Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Truths of Life - Classroom Edition

Over the course of this school year, I've developed three Truths of Life for classroom application.

  1. The answer is always "it depends." If asked, "Depends on what?" you should answer, "On a lot of things." This basically means, "I'm so smart that I see not just one reason, and not just two reasons, but 15 reasons, and we don't have time to go through them all." (NOTE: "It depends on a lot of things," while always a true answer, is never acceptable as a response to an exam question.)
  2. Every jerk teacher was once a nice teacher until he'd been sufficiently abused. When Mr. Dondelinger is busy making sure you will respect his authoritah, you should remember that he started his career like Mr. Bergstrom and probably let the kids call him "Harlan." A corollary to this is the truth that every rule exists because it once didn't.
  3. To paraphrase Monty Python, "Nobody expects the Industrial Revolution." Offered as a defense of Thomas Malthus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Up in the Air

Here in China, I find myself thinking about my ancestors a lot. I wonder if they see me here and say to themselves, "What the hell is THAT about?!" They left Greece, Czechia, Germany, and Ireland with the understanding that their descendants would be living in America, not China, but here we are.

Another way I live my life very differently from my ancestors is that I spend so little of it on ground level. Sure, people in large cities have been living this way for years, but it is all new to me, even though I've lived in megacities in the past.

I estimate I spend under six hours each week on the surface of the earth. I spend about 40 hours each week on the third floor at work, about three hours each week underground on the subway, and about 120 hours each week on the fifth floor at home. That's about 96% of my life either in the air or under the ground.

The numbers would be even worse if I didn't participate in the weekly staff soccer game. That's one third of my surface time alone. And of course this is only for the typical week; last month my school took everyone to the botanical garden where I spent about eight hours at surface level. But at the end of today, I'll have been on the ground for 20 minutes out of 24 hours.

Honesty Week: Stupidity

I'm one of the stupidest people I know. But I'm a high-functioning moron, and I have enough intelligence to know that stupidity is a negative trait, so I do my best to cover it up. I write blog posts or I tweet, trying to present a superior aptitude, but I can't do anything. I can't read quickly or for comprehension. I can't write a flowing argument. I can't concentrate on anything if there is the slightest noise. I can't understand basic concepts that everyone around me knows by heart. And on the off chance I happen to learn something, I can't retain it for any appreciable length of time.

I especially cannot understand modern life. New experiences and activities are beyond me. Everyone else does something new and learns from it, then can do it again. I just get angry and demand that someone be held responsible for not telling me ahead of time how to do it.

I was raised to believe that any self-criticism is just a ploy for attention (and the underlying assumption is that a social creature such as a human should never desire attention). Because of this, I feel the need to specify that this isn't an "I'll say I'm dumb so you'll say I'm smart" scheme. This is just honesty. I'm an idiot. And to cover my idiocy, I've pursued a level of education and a line of work that are typically associated with smart people, because then I can say, "Of course I'm not dumb, look at my job and credentials!" So I have no one to blame but myself for my failures at school and work.

I worked in a garage door factory once. That was probably the only job I've ever had where I wasn't worried someone would discover my ignorance. I could handle that job. Maybe that's a good indication of the level of job I'm actually supposed to have.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Two Months of School Left

My students spent the last two weeks taking their AP exams. As students in the AP program, they are basically done with the school year now.

We have eight weeks of classes remaining.

Well, actually, we have seven weeks of classes and then a week that the students won't be here but the teachers are required to attend.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

No-Pants Thursday

Last night my wife and I went to the store. A dad walked past us with a three-year-old boy on his shoulders. The boy was wearing absolutely no pants.

I took a picture, but I can't share it here because idiots would consider it child pornography. But there was a bare-assed kid on a family shopping trip last night, and my wife and I were the only people in the entire store who thought that might be strange.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Baby Sale

Today I received an e-mail from JCPenney telling me that select styles of baby are on sale for up to 50% off. But I shouldn't get too excited, because it's probably just the colicky style.

Speaking of babies that are 50% off, when we had each of our first two kids, with insurance, we got a letter letting us know that, while we didn't pay out of our pocket for the kid, it wasn't exactly free. I tend to remember the cost of childbirth as being something around $30,000. When we had our third kid, without insurance, the cost was under $3,000.

Part of the reason I've always wanted to have twins is because the marginal cost of the second baby is so low. Supposing no strange health problems, why not have as many kids as possible from one pregnancy. Economize on the pain and inconvenience. It hasn't happened for us yet, though.

Which of These Adults Is Abusing Children?

Candidate 1: Maryland parents who allow their children to walk around town unaccompanied.

Candidate 2: Kentucky parents who have been anonymously accused (in a shout-out to Franz Kafka, perhaps?) of living in conditions which were good enough for tens of millions of Americans in the 1800s. (There's no mention of health problems, just poor "conditions.")

Candidate 3: A UCSD professor who requires he be allowed to see a student naked for the student to pass his class.

In the time I spent as a college professor, I did not have a nudity component on the syllabus. But I guess I could have, huh?

Honorable mention goes to the Maryland police who detained the free-range children for hours. Although there's a kind of perverse logic to telling parents "see, when your kids walk around alone they can be abducted, as we just demonstrated."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A New Undeniable Truth of Life

People who say "I'll be brief" are signaling that they will not, in fact, be brief.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Not Quite Obviously Unironic

I was trying to watch a segment of a satirical comedy show, and it started with a commercial. The guy starts out showing you his brand new Lamborghini, and then he says, "But you know what I like a lot more than materialistic things? Knowledge. In fact, I'm a lot more proud of these seven new bookshelves that I had to get installed to hold 2,000 new books that I bought."

Okay, so something that's better than materialism is buying bookshelves, buying installation services, and buying books. Materialism: bad. Buying things: good. Got it.

I honestly didn't know if the video had started yet. If someone was trying to make a satirical video of this kind of presentation, I don't know what he would have done differently. The video is self-satire.

The worst of it is I happen to know some people who would probably eat up every word this guy says.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Perez Hilton Is My Nemesis

The other night, I had the stark realization that I know entire too much about Taylor Swift. I mean, she seems like a lovely girl. She's very pretty and appears to be genuinely caring and friendly. But there is absolutely NOTHING I need to know about her. And about any other "famous" person. Or anything in popular culture.

This made me realize that there is no reason to check how my sports team has done. The game is over and I didn't watch it. It makes as much sense to check yesterday's Pirates score as it does to check the result from 100 years ago. (May 6th, 1915, the Pirates defeated the Saint Louis Cardinals 9-3 at Forbes Field.)

A case could be made that knowing about popular culture helps with social connections. Only cranks respond to every discussion of popular culture by pointing out that they don't follow such things. But that just means I need to know that Taylor Swift exists and that she can be categorized as a singer/songwriter. Beyond that, I can admit ignorance, which should actually help me socially, since people like to talk and to feel important by sharing information.

The case can also be made that this year's baseball results matter because they determine if my team will win a championship. But how much does that actually effect me? Why not just continuously relive the 1979 season? (May 6th, 1979, the Pirates lost to the Saint Louis Cardinals, 4-2 at Busch Stadium.)

While I was thinking this, I was going through blog posts on my Feedly feed, and I came across one of Tyler Cowen's "Assorted Links" posts on Marginal Revolution. I tweeted, "What if @tylercowen 's 'assorted links' is just a way to keep us busy reading interesting garbage while he is actually productive?" Dr. Cowen immediately retweeted it, and since he had 51,900 followers (and I had 31), that sort of increased its exposure. I picked up another follower (yea, 32!) and my tweet got 12 additional retweets and 40 favorites.

Of course, the entire point is, none of that matters. I'm wasting my life learning the fake-rap parts of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" while I continue to speak woefully-inadequate Mandarin Chinese.

(Speaking of wasted lives, what happened to Comic Book Guy between 1997 when, facing annihilation, he said, "Oh, I've wasted my life," and 2007 when, in the same situation, he declared, "Life well spent!"? One online commenter speculated that his heart attack in 2001 changed his perspective, but since Comic Book Guy isn't real and so doesn't have a perspective, I say the more-believable answer is that society has rejected the idea that there are larger ideals to serve than your own gratification. In 1997, there still existed an objective standard against which to measure how a life was spent; 10 years later, anyone who still believed that had been brainwashed by the patriarchy.)

Monday, May 04, 2015

Texts From My Marriage

ME: You can come "visit" me during teaching hours, since none of my students are here today.

ME: Although right now I have two Chinese people standing outside my classroom staring at me.

ME: But maybe you're into that.

MY WIFE: [smiling emoticon] Totally my thing, right?

EDITOR'S NOTE: That is not my wife's thing.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Like a Nosey Herzog

I've written before about the ways in which I identify with the protagonist of Saul Bellow's Herzog, and that I'm aware of the implications of thinking, while reading about a man suffering a mental breakdown, "This guy makes a lot of good points." I've also written about the freedom that comes from being everyone's least-favorite family member.

What happens when you combine these things? I really want to start writing letters to my family members telling them exactly what I'm thinking of them.

Not all of them would be bad things. At least two of the letters would be very complimentary. But there are some things going on in my family right now that everyone thinks are terrible but no one is saying anything about it (and for my reading family members, I'm talking about more than just the obvious one). And I feel like I would lose absolutely no social capital (because you can't draw your social capital account down below zero) if I told some of these people the truth.

"Oh but, A Random Stranger, what if they returned the favor?" Please, be my guest. There's nothing you think is wrong with me that I haven't already cataloged in detail in my brain. Bring up a topic and I'll provide all your evidence. Eventually Herzog comes to self-criticism, too, right?