Right and Wrong, Politically Speaking

A friend recently advanced the notion that one of our political parties is more “right” than the other when it comes to economic policy. As an admitted layman in economics, I disagree:


Interesting that you’d specifically mention macroeconomic policy, as it may be considered particularly confounding as the subject of an exercise seeking to discern “right” from “wrong.” Approaches and proposals – along with underlying principles – vary between the two major political parties, sure, but to unequivocally deem one as altogether more economically sound or, dare I say it, *enlightened* than the other seems disingenuous.

From the 2008 economic stimulus to recent quantitative easing, I could line up for you an equivalent number of economics doctoral degrees and professional accolades on either of two polarized viewpoints. “The amount of the stimulus should be doubled.” “There should be no stimulus at all.” “QE is critical in loosening credit markets.” “QE encourages risky investment at exactly the wrong time.” No statement above is correct, none is incorrect; each has sound economic theory which can (and has) been cited in its favor.

More to the point, if there were instilled in me a personal bias, I could line up for you a greater number of economic doctoral degrees and profession accolades on either side of two polarized viewpoints, the viewpoint of my choosing. This is convenient for my political agenda; I can leverage the sheer complexity and, really, nuance attached to (macro)economics to form in the shroud a convincing argument that serves my purpose. It is not crucial for my agenda that my argument be “right;” it is more important that it be polarizing, feigning a bright line where none exists.

Economics is fodder for this, as it can be so difficult to quantify. Compounding the matter is the fact that meaningful retrospection is tough because causality is so elusive. As for “right” and “wrong,” though, neither is neither. The “whole point” I originally mentioned (somewhat in passing, wasn’t it?) alludes to the fact that we are constructed (politically) so that powers (i.e., parties) – neither more correct than the other – gnash teeth and thump chests, fighting with equal conviction to accomplish their respective myopic visions and, in doing so, arrive at something in between. Neither party was meant to succeed entirely, nor would we want them to; even the staunchest partisan would find him or herself regretting the unilateral success of his or her own party.

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Just Haven’t Had the Time

I often hear the expression (I can only imagine you do, too): “I just haven’t had the time.” I contemplate how we might better serve one another – and ourselves – by replacing in our vernacular the words “had the time” with “made the time.”

In all but the most unusual of circumstances, we ultimately determine by the decisions we make where and how our time is spent. Regardless of whether the repercussions of such a decision are foreseen, regardless of whether its impacts affect the next hour, day, year, or decade of our lives, regardless of whether the decision was even a conscious one, only in rare cases may one justifiably relieve oneself from responsibility for one’s own time.

Time, a human construct meant to somehow provide context or perspective – maybe even meaning – to our existence; it would appear it also serves as a convenient culprit, accepting without protest our deflected accountability.

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Guide to Bathroom (Occupancy) Etiquette

It happens all the time, all around us, in public bathrooms around the world: people are unwittingly placed in uncomfortable situations which, in all likelihood, were entirely avoidable. Broadly speaking, my goal with this post is to provide you the tools with which to avoid awkwardness between you and anyone else utilizing the same facility.* The bathroom occupancy quandary is not the exclusive domain of men nor women, so I will address the topic for each gender individually.


1. IF there is a single toilet and no urinal, you are in a bathroom intended for single occupancy. Turn around and you’ll most likely find a lock on the door. Use it, and enjoy what’s bound to be a relaxing event.

2. IF there are multiple urinals in the bathroom, you are in a bathroom intended for multiple occupants and bound again for a straightforward, carefree – albeit more social – experience. Claim any unoccupied urinal as your own. In the case where both/all urinals are occupied, forming a line within the bathroom, space allowing, or just outside of it is generally acceptable (as opposed to scenario #1, where lines inside the bathroom are typically discouraged).

3. IF neither section 1 nor section 2 apply, and there is one toilet and one urinal, the odds of an awkward encounter can increase dramatically, but the opportunity for you to demonstrate your savvy increases, as well. The following mental steps should be performed quickly, and appear effortless – in fact, they should be imperceptible – to any casual observer(s):

Take stock of the door. Is there a lock? Is it the type of door you would expect to see in a residential bathroom, which might suggest single occupancy? Or is it a common-style door with no knob/latch, which might be indicative of intended multiple occupancy?

Survey the size of the room, as well as the proximity and placement of the single urinal and toilet in relation to one another. This is key. Would the average male be comfortable operating in tandem with a stranger given the space provided? Go with your gut instinct on this; chances are, it will serve you well. If the answer is “yes, he would be comfortable,” proceed to section 3(a). If the answer is “no,” proceed to section 3(b).

3(a). If you are alone (i.e. the first in), proceed to section 3(a)(1). If one or more people beat you to the punch, check out section 3(a)(2).

3(a)(1). If there is a lock on the door, you are within your right to use it, but do not use it simply because it is there. In the eyes of your fellow patrons, the questionable practice of disallowing the concurrent use of a perfectly good station can easily overshadow the subtleties of etiquette. Be smart about it; take everything into account. The style of the door noted in section 3 can also weigh into this decision, but don’t be afraid to stand by that instinct which got you to 3(a) in the first place. Whatever you decide, act with confidence.

3(a)(2). Under no circumstances do you lock the door. If there is a station open it, go for it. If both toilet and urinal are occupied, make a quick determination whether there is sufficient room to wait in line within the bathroom (in my experience, scenario #3 does not normally lend itself to internal lines); otherwise, wait outside until one person exits.

3(b). If you are alone (i.e. the first in), proceed to Step 3(b)(1). If one or more people beat you to the punch, check out Step 3(b)(2).

3(b)(1). A lock on the door is a green light for you to stake your claim to exclusive use of the facility during your tenure. It would be wise of you to use it. If there is no lock, you will likely be at the mercy of anyone who follows during your time inside; suck it up. It isn’t a bad idea to consider the style of the door at this point; though such knowledge can’t really be put to use by you directly, it might help you get inside the head of the next guy who walks in.

3(b)(2). Someone dropped the ball, and it wasn’t you. If no eye contact is made, casually make your way out of the bathroom to wait. If eye contact is made, diffuse the situation by combining a head-tilt motion toward the door behind you with the pointing of your thumb back over your shoulder, indicating to the occupant you’ll just wait outside.


Enter the bathroom and take note of current occupancy of any stalls. If one is available, use it. If not, turn around and take a seat on the couch until one becomes available.

On a personal note, I had a recent experience with scenario 3(b)(1), which was actually scenario 3(b)(2) for the other guy concerned; one in which *I* dropped the ball. The bathroom offered fairly tight quarters, but I think I was thrown off by the common-style, non-latching door. At any rate, I neglected to thoroughly inspect the door, and it is exactly this kind of cavalier attitude which causes problems.

I had assumed my position at the single urinal when shortly afterward the door opened and a guy about my age made his way to the adjacent toilet. Not only was this toilet in close proximity and sharing a wall with the urinal, but a large mirror between them and on the same wall made the situation doubly awkward. I have to believe this guy was not in peak form, either, because he was fully committed, standing almost directly in front of the toilet, by the time he realized the error of his ways. His next actions, while obviously desperate and wholly unpredictiable, were arguably effective.

He took a step back from the toilet and proceeded to do some callisthenics in order to buy himself some time. I respected that; it struck me as conciliatory but without retreat. As I finished and turned toward the sink, I issued him what I imagined was a knowing glance with the hint of a smile. The look was returned in-kind. As I expediently dried my hands on the way out, I noticed on the door, at an unusual height, a small lock I had not seen during my initial inspection. I grumbled to myself; classic mishandling of a 3(b)(1).

* This post assumes normal operating conditions. It would be foolish of me to ignore the fact there are occasional, unfortunate states of distress where desperation trumps formal etiquette; consider such frightful scenarios hereby acknowledged by me as extenuating circumstances.

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Was out tonight, looking around, and realizing how uncool I am (specifically from a fashion standpoint, I suppose). While comments are enabled in all of my posts, I guess this was not exactly meant as an opportunity for everyone to pile on, but whatever. The top five reasons I came up with off the top of my head:

5. If my jeans are dragging on the floor behind my heels, I’ll likely cuff them. Oh, and I won’t usually buy “distressed” jeans; I’ll distress them myself, thanks.

4. Chances are, if you see me out, I will not be wearing a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled thrice. I’m not saying I wouldn’t or don’t; it’s just not my ideal arrangement.

3. If #4 somehow sneaks by, I will have little desire to wear flowered print on said button-down shirt, be it embossed, monochrome, etc.

2. I won’t usually sport the stubble. If I do, it will accurately appear as if I am just being lazy that night (or the past three); those sparsely arranged follicles do nothing but lead me to further question my masculinity.

1. For whatever reason, when I towel-dry my hair after a shower, it automatically ends up in fairly well-formed faux-hawk. I flatten it out.

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The More You Know

An excerpt from an article in the May 2009 edition of Discover magazine:

“Pinar Letzkus, a vision researcher at Australian National University, rewarded bees with sugar whenever they extended their tongue at the sight of a yellow rectangle on a computer screen. He then fashioned tiny eye patches and put them on a new set of subjects. Bees with their left eye covered learned almost as quickly as did bees without a patch. But bees with their right eye covered did far worse.”

I would like to emphasize the broader implications of this finding: there is a man out there who makes bees watch television, and he can also make bee eye patches.

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The World is Not Ready

I received the most ominous text message today. And it was simply, “hi Jeff.”

I was not as much spooked by the content as much as I was the sender: my mother. My mom, who I have just forever assumed to exist in a universe parallel to the one containing such digital trinkets as text messaging; and yet, here was this text message, staring at me, its origin apparent. It was as if some mad, forgotten experiment, after years of compiling, suddenly blinked into sentience with the words, “hi Jeff.” I just kind of looked for a minute, in awe, at the screen of my cell phone.

And so, while coming to grips with the full realization of the unholy alliance struck between these two universes, my fingers slowly tapped out a reply…”the world is not ready.”

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Everonward may be in a state of flux for the next few days…or weeks. I have upgraded to the latest version of WordPress and find myself tinkering around with some different layouts and looks. While the precious content will remain consistent, the site’s appearance may not.

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Ave Maria

Tonight was a relatively brief night out for me to the local establishments, and I found myself finishing off the evening at a bar known for its live entertainment and animated patrons. By animated I mean youthful, I think, or wanting, or both; at the very least, responsive to the rhythms and lyrics emanating from the band, even if such animation stemmed largely from liberal consumption of alcohol. Whatever their motivation or justification, the crowd was boisterous tonight.

Nearby a man vomited at his feet, the ensuing odor trumped in short time by the stench of an absorbent material meant to contain it. Some would consider such an environment the dregs of a community; I felt quite at home. Looking around me, amidst the staggering strides and slurred sentences, I saw purpose. Foreign, yet intimate, embraces presented an outward manifestation of raw emotion: a vital, human baseness we are often instructed to avoid; the desire for acceptance, affection, acknowledgment. In a world and city suffocated by self-righteousness and starved of altruism, people strain in a conflicted, desperate search for validation.

As the band fades and lights rise, there is a great bustling for the door; a din comprised of shuffling feet and raucous laughter is gradually overcome by a final song played over the loud speakers: Ave Maria. Full of grace. With all our faults, in all our frailty, it seems that at some primal level, it is absolution from each other that we seek.

Merry Christmas.

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I’m Wondering…

…why I have this compulsion to wash an old pair of boxers after wearing them for the last time, before throwing them out. Why can’t I approach the event with a “one last time for old time’s sake” mentality, then toss them? On some level, do I value the opinion of anyone who happens to go through my trash? Is it simple consideration for those downstream of me in the chain of garbage collection? I…just…don’t…know.

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…you were right. As much as I enjoy disagreeing with you, the atmosphere after you left tonight shaped up to be pretty much what you predicted. I was surrounded by fairly unintelligible, inebriated patrons whose slurred speech surely must have been the only obstacle between me and the philosophical epiphanies they espoused.

For lack of a better target, I found my gaze drifting toward the mirror on the back wall of the bar, where I locked on to my own eyes. I am familiar enough with social decorum to realize the air of narcissism commonly associated with staring at one’s own image, but as I proceeded to casually, spuriously, redirect my attention, I came to an equal counter-realization: perhaps we do not stare ourselves down quite often enough.

And so I sat at the bar those next few minutes, looking myself in the eye, wondering what I was still doing there. I never did come up with a very good reason. At that moment I came to understand that what mattered to me had walked out the door several minutes before, and that I should have followed.

Leave it to me.

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