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Friday, March 1, 2002

Mis-Assessing the Forest for the Trees

From the Heartland Institute: the U.S. Forest Service recently admitted that its estimate of 920 million visitors to U.S. national parks in 2000 was "overstated" by at least 711 million. The USFS blames a math error.

Isn't it funny how the math errors never seem to work against government agencies? The reason why can be found in this excerpt from the Heartland press release: "When the number of visitors is large, the Forest Service and environmental activist groups cite this as evidence the federal government should take more land from the private domain to add to national forests. The argument goes that high visitor numbers indicate a public approval and public demand for far-reaching preservation programs. High visitor numbers are also offered as a justification for large increases in the Forest Service's annual budget."

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Daddy, Why Does Grandma Live in Our Attic?

The National Center for Policy Analysis reports a national survey on savings which found that only a quarter of Americans aged 40 to 59 have total savings of $100,000 or more. This appears to be one more data point indicating that before we are rid of them, the Baby Boom generation will be the most heavily subsidized group of self-indulgent egoists in U.S. history.

For those of you who aren't confident that your parents have planned responsibly for retirement, let me suggest a low-cost housing option.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Doomsday Nonsense

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists maintains a "Doomsday Clock" to reflect their uninformed assessment of how close the world is to nuclear war. They started this gimmick in 1947, and over time it became one more tool with which the anti-anti-communist left bludgeoned Ronald Reagan. Yesterday the BAS announced that it was adjusting the clock from nine to seven minutes til midnight (with midnight representing nuclear holocaust, radiation cancer, the defunding of PBS, etc.).

I remember seeing a BAS spokesman on CNN in November; he explained that the clock "measures" (a direct quote -- I wrote it down at the time, I was so incredulous) how close we are to nuclear holocaust. The only thing this clock "measures," of course, is whether a Republican president is conducting foreign policy in a manner that upsets the left-wing BAS Board of Directors.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Mousse Musing

Mousse Musing

I have decided that I do not want to make a habit of belittling other people's blogs, primarily because I think anyone who has the courage to throw their thoughts out on the web is head and shoulders above the rest of you, no matter how grating on one's nerves might be their poor grammar, shoddy thinking, and self-obsessed monologues.

At the same time, I know something funny when I see it. This is an excerpt from a blog that shall remain nameless. It chronicles the thoughts of a self-described "actress and goddess":

"If you find me more annoying than Moses wondering in the dessert..."

I have to admit, had Moses been caught sitting on the Jello mold, thinking things over, this might indeed have been annoying to the Israelites.

Oh loathsome Spell-Check. You are but an illusion of security.
posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

The Decline of Dress

I'm about to describe one of those series of connections in the brain that leads from Point A to Point 11, but somehow makes sense. I was listening to an embarrassing interview of two college job-seekers on National Public Radio this morning. It was embarrassing because they attend my undergraduate alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, yet they both communicate like dolts. Every word sounded as if it were being dragged from their mouths and through a grease trap before depositing itself in your ear. Their sentences were littered with the obligatory "likes" and "uhs" that seem to pollute the speech of every American between the ages of 10 and 30. ("He was like, 'uh, you stole my bagel,' and I was, uh, like, 'whatever'.") I couldn't see them, but I am certain they were wearing droopy jeans, untucked shirts, and whatever backwards baseball cap the other two hundred individualists in their fraternity happen to be sporting this semester.

This made me think of a wonderful movie I saw a few weeks ago, A Beautiful Mind, about the gifted and schizophrenic Nobel-laureate mathematician John Nash. I thought of this movie because I remember being enamored with its portrayal of 1940's and 1950's college campuses. Men wore slacks, shirts, and ties, women wore dresses and sweaters, and everyone looked more or less like he gave a darn about his appearance. It actually made a college teaching career momentarily appealing again.

This in turn made me think of a recent trip I made to a large public university. I drove through the heart of campus during a class change, and visited two buildings. I am not exaggerating when I report that I saw not one single student dressed in khakis, slacks, or a dress. All of the boys (that's right, when you dress more poorly than my two year-old son, you're a boy) had on some variation of what I envisioned the Carolina interviewees wearing, while the girls alternated between emulating the boys and dressing like the sort of slut who surely didn't have a long life before the advent of penicillin. Every slovenly soul was slouching and scraping his feet, and I saw not a glimmer of intelligence in the whole lot of them.

I'm sure most of them will grow up, and the ones who get jobs in the private sector will eventually learn how to dress and speak like some shadow of a better time. It's distressing nonetheless, to think of what social and family institutions must have eroded to produce such a pitiful display, which I assure you is replicated at every major U.S. public university, and many private colleges as well.

Adults are little better, of course. We are all treated to the spectacle every summer of seeing overweight white guys traipse through the grocery store in baggy shorts and an L.A. Lakers tank top that says "Bryant" on the back, for example, or mothers who apparently raid the closets of their twelve year-old daughters. What's especially humorous is to visit a place where employees are still required to at least feign commitment to some sort of dress code, but where enforcement is at a minimum. One of the employees at my local Post Office, for example, wears an untucked, overly small, unmatching dress shirt over her regulation slacks, with a piece of elastic from her underwear splayed across the the inevitably exposed white flesh of her gut. This woman just doesn't care anymore. And why should she? Nobody else seems to care either.

Except me, Tony Woodlief. And I aim to stand athwart fashion history and demand that it yield.

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Good Gun Control

From today's Washington Post:

Police Gunfire in D.C. Worsens A new report by the D.C. police department that chronicles the use of force shows a 143 percent increase in the number of people injured or killed by police gunfire last year and a 45 percent increase from 2000 in the number of times police shot at suspects.

When hits go up by 143 percent and shootings only go up by 45 percent, doesn't that mean, contrary to the Post, that police gunfire is improving? Looks like the range instructor deserves a bonus.

Like I always say, gun control means being able to hit what you aim for.
posted by Woodlief | link | (0)


I recently had an experience dealing with a university registration bureaucrat, which mirrors my experience with a host of government and university officials, computer technology people, and various employees of banks, utilities, airlines, and other organizations where routines have long since erased any notion of customer service. Here's a rough transcript of every conversation I've had in this vein:

Me: "Hi. [Brief statement of my need or problem]."
Cog: "You'll need to file your integrated P-11 form and pull a 990 sheet for rebooting."
Me: "I have no idea what you just said."
Cog: (Louder) "I said that you have to file your integrated P-11 form and pull a 990 sheet for rebooting."
Me: "I don't know what a P-11 form is, or how one integrates it."
Cog: (Frustrated sigh) "Your P-11 is under the Spalding Cap in the Finker section."
Me: "What?"
Cog: (Louder) "Your P-11 is under..."
Me: "I heard you, but I don't understand you. Pretend that I don't do what you do every day. What do I need to do to solve [problem at hand]?"
Cog: "Well, first you need to file your integrated P-11..."

Is it such a huge cognitive leap to understand that customers don't know the jargon and internal processes your organization uses? McDonald's doesn't expect me to be an expert on food packaging and heating before it feeds me; all I have to do is point and grunt, and they give me my freaking chicken nuggets and fries. If I have a question about my cell phone bill, on the other hand, I suddenly have to understand how satellite telecommunications functions integrate with SAP in an activity-based costing format.

This may be a consequence of rapid technological advancement and organizational complexification, such that individuals have increasingly greater difficulty articulating how their routines translate into outcomes.

On the other hand, it may be a consequence of stupidity. I'm sticking with this explanation, for two reasons. First, it suits my misanthropic constitution. Second, if the first explanation were adequate, then these people would at least understand the problems that arise when they speak in organizational code. But they don't. They respond as if the problem is that I'm deaf. Or blind; I once had a woman try to explain something by saying "see, my screen shows you need a 425 allowance."

We were on the phone.

Stupidity. It might explain more than you think.

posted by Woodlief | link | (1) comments

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Capitalism Vs. Communism

On this day in 1829, Levi Strauss was born in Bavaria. Eleven years later, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto. Strauss, of course, went on to found the clothing company that eventually produced blue jeans hungered for by millions of people trapped under communist rule. In its own small way, the Levi Strauss company shone a tiny light to help illuminate the lie of socialist prosperity. Yet over time the company itself became a bastion of quasi-socialist experimentation in its business and personnel practices. So while it helped undermine communism, the company was itself undermined by communism.

Does that count as ironic? Ever since that Alanis Morissette song, in which almost none of her examples of irony were in fact ironic (itself an irony, I think), I've been wary of applying that term.

In any event, isn't history interesting?

posted by Woodlief | link | (0)