2) Work with the president on entitlement reform. Again, the specifics could be tough, but we already have a perfectly tenable starting point: the Bowles Simpson commission's recommendations. We don't have to scrap Social Security and start over: raise the retirement age, raise the cap on income subject to SS taxes (this hasn't happened in a long time, making it the most regressive federal tax), and means-test benefits. That is the very definition of a conservative (in the original sense of the word) reform.

3) Repeal DOMA. Hear me out on this one. The only thing left for those of you opposed to marriage equality is to fight a war of attrition for as long as you can. The rest of us--not to put too fine a point on it--will outlive you.

I often hear from my friends on the right that they aren't opposed to gay people per se so much as having a change forced upon them by the courts. Well, here's the thing: there are now states that have approved equality through your allegedly preferred channels. (And there are others that while regardless of how they got there, have it.) There will be more. And eventually someone is going to sue for federal recognition of their marriage and/or full faith and credit recognition among the states. This will happen. It will go to the Supreme Court. And eventually, they will win.

If, however, DOMA is repealed, then you pave the way for federal recognition via a legislative process. You leave open the possibility that states may decide to recognize same-sex marriages from other states without having to license them themselves. Most importantly, you head off the contentious Supreme Court decision that you (rightly) worry will leave the country divided and a substantial minority feeling completely disenfranchised.


"What bothers me is that I don't hear Republicans asking themselves, 'what do we need to change about what we believe?' but rather, 'what's our strategy to do a better job of hiding what it is we really believe?'"

--Dr. Mrs. Dr. B


It's just one data point, but very, very liberal King County is probably going to top 85% voter turnout by the time all of our ballots are counted.


why obama won

I don't want to spill too much ink on this, but I do want to make essentially one point: postmortems on the right today are circling the idea that the demographics of the country have changed, and the GOP has failed to respond adequately to that. Both of these things are true, but I think they point to a more fundamental truth.

Obama won this election because he was running to be president of the country that actually exists. Romney lost because he was running to be president of a country that does not.

Obama was running to be president of a country that is getting browner, yes. But it's also a country that is becoming more secular and less moralistic. It's a country that has passed a tipping point on marriage equality (an issue on which the president himself has had to be dragged along.) It's a country that is about see the beginning of the end of prohibition here in Washington and down in Colorado.

It's a country that is tired of war, and has no appetite for a new one. It's a country that is catching onto the fact that supply-side economics is a fantasy. It's a country that has realized that there is no good reason for people to go without healthcare in the wealthiest civilization in human history.

I do not think one man or one party has all the solutions. But I know that simply saying "no" is not a solution at all.

The president has his work cut out for him. He always has. And I sincerely hope the Republicans left standing can find a way to bring their party into the 21st century.

the egghead election

It turns out there was a consistent skew to the polls in battleground states after all: they consistently underestimated Obama's share of the vote.

Above are the results (some of which could still change a bit, but probably not much) plotted against the corresponding RCP averages from the fifteen most contested (and most polled) states. The dotted line is the line of identity (x = y). Data points above the dotted line are where Obama or Romney outperformed their poll numbers, and below where they underperformed.

It should be said that the general tendency is going to be towards underestimating either candidate's share of the votes, because the polls include undecideds and vote tallies, obviously, do not. Still, in only one case was Mr. Obama's share of the vote overestimated, and that was in AZ, where perhaps not coincidentally only two polls figured into the RCP average (there were 7 for OH, by contrast).

There's a fair amount that could be said about this, but for the moment I think I'll just let the numbers speak for themselves. 




Dylan Byers endorses the notion that Nate Silver's rep will "take a severe hit" if Romney wins. But if Silver is exactly right Byers, who implied that Silver was overrated, will take no hit whatsoever. Joe Scarborough will still have his show. And Peggy Noonan will still be able to assert the significance of her feelings. And I will go into class tomorrow and try to explain to 19-year-old kids why this sort of journalism can give you a plum place in the world of media but can't get you out of an undergraduate writing seminar.


Well it's about 10:30 here on the left coast and I'm off to bed in a minute. I haven't got a whole lot left to say about tommorrow except that I hope we have a clear outcome by about this time, if not earlier. And regardless of what happens on the national level, I hope we make some history here in the Evergreen State.

Back to comic books and obscure European metal bands on Thursday.



"a tax on bullshit"

The inimitable Alex Tabarrok:

Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.
A good friend of mine in grad school was (and still is) an experimental economist. I always knew to quit arguing with him when he said "bet me."


the cat is both alive and dead until tuesday*

Nate Silver really is pretty close to the middle of the road. If you want to see the edges, look here and here.

*If we're lucky.