html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: September 2007

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Same plan for tomorrow.

Spent the afternoon on Chris' deck, transcribing interviews.


With silver bells and cockle shells.

I planted our winter garden at my sister's house last week. The seeds sprouted and I love them so much. In the few waking hours I've been here, I've checked on them four or five times. It would be embarrassing to check on them as much as I want to, but fortunately, the littler nephew is as fascinated as I am.

He comes up to me, signing food. "What's that, Smalls? Food? Food grows in the garden. Let's go look!" I scoop him up and we go look at the sprouts. Or he'll come over, asking "agua, agua?" I answer him. "You're right, baby! We should water the garden!" He's gonna be a gardener, I can tell.

There will be arugula and kale and chard and beets and carrots and lettuces. If my sister lets me borrow her camera, I'll show you pictures of all of them later.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Anyway, I signed up for Fall League.

I never quit things. Never. I do things for years longer than I should. If I once chose an activity, I keep at it. I plod, and I don't stop. I dimly realize that this isn't as fun as it once was. I don't really notice that it is no fun at all. Things finally end when the term is finished or the collapse is unmistakable. I don't seem to register the misery, or at least think that misery is a good reason to stop doing something.

I didn't like tkd for at least three years before I stopped. I always hurt. I was hungry for five months of the year. My teammates were largely arrogant and I didn't have anything in common with them, besides the three hours a day we spent together. I rarely saw my master. Our coach hit us with sticks. I cried on the walk home and went back the next day. I only stopped because I graduated. If undergrad had gone longer, I'd have done tkd for longer.

My ex and I dated for seven years. I'd say the mutual love and delight was over after the fourth year; it ebbed and flowed unevenly between us after that. I didn't consider ending it, though. I ultimatumed him to make it last, not to make it end. Second grad school was awful by the second year, and I trudged through class after class for two more years. I didn't even decisively end the program; I just didn't return after a year's withdrawal after finishing the master's. I cannot think of a time when I assessed my situation and quit because it was making me unhappy.

Except once. In '96 I tried to go on a month-long bike ride, all around California. I bought all the gear. I started in SF and three days later I'd ridden up to the Russian River. It was beautiful. But it was lonely; no one had been able to get off time to go with me. And it wasn't fun. There was no one to talk to, point things out, figure out where to camp with. My friends met me to go camping that weekend and I drove home with them. I even decided. The ride was recreation, for me; there were no other stakes. If it wasn't going to be affirmatively fun, I wasn't going to do it. I'm still kindof bummed that I didn't get to see California by bike, but I think that I am prouder of quitting that trip than I would have been for finishing it.

So I'm asking you. You irresponsible flakes who constantly try things then quit them. Y'all who can't stick with anything long enough to finish it. You dabblers and butterflies. Even you sulkers who stalked off in a huff. How do you do it? I would like an option, so that every single thing I choose isn't a multi-year commitment, closing in a miserable forced march. What is quitting things before they are awful like?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Penny for your thoughts, a nickel for your kiss, and a dime if you tell me that you love me.

The most extraordinary thing happened while I was drowsing in bed this morning. I was idly thinking, like I do; this time about lifting heavy things and being sore. Without much consideration, I thought "I love you, body." My whole body just flared, a rush of sensation like a flush or a pulse of heat. It was quite a sensation, one I've never had.

That made me think more. Do I never tell my body that I love it? God knows I push it hard enough. Do more yoga and do it better! Ignore that muscle fatigue and do as I say! If that stretch hurts, hold it longer! Run around that and if you're tired, pick it up! Jump in cold water! Lift that heavy thing! Lift it again! And my sweet obedient body tries, until it can't and I condemn it again. Do I never say thank you?

I should say thank you, for all the things it brings me, like riding my bike and good tastes and listening to music and grooving when the music is thumpy and all the sensations of touch and breath. Have I been ungrateful and unloving this whole time? Do I only ever address my body to tell it to do more or to note a failure? Has my body been waiting all these years to hear that I love it, that it did right, thank you, I love you, you didn't let me down, you never let me down, we're in this together, you did great. I will notice and I will say it, from now on. I love you, my body. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Garlic rice?

It is unfortunate the music was so loud that I couldn't hear what my trainer was saying as I left. Mice? Something about dice? Maybe she thinks I'm nice.

Look over there!

I will too respond to your comments in the post about blog-style critiquing. But in the meantime, it is a really great Savage Love this week.

Expecto capsaicin!

My sister and I tried to go to a chili contest on Friday. Dennis invited us. I was pretty sure I remembered the address, but when we got there, it was the sketchiest closed up storefront. At least four locks on the door, next to the liquor store in a vacated, boarded up block of Oakland. There was commotion, people shouting in the middle of the street. 'Sides the shouters, there was no one to be seen. It did not smell like delicious chili.

I called Chris, to ask him to check my email and confirm the address. He did, and thankfully noticed that there was also the same address in Berkeley! We headed up there. 'Cept, in Berkeley, that address didn't work either. It was on the opposite side of the street, and why you got to switch the evens and odds, Oakland and Berkeley? But it wasn't there. There was a big empty adult school building, or a broke-down empty chicken restaurant. Nothing plausible at all.

I called Chris back, asked him to re-read the invite for more directions. He did. XXXX San Pablo Ave, Friday Sept 28th. The 28th? Yep. We were at the wrong place, both in X and in T. This was sort of a relief, because it gave us a week to reach Dennis and sort out where the party is. But it also left us completely confused, because we just could not see having a chili contest at either one. Sketch locked-up storefront? Hulking empty school building? My new theory is that it is a Harry Potter-type address, where you run at a wall with a pot of chili and it lets you into a spectacular garden with picnic tables and cornbread and greens and beer to go with your chili.

With no chili to feed us, we went over to the Man Mall. That's what we call the Emeryville Public Market, because it is only the food court. None of those annoying stores, for shopping. Just lots of food stalls and a ball room for the kids. We met Firefighter Doug there, who gave my perfect nephews a badge and two hats. Do you think people who want to be big strong firefighters understand that about a third of the job is going to be chatting with the parents of little gape-mouthed kids? Every time I take a nephew by the fire station there are already kids there, bedazzled and discussing the trucks. The firefighters can probably peg a kid's age down to the month, discuss child development with the pros. And still they come out to chat, flash the lights and offer a little guy a chance to sit up high in the ladder truck.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I was right about bloggers and their commenters.

I haven’t wanted to post here for days, for the same reason I haven’t wanted to read blogs and especially comments for days. With a few exceptions, blogland just seems so harsh and analytical, so determined to punish thoughts or ideas. Why put your stuff out when the return is so consistent? On many of the blogs I read, the dominant mode is antagonistic critique. Such ceaseless critiquing, lots of it obvious, some of it hostile, lots of it prideful, so little of it intended to help the original author. It feels like smart boy jockeying, which is an annoying dynamic, appealing only to smart boys who are temporarily up.

I want people to give authors the benefit of the doubt. When some hot new study comes out, right away you get the same few critiques on lots of sites, the ones that we learned the first quarter of a decent methods class. Potential sampling bias! Sample size too small! Results may not translate! Dude. Any critique that comes to mind within a couple minutes of reading a summary of an article is very likely one of the widely known errors. I assume that tenured professors who spent years on a study that got published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal also thought of those. Seems to me, the choice ought to be to read the paper or to assume that experts who publish peer review papers avoided the clichéd mistakes. At the very least, don’t lead with the trite critiques without a strong reason to think they apply.

Or a couple days back, a usually good blogger I read wrote a careless post. I knew it was dashed off because I read him regularly. It clashed with what I’ve come to think are his views. People pounced on that; his commenters called him out and other bloggers linked and pointed. But why do that shit? He is self-aware and bright. Surely he re-read that piece and cringed. There’s no need to scold him; he knows. Other bloggers linking to that piece and critiquing it? That was cheap. The mistake was obvious and out of character. You got a post from it that you didn’t have to work for. His piece was careless; your piece was cheap. It was weak thought, for one, and graceless, pointing out someone’s patent mistake*. It is fair game, but it turns the game flashy and ugly.

And then! I am so bored of commenters constantly pointing out the obvious counter. If the counter is obvious, assume a bright blogger whose work you respect already thought of it. But Megan, surely we need to critique each others’ work to strengthen the thought involved! But Megan, it is important to state the obvious, because there are people out there repeating and strengthening falsehoods that damage our communal life. We need to combat those! See? Those were obvious and I already thought of them. You (for some small portion of you) were all flexing your fingers, storing those up, getting ready to type to score off me. But that is boring. I thought of those; I often do. Sometimes I don’t type them because it is so tiresome to read those relentlessly qualified posts. (So few people, Hilzoy, Tia, LB, manage to make all those qualifiers read-able.) Sometimes I haven’t thought of them first, and it is really valuable to point them out in the comments. The technique there is to mention them graciously as preparation for better work; modestly pointing out what we all knew, establishing baselines quickly so we can all move beyond the obvious thought. So much nicer than trying to score off the blogger.

I’m tired of reading people picking things and people apart. So much of that is just smartness, swirling around in pointless circles. All that smartness, doing damn near nothing. Certainly not making people feel good. That’s why I think that smartness is such a limited tool. It solves some problems well, I fully understand that. But so much of it makes people, the other commenters, lurkers intimidated out of the conversation, the blogger, feel bad. Considering how little good it does and how much it makes people feel yucky, I think saying nothing is usually an improvement.

*There are loving ways to handle an uncharacteristic mistake, if you think the person needs your help seeing the error. You could send a quiet email, depriving yourself of a post but helping the blogger. If your friend were wearing her shirt inside out (which could happen to anyone, OK?), would you point at her in front of your crowd or would you take her aside and mention it, while telling a funny little story on yourself to cover her embarrassment? Basic manners apply in blogland too.

Under blankets on a couch, with cookies and tea.

Saying nothing may be an improvement over non-stop smartness, but love and acceptance are even better for making people feel good. I’ve wanted to be with woman friends recently, who already bought into non-judgment and work from there. ‘What are your good options,’ they ask, ‘that reflect your awesome self?’ When I confess horrible vindictive thoughts to a beloved friend, she says she doesn’t understand how we can be so alike and so different, but she loves this fierceness in me. Fierceness? Now that took work and agility, to recast my vicious streak so kindly. But she is offering me a gentle framing; I could take that and try to live up to it.

See? Those are the people I want to be around these days. Using intelligence and humor softly, to love each other and ourselves, and coax out the best of us. It is not a weak alternative to deconstruction. It is the way to make your words welcome and heard. It accomplishes more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

On talking to strangers.

Yesterday while we were cleaning, a handsome older black man with an easy gait weaved through our piles on the sidewalk. "Look at that sight," he said, and I thought he meant all the crap we were moving around and us working so hard. No, he meant my baby nephew, who had turned his huge brown eyes on him. "Now that is beautiful. Innocence is always beautiful." Then he looked up at us and said, "You're doing a great job. You got a great house and a great yard and you're making it better." My sister had the presence to tell him that he'd inspired us. I just stood there, surprised and grateful that he'd seen our effort and said such kind things out loud.

Since I didn't say anything to him yesterday, and since I love to hear these stories, maybe you could tell me in the comments about a stranger offering some drive-by kindness. We could send out a thank you. Or steal an idea and do it ourselves.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I'm gonna go look at it again.

Did you feel it? That wind perking? That fresh gust, sharp and pure? Coming up and stirring the leaves, cleansing the afternoon? That was my chi. You're welcome. I have to be honest, I didn't do it for you. (I mean, I would! But this time, it was just a side effect.)

I finally cleaned my second back porch today. By "I cleaned", I mean my sister came up and made it happen, because it is twenty times easier to do other people's chores. (Not as easy as doing no chores and having things magically clean themselves, except they take a very, very long time to magically clean themselves. So long that I've never been able to wait that long. But maybe the back closet is cleaning itself as we speak, jealous and inspired by the back porch.) The back porch is clean, and by clean, I mean, emptied and washed and aired. My sister let me put back hardly anything at all. My feng shui is turning cartwheels and inviting friends over to eat off the clean floor back there. I do not have pools of stagnant chi lingering and pulling me into the past. No no! My chi is coursing! Coursing, I tell you!

(My feng shui also announced about a half an hour ago that it would like a stiff g&t, and why didn't I pour one for myself while I was at it, since it was a PARTY ON THE CLEAN BACK PORCH!)

My sister thinks that things that might still be useful sometime are actually trash. I pointed out the occasions for usefulness, but she thinks they should come more than once every couple years. I thought I heard some familiar tones in her voice when she asked me did I want to put things in the close trash pile or in the far trash can, but I totally wasn't fooled and I put things in my neighbor's dumpster just to show her. It is trash day for the alleys tomorrow. I will get up early and sneak more trash into their dumpsters. It does not go back into the porch, because my back porch is CLEAN!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Posts I haven't written in the past couple days.

Snarky post baiting libertarians, about this MR review. Considering that health care and construction are two of the largest industries in our country and both have terrible track records, I’m not sure why you cling to the idea that markets invariably perform well.

Reason for not writing:
Baiting libertarians now feels cheap and worse, predictable. Surely I have more range, and I won’t deliver on that until I stop using the easy techniques.

Non-snarky post on the same MR review. Combining that with this post by Mr. Yudkowsky, to suggest that the market/government divide is irrelevant. At some level of complexity, humans simply do not do large tasks well.

(Although I read his data differently; to me it suggests that ten percent of people plan well. (My family members are tremendous planners, and while it takes up an absurd amount of our processing, my parents are invariably on time, with the right tool to hand and every last ingredient neatly packed. It extends to most of our clan.) We should find that ten percent and have them plan big jobs.)

Then I was thinking I’d ask for a system for doing big things, designed around that model of human capacities. I was gonna forbid us from answering “the market” or “government” and see if we flushed any original thought.

Reason for not writing:
Takes too much tending and I was at a day-long conference.

Also, high likelihood of dogmatic comments and I am tired of dogmatic comments.

A mildly peeved rant about how if men are truly insatiable horndogs who sexualize every woman they ever see and would gladly unzip at the merest hint of breast and eyelash, well, then, they could freaking stand to ASK every now and then because they are missing encounters that would be entirely welcome and everyone loses in that sad event.

Reason for not writing:
Some very small chance that he’ll see this someday, recognize the timing and realize I’m talking about him. Except I should trust the impermeable “she can’t possibly mean me” force field, which is impenetrable by anything short of the Naked Dance with instructions written with Sharpies.

It will start another round of the “boys are oblivious and girls should ask” discussion, which we’ve had two or three times, so it is now boring.

Enthusiasm about lifting weights!
Tinge of fall sadness!
Good weekend planned!

Reason for not writing:

I would really like to be able to paste tables into Blogger.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Maybe you meant, follow your dreams."

Poking around, I came across this clip, of two young men who have re-made themselves into gods. It was a little odd that we didn't get to see the full rewards of their efforts. I can only imagine that their many ladyfriends were impatiently waiting for the filming to end, jostling each other slightly, packed as they are in the hot tub. I especially liked the training scenes (as is my wont); now that I am back to lifting, I assure you that I am also back to dancing.

The piece was entertaining enough, but I don't think I am the intended audience. I have never in my life seen or talked to anyone who acted like the archetype they're mocking. Never. We don't have those here. I'd doubt they existed, but I see them in the Vice Don'ts every now and then. Are they common somewhere? New Jersey is the epicenter, right? There are some for whom that expression of masculinity is authentic, and not a self-referential complicated joke? Cool.

Anyway, New Jersey reminded me of Fresh, so I went over to see if he posted wedding pictures. He didn't, but he's back. I'm glad.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him

Feeling melancholy today, for no reason I can see. I have good plans tonight: working out, then meeting Roxie and the Funnier Megan afterward. The Funnier Megan thinks that she will be working on some stuff at a cafe, but her phone will ring and she will hear our giggles and we will beg her to join us, mentioning the new tasty yogurt place, and she will pack her notes away and find us eating yogurt and fruit on a patio.

I have even better plans tomorrow, because I am going to an irrigation district I've never been to. In fact, it is a type of irrigation district I've never been to. I can only speculate about what is like, up there in the low foothills of the Sierras. Flood on pasture? Trees on borderstrip? New diversion structures? There could be anything, in this strange district I know nothing about. It'll be dry, this time of year in an unusually dry year. There'll be apple trees, I suspect, but do not know for sure. I'll recognize them, though; pruned apples have a distinct double or triple vase shape, and I will not embarrass myself if I am surprised by an apple orchard and someone quizzes me. Maybe someone will hand me a fresh apple tomorrow as I eye a ditch, with a fiercely blue fall sky above me. See? I have very good plans.

So I do not know why I am melancholy. I was trying to think what would fix it. I tried poems, because although I am a barbarian who doesn't read very much poetry, I am also an engineer who understands that you use the right tool for the job. But this poem isn't the one to ease an incidental melancholy. And this one made me feel really bad, because it reminded me of one of the meanest things I ever did to my sister. (I didn't make up a missing sister. But I did tell her that tea tree oil would only cool and sting her face if she were a bad person inside, and then I pretended that it didn't hurt me, even though it very much did. And she finally cried from the tea tree oil, so I told her she must be bad. I don't know if she ever believed it, but I can still see little her in the tub with me plain as day, crying, and I am so so sorry, my little sister.) So the poems weren't so helpful. Maybe if I weren't choosing them at random.

Then I thought that I might like a letter. A good letter, with a story. I don't correspond with anyone by mail, so I have no expectations of a good handwritten letter when I get home. But I used to read good letters at Open Letters. I always liked the ones from Michael Welch and from Chana Williford. And Jessica Willis' and Lauren Zalaznick's. Perhaps I just like letters from people with last names at the end of the alphabet. Anyway, that reminded me of my absolutely favorite letter. I really, really hope that letter is genuine.

Monday, September 17, 2007

She never did return the garbage can.

Bec left today. That month went fast. She was another great roommate, funny and sharp and interesting. Bec and Nisha and I went to Pancake Circus for a very early breakfast today, but nothing like this happened. (Um, NSFW. But DUDE! What a great way for a local diner to be famous. If you visit here, we could go to Pancake Circus.) Anyway, she's gone and the house is quiet. I've liked having roommates again this past year. But the house is mine again, for the last few weeks before my long drawn out move to Oakland finally happens.

Tonight I moved back into an arrangement I love. I read about it in A Pattern Language, where it spoke of dressing rooms. I now have two private rooms, which means I can separate the functions of sleeping and dressing. It is so nice. My bedroom now contains a bed, a little bookshelf and a big bookshelf. No clothing. It works so well. Your bedroom never gets messy; you make the bed in the morning and the room is restored. It is purely for sleeping and reading before sleep.

The other bedroom now has all my clothes. Too many of them; this is a good cue for another purge. Projects go there. Papers go there. I will sort and throw away a lot soon. I'm not a hoarder, as hoarding goes, but my sister is absolutely ruthless about throwing things out. Under her stern guidance, things will leave my house and all that stagnant chi will be released and happiness and clean energy will flow through me, especially as I do not have to pack or store that crap.

It is an extravagant amount of space for one person, but for a couple more weeks, that's what I've got. I am so pleased.

I've been thinking about this slide for days now.

I do not like this model display one bit. Oh no I do not. It makes me ANGRY, because it talks a good game and promises a whole lot, but then it plays on our subconscious assumptions to LIE TO US. It is a big fat lying triangle, and I do not appreciate being LIED TO by geometry. Further, it is actually a display that could have a lot of potential, if it weren’t busy distracting people and lying to them with nonsense. I do not like this display at all, and I want them to fix it.

The display starts out well. It has a fair amount of complexity in it, conveying some several dimensions. I like this! It makes me want to trust a designer who put so much thought into it. Right off the bat I see a spatial representation of the river (the east to west alignment threw me for a sec, but doubtless it represents the system). I see creek crossings and creek tribs; if I knew the creek, those would orient me. There are boxes and they are sized to mean things, like the area of the watershed they drain. That is interesting and I can see it at once. So far, so good. I can see which tributaries are big and little, just by looking, so fast! I sure want to trust this diagram.

Except that triangle. I almost like the triangle, except… it doesn’t mean anything! HEY WAIT! That triangle! It doesn’t mean anything! It looks like it should mean something. Everything else means something. You know what it looks like, it looks like an accumulation of flow over the length of the river. That is the subconscious bias the triangle shape taps into. Who wouldn’t think of flow accumulation in a gaining reach? BUT! That is what the big arrow on the left means. The triangle is… redundant. Worse, it conveys an area. That area means what? Other shapes –the rectangles- mean land area in square miles. But the triangle doesn’t mean area of river bed. The shapes do not match; one is lying! The units of flow are AF-year, so the triangle means… the volume of water that passed through that reach? But it doesn’t look like that. It is smooth, no variance by reach. THAT TRIANGLE IS LYING! WHY IS IT THERE? Why is it there when the blue arrows are doing all the work?

Worse than a lying triangle was my realization that the triangle could have been interesting! What if the slope of the triangle sides varied by reach to show the accumulation of water or sediment or salts? Why, that would be so neat! You could see at a glance how reaches with lots of roads have steep increases in sediments or salts! The triangle would bulge and contract! The area in that reach would mean something, just like its friends the boxes mean something! Not the same thing, but we are sophisticated and can figure that out, maybe with a little help from some color or something.

And then! What if the slopes between reaches were actually from some function? All the display shows now is some measured data, and it lies to us about what that measured data actually does (with those long smoothed sides disguising trouble spots and implying that there must necessarily be an increase. LIAR!). It doesn’t have to be like that. It could be a function, like of swim-ability, which would be some combination of temperature and flow and pathogen content and maybe more or something. THEN! THEN, at every reach, little callout boxes could report each value in the function and the y-axis would be some measure of swim-ability at every cross-section.

HEY! What IF? What if you created a display like this, only you loved your stakeholders and wanted them to participate. THEN, since you have a function that creates the slopes of the lines between reaches, you could just ask them to changes the values in the call-out boxes! Tell us! How cold do you want your water in this reach (within a possible range, pending dam releasals and daytime temperature) and how much water and how much e.coli (depending on whether we crack down on those upstream trailer parks)? You tell us! In the model! And the triangle shape will change and you can play with it all you want. And if we had the infinite knowledge, we could tell you how much it will cost to make those changes in temperature and flow and pathogen content, and then you could see for yourself how much money you want to spend to get certain amounts of swim-ability!

BUT WAIT! Why is that triangle symmetrical about the x-axis? I mean, why? (Because the triangle shape fooled us again.) What does the height at a cross section mean? Twice the absolute value of some swim-ability index? Why? WHY NOT make the top function different! Like some fishing function of water temp, fish habitat, access to roads and whatever else! THEN, you would have different lines top and bottom, and users could change whatever variables they are interested in and we could know how much that would cost and it wouldn’t look anything like a triangle anymore! And the whole height would be an index of recreational use! God, it would be SO GREAT!

See? This display could be TOTALLY NEAT! It could draw people in and make them think about their creek and give them an intuitive response to the changes in values (you win the model when you push the top and bottom lines as far apart as you can for the money you have). Instead, that triangle makes people think less, for one, and deceives them, for two. I ordinarily like triangles fine, but I find that behavior unacceptable. I will reveal the truth about that triangle on The Internet; when information is free, people can judge for themselves. I think the people and history itself will judge that triangle VERY HARSHLY.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My family is inside.

I'm in a sweet little backyard with a pond and succulents and a chiminea. At least two hummingbirds perch, then zoom and hover. Like kittens in the house at four in the morning, they are surprisingly noisy.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Dear Men,

Do all of you secretly believe that you will die at the same age your father did? Are all of you secretly counting down the years, or just the few I've heard of recently?

Anyway, if you do this, please stop. It is ridiculous and it freaks us out.


The daughters who love and need you.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Esperanza, now there's a name.

I just read about "Fox anchor Megyn Kelly". I believe in open-minded love and acceptance of all human foibles, but 'Megyn' is just egregious. Her parents have a lot of be ashamed of.

While we're at it, I think naming a child Dolores is awful. The sound is pretty, but why would you ever invoke that for your baby?

UPDATE: My sister points out that the name Tristan is just as bad. Parents, do not name your children this.

P.S. Like the hippie I am, I think a lot of unconventional names are great. I'll be bummed if there is a lot of out-group bashing without reasons besides unfamiliarity.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A teaching moment

He is right, of course.

Now, for quite some few of you, I would like you to check what you are thinking RIGHT NOW. What are you thinking? Are you outraged at the ridiculousness of that and composing your comment with links to prove that he is ridiculous? Do you think it is preposterous that I heartily support that view, and are checking against your recollection of everything I have everything written for something that contradicts that view so you can show me that I am inconsistent and WRONG? Are you getting ready to EXPLAIN how evolutionary psychology demands that we act like MEN, and if we lose some gorillas in the process, well, that is evolution.

If that is you, you effin' robot, you are have missed what that post was about. That post was an expression of what we call "emotion." Communication has two types of content, information and emotion. That piece was high on emotion. If you only respond to the information in it, and worse, if you respond with a logical answer to contradict the information, YOU did not receive the communication. That's right. You failed to return the communication, even if your logical response to the information is accurate.

This is fine, if you live and work with other robots, and for all I know, all you tech-industry self-centered libertarians1 do work happily together, dwelling only in the sphere of the mind. But, to your great dismay, MOST of the world does not operate that way. Your preferences about whether they should are completely irrelevant2,3. That is not how people are.

So, friends, if this is you and you don't understand people and why don't they see how right you are since you explained it and it seems like people get mad so fast when you were just pointing out inconsistencies, consider the possibility that you are the reason. You missed a crucial piece of the content and you are returning the the wrong piece back. Try, as an exercise, to identify the information and the emotion in every conversation you have, and the ones you overhear. I did that consciously for a month when I was learning how to listen. (When you get used to that, you do it automatically, and if you say it back to people, they think you are, like, psychic for how well you understand them.)

What this means is that you should consider carefully where and when you want to be arguing. You don't get to argue emotions, although it often helps to identify them. They are not subject to convincing by reason. So, that leaves only a small portion of the communication that can be decided by talk and argumentation. You might get along with people better (= piss people off less) if you learn to recognize that space and confine your arguments to there.

P.S. If you were thinking, 'oh my heart, the Library of Congress? burning?', then of course I am not talking about you. You probably already knew that.

1Please do not tell me that not all libertarians are self-centered. If you are not, assume I am talking to those other ones who are and stop being defensive about traits you don't possess. After a year of talking to you guys, I have learned that many of you are kind and friendly.

2I often suspect your wishes that people would be logical are about you trying to shift the field of interaction to one that favors your brainy self.

3Another thing that will be very hard for you to understand is that in the world of emotion, no one is right. Yep. It is true. No one is right. You have an emotion and the other person has an emotion and that is all. Neither is better than the other, or confers an advantage on the holder. There is no way to jockey for position. People's emotions... just are. You do not get to tell me or Mr. Clarke that we are wrong for the emotions we feel on that extinction warning. Your emotions are no more valid. Nope. They aren't less valid, either.

UPDATE: This is EXACTLY what I mean. GMO proponents will NEVER be able to give enough rational reasons to convince people. People tell them "we don't like GMO's" and a good portion of that communication is emotion. GMO "scientists" don't like to deal with that emotion, so they return with reasons, this time from other disciplines. But they haven't addressed the problem, the suspicion or fear, and so they are only applying more of a technique (trying to convince) that doesn't work.

You can think anything you like about whether it SHOULD work. But it won't. If they want to advance a pro-GMO policy, they need to listen and address both types of content in the communications they are getting from their opponents.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Also, I cut off my hair.

A man at Burning Man painted my portrait. We were totally surprised the first time, cause he did it all stealthlike. He and his friend, both older, both gorgeous, were sitting in Center Camp, doing quick portraits and giving them to the subjects. The first time, I faced away, and so I didn't know he was painting me. The second time I knew, and I would have been nervous except that he had an extraordinarily kind gaze. He also had on shiny metallic blue-rimmed eye glasses, and you just can't worry about a portrait from someone with a kind gaze through blue metallic glasses.

That dress is about as small as anything I ever wear. I was vastly over-covered for Burning Man; one man shouted at me "Jesus, did your Mom dress you?". That was awesome. Anyway, I like that picture because you can see my very strong triceps.


My biggest regret from Burning Man is that I did not get my Hippie Herding License. Since herding hippies is, like, my entire life, I totally think I should have gotten licensed. I heard the licensing was really hard, though. There was a written test (I eat written tests for breakfast) and a field test, where they send you out into the playa and make you return with hippies. Then you have to direct them through tasks. I've been thinking about how I would direct strange hippies ever since. My own hippies I just bully, but strange hippies might be skittish. A soft approach, I think. Promises of homegrown sprouts and hummus if they follow me? Just asking them if they can come with me? I don't know what the tasks were. If it was Get Through House Meeting in Less Than Two Hours, I would have given up. If it was Staying Bunched Together Through An Obstacle Course, I think I could have done it.

Anyway, if you passed the written test and the field test, there was also a background check to see if you were a terrorist. We can't license terrorists to herd hippies! The terrorism background check was light to dark brown paint swatches that they would hold against your skin. I'm pretty tan right now, but I really do think I could have gotten my Hippie Herding License.

He says it all.

I think these pretty much cover it. This is awesome, because now you can just say "Crazy Talk Right", and I can answer "Crazy Talk Left" and we can get back to chatting about boys and working out.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Justin, chill.

Megan's political compass
Economic Left/Right: -8.50
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.97

Dude. I think you're more worried about my big-government self than you need to be. Yes. I think there is a strong role for government. I even have overt and explicit paternalist streak, in that I think that people cannot make good decisions about the million complex issues that we face all time. I say it right out; yes. I would like a mosquito control district to make decisions for me about when to do aerial spraying, because they are entomologists and epidemiologists and I am not. I do not want to control mosquito vectors for West Nile on my own and I do not want to pretend it isn't a problem, so I would like agency staff to solve that. I do not have the magic lead paint illuminator spell, so I need someone else to detect that for me and remove it from the options I could purchase. I do not trust the market to do that, not for lead paint, not for trans-fats, not for anything that you can't see and has a delay until the onset of the harm.

But, if you've been reading carefully, you will notice that my examples for a governmental role are always for resource protection and distribution, or for health and safety. You have this notion that I am dying to invade your personal life and bar you from doing things. It is true that I disapprove of people doing dangerous things, like extreme climbing, but my disapproval is not instantly transformed into law. It is not a legal law of the land; it is not a physical law of the universe. Instead, my disapproval of high-risk activities is expressed as a sorrowful look and a headshake and who the fuck cares? You shouldn't. You should go climb things. I care because I am protective and maternal, but I don't want a law to bar you from risks you know you are taking.

Risks that people do not know they are taking, however, are pure bullshit and I want those risks regulated away*. Risks that people are forced into by their economic options (like working in unsafe workplaces) are fucking unacceptable**. I know that people have very predictable constraints, such as limited attention and interest and information, or inability to comprehend risks that are not visible, or inability to trace an injury back to its source. So I want us to design systems that mean those constraints don't cost our people their lives or health.

Maybe you say this costs us efficiency. Perhaps you remember that I am not much impressed with efficiency. I only like efficiency when it is actually translated into utility for people, and I discount the happiness people get from stocks of wealth or from owning things (above a threshold of needs plus a little luxury). Maybe you say that it denies people their choice and autonomy; well, you have to put that on a scale against their health and the possibility of catastrophe. You know which way I think the scale tips. Maybe you believe that people should feel the consequences of their decisions. I think chance waits for all of us and does not judge virtue.

So yes. There is a class of risks I would use a government agency, or any other means, to ban (hard to detect, hard to connect to the damage, systemically fall on groups without the resources to avoid the risk, monetary gain isn't aligned with the risk taker, common misperceptions about degree of risk). Your personal life, Justin? You sound much more alarmed in the comments than I think you need to be. I can disapprove of dangerous things without wishing they were illegal. My opinions are not an irreversible slippery slope of paternalism; I balance competing interests, like autonomy and justice and concern and the potential that I am wrong, all the time. I can do this because I am not a caricature of liberal thought. So, chill.

*Especially because the trade-off is often money for someone else. Fuck making money off unaware people by imposing increased risk or actual damage on them. I'm thinking of you, poisoned dog food. I'm thinking of you, inefficient engines that cause asthma in downwind children.

**Trading worker safety for owner profit is more bullshit. I don't give a shit whether those low costs are passed along to consumers. We are a staggeringly wealthy nation. We can afford to spread the costs of safe workplaces thinly over all consumers, or move wealth from the very rich to address this.

More. But I feel bad about it.

I am going to be very ashamed of myself for getting back into this debate, so I might as well tie up the loose ends now.

Prof. Hanson:

I would tolerate your Should-Be-Banned store, but get a very worried look on my face when I saw people going into it. I would be happier with it if wealth were evenly distributed across everyone, so that the choice to buy cheap but dangerous shit were a reflection of someone's risk assessment and not an indication that their economic class forced them into risk they didn't really want.

Also, my limited exposure to agency life makes me think that setting the standards is the expensive part anyway. I don't know that to be true, perhaps enforcement is just as expensive or more expensive. But I've only seen the standard setting side, so I tend to think that is most of the cost. If we've paid most of the cost, why not finish the job and just get rid of dangerous crap?

Prof. Somin hit on my biggest concern about government- based health care:
With a mandatory government solution, we will at best get the menu of choices that the majority of voters consider appropriate - a result that will be deeply unsatisfactory to many who have minority preferences. At worst, the menu will be dictated by narrow interest groups that manage to capture the regulatory process and use it for their own benefit.

This is the problem we saw with prison health care, which is that agencies respond to political pressures, and do not provide what there is no constituency for. My solution to that is the same as Prof. Pasquale's:
But the answer is not to simply give up on government, but to develop the types of political arrangements that expose, shame, and punish capture--such as robust campaign finance regulation

The quality of governance is not fixed. You could vastly improve your civil service by paying more to make the jobs more competitive, or by training people in the skills of governance (not just engineering or health or whatever the departmental purpose is), or even just by giving civil service some respect. Agencies will perform to the expectations of the people it answers to; that's you. If you tell bureaucrats their work is worthless and pointless and annoying, that is what they will deliver for you. You get the bureaucrats you expect.

The problem of prison health care reform is being address by the judicial system. You can introduce checks that solve agency capture or crises going unfixed. You can have the executive branch examine and design agencies for current purposes; eliminate outdated functions. It is OUR civil service and there is no reason it is immutable. An administration that valued the civil service could make it very good.

I'm right here, Randy.

Sadly, I am creepy for thinking so. Good luck on your date.

In my quest to be the scold of blogland...

I am not upset by those quotes below. They crack me up. The idea of being mentally lazy is a delightful new self-image for me, like being strong and fast. Since I am not hurt right now, it is a good time to bring up a couple things I've thought before.


Your framing matters. If you picked the paragraph about how I don't like to deal with health care but stripped the paragraph contrasting that with my diligence about natural disasters, you know you betrayed the point of that post, which is that people do not spend equal attention on all of the matters of getting responsibly through life. (Again, I don't care this time. I'm not mad or hurt or anything.)

I know it isn't the norm, but it would be both professional and rigorous to put your links from a blogger into context. In addition to thinking through the argument you want to make, you should also think things like 'Am I accurately conveying my sense of the post with this excerpt? Does my excerpt create a false sense of the post or blogger?' If the interesting piece can't represent the post alone, explain why the quote is unusual or how it fits in to the blogger's larger worldview. At the very least, do not let your careless blogging set up another blogger for abuse. Maybe you think the internet is a savage jungle, but the circles of interesting content-generating bloggers aren't all that big. We would do well to treat each other with respect.


Will you never give someone the benefit of the doubt? People can hold simultaneous contradicting thoughts, you know. I could not want to attend to my health care, but then reluctantly do it because that is the system we're in right now. People could complain about something and then do a good job of it anyway, because that is what integrity and self-respect requires. Grown-up people are not all or nothing; people have doubts and weigh trade-offs (some of them even in public) and may even decide things against their immediate self-gratification. Some of them act according to principle, even though they admit they don't want to.

In fact, if you do things like that regularly, you come to expect that other people are too. If you know that you do your best, through complexity and uncertainty and against your selfish desires, then that is what you think other people are doing as well. I read other people falter or admit doubt and I think, well, that person is struggling, but doubtless she will pull through to a position she can be proud of. I always think that of people. Admitting flaws or doubts is not the same as saying that you act on them.

I'll tell you one more thing. I read every pronouncement every person makes about 'people' or me (if they have not been reading here long) as a first-person statement. When some stranger writes that I default to an overly simplistic childish view of the world, I understand them to be saying that that is what they do. You can't accuse people of doing things that have never crossed your mind. You only accuse people of doing what you would do; that is what comes to your mind. So - "people cheat", "people are only motivated by money", "you are a blind ideologue" - I read those as straight-up admissions. Be generous, folks. Be generous partially because it is a good way for us to get along, and be generous because when you don't, you reveal your own nature.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New Wall of Shame!

I don't think I've gotten such good stuff for the Wall of Shame since the last time I was on the Volokh Conspiracy.
Megan makes a very weak argument indeed starting nearly every sentence with I (and when not only preceded by a But or If). Sounds more like whining to me rather than making a well supported and/or reasoned assertion.


Dear Megan

Your laziness does not justify restricting my freedom.

Yours etc.


I think Megan, if she reaches maturity, will see the advantage of choice.


Megan's problem is her mental laziness in all endeavors other than complaining.


And from Marginal Revolution:
Call me mean, but having read some of her entries, she seems to be a somewhat more messed-up than normal person. So, perhaps her favored government policies are based on a model of an individual with less than average psychological health.

From Megan McArdle, the Atlantic:
One time the government definitely shouldn't decide is when that would entail me being forced at gunpoint to accept that decision just because some functionary of a water monopoly empire is too lazy or immature to accept responsibility for running her own "boring" life or getting a keeper.

If she's ready to abandon free will, then she must have already discarded any need for free speech or other liberties. That's not the kind of person I want to decide when the government should step in and what it should be allowed to do.


Well, Megan, I'm sorry you think determining your health care, making decisions for yourself, is so very BORING. You are being very human when you describe your foibles, but what I've just read makes me respect you less, because you are making it sound as if your mind is sloppy and lazy. I find that a little hard to believe, but I guess its possible.


I hope that deciding who to vote for is one of those things that's too BORING to do and that she won't. This is an example of why low voter turnout doesn't concern me.


Not having choices is a lot worse than BORING.
Is this other Megan 14 years old?
Does she also write about how things aren't FAIR?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Baiting you. I can't stop myself.

Ezra linked that last post, and I was nervously waiting to get slammed for my cavalier approach to my health care. Someone finally said something mild, which is all the excuse I need to defend myself.

I don't take charge of my health care. I don't want to. I am mostly injured-but-healthy; my health care bores me. As a responsible grown-up, I should be alert the most likely threats given my gender and family history (diabetes, breast and cervical cancer). I'll watch for those. Beyond that? I can't get interested without some new diagnosis.

But I don't think this makes me irresponsible. It shows that I am not interested. I am interested in other things. Things like floods. I study flood maps in my area. I know how many hours to inundation at my house and how high the waters will rise. I store emergency water and food for me and my cat. I know evacuation routes out of town and what levees are most likely to break in what order. I know where the city flood gates are. I have seen them, to verify they look maintained and operable. I care and I am interested in emergency response. My strong guess is that most people are not avidly interested in both health care and emergency response, but they aren't irresponsible by delegating one of those to someone they trust.

This is the other thing I don't get about small government types. You protest so vociferously that government takes choices away from you. But a whole lot of choices are BORING. If I never once think about car bumper safety standards for 25mph crashes, I will never miss it. I do not want to carefully match my car safety standards to my most likely driving patterns and save two grand in the process. I would not enjoy that process. (Perhaps you would, and you would rather have the money.) I've never been a comparison shopper or a meticulous consumer. Maybe my model of the individual is too biased by my experience. But I don't want to figure out how much coliform bacteria I can tolerate on my spinach, given my health. I don't want to do that even if it saves me money. I don't want to figure out what goes into paint in nephews' toys. I don't even want to handle my health care.

People talk about being rational health care consumers, but they are maximizing some combination of health outcomes and money. I want to maximize my utility. My utility is optimized by going outside to play while someone who is interested in health care gets paid to balance my health care and money. I'll pay a little extra to cover that person. I come out well ahead in that deal*.

*I can hear you already: "But you are FORCING me to take that deal too.". Yes. But right now our system FORCES me to comparison shop. Either way, someone gets FORCED to do something, and I don't see a justice interest on one side or the other. Absent a justice interest, we might as well just go with the system that creates the most utility overall.

If you disagree, and I know many of you will, please state your assumptions (people love to make detailed consumption decisions and have infinite attention to spend on the million choices of daily life, or how exactly the market can perform that role, or whatever else supports you.). I don't want to argue with your conclusions until I know your biases.

Back it up.

My policy professor taught me that policy beliefs originate from a model of the individual. The rational economic actor is one model of the individual. The policies that you trust are aggregations of your model of the individual. In the thread below, I suspect that people are arguing about health care policy because they have very different models for what individual people are like.

You will never agree on an aggregate health care policy until you explicitly state and agree on a model of the individual. (Or housing policy, or paternalism in governance, or...) How people really act is an empirical question. It may be too varied to be summarized, or you could have two main types of individuals that should be addressed with two types of policies. Or there may be a model of the individual that you can aggregate into policy and the differences wash out. I don't know.

But I do think two things:

First, your model of the individual is very likely based on you. It is possible that everyone acts just like you, and also that you can accurately predict your own behaviors and motivations. But that is far from certain. When you argue for a policy that would work best for a country of people who are just like you, you should have some reason to believe you are the right model of the individual.

Second, before you go firing off "health care this" and "government that", please know the underlying parts that are forming your beliefs. Arguing the high level stuff with someone who has a different model of the individual is wasted effort. Please, be explicit. I'll go first.

For health care, my model of the individual:

People live in denial, do not do good risk analysis (as evidenced by my erratic use of bike helmets.) They do not conscientiously save against medical emergencies, even though they could. They do not have the capacity to compare fancy-dancy medical treatments (I should figure out what chemo regimen is best for me? I DO NOT WANT TO, because that is outside my expertise and BORING. I want to trust an expert, if it comes to that.), especially if the pain has already started. They do not have any interest in comparing not-fancy treatments. (When I broke my arm, I realized I had no information whatsoever on which of the four local emergency rooms had good reputations. None. I had never cared until it was too late.) I derive zero utility from comparison shopping for health care; I want someone else to handle it.

I figure people are roughly like me, non-savers, bad risk assessment, more than willing to delegate their health care. (I am not willing to delegate my fitness or nutrition, but that is different from disease or injury.) You know what makes good sense for that model of the individual? Government based health care that does a decent job by me. You know what doesn't make sense? For profit insurance agencies who do not have my best interests at heart.

SO. If that result seems entirely wrong, then please present your equally detailed model of the individual (that is not an ambitious task). It will probably be very different. Then, if we cared that much, we could try to find evidence about how people really behave. I don't care that much, this isn't my pet interest. But at least we would know what we are arguing about and we can formulate empirical questions.


My father and my brother and I are clumsy. I regularly knock things over and walk into doorways. I stand well back from delicate things because they break at my touch and sometimes just from my presence. I have thought for a very long time that it was only the years of precise practice, of choosing where to put my kicks and punches that gives me the coordination to pass as an ordinarily un-clumsy person. I think of myself as a clumsy oaf who passes.

My body fails me and I concentrate to correct it. I don't trust my ankles, so I walk with my head down, watching to make sure that I only step on flat surfaces. When I was ten or eleven, I decided I don't like gaits where the feet point outward and I concentrated for several months until I walked with my feet pointing straight forward. A few years ago I realized that switching my feet to forward is why my knees now face inward. At tkd they told us to make no sound when walking or running, and I will never thud my heels again. Good posture is hard for me, with large breasts and a history of nearsightedness, but I remember and pull my shoulders back and I do it again and again. I have always thought that my will is the only thing that brings my body up to adequate.

I have recently started to wonder whether that is necessarily true. A couple months back, Chris tossed me something. I saw it late and snatched it out of the air near my head. "Oh yeah," Chris said. "I forgot how fast you are." What? I'm fast? I asked Chris and he said that I've always had very fast hands, especially to block or catch things. Really? That counts as fast? It wasn't fast among the tkd team, who could all do that. But it is true that while I often will knock the lemons off a display, I will also sometimes catch the lemons before they hit the floor. I am fast?

I just started weight training again, this time at a serious weight training gym, and a couple people have told me that I am strong. I am not strong, this is how I've always been and I am not in shape right now. I'm not the sister moving railroad ties around her backyard by herself. But no. The trainers come by, eye me and say that I am strong. I am strong? This isn't impossible. My dad and brother and I may be clumsy, but my Dad was ridiculously strong in his youth and my brother promises to be a beast. I got the strength too? I am strong, with quick hands? I could decide that I am strong and fast now, at 35?

Who is this compared to, that I should be relatively strong? Am I stronger than women my height and size? I always figure that we are about the same. I have trained my whole life with athletic men. I am not usually the slowest or weakest person in the room, but I am surely weaker and slower than most of them. Is my perception skewed from that?

I might have quick hands. I might be strong. I might be coordinated enough to compensate for my clumsiness. I might be too hard on myself.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Open thread

OK y'all. I am very curious about the effects of the housing bubble bursting, and I really want to hear your thoughts on that. But, the two posts below seem to open up other lines of thought for you. Since I went off topic in one and Sean has posted his ideas about health care (which I don't agree with) in the other, I'm going to open up another thread for everything-else-those-housing-posts-brought-up.

From now on, please, if your response to those posts isn't about housing, could you use this thread? I want to make sure that we talk about housing AND whatever comes to mind for you. 'Fact, Seanie, I'm going to move your comment over to here. Also, dude. You should start a blog.

(I'll move my rant over as well, so that the housing threads stay pure of topic.)

We should all be so lucky.

Honestly, writing about this feels transgressive. It is about money, and sounds a little like gloating. It is a topic I never bring up in conversation with people. But I want to talk about what owning a house has meant to me. I read everything I come across about the sub-prime mortgage market collapsing and I read about revisions to the mortgage income tax deduction and I always read Surreal Estate. I hate very many manifestations of the American Dream; I think the yearn for a single family detached home has caused terrible environmental and societal outcomes. And yet.

I always knew I would own a house. I grew up on a suburban acre; we are upper-middle class. My parents promised us down payments for our houses as wedding presents. When our permanent settling preceded marriages, they offered again. When I told my parents I’d be in second grad school for several years, my Dad said I might want to buy a house rather than rent. When we hung up the phone I walked straight out the door to go get a book on homebuying. I read the whole book that night. Counting dorm rooms and summer locations, I moved twenty-five times in four cities in the ‘90’s. I desperately wanted a permanent home. I wanted my house my way; I wanted my place to look like me. I did not want to negotiate another single thing about how I lived at house meeting.

With the down from my parents, we bought my house in the late 90’s. We bought a beautiful two bedroom Craftsmen bungalow for cheap. Sacramento was more underrated then and the housing bubble hadn't started at the time. My monthly mortgage payments are low. If you’re Californian, you would cry to hear what I pay per month. When I have a roommate, my mortgage payments are embarrassingly low. And that is what my house has come to mean to me. I bought it for permanence and domesticity and beauty and autonomy. But now, my cheap housing means freedom.

I own a cheap and beautiful house in a place where I love to live. From now on, that will always be my default. Being able to afford that means that I can choose things. I could choose a do-gooder career that doesn’t pay me much. If I had talent, I could be an artist. When a partner comes along, he could choose to do childcare instead of working. (I don’t think I am likely to do that, but maybe he’ll want to.) We can afford to live in my little house on one salary. I can afford for my friends to live with me for free when they are between work; I can offer my young friends more ease and comfort than they could elsewise afford. I am not trapped in a job. I can rent my house for twice the mortgage and use the difference to live in Oakland. My cheap secure housing means I am safe and free. I am grateful all the time that we bought that house.

I watch people in the Bay Area whose houses are exactly the opposite. Their houses are so expensive that they must work in high paying jobs just to live where they do (and these are not extravagant mansions, folks). They work long hours and give up recreation to own that house. Their expensive houses eat all their slack; a home disaster could tip them over into financial ruin. It is backwards from me, whose house gives me wealth and choice.

There are lots of mechanisms to grant people enough financial security that they can find works that fulfill them and help society. You could do school loan forgiveness or offer higher education for free. You could make sure their salaried work pays enough and has enough work-life balance that they can do good stuff on the side. You can give everyone health care, to de-link jobs and health care and fear. You could do fancy tax things or social safety net things. There are mechanisms and policies that would lift people out of the state where their lives are forced choices into drudgery. But the one that worked for me was cheap housing that I bought for other reasons. I don’t know if that is the best way to arrange that for a lot of people. But I treasure that security and freedom and I wish it for everyone.

But what is it like?

Like I said, I’m watching the sub-prime market collapse with a lot of interest. I don’t know what to make of it. My primary interest, as always, is: what will it be like? I can imagine the personal side of it, from signing a loan that you maybe don’t trust but really, really want to believe in to the bills coming due to the horrible dread of foreclosure to the relief when that is at least over to the shameful moving back in with someone who will take you and your kids all sharing a room again. I can imagine that complete cycle. But I don’t entirely understand what it means for the houses. What does it mean that people cannot sell houses, that there are multiple for-sale houses per block in new construction neighborhoods. What does it mean that houses are sitting empty? That is going to be trouble, right?

I have always lived in California. In my world, housing is always in demand. When I first heard about empty houses in Detroit and Philadelphia, I was staggered. Houses that weren’t worth a lot? Abandoned houses? I don’t understand abandoned houses. How could one walk away from A HOUSE? What is that like, when there are empty houses all around. If you’re a teenager, you would break into them, right? I would totally break into them, were I still teenaged. Are they eyesores? If you couldn’t sell your distant house and it broke your heart anyway, how would ever work up the responsibility to tend that house while you were assembling your post-house life? If you’re a bank, would you let people live in the foreclosed house? No, that is just a hassle if you’re a bank; banks want to manage money, not real estate. But then there is all the utility of that house just sitting there, doing nothing. Why don't squatters just move into them, and rebuild a neighborhood? Can that work?

Margie says that all the prices on all those overdeveloped new construction neighborhoods will fall and fall until people can afford them for real, instead of with the fake money they used to buy houses during the bubble. Who are these people? Are they the same poor people who got taken the last time? Are they lower middle-class people with better credit than the last time? Does having a stock of empty houses mean that people can shift (up?) to the average-ish empty house?

How does the money flow in all this mess? Is having lots of empty new homes a transfer of wealth from developers to homeowners? I’m all for that. Are taxpayers the ultimate backstop for indemnifying the subprime industry? That is a bummer. I would rather that people never had the expectation they could live nicer than their means in the first place. Although, we collectively sell all Americans the dream of homeownership and consumerism, so maybe we collectively should bail out the people who respond to that dream in predictable ways. Or are we bailing out scummy sub-prime mortage brokers? ‘Cause if they’re the Orange County slicksters I think they are, I’m happy to let them rot. Are construction peoples hurt? I don’t want laborers to get hurt, but I also don’t want to support a construction industry that depends on constant growth. Remember that a voluntary population contraction and dense, well-designed cities is my goal for us. So I want a construction industry that is sized for maintenance, not constant growth.

Basically, I don’t understand this well enough to do what I’d love, which is to find villains and think bad thoughts about them. I have one fear, and that is that climate change will interrupt this cycle before those outer ring housing developments are filled again. In some ways, that is great. People can only live in the deserts of Santa Clarita and San Bernardino if energy is cheap enough to transport them to jobs and water to them. Those cities cannot last under other conditions, and I think other conditions are coming. So if those developments aren’t filled, that is great. Fewer people to contract. But I’m back to where I started, because I do not understand those empty houses. Will they just stand in the desert if energy prices go up and water is scarce? That strikes me as a really crappy way to store our stocks of concrete and timber and granite countertops. I would have preferred those to be stored as cement and trees and in quarries, where is cheaper to retrieve them.

Anyway, folks, if you have a clear vision of what this looks like, I am interested. How does a housing bubble bust show up in my/our daily life?

10/6/7: A decent description.


Somehow, I'm not tired of pointing this out yet. Mark Morford's column today ran a bunch of his hate mail. It is, indeed, awful stuff. But in eighteen letters that absolutely excoriated him, not one commented on his looks or suggested that he be raped. I'm jealous.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Like the Little Mermaid.

This is a completely sincere question, and I would love to hear your answers:

Are you in physical pain all the time?

I questioned Margie about this rather relentlessly at lunch today, but all of her answers are consistent. No. She does not hurt all the time. I was asking specifically about her feet, because my feet always hurt. I figured that was normal. No, she says. No, her feet do not hurt every time she stands or takes a step. The first few steps in the morning are not knee-bucklingly painful (without the actual knee buckling, because one expects it and is prepared). Her feet do not hurt her unless she has an abrasion. She does not live with a constant deep ache in her feet that blazes into sharp pains when she put weight on them. Her feet do not hurt as a matter of course.

This was very interesting. My feet always hurt. I figure it is the legacy of all that tkd; the hours practicing barefoot and kicking hard things with feet. When I was actually doing all that tkd, the first steps of the day were literally knee-buckling, holding things to stay upright and stifling gasps of pain. It has been much better since I quit.

I assumed everybody has something that always hurts. My sister's knees always hurt. But Margie's information suggests that that is not the case. I am very intrigued. Do your feet hurt you all the time? The possibility that feet do not always hurt gives me resolve. I will tend to my feet and see if they get better! I will rub them and try Epsom salts (because I like olde remedies) and wear shoes with real arches. The clear implication of all this is that I should add 'foot fetishist' to my boyfriend specs, so that the process becomes enjoyable. Fortunately, Craigslist suggests that those are readily available.

Monday, September 03, 2007

What one man hath nailed, I can put asunder.

I am taking a quick break, to prepare and eat what may be my last meal. I am at peace with this. Burning Man was good, but I don't live in the past. Right now, I am at my sister's house, working on stripping the garage down to studs. I like this work.

I like this work for a bunch of reasons. First, I like it because I am finding out that I can do it. There are pieces built into the wall, and it will be cheaper if we take them out, and no one else is here. So I try banging on them and prying them, and it works! I've taken out everything that isn't big. I am so glad that no one else is here. I like working slowly and seeing what I am doing. Turns out that a lot of stuff is NOT intricately fastened in very complicated ways, but simply nailed into the wall. I could do that, if I had to attach something to a garage wall. I am also glad that I am the only person here to do this because if someone else were here, I would probably yield the task to him, and then I wouldn't find out that I can do it. I also disassembled an outlet. That was not so hard.

Since I have removed everything else, all that is left is the electrical porcelain piece with the wiring and the terminals. I will start momentarily. I am pretty sure it isn't live. Really fairly sure. I called Anand, who tried the outlet and the light socket and is sure they are dead. But he didn't check the porcelain piece itself. He also asked why I don't carry that lovely voltmeter he bought me. I remember Dennis commenting that the electrical was dead. I called my sister, who remembers the home inspector and the builder saying that it is not live. I asked her if she was sure enough to kill her sister, and she said to stand in a bucket of water, so it happens fast. She said to call her after, but I pointed out that she would be home in an hour or so, and that was soon enough to find out if I am dead.

Anyway, I want to get started on taking that down. Slow intentional destruction is interesting! If you don't hear from me for a while, like a couple hours or days or something, I am dead from electricity. It is sort of a shame, since I am so young and have so much left to share with the world. (You should work that into my eulogy. And say something about how I wasn't scared, of construction projects in life or of facing death itself.) My possible last meal was tasty and now I'm headed back out to the garage.

UPDATE: Not dead! It was all suspenseful, wasn't it?