Thursday, December 29, 2011

Now THAT's a touchdown.

Of course you've seen this by now, but another 100 times won't hurt...

Like a Boss

From VeryDemotivational, but be careful in visiting as that is a frequently non-family-safe, NSFW site. (Yes, I know that I just made some of my Gentle Readers triple-click...)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I give Rusty a lesson in physics and biomechanics

Rusty was impressed when I managed to walk down the stairs holding his lidless cup of coffee, and so when we got into the car I started to explain to him how it was done. I took the cup of coffee back and held it in my right hand as I drove with my left, and commenced to larn ’im thusly:

“See, you use your hand as a shock absorber. If you set the cup in the cupholder, or you hold it in your hand but put your hand on your lap, then every bump splashes the coffee out because the bumps go straight to the coffee. But if you’re holding your hand up in the air and we go over bumps, like this, you’re holding your hand loosely, and thanks to inertia the cup tries to stay in the same place, so it doesn’t…it doesn’t…a-CHOO!!!

Then I had to try to figure out how to get Rusty’s coffee cleaned off of my dashboard.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Speaking of dreams...

...I ran across an anecdote the other day I hadn't heard before. It seems a young woman of advancing, though not yet unduly advanced, age started up the following conversation with her long-term boyfriend one evening...

"Dear," she begins, "I had the strangest dream last night."

"Really?" her beau responds. "What happened that was so strange?"

"Well, for some reason, you gave me a present -- the most enormous diamond ring. It was just so lovely." She looks up at him demurely. "What do you think that meant?"

He smiles indulgently and answers, "Wait until tomorrow, and then you'll know."

The next day, she is somewhat bemused when he comes up to her with a carefully-wrapped present. "What's this?"

"Go ahead, open it."

So she opens it -- and it's a book, entitled The Meaning of Dreams...

Well, that was more fun than most dreams of that genre

I rather frequently have those dreams where you're out in public and suddenly realize you forgot to put on your pants. And I had one last night...but it turned out to be more fun than usual. I was apparently helping out with P.E. at Kai's school, and the principal came in and suddenly started glaring at me and lecturing me, and I realized that somehow my pants had disappeared even though I had been wearing them just a few moments earlier. But this time I was apparently not quite as much asleep as usual, and so the conversation went about as follows:

[The PERIL looks down and his pants are missing.]

PRINCIPAL: I suppose you understand why we have a problem here.

PERIL [enlightenment dawning]: Do you realize what this means?

[The PRINCIPAL looks confused and can find no answer.]

PERIL [triumphantly]: It means that this is a dream. It means that you are in my dream. And that means that you have to do whatever I say.

PRINCIPAL [light dawning on his face]: I guess that's true...

So I told him (I'm not sure why) to get on all fours and run around the gym like a dog while singing, "Oh, Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight..." And he did, and this made me very happy. And then I must have fallen more deeply into sleep because I don't remember what happened after that.

I am, one perceives, a man of simple pleasures.

Monday, December 26, 2011

My own take on something lots of people have had fun with

Stephen Bloom has finally achieved nationwide recognition. Alas, he has done so by writing one of the year's truly pathetic (on several different levels), unintentionally self-revealing articles for The Atlantic. A good parody has been done by Iowahawk, who focuses primarily on the supercilious tone by which Bloom makes himself look far worse than those whom he wishes to ridicule; and a brisk fisking has been turned in by Lileks, whose focus is on the genuinely dreadful quality of the writing. (Note to The Atlantic: so your editors, what, went on strike that week or something?)

But several things especially leapt out at me (by the way, in what follows, the non-Baptist term "pig shit" is used purely as an allusion to Bloom's own apparent fixation on the stuff -- I hope any profanity-averse persons, my parents for example, will forgive my usage in this context):

1. I'd bet a gold eagle against a plugged nickel that Bloom is only in Iowa because no high-status university wants him. By his own testimony he came to Iowa City from San Francisco and disliked it at sight. Every line of his article drips contempt for the Neanderthal Jesus-lovers who, you know, pay his salary through taxation (which is the only evidence the article provides for the proposition that they really are as stupid as he thinks). Yet he has stayed there in Iowa City for twenty years. You don't think that if Hah-vahd or Berkeley or even the Amherst Preparatory School for Girls had offered him a job amongst the Right Sort Of Folks, he'd've had his name signed before they got to the end of their sentence? This guy is in Iowa City because, for him, the University of Iowa is the ceiling. He's just not good enough to get out.

And boy, is he bitter about not getting out.

A genuinely intelligent person, of course, who has been stuck in the same place for twenty years, would pretend to like it even if he hated it, just so that people wouldn't know that none of the places he would like to live, are interested in having him live there. But then a genuinely intelligent person might do a great many things -- none of which would include "writing this particular article for The Atlantic."

2. Bloom's piece is actually pretty brutally inaccurate in every respect that matters, because he does not understand the people whom he attempts to describe. And the reason is simple -- he has neither humility nor charity. He gets facts and figures right (I presume -- I didn't bother to check his statistics for crime rates in Mississippi River towns, for example). But anybody with access to Google could look those up for himself. If his article is to have any value at all, it has to be in explaining how ordinary Iowans think about life, what motivates them, why they do what they do and live as they live. For his article to have value, he would have to be able to take us inside the Iowans' minds with at least some degree of empathy and insight.

Um...nope. Insofar as we get any insight, it is only into the peculiarly cramped and provincial mind of Bloom himself, which is of little conceivable interest to the world at large. The Iowans of his article are cartoon cardboard cutouts, with about as much reality as the talking dog on "Family Guy". Too bad Bloom's Labrador didn't write the article; the dog probably understands Bloom's neighbors better than Bloom does.

Look, to a person who is genuinely curious about people (as anything other than as a sop to one's own ego), and who genuinely likes people, the folks who are different from you are the people most worth getting to know -- and getting to know on their own terms. Public figures (including internet bloggers) are not real people to most of us (for example, if I knew Bloom in person, I almost certainly would find some things to like, though none of them are on display in his disastrous article; and then I would probably set those things off against his knee-jerk bigotry and standard-issue academic narrow-mindedness and declare him on the whole to be a decent guy). But your neighbors and your co-workers...why, those people you can get to know, if people interest you. I've made friends in New Jersey (which I hated as cordially as Bloom hates Iowa); I have friends who are Kazakh Muslims in Temirtau; I sent my then-wife to attend a friend's two-week-long wedding in Tunisia because I couldn't go myself; I spent a year attending a Hispanic church here in Houston; the church I'm in now is Chinese, as are my wife and stepson and in-laws; I've worked for months at a time in London -- and everywhere I've gone the people have been different from me, and in very many places the people I've been around have had moral habits I think are wrong, and political or religious opinions I think are not just wrong but destructive. But I still liked the people, and still found a great many things about them to admire. I have a low opinion of the beliefs of the political Left -- not perhaps such a low opinion as Bloom's opinion of Christian savages such as his benighted fundy students, but pretty low all the same. Yet one of the best friends I've ever had is also one of the most politically liberal people I know. So what? Her good qualities are legion, and my life is much richer for having known her (and since she's in solidly Republican Texas, her voting habits can't do any real harm).

But it's clear that Bloom both detests, and is utterly without understanding of, the people at whom he takes such pleasure in sneering. He seems completely oblivious to the fact that his sneering makes himself look much worse than his targets.

3. The next thing that struck me, also struck Lileks's commenter Lars Walker, on whose comment I can't possibly improve:
Things he didn't mention, which I'm pretty sure have happened to him during his time in the hellish midwest: The time he accidentally left his car unlocked, and came back to find that nobody had stolen anything at all from it. The time he left his credit card in a restaurant, and came back to find that some kind soul had left it with the cashier for him. The time he broke down on the highway, and a friendly stranger gave him a lift to a service station (the stranger very likely told him about Jesus at the same time--THE HORROR!) The time his wife got sick and the neighbors brought food and offered to watch the kids.

The infamy goes on and on.

4. He has a cowardly trick of not standing up for his own opinions by hiding behind the phrase "some say" when for some he reason he doesn't dare to just say, "in my opinion." Here, for example...does anyone doubt what opinion Bloom personally has of Rep. Steve King?
Insular Iowa is also home to the most conservative, and, some say, wackiest congressman in America, Republican Rep. Steve King, who represents the vast western third of the state. Some of King's doozies: calling Senator Joe McCarthy a "hero for America"; comparing illegal immigrants to stray cats that wind up on people's porches; and praying that Supreme Court "Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsberg fall madly in love with each other and elope to Cuba." Keith Olbermann named King not only the worst congressman in the U.S., but the Worst Person in the World six times.
Personally, I hadn't heard the Stevens/Ginsburg line, which is hilarious; so at least I got something useful out of this article. And just how far to the left do you have to be to consider Keith Olbermann a citable authority, rather than merely certifiable? Bloom may be the only loyal viewer Olby still has.

"Some" also "say" this: "Whether a schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state like Iowa should host the first grassroots referendum to determine who will be the next president isn't at issue." (laughing) Apparently Bloom thinks that his readers aren't bright enough to realize that Bloom, personally, considers Iowa to be culturally challenged to about the same degree that Somalian orphans are Armani-challenged.

4. A lot of his pontification unwittingly betrays ignorance. "Rural America has always been homogenous, as white as the milk the millions of Holstein cows here produce." Um...rural Minnesota, certainly. Rural Iowa and Indiana, arguably. Rural Texas? Rural Oklahoma? Rural Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia? Um...never mind. "Elevators in rural America raise and lower grain, not people." I'm pretty sure Bloom would consider me to have grown up in "rural America," and my high-school girlfriend had an elevator in her house -- which elevator was used for people, not groceries. (But not often, because boy, did that thing ever make your electricity bill spike.) Furthermore, a "grain elevator" in the Midwest isn't even the thing that raises and lowers grain -- that's a bucket elevator, which is one of the pieces of equipment that can be found within a grain elevator, which is a great big tower where you store grain. For a man who considers himself qualified to Explain The Primitive Iowan Aborigines to the Enlightened Elite to which he fondly fancies he belongs, he is singularly ignorant of his subject matter. Though, to be fair, since Bloom later says, "In the large towns (population more than 2,500), towering grain elevators are what you first see from a distance," I suppose that it's possible that he knew that what he was writing was nonsense, but he just kept it in because it was the closest he could come to a funny one-liner. But in that case, some editor (are you listening, Atlantic?) should have pointed out gently that if a man can't do Funny One-Liners better than that, then he should opt for being dully but precisely well-informed.

And other lines make you wonder whether the man is even bothering to read his own writing. "Many towns are so insular that farmers from another county are strangers." Great googly gobsmackers, what percentage of The Atlantic's readers know even ten percent of the people who live within a single square-mile radius of their houses??? Where in the name of heaven is Bloom's "insularity" bar set? The Neanderthals of Iowa are to be criticized for "insularity" because most of them draw their circles of acquaintance with no more than a twenty-mile radius?? How many of the people living in Iowa City do you think Bloom himself knows?

5. The pompous ass despises Christianity and Christians, and has as little tolerance for them as he thinks he can get away with -- and yet is fatuously certain that it is the Christians who are intolerant. I love this paragraph:
After years and years of in-your-face religion, I decided to give what has become an annual lecture, in which I urge my students not to bid strangers "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter," "Have you gotten all your Christmas shopping done?" or "Are you going to the Easter egg hunt?" Such well-wishes are not appropriate for everyone, I tell my charges gently. A cheery "Happy holidays!" will suffice. Small potatoes, I know, but did everyone have to proclaim their Christianity so loud and clear?
(sighs with pleasure) Ah, so much to enjoy in this paragraph. Let us deal, first of all, with the basic proposition of Bloom's self-righteous little lecture, which is that his students are behaving inappropriately by wishing strangers "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Easter." Well, let's see...let us assume that I am in Iowa, and that a stranger (like, from a whole different county!) has just held the door open for me as I left the corner store with an armful of groceries. What should I say (after "Thank you!") that will be most likely to brighten the stranger's day? There are four scenarios possibly in play here:

a. The stranger is a Christian, and one who believes that in-your-face anti-religiosity -- you know, things like journalism professors who use their journalism class platform to call undergraduate students rude for (horrors!) mentioning religion in public -- is out to drive Christianity out of the Christmas season. We're talking the kind of person who not only knows the phrase "secular humanism," but uses it frequently. Such a person will be distressed to hear someone say, "Happy Holidays," a statement that in Iowa is only used by persons who consider reference to religion among strangers une gaucherie. You will brighten this person's day by saying, "Merry Christmas;" but to say, "Happy Holidays" is worse than saying nothing at all. Whether you consider that this makes them a godly person who has his religious priorities straight (the majority view in Iowa, I imagine) or a narrow-minded fundamentalist proto-Nazi (Bloom's apparent opinion) is beside the point: all you're trying to do is brighten a stranger's day. So in this case, you would definitely -- if you are a polite person whose concern is the stranger's feelings rather than your own religiopolitical agenda -- want to wish the stranger "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays."

b. The stranger is a Christian who doesn't feel very strongly about the difference between "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" because he knows that what is important is that you wish to express friendship and good cheer. Being Christian, he will enjoy being told "Merry Christmas" more than "Happy Holidays;" but the stakes are lower. Still, here the better choice is, "Merry Christmas."

c. The stranger is not a Christian, but he is a friendly and charitable person who thinks the best of others, and who knows that he is in Iowa where most people are celebrating Christmas and celebrating it for primarily religious (but not therefore malicious) reasons. Therefore if you wish him "Merry Christmas" he will take it in the spirit in which it was intended -- and almost certainly wish you "Merry Christmas" right back. (I note that pretty much every Jewish or Indian friend I've ever had has cheerfully wished me a "Merry Christmas" whenever we got to this time of year.) With such a person, either "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" will do perfectly well, since, being well-bred and open-minded, he will respond to the friendly tone of your voice and the obvious good intent of the wishes rather than to some purely imagined "Confess, you infidel!" subtext. And therefore "Merry Christmas" is perfectly appropriate for this stranger as well.

d. The stranger not only is not a Christian, but he comes from that unpleasant American subculture that, finding any serious belief in dogmatic religion to be at the very least distasteful, wishes to demand that the rest of humanity cater to its private psychological peccadillos by refraining from mentioning religion in its presence. (Note that in Bloom's mind, a professor making a joke in class about how the back pews are notoriously the most popular in church, represents "in-your-face religion," whereas he describes his own hijacking a lecture nominally about journalism in order to deliver a lecture on his students' supposed religious insensitivity with the words, "I tell [them] gently." The lack of self-awareness is just delightful.) Now this sort of person is much more interested in his own social agenda than he is in you, the stranger who probably smells like pig shit, and therefore he is likely to react not to your intent or to the friendliness in your voice, but to the purely imaginary religious persecution he is suffering by being subjected to your "in-your-face" religion.

In this last case, since you really are just trying to be friendly and you (being yourself well-bred, courteous, and generous in spirit) are interested in improving his day rather than pushing an evangelistic agenda, then you would want to say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" -- if, that is, you knew in advance that he was one of the very small minority of persons in Iowa who walks around with an antireligious chip on his shoulder. But, ex hypothesi, this person is a stranger -- which means you do not know that he is such a person. What you instead know is that you are in Iowa -- and therefore it is overwhelmingly likely that the stranger will react more positively to "Merry Christmas" than to "Happy Holidays," and rather more likely that he would react negatively to "Happy Holidays" than that he would be offended by a cheerful and well-intentioned "Merry Christmas." Which means your default choice, if you have a lick of sense and any shred of courtesy, is "Merry Christmas."

In short, if you're in Iowa, the polite thing to do when you meet a stranger about whom you know nothing, is to say, "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays." Indeed, that's actually what you should say even if you personally happen to be Jewish or an atheist. In fact, if Bloom's interest in such an exchange is truly the other person's feelings, rather than his own, then he should be saying "Merry Christmas," not "Happy Holidays." It is Bloom, not (as he so patronizingly calls them) his "charges," who is behaving rudely and inappropriately when he greets strange Iowans (granted, to him this is a redundancy) with a cheery "Happy Holidays." But then, for Bloom to be able to recognize this, he would have to be an intelligent and generous individual with an open mind and an adult-sized helping of genuine courtesy. So I don't think we should be holding our collective breath.

Of course, if you happen to meet Bloom himself, then you should certainly say, "Happy Holidays" (assuming that you know he has this particular psychological hang-up, and that your intent is to spread the good cheer of the season rather than to amuse yourself by playing the admittedly entertaining game of annoy-the-pompous-ass). But that is simply an application of a standard principle: always deal with the most precise generalization you have (which has, as its corollary, "If the person who is talking to you doesn't know you personally, and he assumes something about you on the basis of a generally valid generalization to which you happen to be an exception, cut the guy some slack, eh?"). If all you know is that the person across the way from you is a John-Deere-hatted white dude in deepest, darkest, pig-shittiest Iowa, then you say "Merry Christmas." If it's a pleasant-faced middle-aged lady in jeans and a t-shirt coming out of the Wal-Mart in Iowa City, you say "Merry Christmas." If it's a not-very-virile-looking middle-aged guy who just got out of his Prius in the faculty parking lot and he's wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt, then maybe you want to say "Happy Holidays." And if it's a guy clutching a copy of The Atlantic and wearing a nametag that says, "Stephen Bloom"...well, in that case I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to resist saying, "Merry Christmas, though of course it won't be merry for damned-to-hell infidels like you," just to see the look on his face. And then of course I'd have to apologize to him, and also go to confession to discuss my lack of charity.

One last point about this annual lecture of his: the vast majority of those students have either gone into debt, or worked their own butts off, or used up some of their parents' hard-earned money in order to learn something at college. And when they were choosing their classes, the class they signed up for purported to be about journalism. When Bloom takes it upon himself to "gently" deliver his self-righteous little diatribe, does he refund the students for the money that they have, as it turns out, been induced under false pretences to spend? These are not elementary or even high school students, to whom Bloom would stand in loco parentis; they are not his "charges" in the sense that he seems to believe they are. They are adults who are paying for a service, namely to be taught the principles of journalism. Insofar as any of his students may have resented having to sit through a moral lecture about holiday greeting manners when they were supposed to be learning about journalism, their resentment would have been entirely justified -- and Bloom would have owed them a sincere apology -- even (to wield a contrafactual) had the moral advice had been sound and well-thought out, rather than thoughtlessly asinine. "Score one for sticking it to the ethnic interloper"? No, score one for standing up to the shallow-minded, pompous bigot who chose not to give the paying customers their money's worth, and expected them to be grateful for his condescension.

Ah, well, we needn't worry too much about Bloom's bad behavior. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, and the universe has already seen to it that Bloom is receiving the due penalty for his sins of intellect and motive -- he has, for twenty years now, been condemned to Hell. Which is to say, Iowa.

UPDATE: As Anonymous pointed out in a comment, Bloom, despite being a "professor," has only a B.A. I have therefore removed the "Dr." from in front of his name throughout the post. Also I think the dog was a Labrador and not a golden retriever; so I fixed that too.

Several of Bloom's colleagues at the University of Iowa have published a co-signed opinion piece that makes clear their disdain for the "journalism" he practices, including this rather deadly paragraph:
...[W]e have a profound and professional disagreement with Bloom concerning the practice of “good journalism.” We do not believe, as he does, that good journalism entails scathing attacks on powerless people, nor do we endorse any work riddled with inaccuracies and factual errors and based on sweeping generalizations and superficial stereotypes.

And Ken Fuson pretends to take Bloom's piece as a hilarious parody that was never meant to be taken seriously here. It's worth reading the whole thing, but I especially liked his list of ten things Fuson himself (a native Iowan) learned from Bloom's piece, beginning with:
1. All Iowa men wear hats (Note to self: Get a hat).
I also liked this one:
7. When driving “ostentatious” Ford F-150 pickups to the nearest tractor pull or demolition derby on date night, Iowans will often allow other motorists to merge ahead of them.

No, I'm not going to the dentist! I'm scared of dentists! Give me my Nerf gun!

Looks like he's having the time of his life. (smiling) You, young man, are a true redneck in spirit...and this blog has no higher compliment to offer.

How much does it cost?

The title of the Christmas morning sermon at Houston Chinese Church this year was, "How Much Does It Cost?", the point being to challenge us as to whether we were really making the self-sacrifices that the true spirit of Christmas requires. So as the sermon started, the audiovisual staff had prepared a slide, which they popped up onto the projection screen above the pastor's head, to give us the title of the "Christmas Message." Alas, it is Mandarin, not English, that is the primary language of the audiovisual staff, and they were betrayed by their spellchecker, which cheerfully allowed them to post the following:

Christmas Massage:

How Much Does It Cost?

I'm like, dudes, if it's more than a hundred bucks then you got taken...

Pageant adventures

The Christmas pageant is over and done with; so I can stop singing the same five songs all the way to work and back every morning and go back to Pimsleur's "Mandarin III." And overall it went very well -- most importantly, eighteen people were moved enough to decide to make some fundamental changes in their lives, which is after all what matters.

The ensemble

But not all went perfectly smoothly; so here, for your amusement, are a few entirely true tales from the pageant. And at the end there are some pictures of a not-very-angelic-looking angel and a not-very-Jewish-looking Joseph. This was a pageant that required more "willing suspension of disbelief" than most...

(And listen, I'm blogging the funny stuff, which mostly means things that went wrong, but this was actually a very impressive production in which an enormous number of complex and difficult things were made to look easy despite the fact that the entire cast was composed of amateurs, and only a very few things went wrong. The Saturday night performance in particular was all but flawless. If you think I'm giving a biased opinion, ask my friends Yuin or Sophia to give you their honest, Kenny-isn't-listening opinion of the performance they saw, which was actually the less successful Friday night version. Iris Li and her production team are downright remarkable, and it was a privilege to get to watch from the inside as they pulled all of those moving parts together. If you missed it...well, just don't miss it next year, is all I'm sayin'.)

1. I don't think my mother is perfectly au courant with theatrical traditions. I base this on the fact that, just before we went on stage, she called to wish me, "Break a neck."

2. At the grand finale, the stage crew had a cool smoke-and-light effect planned in which smoke was to billow out onto the stage and then multicolored laser lights would flash through the smoke and ultimately resolve into the words, "Merry Christmas." But every time we tried this in dress rehearsal, the sopranos and altos (who were on the front row of the choir) complained about the smoke getting in their eyes and throats. So the crew adjusted the smoke equipment to send the smoke more out onto the middle of the stage, further from the choir.

Unfortunately, even though you try and you try to make the dress rehearsal be exactly like the performance, it's just hard to think of everything. It didn't occur to anybody that in all our dress rehearsals, there was never an audience. The night of the first performance, you had seven or eight hundred people sitting in the pews -- all giving off 98.6 degrees of body heat. This meant that -- unlike in any of the dress rehearsals -- the air conditioning was running at full power.

So the smoke machines fired, the smoke rose up above the stage...hit the air-conditioning jet stream, and sailed straight out into the middle of the congregation. People on the first few rows were ducking and coughing and blinking and rubbing their eyes; one woman snatched up her baby and fled for the exit...and meanwhile we in the choir were treated to a lovely multi-colored display of "Merry Christmas" perfectly visible -- to us, and us alone -- on the carpet of the utterly smokeless stage, as a mystified (in more senses than one) congregation sat there thinking, "What was the point of blowing smoke into our faces????"

[chuckling] Every single dress rehearsal we had, the ladies on the front row of the choir were literally waving their hands in front of their faces, telling the smoke, "Go away, go away!" And then during the actual performance, we in the choir all stood there helplessly looking at the smoke rushing away from the stage, all of us saying desperately, "Come back! Come back!"

(On Saturday night the stage crew made sure the A/C was turned off when it was time for the smoke, and the effect worked splendidly.)

3. My wife complained that there was something wrong with my microphone when I first started to sing the angel solo. I had to confess that there was nothing wrong with the mike, actually. See, there was about a five-minute gap where I had to be in the wings and absolutely quiet, neither saying nor singing anything. And then the next time I opened my mouth, I had to hit the opening notes of the solo. So my cue came, and I made my slow and impressively stately and angelic entrance, and hit the first note -- and discovered that I had some dust or something caught in my throat. Now, if you are holding a microphone, it is easy to point the mike away from you, clear your throat during the first rest, and then swing the mike back to your mouth and go. But since I was in character and was acting as well as singing, they had a little radio mike taped to my cheek, where it was impossible to swing it temporarily away from my face for a spot of discreet phlegm-hacking. So I sang the first three phrases through half a throat, as it were, then realized, "This is never going to work," resignedly but vigorously cleared my throat into the mike, and then sang the rest of the song.

I told the kids later that the best acting I've ever done was the acting where I kept smiling beatifically and waving my arms around in angelically slow-motion gestures of blessing as though I hadn't noticed that there was anything wrong with my voice -- so that the audience blamed the poor innocent sound guy instead of yours truly. "Tomorrow, they need to make sure they have your mike set properly before you start to sing!" [evil cackle of triumph] I suppose I sort of owe the sound guy an apology.

(On Saturday night, having learned from experience, I had a bottle of water stashed in the wings, and four measures before my entrance cue I took a nice long precautionary swig. So that went okay.)

4. Thank heavens for full-length angel costumes, nice wide tight belts, and poor lighting -- as I was changing into my angel costume in the wings on Saturday evening, the button popped off of my pants. So I wore my belt very tightly cinched up the rest of the performance and don't suppose anybody noticed.

5. On Friday night I went to IHOP with my kids, who had driven in from Katy to see the pageant, and probably stayed up too late. Then Christmas Eve morning dawned cold and rainy, and by noon I realized I was in a bit of trouble, as I had a sore throat and rapidly-descending-to-raspy-bass voice -- on a day where I was supposed to hit a big-finish high-B-flat in front of several hundred people. So I started with the countermeasures:

  • I spent the afternoon trying to remember not to talk to anybody.

  • I told our long-suffering choir director that I only had a limited number of notes in my voice for the evening and therefore was afraid to waste any of them warming up with the rest of the choir (and I am very grateful that he trusted me enough to agree).

  • Most of all, I spent the last hour before the pageant guzzling hot tea with honey.
And while my voice was almost completely gone by the end of the evening (so that during my post-pageant conversations I rasped rather than talked), it didn't collapse until after the last "Amen" had been sung in the pageant. So that was a success...except for one thing. That was a LOT of tea that I drank. So by the time the pageant ended...well, lets just say that during Pastor Fred's closing remarks, I was up there on the stage muttering to myself, "Talk faster, Fred, for the love of all that's holy talk faster!!"

6. I was responsible for collecting the men's ties from the eight guys in the choir once the Christmas morning service was over. So I tried to keep a mental list of who had given me ties, and I got to the point where I had seven ties...but I couldn't figure out who it was that I hadn't gotten a tie from yet. I went over and over it several times in my head, running through the list of names, and finally realized that the eighth tie...was still hanging around my own neck.

7. Finally, a little vignette starring our genuinely remarkable director/writer/producer Iris Li. The amount of work that is required to pull off something this complex, with so many interlocking moving parts, is truly mind-boggling, and it requires a director with a superhuman capacity for detail. As it happens, I provided the voice-over for the bits of narration that were in English; and we recorded them in two sessions. One entire thirty-minute session was devoted to a chunk of narration maybe twenty seconds long. I would do a take, and Iris was say, "That's try it with your voice pitched higher." So I'd do another take in a sort of narrative tenor, after which she would say, "Hmmm...try it with your voice pitched really low." Then I'd do another take, in the closest thing to narrative bass that my voice would allow. "Okay, that was good...can you do it with more intensity, but less volume?" Another take. "Yes, yes, I like that. But this is going to be played along with the first few measures of 'Do Not Be Afraid' you remember that piece well enough to match the speed of your narration to the tempo of the music?" This went on, no kidding, for thirty minutes -- which I didn't mind at all; it was fascinating watching her mind work, because I knew that in her head she was hearing music I couldn't hear, and seeing lighting effects I couldn't see, and trying to get out of me exactly the right combination of speed and volume and timbre to fall into place for the total effect she was after. Really a very interesting thing to watch.

Finally, we did four takes in a row while she just kept the tape moving and kept waving her hand in a circle to say, "Again..." And then she stopped the recorder, sat stone-still in thoughtful silence for a couple of seconds, and finally, with a certain reluctance, said, "Well, I guess that's perfect enough."

And that phrase, right there, seems to me to capture the essence of Iris Li (as director, I mean, not necessarily as private citizen): "That's perfect enough." (laughing) You could just hear in the tone of her voice that she was thinking, "I'd really like to get this a little more perfect but..."

Anyway, there you have the fun parts of the Houston Chinese Church Christmas pageant, 2011. I'm sure that Iris will eventually put a suitably edited video version up on her website; when she does, I'll give you a link. (Here's hoping she uses the Saturday night version...)

(The following pictures courtesty of Gab Hou.)

At this point, my pants still have a button. Also, this is during "Silent Night," and I regretfully perceive that I failed to follow Iris's instruction to "smile gently."

There's a problem, you say? Hm, must be the mike. Yo, sound guy, what up?

Reassuring Joseph that the Big Guy is on his side

Well, he seems to be reassured enough

"Don't be afraid"

"Faster, Fred, faster!!"

The remarkable Iris Li

Thursday, December 22, 2011

And THAT's Why We Say You Should Never Do This Dept

Remember the Chinese gentlemen who slept through a videoconference on the importance of stamping out laziness at work, and got themselves suspended? Well, this unnamed Denver cop is going to have plenty of time on her hands to keep them company. Key paragraph:
The Denver police officer who left the cruiser running unattended in front of her home Monday morning is now the subject of an internal investigation. Ironically, it was stolen the same day that Denver police held a news conference to warn motorists about leaving their cars running and unattended.

HT: Insty.

Whatcha wanna bet these guys talk on their cell phones while driving?

Seriously, this is too suicidal to be admirable, even for highly-skilled mountain-bikers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Now this looks like a fun way to see India...

...the Rickshaw Challenge.

A disturbing experience

I'm all for trying to establish healthy habits in your small children, but...

Wait, I'll start at the beginning. Helen had a dentist's appointment, and Kai and I had dropped her off and then gone out for some father/son breakfast time. When we came back, there was a mom sitting in the waiting room with a small daughter -- I'd guess maybe five years old or so -- and a slightly older son.

I stepped over to the coffee machine that Dr. Rimes keeps in his office there, and the following conversation took place behind my back, but with the mom's part pitched at a level of volume that clearly was deliberately intended...well, you know, she was pretending to be talking only to her children (so that if I had turned around and complained she would have pretended that she hadn't realized I could overhear her), but she VERY clearly intended for me to hear. I found this first.

LITTLE GIRL: Look, mommy, he's getting coffee! They have coffee here!

MOMMY: Yes, I see that.

LITTLE GIRL: Can I have some coffee?

MOMMY: No, dear, you can't.


MOMMY: Because it's bad for you.

LITTLE GIRL: Why is it bad for you?

[I am amused at this point because this is such a typical child-and-parent conversation].

MOMMY: It's because it has caffeine in it, and caffeine is very very bad for you. It will make you sick. You should never drink caffeine. [Her voice, already clearly audible to me, ratchets up a few decibels so that I won't miss the next comment.] Only very stupid people ever drink caffeine. It's a poison.

[I am even more amused at the transparency of her attempt to get away with verbally slapping down a stranger while maintaining what she fondly believes to be plausible deniability. I return the favor by chuckling just audibly enough to be sure she can hear me.]

LITTLE GIRL: But why is caffeine so bad for you?

[Here MOMMY pauses briefly to think of a reason, and then comes up with a real doozie.]

MOMMY: Because it's made from horse pee.

[I stop chuckling. The boy, for the first time, shows interest in the conversation.]

LITTLE BOY: [Pronouncing the word carefully, obviously savoring it] You mean U-RINE? It's made out of horse urine?

MOMMY: Yes. That's why if you drink caffeine it will eventually kill you.

[Fortunately, at just this moment Helen comes walking into the waiting room, thus allowing me to immediately start talking to her in a loud enough voice to drown out the suddenly disturbing conversation coming from the other corner of the waiting room; and so I don't know what else they said. Thank God.]

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dave Barry explains the fundamental flaw behind the otherwise touching song "The Little Drummer Boy"

Observes Dave (to my mind unanswerably): "I'll tell you this: If I were taking care of a newborn baby, and somebody came around whacking on a drum, that person would find himself at the emergency room having his drumsticks surgically removed from his rum-pa-pa-pum, if you know what I mean."

Current Events Haiku Of The Day Dept

Kim Jong-Il has died
He was short, weird and evil
You are caught up now

Well done, Twitter user "pourmecoffee"!

A/C With An Attitude Dept

One of my contractor friends was recently suffering at a client site -- the building air conditioning was broken, and the temporary units that had been brought in to hold the fort were, frankly, not doing the job. So Dan wandered over to one of the temporary units to try to see if he could figure out why it was leaving so much air unconditioned, and discovered that what we had here, was an Attitude Problem:

Thanks for the encouragement, young 'un

[The Peril and his better half Helen -- this blog is strenuously resisting the urge to dub her "Yellow Peril" -- have gone to the mechanic's shop to pick up Helen's car, which has been spruced up to where she will be willing to drive it and safetied up to where her husband will be willing to let her. Helen is going to have to drive her car back to the apartment, since the Peril himself has to drive the car they came in. It is very late at night, which is good because there will be little traffic, but is bad because Helen has never before driven at night. She is very nervous, despite her husband's promise to take the slow way along back streets rather than making her drive on the freeway. She and eight-year-old Kai are discussing where Kai will ride on the way home. The conversation is in Chinese but too bad for authenticity; it gets blogged in English on this here redneck blog.]

HELEN: Why don't you ride with Kenny Daddy?

KAI: Oh, that's okay, Mom -- I'll ride with you. That way we can die together.

Criminal Mastermind of the Day Dept

The second crime for which he was booked probably has a lot to do with the ease with which he was detected after committing his first crime.

No hat tip; I found this one myself.

Bar Patroness of the Day Dept

This article, in which a disgruntled bar customer rams her car into the tavern to express her outrage over the fact that somebody at the bar stole her cell phone, is one of the most fun stories I've seen in a while. Key sentences:

"I didn't honestly believe that someone would try to drive through a cement building," [tavern owner Brenda Phillips] said.


"I went to see if she was OK, but I didn't dare get too close. She got out of car, screaming and yelling and swinging her cane," Phillips said. Two people who had gone to check on Jensen were hit by the cane...

But best of all:

[The outraged cane-wielding Jenson] was then brought to the Corry police station, where he said Jensen found her missing cell phone in her bra.

HT: Dave.

Runner-Up Criminal Masterminds of the Day Dept

It would be fun enough to note that these two masterminds chose to shoplift their $25 worth of batteries and candybars in the sort of neighborhood where dishonest persons can raid your truck for a $60 car stereo. But what really sets them apart is the mugshot:

UPDATE: Sorry, guys, you have been bumped from the top spot.

The Fast and the Furious Dept

There are the kinds of thieves who steal Ferraris, and then there are Jerry Depalma and (we're not making this name up) Irvin Turpitt. Key sentence: "The forklift, which can reach 25 mph, was chased Sunday morning from Oakdale to Modesto [i.e., about 15 miles]."

HT: Dave, as usual.

Seductress Of The Day Dept

She's a real knockout.

HT: Dave.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Note to self

Helen made a very important decision today. In future, oh my self, please remember the superiority of prayer to persuasion.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

If you can read Chinese...

...then you can find here an exceptionally entertaining story about the travails of a long-suffering Chinese wife whose husband wants to take her to his fancy company Christmas party. Alas, said husband's airheadedness makes it all rather needlessly difficult.

In all seriousness, I keep hearing what a wonderful writer Helen is from native Mandarin speakers who read her blog; so if you can read Mandarin, by all means follow the link. I practice my Chinese by trying to read her blog, but obviously I can't really tell you how good a writer she is. But that she has a flair for vivid and moving metaphor, I can guess from the final paragraph of this post, in which she (a) carries on about how good I am at giving her praise and compliments, and then finishes up with this paragraph:
Which, as far as I can tell, means something like this:
Oh, my sweet doofus husband, I know you can't read these words I write in Chinese. All the same, at this moment I just want to thank you, with true thanks from my heart, for your love and your patience. I want to tell you, even though it's autumn now, and even though it's thunderstorms that you love, your gratitude and your praise are like the pitter-patter of soft spring rain, like the babbling of a spring-fed brook watering the fields of my heart. Even in my dark valleys, I always have the rain of your gratitude, the spring of your praise. I thank God deeply for you! And it's my hope and prayer that such gratitude and praise would flow through every family in the world!!
That, I think, even survives a redneck translation.

What I keep trying to tell her, is that it's easy to be good at praising her -- all I have to do is just tell the truth.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Prettiest Girl at the Party

(To the tune of Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight", from lyrics rewritten by yours truly.)

The belle of the ballroom
No other girl half so fair
She’s dressed all in starlight
I can’t help but stand and stare
And then she asks me, “Do you feel all right?”
And I say, “Yes, I feel wonderful tonight.”

Actually, the office Christmas party is a good excuse to repost my version of "Wonderful Tonight" in its entirety:

It’s late in the evening
She’s wondering what clothes to wear
She puts on her makeup
She brushes her long black hair
And then she asks me, “Do I look all right?”
And I say, “Yes, you look wonderful tonight.”

The belle of the ballroom
No other girl half so fair
She’s dressed all in starlight
I can’t help but stand and stare
And then she asks me, “Do you feel all right?”
And I say, “Yes, I feel wonderful tonight.”

I feel wonderful because I see the love light in your eyes
And the wonder of it all
Is that you just don’t realize
How much I love you

We dance through the doorway
I carry her up the stair
Her eyes dark and yearning
She lets down her long black hair
And then I whisper as I turn out the light,
“Darling, you looked wonderful tonight.”
I tell her, “Darling, you look wonderful tonight.”
I say, “My darling, you were wonderful tonight.”

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A new strict policy for this blog

One of the very few drawbacks to having a Chinese wife, is that she does not like to see her country lose face, and therefore I am afraid I have had to institute a strict policy that now makes it impossible for me to link to stories like this one. (Dave Barry, fortunately, has no such strict policy. I mean, he certainly has a notoriously strict policy, just not this one.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An invitation

If you're going to be in Houston on the night of the 23rd (or the 24th, but you probably have Christmas Eve plans already), you really should go check out Houston Chinese Church's Christmas pageant, which is a very unusual example of the genre -- it's a half-Mandarin, half-English, fully-subtitled, live-action-plus-filmed-drama multimedia event not quite like anything else I've ever seen (you can see a promotional video shot at a recent dress rehearsal here). Plus it has one very non-Chinese angel in it...though, I have to say, while the white robe and gold cummerbund function effectively to communicate, "This gentleman is pretending to be an angel," I don't think anybody would fall down in fear at the sight of this particular Heavenly Messenger -- he looks much less likely to say, "Fear not!" than to say, "Hey, wanna go grab a couple of cold ones?"

Stupidest internet comment ever?

Jonah Goldberg may have found the winner.

The e-mail every woman wants to receive after the first date doesn't work out

What's my favorite part of Mike's letter to Lauren? Oh, I don't know, there's so much to choose from. Could it be the deliciously phrased, "Things that happened during our date include, but are not limited to, the following:"? Or the equally elegant, "On a per-minute basis, I've never had as much eye contact during a date as I did with you"? Is it the bit where he complains that she led him on by playing with her hair too much? Is it where this guy, who takes cluelessness to levels never before achieved by the male species (and boy is THAT ever saying something) placidly lists among Things We Have In Common, "First, we're both very intelligent"? Or when, without the slightest hint of irony, he asks, "Am I sensitive person?" and immediately answers his own rhetorical question, "Sure, I am. I think it's better to be sensitive than to be insensitive. There are too many impolite, insensitive people in the world"? Or where he assures her, "I’m both a right-brain and left-brain man, given that I’m both an investment manager and a philosopher/writer"? Is it where he tries to figure out what exactly she meant by telling him, as the date was ending, "It was nice to meet you"? Is it where, in an attempt to get her to go on a second date with him, he calls her behavior "impolite, immature, passive aggressive, and cowardly"? Is it where he assures her, "FYI, I'm not a serial dater. Sometimes, I've only gone out with a woman for one date"? (Shocker, that last bit.) Is it...oh, but there's so much to enjoy and I've only just gotten started.

But I think, upon reflection, my favorite bit is this:
I suggest that we continue to go out and see what happens. Needless to say, I find you less appealing now (given that you haven't returned my messages) than I did at our first date. However, I would be willing to go out with you again. I'm open minded and flexible and am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Wow. I mean, I don't know what else to say. Double-u, oh, double-u.

Hat tip: Oh, wait, come to think of it, this one I actually didn't get from Dave. I think maybe it originally came from Ace but I can't find the link now.

"Но это правда, я ничего не помню!!" Dept

Well, that's one way to try to get out of a marriage.

HT: Surely you have guessed.

Diet Craze -> Norwegian Butter Withdrawal

A co-worker mentioned this to me a couple of days ago, and then Dave reminded me...Norway is out of butter, thanks to some diet craze or other. But without butter, how will all those Nordic women stay shapely and blonde? Perhaps we should send them care packages...such as, say, this:

Well This Christmas Card Certainly Made ME Want to Donate to the San Juan Wildlife Museum

Apparently San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini couldn't get God to agree to hang a star in the sky above el Museo de Vida Silvestre in his home town in Puerto Rico. So he decided it was up to him to attract the multitudes...which he did using the, the most creative...well, anyway, here's the Santini family Christmas card this year:

I don't know about you, but mis sueños de Navided have always included predation. Nice to see that somebody finally came up with a card that really captures the Reason for the Season.

And who knew that leopards and kobs were native to Puerto Rico?

HT: Dave, of course.

Racist and Illiterate Dept

As Dave puts it, "Always read the t-shirt." This refers to the key sentence in this story about skinhead Daren Abbey's attempt to intimidate a black stranger:
Abbey apparently was unaware of the writing on the back of the black man's T-shirt: "Spokane Boxing Club Champion."

Adventures in Protecting the Public Safety Dept

Somebody call the police! There's a guy trapped on my neighbor's roof!

HT: Dave Barry, whom I haven't read in far too long (meaning you're probably about to get a bunch of links showing up on this blog in the next few minutes)

On the reliability of Scripture

I was asked to fill in for one of the pastors at Church this past Sunday in his Sunday School class, as he was scheduled to be out of town. The topic was the reliability of Scripture, which I knew a whole lot about...twenty-five years ago, that is. But I went ahead and filled in, and because I have a mother I taped it, and except for (to adapt a Facebook meme) "the awkward moment when you check the tape for sound quality and are appalled to hear yourself saying 'terminus ad quem' instead of 'terminus post quem' over and over and over," it was not bad. Oh, and I got the dates of the Iliad and the Trojan War wrong, but that wasn't particularly important.

So, anyway, if you're interested, here's an hour of me, a quarter of a century removed from my Classics degree in Princeton and my years as an agnostic, talking about how I came to have confidence in the reliability of Scripture.

(If you have Internet Explorer, then you can listen to a much shorter talk I gave on the meaning of "faith" in the New Testament here -- but the plugin doesn't work on Firefox, which is why I went to the trouble to make this one into a six-part "video" and put it onto YouTube.)

Part 1 of 6. Prologue: personal background / testimony; on the difficulty of practicing Christianity "because it works" without believing that it is true. Opening prayer. Context for question, "Can I trust Scripture?" Basic syllogism for why one should trust Scripture.

Part 2 of 6. Elements of valid argumentum ad auctoritatem. More precise tests for historical documents. Show-and-tell with my copy of Thucydides: the apparatus criticus, manuscripts and their families, textual variations and editorial emendations

art 3 of 6. Bibliographic evidence: measuring the quality of manuscript evidence and recoverability of an ancient text; Thucydides compared to New Testament. External evidence: archaeology.

Part 4 of 6. External evidence (cont.): contemporary documents; fulfilled prophecy. Internal evidence: terminus post/ante quem (I'm horrified, upon hearing the tape, to discover that I kept saying "terminus ad quem" rather than "terminus post quem"), as illustrated by editorial preface to Thucydides; I give my dates for the Synoptics and explain my reasoning.

Part 5 of 6. Internal evidence (cont.): the creedal statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Difference in genre between memoir and myth: the "garden plots" of Mark 6:39-40, and the use of unbroken limited-first-person perspective in the narrative of the appearance of the Risen Christ on the shore of Galilee in John 21. Concluding thoughts on the reliability of memory: the example of Sophia Williams. Closing prayer.

Part 6 of 6. Conversation and personal reminiscences as class is breaking up.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A thought that I don't have time to flesh out

In re atheism, I just ran across an old note that I intended to expand upon and never did...
  • It’s a commonplace that you can’t understand what something means if you take it out of context.
  • You can’t understand what accurately what somebody is telling you, if you take it out of context.
  • You can’t pass judgment on the morality of somebody’s actions, if you take them out of context.
  • You can’t pass judgment on what somebody’s actions say about their relationship with some other person, if you take those actions out of context.

The second devastating flaw in atheism is simply that atheism makes enormous assumptions about the context in which the human story takes place. For after all, the fundamental question about the universe is not, “Does this machine have a Designer?” The fundamental question is, “Does this story have an Author?”
Present-day note: I presume that the first devastating flaw in atheism I had in mind is the gob-smacking hubris it takes to say, with a straight face, that because the world is "evil" (by the atheist's personal standards), therefore either God doesn't exist or else He deserves the atheist's scorn and hatred. To that point I repeat something I wrote almost twenty years ago in meditating on what the book of Job has to say to atheists resorting to this argument, which I labelled the "Crappy World" argument:
My point is not that Mr. Crappy World is setting himself up as the ultimate holier-than-thou person, looking at God and saying, "God, if you exist, I'm more moral than you are." True, he is setting himself up as God's boss, and we could legitimately complain about rebellion. But there's no need. Why bother to prove Mr. Crappy World rebellious when he is manifestly silly? Most of God's arguments against Job don't even try to prove that Job is an evil rebel. They prove that Job is a jackass. Here is a human being who has lived for less than a hundred years in a corner of an unimaginably large, billion-year-old universe that is on the Biblical view a temporary — indeed a short-term (!) — arrangement, and he thinks that if the universe doesn't appear to be made to his personal specifications, God has plainly screwed up. (I am reminded of G. K. Chesterton's observation that "while [skeptical philosophers] were pessimists about everything else they were optimists about their own opinions: they might be living in the worst of all possible worlds, but they were the best of all possible judges of it.") In comparison to Job and other Crappy World-ers, a four-year-old who takes it upon himself to criticize Roe v. Wade is a calm and humble reasoner to whom we should pay close and reverent attention.

Each of us, then, faces a choice. If we insist on our right to be angry with God, there is no point in going further. For if we can't face up to the patent absurdity involved in declaring ourselves Arbiter of Justice for All Possible Reality, Temporal and Eternal, we certainly never will face honestly the more intellectually demanding arguments detailing the specific fallacies in Crappy World. If there is no eternal moral law, then we have no grounds for condemning God's behavior. If there is, then the only person capable of passing judgment on super-cosmic decisions is somebody who himself is built on the super-cosmic scale, and whoever that may be, it certainly isn't us. If a person can't see that, there's really nothing we can do for him except go home, come back tomorrow, and hope that he has acquired an open mind overnight.

Yeah, what that Steyn guy said

So it comes to this: our three choices for Leader of the Free World next year will be:

1. Barack Obama.

2. Mitt Romney, who appears to have only two real convictions: (1) He wants to be President about ten times worse than Romeo wanted to shtup Juliet, and (2) Romneycare was a brilliant idea, genius I say! On any other subject, so far as I can tell, he will say what the polls tell him he has to say in order to be elected. Of all the hills to die on, the one place he can find to say, "Here I stand, I can do no other" is...Romneycare? God help us all.

3. And there there is Newt Gingrich -- who is, so far as I can tell, actually suffering from psychological pathology. God help us all, I say again. Mark Steyn thought he was writing Newt's political obituary way back in 1998, and I can't say it better than Steyn. But apparently somebody forgot to...well, hang on, I don't want to inspire violence by inappropriate political metaphor. Let's just say that Political Zombie Newt turns out to have been harder to destroy than expected, and the free world is worse off because of it.

(sigh) Is it still too late to get Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio to reconsider?

Really, the Republican Party is too stupid to live.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Invention of the Day

Tired of those incriminating photos of you at a party showing up on frenemies' Facebook pages? You're just not using the right beerholder.

HT: Insty.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Fascinating idea from Taranto

James Taranto put out a fascinating theory yesterday about the "diversity" industry on campuses -- namely, that the "diversity" game is driven by the marketplace. Here's his idea summed up in bullet points; but in case I've misrepresented it, you should go read the original.

  • A smart employee is, ceteris paribus, a better employee.

  • Standard tests for intelligence score Asians on average higher than whites, whites higher than blacks, etc., meaning that to the extent employers hire based on intelligence tests, they'll hire a disproportionately high percentage of Asians and a disproportionately low percentage of blacks.

  • Under the perversities of the Civil Rights Act and subsequent jurisprudence, "disparate impact" makes a firm likely to be held liable for "racial discrimination" even if the firm has no interest in race whatsoever -- and the use of intelligence tests, even (indeed perhaps especially) in a race-blind environment, has the "disproportionate impact" described above. So employers can't be seen to be hiring based on standardized intelligence tests.

  • Employers have therefore switched to using college degrees as a proxy for intelligence -- that is, what the employer values in a Classics degree from Princeton, insofar as he values it at all, is proof that the applicant was smart enough to get into Princeton. (This, by the way, is exactly why Bill Van Deventer hired yours truly and taught me to trade futures -- "I knew anybody who could graduate with honor from Princeton was smart enough to learn to trade," were I believe his exact words in a conversation two or three years after I had stopped being the $15,000/year mail guy and become partner and vice president of Bill Van Deventer & Co., Inc.)

  • But if, say, U.C. Santa Barbara starts graduating six times as many Asians as blacks, it is only a matter of time before some smart lawyer sues a deep-pockets employer for the "disparate impact" of considering a U.C. Santa Barbara degree in the hiring process, and therefore only a matter of time before deep-pockets employers' lawyers instruct their H.R. departments to stop considering college degrees in the hiring process, except where such degree relates directly to the skill set required for the job.

  • And the moment that happens, a U.C. Santa Barbara English degree -- which is already largely worthless from the standpoint of actual educational value, and is entirely worthless from the standpoint of economic value outside of its value as a pure credential -- becomes well and truly worthless.

  • And the moment a modern American liberal arts degree loses its value as a pure credential, is the moment the higher education bubble well and truly bursts.

  • Therefore the massive "diversity" bubble is an economic necessity for the modern university. Q.E.D.

Now I don't know that I buy that -- that's a fairly long chain of reasoning and a lot of places for the reasoning to break, and it implies quite a bit more economic savvy than I think the average U.C. Santa Barbara faculty member possesses. But it's a very interesting idea. The "disparate impact" rule needs to be thrown out anyway; it would be interesting to see whether tossing out that rule would break the diversity industry's grip on academia's revenues.

The OWS folks' just have the wrong method

There are, after all, lots of ways to skin a cat, and Jessica Sporty (a.k.a. "Minerva McGonagall") has come up with a much better way to redress the income disparity between herself and the 1% than freezing her presumably shapely butt off in a toiletless park surrounded by the uptwinkling unwashed. (HT: Best of the Web.)