WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A NORMAL PERSON TRIES TO GET A PSYCHOLOGICAL DIAGNOSIS? Two researchers tried to find out - one in 1972 and one this year. The results are astonishing. (Link via Tyler Cowen at The Volokh Conspiracy)
TEEN CURFEWS: When I was in high school in Houston, TX, there was a curfew for minors - it was something like 11 or midnight. Research shows that curfews don't tend to reduce crime, since most crime involving teenagers (either as victims or perpetrators) happens in the afternoon and early evening. Even for me, a well-behaved, unpopular, relatively unsocial teen, the curfew was an annoyance. It kept us from going out for food after the bus took the marching band back to school after late-night football games, and it prevented us from making snack runs to the grocery store during sleepover parties.
Minors' rights aren't nearly as respected as they should be in this country. What with curfews, drug tests, school uniforms, and so on, kids - who properly should be young adults - aren't learning what they need to be independent adults in a free society.
YUM: Last night, Sasha and I hosted a party for his Russian class, complete with traditional Russian food. My contribution was dessert, since I am the undisputed pastry chef in this household. It was my first try making something out of The Art of Russian Cuisine, though Sasha has fed me many things from the book. I made Smetannik (Walnut Sponge Cake with Sour Cream Filling). It turned out to be, without a doubt, the prettiest dessert I have ever made.
It tastes as good as it looks - two layers sponge cakes with walnuts baked in, whipped-cream/sour-cream frosting with raspberry and lemon flavoring, and fresh raspberries and toasted walnuts on top. Heavenly.
I'd never made sponge cake before, and let me say it was pretty hard. There's no fat in the cake itself except for the eggs. No butter, no vegetable oil, etc. And hardly any flour, either. The entire thing is made of egg. Mostly egg whites, which are whipped up to amazing heights with a little bit of sugar and proceed to collapse in the oven. Both of my cake layers, which I made separately because I only had one pan of the correct size, were seriously concave. I actually cut away the tops of the edges to make it flatter before I frosted it, but if you look closely at the picture, you can see it still sags a bit in the middle. Anyone know any good ways to avoid or minimize this problem?
WHERE'S THE SNOW? The five to ten inches of snow they've been warning us about for the past three days have utterly failed to materialize. It's flurrying now, but we're only expected to get about two inches by the end of the day. I'm very disappointed.
On the brighter side, I've gone into full political junkie mode. I guess that's why I haven't been posting much. There really isn't anything to say about the primary elections, since everything is just rumor and poll and spin. I read it obsessively, but I don't contribute to it. Sorry.
TAXES: My father always said he wouldn't do my taxes for me after I graduated from college, so I'm preparing my own income tax return for the first time this year. I'm planning to do e-filing, and have been hunting around for free services. You can actually get a list of private-sector free services you're eligible for on the IRS website by entering your age, approximate Adjusted Gross Income, and answering about 5 yes/no questions.
After doing this, I was directed to the website of H&R Block. They have three different e-filing programs. There's free filing for qualified persons. There's the standard service for about $20. Then there's a lower cost option specifically for young adults, which offers extra help on student loan deductions and, as a bonus, 100 free mp3 downloads at eMusic. Anyone know any good songs about taxes?
REPLYING TO ALL: I hate it when people I barely know forward their political rants to me, along with everyone else in their address book. Usually I just junk such e-mails; sometimes I write back to the sender asking not to be included next time. Alan Bromley, writing in Opinion Journal, recounts how he replied to all with a refutation and got this reply - from his cousin, no less:
Proper e-mail etiquette does not include the use of other people's personal address books to further one's political, personal objectives, or opinions, and is very offensive. Especially when all their opinions and objectives are totally wrong and inconsistent with public sentiment!!...FYI, AOL calls it spam and you know the United States Government is prosecuting spammers!!!
The etiquette of this seems to vary by age group, according to the article - teens reply to groups including people they don't know all the time, while people in their 20s and 30s don't. But as for the legality issues, replying to a large group with a political message (or even sending from scratch to a bunch of people you don't know) is perfectly legal under the new CAN-SPAM Act. It's only illegal if the unsolicited message is commercial and doesn't comply with several other criteria in the law.
Suppose you receive an e-mail, sent from a friend of yours to a group of 50 people, with the basic message, "Bush sucks! All his policies are bad! I hate him and you should hate him too!" Consider the following possible replies, sent to the entire group of people:
Bush doesn't suck completely! He lowered taxes.
The above is perfectly legal.
Haha, you're right! Bush does suck! I made some anti-Bush t-shirts which I am selling for $15 at my cafepress site. You can buy them at www.cafepress.com/restofurl
The above is illegal on several counts. It qualifies as spam under CAN-SPAM because it is a commercial e-mail sent to people the sender doesn't know. There is no opt-out procedure included in the e-mail. And the seller didn't include a physical postal address in the message. If the original message happened to be titled something like "hi" or "check this out" and John's reply was "Re: hi" or "Re: check this out", John would be facing another count on a misleading subject lines in spam charge.
If John had happened to be at work when he sent the e-mail, and had an automatic signature line, he could be out of trouble, however. If he'd happened to write it like this, he would be okay:
Haha, you're right! Bush does suck! I made some anti-Bush t-shirts which I am selling for $15 at my cafepress site. You can buy them at www.cafepress.com/restofurl
BTW, if you don't want me to send you any more messages (I know my inbox gets pretty full!!!) reply and let me know.
123 4th St.
Washington, DC 20036
One of the worst things about the law is that it doesn't define spam as bulk mail, but as commercial mail. Sending out 100,000 messages a day to strangers is legal if you're not selling anything, even though you're wasting the time of users and the resources of service providers. But send just one commercial e-mail to someone you've never spoken to before, and you're committing a crime.
HOW AMERICANS THINK: It's always interesting to read foreigners' perceptions of Americans, but this Australian article is particularly good because it's sympathetic and respectful.
Americans support the war in Iraq and, by extension, Bush because they see it as part of a bigger picture. Like everybody, they now know that Saddam was not the threat they thought he was (at least, not to them) but they still think it was a good idea to deal with him, before he became one.
The price of freedom is high. You might think you would not sacrifice your life for it, but maybe you don't have to. After all, 20-year-old Americans are doing it for you, every day.
WHAT'S THE PLURAL OF PENIS? This question starts off a lively article on English plurals of Latin and Greek words which will be much funnier to someone who knows Latin and/or Greek than to someone who doesn't. Along the way, you'll
- learn never to get tangled up with octopi - consider whether you frequently ride bi - untangle opus, opera, and operae - wonder why stigmata don't cause traumata - discover the word fex - and more!
THE GOOD NEWS is that all my furniture and boxes have arrived from Virginia! The bad news, other than that it's three weeks late, is that some of it is broken and we didn't measure it properly. But these things are not as bad as they seem. Nothing is broken so much that it's unusable (though probably it's unsellable), but the moving company will have to pay for the damage nonetheless, which means I get a little bit of extra cash. And with the measurements - it turns out that I have to put the bed directly against the bookshelves to make everything fit in the room. But that's okay, I just adjusted the shelves so that the second shelf is about two feet above the bottom one, and you can still reach and (mostly) see the books on the shelves.
I also discovered that the movers improperly assembled the bed, but that's a quick fix once I pull it away from the wall again.
All my non-furniture stuff arrived undamaged, including my many (Bryn Mawr and non-Bryn Mawr) lanterns, the dishes and glasses, and the slinky collection. Yay for newspaper packaging!
Sasha is letting me reorganize the kitchen however I like, which is a great deal of fun! Unfortunately, we don't have enough space in the kitchen to put everything, even with my two plastic drawer-cabinet thingies. I may acquire another one or two of those; they fit nicely along his middle kitchen counter. What I wouldn't give for another eye-level cabinet or two, though. Also for a place other than the extra sink to store the liquor (and we have a surprising amount for two people who rarely drink).
Oddly, the cats were much more terrified of the movers and new furniture and boxes than they were of the new apartment. The movers were gone by noon, but it was 8 PM before the cats would venture into the living room (where the boxes were stacked) or the guest room (where most of my old furniture is living).
It's really surprising how much happier and more relaxed I am when all my stuff is nearby. Does this happen to other people, too?
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL RULES: I'm late to comment on this one, but Eugene Volokh and various other bloggers have commented on an elementary school in South Carolina which completely banned talking during lunch.
In my elementary school in Houston, TX (now with its own nearly-pointless website!), there was a noise detector, shaped like a stoplight, in the cafetorium. When the green light was on, we were free to talk. If it got too loud, the light would change to yellow, and the kids would frantically shush each other. Even louder and the light would turn red, at which point we would have "silent lunch" for the rest of that day. Anyone caught talking after silent lunch had been declared would have to get up on the cafetorium stage and sing a nursery rhyme in front of the whole school.
This seemed to work pretty well, since it got the kids to take responsibility for keeping the noise under control. Though I always resented being punished along with the screamers when I'd just been talking quietly with my friends. (I admit that I could be very loud now and then, however.)
SASHA SUGGESTS, re my post yesterday, that I have not lost my philosophical curiosity but have just become a cost-benefit theorist. I think that is almost as bad.
A more optimistic reading of the situation, which I thought of last night, is that I've developed a healthy sense of the intellectual rigor necessary to fully address such a question (i.e. I was unsatisfied with the depth of the two-paragraph "answer" I gave to Tyler's question) but haven't (yet?) developed the discipline to actually address any question the way it should be addressed, and thus I'm unsatisfied with the treatment I give anything. This makes a reasonable amount of sense and also explains why I can't find any non-fiction books to read: I want a book that is interesting and addresses fun problems, but I also don't want to think hard enough to get through such a book.
Speaking of which, does anyone have good book suggestions?
WHAT HAPPENED TO MY PHILOSOPHICAL CURIOSITY? Tyler Cowen posted today on the Volokh Conspiracy about a philosophical problem that I would have considered a fun puzzle from approximately 1994 through 2000:
"There is an arbitrariness in defining the relevant class of risky events. In my lifetime as a driver, I stand some (fairly low) chance of killing an innocent pedestrian. Few people would argue that I should be prohibited from driving. Assume, however, that science prolongs (fit) human life forever, at least unless you are struck down by a car. My chance of killing an innocent pedestrian then would approach certainty, given that I plan to continue driving throughout an eternal life. In fact I could be expected to kill very many pedestrians. Should I then be prohibited from driving? When we make a prohibition decision, should we measure the risk of a single act of driving, or the risk of driving throughout a lifetime? Measuring the bundled risk appears to imply absurd consequences, such as banning driving for people with sufficiently long lives.
Alternatively, measuring the risk of only the single act is vulnerable to counterexamples. Imagine an involuntary game of Russian roulette with very many chambers in the gun, played very many times against me. The chance of my death from any single firing is very small, but surely we would prohibit such a game, looking at the high overall risk of the bundle. In this case we consider the bundled risk, but does this mean that we should stop immortals from driving cars?"
Today I think it's a stupid question, because it ignores the benefits gained by both individuals and society from partaking in the risky behavior. If all people are long-lived enough to make killing someone in a car accident a high probability for each of them, and if everyone is therefore barred from driving, everyone would be less well off. The economy would very nearly collapse - people couldn't get to work, to stores, to entertainment. I'm willing to say that life would hardly be worth living if one couldn't get anywhere.
Of course, in a society sufficiently advanced to make people live forever, all kinds of safety technology would develop. Like cars that stop automatically when they detect an impending collision. Or ultra-strong suits that can protect a pedestrian from being killed in a car accident. Or teleportation, making cars obsolete.
Have I just become boring? I realize that this is supposed to be a thought experiment - and I'm just picking on this one, I feel this way about pretty much all the philosophical problems I've come across in the past few years. Was my interest in philosophy just a phase? Should I go back to school and become and engineer? I'm so confused.
D.C.'S 'NON-BINDING PRIMARY' IS TODAY, and I didn't realize the full extent of its silliness until I read this Washington Post article. The District is breaking (silly) party rules by holding its primary before New Hampshire and Iowa, which means that they cannot send any delegates to the Democratic Convention based on the results of the primary (if they did, they would be locked out; D.C. delegates will be selected in caucuses next month.) This is supposed to be a protest vote, though against what is not entirely clear. (Silly primary rules? The fact that D.C. in particular is hurt by the silly primary rules? The District's voting status in Congress?)
To make the whole thing even more silly (yes, I'm overusing that word today) (and I'm overusing parentheses today), Clark, Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, and Lieberman have withdrawn their names from the ballot because D.C. broke the party rules. And in retalliation at those candidates, D.C. officials removed the write-in box from the ballot! So voters will have their choice between Dean (who is unpopular among the District's large African-American population and didn't show up for the only debate that was held), Kucinich, Mosley-Braun, Sharpton, and a few (silly) novelty candidates a la the California recall. What kind of statement is this going to make, exactly?
The reporter, surprisingly, is sane and honest enough to point out the silliness of calling Sharpton et al "major" candidates. We haven't heard that outside the blogosphere very much.
MORE OBNOXIOUS WEATHER: It's going to be "warm" (three degrees above freezing) for two days, and then revert back to those single-digit highs. I hate it here. Oh, and it's snowing.
I think I'm going to take advantage of this "thaw" to venture out to see Return of the King for the second time. Yes, only the second time. I've been trapped here in this apartment for years or something.
DECONSTRUCTION: Via my old friend Michael Duff I found a very interesting and readable article called How to Deconstruct Almost Anything. It could have been an irreverent fluff piece making fun of literature and humanities academia. It does have that element - it's a fun read - but the author is an engineer who is really taking literary criticism seriously to find out if there is anything of worth there. His key observation:
What you have is rather like birds on the Galapagos islands -- an isolated population with unique selective pressures resulting in evolutionary divergence from the mainland population. There's no reason you should be able to understand what these academics are saying because, for several generations, comprehensibility to outsiders has not been one of the selective criteria to which they've been subjected.
He doesn't throw the whole field out the window, but he does view it with a very sane and critical eye. Well worth reading.
"It kind of reminds us of Colonial days," Town Manager David Lewis said Thursday. "The Colonies were being faced with the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, the Sugar Act. England wasn't giving them any rights. They were treating the Colonies as just a revenue source."
New Hampshire, just 25 miles east, has no income tax or sales tax.
IN BOSTON! We made it! None of my stuff is here yet, except the one suitcase I brought with me in the car, but the cats and I have officially moved in to Sasha's place. And there are pictures (Click on each for a larger version)!
To start, here are my three roommates feeling very comfortable in my old apartment in D.C.
For reference: Maggie is the tabby, Ethelwolf is the huge white one, and Sasha is the one reading Watchmen, an excellent graphic novel by Alan Moore which I highly recommend.
Next, we all got in the car. The cats were allowed to roam free in the car on the 9-hour journey, while I kept them from interfering with Sasha's driving. They were actually very well behaved, sleeping under the seat for most of the trip.
In this picture, Maggie (wearing her cool reflective collar) and Ethelwolf are both standing on my lap, looking out of the passenger side window. We're somewhere in New York or Connecticut, and it's about 11 PM.
It was 1 AM when we parked the car in front of Sasha's apartment. The cats only hid under the bed for about five minutes, and then began their exploration of their new home. I was surprised at how quickly they ventured forth. I guess it was because the whole place already smelled like Sasha and (to a lesser extent) me.
Maggie started by looking at the more familiar things - for instance, my sweater discarded on this dining room chair. Ethelwolf moved around the place too fast to stop and pose for many pictures, but I did get this one of him doing a gopher impersonation.
The cats got bolder and bolder. Especially Maggie, who is trying to get to all the tallest places in the house. Within two days, she made it to the top of the refrigerator, the top of a tall filing cabinet with no intermediate perches near it, the mantelpiece, and ...
Yes, that's the top of the shower, folks. A place she never even attempted in the D.C. apartment, as far as I know.
All that exploring made Ethelwolf very tired, so he decided to be cute instead. Being cute comes so naturally to him, he can do it in his sleep.
Not to be outdone, Maggie decided she needed to be cute as well.