Thursday, September 29, 2011

How To (Or Not To) Spice Up You Resume, in One Beautiful Chart

For all of you poor, unemployed souls (or less poor souls looking to change jobs), we have a chart bursting with advice on how to improve your resume, via Daily Infographic:


I actually disagree with some of the advice given in this graphic - the advice is obviously tailored to a specific kind of resume, and some of the advice posted above is definitely not applicable to all jobs. For example, you'd better not embed your photo in a resume that you send me, and your cover letter had best tell the story, supported by your resume - you'd be in serious trouble with me if you tried to tell a story using your resume as your primary vehicle.

Also, no matter how you structure your resume, I'd better be able to learn everything I want to know about you in 10-15 seconds - that's how much time you have to make an impression on me, since I've got at least 100 other resumes to plow through. So, video resumes are right out, at least for me - what jobs might want a video resume, other than some kind of acting gig?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Stock Market Also Has a Big Spam Problem

Spam - we deal with it every day, whether in our email or, in this blog's case, in our comments. What I only recently learned, however, is that the stock market also has a big (and increasing) spam problem.

You see, the new hot thing on the stock market is high frequency trading (HFT) - stock trading done entirely by computers at superhuman speeds that tries to make money by exploiting minute fluctuations in stock prices. By 2010, HFT accounted for more than 70% of US equity trades, and it's getting more popular in Europe and Asia.

Via the Big Picture, we learn that Nanex crunched a bunch of stock trading data and found that, like email spam, HFT has a hidden cost:
The chart below shows how many quotes it takes to get $10,000 worth of stock traded in the U.S. for any point in time during the trading day over the last 4.5 years. Higher numbers indicate a less efficient market: it takes more information to transact the same dollar volume of trading. 

Quote traffic, like spam, is virtually free for the sender, but not free to the recipient. The cost of storing, transmitting and analyzing data, increases much faster than the rate of growth: that is, doubling the amount of data will result in much more than a doubling of the cost. For example, a gigabit network card costs $100, while a 10 gigabit network card costs over $2,000. A gigabit switch, $200; a 10 gigabit switch, $10,000. This October, anyone processing CQS (stock quotes) will have to upgrade all their equipment from gigabit to 10 gigabit. Which would be fine if this was due to an increase in meaningful data.

We think that a 10-fold increase in costs without any benefits would be considered "detrimental" by most business people.

This explosion of quote traffic relative to its economic value is accelerating. Data for September 14, 2011 is the thicker red line that snakes near the high. There is simply no justification for the type of quote data that underlies this growth. Only the computers spamming these bogus quotes benefit when they successfully trick other computers or humans into revealing information, or executing trades. This is not progress. Progress is almost always accompanied by an increase in efficiencies. This is completely backwards.

5-minute Average of the Number of Quotes per $10,000 in Trade Transactions.
Time scale shows hour and minute of the trading day (9:30 to 16:00 Eastern). Each trading day between January 1, 2007 and September 14, 2011 is color coded by date: older dates are colored towards the violet end of the spectrum, while more recent dates are colored towards the red end of the spectrum. The most recent day is plotted as double thick red line. We had to process 535 billion quotes and 35 billion trades over 1,172 trading days to generate this chart.

Oof - that's some expensive spam. Does anyone out there who does this for a living care to comment on this development?

Anatomy of a Blog Spammer's Search Query


Just out of curiosity, I occasionally look at the search terms that bring traffic to my blogs. Most of the time, it's relatively predictable fare, though sometimes the searches that bring people here are downright weird (my new favorite weird query: "sluts eating pork" - Google points people searching for "sluts eating pork" to this blog post. Who would have thought ....)

But, I noticed a new kind of search query - this time, by people looking to spam my blog post comments. For example, note the below query:

"emails" "powered by blogger" "post a comment" -inurl:blogs

So, yes, that's a search query by someone looking to spam blog posts having to do with emails - probably with comments promoting an email archive solution, according to the comments caught by my comment spam filter (which, I must say, does a pretty good job of catch spam comments without me having to worry about it).

I'm not sure whether to be dismayed by this development, or encouraged by it as a sign that my blog's Google stature is growing, or both. My apologies if you see spam comments occasionally - I try to remove them quickly if they make it through the spam filter, but nobody's perfect. Also, if you post something and it doesn't appear, there's a small chance it's been caught by the spam filter - reword your comment and repost, or I'll post it in a few days when I check my spam filter.

Anyway - happy Internetting out there, people, and stay safe online!

P.S. I just got back from a wedding, so it might take me a few days to get up and running at full speed again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reality Check: The Era of Big Government Actually Ended in the 1970s

Karl Smith published a really interesting post last week on the evisceration of the middle class, as part of the larger discussion around the larger discussion of how new Census data show just how screwed the American middle class is.

Among the charts Smith highlighted was the following one, which caught my eye:


What that chart shows is how the ratio of government workers to private workers has fallen from more than 1:3 in the 1970s to less than 1:4 now.

During that same period of time, however, the public's demand for government services has continued to grow. How do you get by doing more work with fewer workers? To a small extent, with efficiency gains, but for the most part, the US government's answer has been the laughably inefficient contracting out of a myriad of government functions to be performed by the private sector. I'll have more to say about government contracting sometime soon - but I wanted to highlight the fact that, as the share of government workers has declined, the federal budget (and the federal contracting budget) have continued to grow.

New Jersey Declares Women's Breasts Immoral

Phoenix Feeley, the owner of the offending (and, according to NJ, offensive) mammaries.

I'm filing this one under, "Don't we have more important things to worry about, people?"

The ridiculous story, via Jezebel, and as reported by NJ.com:
A New York City woman fighting for her right to leave her shirt at home and go topless in public must cover up while in New Jersey, a state appeals panel ruled today.

Phoenix Feeley, 31, was twice arrested and charged by Spring Lake police in 2008 after she refused to put on a shirt while sunbathing at a beach, and then again took off a shirt given to her by police after being released.

She appealed the charges, arguing that if men are allowed to be in public without a shirt, women should be allowed to be in public without a shirt as well. But the court disagreed.

In their ruling, the judges argued there was no constitutional right for women to appear topless at a public beach, and that covering the female breast is important to safeguard "the public's moral sensibilities."
That's right, dear women readers - the State of NJ has declared that those boobs of yours offend the public's moral sensibilities, so you'd better keep those WMDs covered up - for the children, or something, I'm sure. On the other hand, men's breasts, no matter how small, large, or flabby, pose no threat to the moral order, it seems.

This is not the first time that Feeley's breasts have run afoul of the law - though last time this happened (in NY), she won. Given the evidence provided me by Jersey Shore, I'm rather shocked that NJ judges are more prudish than NY judges, but oh well. I hope the next legal battle Feeley's chest faces is in Conneticut - somehow I feel that she'll find more sympathetic ears there than in Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What the Average American Eats in A Year, in One Chart

The title of the post says it all. Here's the chart, via Daily Infographic:

Click here for huge version.

Honestly, I'm surprised that the average American eats such a relatively healthy diet - obviously, it could be better, but I'm surprised that fruits and vegetables make up a pretty decent share (not half or more, as recommended, but not a tiny fraction either). We consume a lot of milk products, apparently - probably too much.

But, some of the chart is truly horrifying - 42 pounds of corn syrup a year? 53 GALLONS of soda? Now that's just gross.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Census Data Show Just How Screwed the US Middle Class Really Is

The Census Bureau released a whole bunch of data on income in the US for 2010 last week. The picture is seriously bleak, especially for the middle and lower classes. Let me show you just how bleak, with a series of charts.

First, the median household income has dropped in the past decade, for all races:

Table source.

This is seriously bad - it means that, in spite of their hard work, most Americans aren't any better off now than they were ten years ago - which has lots of people talking about a "lost decade." In fact, the median income is now at the same level that it was in 1996 - so we're almost at a lost 15 years, for most Americans.

By some calculations, the median income of working-age households has declined by a whopping 10% in the past 10 years!

The story is especially bad for men - the median man's annual income, adjusted for inflation, is now lower than it was in 1978!

And the long-term outlook doesn't look much better - corporations are shifting their strategies to adjust for the long-term decline of the middle class in the US - doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?

Second, the poverty rate is now at its highest level since 1993:

Table source.

So, while poverty fell throughout the 1990s, all of the gains made during that decade have now been erased. And keep in mind that many scholars and economists think that the official poverty rate understates the extent of poverty in America - up to 30% of Americans might actually have trouble making ends meet.

Furthermore, deep poverty (i.e. living below 50% of the poverty line) is at its highest point ever recorded:

Table source.

Fourth, government anti-poverty programs have kept millions of people out of poverty, as intended, but these programs are currently on the chopping block because of the misguided austerity fever that has taken over Washington:

Table source.

What are the US's biggest (and perhaps most effective) anti-poverty programs, and how many people did they keep out of poverty in 2010?
  1. Earned Income Tax Credit (3 million people)
  2. Unemployment Insurance (2.3 million people)
  3. Social Security (13.8 million people)

Fifth, the number of Americans without health insurance climbed by 900,000 to 49.9 million, another record, with data back to 1999:

Table source.

Finally, the Atlantic highlights 4 other disturbing numbers from the Census report:
  • 7.1%: This is small-looking figure with big implications. It is the percent decline in median household income since 1999. Yes, decline. Income is supposed to grow decade-over-decade. That's how wealth builds. But in the last ten years, median income has barely tread water. In fact, real median household income in 2007 was already lower than the income peak of the late-1990s. For the bottom decile, income declined by 12.1 percent over the last ten years.
  • 20-to-1: This is the ratio of median wealth of white households to black households in 2009. The ratio of white to Hispanic households is 18-to-1.
  • 6.6 million: This number is the decline in full-time male workers between 2007 and 2010. The corresponding number for women was less than half, 2.8 million, which is one reason why some analysts called the first two years of the recession a "mancession."
  • 13.6 millionThis is the total decline in people under 65 who have employer-sponsored health insurance, which is the most common source for a family's health coverage. It represents a 10% decline in coverage between 2000-2010.

<sarcasm> But with all of this terrible employment and income news, the REAL danger to the US is government borrowing and spending - even though every market signal says that the markets are not concerned about government spending at all, and if anything, want the US government to borrow and spend more. Way to have your priorities straight, Washington - congrats. </sarcasm>

The causes of this lost decade for the middle class are complex, having to do with a potential realignment of the value of capital v. labor, pressure from international competition and the rise of the developing world, tax policies that shifted the tax burden away from the wealthy and corporations onto the lower and middle classes, and a bunch of other reasons that are beyond the scope of this post.

But, I'll point to one interesting graph from the Center for American Progress, which demonstrates that the middle class's share of aggregate US income has been shrinking since the early 1970s, in tandem with the union membership rate:


I'll be the first to point out that correlation does not equal causality, but it's hard to name groups other than unions that fight for middle class economic interests.

So, in short, all of these graphs show that if you're in the lower or middle class in America, you've been getting seriously screwed as of late - but no worries, I'm sure you can just work hard and become rich.

Oh, wait, no you can't, since income mobility in the US is quite low, by international standards - far lower than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway, or Denmark, for example.

Hmmm .... well then, I guess you can always sell drugs to solve your money woes (note: I actually think this would be a poor solution, but I started watching Breaking Bad for the first time this weekend, so I've got selling drugs on the brain)!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

US Government-Funded Anti-Muslim Bigotry and the Danger of God-Awful Graphs

Last week, Wired's Danger Room blog (one of the best running commentaries on national security technology and policy, in my opinion) had a depressing in-depth article on how the FBI "trains" its agents that mainstream Muslims are "violent" and "radical."

That is bad enough, but what really grabbed my attention was the following graph, taken from an FBI training PowerPoint presentation. It's so bad I felt the need to annotate it:

This is a truly terrible graph - I give at an F+ (hey, at least it has axes). Also, I'm sorry for the poor handwriting - apparently I need a lot more practice at writing on a tablet computer.

Aside from the horribleness of the graph, it's not even historically accurate - this graph implies that Christians were most violent at the time of the religion's founding (Jesus the Barbarian?), and it seems to have forgotten the spike of religious violence that accompanied the Crusades and that is currently accompanying the state of Israel (whether or not you think that violence is justified, it's hard to argue that Israel has been a pacifist nation).

Granted, the graph comes with the disclaimer that "the views expressed in this presentation are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any agency of the United States Government" - but the US government paid for this presentation to be given to its agents, so it is funding this bigotry, even if it claims not to hold these views.

Seriously, FBI, why are you paying money for this "training" - can't we do better than this? The public is counting on us ....

Friday, September 16, 2011

The US-China Trade Relationship, Visualized

If you follow this blog, you know I'm a sucker for interesting information presented in a visually compelling fashion. Since I'm still working on a couple of in-depth posts about new US income data, and because real life has been somewhat intrusive the past couple of days, I'll share the following infographic on the US-China trade relationship with you today, and I hope to get back to posting about economics next week. Click on the graphic for the huge version:

Infographic by Visual News

Thursday, September 15, 2011

OMG, We're On Facebook and Twitter, WTF, LOL, FML

Not like this, we hope.

Yes, it's true, The Angry Bureaucrat finally joined the mid-2000s and got on Facebook and Twitter, so feel free to connect with us at your social network of choice. You can find us at:

http://www.facebook.com/angrybureaucrat

http://www.twitter.com/TheAngryB_crat

According to xkcd, that only leaves about 72349085 other social networks we have yet to join:

Click on this link for a ridiculously huge version of the map.

Hope to meet you somewhere on the wild oceans of the interwebz.

-The Angry Bureaucrat

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Law School Bubble, Visualized

I have several friends who are recent law school grads and are having a seriously difficult time finding work in the legal field. I'm posting this in honor of them - but honestly, I'm not sure whether it's comforting or rubbing salt in the wound, telling them that they're not alone. I hope it helps, not hurts:


Via Daily Infographic.

Also, my apologies for the quick post today - I'm working on some longer, in-depth posts about new US income data that I hope to have up in the next few days.

Vladimir Putin, the Action Figure - Ridiculous, or a Model for the President?

The Atlantic has posted a spread of awesome-in-a-ridiculous-way photos of the manly Vladimir Putin, doing manly things. Some of my favorites:

Who's your daddy? Er ... your Prime Minister, that is?

No spare tire here. Rawr!

"This frying pan is refusing to bend to my will and my manly hands. Make sure it disappears after we leave."

Isn't this a scene from Rambo III?

If you Google pictures of American politicians, I'm guessing you'll rarely find pictures like these. I wonder - would pictures like this help or hurt Obama, or the Republicans running for President, for that matter? The Russians, by and large, seem to eat this stuff up, and I'm sure that segments of the US population would love this kind of thing from our politicians as well. But, I'm not sure it would have broad appeal - on the other hand, who knows, maybe it would.

Jet skiing photo op, anyone?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The $$$ Cost of 9/11, Visualized

For obvious reasons, I've still got 9/11 on my mind. In the spirit of my post on September 10, here is a series of graphics from the NYTimes to help us wrap our little brains around just how much money has been spent, lost, wasted, stolen, etc. because of 9/11.

From the NYTimes blurb:
Al Qaeda spent roughly half a million dollars to destroy the World Trade Center and cripple the Pentagon. What has been the cost to the United States? In a survey of estimates by The New York Times, the answer is $3.3 trillion, or about $7 million for every dollar Al Qaeda spent planning and executing the attacks. While not all of the costs have been borne by the government — and some are still to come — this total equals one-fifth of the current national debt. All figures are shown in today’s dollars.
A single cube in each stack represents $1 billion spent, lost, wasted, or stolen:

Click on the infographics or this link for the interactive version over at NYTimes.com.

If, for example, you click on the "War Funding" cube, it breaks the costs down further:


So, Al Qaeda's return on investment, a.k.a. rate of return (in the sense of the amount of damage caused to the USA per dollar spent by them on the attacks) was an astounding 700,000,000% (700 million percent). If only I could achieve similar returns in the stock market .... But seriously, with a rate of return like that, I expect that we'll continue to face similar attacks (or at least plots) like 9/11 in the future - that kind of ROI is probably too tempting to pass up, especially for a terrorist.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A 9/11 Story from an American Who Wasn't Here on 9/11

So, pretty much every blog I follow is posting something this weekend about the attacks on September 11, 2001. Honestly, I wasn't planning on following suit, but I figured that, since everyone seems to be doing it, I'd post something to that effect too - though I think my story will be a little different.

You see, I wasn't in the US on 9/11/2001 - in fact, I didn't return to the US until August 2002, so I experienced 9/11 and its aftermath in an uncomfortable limbo mental state somewhere between "American" and "foreigner." I wrote down my experience of the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath on the US and on me for one of my entry essays into grad school. Here's the relevant excerpt from my essay, which describes my experiences on and after 9/11/2001:

            My career goals and professional aspirations revolve around the personal, academic, and professional experiences that I have had abroad, which have transformed me from a somewhat detached, apolitical American-centered moderate into a passionate, progressive, committed internationalist. I plan to work internationally with either international government organizations or international development non-profits on solving ethnic conflicts and distribution problems.
            My transformation started in Würzburg, Germany, where I lived for a year as an exchange student. I left the USA for Germany in August 2001 and returned in August 2002 - and what a fateful twelve months that turned out to be. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, I experienced the astounding outpouring of compassion and solidarity of Europe and most of the rest of the world. On September 12, Le Monde wrote that “We are all Americans,” and I felt that to be true everywhere I went.
            As an American living abroad, I was starved for news about what was happening back home, and I devoured as much English and German news media as possible. I began to feel uneasy soon after September 11, largely because of the reports I read about increasing xenophobia, attitudes of cultural superiority, aggressiveness, and anti-Islamic sentiments in the USA. World sentiment started to catch up with mine when the occupation of Afghanistan began to drag on, and increasing numbers of reports started to detail human rights abuses against prisoners and civilians in Afghanistan. I felt the tide of world opinion changing, and Europeans’ attitudes and actions towards me reflected this tide. We were definitely not all Americans anymore.
            For me personally, even greater shock and disappointment awaited me upon my return to the USA in August 2002. My generation had been the small, lucky one to spend its adolescence in the short, sunny, infinitely optimistic period between the breaking of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, and the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As children, we had been too young to care that we could have been annihilated by nuclear war at any time. I remember learning how to hide under my desk in the event of a nuclear attack, but the drills and the threat had no meaning, no reality. For children from my small town in Tennessee, life was good. Terrible problems existed all over the world, especially in Africa and the Balkans, but as a teenager, the importance of such matters seemed to pale in comparison to the trials of everyday life. When I went to start my undergraduate studies, my class was utterly convinced of its ability to solve the world’s problems and promote peace, prosperity, and democracy. The USA, the sole remaining superpower, was at the vanguard of a new world era (in spite of the small economic setback of the dot-com bubble), and we were eager to train as the new leaders of this new world.
            I knew that the US had changed since I had left, but I had no idea that the USA in which I had grown up had vanished from the face of the earth, to be replaced by this strange foreign country filled with suspicion, fear, animosity, and self-righteousness. Instead of trying to counteract these destructive trends, the government seemed to be actively encouraging the American people to be afraid of each other, foreigners, and unnamed, faceless “terrorists.” I lived in this environment for a year while I was finishing my undergraduate degree, but after I received my undergraduate diploma, I hungered for more travel, adventure, and international perspective.

Back to present-day me speaking: So, I left the US again, this time for several years - you can see a couple of pictures from my several years abroad in my very first blog post.

Rereading my essays, I am not where I thought I'd be, either physically or professionally - I had pictured myself working somewhere outside the US at an international government organization or international non-profit organization, but (thanks in no small part to the partial collapse of the world economy), Ali and I stayed in the US after I finished grad school and I took a job with the US government instead of an international government organization. I suspect we may yet move abroad sometime, though perhaps not for a few more years - we'll see what happens.

Anyway, those are my thoughts about 9/11 - it's still a strange event for me to contemplate. I didn't experience it nearly as viscerally and intimately as many of my friends and family who were actually in the US on 9/11 (and in the months and years that followed), but I also don't have the detachment and perspective of many of my foreign friends. I guess that befuddlement was the cause of my confusion surrounding the death of Osama Bin Laden, also recorded on this blog - though what I found most confusing about that episode was all the celebrating by college-age kids upon Bin Laden's death. From my Facebook status on the following day:
Looking at the pictures from the celebrations in DC last night, I'm struck by the fact that most of the people (kids?) in the pictures had to be between 8 and 11 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. My most formative years happened before that date; I wonder what it was/is like to grow up in a post-9/11 world.
I guess I still do wonder what it was/is like to grow up in a post-9/11 world, since I continue to try to live in a pre-9/11 world. Perhaps naïvely, I hope that someday, America as a whole will be able to join me and return to what life was like before 9/11.

P.S. After writing the first draft of this post, I came across this account of another person's experience of 9/11, which shares some of my sentiments. So, I guess I'm not the only one who's still sometimes wonders what the hell is going on. Also, Krugman finds the commemorations today oddly subdued.

P.P.S. One of WaPo's columnists laments the US's post-9/11 ongoing hysteria and lack of self-awareness, and Wired has a story on how 9/11 completely changed surveillance in the US (or, more bluntly, how the Bush and now Obama administrations undermined US civil liberties).

P.P.P.S. I think a lot about tradeoffs, both in my job and on this blog, so I think it's important to consider what we could have bought with all the money spent on the "War" on Terror. ThinkProgress has put up a list - for example, providing 63.3 million college scholarships every year for 10 years (and yes, I know that's far more college students than we actually have in the country - that's the point).

Reminder: 10 Years Ago Today, Pentagon Admitted to Losing $2.3 Trillion

Yup, it's true - on Sept. 10, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld admitted that the Pentagon couldn't account for up to $2.3 trillion it had been given - that's about $8,000 for every man, woman, and child in the US at the time, or a touch less than HALF OF THE TOTAL OUTSTANDING PUBLIC DEBT AT THE TIME. Holy sh*t.

According to the article at the time:
Rumsfeld promised change but the next day – Sept. 11-- the world changed and in the rush to fund the war on terrorism, the war on waste seems to have been forgotten.
I think that might be a bit of an understatement there, Mr./Ms. CBS Newsperson.

And since 2001, the US military budget has more than doubled:


I wonder how much the Pentagon wouldn't be able to account for now? But no one cares anymore, it seems. As a government employee, I'm continuously amazed at how the government must pinch pennies - except when it comes to military spending. It just makes no sense.

Anyway, this post is just a small aside - I'll have a real, reflective piece on 9/11 tomorrow.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Welcome to the New America, Land of Downward Mobility

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts (.pdf warning) points to a disturbing new reality in the US - instead of the Land of Opportunity (TM), the US is slowly turning into the Land of Anti-Opportunity (I hope we don't TM this). Or, to put it into horribly cliched terms, people are waking up from the American Dream to find themselves living in the American Nightmare.

According to a variety of different metrics of downward mobility, US citizens who grew up in a middle class family are increasingly likely to fall out of the middle class and/or enjoy lower standards of living than their parents did:


Not surprisingly, white men are the least likely to experience downward mobility, while blacks are the most likely:


Other findings include:

  • Unmarried or divorced women are much more likely to be downwardly mobile than married women; unmarried and divorced men lose less ground in comparison with married men.
  • Education levels make a difference in exactly the ways you'd expect. Also hard drug use.
  • White, black and Hispanic women are equally likely to experience downward mobility out of the middle class, but 38 percent of black men fall out, compared with 21 percent of white men. Hispanic men also appear more likely than white men to fall from the middle as adults, but the difference is not statistically significant.
  • Differences in average test scores are the most important observable racial difference in accounting for the large downward mobility gap between black men and white men, but none of the factors examined in the report sheds light on the gap between white men and white women.
As Daily Kos notes:
Because this report focuses most on percentiles—how people are doing relative to their peers—it doesn't speak to growing income inequality and middle-class wage stagnation. Rather, it gives us another angle onto how factors like race, gender and marital status contribute to downward mobility, or protect people from it.
Depressing stuff, though I fear that our politicians don't have the guts (or desire, for that matter) to tackle this problem. So, what can We the People do?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Smuggling Cocaine With a Submarine, Visualized

I found this infographic oddly fascinating. I'm really not sure what can be done about this kind of problem - it rather reminds me of the Cold War buildup of nuclear weapons between the US and the Soviet Union. Drug smugglers find ways to smuggle drugs; law enforcement finds ways to detect the smuggling techniques; drug smugglers invent new techniques to smuggle drugs (including submarines, apparently); and the cycle repeats indefinitely.

As long as there is a huge, booming market for drugs in the US, I don't see law enforcement "winning" this battle - basic economics dictates that the market (whether legal or illegal) will provide supply to meet demand.

What can be done about this? I can't say I'm excited by the prospect of legalizing narcotics, so what's to be done - anti-drug education? That's been done for years, and people just keep using more drugs. I'm stumped - anyone else have any ideas?

Anyway, check it out for yourself, via Daily Infographic:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Ultimate Awesome Wedding Advice Blog Post, Two Years in the Making

Wedding Week at the Angry Bureaucrat, written to commemorate my second wedding anniversary, is now over - but it's certainly not forgotten. In this post, I'm combining the entire week's worth of advice into one post to make it easy for friends and family members to share, email, etc. the advice with/to future brides and grooms. Feel free to share your thoughts, disagreements, or wedding tips in the comments!

The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week Table of Contents:

1. The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Two Years in the Making

2. THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

3. Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

4. Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

5. Wedding Week, Day #5 - Customize Your Ceremony However You Want

6. Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

7. Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

8. Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

And here are all the nuggets of advice!

The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Two Years in the Making

Happy Wedding Week, Everyone!

In something somewhat out of character for this blog, we're celebrating Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat!

Two years ago this week, my wife and I were in the throes of wedding joy (and stress). Since that time, as we’ve read and heard about weddings being planned or happening, both of us have from time to time talked about writing a wedding advice column - because we both think our wedding rocked, and it rocked for a lot less money than many other people pay for far crappier weddings. As we prepared to celebrate our second anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to share some hard won wisdom. As an added bonus, the whole series is illustrated with actual pictures from our wedding, for those of you who are curious as to what it/we/our accessories looked like.

Before I start this series, my wife requests that she be given a disclaimer. She’s more tactful than I am, and although she generally supports my assertions in this series, she would probably not say things the same way I’ll state them. She would also say something to the effect of, “just because something was right for us doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.” So, there, she is indemnified. I also recognize that not all of these pieces of advice will hold for absolutely everyone, but we think that if most people were to abide by them, everyone (bride and groom included) would have a lot more fun at weddings and would waste a lot less money on them. But, my sincerest apologies in advance, if any of our advice offends anyone out there.

So, we'll spend the next week sharing my/our advice on how to have an awesome wedding that won't break the bank. (Feel free to donate a portion of the money you save to support this site, via the Google Checkout button on the right ;) ). Tomorrow, we'll start with a critical guiding principle that everyone getting married should follow (and perhaps have temporary-tattooed on their foreheads), and then each day this week, we’ll dive into a new detail. Tune in tomorrow for what will perhaps be my most controversial piece of advice!

THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

See all these people? Your wedding is about all of them, too - it's not just about you. (These are Grant's family members who made it to the wedding.)

This will be hard for some people to swallow, but our first and most important Wedding Week lesson here at The Angry Bureaucrat is that your wedding isn't actually all about you ("you" singular or "the two of you"). If you approach your wedding in this way, you're already setting yourself up for disaster and/or disappointment. Our experience was that the most fun we had planning our wedding was when we were coming up with fun, creative ways for it to be a community-wide celebration of our joy, love, and union - and that we fought the most when we focused too much on us, on doing things this way or that, or otherwise being caught up in the details.

The whole "fairytale wedding," "princess for a day" bullsh*t was made up by the cynical princess wedding industry to make you feel entitled to everything and to separate you from your money. The truth is that, unless you're eloping, your wedding is bringing together a community of people who love you and care about you - friends and family, whether a few or a few hundred - in order to celebrate your joy, love, and union. You wouldn't be who you are without all of these people; that's why they're at your wedding. When planning your wedding and all the celebrations that surround it, you will have more fun (and everyone else will be happier) if you take into account their need and desire to celebrate with you, instead of focusing solely on your own selfish needs and desires. Much of the rest of these posts will be specific examples of how to implement the guiding principle of "it's not all about you."

(Note: Based on a dinner conversation I had after I wrote the first draft of this post, I want to add that, of course, your wedding should and will fulfill your need to celebrate in the way you want as well. The point of this post is not to say that you should work to please everyone else above and beyond yourselves - that's certainly not the case. Nonetheless, this post is a strong recommendation to take the needs and wants of the people you love and care about into account when planning your wedding. I assume that your needs will be well-represented in your wedding - my experience has been that most couples don't need much help asserting their own wishes in their wedding planning. But, you and everyone around you will be much happier if you take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of your community as you plan your wedding - and this is something that I think people often lose, forget about, or are even told is wrong when planning a wedding.)

OK - that's plenty to take in on the second day of Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - come back tomorrow and we'll start talking dollars and (common) sense.

Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

What's more important to you in your wedding? You should decide up-front - it will make decisions easier later.

Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend, and what's most important to you in the wedding - what you're willing to spend your money on is the best indication of what's really important to you in your wedding. For us, the most important thing was throwing a fantastic, huge dinner and party for all of our family, close friends, and out-of-town guests, so that's what we spent a plurality of our money on. The least important thing was probably the clothes that we and our attendants wore - Ali's wedding dress was a dress she already owned (!), the bridesmaids' dresses were reasonable, and I didn't make my attendants rent/buy tuxes - they just wore dark suits they already owned, and we bought them different but matching ties as part of the attendant thank-you package.

You should know whether your flowers are more important than your cake, or your music more important than renting a car to drive you to the reception (we skipped this and just walked to our reception), and so on - you'll be making tradeoffs as you plan your wedding, and it's important to know what's most important to both of you.

In addition, when setting a budget and prioritizing what's important to you, keep the budgets of your attendants in mind - for example, if your attendants are a bunch of students or underemployed writers, expecting for them to attend a shower or bachelor's/bachelorette's party at a resort in Cabo is probably going to cause some ill will. A recent (positive) trend is letting bridesmaids pull out the trusted old LBD (little black dress) as a no-cost clothing alternative, which should match the tuxes/black suits of the groomsmen nicely. Just a suggestion. Remember - it's not all about you.

When doing your budget, keep in mind these people's budgets too - they hold the power to make your wedding awesome or to make it suck, so don't piss them off!

Come back tomorrow for another critical piece of advice - one that, statistically speaking, should deeply offend at least 24% of you.

Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

One of many fantastic things that would not have happened if we'd had a destination wedding - because few (if any) of these wonderful people would have been able to come.

According to the latest statistics, 24% of you out there decide to have destination weddings. Our apologies to anyone who had/is having a destination wedding, but we think it was/is a bad idea. Personally, I don't think that "do not have a destination wedding" should be advice - I think it should be a rule.

Destination weddings embody the epitome of the "it's all about me" mentality. Think about it - you're essentially forcing your friends and family to take extra time off work and take a vacation to somewhere not of their own choosing while you're the center of attention for the whole vacation. It's so preposterous that I'm surprised this trend ever got started in the first place.

In addition to not being very considerate of the (probably relatively few) friends and family who will be able to afford to attend a destination wedding, you are (unless you run in fabulously wealthy circles) probably cutting most of your friends and family out of celebrating your wedding with you - and remember that they want to celebrate with you; they just don't want to celebrate completely on your terms.

Personally, we have only attended one destination wedding (at a picturesque lake somewhere in Europe), and honestly, we only attended because we just happened to be living in an adjoining country at the time - we never would have come if we'd had to travel from the USA like the rest of the wedding party. The only people who could attend were a few family members and one friend - even the parents of the bride couldn't attend!

By contrast, we held our wedding in our hometown, and we were able to host a gigantic party for 80 of our family members and closest friends - all for far less than what the airfare alone would cost for a destination wedding.

From our (limited) experience, in addition to being a significant time and financial burden on the few people who can attend and shutting out most of your friends and family from coming, having a destination wedding adds even more stress to the engaged couple. After all, you're adding vacation stress (travel and logistics in an unfamiliar place; not knowing the language; dealing with strange food; dealing with strange hairdressers and tailors in a foreign language; etc.) to the normal wedding stress - not a good combination. And unless you're going somewhere so remote that your wedding party is the only group around, everyone else at your destination wedding location will be conspicuously gawking at the bizarre spectacle unfolding before them - I am remembering a town full of Europeans who watched this American girl run around their tiny town in street clothes and a veil, and then in a wedding dress, for an entire day - they were utterly perplexed, and they did not try to hide their confusion.

Please please please, save everyone time, nerves, and money - don't have a destination wedding. Hold your wedding in one of your hometowns (even if you rarely go there anymore, like us), or if you really can't stand either of your hometowns, in an easily accessible, neutral third location, preferably somewhere about halfway between where your respective families live. Trust me - you'll thank me.

I'm guessing at least 24% of you vehemently disagree with this post; feel free to explain in the comments why a destination wedding was the only thing that made sense for you. And please go into a little more depth than "it was the only way to limit the number of guests" - while that may be true, I hope that's not all there is to it, since it's easy enough to limit guest numbers in other ways. (My new favorite way of limiting the number of guests is to hold the wedding on a random day, like a Tuesday.)

So, after a big "don't" today, tomorrow we'll get back into the swing of things with a big "do."

Wedding Week, Day #5 - Write Your Own Ceremony, Pretty Much from Scratch

Our rings, and our wedding ceremony (which we wrote ourselves).

Whether you get married in a church/synagogue/ashram/temple/etc., at a courthouse, outside, or at city hall, we think it's critical that you write your own ceremony - pretty much from scratch. And customize it however you want! It's hard work - we spent several weeks combing the web and our favorite books for what we wanted to include, picking the music, rearranging the order - and after we'd finished, we realized that we'd changed the Christian ceremony that we'd picked as our starting point into a largely Jewish ceremony. Go figure.

We also had a lot of fun talking about what we wanted in the ceremony and why - it helped us learn more about each other and grow together as a couple. Customizing the ceremony (especially writing our own vows) also gave us an understanding of what was most important to each of us as we began a life together. We also took out outdated parts of the ceremony, such as "who gives this bride away" and "speak now or forever hold your peace" - if these things are in your wedding ceremony, I'll think that you didn't work on it very hard. (Or, I suppose you could carefully consider the options and decide that you really do want to give someone the opportunity to protest your union in front of all your friends and family - but I'd find allowing that rather odd.)

We also involved our community a good deal in the ceremony itself - my parents sang a duet; Ali's parents gave us a blessing; a family friend played the trumpet; our attendants did readings; and we sang some songs/hymns (upbeat ones!). We tried to give our community as much opportunity to be involved and celebrate with us as possible (or as much opportunity as they wanted, anyway). Your community is bursting with talent, and you should take advantage of that by inviting them to participate in your ceremony and celebrations! Some folks might decline, but most people will jump at the opportunity to play a special role in your special day.

Perhaps more so than with any other part of the wedding, you only get out of your wedding ceremony as much as you put into it - though it's true that you end up just as married all the same. However, if you overlook this part of the wedding and don't customize it to fit you as a couple, you're missing a serious opportunity to get to know your future spouse more deeply, in a way that is difficult to replicate in a different setting, and you're missing an opportunity to knit your community together more tightly. So, get to work!

Tomorrow, we'll talk even more about getting your community involved in your wedding, in ways that will save you serious time, stress, and money and will get them excited to participate in your celebration - a major win-win-win-win!

Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

De-professionalizing as much of your wedding as possible accomplishes three major goals - it gets your community much more involved in the planning and execution of your wedding celebration; it can take a lot of responsibility off your shoulders (if you let it); and it will save you a TON of money.

You can imagine how lovely the uncensored version of this
invitation looked - and the bride did it herself.

De-professionalizing as much as possible was one of the reasons why we were able to have a fantastic wedding and throw three (3!) separate parties celebrating our marriage for about 1/3 the cost of just the average US wedding ceremony and reception.

Part of de-professionalizing is decentralizing. We gave away entire swaths of our wedding to other people to plan and execute with minimal attention from us, so we could focus on what was most important to us - having a great time with our family and friends. This also gave our family a good excuse to come a couple days early, so we got to spend more time with everyone.

We de-professionalized (and decentralized) our wedding in many, many ways:
  1. We didn't have a professional wedding planner. We were our wedding planners. Everyone should do this - it's a bit of work, yes, but it will save you a ton of money, and you'll have a much better chance to put together the wedding that you want to have.
  2. Ali did our invitations (see above), with a little spare time and a couple of free fonts we liked. You can do this, or you have a friend who knows enough PhotoShop or InDesign to do this in exchange for dinner or a bottle of wine. You then get them printed yourself and have beautiful invitations at a fraction of the cost of paying a professional to do it all.
  3. Ali also did the program for our ceremony.
  4. Ali's mom planned and catered the rehearsal dinner.
  5. My mom planned and (with the help of her female relatives) executed most of the post-ceremony reception.
  6. My mom baked the bride's cake.
  7. One of Ali's best friends decorated the bride's cake.
  8. A family friend baked and decorated the groom's cake.
  9. A family friend decorated the reception space.
  10. A former high school teacher/mentor did the flowers.
  11. Church friends provided the music.
All of these were done by non-professionals for our wedding. You know people who can do stuff like this too.

I'm probably missing a few, but you get the idea. Granted, we paid some money towards some of the things on the above list, but they cost us far less than if we had paid professionals to do everything for us. As an added bonus, our whole community was involved in and excited about our wedding, and they were (or at least acted like they were!) happy and glad to help us out and be involved. We couldn't have done it without them, and we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun without their contributions.

Your community has an enormous pool of talent you can tap, and they have friends and family who are also talented - just ask them to contribute their talents to help you celebrate your wedding. Of course, I expect you'll give them general boundaries, parameters, guidelines, etc. - but within those boundaries, leave them the creative license (remember: it's not all about you) to see what they come up with to help celebrate your union.

Many people think it’ll just be easier to hire someone, but that's often simply wrong. That person you hire has to be directed (by you) and is only going to do exactly what you are able to direct them to do (how much do you know about flower arrangements or cake decorating?). Furthermore, they don’t care about you personally - it’s their job, so why would/should they go the extra mile for you? Your community cares, and their contribution will make the day more meaningful and less about money.

Tomorrow, we'll delve into the details of a part of the wedding that is often misguided - food and drinks.

Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

If this had been slathered with fondant, I would have refused to eat it.

Advice #1: Do Not Have Fondant Icing on Your Wedding Cake

Although it looks good, fondant (Wikipedia calls it an "icing-like substance," not icing) tastes like a mixture of ground-up cardboard and sweetened silly putty. If you absolutely have to have a fondant cake because of the way it looks, make it one that no one actually has to eat, and have sheet cakes with better-tasting (real) icing for people to eat. Seriously - no one wants to eat a fondant cake. No one.

Advice #2: If Serving a Meal, Serve a Real Meal

One consistent complaint I've had about several weddings I've attended (and that I've seen repeated ad nauseam online) is that the food served at weddings is often sub-par catered fare. Here's how we avoided that.

We ended up having 3 large, semi-public, semi-organized parties to celebrate our marriage: 1) the rehearsal dinner (open to family, wedding party, and out-of-town guests, as usual), 2) the reception at the church right after the ceremony (open to everyone), and 3) a dinner and party at a local restaurant for family, close friends, and out-of-town guests a couple of hours after the reception at the church.

Since we had a lot of friends coming from far away to our little Southern town for this wedding, they wanted to have a taste of the South while they were visiting. We weren't terribly excited by this - but our wedding wasn't all about us. So, Ali's mom organized a bunch of proper Southern ladies to whip up a huge, traditional, home-cooked Southern feast for the rehearsal dinner. The food was a smörgåsbord of home-cooked deliciousness at almost no cost.

My mom (with the rest of the female members of her family) catered the reception right after the ceremony. This was probably the most traditional food of the weekend, as it was somewhat standard reception fare, but they did a great job - and people were walking around and interacting with each other and us, rather than being trapped at a table trying to cut warmed-over chicken Kiev with a butter knife and making small talk with people they don't know very well.

As an added bonus, we gave our mothers near-free reign to organize the above parties as they wanted, so they got to put their touch on the weekend, and we had a lot of responsibility lifted off our shoulders - a serious win-win!

With our mothers taking care of those two parties, we focused most of our attention on the party we cared about most - the semi-formal sit-down dinner and party that went from about 6PM until well past midnight. To put together an awesome event at a reasonable cost, we contacted a local restaurant (thanks again, Matt!) and promised them that we would spend at least a certain minimum amount on food and drinks if they would close the restaurant to everyone but us. It was a smallish restaurant, so our ~80 people just about filled it to capacity.

Part of our mostly pre-decorated dinner/party venue.

This was fantastic on several levels - we got to pick a fun, dynamic venue that needed almost no additional decorations, instead of having to (pay to) decorate a relatively sterile event hall. We didn't have to rent anything for the dinner - not the venue, silverware, tables, chairs, glasses, napkins, etc. - all the stuff that adds up to serious cash if you're having an event catered in an event hall. All we paid for was the food and drink. We worked with the chef beforehand to come up with menu options that were personally meaningful to us and that everyone would like. Everything was cooked to order and delicious. And speaking of food, this brings us to:

Advice #3: Have Plenty of Alcohol

Pay for everyone's food, and have plenty amount of alcohol available (unless there are strict religious reasons not to) - your guests are all there to celebrate with you; they're giving you gifts; you're only going to do this once (you hope); and good food and alcohol really aren't that expensive. If you really can't afford to do this, then just don't serve dinner or make alcohol available - go with hors d'oeuvres alone.

You may have to look around a bit to find the right restaurant to host this kind of event (and that will only charge you for food and drinks). In this economy, however, you should be able to find a restaurant that will do this for you (city-dwellers, you may have to look at smaller restaurants out in the 'burbs) - and you'll have a much better time (and much better food) at much lower cost if you arrange a dinner and party in this way.

Aside from the ceremony, our dinner and party was the most important (and most fun) part of the whole weekend - everyone had a fantastic time, and it didn't break our bank, even though it was the most expensive part of our wedding. But for us, celebrating with our family and friends was the most important part of our wedding - so that's where we put a plurality of our money.

With Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat, you'll get a little more than you expected - we'll have an eighth and final post of sage wedding advice tomorrow.

Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

When things go wrong, take it in stride ...

I wish I knew where I got this piece of advice, so I could credit them, but I just can't remember.

Anyway - with weddings, you plan the best you can and set up everything to run as smoothly as possible. However, on the wedding day, don't sweat things that go wrong - because things will go wrong. Usually just some small things, occasionally a big thing, but at that point, there's nothing you can do, so don't worry about it. If you decide beforehand that you've done everything you can and that you're just going to let the day play out as it plays out while enjoying and savoring every moment, you (and everyone around you) will have a much better time than if you freak out because:
  • your ring-bearer refuses to walk down the aisle;
  • the order of events in the reception gets messed up;
  • your bride gets a sinus infection and has to be hopped up on steroids for the big day;
  • a drunk cousin "borrows" (read: steals) someone's phone;
  • or one (or more) of a billion other things goes wrong.
(Note: All of those things actually happened at our wedding. Feel free to share your own not-to-be-sweated horror stories in the comments.)

You did your best, and if you followed the advice from The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week, everyone else will be having a blast. Besides which, you need some funny mishap stories from your wedding right? So just relax, laugh, and have the best day of your life too. And, if you’ve followed the advice in this series, you'll have done it all for far less cash than the average American.

(I also wanted to mention that most of the photos featured this week were taken by Lindsay Gross - if you have professional photography needs in Middle or Eastern TN, we highly recommend her!)

That's it for Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - I hope you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them. No matter what, you're going to enjoy and cherish your wedding day, and I hope my reflections on my own wedding help you have an even more awesome wedding than you were going to have.

... and everything will be awesome!

Happy 2nd Anniversary, My Dear!


P.S. I'm sorry for this, but I felt the need to add a small legal disclaimer - I retain all rights to all the photos and text in this post. No one is allowed to use the photos or text without my written permission.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

When things go wrong, take it in stride ...

I wish I knew where I got this piece of advice, so I could credit them, but I just can't remember.

Anyway - with weddings, you plan the best you can and set up everything to run as smoothly as possible. However, on the wedding day, don't sweat things that go wrong - because things will go wrong. Usually just some small things, occasionally a big thing, but at that point, there's nothing you can do, so don't worry about it. If you decide beforehand that you've done everything you can and that you're just going to let the day play out as it plays out while enjoying and savoring every moment, you (and everyone around you) will have a much better time than if you freak out because:
  • your ring-bearer refuses to walk down the aisle;
  • the order of events in the reception gets messed up;
  • your bride gets a sinus infection and has to be hopped up on steroids for the big day;
  • a drunk cousin "borrows" (read: steals) someone's phone;
  • or one (or more) of a billion other things goes wrong.
(Note: All of those things actually happened at our wedding. Feel free to share your own not-to-be-sweated horror stories in the comments.)

You did your best, and if you followed the advice from The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week, everyone else will be having a blast. Besides which, you need some funny mishap stories from your wedding right? So just relax, laugh, and have the best day of your life too. And, if you’ve followed the advice in this series, you'll have done it all for far less cash than the average American.

(I also wanted to mention that most of the photos featured this week were taken by Lindsay Gross - if you have professional photography needs in Middle or Eastern TN, we highly recommend her!)

That's it for Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - I hope you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them. No matter what, you're going to enjoy and cherish your wedding day, and I hope my reflections on my own wedding help you have an even more awesome wedding than you were going to have.

... and everything will be awesome!

Happy 2nd Anniversary, My Dear!