Friday, November 27, 2015

Being a Mormon in a Muslim Society

This past week I read Michel Houellebecq's book Submission. It's about a secular atheist Frenchman (is there another kind of Frenchman?) in 2022 when a Muslim political party wins control of the government and how his life changes. I thought the first half was fantastic, the third quarter was a little lame, and the ending is leaving me thinking a lot. Which is a good way for a book to end. As Tyler Cowen wrote of the book, "The correct reading is always a level deeper than the one you are currently at."

Anyway, one of the things I've been thinking is how much my life can comply with a Muslim lifestyle before I'm going against my conscience. I think of when I would attend Mass with my Catholic friends, and the congregation is supposed to respond "Lord, I do believe" to four statements. I figured I'd participate as much as I honestly could. The first two statements (as I remember it) were about God and Jesus, and I could agree to them wholeheartedly. So when (notice what I did there?) Muslims order my society, can I do things like eat halal food and pray five times a day? Sure, as long as the prayers aren't prescribed. Can I agree that Muhammad was a prophet? Mmmmm, maybe. Can I agree that he's God's only prophet, or at least the last one? No, I can't.

Anyway, in thinking about this, I was reminded of two events related in the Book of Mormon. The first was Alma's encounter with the Rameumptom. When Alma first sees it in use (Alma 31), Alma is "astonished beyond all measure." Getting atop a tower to offer prayers seems like a completely novel thing to Alma and his compadres.

Forty-one years later, Alma's great-grandson Nephi is using a tower in his garden to offer prayers.

The Rampeumptom might have been new to Alma, but it wasn't in itself offensive to God; it was the Zoramites' prayer that was most grievous. A prophet can use a Rameumptom with no problems.

Can a Mormon woman wear a niqab? Sure, why not? Can I follow the schedule of the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours for my personal prayers? Sure, why not? Can I follow Jewish ritualistic washings before eating? Sure, why not? There's a lot of room for accommodation.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

PC Fascists

Yesterday my work had a Thanksgiving lunch that feature a LOT of durian pizza. Because, you know, Pilgrims.

I have a co-worker who married a beautiful woman and then adopted the credo, "Seem as gay as possible." Every single thing he does is meant to make you think, "But I've met his wife!"

Anyway, his wife is pregnant (?!?!), and in preparation for the birth, they are moving out of their two-bedroom apartment. (Naturally.) So he's trying to get us all to move into their old apartment. At lunch, he explained that their new apartment will be closer to his wife's work, "So she can come home and milk feed the baby."

What? "Milk feed"?

The other guy in our three-person conversation was a straight-up gay dude who doesn't feel the need to use affected speech or mannerisms one way or the other. And he said, "Oh, she's going to milk feed," like it's a totally-normal term he's heard many times before.

Am I going crazy, here? Did the world decide to start using this term and no one told me? An Internet search for "milk feed" brings up a lot of analysis of milk-to-feed ratio (which evidently is an important proxy measure of dairy-farming profitability). I found one instance of the term "milk feed" being used the way these guys were using it.

Here's my question: where's his wife getting the milk? From her breast? So why not call it "breast feeding," which is the already-existing name for it? I can see a few reasons, and all of them are worrying.

Number 1: The guys are uncomfortable using the word "breast" in public. In which case, we have two grown-ass men behaving like prepubescent boys. "Eww, boobies are gross! Don't mention them!" Breasts are non-sexual organs than have been so sexualized that we don't even talk about breasts when we actually want to talk about the actual non-sexual function they perform.

Number 2: She's not going to actually latch the baby to her breast. This is, sadly, believable, because her husband is all about "gender studies," and I could totally see him saying, "The mother-child bond is a social construct that results from the patriarchy forcing women to exclusively feed the baby just because of the biological accident that women's breast tissue produces milk and men's breast tissue does not. So we're going to harvest the milk from my wife and make sure we exclusively bottle feed on a completely-even alternating schedule." I could see him saying this very, very easily.

Number 3: Some feminist crank somewhere in the world decided to use the term "milk feed" and these guys are so eager to signal their position within the politically-correct feminist group that they very consciously make sure to only use the term "milk feed" from now on. Also a very believable reason.

Whatever the reason, these people are idiots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trump Professionalism

My family is in negotiations to homeschool the child of a colleague. (It's a weird story that I prefer to think about as little as possible, so I won't recount it here.) Anyway, we've identified a number of questions that would need to be answered, including the amount of compensation we'd receive. Earlier this week, the colleague came to me and said, "We kind of need an answer right now." I said, "You haven't answered all of our questions." Specifically, aside from acknowledging that some compensation would occur, they have never offered a specific number.

The reason is that my school would be picking up the tab, which then creates an awkward situation for my school where they are paying us to homeschool one employee's kid while not giving us any money for homeschooling our own kids. They have preferred we not know that other teachers have been getting educational stipends (because other people have one school-aged kid and we have three).

Yesterday I'm mid-lesson and my colleague knocks on my classroom door. She could see through the door's window that I was teaching, so I was going to ignore it. One of the students, though, opens the door. She comes in and comes to me at the whiteboard and says in a bit of an undertone, "[School employee] is going to contact [my wife] today."

Are you kidding me? You interrupt my lesson for this? Would you tolerate me interrupting your lesson with non-emergency personal business? And why am I involved in this discussion at all?! If my wife needs to expect a phone call, freaking WeChat her yourself!

I've been having private interviews with each of my kids once each month. In my most-recent interview with Articulate Joe, I asked him what he thought of this plan. He said, "That would be crazy. No one would get anything done." When even your 11-year-old can see what's wrong with the plan, it's definitely wrong. But my colleague has backed us into this corner by continually telling us how this is the only alternative to her son's completely unbearable school situation. Argh, I told you I don't like to think about it.

Remember several years ago when I invented the term "Trump classy," which meant something that Donald Trump would consider classy, which the rest of us would consider gauche and obscene? This colleague's behavior has been an example of Trump professionalism.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jerk College Athletes

Some college athletes get a bad reputation, but that bad reputation doesn't always follow them into the pros. Why is that?

For instance, look at two American football quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton. Both left the college game with a lot of critics. So why is Newton entering into America's good graces and Winston is not? I think it has to do with what they were doing that got them their bad reputation to begin with. Newton had professional-caliber football talent but was forced by NFL rules to attend college. He either wasn't capable of or wasn't inclined to academic success, so his time on campus was widely seen as a mockery of education. When he left school, all his problems went away. Winston, on the other hand, is said to have sexually assaulted a female student and then used his star athlete status to skip out on consequences. When he left school, that didn't really alleviate the problem.

Kevin Durant was the same way. When he was at University of Texas, people were frustrated with the cynical way he was complying with the NBA requirements, but the real problem was the NBA, not Durant. As soon as he left school, the problem was over. Now his single-minded focus on professional success makes him even more popular.

Unfortunately, people like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger show that even sexual assault will be forgiven an unrepentant champion. Maybe we've made progress in the years since their assaults, but I'm afraid of what we'd find out if Jameis Winston wins a Super Bowl.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Post

A snowy day out my office window. That building under construction is my air quality measuring stick: when it's just a grey outline of a building, the air is terrible.

My wife and I went in a restaurant. When we were seated, we noticed the menu said, "Cosmic Korean food." So it's not like we went out to a Korean place (which we tried once, but they wouldn't bring us anything we pointed to on the menu, so we left). Anyway, this was our meal. Nothing looks especially "Korean" here to me.

An ad for one of our grocery stores promises you'll be surprised by their fish. (When we were in that grocery store last week, they had these long, skinny whole fish that were frozen solid. I wanted to pick one up and chase my wife around with it, but not as much as I wanted to not touch one of those fish.)

So Singles Day is a thing here. I guess it's supposed to be where you buy something for someone whom you want to be your Valentine. But most of the ads in the subway were of the "buy yourself something nice" variety, so we call it Chinese Single People's Valentine's Day. This subway ad isn't an appeal to self-indulgence so much as it's just weird. This ad (今天换我来爱你让你一次买个够) says, "Jīntiān huàn wǒ lái ài nǐ ràng nǐ yīcì mǎi gè gòu," which I think means something like, "Today we'll exchange 'I love you's once you buy your fill."

Somehow this dude looks even more pathetic than the last one.

The worst air we've had in several months. The visibility is less than a quarter mile.

The picture is from just south of the Yuquan Road subway station, looking south. The next intersection is where visibility ends.

On days like that, you can just stare at the sun all you want.

Why did we even leave the house that day? Why, for churros and ice cream, of course!

Here's a bike parking lot with some of those lifts like they use at Wal-Mart to fit more bikes. There's a bike valet attending the lot. I'm not sure if he rides your bike to its rack spot or not.

So our apartment is full of locking door handles, and when we moved in we were bequeathed a giant pile of keys. What we've come to learn, though, is that most of the keys do nothing, and most of the locks in our apartment have no corresponding key in the pile. Earlier this month I came home to find out that our youngest kid locked the bathroom door and pulled it shut. I got to break the handle off that door. Well, last week I got a WeChat message that said, "[The Screamapilar] is locked in your bedroom and Mom can't get him out." I came home from work to find that my wife had gone to take a shower and our youngest kid had locked himself in our bedroom. It had been over half an hour by this time, so he was freaking out. My wife was wrapped in a towel, forever separated from her clothes. Normally at this point I'd say, "All's well that ends well," but she had to go somewhere. Obviously, the pile of keys was completely worthless, so I got to go all Jason Bourne and kick in the door. This picture is what we sent to our apartment building WeChat group to say, "Seriously, you give us 20 keys and NONE of them work anything?!"

This was the first ad I could read in its entirety. It says, "You love beauty. You want to drink fruit juice."

And a second ad I could read, from the same company. This one says, "Listen to mother's words. You want to drink fruit juice."

Finally, at the grocery store (the one with the ad promising a fishy surprise), there's a old guy next to the registers. His job is to make sure you don't try to take the cart on the escalator. But for some reason, this week he had a table with riot gear waiting for him (and a buddy, I guess), in case an angry mob tries to take all the carts on the escalator.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Smoking Cigarettes and Watching Captain Kangaroo

China broke the computer I brought with me. My work has given me a laptop and iPad, but they're going to take those back before I leave. China won't allow anyone to use telephones aboard airplanes, even when set to "airplane mode." (Meanwhile, every week there's a news story about a passenger who tried to open a door mid-flight to get some air circulation going. But before we make sure our passengers don't kill us all, we're going to put resources into stopping the use of phones on airplane mode.)

What does all this mean? It means that my wife and I are going to be extremely bored for 14 hours when we fly back to the United States this next summer.

Actually, I will be bored, because she will be flying solo with four kids. I have to stay until July 10th or so, but they already have their tickets for the end of June. So I'm going to be flying alone with nothing to do. I'm already bored just thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Insulated President

In this blog post by Arnold Kling, he writes

I fear that there is no one close to President Obama who is capable of voicing dissent regarding either his substance or his tone. He needs somebody to to tell him that people who disagree with him are not necessarily evil or stupid. They are just people who disagree with him.
Why would the president not have anyone within his circle that can voice dissent? He determines his circle, right? So he either has never had a dissenting voice near him and has not actively sought one, or he has purged dissenting voices from his circle. Both possibilities are believable to me. Kling wants this to change. This means the president must seek out dissenting voices or tolerate them when they pop up organically. But if he thinks "people who disagree with him are...evil or stupid," how likely is this? Especially when anyone who says, "People who disagree with you are not necessarily evil or stupid" are, in the process of saying this, disagreeing with him, and so fitting into his definition of evil or stupid?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Can't Figure You Out

Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I read a book trying to explain Saddam Hussein's behavior. The conclusion was: the dude is nuts. And crazy people follow a different logic, which we can't predict because it doesn't follow the orthodox logic that the rest of us sane people use. So while we were saying, "The only reason to risk invasion and deposition by not allowing nuclear inspectors to return is because you are violating the nuclear arms restrictions placed upon you," Saddam Hussein was saying, "I'm not going to allow inspectors because purple monkey dishwasher."

I saw a headline today about the "confusing strategy" of Islamic State. Is this another instance of crazy strategy isn't really strategy? I don't think so, because this time we have a group that is very willing to tell us their strategy. It might seem crazy, but it doesn't need to be confusing.

Islamic State reads future history as being about the return of the Mahdi. His return will be presaged by violence and plague killing one-third of the world, so Islamic State is helping hasten the return of the Mahdi by spreading violence. Illogical, but not confusing.

What makes it "confusing" to Western observers is a hesitance to take Islamic State at their word. They say they're an Islamic caliphate. We say, "Well, you can't mean that," because we don't want to besmirch Islam. So when they do something like attack Parisians, and they tell us why, we spend time being confused.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Open Craziness

When I first started grad school, I was unimpressed with the gonzo libertarians who were opposed to religion and voting. I didn't really understand the appeal of undermining your acceptance by the average citizen just to maintain your libertarian street cred. I met one kid at a conference who insisted that Iran should have nuclear weapons as a deterrent for the United States. Now, I agree that the United States needs a deterrent in the world (everyone does), but giving nuclear weapons to Iran would guarantee another Holocaust. I oppose all kinds of Holocaust denying, both past and future.

Anyway, Open Borders is another example of libertarians working hard to marginalize themselves. The shame is that those paying the real cost are the refuges that won't be allowed to flee their persecutors because some libertarian enjoying peace and comfort thinks he can't compromise without being a sell-out.

Millions of people need to get out of Syria and into Europe or North America. But demanding the doors be thrown wide open is a great way of making sure they don't get the chance. Firstly, I don't see how anyone can deny that there are terrorists in the world who wish to harm Westerners. ("But the West brought it on themselves!" You're insane. We're not debating cause, we're acknowledging effect.) Terrorists would be negligent if they passed up the chance to join the mass of refugees. So there must be controls and a vetting process.

Secondly, economies do not instantaneously equilibrate following such population shocks. You can't ignore the Westerners' concern about the adjustment costs. I know, those fleeing terror don't have that much of a concern about the growing pains the West will experience. So there needs to be a two-stage solution that will allow for immediate relief from war and a gradual joining of Western society.

I think the G8 countries should announce objective criteria for refugee acceptance and commit to accepting as many refugees as meet these standards. Then, stable regional partners such as Turkey should agree to house refugee camps. At the camps, refugees have medical and safety evaluations. Once they are vetted, they get on a plan and begin their new lives in the West. This would spread the burden (and provide a demographic boost to dying countries like Italy and Japan), while protecting Westerners from disguised terrorists.

Anyone who can't support a plan like that is too interested in his libertarian fanboy status.

Lighten Up, Francis

I've got a relative who has to be constantly outraged about something. She fits right in with the modern world. She's one of these "How DARE you express solidarity with Paris unless you also acknowledge a similar attack in Beirut!" people.

Should people be upset about the Starbucks Christmas cup? No. Turning Jesus into a marketing ploy is more offensive than a red cup without wording.

Should people be upset about the Yale response to "culture-appropriating Halloween costumes"? No. The open denial of the right to free speech is a sign of just how oriented towards indoctrination modern education has become.

Should people be upset about Mormon policy regarding baptism of children from same-sex marriages? No. The policy respects the family and helps the child not have to choose between his parents and his church until he's an adult and can decide how he will live his own life.

Should people be upset about racism at University of Missouri? No. Racism is deplorable but not a crime, and there's no actual evidence that a poop swastika ever existed, let alone evidence that it was racially motivated.

Should people be upset about expressions of support for France? No. I do not need to acknowledge all tragedies to recognize one. What I wrote last week applies: what the modern secular world wants is something only found in religion: a complete recognition and redress of all tragedies. Only God can know all injustice and set all inequities right. Because God doesn't exist in the secular outlook, the next best thing is requiring all of existence to acknowledge your problems. Thus the grievance culture.

Lighten up, Francis.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Still Thinking of Baseball

Several years ago I wrote this blog post about how long it's been since each team has won a pennant. But lots has changed since then. So here's an updated list.

  • Kansas City: 0 years
  • New York (NL): 0 years
  • San Francisco: 1 year
  • Boston: 2 years
  • Saint Louis: 2 years
  • Detroit: 3 years
  • Texas: 4 years
  • New York (AL): 6 years
  • Philadelphia: 6 years
  • Tampa Bay: 7 years
  • Colorado: 8 years
  • Chicago (AL): 10 years
  • Houston: 10 years*
  • Florida: 12 years
  • Los Angeles (AL): 13 years
  • Arizona: 14 years
  • Atlanta: 16 years
  • San Diego: 17 years
  • Cleveland: 18 years
  • Toronto: 22 years
  • Minnesota: 24 years
  • Cincinnati: 25 years
  • Oakland: 25 years
  • Los Angeles (NL): 27 years
  • Baltimore: 32 years
  • Milwaukee: 33 years*
  • Pittsburgh: 36 years
  • Washington: 38 years**
  • Seattle: 46 years**
  • Chicago (NL): 70 years

The teams with a single asterisk (Houston and Milwaukee) have never won the pennant of their current league. The teams with a double asterisk (Washington and Seattle) have never won a pennant in their history.