Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Lowering Group Status

Tyler Cowen wrote a blog post about the response he'd get if he just listed the groups whose status he thought should rise or fall. Arnold Kling wrote a blog post about the response if bloggers were explicit about which groups' statuses they sought to change. Kling says,

It would be an interesting exercise in honesty for everyone who uses social media for political discussions to say, “My main purpose is to lower the status of the following three groups. . .”
So what would my answer be?

I want to lower the status of anti-Mormons, of annihilists, and of the arrogant rich. By "anti-Mormons" I don't mean non-Mormons, I mean people who refuse to accept my self-declared Christianity. By "annihilists" I mean anyone who supports policies and practices that increase the chances of human annihilation, which would include abortionists, statists, atheists (because all atheists are militant atheists), and purveyors of the popular culture. By "the arrogant rich" I mean those who view their wealth as their reward to be spent creating separation from the masses instead of as their burden to spend responsibly for the benefit of their fellow men.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Sort-Of A Doctoral Candidate

I have turned in my form that has to go through some bureaucratic process so I can be adjudged to be a doctoral candidate. I will receive an e-mail notice once the bureaucracy has done its job, and at that point I will be A.B.D.

Friday, July 31, 2015

God Likes Irony

Sometimes I think God likes irony. I get that impression from the timing of certain news stories. Is it just a coincidence that the week after Planned Parenthood executives have been videotaped admitting that they alter their abortion procedures to preserve marketable fetal tissue (in violation of federal laws) that the annihilists have flipped their collective lid over the shooting of Cecil the Lion?

This contrast is becoming increasingly absurd. Today I saw that a Planned Parenthood executive admitted that they kill already-born babies who were born faster than the abortionist could work. At the same time, that bastion of post-intellectual thought George Takei wrote on Facebook, "I'd like to take a moment to honor Cecil in a different way--how I believe he would want to be remembered."

Cecil was a lion, and as such was incapable of the complex thoughts being attributed to him. Cecil had no way he wanted to be remembered because he didn't understand death and existence the way Takei does. He could never understand rational thought. But you know who would be able to understand rational thought, if allowed to mature? Completely born human babies. But those get to be sold for body parts.

Randomness to End July

At my school, some of the employees live in an on-campus apartment building and some live in off-campus apartments across the main road. We live on-campus because all the off-campus places are one- or two-bedroom places. My colleagues who have allowed me to use their apartment as an office this summer live in an off-campus place. In their complex, they have this sign displaying some notice to the residents.

What's weird about it is the date. Everything else we've seen that has a date on it has four digits and the character for "year," like, "2015年." This date, though, is written like, "Two 0 One Five Year." Not all in digits, but also not all in characters, since it doesn't use "零" which means "zero." It's also not like they wrote out "Two thousand fifteen." It's just weird.

Here's a photo of what the boys were doing the other day when I was home alone with them. It raises the question: am I terrible father, or am I a genius father?

Answer: I'm a terrible father.

Here's an interesting bit of a blog post from Arnold Kling:

I am becoming increasingly concerned that sending children to college is dangerous for their intellectual health. I am afraid that instead of being told how to think, students are being told not to think. They are being [given? - ARS] ideological role models, not intellectual role models.

Had someone expressed such sentiments to me fifteen years ago, I would have dismissed that person as a paranoid right-wing nutjob. I infer that in the meantime either I have turned into a paranoid right-wing nut job [sic] or there has been a significant erosion of intellectual integrity at American colleges, or both.

Kling misses a third explanation: the "nutjobs" weren't nutjobs. That one's harder to see because we get attached to our uncharitable views. In some senses it's easier for us to think "well, I must be crazy now" than to think "I guess I was wrong about those people I thought were crazy."

I noticed the other day that the Feedly view of my blog posts doesn't display anything in block quotes. So if you care about that kind of thing, now you know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

To My European Readers

My Blogger stats tell me that I have some European readers. (It looks like 33 page views from four EU countries in the past week.) My Blogger dashboard tells me that I'm legally responsible to tell you this information:

European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent.

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies.

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.

I've never decided whether or not to use cookies on my blog; Google made that decision and didn't notify me or allow me to opt out. Then Google is all, like, "The legal burden is yours, dude." What other legal burdens is Google going to pawn off on me?

Anyway, Europeans, this blog might use cookies. I don't know if it does or not.

Dark Chocolate

Since we've moved to China, I've decided to only eat dark chocolate. Not that I'm a food snob--remember, I wish my wife would believe me when I say that I want to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese for dinner once a week--but it seemed like behaving as if I were a food snob would help me eat more-healthful food. After all, dark chocolate is harder to find and more expensive. If I resolve to only eat dark chocolate, I'll end up eating less chocolate, and that should be good for me. (Also, I've seen a few articles that suggest dark chocolate is supposed to be good for depression, but then other articles say chocolate is bad for your skin, but then other articles say it's not. So, so many articles.)

Anyway, my school's convenience store used to carry Dove chocolate bars in a few varieties, and occasionally one of those varieties would be the 66% dark chocolate variety. But my school's store has crazy inventory turn over, even more so than a typical Chinese store, which has a crazy amount. (Found a product you like? Good luck finding it at that same store ever again.)

I'm intrigued by just how "dark" I can go. If 66% tastes good, what about the imported Swiss bars at the grocery store that are even higher? Yesterday I bought a 72% bar at Walmart. My wife said, "Pretty soon you're going to end up with baking chocolate." But I ate the 72% bar and I liked it. She tried some and hated it.

The people who are letting me use their apartment as my office this summer have a bar of 80% dark chocolate in their refrigerator. I want to try some, but I'm worried they know exactly how much remained when they left. (I was raised in a weird environment where such things happened.) Eventually I'm going to end up eating some of that dark chocolate from The Simpsons episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner" that's so dark that light cannot escape its surface. "Groin-grabbingly transcendent!"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Annihilism Road Trip

Sometimes I have to really hunt around for blog post material. And other times it finds me. This is an instance of it finding me.

Motorists in Minnesota endangered humans to help save ducks. And at the end of it all, the spokeswoman for Minnesota State Patrol, Lt. Tiffani Nielson, is probably going to have to apologize for her insensitive comments.

First, she says motorists shouldn't stop on a freeway to save baby ducks. Then, in an attempt to implicate the entire legal system in her wanton heartlessness, she says, "if there was a crash which resulted in a fatal or serious injury, a driver who stopped for ducks potentially could face a criminal charge." I knew it! Institutionalized anthrocentricism! Every annihilist who thinks animals are more important than people because "at least animals aren't destroying the planet" did one of those gag spits with his morning local grown sustainably-raised coffee. "Someone needs to put the THYTH-tem on trial!" lisps Pajama Boy.

Here's Nielson's self-damning conclusion:Nielson said it becomes the value of a person versus the value of an animal or wildlife and that a person outweighs the value of ducks.How could you, Lt. Nielson?! How COULD you?!?!

Just a reminder: this incident occurred in Minnesota. I watch that video and I count 11 separate drivers who made a terrible driving decision that risked human life to save duck life. Ducks descended from a duck mother who a)led her brood into the middle of a freeway and b)tried to get them all run over by 11 separate drivers. In other words, ducks with the genes of an idiot. The Minnesota duck population is now stupider because the progeny of this idiot duck survived. But anytime you feel the need to kill a human baby, well, who are we to stop you? It's your God-given right to kill babies. Benjamin Franklin spat in King George's face to make sure you could kill every baby you might ever want to kill (so long as it's not a duck baby; duck babies deserve protection).

Friday, July 24, 2015

Two Bits From My Morning Reading

This morning I was reading Chapter 45 from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. Two things struck me as interesting.

  • ...but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all.

    We might read this and think, "Well, I don't have any weird traditions that the church contradicts; I'm an Nth-generation Mormon!" What about traditional thoughts, also known as "assumptions"? Evidence comes along that contradicts our (individual or collective) assumptions and we have a sizable apostasy.

    (And I know one response to this could be to assume that I'm sitting here smugly, looking at people dropping off around me, thinking, "Some people just can't hack it!" I'm not. I read the parable of the ten virgins and I'm worried sick I'm one of the five foolish ones. I once heard a guy who survived D-Day describe how the leadership wanted to impress upon the enlisted men the seriousness of the situation by telling them, "Half of you will not make it," but the guy said later, "When you're 19 years old and you hear that half of the soldiers won't make it, you look at the guy next to you and think, 'That's tough luck for you, pal.'" Only spiritual teenagers read the parable of the ten virgins and think it's a sad story about the weaklings around them. Spiritual adults read it for what it is: a sobering warning.)

  • Some people say I am a fallen Prophet, because I do not bring forth more of the word of the Lord. Why do I not do it? Are we able to receive it? No! not one in this room.

    Think of that when you read the Huffington Post or Salt Lake Tribune article they run every six months about how something's wrong with President Monson because all he said at General Conference was that we should be nicer. Perhaps the current membership won't tolerate any correction more strident than that! I remember reading before that Brigham Young once received a revelation that he circulated among the apostles and they didn't like it, so he didn't declare it more widely. If the prophet seems weak, it means we are only capable of following weak direction.

    I'm about ready to declare a new Truth of Life: all perceived leadership problems are really just reflections of followship problems.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Passive and Active Verbs

In a recent blog post of mine, I said, "No one was lying to you, even if what they were saying wasn't true." A commenter named Morris replied, "Whether intentional or not, being misled is being misled." I disagree strongly.

The heart of my disagreement comes from the use of the passive verb. While the subject of the sentence is not performing the action of a passive verb, someone is performing the action, since verbs are action words. If I have "been misled," someone somewhere was misleading me. I read the word "mislead" literally. "Mis" implies "wrongly" and "lead" means "guiding to a location or conclusion." So "mislead" implies malice, a desire to get the person where they ended up.

Not every misunderstanding is a result of being misled. Here's an example: I screwed around in high school and did not graduate with the rest of my class in June. I had to take a summer class at a community college and transfer the credits back to my high school district. I received my diploma in October.

Now, if you asked me when I graduated high school and I said, "I was in the Class of '96," that is sort of true, but also misleading. I know you will assume I graduated in June with the rest of my class and I'm not stopping you from assuming that. But if I say, "I received my diploma in October of 1996," and what you take away from that is that my high school weirdly handed out diplomas in October, I didn't mislead you to that false assumption.

How much of a burden is on me to make sure you don't make such an assumption, or to clear it up once it happens? It depends on the harm done, I think. If you say, "Oh, how weird that your school did that," I might correct you, but if we're in a large crowd and the conversation has already turned to something else, is there really any value in saying, "Now just hold on a minute! You seem to believe my high school's schedule was the culprit when in reality, it was my failure to attend class!"? Probably the only result of that would be a lot of people standing around thinking, "This guy doesn't know how to converse in a crowd." (And that assumption would be true.) If you turned to my wife and said, "So what was it like not graduating until October?", then there would be a reason for me to let you know that she graduated in June like a normal person.

Church members have made all kinds of assumptions about church history or Book of Mormon claims. I don't think God is supposed to correct our harmless assumptions. Go ahead and think that a clean-shaven Moses led sacrament meetings from a pulpit in a dark suit while singing along to an organ. You're wrong, but go ahead and think it, because it doesn't do any harm.

The harm of these false assumptions has come in having them cleared up in less-than-helpful ways. It's less-than-helpful when conspiring men and women who seek to destroy your spiritual well-being get a foot in the door with a morsel of truth that allows them to follow it up with a mountain of lies. It's less-than-helpful when you ignore saving truths because the source didn't clear up all your prior misconceptions so now you think the source is untrustworthy. So the church doesn't need to correct our misunderstandings of Nephite weaponry because we can't be saved with a false concept of "sword," but when the false concept of "sword" allows people to lead you astray, the church has a responsibility to act.

Underlying all this is another (false) assumption that church leaders are always in a position to clear up false assumptions because they see all false assumptions as false. In reality, they are just people who are also making some number of false assumptions. Mormons don't like to hear this, but the leaders have never said otherwise. There's a bon mot about "Catholics say their leader is infallible and don't believe it; Mormons say their leader is fallible and don't believe it." Maybe none of your leaders have cleared up what a Nephite "sword" looked like because they were all thinking, like you, that "sword" means sword. Someone signed off on Arnold Friberg's paintings. (And I know this week I've come to be an Arnold Friberg critic, and that's not what I want to be at all. Dude could paint. He had to make assumptions that, at the time, seemed logical to everyone around him. I hope someday to be ridiculously-rich enough to have one of those "George Washington praying at Valley Forge" paintings in my living room like all Mormons who've made it.)

To say "I was misled" implies someone is doing the misleading, or at least could have stopped it from happening. It's the language of one struggling with feelings of betrayal. To help overcome those feelings and forgive those you think wronged you, start with using less-charged language. You weren't misled. You misunderstood. Even if you perfectly understood the speaker, that just means both of you misunderstood together.

American Food

My family is craving all the American food that we've been missing for a year now. Part of our plan upon returning is to eat like gluttons (or, in other words, like Americans). But we're also aware that we're currently loading our bodies up with every possible known toxin (and several currently-unknown toxins, I'd bet), and the first thing we're going to need to do when we get back to America is to do one of those aggressive cleanse diets.

I'm familiar with viewing American cuisine as unhealthful. I wasn't prepared for viewing it as clean and nutritious, too. Sure, China has fewer processed foods, but what processed and packaged foods they do have, we eat disproportionate amounts of them. This is because they tend to be the only things we can figure out exactly what they are and how to eat them. Also, with four kids who display varying levels of food pickiness, we can't just throw them into lamb treasure and congee.

What's more, the fruits and vegetables are suspect. What pesticides and fertilizers do they use? One local grocery store has a picture of a smiling woman holding just-dug potatoes, and I can't help thinking the "mud" clinging to the spuds is, in fact, the woman's own night soil. I see her face and imagine her saying, "I pooped on these potatoes special for this photo shoot! Now my poop's FAMOUS!"

"Just wash them off," you say. Using what, the water that has cadmium, nickel, and cobalt in it? We could open a battery factory using just the water that comes through our tap. My wife washes all our produce in vinegar and then rinses that off with water delivered from a bottling service. However, 20% of the bottling services in Beijing use tap water to fill the jugs....

As much as I'm really looking forward to eating a Double-Double every day for a month when we get back, I know we should take advantage of the fact that we're eliminating our taste for and our conditioning to high-fat, low-nutrient foods. I've even developed a plan to help us eat well when we return: I've been building a collection of healthful, delicious recipes on my Pinterest boards. When we get back, I'm going to take over cooking and work my way through the recipes. At first I thought I'd try to do a different one every day for six months or so, but now I'm thinking we can have a food tournament. Five new recipes each week and a vote to see what was that week's winner. Then we'll end up with monthly winners, and eventually, the Best Meal Ever.

Spoiler alert: the Best Meal Ever award is going to be won by a Double-Double.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

When Mormons Get Answers to Their Church History Questions

In 2007, I bought Richard Lyman Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. I was a little afraid of it and didn't read it at first. After all, I was vaguely aware that there were some crazy things in Joseph Smith's history and I wasn't sure I wanted to know them. Eventually, though, I decided that I couldn't ignore unpleasant things forever.

And it wasn't that bad. For many of the more-controversial issues, even when we know (or think we know) the fact, we know less about the context and even less about the reasoning. Now, I'm not a Mormon studies scholar (if I was, there'd be a job waiting for me at the Maxwell Institute (Zing!)), but I think that, since 2007, I've read more extensively in Mormon history than the typical member and I can tell you that there's nothing I've come across that made me question my testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But I'm aware that for some people, this isn't the case. When they find out something troublesome about the life of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, they sometimes have trouble rectifying that with continued involvement with the church.

A book that helped me understand this a lot better was Shaken Faith Syndrome by Michael R. Ash. The first half of the book explains that many people's problems with troubling items don't come from the item itself, but from the feeling of deceit and betrayal they get. "How could they have lied to me?" or "What else aren't they telling me?" is what leads them away, not "I can't believe that dude had so many wives!"

This pointed out to me the importance of teaching correct, unvarnished history to my friends and family, and of the duty to learn for myself. It gave new meaning to Hosea 4:6 as I watched my relatives leave the church because they had done a poor job reading their Gospel Doctrine lessons. (It's amazing the number of items that "the Brethren don't want you to know" that have actually been included in Gospel Doctrine manuals for years.) We had a Family Night lesson where we made sure our kids understood that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. Our kids said their Primary teacher had explicitly told them just the week before that he did not. We've since had Family Night lessons about translating by looking at a stone in a hat while the plates sat off to the side under a cover. (About this issue I once read, "If you were a scholar, then you knew that Joseph used a seer stone. If you were a regular Church member, then you knew that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters.[p.180]" A woman makes model golden plates for kids with stone-in-the-hat depictions shown on them, available here.)

It reminds me of a story I believe I've shared before: I'm all for new-age "you are a special snowflake" parenting, except for when it's dangerous. So before my kids knew how to swim I would tell my kids, "You can do anything you want, except swim; YOU CAN'T SWIM!" And my kids would say, with typical kid bravado that turns a half-assed attempt into accomplished proficiency, "I can swim," and I would get in their face and tell them, "YOU. CANNOT. SWIM. You can drown, but you can't swim."

Now, why was I being a jerk to my kids? (Aside from the obvious reason of "because you're a jerk to everyone"?) Because if my kid scribbles on a paper and thinks he's drawn a masterpiece, meh, no harm done. But if my kid thinks flailing in water is swimming, he will die. (One time at the pool with my brother's family, his daughter just was all, like, "La-dee-da, into the water," and had to be pulled out by the lifeguard.) Anyway, it turns out that misunderstandings about church history are as important to set straight as whether or not a kid can swim. Because if your kid gets his Book of Mormon knowledge from the Arnold Friberg paintings, he's going to have troubles when he learns that Mesoamerican cities didn't have 80-foot-high walls and the Armies of Helaman weren't extras from the battle sequences of the film 300. "Sword" and "horse" might not mean what he thinks they mean. "Nephite coinage" is a term that only appears in a non-canonical chapter heading. Many of the book's grammar errors aren't actually errors at all (and Moroni gives a smirk and a nod). Official Declaration 1 wasn't as absolute as it is sometimes presented to be.

The second half of Shaken Faith Syndrome is a great reference for faith-assuring answers to troublesome questions regarding church doctrine or history. Much of that material is also available at FairMormon.org. If you wished FARMS hadn't wasted away to nothing, you should check out Interpreter. And maybe someday, if there's any reader interest, I'll share the list of Mormon blogs I follow. The point is, you've got to learn, but learn from faith-building sources.

So my advice to those who are reading the gospel topics essays or finding things out on Wikipedia (at least have the common sense to not research topics on Exmormon.org, okay?): settle the question with some research in official church publications and from sources that attempt to answer your questions while not undermining your testimony. Then, when dealing with the "betrayal" feelings, recognize that the fault was partly yours (for not studying fully), partly your parents (for not teaching you correctly), partly your fellow members (for not magnifying their teaching callings), partly your local leaders (for not ensuring strong gospel teaching), and partly church leaders (for not prominently including difficult topics in the church lesson curriculum), but it was never a matter of willful misleading or betrayal. No one was lying to you, even if what they were saying wasn't true. Please forgive, and work to make sure you can help stop the ignorance that threatened you from spreading.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Things Have Gotten Out of Control

When it comes to books, I feel like a drug addict. I'm reading a book, but it's not enough. I need to read two books, of different genres. Then I add a third. I can handle it. Why not add a fourth? And when I get to ten books, well that's when I can no longer maintain.

  1. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith
  2. Working Toward Zion, by James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth
  3. Knowledge and Coordination, by Daniel B. Klein
  4. The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen
  5. The Eleven Comedies, Vol. 1, by Aristophanes
  6. The Mindfulness Solution, by Ronald D. Siegel
  7. An Incomplete Revenge, by Jacqueline Winspear
  8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  9. The Road to Wigan Pier, by George Orwell
  10. Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis

I hearby swear that I will not start another book until I'm finished with all 10 of--actually, when I finish five of them, I will allow myself to start The Gold Bat by P.G. Wodehouse, but then I'm not starting another book until I'm finished with all 11 of them. (Possible exception: once I'm done with the Rowling book and the Orwell book, I will probably start reading Catch Your Death by Lauren Child to our kids, but that's just because it seems mean to make them wait until I'm done with TMS.)

I can handle six or seven. Ten is too many.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Helpful Decline of Media

When I was a kid, only cranks avoided media. One kid in my elementary school didn't have a TV at home and he made damn sure to mention it at least once a day.

TEACHER: Who can remember the quadratic equation?

JERK KID: I can, because we don't have a TV at home.


At my first real job, I worked with a guy who didn't "have TV," although he had a TV, so his crankness was even more insufferable.

OFFICE WORKER: Did you see Survivor last night?

JERK WORKER: I haven't seen a TV show since Cheers.

YOUNG-ADULT A RANDOM STRANGER: Dude, we get it; you're the king, all right?

He watched videos and, when his family checked in to a hotel, he let his kids watch TV, but anytime I mentioned The Simpsons (which I do a lot), he'd say, "Is that show still on?"

For most of our married life, my wife and I haven't "had TV," but that's been because we've been poor. Internet progress has brought us more TV options as the years have passed, but it's nothing like having a TV with a satellite package. My wife and I probably watch about four hours of TV or movies each week, which seems much lower than I remember adults watching when I was younger (and is much lower than I myself watched when I was younger).

Weird aside about adult TV watching from days gone by (that I'm allowed to indulge because I've been up all night being productive and now I'm somewhat loopy): when I was 17, my mom's boss took all his employees' families on a vacation. We were sharing a condo with one of my mom's coworkers and that lady's husband. My mom suggested I watch TV. I said, "I don't know what's on." The other couple then rattled off from memory the entire primetime lineup for that day of the week of all four networks.

My perception, though, is that TV isn't as good as it used to be. I know I've read articles about this being a "golden era of television," but all the shows that are cited as evidence are shows that are inappropriate for me to watch. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men: is there a recent critically-acclaimed show that doesn't feature pervasive sex, violence, profanity, or the undermining of traditional morals?

This past week, I've really noticed how rapidly the quality of the Internet is declining. Forbes articles have become click-bait slideshows. Yahoo News articles have become About.com-style plagiarism-lite. I just tried to read two articles, one of which turned out to be a slideshow of unabashed advertising copy for Sandals Resorts (except the slideshow was broken and just had random pictures accompanying the text), and the other bemoaned that, "these days, airlines aren't about the customers anymore, they're about making money" (as if there was once a time when airlines were okay with losing money so long as the customers at least had a good time).

As media continues to decline (and I've completely refrained from writing about the septic tank that movies have become; why are people spending $15 every three months to see the same super hero movie over and over again?), it becomes less appealing as a use of time. I'm not finding myself in a terrible struggle to waste less time on media. I'm finding media is helping make the decision to cut back incredibly easy.

Strange Phonemes

The other day I was walking home, reviewing some Chinese with an app on my iPad. The app was trying to teach me to say "Rìyǔ," which means "the Japanese language." The problem was, even though it clearly starts with an R, the app certainly sounded like it was saying "ZHR."

I decided to take advantage of the fact that my school's campus is lousy with guards (I was approaching a group of three of them), and I showed them what the app showed (日语) and asked, "ZHR-you? R-you?" They all nodded. I tried again, holding up one finger and saying, "ZHR-you," then holding up two fingers and saying, "R-you." They all nodded. When they could tell that I wasn't satisfied, they called over another guard (who must have a reputation among his colleagues for speaking English) who said, "Japanese." Finally, I prevailed on one of the guards that I was making two different noises, and he gave "R-you" a thumbs up.

I suspected the thumbs up was equally likely to mean "You said that correctly" as to mean "What do I have to do to get you to stop making weird noises at me?" Unsatisfied, I decided to try again on my elevator lady. She also thought I was just making the same sound twice in a row. I said to her, "Yī, ZHR. Èr, R." She said, "Yī, èr, sān, sì, wǔ, liù," like I was just trying to count for her.

So I'm not going to talk about Japanese to anybody while I'm here.