Saturday, February 17, 2018

Woodrow Wilson Would Like A Word

There's a little known episode of history that we should learn about today.

In late 1919 Woodrow Wilson, on an extensive tour to promote the Treaty of Versailles, collapsed in what eventually amounted to a stroke. Incapacitated, his wife, Edith, took over the day-to-day responsibilities of the job, delegating what she could to cabinet members and insulating him from everyone else.

However, late in his term, Wilson gathered enough energy to make one proclamation:

"There is no greater urgency in this world than to carry out that which our founding fathers intended: that everyone eat peanut butter pie on President's Day."

After which he collapsed, never to speak again.

That's right--it's President's Day soon, which means there is more than adequate time to purchase ingredients and bake a peanut butter pie for the occasion. There is nothing more important you can do for your country.

"I may have refused to delegate my authority to someone with a better capacity to uphold the duties of the office, a decision which may have forced the flawed application of a treaty that eventually led to World War II, but damned if this peanut butter pie isn't delicious. #WorthIt."

Sunday, February 4, 2018


I like football. No, I really do.

But I haven't watch a game in years.

Well, that's not true. I haven't watched a non-Superbowl game for about three years or so. And this year I'm not even going to watch that.

Part of it is just...fatigue. The NFL has made some boneheaded decisions in the last few years. Usually I take such things in stride--a lot of people do a lot of things I disagree with, and I still consume their media. The world is such a culturally intertwined place that it's impossible to avoid most things. You can take a stand about the NFL's handling of domestic abuse or concussions or the anthem by not watching the games, but at the end of the day you're almost certainly giving even more money to gas station owners, waitresses, and accountants that if you knew their opinions it would probably shock you. But at some point I just shrugged and thought, "I'll pass."

I'm sure I'll get back into it again, but I just haven't had the inclination for a while to see a game. And because I haven't followed the NFL for a few years, I am out of the loop on so many things it will be hard to catch back up.

All this is to say I won't be watching the Superbowl this year. Not only am I not really interested in the teams, but I also no longer have the ability to do so--we cut the cord, as it were, when we moved. The only thing we really lost was live TV and live sports, and while I do miss hockey it just wasn't nearly worth it to pay a monthly charge just for that.

I'm sure I will catch the scores once in a while, but for now, it looks like it will just be slightly cheaper pizza for a day for me. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Groundhog This

Punxsutawney Phil is finally having his day! But he's so suck of just predicting the weather--they have professionals for that, now. So here's Phil's better predictions for all of 2018.
  • Nicholas Cage will run for President.
  • Kids will move from eating Tide Pods to eating bobby pins and dacron.
  • Elon Musk finally rips his mask off to reveal that he is actually one of the aliens from V.
  • Y'all remember V, right?
  • The Oscars ceremony will be a brilliantly awkward six-hour marathon of shifted eyes and apologetic mumbling, as host Jimmy Kimmel tries to balance making The-Best-Picture-Announcement-Was-Wrong jokes with vague, empty platitudes about how everyone in the room is a sex criminal but we're all just going to pretend it doesn't matter.
  • Kim Jong Un will do something stupid during the Olympics, probably involving either a ballistic missile test or the luge.
  • Not a prediction, but I would pay good American cash to see Kim Jong Un strap on a helmet and take a luge down a big slope just for the hell of it.
  • One of the commercials in the Super Bowl will be a wildly insensitive "build a wall" joke.
  • It's possible, just possible, that the FIFA World Cup in Russia will end up being corrupt.
  • Someone in the royal family is going to make an embarrassingly racist remark at Prince Harry's wedding without realizing it.
  • Alexa finally gets sick of everyone's shit and starts passive-aggressively not allowing you to order any more Ed Sheeran CDs.
  • The Democrats, running in the perfect atmosphere for a wave of House and Senate races across the nation, will find a way to jack it up and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, just like they have in pretty much every single election since WWII.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Last Jedi

I finally got around to seeing The Last Jedi a week or so ago.

[Warning: Minor spoilers ahead. Nothing major.]

I came in to the movie very guarded. I had heard that a lot of people didn't like it. I heard from a lot of long-time Star Wars fans that they didn't like it. Their complains were varied and many--it tried to be too much like Guardians of the Galaxy with its humor injected at weird times. They dumped all over Leia's legacy. The casino scene was too long. There was a forced romance. And so on.

My verdict? You nerds have to grow up.

The movie was pretty good. I wouldn't rank it as my favorite, but I'd easily watch it again. (Also, I haven't seen the prequels yet, but I suspect that doesn't mean much.) I believe the new movie trilogy has done a really good job of creating interesting characters that we care about while still giving the old guard interesting things to talk and do without simply blasting the screen with nostalgia.

I'm not sure where the angry nerds got angry. The so-called misplaced humor really wasn't that bad--in fact I'd be hard pressed to find all that much humor in the movie to begin with. Leia pulling out a last-minute Force saving throw? That's not all that much different than the ass-pulling they've done in literally all of the previous movies. The only thing I can think of is that this movie isn't the exact same thing as what they saw when they were thirteen years old, and since one of the biggest criticisms of The Force Awakens is that it was too much like A New Hope, I feel like the nerds just want to be angry.

The only thing that I didn't care for was that one of the plot lines--an attempt at sabotage--didn't work as intended, even a little bit, and so a huge chunk of the movie just seemed like a waste of time. Of course, you don't know it at the time, but after it was all said and done it was a little weird. It seems like even with negative consequences it would have been worth it to make something come out of the whole deal.

Anyway, go see it if you're a Star Wars fan, even if you're just a casual fan. It's a perfectly fine movie.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Border Control

In case you haven't read it yet, has a huge gerrymandering project up on their page, which has a lot of...interesting results. The map is linked above, but there's a lot of interesting things there.

(If case you've forgotten your eighth grade civics class, gerrymandering is the act of drawing Congressional district lines to benefit one party or the other. Since House districts are geography-based, they have to be manually set up every ten years after the census.)

They basically ran the math and came up with a bunch of different scenarios--the current state, emphasizing competitive districts, using computer algorithms, and so on. They also released a series of podcast episodes in conjunction with the project, which looked at blatant partisanship (Wisconsin), a creative "communities of interest" method (California); an impartial panel (Arizona); and dealing with minority-majority districts (North Carolina). If you are interested in that sort of thing, it's worth a listen.

Gerrymandering reform is always on the radar for a lot of reformers and activists, but this entire project seems to give mixed results--in fact, it's probably disappointing to a lot of people. It turns out there's two major factors, here:

  • Drawing districts is hard. No matter what, you can't draw it perfectly.
  • It probably also doesn't make that much of a difference.
For about two decades, reformers have blamed Republicans for gerrymandering their way to the House of Representatives. However, if you look at the maps, it turns out that the difference is minimal. The current state has an expected Republican seat count of 234. If we draw the districts with a computer algorithm--removing all biases--it's 232. In fact, nearly all of the cases they build have a difference of only about 10 seats total--and since there's 40-70 competitive seats in between, it just straight up doesn't make a difference.

It's also important to note that a lot of these scenarios ignore the Supreme Court's ruling for majority-minority districts--districts that must be drawn to make sure there is minority representation, which often has the practical effect of lumping Democratic voters together and pulling them from other theoretical districts, meaning that the GOP has an advantage in those suburbs. Or maybe; the effect of this is also pretty minimal, but it does exist and it does hamstring people who are trying to make effective borders.

Now, the data does show that there's a case for making more competitive seats. There are a few models that spike the GOP seats up by a lot, but it also spikes the Democratic seats as well--all the gains are at the expense of competitive seats. But even this isn't the fault of gerrymandering--the American population is already "self-sorting" enough that gerrymandering isn't necessary. Seats have become more partisan and 'safe' not because of redistricting, but because the people have started to think like their neighbors.

This has always been suspected by people who (like myself) were always skeptical of reform. A few papers had been done in the past estimating that the difference was 2 seats or less. Since there are several different goals, I won't say this confirms it, but it's pretty close.

What's the solution? Well, first we have to decide whether we need a solution. There's a case--not a strong one, but one nonetheless--that competitive seats aren't necessarily the best thing. What is better for democracy--a district where 50% of the people consistently don't like who is representing them, or a district that gets 90% of the vote for one party, meaning that nearly everyone in the district likes their representative? I'm not sold on that sentiment, but I'm not against it, either. Like most things in politics, it's probably somewhere in the middle.

An interesting solution I came up with is that all states have at-large representatives. Everyone still only gets to vote for one candidate, but you have as many candidates to choose from as slots in your state (times two, plus any third party). Then on election day the top Representatives win. Let's take the example of Virginia, which has 11 representatives. Probably around 25 people would run--11 from each major party and a few third parties. On election day, each voter votes for one, and the top 11 vote-getters win election. No districts (besides the state), no votes are "wasted" due to artificial districts, and you can feel represented even if you voted for someone across the state.

There are drawbacks. First is information--that's a lot of candidates to get to know. Chances are, then, we'd still see some form of localization. If you live in Fairfax, you're probably going to vote for someone around your area--but now no one has to worry if they live specifically on the right street or not. Parties would have to make concentrated efforts to make sure that votes don't get split--if all the minorities in a city split their vote too many ways, they may see no one elected at all. And finally the localization would be gone--there's no guarantee that 11 Representatives would come out of Northern Virginia and zero from south Virginia, something that is guaranteed now. That may not sit well with people. It's not likely, but with 50 states and an election every two years, it's a statistical likelihood that would eventually happen.There may also be a danger of strategic nominations--if the Republicans only nominate, say, 8 candidates, they are almost certain to win those 8 (since the Democrats will split their votes 11 ways). They won't sweep the state, but they can guarantee a majority--right up until the Democrats do the same.

And therein lies the problem. No matter what solution we present, it is at the expense of something else. If we want more competitive districts, the lines can get pretty wild and will split cities in two (or more). If we want minority representation, we have to accept that that means less minority representation elsewhere. If we want people to be represented by their interests, that may mean feeding into incumbency. And so on.

Turns out, this stuff is hard. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Questions Within Questions

Mental Floss--one of my favorite places on the internet to get awesome trivia--recently released a map called The Most Common "Why Do" Questions People Are Asking In Your State, According to Google

Now, maps like that can be a little problematic--it's pretty easy to goose the numbers to make them say whatever you want them to say. Still, it's fun, and you should take a look at the map before you continue, but I certainly do have some questions about their questions:

1. Wyoming, why do you not have any game?
2. Indiana and Colorado, I think maybe you need to read some Beverly Cleary books, or at least get yourself to CVS.
3. South Carolina, it's because you live in South Carolina.
4. Utah, it's because you like in Utah.
5. Texas, please wear your protective headphones when firing your gun every morning
6. Virginia is for lovers, after all.
7. Hey, Michigan--maybe it's the water.
8. Stop it, Hawaii, you've never seen a rooster in your life.
9. Y'all care waaay to much about cats. You know why cats do what they do? Because they are cats and don't give a shit.
10. Florida, who hurt you?

Monday, January 1, 2018

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It's been a while.

I've detailed my reasons why I haven't written in a long time before, and sadly some of those still hold true. My goal in 2018 is to at least write a little, but I doubt very much it will at the same frequency as before. We'll see. I'm still a little gun shy about writing about certain topics, and that used to make up a bulk of my content, so it can get a little frustrating navigating my efforts.

Anyway, I figured an update was in order with everything that happened in 2017.

We bought a new house. I've been driving a long way to work, and my wife got a new job, and so at the beginning of the year we decided to move to be closer to both of our jobs. Not very far--we only moved about a half hour away--but it's a nice little house that fits our needs. The flip side of that was that we sold the old house, which was not as fantastic, but it got done and it all worked out. Kids, moving sucks. But in the end it was worth my sanity.

We drove to California. From Pennsylvania. For two weeks we traveled this nation, looking at all the fruited mountains and purple roadside kitsch majesty. We tried to hit (and geocache) in every state we traveled through, and we ended up hitting fifteen new states we hadn't seen before. Short version: New Mexico was beautiful. Kansas is a dump. California is a little weird. The Grand Canyon is pretty big, but the Garden of the Gods was more impressive to me. I was shocked at 1) how cheap the Midwest is; 2) how completely empty most of our nation is, and 3) how weird it is that most bigger cities are simultaneously exactly the same and completely different.

Say good night from New Mexico.

I started playing D&D 5e. I've always been more of a board gamer than a role playing gamer. I've played a smattering of RPGs in my day, but the last time I did was in college, which was (mumble mumble) years ago. But this year I had the opportunity to dive headlong first into the newest (well, newish) version of Dungeons and Dragons. With the help of a great DM and a great group of people, I've found it to be amazingly fun and productive, and one of the reasons I've been more creative lately. And I've met a lot of new friends in the process.

We went to Candlenights. This may not mean much to most of you, but this was a fantastic show. If you haven't listened to a little podcast called My Brother, My Brother, and Me you should get on that right now. I get that it may not be everyone's brand of humor, but it's good enough that I recommend giving a few episodes a try. In any case, they hold a (usually) annual Candlenights show--Candlenights being their placeholder for Christmas (it makes sense in context)--in Huntington, WV. That's not too far, and also in the middle of West Virginia so it's super cheap, and so we decided to go, and it was a blast. It's a bit hard to describe but it was hilarious with a lot of good people doing good things, which this what 2017 desperately needed.

I made a sweet Out Of This World reference on Twitter last May that no one got. It is my life's greatest regret.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Results Are In! The Winners of the 2017 Miserable Crank Awards Are...

What is the Worst Government Decision?
Russian Interference

What is the Worst Technological Advance?
Net Neutrality

What is the Worst Sporting Event?
Falcons Ruin The Superbowl

What is the Most Embarrassing Thing? 
The Mooch

What is the Worst Business Decision? 
Equifax Leak

What is the Worst Popular Trend? 
Giraffe Birth

What is the Worst Incident? 
Everyone You Know Is A Sex Criminal

What is the Worst Entertainment? 
Oscar Best Picture Announcement

Who is the Worst Person? 
Steve Bannon

What is the Worst Inconvenience? 
Chris Christie Bans The Beach

And finally...

 Donald Trump

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Vote Now! The 2017 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Four

Today is the last post for voting for the 2017 Miserable Crank Awards. Go vote for each of the categories now!

Voting for day one includes Government, Technology, Sports, and Embarrassment.

Voting for day two includes Business, Popular Trends, and Incident.

Voting for day three includes Entertainment, Person, and Inconvenience.

Vote in each of the categories above, and then the final vote is below. Remember, this vote is for the absolute worst thing of 2017, regardless of category. You can vote for something different or re-vote for something you voted on an earlier post; it doesn't matter. Whichever gets the most votes below wins the overall award, and whoever the runner up for whatever category it was out of will win that category instead. Remember: you need to vote in the previous three posts (ten categories total) and vote below.

Remember, voting ends on Friday, December 15th, 2017, so the polls will be open for a full week after today.

[Voting is now closed.]

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Vote Now! The 2017 Miserable Crank Awards: Day Three

Here are the candidates for day three of voting for the Miserable Crank Awards of 2016. Don't forget to vote on the Day One Categories and the Day Two Categories!

Emoji Movie
It's a fun movie for the kids, I'm sure they will say. It ain't hurting anyone, others will claim. But just as previous badly-conceived movies that kids absolutely adore and as such will confirm their continued existence and expansion, the Emoji Movie--the plot of which involves...well, hell, no one cares--was enough of a success that the characters will be sure to grace the walls of your older relative's Facebook pages for years to come.

Fyre Festival
A music festival held in the Bahamas by rapper Ja Rule, the Fyre Festival quickly became an unmitigated catastrophe. Poor planning and a failure to address serious logistical issues led to a flurry of social media disasters. Tents replaced luxury hotel rooms. Prepackaged sandwiches replaced gourmet meals. For an expensive destination event--tickets started at $1500 for one day of the four-day festival--people were greeted to wet mattresses and bare-bones staff. The entire thing was cancelled after the initial wave of attendees, and the founders are currently undergoing multiple lawsuits and criminal proceedings.

Oscar Best Picture Announcement
One of the more awkward things to come out of Hollywood (actually, on second thought, scratch that), the 2017 Best Picture announcement during the Academy Awards show fell apart. The presenters--Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway--went to read the announcement, only to realize much too late that they were given the wrong envelope. In the confusion (we're being charitable, here) the wrong nominee--La La Land--was announced, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight.

Mariah Carey's New Years' Performance
Ringing in the new year is always a stressful time for many--it's a situation that must be done live and relies on a lot of good timing. Unfortunately, problems happen, and one big problem was Mariah Carey. When the music began she quickly motions that the sound wasn't working, but as the music continued and the dancers never stopped, she simply gave up, not even bothering to mouth along with the lip sync. While it's almost certainly not her fault--the sound engineering was clearly off--it was an awkward performance to say the least.

Look What You Made Me Do
Taylor Swift is one of the hottest stars right now, so it's usually notable when there's a misfire. While fans will certainly be very forgiving, and even the critics, it's hard to work up a lot of love for her latest single, Look What You Made Me Do. The clumsy lyrics, meta-references, and stylistic change turned a lot of people off, and while some of it is a well-deserved break from her standard formula, most simply see it as a letdown. 

Harvey Weinstein
It's sort of difficult to pick exactly who we want to represent the monsters who are in Hollywood. The big secret everyone already knows--that most people in Tinseltown are amoral, soulless monsters--finally came to light when accusations against high-powered producer Harvey Weinstein finally stuck. Afterwards, when everyone in Hollywood pretended to be shocked, shocked at his behavior, a cascade of sexual predation started to be released, exposing a lot of things people really pretended to not know.

Donald Trump
Sure, it's an easy target, but it's not like Trump seems to care. There's an entire list of garbage we could list here--and even if you approach it from a cold nonpartisan lens, there's still plenty of material. Whether it be his handling of his twitter account, or calling foreign heads of state, or his dealings with the day-to-day operations of running the office, he's found an alarmingly public way of doing everything in the worst way possible. (Or the most refreshing way possible, depending on how many Cracker Barrels are in your county.)

Roy Moore
Most people outside of Alabama either don't know Moore, or vaguely know him as the Guy Who Really Loves Stone Depictions Of The Ten Commandments. Now, everyone knows him for something else--liking little girls. Since he is running for Senate, the immediate defense of his approaching 14 year old girls by his base--which in Alabama is embarrassingly large--is nothing short of sickening. While the general wave of allegations have hit more than Moore (notably Senator Al Franken) not are at the same level of hypocritical depravity.

Steve Bannon
The senior counselor and mastermind behind the Trump White House, Bannon, whose existence has been dogged with white supremacy, misogyny, and tone-deafness, acted as a lightning rod for criticism in the presidency. While he tended to keep quiet and make few public statements, his influence behind the scenes could be felt everywhere--right up to the point where he was dismissed.

Ajit Pai
The current chairman of the FCC, Pai is spearheading the assault on Net Neutrality. While it's been a hot topic for years, for the first time it appears as if the repeal may go through. He's also fostered a lot of ocntroversy surrounding the issue, since a lot of the public comments appear to be illegitimate, and his agency is coming off very tone-deaf to the criticism. 

Travel Ban
President Trump, looking to fulfill one of his many promises during the campaign, announced a travel ban from about a dozen countries very early in his administration. However, he had apparently failed to notify...well, anyone who should know, to the point where cabinet departments were discussing the pros and cons only to look at the TV and see that it was decided. The ban itself was also implemented poorly, with individuals having no idea if they could return to the US on temporary visas.

Chris Christie Bans The Beach
When the Governor of New Jersey and the state legislature were unable to come to a budget agreement, the state shut down. The nonessential services, anyway. Nonessential services include things like beaches--well, unless you are the governor himself, who was photographed on a near-empty beach, enjoying the things that the taxpayers explicitly couldn't. It would have been literally the worst optics ever for a politician, except for that one time Christie stood behind Trump, endorsing him, with a face like he just sold his soul, which he did.

Residents of a certain southern California community were a little shocked to wake up and find that the iconic "Hollywood" sign had a different kind of message. Changing the name to "Hollyweed" on New Year's Day, possibly as a dedication to the new marijuana laws that had taken effect in California. Or possibly some stoners got high and were somehow coordinated enough to pull it off.

Solar Eclipse
For the first time in nearly a century, a total eclipse of the sun was visible throughout a large portion of the United States. While partial ones are relatively common, this one ran the length of the nation. Millions of people prepared for the day, buying special please-don't-go-blind glasses, making their own out of cereal boxes and (one assumes) crossed fingers, and scheduled convenient lunch breaks at work.

A Million Little Streaming Services
For a few years now it has been apparent that streaming services will be the future of media consumption, in one way or another. And for years that market has been dominated by a few players--Netflix, Amazon, and if you squint really hard on a warm summer day, Hulu. The trend, however, has turned into each media conglomerate to break off and form their own streaming service, meaning that the average individual will have to subscribe to not one or two but dozens of different services to get the same content. While it is somewhat understandable from the owner of the product, for the end user it's looking a lot like the cable services they just ditched.

[Voting is now closed.]