Saturday, September 05, 2015

"There Was a Young Lady Named Bright"

Two days ago I wrote a blog post. I finished it and posted it. It showed up in my Feedly feed. But it didn't show up on my blog. When I went looking for it in my blog dashboard, it's a half-finished draft without a title.

How did the completed thing show up in my Feedly?

Just now I copied the post out of Feedly and pasted it into my draft, then published it. It shows up on my blog now. Did I just plagiarize myself? Or maybe the explanation lies in time travel. When it comes to time travel, I'm like Luna Lovegood with nargles: if in doubt, you should probably blame time travel.

Post title from a limerick used on an album by some band my brother liked in the early Nineties, something like Alphaville or Erasure.

Friday, September 04, 2015

What's Weaker Than a Photo Montage? A Collection of Links

Wang Xiaolu wrote on July 20 that China's Security Regulation Commission was thinking of ending its market intervention. A news article about Wang's situation says, "The Commission immediately denied the report. It regularly made interventions up to mid-August." Is it so hard to believe that the commission was discussing in late July whether to end a policy that ended in mid-August? But he must be guilty because he's already confessed.

An Islamist's Sophie's Choice: is it okay to destroy a bit of Quran if that bit of Quran calls into question the authenticity of the Quran? Honestly, though, I'd hate to see a bunch of Christians use this finding to attack Islam, since Christians (rightly) dismiss such stories when they are used against Christianity. Firstly, supposing we can carbon date something to within a decade is foolhardy. Secondly, disagreeing with a widely-held popular assumption is not the same thing as disproving anything. If the fragment really is from Muhammed's lifetime, all that shows is that the assumption that the Quran wasn't written down for several generations is incorrect. Yes, maybe that means it didn't come from Muhammed, but it doesn't require that to be true.

More on the theme of rich Chinese kids attending university in the U.S. As a teacher at "the international division of select schools to chart their path to higher education abroad," I can tell you that there's a lot of truth here. The top four reasons my students studied economics last year were: 1)They'd been told that's how you get rich, 2)Their parents wanted them to (Why? See #1), 3)They'd been told it would get them into a good college (So what? See #1), 4)They'd been told smart people study economics and they wanted to signal their intelligence. Only a handful studied economics because they wanted to learn economics. Now that the word is out around campus that I make my students actually learn economics, interest in my class is dramatically lower this year.

Unschooling can be awesome if you do it the way Laurie Couture describes it here. But every unschooler I've actually known just ends up playing 21 hours of Minecraft every day. You can't remove structure without also removing media. (We're not unschoolers, bee tee dubs, so there's no need to call CPS, as many meddling friends of unschoolers actually do. I used to half-jokingly say, "Thomas Jefferson Education families make our family look like Asians.")

Chinese police enforcing Chinese laws in the United States aren't spies, they're invaders. (That doesn't mean there aren't Chinese spies around, though.)

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Circumcisions and Marriages

When our first son was born, the hospital told us that the circumcision would be performed by the on-call obstetrician. When she came through to see our son, we asked her about scheduling the circumcision. She said she didn't do circumcisions; it was against her religion. We had to wait until our son's first appointment with his pediatrician to have her perform the circumcision.

(Aside: If you're going to be there for your son's circumcision, don't actually WATCH the slicing and dicing. Just sort of look over his shoulder and offer moral support. Trust me.)

Rowan County (Kentucky) Clerk Kim Davis is refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone. She says issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples is against her religion, and to comply with the recent Supreme Court decision requiring equal treatment for gay couples, she has stopped issuing licenses to heterosexual couples, as well.

I get the argument that she should perform her job, and if the duties of her job violate her religion, she should find a new job. I can't get hired as a bartender and then refuse service to everyone on religious grounds, right? But Davis's job changed with the Supreme Court decision. If she should leave her job now, it would be because of her religion, and religion is one of the protected characteristics that is prohibited from being the basis of an employment decision.

Also note, please, that no one HAS to get a license from Rowan County. Kentucky, like most states, requires a marriage license from ANY county for a marriage performed in ANY county. Citizens of Rowan County can get licenses elsewhere and get married wherever they want in the commonwealth.

That's important to me because that shows that the people who are continually appealing for licenses in Rowan County aren't as interested in getting married as they are in making Kim Davis follow their religion, not her own.

What if every county clerk in Kentucky refused to issue marriage licenses? Well, then, the state would stop recording marriages. What's the big deal with that? It's what many libertarian-minded folks think is a more-elegant solution, anyway. Davis is an elected official, so if the voters feel she is no longer qualified to serve as county clerk, she will be replaced. And if the voters prefer the county stop being involved in marriage, that's their prerogative. This is a religious-conscience matter masquerading as an equal-rights fight. Stop trying to convert Kim Davis at the point of a sword.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

"Anyone Want to Guess Where I Got the Money?"

In the episode of The Simpsons entitled "Trash of the Titans," Homer fills a hole in the sanitation department budget by allowing other jurisdictions to dump their refuse in Springfield's abandoned mines. His family, however, assumed he was selling drugs.

Today I was helping my future officemate move a desk and we accidentally opened the desk drawer. Inside was a fair amount of drugs.

Okay, fine, it's medicine. But it sounds cooler when you say it's drugs, and since they're the same thing, I'm going to say it's drugs.

My officemate said, "Is it Viagra?" Because he's Slovakian, it sounded funnier. I said, "This is like the beginning of every terribly depressing gritty crime movie. We're like, 'Oh, ha ha, we found some--oh no, our lives are RUINED!'"

I tried to translate the packaging with my phone, but it wouldn't work. Then I realized it was Korean. I went to a guy on staff who went to graduate school in Korea, and he told me that the labels gave instructions on when to take it, the name of the company that made it, and when it was made, but not what it was.

I took it to my academic director (who up and quit this week, effective this Friday), and he said, "Hold on to it. Don't put it where students can find it." I took it to his soon-to-be replacement and he said, "Why don't you let [Unhelpful Liasson for Chinese Bureaucracies] know." I WeChatted that dude and now he's come and taken the drugs away.

What if it was that Limitless drug that I've always wanted?!?! I totally should have taken some!!!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Photo Montage Is the Weakest of Blog Posts

An alley market near our apartment had a collection of small busts. You know, all the great leaders of history.

Wait, what?

The safest spot to be in event of a fire. Unless the fire extinguisher collection is itself on fire. Then we're all screwed.

In the alley market, you can also buy pet chipmunks. (They also had squirrels, but the squirrels were so lethargic that their picture was just sad, so I didn't include it.)

Recession never looked so good!

Who says poor people never have anything nice? This bungalow that houses our campus guards has had a swanky rooftop pool for the past two weeks now. Consider me jealous.

Just-Okay Wall of China (Name Adjusted for Chinese Government Statistic Inflation)

My school allowed the teachers to attend a "cultural outing" instead of actually working yesterday. I could choose the Summer Palace or the Great Wall of China. Since we're close enough to the Summer Palace to go on our own, and my family had already been to the wall without me, I decided to go to the wall.

The section we visited, Mutianyu, is a well-restored section. Part of the restoration was the installation of a cable car that can take you up the mountain in just four minutes.

However, comma, it costs ¥150, and our automatic deposit for August didn't go through until later that night, so none of us opted for the cable car. Instead, we walked up the steps.

So, so many steps.

Half an hour later, we were on the Great Wall of China.

My wife had only one requirement. (Well, she probably had a lot, like, "Don't have an affair on this trip," but she only thought one needed saying.) I had to take a picture that was actually me at the Great Wall, not just a bunch of pictures of the wall.

I spent a total of about 10 seconds taking around four or five selfies. Remember that for later.

The characters on the mountain translate to, "Be loyal to Chairman Mao." Seriously.

I came up behind three guys with Trinidad and Tobago credentials hanging from their backpacks. (The IAAF track and field world championships are going on in Beijing right now.) I said, "I'm just going to tell people the four of us are the Trinidad 4 x 100 relay team." One of the guys said they are actually 3/4 of the 4 x 400 relay team and that they'd won the silver medal the night before. I congratulated them and shook their hands. Later, I realized this story would be more fun if I had a picture with them, but I thought it would be lame to ask for a picture so much later, so I just took a creepy stalker picture of them instead.

Then I took some more pictures of the wall.

The air was actually great (part of the IAAF world championships and the coming military parade); the sky is overcast. It rained the night before and again the night after. So the pictures don't look that great but hiking wasn't terrible like it would have been with bad air quality.

After a while, I stopped for lunch. I was with four colleagues at that point, but I spent most of the day alone.

We were there on a very uncrowded day. I came across a scene I wanted to photograph, but I had to wait for a guy taking a selfie to finish up. I thought, "How long could he take, since I'd just seen him take about ten selfies not 30 meters away?" Answer: he can take a long-ass time. I sat in the middle of the wall, waiting for about three minutes, for this guy to take the perfect selfie. Fortunately, no one came along and ruined the shot while he was preening, so it wasn't a big deal. But still, dude. Three minutes for a selfie?

Most of our group paid ¥80 to take a sort of bobsled down the mountain. They had lots of signs and recorded announcements declaring that you couldn't take pictures, but all the other tourists were taking a LOT of pictures. A lady with the Trinidadian group held everything up for several minutes. We began to gently chide her, "No photos!" She said in a sort-of-playful-but-underneath-it-all-deadly-serious way, "Who paid for dis phone?!" After she left an Italian lady tried to take a selfie and the Chinese guy running the slide said, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

One of my colleagues was very worried about the safety of the slide. I said, "If this was in America, I'd tell you, 'If anyone had died they would have shut it down,' but since this is China, I'll tell you, 'If a lot of people died they would have shut it down.'"

Then they shut the slide down temporarily because one of my colleagues fell off his sled. He got a large road rash on his arm.

Eventually, it was my turn.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Administrative Gospel

Yesterday in church my local nemesis said something along the lines of, "I have a cousin who is a very strong member of the church. In fact, he's served as a mission president in [exotic location]." This statement made me realize that there is strain of Mormonism dedicated to this idea that the level of the calling determines the strength of the member. It is like the prosperity gospel (the rich must be righteous because otherwise how'd they get so rich/the righteous must be rich because riches are a blessing from God and righteous people get blessed), but for people who love bureaucracies and climbing the greasy pole.

In this view, the strongest church member in each stake is the stake president, by definition. Each calling can be ranked in importance from there. Any able-bodied returned-missionary member serving as librarian must be a secret drinker or an OW sympathizer.

Of course, this is easily shown to be false. Compare, if you will (and you will!), Thomas B. Marsh and the feeblest survivor of the Martin or Willie handcart companies. Which had the higher administrative position? Which was a stronger member of the church?

I thought of the story recently shared in General Conference by President Eyring of the calling of a temple sealer. The man's wife expressed an inclination towards the administrative gospel when she said "that now she felt that she should not go with him because God had chosen him for so glorious and sacred a trust." In response, President Eyring "assured her that her husband would be honored by her company in the temple because of her great spiritual power." This couple were strong members, and not because the husband was set apart to so important a calling. The calling came in part because of their strength of membership. I say "in part" because otherwise we're just running the administrative gospel backwards. "Okay, fine, not every strong member has a great calling, but everyone with a great calling is a strong member." Not necessarily. The problem with that view is that it can lead those with higher callings to rest assured of their strength, which no one should ever do. The apostle Peter, one of the strongest church members there ever was, was warned to watch always lest he fall. If Peter needs to doubt his own awesomeness, I think the rest of us could stand to be wary, also.

Someone reading this could say with a sniff, "Sounds like the sour grapes of someone who's never had a higher calling." Yeah, probably. This administrative gospel viewpoint is so widespread that I don't doubt I'm touched by it. The point here isn't that I'm so great that I don't see the gospel through the same false prism that you do (that would be a different false prism called the hipster gospel). The point is that we all, to some extent, look through these false prisms, but we'd do well to try to stop.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What's Wrong With Professional Development? Everything! (Write That Down.)

As part of my reassignment, I have to complete a professional development workshop. There is nothing in the world stupider than a professional development workshop.

The content is entirely opinions presented as facts (think of the "unhelpful high school teacher" meme). It focuses on meaningless platitudes instead of concrete directions (character traits students will have instead of tasks teachers will complete). It is the work of someone who justified his efforts through scale (Sixteen hours of material?! There must be something worthwhile in there!).

Here's one particular example. My materials read:

Albert Zauberman once said: “The worse the economy, the better the economists [sic]” This is now known as Zauberman’s Law.

Ooooh, Zauberman's Law! Better write that down and remember to use that in conversations so I sound smart!

Except when you Google search for "Zauberman's Law," here's what you get.

There is no Zauberman's Law. And it's unclear if there's even an economist named Albert Zauberman.

You get 17,000 results and none of the first page is about an economist named Albert Zauberman. Now, when you Google search for "[A Random Stranger] economist," you get 70,000 results and the first 12 are about me (the 13th is a false hit based on a misspelling, a common problem with my last name). So I'm more justified creating A Random Stranger's Law ("Professional development courses are for suckers") than the workshop creators are coming up with Zauberman's Law.

Working Conditions

Our school is using temporary space elsewhere on campus because of remodeling to our building. Yesterday we were told that the environmental cleanup for the World War Two commemoration parade has set construction back two months, so we will be using the temporary space all year instead of just the first semester.

I'm actually okay with that. Part of me getting reassigned to a different program was that both programs budgeted space for me, so instead of having a shared classroom like almost everyone else, my potential officemate and I are each going to have our own rooms.

I cannot even begin to tell you how productive this is going to make me.

Over the past 10 years or so I've learned a lot about myself. One of the things I've learned is that my procrastination is usually a play for solitude. I need to be left alone and be reasonably certain I will not be interrupted. When I worked in city government, I would spend the morning trying to look busy and then I would do all my work when my officemate was at lunch. When I worked later afternoons in Kansas, I would get everything done from 5 to 7 when I had the office to myself. Already this week I've been much more inclined to do work than check social media or read the news. I'm going to get work done this year, and that's awesome.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"What Does Freedom Mean to Me?"

Yesterday I was in some terrible training meeting. (Is there another kind?) We were formed into small groups and then asked to answer questions like, "What makes an effective teacher?" I said something to our group and then, in the silence that followed while we wrote it down, we heard a woman in the neighboring group repeat my idea to her own group.

One of my fellow group members leaned in and said, "Guys, they're cheating off us."

I said, "We should loudly say untrue things to throw them off."

My other group member leaned back out and said loudly, "You can never have enough alcohol in your desk."

PS: A different part of the meeting was about how serious plagiarism is.

Post title from Bart Simpson's homework in the episode where they have to steal the lemon tree back from Shelbyville.

School Security

Last year I had a classroom and a separate cubicle in a shared office. The students had access to the classroom during required evening study from 7 to 9 every night, during which time they were unsupervised. This was how every classroom smartboard had malware and viruses.

Last year I had students go through my things during periods when they knew I would not be at my desk. My Chinese colleagues working at neighboring desks watched it happen and told me about it when I returned, but made no effort to stop it. In fact, they told me that it was my fault for not locking up everything at my desk before walking away from it. (Note: they do not do that themselves.)

This year we are in temporary space while our building gets remodeled. Now my desk is in my classroom. This means that students will be able to go through my things during evening study.

I have a rolling filing cabinet with a lock, but that lock has been broken since before I began working here. I have a bookshelf with a locking door, but no one knows where the keys are. The locks of these items are the type that can stop someone opening them swiftly, but they will be no challenge for students with two hours of unsupervised time with them.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Pay Cuts of Tomorrow, in the News Today

Here's an article that says some people expect me to get a 25% pay cut by the end of my contract.

I feel like the five most-important years of my life were from the spring of 1996 to the spring of 2001. During that period of time, I didn't do very much. The period begins with me finishing high school, and it ends with me getting married. In between I served a mission, attended college for a while, failed out, and got engaged. Once I was married, I tried to make up for the lost time, but the damage was done. Everything is ruined now, and there's no catching back up.

What sucks about this is that I didn't feel at the time that I was doing anything especially dangerous. Yeah, I was going sort of leisurely about stuff, but when you're young you have time to do things like that, right? It seems like if I was ruining my life as badly as it turns out I was, I should have had feelings of foreboding and misgiving and whatnot.

If I had graduated university in the spring of 2001, I wouldn't be about to slide from the Chinese middle class to the Chinese lower class. Hell, I wouldn't be the Chinese anything class, because I wouldn't have failed out of the American lower class like I have.

I have more to say on this issue, but none of it is of interest to anyone else. Suffice it to say, I wish I had the years 1996 to 2001 to do over again.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Clean-Up on Aisle δΊ”

The easiest way to turn this video involved placing the giant watermark on it. Oh well. I just wanted to show you the grocery store zamboni that was cleaning up the dairy aisle.

Bonus crap: I took Jerome Jerome the Metronome to get a haircut on Saturday. We went to a new place because the last place became less impressive with each visit. I had to come home from my most-recent haircut and give myself another haircut. So we walked along a section of our street with four salons. Three were busy, and one was empty. I said to him, "That could be a sign that the locals know this place is crap." But we're dudes; what do we care what our hair looks like? So we went inside. The lady wanted to start his haircut off with a wash. Since the whole thing was going to cost three dollars, I said, "Why not?"

I sent this picture to my wife. She said he looks nervous. If he was just a few years older, he would have loved having some hot chick massaging his head for him.

Back at Work

I'm back at work today. Sort of. I'm using my temporary office without any students or colleagues around, and it's quite nice. It won't stay this way once we're all shoehorned into this too-small space, but I'm beginning to take a wait-and-see approach to things here in China, as in, "Wait a few weeks and see if the system hasn't collapsed yet." If the yuan tanks and the Chicoms impose capital controls, none of the staff can afford to be here anymore. Have you ever heard that old wives' tale about the Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times"?