Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 4

We started the day at the visitors center at Hill Cumorah. I thought about it on this trip, and I decided the name "Hill Cumorah" is a misnomer that perpetuates a false understanding of Book of Mormon geography. I think we should call the place something like Restoration Hill. If anyone cares to hear more on the subject, let me know.

Anyway, we started at a visitors center. I asked myself, "Are visitors center missionaries such inefficient time-wasters because that's how heaven operates and I need to make my peace with it, or is God on my side and He's saying, 'I know! Not everyone needs to see the 40-minute video!'?" Our kids used to watch The Restoration several times each Sunday and can quote large portions of the movie verbatim. (When my wife was younger, she was the same way, but with Rocky IV.) I appreciate the film (back to talking about The Restoration now--I don't really appreciate Rocky IV that much), but I didn't drive to New York to see a film I've seen a billionty times at home.

The first sister missionary we met told us to get to town by driving up "the 21." I said, "Are you from California?" She said hesitantly, "Yes, how did you know?" I said, "You used the definite article to refer to a highway." We assured her that we were from California, too, so we weren't making fun of her. She said, "How else are you supposed to refer to it?" I said, "Twenty-one." She said, "That just sounds weird."

We walked to the top of the hill and saw the memorial, then we went to the Smith family farm and the Sacred Grove, then E.B. Grandin's print shop. Every place we went, the missionaries said to us, "You picked a great day to visit." (Seriously, every place we went. Like, we heard that at least ten times in the print shop alone.) Evidently there were 15,000 visitors two days before.

I have a lot of pictures to include and I don't want to set each one up with its own paragraph. If this blog post was an 80s movie, this would be the video montage portion. Cue the Loverboy song.

We left Palmyra and headed to Buffalo. We saw Millard Fillmore's grave (and the Millard Fillmore history lesson tied in well with the Mormon history lessons from earlier in the day). We've now seen the graves of George Washington, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Harry S Truman, John F. Kennedy, Gerald R. Ford, and Ronald Reagan (19 of 39 dead presidents). On our drive to California, we'll see Dwight Eisenhower.

We skipped the Theodore Roosevelt Inauguration National Historic Site and headed to Canada. The kids were very excited to visit a new country. They immediately decided that everything in Canada was better, and they all want to move to Canada when they grow up. Which should make my job easier in two years when I try to convince them to move to Australia instead of returning to America.

Since our four children are minors, we were unsure how to handle the fact that they are required to sign their passports. The U.S. State Department website says minors who can sign their own passports should, and for minors who can't, a parent should sign and write in his relationship. So we had Crazy Jane sign her own, but for the other kids we had my wife sign and write "mother." Evidently that crap don't fly in Canadia. The Canadian border guard said he could "send us to immigration" (whatever that means) for not complying with Canadian law with our American passports. It scared the crap out of us that China might be as big of jerks about this as he was. We checked the State Department website again to make sure (actually, my wife checked because she was less confident I had correctly interpreted it).

We went to Niagara Falls. Everyone loved it. So much that we stayed forever. Well, almost forever. When we first got within sight of the falls, Jerome had to pee, so we had to rush around looking for a bathroom, ignoring the giant waterfalls. In the middle of this, Screamapilar noticed the waterfalls and flipped his lid. He was, like, "Why the crap aren't we looking at THAT?!" After the bathroom emergency, we did spend time looking at it.

I pointed out American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Crazy Jane asked, "Where is Niagara Falls?" She was very disappointed to learn that that's just the collective name. In fact, she commandeered my wife's phone to tweet her displeasure. "I went to Niagara Falls yesterday. The only disappointment was that my whole life I had been led to believe there where [sic] three falls." (She wants her own Twitter account and so periodically tweets on my wife's phone. I guess she's trying to show us what we're missing by not following the tweets of an almost-twelve-year-old.)

A deaf guy tapped me on the shoulder and tried to sell me a card with sign language stuff on it, but I didn't have cash. Remember that deaf guy.

Articulate Joe is big into road signs, so he absolutely loved this sign.

He thought it was awesome that the fence in the sign was an actual depiction of the fence bearing the sign. It was like they were saying, "Hey idiot, we're speaking in generalities here. It's not like we don't want you to climb all fences, or some hypothetical fence. You shouldn't climb this exact fence, right here." All said with only the word "danger."

To avoid paying an international ATM fee on every transaction, we were going to get cash out of an ATM, pay one fee, not have to deal with exchangers, and be done with it. When we got to the ATM, I didn't have my wallet. I thought, "Crap, I've been robbed in a foreign country." This didn't look good for me. Here I was, about to move overseas for two years, and my first trip "overseas" in over a decade begins with being robbed. I'm responsible for my wife and children, and allowing yourself to get robbed is a crap way of meeting that responsibility. I thought back to the deaf guy and I thought, "I bet he robbed me while tapping me on the shoulder. Or else he had a compatriot." Strangely, it made me respect him more. Selling sign language cards is resourceful, but using sign language cards as a front for robbery seems infinitely more resourceful. My wife used her debit card to get our cash (she hadn't managed to be robbed within her first hour because she's an AMATEUR!) and we went back to the car to see if my wallet was there.

It was not in the first three places I looked. Which was enough to make me think, "Holy crap, it really was the deaf guy." And then it was in the fourth place I looked. So that little bit of excitement ended.

If you think the speed limits in New York are low, you should go to Canada. They trick you by using made-up measurement units of smaller size, so you go, "Wow, I'm going 100!" And then you think, "So why is that senior citizen riding a Rascal keeping pace with me?"

Everyone loved Niagara Falls so much that we were even later, then the crazy-ass speed limit slowed us down even more. The sun was setting as we reached Hamilton, still hours from our campground.

We saw Lake Ontario, our second great lake of the trip. And across the lake, very tiny, we could see the skyline of Toronto. But we kept losing time, getting closer to setting up our tent in the dark. And then I remembered the rule I created for myself when I was in that landlord-tenant dispute in 2011: if something is causing stress in your life, stop doing it. So since our commitment to camping that night was causing stress, I declared we'd be staying at a hotel, instead. My wife was disappointment because our campground reservation for that night was the most expensive of our three, and she wanted to see if it was expensive because it was just an awesome campground. Instead, we got a room at a Courtyard Inn in London, Ontario. Which was totally not where I told the Canadian border guard I'd be going. I felt like an outlaw. And then I went to sleep.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 3

We drove to the Finger Lakes region of New York. It rained a little on the way there, but by the evening it had cleared up. The drive consisted of a lot of Mandarin instruction and looking at trees. I got 15 new counties (Armstrong PA, Clarion PA, Jefferson PA, Venango PA, Forest PA, Elk PA, Warren PA, McKean PA, Cattaraugus NY, Allegany NY, Steuben NY, Livingston NY, Ontario NY, Yates NY, and Seneca NY). Armstrong County borders the county where I was born, but I had never been there before.

We stopped at a gas station where I bought Clark Bars for my kids to try some authentic Pittsburgh cuisine. The package said it was made in Revere, Massachusetts. I was a little worried I was misremembering, but it turns out Clark has been sold several times, and in the most-recent transfer of ownership, production of the candy bar moved out of Pittsburgh.

We drove through Bradford, a one-time oil boom town that was the home of a possible relative*. Then we crossed into New York, where the speed limit is painfully low and one of the first warning signs you see is about bears. This raised my wife's curiosity, as we would be camping that night.

The rest of my family demanded I turn off the Chinese CDs, so we started cycling through the radio. One of the stations was airing a live broadcast of a NASCAR race. My son wanted to listen, and because I'm a kick-ass dad, we did, even though the rest of us wanted to scream. But I learned something valuable: there is something more boring that watching a NASCAR race.

Livingston County, New York, was my wife's 1,000th county visited. Even though we knew that before we started the trip, we didn't notice it at the time, so she didn't get a picture to commemorate the event.

We stopped at Peter Whitmer Farm in Fayette, New York. This was where, on 6 April 1830, the Church of Christ (now The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) was formally organized.

We camped at Cayuga Lake State Park, which was nicer than we expected. However the ground held our tent stakes so securely we had to abandon four of them the next morning.

My wife wanted a selfie of us. The first attempt was photobombed by Jerome, who is an expert at such things.

Jerome's first photobomb.

(We once walked past tourists having their picture taken and Jerome said, "Man, I wish I was photobombing that picture.")

* = My great-great-great-great grandfather died in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1848. When the newspaper printed his death notice, it notified the newspapers of Chester County. I can find many records of people with his last name in Chester County, but no connection to my ancestor. So I assume I'm related to the Chester County line, and the man from Bradford married a woman from that family.

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 2

About 30 years ago, my grandparents bought a vacation shack on an island in Allegheny River. They spend most of their summer weekends there. So when we woke up Saturday, we headed to the island.

There's not really anything to do there but sit around and watch the river. When I was a boy, you could listen to Pirates games on the radio; they have a TV there now. We visited with them for a long time. My grandmother's been sick the past few years, so I didn't want to overstay or wear her out if she needed to rest, so we went in the afternoon to ride the incline up Mount Washington.

Because it was a train, our kids loved it. I don't get why they demand exact change when the ticket window has a cashier. She makes sure you put the correct exact fare in the fare box. Couldn't she also give change?

Crazy Jane has a fancier camera than my wife and I have, so she can do cool things like panorama shots.

When we were in Pittsburgh last December, we walked around PNC Park, but it was so cold that we couldn't bring ourselves to walk all the way to the Bill Mazeroski statue. This time, like true Americans, we drove there and didn't even get out of the car.

We went back to the island and visited some more, then went to my uncle's house for supper. We had a fire in their yard and made smores. My cousins (who are much younger than I am) played soccer and football with my boys.

Great Lakes Vacation, Day 1

Two weeks ago, we went on a bit of a trip. It began on a Friday morning. We woke up and ate breakfast with my mother, who would be leaving while we were gone and not returning until after we left for California, so this would be the last time we'd see her for two years. (She might come visit us in China, but it seems like they might only come if they will be meeting us in Australia. So they're not adverse to flying halfway around the world to see us, they just really don't want to see where we live?) After breakfast, we entered our pre-packed car (word to my wife), and left.

First stop: Marion, Ohio. Our family keeps track of its visits certain places, and the graves of presidents are among those places. So we stopped at Warren G. Harding Memorial.

Several years ago, I read The Strange Deaths of President Harding by Robert J. Ferrell, which begins with a story of the author driving laps on the memorial lawn while in college. We had a bit of a history lesson regarding President Harding, and Crazy Jane was intrigued by the idea of President Harding being poisoned. Everything else I mentioned, she'd heard in her history lessons last year. (When I was in school, all I knew about President Harding was that he was the subject of this rap song.)

The last time I visited the memorial, it was an early Saturday morning in January and the gate to the graves was locked. This time, they were still locked. Perhaps they're never unlocked?

As we drove, we listened to Mandarin instruction CDs. I wanted us to listen to Chinese all day in the car on this trip, but everyone else revolted and demanded something else after a few hours.

In Canton, Ohio, we stopped at William McKinley Memorial.

It turned out to be the place to run in Canton. The place was lousy with runners. For some reason, many of the women runners finished ascending the stairs by lying on the courtyard pavers and doing abdominal exercises. Who does sit-ups on concrete?

We had another history lesson, and again Crazy Jane had heard it all in history this year. Sixth grade K-12 history is very comprehensive.

It was while inside the memorial that Jerome decided to remove his shoe because his foot hurt.

We headed north out of Canton, passing the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which was about 1/3 the size I expected it to be.

When we got to Akron, we started getting Cleveland radio stations, and all everyone was talking about was the news of the day: LeBron James was returning. It was very sad; the radio people were all, like, "I knew he loved us! He only hurt us because he loved us so much!" I wanted to call in an anonymous tip to the county.

We stopped for lunch in Fairlawn, Ohio. By the end of the detour, Fairlawn was the third city to make our list of Worst Cities in the World (previous honorees are Tonopah, Nevada, and Cynthiana, Kentucky). One street had about 100,000 cars on it. Every intersection was a traffic light that was not synchronized with its neighboring traffic lights. Every possible eating establishment had massive lines (drive-thrus backed up onto streets and sit-down restaurants with crowds outside the doors). We spent over an hour getting two smoothies from Robeks and some sandwiches from Jimmy John's. Because of this, we didn't have time to stop at Cuyahoga Valley National Park or drive through downtown Cleveland. We headed straight to Lake View Cemetery to see James A. Garfield Memorial. As we drove along Euclid Avenue, we passed Case Western Reserve University, where a friend from high school now works, and a statue of Mark Hanna, about whom we'd talked in our William McKinley history lesson.

Some of my grandmother's cousins are buried in Lake View Cemetery, but we don't think we saw any. (Crazy Jane said she saw one Swartz as we drove past, but she doesn't think it was spelled correctly.) The memorial crypt smelled, in the words of my wife, "like someone smoked a pipe down there once when you could smoke inside buildings and the smoke's been trapped there ever since."

But there were stairs to the roof, where one could see Cleveland in all its crapulence.

Our next stop was Kirtland, Ohio, scene of much early Mormon history. Because of Fairlawn, we didn't have time to really tour anything there, but that was okay. I feel I know enough about the places we go and the things we see that our kids can get a fairly robust picture of things with me as their tour guide. I'm not saying I'm better than the average tour guide, but I think I'm better than the worst. So instead of spending an hour listening to someone drone about minutiae (and invariably say something I know is wrong, which then makes me question everything else he's said), we take care of it on our own in 15 minutes.

For some reason, although City of Kirtland has one building in town that everyone comes to photograph, they maintain about fifty utility lines running down the street in front of it, so any somewhat-attractive photos have to come from an extreme side angle.

It would have been nice to see the inside, but we didn't have an hour and it couldn't be done without paying for a Community of Christ tour (the modern incarnation of The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which currently owns the temple--perhaps by refusing their tour we contributed to the future sale of their Kirtland sites to our church).

We stopped at the LDS visitors center to use the restrooms. A senior sister missionary asked if we wanted a tour. My wife stepped on her toes by motioning to me and saying, "He pretty much knows all of it already."

The story of Kirtland is the story of apostasy. Once back in the car, we got to have a family discussion about how people become disaffected and how to ensure it doesn't happen to us. (Hint: don't have false expectations of what a prophet should say and do and then you won't freak out when he doesn't meet your false expectations.) We also talked about our responsibility to help others not have false expectations, and how our kids should respond when their Primary teachers tell them Joseph Smith only had one wife.

We stopped to eat supper at a turnpike rest stop. It had a Panera Bread, where, after six months of trying at a handful of different locations, I finally got a Panera card linked to my Panera Rewards account. Just in time to move to China, where there are no Panera locations.

We came into Pittsburgh from the north, which is not as photogenic. In fact, I think if I ever move back to Pittsburgh, I'd have to refuse to live in a northern suburb. But I don't even know if the southern suburbs are crap or not. What if the only way for me to drive through Fort Pitt Tunnel every day is to live in a crack den?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Another Undeniable Truth of Life

This one is courtesy of Daniel Kahneman. "Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it."

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Pause.

We leave home in three weeks. So, comma, I'm quite busy at the moment. My blogging will be limited for a while. But this isn't the end; my blog will remain active after the Great Leap Forward (which seems like an appropriate blog name for our move to China).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

In Which We Learn I'm Not American Enough for Ann Coulter's Tastes

Yesterday I saw a headline that read, "America's Favorite National Pastime: Hating Soccer." I didn't read it, because I was pretty sure I knew the type of ignorant criticism it contained.

Not that all criticism of soccer is ignorant, mind you. I can understand if you just like a different type of action in the sports you watch. For instance, some Americans have a problem with soccer's typical low scoreline. If scoring is what you think makes a game exciting, then soccer will not be that exciting to you. And that's fine.

I also get it if you have a problem with affected soccer fans. I get that. I have a Facebook "friend" (is it redundant to specify it's a Facebook connection and still place the word "friend" in quotes?) who refuses to call the sport anything but "football." While he's not a foreigner, he does currently reside overseas (though his Facebook posts couldn't possibly be for local consumption, as his nation of residence blocks Facebook access). If fan affectations bother you, that would make watching soccer with soccer fans annoying. And that's fine.

But with the increased interest in soccer comes a number of people who are criticizing the game from their own ignorance. This reminds me of when I was reading blog posts from a relatively-new viewer of American football with recommendations on rule changes and player tactics. It takes quite a bit of hubris to say, "Hey, I've been watching you for a few minutes now do that thing I didn't used to know about that you've been doing for years, and I have a few tips for how you can improve." This was what drove the Wall Street Journal article last week regarding "writhing time." Yes, soccer has a problem with injury embellishment, and knowledgeable commentators have talked about penalizing faking ("simulation," it's called) more harshly. But noting that players removed by stretcher later returned to play is ignorant.

Soccer has a running clock. A player who needs medical attention needs to receive that attention off the field. How do you get a player off the field before he feels well enough to stand and walk (in which case, he wouldn't have to leave the field anymore)? You carry him off. Once off, the game resumes and the trainers try to evaluate him quickly because his team is disadvantaged playing the game with fewer players. He is either subbed out or returns to action. People who say, "Oh, he couldn't walk a moment ago and now he's fine," are showing their ignorance. Perhaps he could have walked but didn't want to until a trainer made sure his injury wasn't a break or a tear of something. Perhaps his injury hurt quite a bit, but now that time has passed (and he's been sprayed with that stuff), he feels better. Has no one ever been hurt, spent some time in pain, and then moved on with his life? This type of ignorance is baffling; ignorance of the intricacies of soccer can be excused a person who has not paid attention to soccer before, but ignorance of how the human body responds to pain is pretty lame.

Even if they aren't faking the extent of their injuries, some criticize soccer players for how easily they get hurt. These critics are showing ignorance, as well. Players wear shin guards that guard the shin. Not the ankle or the top of the foot. They are kicking balls at speeds up to 80 mph (I'd link to that stat, but the webpage had a creepy picture of a guy with super buggy eyes); if they miss the ball and get your foot, you're going to have a bad time.

Sometimes players fall from getting bumped. This is not necessarily simulation. Muscles cramp with little provocation sometimes; my left calf cramped terribly after eight miles of my most recent marathon, and I believe it was from getting hit by a pebble kicked by a runner behind me. It ruined the rest of my race.

So these are my reasons for not reading the article.

Later in the day, I saw a tweet of a soccer commentator, responding to a question about "the Ann Coulter article." I Googled it, and saw that Coulter was the author of the article attached to the headline I had read earlier. So I decided to read the article. And while I was reading the article, I got an e-mail from sometimes-reader Craig (whose wife is a more-regular reader, Alanna), asking what I thought of it.

I think most of Coulter's arguments are of the ignorant type. Nowhere does she say, "I know this about soccer and I don't care for it." Instead, she says things like, "Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer." This shows she is unaware that major tournaments award a Golden Boot trophy to the top goal-scorer, that she is unaware that Cristiano Ronaldo recently won World Footballer of the Year, that she is unaware of the existence of Lionel Messi. She writes that no one receives blame, showing she is unaware of the death of Andrés Escobar. She asks, "Do they even have MVPs in soccer?", a question she could have answered with a two-second Google search. (My search is a Bing search because I've been boycotting Google since last Easter.)

Most of Coulter's criticism is of low-level youth rec-league soccer, not professional soccer. She shows not only her ignorance of professional soccer's competitiveness, but of all rec-league sports in America today. Ann, everyone gets a ribbon in every sport these days. Your problem is with modern pedagogy, not soccer.

Many of Coulter's criticisms are really just personal tastes. Thus, she thinks an 11-minute game that takes four hours to play is "more exciting" than a 90-minute game that takes 90 minutes to play. Okay, if that's what you're into. But don't tell me this is fact. It's just taste.

I get that opinion writers don't do nuances. I have been an opinion writer before. Even if you have room in your 500 words for the words "I think," you should drop them. Opinions written as facts are stronger and make for better reading. But opinion where no objective fact could ever exist is just being a blowhard.

Finally, Coulter goes from annoying to offensive.

I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
Of my four great-grandfathers, one was born in Czechia and one was born in Greece. In Coulter's estimation, I'm a "new" American (and my English ability is suspect). I have ancestors who have been in America since the 1600s, who fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Vietnam War. The American-ness of my roots is beyond question.

Nor should it matter. Since when does it take four generations for someone to become American? I was under the impression it took a commitment and an oath. And the fact that Ann Coulter is a fourth-generation New Yorker does more to undermine her conservative credentials than the birthplace of my great-grandparents could ever undermine my perceived patriotism. If Coulter doesn't want to be evaluated by the chance location of her ancestors' births, neither should she so evaluate me.

In all, I was a big fan of Coulter's until I read her piece. Now I am offended by her casual dismissal of my ancestry, and I'm concerned about how ignorant she can be about something without prudently keeping her mouth shut (or fingers from typing). She should have watched a little more soccer before deciding she knew enough to write its take-down.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Moving Soon

Because our kids' swimming lessons have been on Mondays, we've been holding Family Night on Tuesdays. So last night we started Family Night with a review of our upcoming events. And that review covered our first weekend in China. That is sort of crazily soon.

Since we don't live in our own place, I can tell you when we're going to be out of town without inviting robbers. So our upcoming travel looks like this:

  • July 11: Marion OH, Canton OH, Cleveland OH, Kirtland OH, Pittsburgh PA
  • July 12: Pittsburgh PA
  • July 13: Clarion PA*, Seneca Falls NY
  • July 14: Palmyra NY, Buffalo NY, Niagara Falls NY, Hamilton ON, London ON
  • July 15: Saginaw MI
  • July 16: Detroit MI, Windsor ON, Toledo OH

Those plans are set. The drive to California is still more fluid, but is shaping up this way.

  • July 25: Mammoth Cave KY
  • July 26-27: Saint Louis MO, Kansas City MO
  • July 28-29: Lawrence KS, Max NE
  • July 30: Casper WY
  • July 31: Preston ID
  • August 1: Reno NV
  • August 2-3: Red Bluff CA
  • August 4: Ventura County CA

Then August 20 we fly to Beijing.

* = I was excited about eating the world's largest hamburger, but it's in Clearfield, not Clarion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Daily Show Badge of Honor Is Not an Honor

I follow a blog called Economists Do It With Models, the work of a PhD candidate in the Boston area named Jodi Beggs. I don't know Beggs, but from reading her blog, I'd say she spends most of her time reading Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, filming herself drawing supply-and-demand diagrams, and watching The Daily Show.

Ah, The Daily Show, the easiest way for an American to feel really smart (without going to a Walmart). Remember the waiter at the beginning of Mitt who tells the guys from the Romney campaign that he gets all his new from The Daily Show? Not, like, some, but all?

Others have written more eloquently (as if that's even not possible to do) about Jon Stewart's weird "I'm not really a journalist" journalism thing. I don't have that much of a problem with that. Late-night talk show guys interview famous people all the time, and no one really expects "hard-hitting" questions from them (which is why the president deals exclusively in talk show interviews). But not everyone who watches these shows knows they're not getting actual journalism.

In this post about David Brat, Beggs shows the dangers of a Daily-Show-centric news diet. She cites Brat's master's and doctorate degrees, then notes, "The above facts imply that the Tea Party isn’t entirely terrified of intelligent and/or educated people. (Yay!)" So the Tea Party is somewhat terrified of smart people? What poll shows this? Here one of the (many) educated Tea Party supporters in this country breaks through Beggs's self-imposed cone of ignorance, and he's seen as an aberration. The fact is that Tea Party supporters are more educated than the average American. But even though that story might have made it through the ignorance cone since it appeared in the New York Times, Beggs acts like it's not true. So David Brat's doctorate is a weird thing that can be used for a sardonic dig at the Tea Party. (Yay!)

She finds it "potentially worrisome" that "none of the economists I talked to had any idea who David Brat was before this event." Why worrisome? There are millions of economists in this country. Sure, economists should know most of the highly-influential, but why would we expect David Brat to be among the highly-influential? His comparative advantage in economics is not so large that he bypassed a quixotic run for Congress. I'd be more surprised if his CV contained an article I had heard of. This is why Ronald Reagan became president and Cary Grant didn't.

Beggs ends by saying "I do think that he's better than the Tea Party label suggests." But she's already shown her ignorance of what the Tea Party label actually means. All she's saying here is, "I've been told the Tea Party is stupid, and Brat's not (that) stupid." So instead of questioning her priors, she decides to throw out Brat as an outlier. This post reveals more about Beggs's Colbertification of her news consumption than anything about David Brat.

On Transsexual Respect

The Republican primary for Virginia's 7th congressional district featured an economics professor defeating the House Majority Leader. The professor, David Brat, has written about the work of Deirdre McCloskey, another economics professor. McCloskey was born male and transitioned to female in 1995. (I have no idea if I'm using the correct terms; "transitioned" is what her Wikipedia page says.) Brat evidently referred to McCloskey as "Donald-Diedre McCloskey" in writing, which began a discussion of LGBT respect on Marginal Revolution. So I come to you with a post about respecting transsexuals.

When I was deciding where to attend graduate school in economics, University of Illinois-Chicago was on my short list (meaning they accepted me; anyplace that accepted me was good enough for my serious consideration). I knew McCloskey was on the faculty at UIC, and I knew she used to be a man. I was unsure how I would react having to interact with her. Lots of issues went into my deciding not to attend UIC, but at least a minor one was avoiding what I feared would be a weird situation.

But guess what? McCloskey is friends with a bunch of professors at the school I ended up attending, and she's great friends with my dissertation adviser. So I've ended up meeting and interacting with her a lot.

Here's all I know about being transsexual: it's really, really hard. So if someone undertakes a transition, that person must really, really need to do it. And who am I to judge such overwhelming needs?

I don't know what the right response is to transsexual children. I'm just incredibly grateful that (so far, knock on wood) I haven't had to deal with the issue as a parent. But as someone with no stake in the game, the least I can do is respect the decisions of those who are overwhelmingly compelled to make such socially-unaccepted decisions.

Monday, June 09, 2014

It Turns Out That God DID Make Little Green Apples

O.C. Smith is not singing a list of things that actually happen. That would have been helpful to know before.

Here's how we ended up taking a two-day trip to Indianapolis. My second son, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, loves African wild dogs. Our local zoos didn't have any (although Cincinnati is getting some later this month), so we looked around on the Internet and found out that Indianapolis has some. So for his birthday in January he got some money from his non-local grandparents to go to Indianapolis Zoo and see the African wild dogs.

"But that's just a one-day trip. Why was your trip an over-nighter?" Well, my wife and I needed to check off Indiana.

We drove to Indianapolis on a Friday. It rained off-and-on during the drive. Once we got to Indianapolis (and drove past a terrible traffic jam caused by a sneeze--the second trip in our last three trips to Indiana that involved a burned-out semi truck), we stopped at the Lego Store. When we were leaving, we were pelted with sizable hail. Then we went to see the Indianapolis Indiana Temple.

Next we went to Crown Hill Cemetery, where it was surprisingly difficult to find the grave of Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd president.

My favorite Benjamin Harrison story is when he tried to attend a Stanford baseball game and the student body president, Herbert Hoover, didn't recognize him so he wouldn't let him in for free. Actually, that's my only Benjamin Harrison story. As George Will recently wrote about his own imagined administration: "Mine will be a success if, a century hence, Americans remember me as dimly as they remember Grover Cleveland...." Benjamin Harrison has met the Willian standard of success and then some.

Next, we checked in at our hotel, a Hyatt Place. It was great. I don't usually rave about hotels--two beds and a TV is nothing to blog about. But our room was the first we've had in a long time that fit all of us, and it did it quite comfortably. Breakfast was great and the employees were nice. We're Hyatt Place fans now.

We had tickets for a baseball game. The Indianapolis Indians are the AAA-affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, my favorite team. They were playing the Pawtucket Red Sox, the AAA-affiliate of my wife's favorite team, the Boston Red Sox. But with torrential rain coming and going, it was unclear if we'd see the game at all, or if we'd just get wet and frozen. We stopped to eat supper on our way downtown, and took a picture of another hailstorm outside the restaurant window.

If Ernie Banks had been there just then, I would have slapped him across his lying face.

We went to the park and the rain stopped. It didn't rain anymore all evening.

The Pirates' top prospect, Gregory Polanco, was playing right field, just a few yards away from us.

The Indians' starting pitcher was Pirate regular Jeff Locke on a rehab start. He went seven innings and only gave up one hit (which the second baseman maybe could have caught had he tried harder). Locke left with the Indians ahead, 3-0. Then the Red Sox scored five runs, including an inside-the-park home run that featured a ball stuck under the bullpen bench in front of us and Polanco trying to convince the umpire to call it a ground-rule double. Going into the bottom of the ninth, the Indians trailed 5-3.

(That kid in the salmon-colored shirt is not in our family.)

Aside: children today. It seems what passes for teaching your kid manners is to teach them to say respectful things while doing disrespectful things. Because our seats were on the rail with professional ballplayers right in front of us, we were surrounded by kids from neighboring sections who would come down to the rail and demand baseballs from the players. But they addressed their demands to "sir," so they'd bark out, "Sir, give me a baseball! Sir! Sir! Give me a baseball, sir!" A relief pitcher would stand up to start getting loose and the kids would demand his baseball. Like he's going to warm up with an imaginary ball? The ballplayers wanted to make the point that they weren't jerks, they just didn't yield to terrorists, so they gave a baseball to our youngest, The Screamapilar.

Okay, bottom of the ninth. I turned my cap inside out, as science dictates. And, like most other bits of science, it worked. The Indians scored three runs for a walk-off 6-5 victory.

The next morning we went to the Indianapolis Zoo, where it was evidently Central Indiana Meth Users' Family Day. The tickets were a little high for a zoo, but they assure you that it's because they take no government money. So none of the animals have to get the HPV vaccine or do Common Core math worksheets. Which is nice for the animals, I guess. But bad for my wallet.

Articulate Joe loves dolphins, and admission included tickets to a dolphin show. (It should have included my own freaking dolphin, given the prices. But I digress.) Jerome Jerome the Metronome loves African wild dogs. Plural. Because it's a pack animal. Here's Indianapolis Zoo's "pack" of wild dog.

Nevertheless, Jerome and his pet wild dog, Brownie, enjoyed watching the obviously-hung-over wild dog "pack" occasionally lift its head as if to say, "Wait, I'm still here?"

We finished at the zoo and went to drive past Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My oldest son, Articulate Joe, has become a fan of "motor sports," meaning he spends hours watching guys on TV do what, when I do it, bores him. "How much longer?" he asks on every car trip, and I ask during every NASCAR race. Since we were in Indianapolis, we figured we'd take him to see the racetrack. But since no one else in the family cares, and we didn't have all the time in the world, we weren't going to go in for a tour or anything.

It turned out that, because we were there a week before the Indianapolis 500, drivers were running qualifying laps. When we got to the speedway, you could hear the car engines from inside. The grandstand was not monolithic, so I dropped him and my wife off to look through the openings in the stands while we circled the block.

This is the saddest looking picture in the history of parents taking pictures of kids. I come off like a jerk in this picture. "Here, kid, stand outside the place you really want to go. But you can't go in! Ha ha!" It's like that "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey" where he says he took his nephew to a burned-out warehouse and told him it was Disneyland. In one of the pictures my wife took, he was hanging on the fence, like he was trying to climb in.

The truth was, he was okay with it. And not "okay with it" like a kid from a 40s movie who is okay with supporting his widowed mother with polio, I mean really okay with it. We had told him we could only see the outside, so being able to see cars on the track was a bonus. And right when I dropped them off, it started raining and they shut down qualifying for the day, so there would have been nothing to see inside, anyway. He was happy he got to see a car go past a few times, and he got to see the giant jet-aircraft-engine dryer trucks go past, too.

Then, the part of the trip everyone was really waiting for: driving to Danville, Illinois, and back! I got the last seven counties I needed in Indiana. Indiana is my tenth completed state (Utah, Arizona, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, and Indiana). My wife took this picture to commemorate the moment.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

A Finished Book Series

About six years ago, I got a book from the library to read to my son. That started us on a path that culminated in having a former classmate now living in Australia send us a book unavailable in the United States.

My boys really enjoy the Jack Russell: Dog Detective series by Darrel and Sally Odgers. Last night, we finished reading the last book, The Ham Heist. It was a long process (because we had to start over when we had another kid who wanted to hear them).

Next up, the six-book Pet Vet series. And my daughter tells me the Odgerses' website advertises a new series starting soon. We might need our former classmate to mail us a few more books (or we could realize my post-China dream plan and just move to Australia ourselves).

In Which Our Blogger Creeps You Out With Charts and Math and Whatnot

I was looking at news stories on Yahoo (I've written before about how this is a bad habit I developed in the wake of the September 11th attacks), and one headline promised to show me a funny text message conversation between a cuckolded man and his ex-girlfriend. Like most headlines promising something funny, it didn't really deliver. But what it did do was take me to Huffington Post. That's how I know I've taken a wrong turn on the Internet, when I end up on Huffington Post. But a sidebar story there took me to FiveThirtyEight, one of these newfangled news/culture/politics/entertainment websites that debuted in the past few months. And that's where I found this graph:

What's the deal with the drop for old people? Notice the question is "have you ever," not "do you now." And 90% of men in their 60s say they've masturbated at least once in their lives, but only 80% of men aged 70 and over say they have. Which means only one thing: at-least-once-masturbators are more likely to die than never-masturbators.

According to this website, there are 4.4 million men in the U.S. in the 65-69 cohort, and 3.9 million men in the 70-74 cohort. So about 11% of the men aged 65-69 can expect to die before reaching 70. But of the 3.96 million at-least-once-masturbators aged 65-69, only 3.12 million of them will make it, which means 21% of them die. Therefore, masturbation is deadly for seniors.

What's more likely, I bet, is that men born over 70 years ago were more-effectively indoctrinated against masturbation than men born more recently. But that's not as cool as imagining old dudes killing themselves with horniness.

While I'm disturbing you, let me just drop this here: the TV network Lifetime is going to have a show about ladies giving birth by themselves outside. (When we lived in Lawrence, a college town full of creepy granola ladies that buy Diva Cups, somehow my wife heard the story of a nature-worshiping lady who built a "birthing hut" in her backyard. Which, according to the doctor quoted in that Entertainment Weekly article, is even more crazy-ass deadly than masturbation.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Home Technology Issues, and I Love Big Brother

My wife has a new computer and she is transitioning files and programs to it. The new computer is not yet connected to the home network in a way that allows me to access its files from my computer. That means I have to go to her computer and e-mail them to myself. Ain't nobody got time for et cetera, so I have yet to wrangle up the Indianapolis pictures that I want to include in my post about our trip. And so the post continues to be delayed. And the longer it's delayed, the more anticipation builds, so the more acute will be the disappointment when you finally read the post. (It was fun, but it wasn't two weeks in Bali.)

Meanwhile, to tide you over, I share with you the ramblings of a paranoid economist in China. Keep in mind, though, the sage wisdom of Kurt Cobain: just because you're paranoid don't mean they're not after you.

I know I'm going to be an employee of the Chinese government in a few months, and that I'll probably be under even tighter restrictions regarding what I can and can't say about the Chinese economy. And I'm fine with that. I'm not going to China to expose the "truth" about the economy, I'm going to teach high school kids how to draw supply-and-demand diagrams and optimize under a constraint. As long as the ChiComs don't have a problem with the Lagrange multiplier, we should get along just fine.

It might seem strange that I am adamantly opposed to the rise of American tyranny while agreeing to live under a Chinese version that, in some important ways, is more onerous. But here are some important distinctions:

  1. I'm American, not Chinese. When I take a stand on issues of American governance, I'm fulfilling my civic duty. Were I to take a stand on issues of Chinese governance, I'd be meddling.
  2. America promises more freedoms than it delivers, and it's reducing freedoms every day. China promises no freedoms, so whatever it delivers is a nice surprise.
  3. I'm not becoming a permanent resident. I'll be there for under two years. Even if we love it and stay longer, we'll always have a visitor's mentality. There's a big difference between spending the weekend at your friend's house and following his parents' crazy rules, and your parents adopting crazy rules.
  4. Not only would it be improper for me to voice any views I have on Chinese governance, but it would be improper for me to have them. How China and its citizens have decided to interact with each other is not my business. I don't pretend to know what system of government works best for billions of people I don't know. People who go around the world judging governmental institutions by how closely they resemble those of their home home country cause more problems than they solve.

I hope to have an interesting and event-free stay in China.