Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Silencing Critics By Becoming Unspeakably Terrible

There's a lot to hate about this election, but one thing that especially bothers me is the way that depravity has become a defense against criticism.

In a nation of laws, criminals go to jail. But in a legitimate democracy, election winners don't imprison their opponents. Normally we think of elected officials thinking they are above the law, but now we have candidates thinking they are above the law because it would cheapen our democracy if they were prosecuted for their crimes. The lesson learned is: go all in, so when your critics accurately describe your behavior, they sound like conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Narcissism Metrics

I asked my 300 students to alphabetize their exams when they turned them in today. A handful of them alphabetized by their first names.

Has ANYONE alphabetized by first name since leaving kindergarten? Every class period they have to check their names on the attendance list, which is alphabetized by last names. Every time I hand back assignments I call them out in alphabetical order using their last names. In what possible universe does a roomful of adults think they are going to be organized by FIRST names?!?

I think scenarios that give emphasis to our last names are less personal and more automated. Your preacher or your therapist uses your first name, while the DMV calls you by last name (unless the DMV has gone whole dehumanizing and called you by a number instead). How many college students think first name only is sufficient identification? Is that number increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wussification Metrics

What percentage of animal chases in nature programs end with the prey escaping? I suspect that the percentage has increased dramatically during my lifetime, especially when the prey is a juvenile.

What percentage of animal chases in Russian-language nature programs end with the prey escaping? What about Mandarin-language nature programs? And is that percentage increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Is This the Untimely End of Milhouse?

Blogging was a lot easier back when I hated most things. Now the only thing I really hate is me.

I used to get a lot of mileage out of politics and the fools surrounding me. Politics has become ridiculously uninteresting. The next president will probably be either a terrible person who will cause irreparable harm to our republic or...a terrible person who will cause irreparable harm to our republic. And yet something like 80% of Americans takes comfort in the thought, "Well, MY terrible person is a different kind of terrible from that OTHER one." I'm going to be voting for Gary Johnson this election, not because he's wonderful, but because he won't burn the whole thing down. But we're past the point where a blog post is going to cut through the mood affiliation.

Several years ago I stumbled upon one of the truths of life: it's harder to be charitable when you're paying attention. And since I need to have charity, I've starting trying to not pay attention. This dramatically reduces the opportunities for "listen to what this jackass did at the grocery store today!" posts.

It's not that the world isn't a terrible place, but that I've come to see more clearly that the biggest problem with the world is me. At least, it's the only one I can hope to address in any meaningful way. But that doesn't make for good blog reading. "Hey, here's another short-coming I've been making zero progress on for almost 40 years." Posts like that would take my double-digit readership down into the single digits with a quickness.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"A Chilling Preview of Things to Come"

So this just happened.

I'm sitting at my desk when I notice papers coming under my office door, then I hear running. I get up to see the papers. One reads, "What is Aleppo? - Johnson." The other reads, "Who's your favorite foreign leader? - Chris Matthews #6%Club."

I take these notes as opposition to my support of Gary Johnson, as I believe that's what they are intended to be. My Twitter is public and I have tweeted a number of things supporting Gary Johnson, but I've said nothing political in class (with one exception I'll detail in a footnote*). So I have students who have spent at least some time researching my political opinions and then put more time into harassing me about them. It's sort of funny, but more-than-a-little disturbing.

I had some trepidation about returning to work in American academia, and it was all based on the intolerant climate that prevails here. As I said to a friend, "I'm a cis-gendered, heterosexual, classical-liberal, married, Christian male with a stay-at-home wife and four children whom we homeschool; my entire life could be taken as a micro-aggression." I thought if I kept quiet about these things in a professional setting, I could get by unscathed. But I didn't account for the intolerance of Groupthink. Remember when Homer Simpson gets the crayon removed from his brain and then tries to sit through the movie Love Is Nice? Patty says, "Wait a minute. Somebody's not laughing here." It's not enough to allow people their opinions, I have to full-throatedly support them. You'll probably say I'm over-reacting, but this seems like the first (admittedly tiny) step towards what will eventually be struggle sessions.

I knew the Great Social Reset would be messy, but I had hoped to avoid the mess by not being associated with the social agenda that's about to be violently rejected. I see now that my hesitance to support the violence will make me a target of the violence, as well.

* = Here's the exception: when discussing the gravity model of trade, I said, "If we could somehow move China to occupy Mexico's physical location in the world, what should we expect to happen?" I laughed to myself and said, "Well, besides Donald Trump having a heart attack." I then added, "That's not meant to signify support or opposition for Trump, and I'd like to think that, if Donald Trump were here, he'd laugh along with us."

NB: I've probably used that quote from Kent Brockman as a blog post title before.

Five Unrelated Things

We evacuated over the weekend and returned Sunday because the utility company's website said our power was restored. It actually was restored a few hours ago today (Wednesday).

In the Mumford & Sons song "Sigh No More," the lyrics begin, "Sigh no more no more." But doesn't that mean "start sighing"?

Also from Mumford & Sons, another entry in the list of songs with lyrics that are really saying the opposite of the explicit meaning of the words. "But there will come a time you'll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears" is saying that right now you're crying a lot and love is breaking your heart.

There are two ways to get to my office, which is on the third floor. The main stairwell has 15 stairs to a landing, 11 stairs to the second floor, nine stairs to a landing, and 15 stairs to the third floor. The back stairwell has 16 stairs to a landing, 10 stairs to the second floor, seven stairs to a landing, nine stairs to a landing, and eight stairs to the third floor. What kind of jackass architects did they have designing this place?! Why is the first floor 26 stairs tall and the second floor is only 24 stairs tall? Why not 25 each? And why can't the landing be halfway up the flight, like everywhere else in the world? And the second flight on the back stairs could EASILY be divided into three segments of equal length, but instead they made a lot of extra work for themselves to make sure they were all different. I hate it.

In the movie Two Weeks Notice Lucy Kelson's friend Meryl yells at her husband Tom, "Everything is not about you!" But what she really means to say is, "Not everything is about you!" They have very distinct meanings. (Now that I've written this, I'm pretty sure I've written it once before on my blog. As you can tell, this bothers me a lot.)

Friday, October 07, 2016

Notes on the Music of Taylor Swift: Hurricane Evacuation Edition

Part of our soundtrack for our evacuation from Hurricane Matthew was Taylor Swift's album Speak Now. My daughter reminded me that when I first heard "Mine" I tried to convince her that the lyrics said "a hairless man's hairful daughter" and that the song was a rejected entry to the Brave film soundtrack.

But my most-important observation: if Taylor's telling the truth when she sings "there's nothing I do better than revenge," why do so many people screw with Taylor Swift? I think Taylor needs to accept the fact that she is actually quite terrible at revenge.

Case in point: Kanye West. Kanye humiliated Taylor at the VMAs and her "revenge" was so devastating that he...made a video with him writhing naked in bed with a computer-generated Taylor Swift. When it comes to taking revenge, Taylor should think about using fewer moody ballads and using more knives. The saying is "snitches get stitches," not "snitches get heart-breaking melodies."

Speaking of Kanye, whenever I have to pause a Taylor Swift CD, I say, "Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you, and I'mma let you finish in a minute, but who's interested in stopping at Taco Bell [or whatever would be appropriate to the moment, but it's usually stopping at Taco Bell]?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Notes on the Music of Taylor Swift

If you ever drive from Los Angeles, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, via Dayton, Ohio, with a 14-year-old girl, be prepared to become quite familiar with the oeuvre of Taylor Swift. (I write as one with experience.) Here are some notes I've developed on Taylor's art.

  • In "Mean," it is easy to mishear the lyrics as "Someday I'll be living in a bagel city." And I guess her song "Welcome to New York" makes me wonder if that is indeed a mishearing.
  • Taylor seems like more of a gangster if you mishear the lyrics to "I Knew You Were Trouble" as "And now you're lying on the cold hard ground." She's not an emotional wreck: she's a cold-blooded killer!
  • You want gangster Taylor Swift? How about mishearing the line "wish I never hung up the phone like I did" from "I Wish You Would" as "wish I never held up a gun like I did"? Thug life, nephew!
  • It seems impossible to me that Taylor didn't follow the lines "I don't know about you / but I'm feeling 22 / ... / You don't know about me" with "but you're feeling 23." How, Taylor?! HOW?!?!?!
  • In "Blank Space" the line "don't say I didn't say I didn't warn ya" makes my head hurt. What am I not supposed to say she didn't do now? (Luckily Taylor's website gives the lyric with a comma after the first "didn't". I checked.)
  • We developed alternate titles for the first several songs on 1989. "Welcome to New York" can also be called "Promotional Consideration Paid by the New York Bureau of Tourism." "Blank Space" can also be called "I'm Crazy; Let's Date!" "Style" can also be called "Fashion-Conscious Woman Seeks Boyfriend." "Out of the Woods" can also be called "From the Little Red Riding Hood Soundtrack." "All You Had to Do Was Stay" can also be called "Dog Obedience School Drop-Out." "Shake It Off" can also be called "Accurate Self Assessment." "I Wish You Would" can also be called "Actually, It's Not All Good, Not At All; I'm Not Sure Why I Just Said It Was." "Bad Blood" can also be called "I Know Every Living Celebrity Under the Age of 30!" "Wildest Dreams" can also be called "I'm Riding a LION, People!" Then we ran out of steam.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Songs That Mention Songs

I'm intrigued by songs that mention songs, because I think they are doing it as a short-hand way of building on the meaning of the original song. Like how a book's epigram informs the way the author intends you to look at the story you're about to read. I mentioned to my wife once, "If I was getting a doctorate in music theory, I'd write about songs that mention songs, comparing the original to the referencing." My wife said, "I don't think you know what music theory is about."

Anyway, here's a small list that comes to me right now.

  • "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / hey, that's me and I want you only" sung in Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
  • "Elvis singing 'don't be cruel' and I wonder / if you feel it too, it's like we're going under" sung in The Killers' "The Way It Was."
  • The title of The Killers' "Deadlines and Commitments" is a line from the Bob Seger song "Against the Wind."

There are a lot more I've noticed lately, but I didn't write them down and I'm in a hurry now. Maybe I'll keep track of this in future blog posts, like how I have recurring posts about words with alternate pronunciations when they are different parts of speech ("I'll permit you to drive with your learner's permit because your dominate hand will dominate.").

Found Notes

My daughter found some notes I made in church several years ago. There are three of them.

  1. The Bible records the Hebrew names (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) and Babylonian names (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) for four people. So why do we use one Hebrew name and three Babylonian names to talk about them? That inconsistency bothers me.
  2. "Not run faster than [we] have strength" is too often taken to mean "run as fast as you want." It should mean "get strength."
  3. After hearing a very incredible--in the true sense of the word--story, I wrote, "That story sounds about negative ten percent believable. We need a Mormon Snopes." Then I listed possible website names:,,,, or (Crazy Jane noted that Marvelous Work and a Blunder was her favorite.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

What Katy DIDN'T Do Was Make Her Books Easy to Get

Last summer I read this article about Jacqueline Wilson's new book Katy, an updated version of Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did with some significant changes. I thought reading both books and analyzing their differences and similarities would make a good school project for Crazy Jane, who was going into eighth grade. However, we were living in China, where books were more difficult and expensive for us to get. When it turned out we couldn't get an e-book of the Wilson volume (with this being 1986 and all, it's to be understood), we postponed the project to this year. While the material is below her grade level, I think the project will be a good fit, and perhaps it's best to learn more-difficult analysis with easier material.

To get things moving, we went to the library to check out the Coolidge book. But the library didn't have it, so we had to request it from elsewhere in the system. While we waited for it, my wife ordered the Wilson book online.

When the Wilson book arrived in the mail, it turned out to be a free sample of the first 50 pages, sold to us as the entire book. She wrote to the bookseller and they are supposedly mailing us a copy of the entire book now. Maybe someday in the next five years, we'll have copies of both books in the house and the comparative literature class can commence!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Insane Roommates

Remember when you had roommates? At least one was completely insane, right? Like, "lacking all ability of self-reflection" insane. This is what China is in the modern geopolitical landscape.

China does things like, oh, kidnap non-citizens abroad, and is bewildered that anyone could have a problem with it. Then when a Taiwanese pop star waives a Taiwanese flag, China craps itself in a fit of "hurt feelings."

I had high hopes for the continued maturation of China, but the current leadership has taken several great leaps backward. They are betting that the mythical Chinese middle class is such an orgasmic dream that everyone around the world will agree with anything necessary to access it. But western firms are increasingly realizing that doing business in China has enormous costs and paltry rewards. Chinese economic glasnost is ending because China has shown the world they are crazier than a crap-house rat, and who needs an insane roommate?