You vs. MacDonald’s

One of the homeschoolers I follow on Twitter linked to this analysis of home cooked versus McDonald’s burgers on a cost basis, coming to the conclusion that you could make McDonald’s burgers more cheaply at home.

In fairness, the guy breaks it down correctly enough to say that you could make 16 burgers more cheaply than you can buy 16 burgers from McDonald’s. But then you have to eat 16 burgers. Granted, at that size, you probably could, or a family of six could, anyway–but would you want to?

There’s a dual edge to this, too, that makes it kind of a pointless effort. On the one hand, if you’re making burgers, why are you making them MacDonald’s style? Could you, really? Wouldn’t you be tempted to get a slightly better cut of meat and use a little more of it? Put on a crisp slice of lettuce and beefsteak tomato (instead of just catsup)?

What’s more, if you really are going for Micky D’s style, you won’t make it. Your children will tell you all the ways your burger is inferior to one of those enriched-flour encased quarter-sized patties. Or, at least, that’s what kids did back in my day. (They’d also trash your ravioli if it weren’t Ravioli-Os.)

You’ll eat (at least figuratively, maybe literally) any mistakes you make, too. And the amount of time you spend prepping, cooking and cleaning up is going to well exceed the cost in time of going to the nearest franchise.

These days, you’re unlikely to be able to beat a fast food franchise for overall cost. The exception might be El Pollo Loco, because they’re rather expensive. (Their chicken is a lot closer to real food, which doubtless factors into it.) There is something to economy of scale in this case. Even if you can achieve the economy of scale that allows you to make 16 burgers at once, you’re probably not going to achieve it on the same scale as the billions of burgers.

On the flip side, you can’t hardly miss beating them in terms of quality. And you can be very selective about where you economize.

Out of Touch?

Amazon has a sale on “kids and family” DVDs. I’m busily digitizing the massive collection I already have (minus a huge stack of my favorites that was stolen) so I’m not in the market for any more at the moment.

But I browse.

Victor/Victoria? OK, I guess so. It’s sort of harmless in its decadence. Grumpier Older Men? Didn’t they reprise the whole “driving the pigskin bus to tuna town” bit from the first one in that? I really wouldn’t want to have to explain that to The Flower. Pleasantville? I love that movie! But there’s a whole lot about sex in that movie. I mean, Joan Allen masturbates in the tub, very conspicuously.

It’s not like there wasn’t sex in movies when I was a kid. In fact, there was pretty much sex in all of them (unless they were G-rated, and even Ken Berry and Karen Valentine were mackin’ in those Disney flicks). But they were sort of extensions of the usual “mushy parts”. People kissed, then they got nakedish, then they rubbed up against each other aaaand–cut to the next scene that actually advanced the story.

I’ve often said that people who claim there’s more sex in PG movies now just don’t remember the ‘70s (and early ’80s, since the sex scene requirement seems to have stopped with Top Gun). But there is a difference today. There’s a lot of detail in the sex scenes, even when they’re not shown.

I wouldn’t argue that this is a bad thing, by itself. The ’70s and ’80s approach to sex scenes was sort of juvenille. Fleeting emotion, no communication, no protection and no consequences (except for the early ’80s spate of abortion movies). Everyone was supposed to know about sex but nobody was ever supposed to talk about it.

But the sex scenes of the era (at least in retrospect) seem sort of innocent, easier to see as that extension of the kissing then the messy (if more realistic) approach of today. Less appropriate for children, I would say.

But maybe I’m out of touch. Maybe parents would show their k–


Caddyshack? Really?

OK, it’s Amazon, not me.

That Kind Of Year?

The Transformers sequel has just broken the top 100 of all-time Box Office receipts holders (for adjusted dollars). I’m not sure what that says about this year. Nothing good, I expect.

Last year, the only movie to crack the list was The Dark Knight, which made it all the way to #27. The year before that, Spiderman 3. The year before that Pirates 2. You have to go back to 2004 and Mel Gibson’s curiously uninfluential (in terms of Hollywood productions) Passion of the Christ to find a non-sequel.

If you ever wondered why studios make so many sequels, that’d be why. I’m sort of impressed that there are movies in the top 100 that don’t have sequels. But I guess that’s problematic in some cases.

I mean, what’re you gonna do? The Eleventh Commandment? Titanic 2: The Lusitania?

I should shut up. I’m probably giving somebody ideas.

Manic Monday Apocalypso: The Fate Worse Than Death

Another “serious” MMA, no fun movie or comic book or game to talk about. This topic comes courtesy of Darcysport, with whom I had a heated exchange about the fate of GM. She, as a Michigan resident who knows lots of good people who will personally suffer from GM’s failure, wants it to succeed.

I, an asshole, want it to fail. (My words, not hers. We were civil. Mostly.)

My logic is simple, ruthless and uncompromising: The actions involved in the “saving” of GM were illegal, unConstituional, and represent a serious step on the road to fascism. I’m not saying we’re fascists now, or Obama is a fascist; I’m saying that (yet another) barrier to fascism has been removed.

Therefore, whatever ill happens to GM workers pales in comparison to the ills that will follow any “success” GM has. (Any real success is unlikely. A redefinition of the word “success” is most likely.) This was my feeling about the initial, massive financial system bailout–a feeling I think has been vindicated (in a very short time) by the subsequent actions and failures.

But it’s easy to say this about people you don’t know. “Let them suffer, so that the Republic may live.” It’s all so abstract. (Principles are like that.)

But I’ve said it before: It is better that my children die than the government should get more involved in health care. The government is involved, and is largely responsible for the mess they’re now proposing to save us from. (“Savings” is another word commonly redefined in this discussion.) The solution never, ever involves more freedom.

There’s a concrete angle to this: My employers sent out a missive encouraging us all to vote for the massive tax propositions on the latest ballot. But I still voted against it, even though it might cost me my job. (Or I would’ve voted against it had I bothered to vote this time; my perfect voting record is somewhat sullied, I’m afraid.)

And this is where we get to the whole apocalypse tie-in: Though it’s more fun to pretend the world ends with a bang, it of course ends with a whimper. In practical terms, the whimper is the slow enslavement of a once free population. With each step, we’re supposed to quietly accede, precisely because good people will be hurt, our families will suffer and the good times we have enjoyed will come to an end. Or, maybe only the sorta-okay times will get less okay. (You can see that prominently in communist countries: Life sucks, but it sucks a little less for a few, and they’ll do any horrible thing imaginable to hold on to that slightly less sucky existence.)

There is a fate worse than death, and that’s slavery. We were founded (somewhat ironically) by men who refused to be slaves. Death was preferable to them. And yet we are nowhere near as free as they were under Britain’s rule. Maybe that’s why it always sort of feels like the End is Nigh.

And rather intriguingly, every post-apocalyptic scenario I can think of pits a few freedom-loving rebels against a dysfunctional society.

The left has come at us anew with Orwellian tactics of redefining words like “taxes” as “revenue” and “big, ugly programs that benefit only entrenched political power” as “investment”. What I suggest now is for freedom-loving folk to call political programs what they are: An attack on freedom.

If being against nationalized health care means you want people to die, it’s fair–and more accurate–to say that being for it means you’re against freedom. Financial bailouts? Anti-freedom. Auto bailouts? Anti-freedom.

Freedom by definition includes the freedom to fail. Just as freedom of speech includes the freedom to say stupid and offensive things, freedom of action includes the freedom to do stupid and offensive things.

I also took it up with Amba over healthcare: Yes, We The People have the freedom to die because we’ve made poor choices. We The People also have the freedom to set up charities to help people who’ve made bad choices (or who were just unlucky).

If the car companies have to fail, so be it: Clear the barriers to making new car companies, or maybe companies dedicated to a brand new paradigm of travel.

Freedom, in the form of liberalism, grew Western Civilization. Ossification, in the form of “liberalism”, will cause it to crumble.

Weirder Science

“But you don’t understand!” they cry. “Global warming is different! It’s science!” Hector at Kiaran Lunch does a lot of global warming denialism, deftly deaf to the rigorous logic of those who promote it.

I still think Hector’s a good guy, though, and a smart one, even though he doesn’t see the obvious peril. Environmentalists constantly must fight such people–educate them, silence them if need be, and restrict their freedom–in order to save them.

For example, Obama’s Science Czar John Holdren was on the forefront of overpopulation. Had he, and fellow eco-warrior Paul Ehrlich, not forcibly sterilized undesirables, and controlled how and where they lived, people would be dying off by the trillions today.

The modest NASA genius James Hansen downplays his role in fighting off the Ice Age that nearly destroyed us in the ‘70s, so it’s perfectly understandable that he would suggest sending people who disagree with him to jail.

And let’s not forget the eco-warriors victory in forcing us to all buy new, more expensive, less durable refrigerators to save the ozone. Morons like you wouldn’t have done that on your own!

So. You’re welcome.

Today Is Not That Day, Part 3

Some day, I say, some day will be the day when I say “I wish I sent my kids to school.”

Today is not that day. That link is to the Big List of female teachers who had sex with their students. They’re probably not all guilty, but there are at least ten times as many who are that are not on the list.

It was very common when I was a teen, particularly in the private school. There were plenty of 20-something teachers and lots of privileged kids and neither really risked much. I heard lots of rumors about the corpulent principal as well, which may have been true. Some of these women have molested children who are 8-years-old, however, which I put in an entirely different category than 18-, 17-, even 16-year-olds. There’s a line between bad judgment and mental derangement. I don’t know where it is between 18 and 8, but it’s there–and way closer to 18.

This link from Kiaran Lunch, where Hector notes that men have been demonized as dangers to children, almost to the point where they simply don’t work with them any longer, and yet the sexual predation continues.

Yesterday’s Perils, Todays Amusing Anecdote About The Quaintness of the Past

The famously hard-hitting news magazine program “60 Minutes” back in 1985 ran this hard-hitting exposé exposing the hard-hitting dangers of the pen and paper role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons”.

Marvel at the logic, science and reason used to give people who clearly have researched their position, and the journalism that strives to give equal weight to every argument. Because of course, every argument deserves equal weight. If some people think reading is good and others think it’s deadly, well, the latter should be given just as much time as the former. More if they know someone who’s been clubbed to death with a book.

So, enjoy this shining example of American journalism from one of journalism’s most respected journalists.

Because, you know, why would you question a grieving mother who assures you her son was perfectly sane before shooting himself in the chest over a game.


I’ve continued to do the Wii and, like any other video game, it trains you to play it very well. I’ve actually gotten to the point where it doesn’t insult me most of the time. (“You performed exceptionally poorly on the Don’t Stick Your Thumb In Your Eye challenge. Is it because you are a big, clumsy American or are you especially uncoordinated?”)

The Wii takes an exceptionally sensitive weight reading, then uses your keyed in height to calculate your BMI. And then helpfully displays your Wii as underweight, normal, fat or obese, based thereon. I honestly can’t imagine a large American corporation coming up with an exercise system that called its users obese and clumsy.

This, however, has to be the unkindest cut (from F– My Life):

Today, I finally got Wii Fit to lose some weight. Came home and set it all up only to be told that I weigh too much to use the board. FML

So, yeah, I bet it caps out at 300 pounds. Fair warning. (Note: 330# according to various web sources.)

Look, treat as a fun way to get off your ass and you can have a good time. Also, if you use it daily, just to do a “body test”: it’ll keep track of your weight. It is, of course, a bad idea to focus on weight if you’re trying to get in shape and, as I noted, the Wii Fit is very sensitive.

But while the Fit software tends to overreact to weight fluctuations, you know if you’re looking at a normal weight shift or a third helping of mashed potatoes. It’s programmed to not react to a minor weight shift, and notes that you can swing a couple of pounds in a day, but it’s not unusual for me to swing five pounds in a single day. (Something I observed years ago, back in the karate days.)

But it’s a lot harder to ignore a general trend. And regardless of how you view the Wii’s general approach to fitness, you can do the weight thing every day.

Meanwhile, my personal trainer mother wants to give me a real body fat test at her gym.

Anyway, the only real weakness with the Fit is that there isn’t enough content. The Wii Fit Plus should resolve that, for a while.

Food Porn: DeFranko’s Subs

I’m no Trooper York (who is?) but even in my current ascetic state, I do occasionally indulge. And, of course, when I do, we’re not talking a Big Mac or a footlong from the Subway. No.

No, no.

I prefer to patronize local establishments. While some are quite bad, the good ones are gems: Not much more expensive (if at all) than a fast food place and in the category of real food that doesn’t make you feel bad after you eat it.

The sub sandwich and I have a long history, it being one of the food we’d go out to eat for when I was a kid. (We almost never went out to eat; remember those days?) They were, of course, way too strong for my palette–capicola, or even just a regular Italian salami–but I’d power through.

Finding a good, big sandwich isn’t that hard, but finding a good Italian is very difficult. And what’s more, even if the insides of the sandwich are Boar’s Head, a lot of sandwich shops will stuff them into a crappy roll.

Enough talk, let me show you a picture:
This is from DeFranko’s in Van Nuys. It’s a little shack a block south of the Flyaway. Piles o’ meat topped with diced pickles, tomatoes and onions, stuffed into a roll baked that morning at the owner’s bakery. They default to a hard, chewy roll, but you can get a soft one, too, and whole wheat until they run out.

A lot of my pals love the pastrami, and I do, too, but it’s a lot (even for me). Plus, I can get a good pastrami a lot of places. The meatball subs are great and I’ve been known to just have a cheese sub (when I’m off meat) which is almost as good as one of the more traditional offerings.

Right now they’re selling fresh basil plants on the counter, but you never know what you’ll find there, except you know it’ll be fresh (like a fresh baked brownie or cookie).

The people are friendly, fast and hyper-competent. It’s actually a marvel to watch one of these things put together–but don’t blink. Even so, they can get behind during the lunch hour when the line often goes out the door. I’ve waited 20 minutes or more for a sandwich. It is so worth it. You might get it fast, but it ain’t fast food. (So if you’re in a hurry call ahead.)

My mom’s been buying subs there since the ‘70s. I hope my kids are buying subs there in the 2030s.

Cons of Homeschooling?

No, this isn’t about homeschoolers who have gone to jail, but about the negatives to homeschooling, as put forth in this article.

Some of these are kind of dubious as negatives, IMO. Like the first two: having to accept your kids the way they are and them having to accept you, and having to accept full responsibility for your life and actions. I mean, you can avoid those things a little if your kids go to school, but mostly you’re just fooling yourself if you think that you can get away with doing them for long, no matter who you farm your kids out to during the day.

And I’m sure the writer of this knows that perfectly well.

A lot of these are matters of courage. And a fairly mild sort of courage at that (but not one to be disqualified). Having to answer a lot of questions, angst, paving your own way and standing up alone are all matters of courage. There is a chance that some petty bureaucrat will decide to destroy your life, of course, which is not insignificant. But we all face that threat, increasingly, and it’s not going to get any better if we all keep our heads down and do what our masters want.

So that just leaves a few other issues.

Do you have to be more resourceful than ever? Maybe. But it’s never been easier. You don’t have to go to libraries, museums, parks, or anything else, because you have more at your fingertips than the wealthiest, most powerful people in the world had 30 years ago. And that information can make it that much easier and cheaper to go to libraries and museums and parks as you wish.

Do homeschoolers have to struggle with balance more? No, not really. They perhaps have to struggle with balance differently from other parents. It’s funny, though: Even back when The Boy was at a regular school, and I signed him up for scouts, I was sort of dismayed that scouts was an excuse for father-and-son time.

I already spent tons of time with him, even back then. (His younger sisters had not yet been born, I was making great cash part time, and even working at home some days.) I was trying to expose him to things I had no experience in! I’ve never needed an excuse to spend time with my kids, or a structured occasion (like scouts), but the issue of spending time is an interesting one I’ll come back to at the end.

Working parents have to juggle their work and other schedules with their kids’ school and extracurricular activity schedules, homework! (And most parents seem to be spending more time actually educating their kids through homework than the schools are doing) That’s a serious balancing act!

But then, Takahashi is talking about becoming so consumed with homeschooling that you forget your own interests, which I think isn’t such a big problem once you find your homeschooling groove. Part of becoming consumed by your child’s education stems from the structure of traditional schooling. There’s a competitiveness, a race condition in every class, in every year, and with the entire track from nursery school on.

You’re missing out in part of the fun if you just map traditional school on to homeschooling. The Flower loves her Egyptology, and her butterflies, and her engineering projects, and while she works consistently on her basics, it’s really the extra time pursuing the things she loves that will fuel the passion for learning we’re all born with.

Remember, a homeschooling parent has 365 days a year to draw on. That’s more than double the number of days for some public school years. Private school years are traditionally shorter, in fact, because a public school gets paid to run while a private school costs money to run. And most of the days they do attend school are wasted.

So, you know, you’re not exactly competing against the Jesuits, if your goal is just to give your kid a better education. (And you can beat the Jesuits, too, pretty easily, if that’s what you want to do.)

Which actually brings me around to the point I wanted to touch on back with my scouts story. Homeschooling requires self-discipline.

The home/school/work segregation enforces a certain structure. This structure is a good substitute for actual self-discipline. I’ve seen my mother in and out of work over the years, and when she has a job, she’s a machine–not only does she do her job, she produces in the other fields she’s interested: Quilts get made, bread gets baked, races get run, clothing sewn, whatever. This is quite apart from excelling in her work, which she does.

When she’s out of work, she seems to have no time for anything. And it’s impossible to find out what she’s done with her time. It took me a long time to figure it out, but without the structure of a job, she tended to fritter and fuss. (I’m much the same way.)

Homeschooling requires you to create the discipline for your children–something most would agree many parents go light on these days, but you also have to create, you know, prarie style discipline. You need to make sure the work gets done at the times it can best be done. (Doing intellectual work in the mid-afternoon, e.g., is usually a bad idea.)

Academics, chores, extra-curricular responsibilities all have to be managed by you well enough so that you can teach the kid how to handle them, and ultimately let them take over those responsibilities so you can go back to slacking.

In the meantime, you have to get plenty of rest, eat right, exercise–you know, be an adult. That has to be, by far, the biggest insurmountable “con” of homeschooling. We’re at a bread-and-circuses point in our culture, where nobody has to grow up or do anything they find unpleasant.

If you’re homeschooling, you’re going against that, doing work you don’t need to to produce kids who are also going to tend to embrace work habits that are archaic. You’re an ant in a world of grasshoppers, basically.

But, well, somebody has to keep the world going.