It’s Not Just Rick Perry I Miss About Texas Politics

The drawl, the emphasis on the Constitution, the everyman truths about burdensome government regulations, the campaign advertisements heavily featuring livestock of the candidate in question.



I actually got this via an e-mail forward from my very conservative grandfather.  I am glad to see he’s still rocking the airwaves.  Internet.


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Justice Thomas and SOPA, or “Give Me Google or Give Me Death”

When Justice Clarence Thomas came to speak to my class recently, I had the pleasure of meeting him afterwards.  I introduced myself and thanked him for coming, and he was very polite.  He even spoke with me briefly, and I can even remember basically sort of what he said.

During his talk, he repeatedly mentioned that we were the future, world changers, future Supreme Court justices and things like that.  Very inspiring.  But when I shook his hand, he looked right at me and repeated it.  “You’re going to be the ones making the decisions,” he said.  Then he said another great thing.

“So all I ask…. is just don’t take away my Internet.”

This SOPA is terrifying.  If passed, the government would have the power to order DNS blocking of websites based on infringing intellectual property.  If that sounds familiar, it’s the same thing they do in Syria.  And North Korea.

It’s not the same, lawmakers are saying.  This isn’t a prior restraint on freedom of speech!  We’re only protecting the rights of those creators!  Nobody would ever make art if it couldn’t be protected!  And look, even the first LINE of the law says it “shall not be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech!”

Is this really how we’re writing our legislation now?  With golf-umbrella provisions to assure everyone of its constitutionality?  Prior restraint describes SOPA to a T.  I’d say that blocking an entire website based on the content of one of its pages hardly qualifies as a narrowly tailored solution to this so-called problem.

Note to the House and to Rep. Lamar Smith, I’m not the only one who has noticed this.  (Mr. Masnick from Techdirt says it a lot better than I do, i.e. it doesn’t actually say what it says it says.)

I hope this doesn’t pass.  But if it does, when- not if, when– this suffocating new law makes it to the Supreme Court, I know at least one justice is on my side.

More: Lamar Smith’s campaign contributions.  The entertainment industry is his #1 donor.

Big-money contributors include Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon.  I was also disappointed to see the Koch PAC gave quite a bit also.

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Filed under baby boomers, intellectual property

Beer, Burgers, Boner from Growing Pains…. What Makes a Good Trivia Night?

Ah, trivia night.  The universal restaurateur’s ploy to get the bar hopping on off nights, the last bastion of hope for those who can think of no other way to get their dork friends to leave the house.  My friends may reject half-price appetizers, margarita specials, or live bands until kingdom come, but I’ll be darned if I have yet to meet even the most steadfast teetotaler who will turn down the rare opportunity to show off her intimate knowledge of celebrity marriages.

Of late, my enthusiasm for haggling about geography over beer has waned significantly.  My inner 21-year-old is getting smaller and smaller.  It’s like I’m getting older or something.  These days, I make it to a trivia night once every few months or so, which I know is a shame.  But I can’t get religious about a bar’s trivia unless it has all the Key Elements of a Great Trivia Night…

1.  Location, location, location

Some of the worst bars and restaurants have some of the best trivia nights.  Some small, gross places I have attended trivia have been some of the most fun.  But when a bar or restaurant that doesn’t really need to draw more patrons holds trivia night, meeting and seating your party becomes exponentially more difficult.



In 2008-2009, I used to go to trivia night at a well-known chicken joint in Austin.  Their trivia was superior in almost every way to every other trivia night I have been to, but I usually had to be dragged out of the house anyway.  Why?

This was a popular restaurant for dinner patrons, not just trivia attendees.  If we wanted to have a seat for dinner and trivia at 9:00 PM, we had to be in the establishment by 6 at the latest… or stand.  When the management didn’t turn tables, they couldn’t sell food.  It made no sense to me.   Do people really enjoy sitting around for three hours waiting for two more hours of sitting around for trivia?  Which brings me to element 2…

2. Policy on table campers

The first place I ever regularly went to trivia was (at the time) the only sushi place in Oxford, Mississippi.  Trivia started at the same time the kitchen closed, so you had to get there early if you wanted to eat.  If someone needed a table, table campers would be politely ousted to make way for hungry diners.  I agree with this policy; the benefits to management and customers were many.  For my trivia team, the art of arriving with enough time to have dinner, then play trivia, was mastered after just two or three weeks of attending.  We always had dinner if we wanted it and a table for trivia by showing up half an hour before the kitchen closed.

Pay your tab already!


Contrast this with Austin Chicken Joint, which would permit diners to linger for hours… and hours.  I stand behind my earlier statement no normal person wants to sit at a table in any restaurant, no matter how hip or fun, from 6 PM until midnight.  (Speaking from experience, servers usually don’t like it either.)  Jobless hippies don’t mind, though, and that’s why Austin Chicken Joint had a trivia stacked with jobless hippies who weren’t buying food or booze.  (Also, let’s be real, because it was in Austin.)  Hungry customers would be turned away if table campers wouldn’t move, and standing triviagoers who would have otherwise purchased food did not do so because they had no surface on which to eat it.

Yes, people would stand up for trivia there for hours.  That’s how good it was.  In part because of the chicken, and in part because of the…

3. Prizes

Austin Chicken Joint gave its winners a trophy to take home for a week and free food.  The trophy was a truly magnificent beer can sculpture, and despite how much jobless hippies stink, they are honest, and always brought the trophy back for the next week’s winners.

Oxford Sushi Place charged $3 a person to play and gave the winners 2/3 of the pot or $100, whichever was bigger.

I’ve been to pubs that awarded Cowboys tickets and sports bars that handed out t-shirts.  In my experience, cash is king because it’s instant gratification that can be split right away.  Gift certificates are good too, though, and keep loyal winning teams coming back week after week.  Any kind of prize is fun, but sometimes the glory is all you need.  Especially if you have a good…

4. Host

We pretty much stopped attending trivia night at one Mexican restaurant altogether after the quizmaster (why they got a college student I will never know) was so drunk he fell off his barstool.

“You really stopped going?”  You’re screaming.  But that’s hilarious!

Yes, it was.  The first time.  The second time, the third time… and finally, after hours of it, at midnight on a weeknight, when we had one round left, really needed to get to bed, but we were winning by a lot… it just wasn’t funny anymore.

I’m not saying trivia hosts can’t be drunk.  Sometimes they relate better to their patrons if they are.  But they should engage their audience, come up with good questions from a variety of sources, and not be too wasted to do their jobs.

Kids, don't do drugs.

Are you ready for some TRIVIAAAAAAAAAAA?

That’s why there are professionals who will do it, and I gotta say, they’re the best.  That’s right, professional trivia hosts.  Bars and restaurants do hire them in larger cities, and I can only assume they’re worth the money.  Geeks Who Drink are just such guys, and they did such a good job at our favorite pub in Austin that they kept us coming back week after week.  They’re hilarious, a little crude, and did a great job coming up with interesting questions that weren’t all based on popular culture (many of the ones I heard were so creative I still remember them).  They also had a website where scores and standings were posted along with pictures taken by a photographer throughout the night.  More of these guys need to exist.  I wonder if there are any in Atlanta?  I smell an alternative career… where was I?

Oh yeah, the last and most important aspect of trivia night.

5. Company

No, not the musical (though it has made its way into more than one question in my experience). Your friends.  Your buddies.  Your team!

I know you have a lot of them.  The trick is paring down which ones work well together while achieving the widest variety of knowledge possible.  Too few people can sink a team, unless they are trivia geniuses (I’ve only known one or two of those in my life, though).

Too many people… well, you’ve heard that thing about the cooks and the broth before, and it’s true.  Far too often I’ve seen right answers passed over in favor of wrong ones because the sports or TV whiz got shouted down by the majority who thought something else “sounded right.”  In addition, if too many people participate, it can really do a number on any winnings once you split them.  I find between 4 and 7 people usually maximizes the efficiency of brainstorming and socializing, though you may disagree with me.

We'll never get that one wrong again.

I TOLD you the answer was Boner from Growing Pains!

Team styles vary, too.  Some teams take things way too seriously and are gung-ho about every answer.  (These are often of the “iPhone cheater” ilk, giving me double reason to hate them.)  Taking trivia seriously is fine, whatever.  But I can speak from my personal experience about my favorite teams, and they were all laid back, lazy, and fun… and it never stopped us from winning.  I think it’s possible to hang out and be sociable and still get answers right without ripping your best friend’s throat out over which solo artist has the most #1 Billboard hits.*  Those are the most fun trivia nights.

In other words, I would prefer to pay for my own food and come in last every week with people I like than get caught in a ridiculous quagmire over college baseball standings and wonder why I didn’t just stay home and play Sporcle.

So what makes a great trivia night?





She'll always be my baby.

*It's Mariah, of course.

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Filed under just for fun

Mornin’ Milton and some bonus regrets…

Milton Friedman on greed:

Did you know Friedman helped invent the United States payroll withholding tax system?  It’s a little like how Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, then invented that whole prize thing as a sort of apology to humanity.

Unlike Nobel, he made no apologies for his work, but did state in an interview with Reason magazine that he wished “there were some way of abolishing withholding now.”


Best of Both Worlds, Friedman’s 1995 interview with Brian Doherty at Reason

The Story Behind the Nobel Prize (according to a Korean news outlet).

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Filed under economics, history lesson, who's going to pay for all this

Why Did We Go to College?

When I was growing up, my parents told me I could be whatever I wanted to be.   So I decided I was going to be a babysitter.  (In retrospect, I think that was the only career I knew about if “parents” didn’t count.)

I’m told later I wanted to be “an angel” (which I guess I became, at least according to dozens of clever and not-at-all creepy bar patrons I’ve met).  I also considered doctor, writer, veterinarian, caterer, scientist, journalist, dentist, photographer, and dozens of other choices before even getting to high school.  Let’s not debate my fitness for some of those careers and move on.

Apparently when I grew up I wanted to be a smoker.  And a man.

Surgeon of debatable fitness.

No matter what I decided to do for a living, I knew I couldn’t do anything until I finished my college degree.

To our generation, obtaining a college degree always seemed like the very best thing to do.  My parents were among the first in their families to go to college and always hoped that I would do the same.  They talked about my going off to college one day.  In elementary and middle school, my friends and I would talk about who would room with whom and which dorm we wanted when we finally got out of the house and got to do cool stuff like eat pizza for every meal and stay up late.

We had to go to college.  Even Zack and Kelly went!

It just wasn't the same without Mr. Belding.

Though they only stuck around one year before eloping to Hawaii.

A lot of people from my generation went to college because it was the “smartest” thing to do.  The idea of a university education has become so entrenched into our culture that receiving one has almost become a natural step in the pathway to adulthood: high school, college, house, marriage, kids.  (We’ll save the relative merits of those other steps for another day.)

But why did we go to college?

1. Employment opportunities

When I was in high school, my mother gave me a book that was essentially an alphabetical listing of thousands of college majors.  I’m sure many other college-bound kids had a similar book.

Each potential concentration of study had a list of careers that you could obtain with each degree.  I believe it also had projected sample earnings by degree acquired.  I wish I could find it now, because I’m sure it would be a hilarious read.  Have an anthropology degree?  Well, expect to earn $50,000 more per year, AND you get to be a museum curator!  Journalism degree?  You’ll be Diane Sawyer by next week!


Guess what you can do with your Earth and Mineral Sciences degree!

My last year of college, I submitted applications and resumes (and e-mails and calls and follow-up e-mails and follow-up calls) to hundreds of employers.  The positions ranged from salesperson to schoolteacher to lab assistant to administrative assistant.  Since you already beat me to the punchline, I won’t bother to tell you that my extra handy biology degree (that book had, like, fifty different things I could be!) didn’t exactly land me that great of a job.

Or… any job requiring a degree.

A couple months after graduating, I decided to move to Texas and try my luck.  After two weeks of unemployment there, I took a job that paid minimum wage and did not require a diploma or degree.  I wanted sick days and health insurance.  I kept searching for a “real” job.

Then I realized the horrible truth I had suspected all through college but was too afraid to admit to myself: employers do not care how much you know about invertebrate taxonomy.

Has the liberal arts degree become the new high school diploma?

2.  The path to adulthood

Think about your days in college.  (If you didn’t go, think about college students.)  Don’t you remember intelligently discussing current events with your peers?  Did you critique the merits of your various professors’ teaching styles with friends over lunch?  Each night you spent diligently musing over your classwork so you were prepared for the lecture the next day.

Not really?  Well, did you at least learn practical skills like how to write business correspondence?  How about making a resume or managing a budget?  Well, at least tell me you didn’t spend pretty much every night pounding down beers and hooking up with different strangers.


Except you did.

Look, I know a lot of people who worked very hard in college, and I would like to consider myself one of them.  But we are lying to ourselves if we think this is preparation for adulthood.  The vast majority of people who go to college treat it like the four-year vacation from the real world that it is.

3. College as a financial investment

Let’s return to the book I was discussing earlier.  That book was full of attractive numbers.  Glowing statistics highlighting the financial benefits of going to school.  If you go to this school, this will be your median salary,  so long as you have this major and these grades.  No matter what, a four-year-degree was always an attractive choice.  “Even bank tellers and dishwashers with college degrees make more than those who don’t have them!” guidance counselors said.  Even now, those who suggest college is not for everybody are shouted down by those who point to salary figures showing that those with college degrees do make more, no matter what, so you’re still getting a good return on your investment.

The return is debatable… what about the investment?

Last August The Atlantic showed us some interesting charts showing us that student loan debt has grown 511% since 1999.  You guys, I remember 1999.  How have we gone into so much more debt so quickly?

In 1994, the federal government began backing a lot more student loan money.  If you examine past loan limits you will see that until 1994 we had an aggregate PLUS loan cap of $20,000.  Now there is no limit to the amount of money a parent can borrow, so long as that amount does not exceed her child’s tuition.

So after parents received a federally-backed promise to pay as much tuition as the school charged them… what incentive did schools have to keep tuition costs affordable?

Did you ever ask yourself where your tuition money was going?  The cost of an education should not be exploding this quickly, but it is.  Family incomes are falling, but the cost of college tuition keeps increasing.  I refuse to believe that over $200,000 for an education at Berklee will pay for itself.  Ever.

Which brings me to my final question…

4. Why did we go to college?

Despite all this, I’m still happy I went.  College expanded my world.  I had brilliant professors who genuinely cared about their students.  I got to know people from all over the world- Chile, Nigeria, Mauritania.  I made friends I still talk to almost every day.  I had lab class in an actual coral reef.

But I had scholarships and worked several jobs to pay for all that crazy fun I had.  I went to a relatively inexpensive school and didn’t take out any loans.  If I were in a mountain of debt and facing the employment prospects we are now, would I feel differently?

Why did you go to college?  Did your degree help you find a job?  Would you do it again?

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Filed under education, who's going to pay for all this