Shorter Will Wilkinson:

If it’s about pluralism, it’s about pluralism. It’s as simple as that. It ain’t about that at all. It’s easy to sum it up if you’re just talking about pluralism. We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about pluralism. I mean listen, we’re sitting here talking about pluralism, not justice, not liberal justice, not justice, but we’re talking about pluralism. Not the justice that Rawls and Nozick went out there and died for and wrote every book like it’s their last but we’re talking about pluralism. How silly is that?

told you I’ll be here forever

The conjunction of Trinity Church, the Hancock Tower, the new Hancock building and several other massive structures around Copley Square creates a massive wind tunnel between Clarendon and St James Ave. On clear days, it’s bad; on stormy days it’s terrible. Walking from my office toward Fire & Ice for a quick dinner last week, I leaned into a gale. I pointed my umbrella in a dozen different directions, like a malfunctioning radar dish, to avoid the wind.

One strong gust lifted me onto my toes and then relinquished me with a snap. Looking up, I saw that the shaft of my umbrella had broken in two. What I’d thought was a metal rod with a wooden veneer was, in fact, genuine wood, unable to cope with the vortex of downtown Boston. I was holding a curved umbrella handle that ended in splinters, marching down St James with my first initial held proudly over my head. The ribs and fabric of the umbrella cartwheeled past me.

Sprinting back the way I came, I speared the remains of my umbrella with the splintery end, lest it bounce into an intersection and cause an accident. I tried to fold the top half closed, but the shaft had broken off too high. An umbrella works by affixing its ribs to a single ring around the handle; you open or close the umbrella by sliding this ring up or down. But the handle had broken off below where the ring would stay if the umbrella were closed. So I had no choice but to carry the open umbrella and the broken remains of its handle in my hands until I could find a trash can that would take them. Since the wind had not let up, the umbrella portion (which I was grasping by its freezing metal spindles) would fill its sails and jerk around, like a leashed Dalmatian. All this while I’m waving a jagged wooden rod over my head, for balance, and getting drenched.

I had a beer with dinner.

all of this makes me love you more

The older I get, the more I believe that the secret to staying young is finding excuses to party.

This Friday, I went to the Yelp Elite Event for January at Revolution Fitness, a gym within walking distance of my office. Revolution has done its best to combine the “basement gym” look with the “boutique gym” feel. The layout ranges from intimate studios for the de rigeur yoga and pilates classes to a row of fluorescent-lit weight racks in front of mirrors. And there’s a room off to the back with reinforced rubber walls and a mess of equipment that you can just play with. Like a 150-lb tire to flip end over end, or rings to hang on, or medicine balls that you can fling at the wall while screaming. You’re encouraged to experiment.

Saturday was the Snowflake Social, hosted in Arlington. Friends and locals threw a party to raise money for Haiti, dressing up in formal wear and dancing the night away. I posed for prom photos, slow-danced with several friends and drank at the Elks bar. We retired to a friend’s house afterward to have a few more drinks and chill out until the evening crept up on me.

As grown-ups, we look for reasons to put on nice attire and go out dancing: weddings, family affairs, holiday parties and school reunions. If we brought that same questing sense of experimentation to everything we did, how much quicker would it go, and with what energy? Crank up Shaimus and dance with your baby on your hip while you put away the laundry. Invite half a dozen friends over to write with you. Title the next work meeting that you’re responsible for “Awesome Fiscal Responsibility Fun Times 2010.” Smile at strangers. Adopt antiquarian politeness. Open your face to the world.

(This is more a reminder to myself than the rest of you, but let me know if it works)

eight days a week is not enough to show I care

Browsing through random comics on XKCD the other day uncovered this old gem:


No one should expose me to ideas like this.

As much as I love creative ideas, sweeping gestures and damning the details, I also like tinkering with fiddly numbers to make things come out different. So when someone tells me that 6×28 = 7×24, I start doing some additional factoring. So then I wonder: what other weeks can I make?

The Eight-Day Week: Sleep for six hours, then wake for fifteen.

If you start this by going to bed at midnight on Sunday/Monday, you’ll be up by 6:00 and at work as usual. Next morning, you’ll be up by 3:00 AM, but you can still leave work at 5:00 PM and be in bed by 6:00. Unusual but not unreasonable.

The day-cycle gets a little odd from then on, as you’re up at midnight on the third day – what the pagans would call “Wednesday.” You’ll need to leave work early that day, as you have to be in bed by 3:00 PM. If your boss makes a fuss, tell him you were up at midnight and in work by 1:30 AM. This will be true, albeit unsettling.

Fourth day: up at 9:00 PM, still “Wednesday” to those seven-day slackers. Crank out another fifteen hours of productivity, then pass out at noon. On the fifth day, you’ll wake up at 6:00 PM, do a full night’s work, and then tuck yourself in at 9:00 AM on the dot. I suggest buying some blackout curtains on the ride home.

But now the true benefits of the eight-day week emerge: a three-day weekend! On day six, you’ll wake up at 3:00 PM, just as folks at the office are entering their Friday slump and checking their watches. You can stay up until 6:00 AM, partying with the best of them! Then it’s time for another six hours of sleep, waking up by noon on Saturday – just in time for brunch, most of the stores to be open, and a pleasant weekend. Stay up another fifteen hours and go to bed at 3:00 AM. The ability to party late into the night two nights in a row should impress the few friends you have left. You get 9:00 AM until midnight on Sunday to finish off your week, and then start all over.

I’m not sure what the eight-day week improves over the seven-day standard. But it has to do something.

everything you know is wrong

Jerry Remy, announcer for NESN and the Boston Red Sox, has a local chain of Tcotchkes-style restaurants. This bit of trivia – the existence of the chain and the importance of its owner – lives in a weird limbo between “apropos” and “boring,” depending on the audience. People who live in Boston need hear nothing further than the restaurant’s name before instantly knowing every item on the menu and the decor. People who don’t live in the New England area will nod politely – oh, a sportscaster owns a restaurant; how unlikely – and forget the man’s name once the story ends.

Anyhow, there’s one in Logan Airport right next to the Airtran terminal. It used to be a Legal Seafood and it’s about six months from becoming a Johnny Rocket’s. Every space in an airport that’s zoned commercial oscillates between just having been or just about to be a Johnny Rocket’s, depending on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the airport’s proximity to Chicago. I ordered a hot dog with a Caesar salad (because that makes it okay); I got a 3/4-pound beef log drizzled with cheese, relish, and onions. And the side salad. “That’s a big dick,” said the 50-something man behind me, “I mean, a big dog.” If his stories were to be believed, he was on his way to his third wedding, this time to a 70-year-old woman for money; if not, he was really bad at delivering a joke.

The Departures screen had said my flight was pushed back 30 minutes when I entered Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grille; when I exited, it had changed its mind. I have never seen this happen. I have never seen a plane arrive earlier than announced, especially when it had already been posted late. The takeoff window shrank from 60 minutes to 25 minutes, and I had yet to pass through security, and my pre-printed boarding pass reminded me, in its smug little Helvetica, that the plane shut its doors 10 minutes before departure. Trying not to fume, I slipped into the security line, emptying my pockets of metal and slipping off my shoes.

“Put your shoes flat on the belt!”, a guard would announce from time to time. “Only things that go in the bins are laptops and loose items. Jackets, bags, shoes – flat on the belt.”

Ten minutes before departure, I stepped up to the X-ray machine. I walked through. It beeped. “Do you have anyth–“, the guard asked. “My belt,” I said, backing up and whipping it off like Jet Li vs. Billy Chow (watch all the way to the end).

Passing security, I scooped up my wallet, cell phone, ring, loose change, belt, boarding pass, messenger bag, jacket and backpack and began padding down the halls of the Airtran terminal at a decent clip. I made it about one hundred feet before I realized how comfortable the ground felt. Turning, I made it as far as a 65-year-old TSA screener, his Orville Redenbacher hair fringing his face like a halo. Had I been charging the security gate at a full sprint, screaming “Surely the Party of God will be triumphant!“, he might have tripped me. Maybe. “Are you trying to get out?”, he asked.

“I left my shoes there.”

“Just go get the man in the blue shirt,” he said, blue being the TSA uniform. “He’s the supervisor.”

I flagged the man in the blue shirt down. “I left my shoes on the belt! Brown? Size 13?”

Fortunately, I was the only person to have made that mistake (that hour), so security quickly reunited me with my shoes. I made it to my gate, discovering that my flight had been pushed 30 minutes back.

The next morning, waking up in the family homestead in Maryland, my father suggested we take the dog for a walk. As I put my shoes on – Merona, Target’s in-house brand; brown, leather, worn but sturdy – I noticed an unfamiliar notch in one of the soles. Curious, I turned the shoe over. A ragged slit had been torn in the entire sole from left to right, cutting all the way through the rubber to the very base of the shoe. This wasn’t just a hole in the bottom. This was a rough horizontal line that had cut clean through the sole of the shoe and stopped at the leather. The right shoe had been thinking about snitching; the left shoe had made an example of it.

Am I saying that the TSA, in the twenty seconds that I left my shoes unattended, shredded one of them with a government-issue razor blade? No, but I’ll imply it with all my might.

I don’t spend a lot of time staring at the bottom of my feet, but I would have noticed a tear that size when I put them on in the morning. The only time they were out of my control the entire day was when I put them on a conveyor belt (“flat on the belt! the only things that go in bins are laptops …”) and forgot them. And if I hadn’t thrown these shoes in a closet in Maryland, I’d post a picture to show you. This isn’t a puncture; this isn’t a hole that worried itself wide. This is an even cut that runs between the tarsus and the metatarsals, deep and ragged. My shoes bear the scars of malice aforethought.

By an odd coincidence, these are the second pair of Target shoes to disintegrate catastrophically in 15 months. Am I wrong in suspecting a conspiracy? No. I’m never wrong. Especially not about conspiracies.

fight the horde; sing and cry

Hey, guys. I figured out how to save Iceland’s economy the other day. Just off the top of my head. In case anyone’s curious, or anything; I dunno.

Oh, hi, still here? Okay, good.

Iceland can turn its shattered economy around by transforming the island into a giant server farm.

… no, wait, come back.

This plan sounds insane, of course. But it makes perfect sense for the following reasons:

1. Power Is Cheap. Iceland gets 99% of its electricity from geothermal energy and dams. When you live on an island made of hot springs and glaciers, it’s hard not to find an easy source of power. Drill a hole into the earth and stop when you hit something boiling.

2. Cold Air Is Cheap. Server farms don’t just need electricity, of course. They also need easy ventilation in order to keep the massive racks of computers cool. Fortunately, temperatures in Iceland get no higher than 55° F on average (10° C). And that’s during the hottest portions of July. Forget climate control in your server room: just vent in some outside air.

3. Real Estate is Cheap. Iceland is one of the least densely populated countries in the world (230th out of 238). The interior of the country looks like the moon – so much so that the Apollo astronauts faked practiced lunar exploration on its rocky surface. Build a warehouse in the hills outside Selfoss for pennies.

4. Lots of Overeducated, Unemployed White Guys. The collapse of Iceland’s banks put a lot of college-educated people back on the job market. A few days of retraining, and voila! All the employees you need. Or better yet: don’t bother retraining them. Let them underbid each other. Sit back and take your pick of the most talented / least demanding.

5. Serviced by International Air Travel. Unlike other cold places where real estate is cheap (e.g., the Arctic Circle), Iceland is served by IcelandAir. Icelandair flies to Boston, New York, Seattle, London, Madrid, Stockholm, Berlin, Paris and Amsterdam (as well as a dozen other cities). Basing out of Iceland gives you most of the benefits of a global hub like Heathrow at a sliver of the cost.

6. Not Too Far From The Rest Of The World. Iceland’s only a few hundred miles from the UK, and from there it’s a short hop to mainland Europe. Lay a few fiber trunklines across the North Atlantic and you have a new, reliable connection. The project to lay this trunkline between Iceland and UK should be jointly financed, as a way of mending the bridges burned by the Cod Wars.

So, there’s the business case. Iceland’s a cold, geologically unstable country full of unemployed men: an engineer’s dream. Google or Microsoft could expand their global offerings overnight by buying up the Icelandic interior and turning it into banks of servers.

Questions? Comments? Bids on the initial shares will start at one million dollars euros.

Update: Joel points out that Microsoft and Google looked into building Icelandic server farms in 2007. The problem then, of course, was that 2007 was the peak of Iceland’s investment bubble, when real estate was at its priciest. The plan in 2007 was for Google to buy Icelandic real estate. The plan in 2010 is for Google to buy Iceland.

you’ve got no time for the messenger, got no regard for the things that you don’t understand

  • Standing in the checkout line at the grocery store on Sunday, I had a sudden clear vision of a slogan. Red and white on a blue background, like a candidate’s bumper sticker or T-shirt. In bold letters it reads:

    The Year We Stop Trying

    I have no idea what it means. It does not even exist yet. But I crave it.

  • News of David Ortiz’s failed drug test hit Red Sox Nation last week. RJ and I watched the drama unfold on SportsCenter in the break room at work. Chris McKendry asked Tim Kurkjian if this news came as a shock to him.

    RJ: At this point, would any name come as a shock?
    Professor (thinking a moment): Cal Ripken, Jr.
    RJ: … wow. Yeah.
    Professor: If we discover that he was juicing, I’m giving up on baseball. I’ll give it a decade to sort itself out, but I’ll stop watching.

  • Back to the grocery store, sorry.

    I like little fruit and gel cups with my lunch. The local grocery store alternates between putting Dole and Del Monte on sale; I’ll buy whichever’s cheapest. I’ve also started using coupons, too. A few weeks ago, I cashed in a coupon for 25 cents off any two packs of Dole fruit cups. As the cashier rung me up, she handed me back another coupon for 50 cents off any three packs.

    I understand the marketing theory behind coupons: create brand loyalty by pushing a user over the marginal hump separating them from a new product. Give them a taste for that soft drink, or that frosted cereal. I don’t spend enough money on groceries to make coupon clipping a good investment of time, and I don’t have a lot of room to stockpile food.

    But fruit and gelatin keep, so I used my “50 cents off three” coupon this past week. The cashier handed me a coupon giving me 75 cents off any purchase of $10 or more, courtesy of the generous folks at Dole. Nice of them. She also handed me a coupon for 75 cents off four packs of fruit cups.

    In some dark basement, the medieval twin to my own Internet marketing agency, a hook-nosed drone studies me through grainy surveillance footage. He sees me tuck the coupon behind a refrigerator magnet as I unload my groceries. His greasy fingers play with a stack of loose buckslips of increasing denomination, culminating in “take $7.50 off any thirty-one packs of fruit cups. Expires December 21, 2012.”

    “Go on,” he whispers. “What’s one more?”