Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Three hours in the life of Joe Palabee

Joe recently got divorced.  His ex-wife got the vacuum cleaner, so Joe heads to Target to shop for another one.  He does not like the colors of the first several ones he sees, but he eventually finds one he likes.  He picks up some vacuum bags and then finds a package with six light bulbs, a box of paper clips, shoe polish, and a bag of brown rice.  While standing in line to check out, he thinks briefly about whether to buy chewing gum or breath mints.  Before leaving, he withdraws $40 from an ATM machine.  On the way home, he stops for gas and decides to buy a bottle of cold water.  When he arrives home, he checks his mail box and finds several advertisements, one of which is for a sale at a local bicycle shop.  Since Joe already has a bicycle and since it will be more than seven months until his twin nieces' birthday, he is not particularly interested.  Before doing anything else, Joe goes online and fills out the warranty registration for his vacuum cleaner.  He vacuums his office before the living room.

NOTE:  This story is purely fictional and for illustrative purposes only.  Any resemblance to existing individuals is purely coincidental.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Potential plots in the next Gilmore Girls followup

For the next follow-up Gilmore Girls series, which of the following developments would you like most?
  1. Headmaster Charleston arranges for Lane to receive a college degree based on life experience and hires her as the Head Music Teacher at Chilton.
  2. Upon the retirement of Headmaster Charleston, Paris becomes headmaster at Chilton and shocks the faculty with the admonition that the curriculum must be made "45 percent tougher so that we can beat those nasty [expletive deleted] at the Oxford Academy."
  3. Taylor persuades a luxury goods factory outlet mall operator to locate a facility in Stars Hollow. Property values go up dramatically, but the locals start complaining about traffic congestion.  Taylor valiantly pushes Luke to offer some "at least reasonably sophisticated fare" in the diner so that mall shoppers can be attracted to visit Downtown.  When Luke resists, Taylor attempts to enlist Emily to plead his case, but Emily takes Luke's side, telling Taylor that "this kind of supercilious snobbery is deplorable and entirely unbecoming."
  4. In order to escape their obligations to visit, Lorelai and Luke persuade Emily to run for the U.S. Senate. After Emily serves three years, she is elected Vice President, and the Governor persuades Lorelai to take over Emily's Senate seat. After Emily and the President find themselves too exhausted to run for re-election, Lorelai is elected President on the Republican ticket.  She serves for two terms and uses her business sense to promote a strong progressive agenda.  Democrats and Republicans all agree that she will go down in history as "a truly great--if not the best--President."  Luke feels uncomfortable in the White House, so he sets up a non-profit organization that that sells hamburgers and fries to tourists, with the proceeds going to programs for returning veterans.
  5. When Rory is nominated to be U.S. ambassador to China, it comes up in her confirmation hearings that she has been serving as an undercover agent for the CIA since shortly after graduating from Yale.
  6. Miss Patty has an affair with Headmaster Charles, and when they are exposed, a major scandal erupts. Lorelai brokers an agreement with concerned parents that Headmaster Charles will take a one year sabbatical for counseling and "deep and intense soul searching," after which he will be allowed to return. Tristan is tapped to be Acting Headmaster.  Unfortunately, Tristan has a major disagreement with the football coach on strategy, and when the coach has to go on medical leave after being punched out, Tristan hires Kirk as acting coach.  Although many of the players and a large number of fans have serious doubts about the acting coach's strategy, the team goes on to have its best ever season.
  7. A famous actress named Lauren Graham moves to Stars Hollow.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Moon missions

Wikipedia indicates that the manned U.S. flights to the Moon all took place from 1969-1972. First of all, it really is very politically incorrect that we refer to "manned" missions.  Even though it happened that all the astronauts who went to the Moon were men, the term "personned" really would have been much more enlightened. I had been under the impression that there were something like 2-3 trips; apparently, there were six. I believed that the Soviets had landed on the Moon several times, but apparently, they never did. It seems a bit perplexing that so many missions were done in such a short time period with none to follow afterward.  Wouldn't NASA have wanted to spend more time between missions to make improvements based on what had been learned on previous trips and technological advances that had taken place?  Please don't get me wrong--I am not suggesting another personned Moon trip now or in the near future; there probably isn't all that much that could be gained for such an expensive endeavor, but it really seems a bit wasteful to run six missions so close in time.

In July of 1975, the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project took place--a trip that involved some cooperation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union with simultaneous space missions.  I had thought this was a Moon mission--at the time, when I was something like eleven years old, I probably could not have imagined any other reason for going up into space.  I certainly would not have understood the idea of going into orbit of the Earth or any other body.  I could not understand why so many people seemed to be so excited about another Moon trip since we had been there before. It all seemed rather routine. And it turned out that they had actually been excited about something even less eventful!  How pathetic!  In any event, this may be why I thought the Soviets had landed on the Moon.

Sadly, this is not the first time my beliefs about astronomy have proven erroneous.  At one point, I believed that aside from the Sun, the star closest to the Earth was some twenty-six light years away.  The closest one is actually "only" 4.22 light years away.  Fortunately, I don't teach astronomy, and I hope my students have not lost too much confidence in me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Bozozity and delusion

Is the bozo completely clueless as to the consequences of his stiffing of suppliers, tax avoidance, insulting of the disabled and war heroes, unrepentant philandering, misappropriation of funds, treasonous encouragement of enemy nations to hack into U.S. computer systems, abuse of bankruptcy laws, deceptive advertising and misrepresentation, unmitigated use of profanity, and general lack of any meaningful element of conscience on the destination to which he will be headed when he passes away? Sadly, I would not be surprised if he has deluded himself that he will be in the number of that saints when they come marching in--and that he is owed the privilege of skipping the march and arriving in an air conditioned limousine. He will probably not be very happy with the climate control in place where he is headed. If he is dependent on ice skating for his happiness, he will be in real trouble.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Would Your Grandma Make The Youth Pastor Spread Rumors About Your Neighbor's Ex-Mother-in-Law If She Did Not Get Paid to Do So? Some Juicy Considerations in Theory of Mind and Social Relationships

Strictly speaking, this question only involves first order theory of mind: Separate but related questions about one's grandmother's thinking and the questioner's basis for the question.  The inquiry might lead one to suspect that the questioner believes that the grandmother in question may be rather greedy and/or that she is mean-spirited.  There could, of course, be socially redeeming reasons for bringing about this gossip--if, for example, the mother-in-law in question is engaging in socially destructive behavior in the community and could be driven out by the damage inflicted on her reputation.  But that is probably not what would come to mind at first glance.

Despite the first order nature of the question, however, the question does raise some interesting issues about social relationships:

  1. The questioner seems to presume some insight into the grandmother's motivations.
  2. The questioner appears to believe that the questionee has the background--based on knowledge of the characters involved--to figure out this rather complicated potential chain of events.
  3. There are assumptions that: (a) the grandmother has some power--whether by way or blackmail or otherwise--over the youth pastor; (b) the youth pastor might be unwilling to spread the rumors on his or her own initiative; (c) the youth pastor would be able to carry out this mission successfully; (d) some unidentified individual may be motivated to pay the grandmother for her efforts; and (e) it is clear from the context or otherwise (i) which youth pastor is implicated, (ii) which neighbor is implicated; and (iii) that either (1) the neighbor in question only has one ex-mother-in-law, (2) the relevant one is clearly implied, or (3) it is not particularly critical which of possible multiple ex-mothers-in-law is targeted--with the possibility that more than one might be targeted, either simultaneously or sequentially.  This is really getting complicated!
There are some thorny issues left unstated in this question, although the questionee might have some potential insight:
  1.  What is the motivation of the questioner?  Is he or she genuinely looking for information or is he or she possibly trying to embarrass the quetionee about his or her grandmother's potentially flawed character--or perhaps to instill pride either in (a) the greed of the grandmother, (b) her apparent evil nature, or (c) her willingness to "do the right thing"--if this is how the compulsion to spread gossip is seen--without being paid?  If the questioner is asking purely for information, is he or she potentially a cheapskate looking to have the rumors spread and wondering if he or she can get away with not paying the grandmother for her potentially valuable services?
  2. Is there any relevance to the fact that the ex-mother-in-law is that of a neighbor, or is that just a way in which she is identified?  How would the neighbor feel about the situation?  He or she may view the rumor attempts favorably as misfortune that a potentially disliked individual deserves to suffer; or, quite possibly, the neighbor may still have some loyalty to a former in-law and could potentially be the real target of a potential conspiracy to injure.  Or it could be that someone is trying to injure both the ex-mother-in-law and the neighbor at the same time.  If the attempt is to injure the ex-mother-in-law, does the individual seeking to accomplish this care one way or the other about any possible impact on the neighbor?
  3. Does the neighbor have a current non-ex-mother-in-law?  How would this potentially affect his or her views about the questions above?
  4. Does the questionee care one way or the other about the fate of the ex-mother-in-law?
  5. Does the questioner care one way or the other?  
  6. Although it is assumed above that the grandmother has some power over the youth pastor, is the choice of this individual as the sub-agent based on the appearance that the agent (the grandmother) has an especially high degree of power over this individual or is the assumption that the youth pastor would be a particularly effective sub-agent?
  7. Would spreading rumors be especially objectionable for a person of the cloth?  In particular, does the youth pastor's charge to minister to the needs of impressionable youth make spreading these rumors even more objectionable than it would be have been if done by other clerics?  Perhaps one might argue that it would have been at least as objectionable for the head pastor to spread the rumors but that the youth pastor's behavior would be more problematic than that of other subordinate ministers.
  8. Could all of the above potentially involve a plot by enemies of the grandmother to find a way to disgrace her, making the ex-mother-in-law merely a potential object of collateral damage?
Of course, these questions could become a whole lot more complicated if we added in issues about parking spot assignments.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Silly laws

A society clearly needs to draw a balance between the necessity of maintaining some laws that make an advanced civilization possible and the danger of imposing overly burdensome laws that seriously threaten the liberty of individuals.  In particular, I am skeptical of local laws.  To some extent, individuals do have a choice as to where they wan to live, and there may be some merit to the idea that individuals can choose a state whose laws best reflects his or her positions.  It is much more difficult, however, to defend many laws enacted at the city or county level.  To some extent, variations may genuinely represent differences in the values of the residents, but I suspect that a lot of the variation really is the result of the idiosyncrasies of local elected officials rather than overall differences in opinions of local residents.  As a business school professor, I see the appalling waste that results  variations in local laws and regulations burden businesses without any significant benefit to residents.

Some clearly outdated laws remain on the books in some locations.  It is, of course, highly unlikely that local officials would seek to enforce them, but one wonders that ever motivated local jurisdictions to impose them and to what extent these laws could be abused if selectively enforced.  Sometimes, it is possible to see that silly laws could potentially have offered a small to modest benefit to the community based on the values of the time, but one wonders why the specific issue addressed by the law should get such a priority over other issues and why officials created a very specific ordinance rather than making the issue part of a more general law that would better reflect a coherent set of underlying values.

The Town of Wilbur, Washington, apparently still has on its books a law making it illegal to "ride an ugly horse."  Ironically, the Town Council might see this quaint ordinance as a potential boost for tourism and find it potentially economically disadvantageous to repeal it despite the law's obvious
obsolescence. What gave rise to this law in the first place?  To what extent had the town experienced or anticipated serious repercussions of unsightly horses being ridden?  Why confine protective measures of a potentially serious threat to such a narrow scope?  Yes, I get the point that few individuals, in practice, would find occasion to ride mules, rhinoes, donkeys, zebras, and giraffes, but why not focus more generally on aesthetic threats to the local environment rather than merely tackling  the cases where the threat is brought about by animals of burden?

But even under a limited scope, one question is whether the law was intended to as apply as narrowly as it was literally written.  Was this measure intended only to prohibit riding such a horse, but not to use it to draw a carriage or otherwise bring it into public view?

I can think of two potential reasons--albeit not particularly good ones--why the ban might be intended to apply exclusively to riding. One concern could be that having a horse to ride was a privilege only available to the more socially prominent residents.  Thus, a rider on an ugly horse could impugn the dignity of the upper class.  Another possibility could be that although an ugly horse used as part of a carriage could, to some extent, threaten the public decorum, the horse individually ridden would be so much more visible and thus, in practice, represent a greater felt intrusion.

There could potentially be several reasons for a law that would either selectively ban riding the ugly horse or more generally ban bringing such a horse into public view in the town, whether as part of a carriage or other arrangement:
  1. A general concern about the demoralizing impact of seeing the ugly horse on persons present.  Even if people did not experience great distress, the sight could be a bit of a "downer" and slightly depress mood, perhaps to the extent that civic pride could be threatened.
  2. Local merchants, restaurateurs, and hoteliers could have worried that the presence of such animals could demean the neighborhood, reducing the attractiveness of  offerings of local businesses, in return both depressing profits and property values.
  3. The concern might have been specifically about horses that take only an ugly appearance as a result of abuse.  Although ugliness is a subjective matter, it could potentially be easier to prove that the horse was "ugly" than that any disfigurements had actually resulted from abuse. In addition, in past centuries, many tended to hold a belief that as man held dominion over animals--who were supposed to serve man--forbidding the owners from abusing animals did not constitute a legitimate governmental objective, thus threatening the validity of a law with such a purpose.  (Yes, this reasoning sounds preposterous today, but many people used to believe that garbage.)
  4. One politically individual--or a group of powerful persons--were seeking to disadvantage one specific adversary whose only horse could be deemed ugly. It may have been possible to selectively enforce the law only when the disfavored individual tried to enter town and greet a convoy of exceptionally unsightly horses advancing with impunity into town with complete indifference.
When push comes to shove, one wonders how much controversy the ordinance generated in its time.  With the advancement of technology, a contemporary ban on the driving of "an ugly truck" would almost certainly engender the wrath of the "hicker" element of society, with emotional and indignant rallies and demonstrations rambunctiously demanding an immediate repeal.

Ultimately, if this type of law really had merit--for one of the above reasons or for entirely different ones--why did it not gain traction more widely?  Would it have helped if local officials, proud of their effective measure to set things right, could have communicated their visions to over local officials over the Internet?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Describing Family Relationships: Shorthand, Asymmetrical Obligations, and Thorny Issues

When an Aspie tries to make systematic sense of potentially complex family relationships, intriguing questions can emerge. On the one hand, this may seem a rather esoteric issue; on the other hand, because of the importance of relationships, the strong emotions associated with certain relations, and the obligations one may feel both to the family as a whole, to the central connector between oneself and another, and to "connectee," I am wondering if these are problems that real people actually struggle with.

Ever thought of this one?  Suppose that Amy has a mother-in-law named Alice and a sister named Abby. Alice can refer to "my daughter-in-law's sister" as a way to specify their relationship, but that is a rather lengthy description for a relationship that could be rather close in some situations. In the U.S., many would probably see any strong relationship between Alice and Abby as being somewhat optional. It's great if they get along well, and their family connection could allow them to bond over a shared interest or perspective. Ironically, for example, although Amy may be on quite favorable terms with Alice, Alice may actually end up spending more time with Abby if the two of them share a passionate interest in digital photography. If Abby is the younger sister and Alice only had sons, she could also emerge as "the daughter I never had."

In some cultures, there may be norms requiring the acknowledgement of a rather explicit relationship, and, as such, a term such as "niece-in-law" could emerge--both as a shorthand and a as way of acknowledging the centrality of the relationship. Rather than quickly picking up the nature of the relationship from familiar shorthand, confusion would set in.  Hearing someone express this rather bizarre term could be seen as an attempt to be innovative, philosophical or as an attempt at humor. Yet, if the relationship comes up repeatedly in conversations, "my daughter-in-law's sister" really does become rather cumbersome.

Alice, faced with being a mother-in-law for the first time, may wonder if the if there is a concise way she way for her to refer to a relation likely to be important to her daughter-in-law. But, as a means of expediency, if Alice finds herself repeatedly referring to Abby, how much freedom does she have to innovate around the long and cumbersome relationship description? Could she light heartedly refer to her "nice-in-law" with her friends until that term becomes understood? Could she legitimately attempt to establish Abby as a person in her own right--with a concise name of her own--or would this be an egregious evasion of a relationship that exists and should be acknowledged?  Would thinking of the individual Abby rather than the family member either make Alice feel guilty for favoring expediency over deeper meaning, or could it make her feel more enlightened? And is any violation against Abby, her sister, Amy's husband, or the family as a whole?

Does Alice have a greater obligation to ponder her relationship to Abby than vice versa, either because of the role as elder person in the hierarchical relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or perhaps because Amy only has one mother-in-law but could potentially have several sisters, possibly diluting the importance that any one sister of one's daughter-in-law might have? Or, does Abby have an obligation to defer to Alice? Do the two of them try to sort out this issue between themselves, perhaps reducing tension by laughing as they muse at the complications of life? Knowing the kinds of complications that Amy has thrust on these two women as a result of her marriage, what kind of responsibility does Amy have for helping these two people--each important for her--figure out their relationship to each other?

For men--who do not face quite as much pressure to understand and consider relationships--is the issue of the meaning of "my son-in-law's brother" less significant? And what happens when things get complicated as a man refers to "my daughter-in-law's brother?"

Once we have resolved this issue, we can ponder the nature of the "aunt-in-law" relationship.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The End of an Era

On Tuesday night, after I had turned in my grades for the semester, I walked through the University Village across the street from campus.  The Village is slated for redevelopment over the next one and a half decades.  This is expected to be one of the largest--if not the largest--development projects in the Los Angeles area for much of this time.

The increasingly deserted state of the Village probably should not have come as a surprise to me.  Sometime ago, it had been announced that all but a few of the merchants were now on month-to-month leases.  Last week, I received a letter from Bank of America indicating that my branch--located in the Village--would be moved.  Yet, I had not realized that the exodus would happen so suddenly.

A year or two ago, we got a new Radio Shack in the Smart & Final shopping center across from campus on the West.  It had not occurred to me that this would not be a new "bonus" location that might have other items on sale and closeout than the one in the Village.  Now,  however, I noticed a sign announcing the impending closure of the Village location.  The sign reminded customers that things could still be bought online.

Since returning to USC in 2006, I have periodically made strategic stops at the 99 cent store in the Village.  Over the years, I have bought a number of plastic envelopes to store student in-class assignment materials.  When visiting, I would always check if they had received new ones with new colors that could  be distinguished from the ones I already had.  There were other neat things that could be bought at low prices.  I am not really very good at matching socks (or at least I am not very conscientious in tackling this burden), so it was often tempting to find eight to ten identical pairs of socks that would postpone a shortage of clean, matched socks for a while.  But the 99 cent was no more.  It had been closed without anyone asking for my opinion--let alone consent--in the matter.  I had been there just a few weeks ago with no sign of the impending implosion.  One would have hoped that the owners would at least have tried to invite regular customers to a spectacular closeout.  But no; maybe they found a new location.  Yes, there are other 99 cent stores around, but none located as conveniently.

I thought I would check out the supermarket named (not very accurately) Superior.  If you could stand the smell, you could often get very good deals there. They had a bakery, so this is where I would usually pick up cakes for celebrations.  Even in recent times, you could often get very good deals on fruit.  Back in the old days when I was a doctoral student, the place was called Notrica's and one could get truly exceptional deals on produce.  This had not been as much the case in their more recent incarnation, but I still wonder where I will now find low priced Italian prunes in the neighborhood.  Yes, I knew that Superior would eventually close, but I did not realize it would happen so soon.  And I do worry about where many locals will shop. The place used to be rather busy, and it does not seem that there are any other supermarkets nearby.  Hopefully, funds set aside by the University as part of the project to mitigate such community impacts will help bring about a reasonably priced replacement.

The nutritional supplement store had been closed for more than a year. I would occasionally shop there when I needed things like echinacea and golden seal.  The store was owned by a very philosophically inclined gentleman who was likely from the West Indies.  Such a store had probably proven difficult to sustain when many of his specialty items can today be procured online.  The Village--way back when I was a doctoral student in the 1990s--had also had a record store, but that had disappeared years ago.

I do not remember if the theater was still in business.  In all my years of USC, I had actually only been there once--when Michael Crichton's Congo had was released in film.

Ironically, the photo developing show had been around until recently.  They still offered the printing of large photos and occasional film processing, years ago, they had seen the writing on the wall and had started a sideline of computer and cell phone repair that had eventually become their main focus.

On the outer periphery, Starbucks, Denny's, and Baskin-Robbins were still up and operating, and at Starbucks, the line was long despite the fact that many of the students had left for the summer.  But overall, the Village seemed deserted.

As much as I am tempted, I know I can't fairly blame the Communists--or even the Bruins--for the current state of affairs.  This is, after all, a stage in the redevelopment efforts that will help revitalize the neighborhood.  But coming right upon the realization that I would not get to give another exam until sometime in October, the experience did make me very nostalgic.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Seven ramdom pieces of info about me...

A Facebook friend assigned to provide seven random pieces of information about myself. Here we go:

1. One of the ways I learned English was to listen to shortwave radio before coming to the U.S. and speaking on the CB radio once here.

2. I have never been to Alabama, Omaha, Burkina Faso, or Egypt.

3. There was no yellow submarine--at least that I am aware of--in the town where I was born.

4. I believe that the World would be better off without communists, alcohol, and adulterers.

5. I like to listen to Supreme Court oral arguments.

6. I used to be somewhat judgmental.

7. The last two times I rented a car were in 2000 and 2005. On the latter occasion, the AM band did not work on the car radio, but when I got within the reach of an FM station, I heard for the first time in the news about the nomination of John Roberts to replace Sandra Day O'Connor (which was subsequently changed to the nomination to replace William Rehnquist as Chief Justice after his passing)