Carl Banks' Blog

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My 2010 Election Day ballot

For only the fourth time I cast an election ballot. Part of the reason I rarely voted was to avoid jury rolls, partly it was that I never cared. However, for the first time I am living somewhere I think I might want to stay in for more than two years, and I am kind of over the bad experience with jury duty (I was summoned several times a year while in college when I was never at home), plus I'm not stupid/emotional enough to be selected for a jury. So voting is a bit more important for me this year.

Nevertheless, the main reason I voted this year was to get rid of Barbara Boxer.

All the rest of my votes were for ballot measures because I don't really know who anyone else is. Here they are:

US Senate: Carly Fiorina
I do not like Fiorina, not one bit, but anything to get Boxer out.
Prop 19: No
The legalize marijuana prop. I am receptive to the idea that the cost of enforcement isn't worth it, and I expect it'll be legalized some day (small amounts are already decriminalized under state law). But radical change is not (and rarely ever is) the answer, and I'm not convinced it's as harmless as the activists say it is. Let this change come about gradually.
Prop 20: Yes
Have a commission draw legislative districts instead of the state legislature. Emphatic yes, though I don't expect anything to really change.
Prop 21: No
An $18 surcharge on car registration to pay for state parks and stuff. No, you want to fund that stuff, grow some spine and make it a tax.
Prop 22: Yes
Disallows the state from taking money allocated to local distribution (or something like that, it's hard to explain in less than ten paragraphs). Yes, but I have doubts.
Prop 23: No
Whether to suspend air pollution laws until unemployment falls to below 5.5%. No, not worth it, the air pollution is way too bad here.
Prop 25: No
Allow state to pass a budget with a simple majority instead of a 2/3 majority. Emphatic No. I think needing 2/3 of the legislature to approve spending is a good thing, if only it wasn't easy to get around.
Prop 26: Yes
Require some state fees to be approved by 2/3 of the legislature. Tax increases already require a 2/3 majority, this was a loophole that needs to be plugged.
Prop 27: No
Abolish the electoral redistricting commission. Emphatic No. The commission was created to get politics out of redistricting, which is a good thing.
Santa Monica Measure Y: No
This was a 0.5% sales tax increase, bringing the tax to 10.5%. Sales tax is stupid and regressive, and the reason we need this tax is laughable in a wealthy city like Santa Monica.
Santa Monica Measure YY - No
Advisory measure whether to divert half the revenues from Measure Y to schools. The school district's reasons for being "broke" are even more laughable than the city's.
Tags: california, election, jury, santa_monica, voting
Last Edited: 2 November 2010, 9:39 AM
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When you were in grade school, do your remember those two girls who were know-it-all brats? Those two girls who would do things like invent words to insult you with? You'd be standing behind them in line for recess, and they'd turn to you and say, "You're glooble". And you'd be like, "What does glooble mean?" And they'd say, "We're not telling you", and then they'd giggle to each other. You know those two girls?

Well, in my grade school one of those girls had a mother who was always signing up to assist the class in some way, and you could see where her daughter got her annoying personality. This woman had matured past the point of inventing insults, but had the same know-it-all personality. She was also at every field trip, every class party, every play not matter how small, and oftentimes she was in class doing something for no apparent reason at all, thinking that her presence and wisdom was making the classroom a better place.

About every month she baked cupcakes and sent them to the class. They were probably the worst thing I've ever eaten, and not one time did she vary the recipe even slightly. The best way I can describe the cupcakes is a hellspawn offspring of fruitcake and cornbread. The cake was dry and crumby, and it was baked with disgusting, soggy fruit (which tasted like a cross between circus peanuts and prunes). I'm pretty sure it was made with four-year-old whole wheat flour, because it was rancid, and it might have had ground flaxseed mixed in or something. And then, to top it off, she would mix some disgusting candy into the icing, based on the current month's theme (like on February when it was those Valentine heart things, ick).

I wasn't allowed to refuse to eat the cupcakes, because that would be "disrespectful". Some people in the class would lick the icing off and discreetly hide the cake part to throw away later, but the teachers always kept their eyes on me and forced me to eat every single one of those things.

Well, needless to say, ever since I've hated cupcakes. And, since this was maybe around the 20th worst experience I had in grade school, I kind of forgot the reason.

Well, it's not like my hatred of cupcakes was a crippling problem in my life, since adults, and teenagers for that matter, rarely eat cupcakes. So it happened that nearly 25 years after my horrid experience with cupcakes, I was sitting in Swinger's Diner in Santa Monica, which had delicious-looking cupcakes on display right in front of me. I knew I never ate cupcakes and I couldn't recall why at the time, but I figured it probably wasn't a good reason, so I ordered one. Damn that thing was good; it was much, much better than a regular cake. I think the high surface-to-volume ratio has a subtle effect on the cake dough as it's baking; the heat penetrates it better meaning that you can achieve the optimal doneness over a larger percent of the cake.

I think I also have to add cupcakes to the list of foods endemic to the culture of Los Angeles. There are bakeries in LA devoted just to cupcakes and I've never seen that anywere else. The list of foods is:

  • Hamburgers
  • Tacos
  • Cupcakes

(Some people say to add sushi to this list but sushi seems to be a bigger source of civic pride down the road in San Diego.)

Anyway, in the last couple weeks I've eaten a few cupcakes and they were all very good, so I am now a true fan of cupcakes. I am also happy to finally be getting over some of the hang-ups I developed in grade school. I better be careful or I might end up liking tomatoes....

Tags: cupcakes, grade_school, los_angeles
Last Edited: 30 October 2010, 8:02 PM
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Its—the possessive form of it—should be spelled with an apostrophe

It's supposed to be simple. The word "its"—the possessive form of it—is spelled without the apostrophe because it's a pronoun, even though it is a regular possessive. That's the rule: nouns spell their possessives with an apostrophe, pronouns don't. Simple and sensical, isn't it? Do you agree with this rule? I bet you do, because every single person I've had this discussion with has thrown this argument at me. "'Its' is a possessive pronoun," they say, "so it should be spelled without an apostrophe like all other possessive pronouns (my, your, his, her, our, and their)."

Problem is, the rule's wrong. Most pronouns do spell their possessives with an apostrophe. To wit:

Someone's hat is on the chair.
One's mind must always be focuses.
Whoever's coat is in the hall better pick it up.

By the rule above, these possessive pronouns should be spelled without apostrophes.

"Oh", but you say, "it's not any pronouns; it's just personal pronouns you don't use the apostrophe with. All other pronouns you use the apostrophe. It's still a simple rule."

And it's still wrong. It doesn't account for the word "who", which is not a personal pronoun yet spells its possessive ("whose") without an apostrophe. The only way to account for both "it" and "who" is to make a complex rule, one with at least two conditions.

"Ok," you argue, "but it's still a pretty simple rule: don't use an apostrophe for personal pronouns or interrogative pronouns."

Don't forget that "who" can also be a relative pronoun.

"...or relative pronouns."

Now it has three conditions, and it's still wrong. To wit:

The computer that's turned on is wasting power.

True, it's probably not the best style, but it's perfectly intelligible and would not ever be spelled without the apostrophe. (And don't give me any Chomsky bull about "that" being a relativizer here and not a relative pronoun; if it were a relativizer this sentence wouldn't be intelligible.)

"Ok, fine", you say, "everything except 'it' and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Now you've forgotten about the other personal pronouns."

"Everything except personal pronouns and 'who' uses an apostrophe."

Ah, finally we have a rule that works. It's a little ugly because one condition is a class of words and the other is a singular exception, but it's relatively simple and no actual reader or writer would have difficulty applying it. It's not the end of the universe. But the thing is, it's needlessly complex. If we could spell "its" and "whose" with apostrophes, then we would only need a simple rule with one condition: a word who's possessive is regular spells it's possessive with an apostrophe.

But, English orthography, being what is is, has to make things complex for us, even simple things like spelling possessive pronouns.

Tags: apostrophe, apostrophe_rule, spelling
Last Edited: 29 October 2010, 3:16 AM
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Proof the economy is struggling

I recently made my resumes public on and (I am not looking for another job at the moment. It's just that my company annouced that it would soon be laying off 500 employees. I don't expect to be one of them but if they're laying off, I can activate by resume. C'est la vie in the aerospace industry.)

I've ignored all the messages so far (except for one guy who was kind enough to have read by Open Letter to Recruiters so I figured I should at least write him back to tell him I wasn't interested).

  1. I'm only getting about one message a day instead of five or so.
  2. When I ignore their messages, the recruiters don't follow up asking me why I haven't responded to them.
  3. I've actually gotten a few solicitations for jobs I'd be a perfect fit for. That has never happened, not once, in all my job hunts.

Point is, with less demand for workers, the recruiters are taking the time to screen and deliver good candidates to the customer, rather than shoveling in large quantities of them. And when business chooses quality over quantity, you know the economy is not doing well.

Tags: economy, job_recruiters
Last Edited: 25 October 2010, 5:19 PM
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Let's stop this urban nuisance

I want to talk about a problem, a problem that exists everywhere, but is a problem especially prevalent in certain urban areas, one of the worst being my home, Santa Monica.

Walking around downtown Santa Monica, I encounter an insidious nuisance seemingly every day. They stand there on the street, lurking, eyeing you up, waiting for you to pass. Then they strike, they confront you, they ask if you can spare something, and if you don't they run a guilt trip on you.

Now, I personally never give these people a damn thing. In fact, I don't even acknowledge or look at them, when they greet me I walk right by them as if they didn't exist. This is the only effective way to combat these people. Giving them what they ask for only encourages them, and rewards them for being a nuisance.

Unfortunately, the law can't help us here. It's politically incorrect and possibly unconstitutional to ban this nuisance behavior, although many communities have enacted laws to limit it. Therefore, the only way to stop this is by a concerted community effort.

And that's why I am calling all people, especially my fellow residents of Santa Monica: let's put a stop to this. Let's stop rewarding these people for being a nuisances. Let's stop being enablers. Ignore them. Just walk past them. Don't sign their petitions. Don't even lift your hands to accept the literature they're trying to hand you. Let's show these activists they're not wanted. Let's....

Wait, you thought I was talking about the homeless, didn't you? Oh, no, no, no. The homeless are kind of a nuisance, yes, but that's because they are mentally ill or mentally handicapped, or both, and feel forced to live that lifestyle because of the way our cruel world treats them. I don't give then any change, becase it doesn't really doesn't help them, but I do pledge a dollar to homeless charities every time a homeless person hits me up for change.

Activists, however, are a nuisance because they're assholes. So, yeah, to hell with them. Pay them no heed. Or if you can't ignore them, tell them shove their hemp coffee mugs somewhere.

Tags: activists, homeless, santa_monica
Last Edited: 9 October 2010, 11:40 PM
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Time to watch the Simpsons

This fall, I've decided to do something I haven't done in more than ten years: I'm going to watch a full (all-new) episode of the Simpsons.

I distinctly remember the last time I saw the Simpsons: it was 1999 and I was in a Penn State dining hall. It was the one where Mr. Burns masqueraded as a doped-up alien.

When I was at Penn State, the Simpsons was the show. If the Simpsons was on any channel in the lineup back then, every public TV would be showing it (the only exceptions to the rule being football games and this movie). And since I had to eat, and since the dining halls had public TVs, I ended up seeing it pretty often.

Back then I expected maybe three or four more years out of the Simpsons, since it clearly wasn't as good as it had been in the early 90s. At some point I probably uttered something under my breath like, "I'm never watching the Simpons again. Well maybe if it's still on ten years from now (yeah right) I give it another try."

I don't know if I uttered those exact words, but it has been ten years, it's still on, and so I will give it another try.

Looks like seasons typically start around the end of September. I will keep this blog post updated.


I watched the Simpsons on October 3, 2010; first time I watched a full episode in more than a decade. Because I haven't watched it in so long, I am uniquely qualified to assess how well the show is now compared to how it was ten or more years ago, since I am not biased by ten years of new shows in between. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but here's my verdict:

No, it's not as good. The Simpsons characters always seemed to be stereotypes to me and not real people, but now they seem to be nothing more than substrates to carry jokes. Nothing remotely made me go, "Ha, that's so Homer" or "That's so Bart", but I had lots of "Marge being Marge again" moments.

And the show is still using the same old storylines. I'm not sure if I happened to watch the first episode in ten years implying a Lisa/Nelson romance, or if it's a running thing.

Nevertheless I did chuckle a few times, meaning it's still better than a lot of shows out there.

Tags: television, the_simpsons
Last Edited: 4 October 2010, 10:17 PM
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States I've visited

Map of the of states I've been to, color coded according to how often:

I've been to every state in the continental US except Rhode Island and Delaware. The state I've spent the least amount of time in are Michigan (just a layover at the Detroit airport) and Idaho (train ride across the panhandle).

Besides these states, the only other places I've visited are the Province of Ontario in Canada, and the Mexican State of Sonora. I've been all around the United States but don't get to other countries much.

Most extreme compass point locations for me (not counting time aboard airplanes, though I'd guess that wouldn't make a difference):

  • North: a point near Glacier National Park in Montana
  • South: Miami, Florida
  • East: Portland, Maine
  • West: Portland, Oregon
Tags: map, states_ive_visited
Last Edited: 3 October 2010, 3:46 PM
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Medium risk fourth down play

One of the things about football that I always thought could be improved upon was the limited options for fourth down.

If it's fourth down, and you are too far away to kick a field goal, there are only two options:

  1. Low risk: punt
  2. High risk: attempt to convert

Problem is, there's a big gap between the options. Roughly speaking, a punt will give your opponent the ball around 40 yards downfield but you give up the possibility of a conversion (not counting turnovers). Going for it on (say) a 4th and 3 is going to be converted about 50% of the time, but if you fail to convert the opponent gets the ball right there.

Right now, head coaches go for the low-risk option (punt) probably 95% of the time on fourth down. That's pretty boring. Having a medium-risk option might encourage coaches to take more risks on fourth down, leading to much more excitement. For instance, say it's 4th and 5 on the 50. Most coaches will punt in this situation. But what if there was an medium risk option? You have a 25% chance of converting, but if you don't the opponent gets the ball maybe 20 yards downfield, on their 30. I think some coaches might try that in that situation.

But what would such a medium-risk play look like?

When I asked this question in, I got an interesting suggestion in this thread: the person who receives the snap could roll out and bat the ball downfield with something like a volleyball serve, and it would be played more or a less like a fumble. I think there would have to be some limits on when a team could recover a batted ball (the ball should not peak higher than ten feet above the field, and would it have to hit the ground first).

The following table summarizes the risk tradeoff for these three options.

Option Risk Level Typical Conversion Rate Where opponent gets the ball if conversion fails
Punt Low 0% 40 yards downfield
Go for it High 50% Right there
Bat Medium 25% 20 yards downfield

Anyway, I'm not sure there wouldn't be drawbacks to this sort of volleyball bat play (like maybe too much risk of opponent returning the bat, or too much injury risk), but a play that could add a medium-risk option to fourth down I think would really add to the excitement of the game.

Tags: football, risk, sports
Last Edited: 12 September 2010, 4:31 AM
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Facebook -> Account -> Privacy Settings -> Applications and Websites -> Turn off all platform applications.

Tags: blocked, facebook, happiness
Last Edited: 28 August 2010, 2:44 PM
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Finished the Divine Comedy

Every so often I'll see a little clip or summary of some work that will evoke some sort of deep interest in me, and not merely grab my attention. Somehow from that small bit of information I know this will be a work I'll appreciate, and I am usually right. Such was the case for the Divine Comedy by Dante. As soon as I learned what it was about I pretty much had to read it someday.

It's really tough reading, however, and I didn't finish my first couple attempts at it. I finally got a good verse translation (I can't stand prose translations) to read on my Amazon Kindle (John Ciardi), which is not to say it was any easier reading. But this time I pushed through. (This was facilitated, in part, by my car being out of order for three months. I had plenty of reading time busing to work every day.)

I don't think the overall style of the poem could match me better. Pretty much everything in it was something I enjoyed. The structured, well-thought-out hierarchy of the world, the breadth of cultural allusions (although all the Florentine allusions were a bit too much), the allusions to science and astronomy, the fantastic imagery, and a lot of deep symbolism (about half of which I missed, and the other half I was only alerted to by footnotes). It lacked some of the annoyances many poems have, like wailing self-pity (except for one small part in Earthly Paradise).

But my favorite aspect of the poem was Dante's willingness to break form. In fact, it seemed like he broke form an optimal number of times, just enough so that one couldn't make any sort of sweeping generalizations. Every location he went was like the other locations, yet unique in its own way. This gave the poem an uncanny aura of realism in spite of the fantastic setting.

My favorite such diversion happened in Purgatorio, on the terrace where the Saved souls did their pennance for Sloth. Throughout the poem, Dante and his guide (Virgil or Beatrice) would stop to talk with the people wherever they went, and those people generally had a lot to say. But when Dante arrived at the Terrace of Sloth, the souls didn't stay to talk, since their pennance was to run around the terrance non-stop. The souls would only run by, identify themselves, and run off. So, Dante and Virgil spent their time on that terrance talking between themselves. Dante the Poet wasn't afraid to break the form of his story, even though talking to people in the next world was one of the most important aspects of the story.

All in all a very good read. If you're in a mood for some really tough reading I highly recommend it.

Tags: dante, divine_comedy, literature
Last Edited: 18 August 2010, 9:36 PM
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