Wednesday, July 23, 2008


Algorithm of the Day: How to dissolve a marriage

If a respondent refers to a person of the same gender as their "husband/wife" on the 2010 census form, the Census Bureau will automatically assign them to the "unmarried partner" category. Legally married same-sex couples will be indistinguishable in census data from those who chose "unmarried partner" to describe their relationship. —Mike Swift reporting in "U.S. Census Bureau won't count same-sex marriages"

When I first heard the news that the Census Bureau would be "editing" the responses of gay married couples to change them into "unmarried partners," I envisioned a roomful of clerks with green eyeshades, pencils in hand, poring over a stack of census questionnaires searching for tell-tale signs of a gay marriage:

Head of household: Sam Doe          Gender: M
Others in household:  
    George Smith1      Gender: M Relationship: Husband/wife   
    Robert Doe          Gender: M Relationship: Son of Sam    

The clerk would then strike through "Husband/wife" and substitute "Unmarried partner."

Then I realized the impossibility of this scenario because work such as this would have to be outsourced to India where they are still struggling with the concept of "customer support." For an Indian supervisor to explain same-sex marriage to an eager but innocent workforce was clearly out of the question since delicacy would require all the women to leave the room.

So I looked up the original news item and spotted the word "automatically." Ah, computers will do the work! I thought.

Since the program to accomplish this would normally cost the government upwards of $10 million once a contract to the lowest bidder is awarded, I thought I'd do my civic duty by offering the basic algorithm for free:

FOR i=1 TO EOF        && "End of file" = population of the US
    IF Gender_of_Head="F"         && "F"="Female"
        IF Spouse=T                     && T=True
            IF Gender_of_Spouse="F"
                REPLACE Spouse WITH F    && F=False
                REPLACE Unmarried_partner WITH T
        IF Gender_of_Head="M"
            IF Spouse=T
                IF Gender_of_Spouse="M"
                    REPLACE Spouse WITH F
                    REPLACE Unmarried_partner WITH T

This can be expressed more succinctly as—

    IF (Gender_of_Head="F" AND Spouse=T AND Gender_of_Spouse="F") OR (Gender_of_Head="M" AND Spouse=T AND Gender_of_Spouse="M")
        REPLACE Spouse WITH F
        REPLACE Unmarried_partner WITH T

Thus may the dissolution of marriage be performed "automatically."



1The question of last names in same-sex marriages has not been resolved to anyone's satisfaction. But Bartleby offers a nice summary of the options. [back]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Mormon vs. Roman beefcake

Where would we be without religion? Well, without calendars for one. Without a good calendar we wouldn't know the best day to, say, sacrifice a virgin. The modern tendency to flout tradition and sacrifice virgins willy-nilly is utterly contemptible in my view.

Clearly we need calendars,
Bare-chested Mormon in a hothouse.
It doesn't get any steamier than this!
and thanks to an excommunicated Mormon our menological choices have expanded. While I've long admired the rather chaste Roman Priest Calendar, the Mormon version featured at "Mormons Exposed" is a bit more risqué—

The 2008 Men on a Mission calendar features twelve handsome returned Mormon missionaries from across the United States who, for the first time ever, have dared to pose bare-chested in a steamy national calendar.

Dare we hope that the Randy Rabbis and the Magnificent Mullahs calendars will appear soon? Along with Buddhist Monks Laid Bare?

Yet with so many choices I'm no longer sure which religion to embrace. Who knew the free market could produce existential angst in the checkout line!


Monday, July 21, 2008


NASCAR Event of the Day

GM says it will cut back motorsports advertising, putting in jeopardy its sponsorships of teams, tracks and all the ancillary marketing that goes with racing. Expected among the biggest losers is NASCAR-related spending of an estimated $120 million to $140 million a year. —Sharon Silke Carty reporting in "Caution flag flies on GM's motorsports budget"

For the working class white man the failure of a bank or two may not merit much attention, but this sort of news hits home.

David Welch of BusinessWeek approves

Here’s a company in crisis that can’t afford enough advertising for its bloated family of eight brands, and they have been blowing more than $100 million a year on NASCAR.

But then he takes the rather snobbish view of NASCAR that has helped Republicans get elected—

The circuit strictly legislates body dimensions, chassis engineering and engine size so you don’t get new technology on the track. The cars still have carburetors and only recently got rid of leaded fuel! It’s yesteryear’s race cars running around in circles. A Luddite’s paradise.

If the trend continues I may be able to enter my car. Maybe Rent-a-Wreck will sponsor.

But my sports preferences aren’t the ones that matter here. For the Big Three [automakers], NASCAR speaks to the working class white guys who already love their trucks and suvs. It preaches to the choir. To the people on the coasts who drive Japanese and European cars, it affirms the red neck, Midwestern and unsophisticated image that most American brands carry. This will enrage some people.

Yes it will. Which leads to the question of how many Republican candidates will be showing up at NASCAR events this year—and how many working class white guys will continue to vote for them.

An angry racing fan


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