Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I Was Hoping You'd Ask

If trees could talk, chainsaws would sleep easier at night.


It's written all over your face. Go find a mirror, or a shiny car quarter panel.

Notes From a Church Meeting

It wasn't a real church meeting about, like, Jesus and stuff, so it's cool.

County Fair Be Off the Hook

Miami County (OH) Fairgrounds. Startling implications.

Life-Cycle Spending and Government Expenditure

Economic theory shows that people tend to follow a general spending cycle over their lifetimes: they incur debt when they are young, they pay off the debt and save when they are middle-aged, and they dissave when they are old. This is logical behavior and only the ignorant bemoan it.

We hear a lot about how much healthcare spending is late in life, and about how preventive care would have been cheaper long-term. Cheaper for whom? By not electing for preventive care, the individual is indicating that, given his income constraints, he doesn't consider it cheaper. Would I rather have $80,000 in medical bills in 40 years or spend an extra $100 per month now. Without even getting into present value calculations, if I don't have an extra $100 per month now, I'm not going to pick that option.

When this spending is socialized, though, time horizons go away. Because the government is infinitely lived, it just runs present value calculations and passes a law drastically increasing my current spending without consideration of my income constraints. (Right now any government accountant reading this is thinking, "I know what the word 'income' means, and I know what the word 'constraints' means, but when they're used together like that I have no idea what he's trying to say.")

So the government is saving on hypothetical spending in 2053 by bankrupting me today. For the second time in three years, my health insurance plan has become illegal and I will not be able to keep it. In 2010 my premiums cost me $177.72 per quarter. Now I pay $353.31 per quarter, and that plan will now have to be replaced with something more expensive yet. The "Affordable Care Act" is doing just what it was intended to do: driving private individuals onto government insurance.

Pareto Disimprovement

Last weekend my parents were going to see a production of "War Horse."

"What's 'War Horse,'" my sons asked.

"She them the Saturday Night Live version," Crazy Jane suggested. (She enjoys comedic theory, and during a discussion a couple months ago, that skit came up and I showed it to her.)

I searched for the video and found a link on YouTube, complete with thumbnail shot, but upon clicking we discovered it was no longer available. So we tried Dailymotion, which is foreign and so often less compliant with American copyright laws. Same result. Then we tried Hulu, where we saw it originally. Same result. Finally, we tried NBC's official SNL page. The skit has its own webpage, but no video loads on the page. In taking down the video, they couldn't be bothered to remove its dedicated page.

This had happened to us the week before when I tried to show the kids "Helmet Head" to explain the use of the saying, "Soapy water?! Soapy water was the FIRST thing I tried! And then it was the TENTH thing I tried! And then it was the HUNDRETH thing I tried!" A video I'd seen for free on NBC's website just months before was gone.

This is a Pareto disimprovement. I am worse off and NBC is no better off. Because it's not like there's some money-making platform for the "Helmet Head" sketch. I'm not an anti-copyright libertarian; I think monopoly profits are a useful incentive to innovation. But since NBC is not selling access to the material somewhere else, there is no loss occurring. All that's happening is material is being kept locked up. Instead of copyright leading to a flourishing of the arts, it's producing the opposite: once-accessable art is effectively destroyed.

I understand taking it down from YouTube and Dailymotion because NBC needs to assert its control over the material. I understand removing free access if there is paid access somewhere else. I understand removing free access if the costs of providing that access are positive (NBC's not a comedy charity). But there is no paid access available elsewhere and the costs of creating a webpage and leaving it alone should be less than the value of the advertising space available on the webpage. Even without ads, NBC would be creating new fans who would pay for the material elsewhere (this is the explanation for why musicians still make money more than a decade after Napster). Instead, NBC is using real resources to make sure the world is less enjoyable. Which makes me rethink my support for intellectual property rights in the first place.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Crap State of Children's Literature

I get books from the library for our kids. My general rule is the book has to be published before 1970 to be worthwhile. We read newer books, like Pseudonymous Bosch's Secret Series and Joshua Lacey's Grk books, but they're like watching episodes of The Fall Guy or eating peanut butter fudge: highly entertaining, but detrimental in excess. Right now I'm reading The Bronze Bow (Elizabeth George Speare's 1962 Newbery Medal winner) with Articulate Joe and The Long Way Home by Margot Benary-Isbert (1959) to all three of the older kids.

What's wrong with modern children's books? They seek to validate rather than shape. They're full of characters "just like you!" who learn that it's "okay" to be just like you. If the characters have opinions about anything, they tend to learn that other opinions are just as valid. But Speare's Daniel learns that his disappointment in the teachings of Jesus is his own problem, and Benary-Isbert's Christoph experiences the oppression of statism in a real-life state, not in Panem. These books teach the superiority of Christian humility and pacifism to the state of war, and of individual liberty to collectivism.

I understand that kids with troubles need to see others experiencing those same troubles and overcoming them. That's helpful. But it seems like you can't get a children's book published today unless the main character is being abused or suffering from a psychosis. Even modern books that hint at dealing with deeper material (such as the Secret Series's dealing with the purpose of life) ends with meaningless platitudes; I maintain that there is supposed to be more to life than "getting to the other side," and on some level the novels function as a kiddie primer on existential-angst-cum-nihilism with their core theme that the "secret to life" is a joke.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interesting Justification

In this article about Mormon women seeking priesthood ordination (strictly speaking, though, what they really want is priesthood conferral), church spokesman Michael Purdy gives as justification for the church's male-only priesthood, "The Church follows the pattern set by the Savior when it comes to priesthood ordination." Meaning that the biblical record and ancient mainstream Christian tradition has no record of Christ conferring the priesthood upon women or ordaining women to priesthood offices.

Of course, we know that the biblical record is scant at best. The Bible itself says as much. Saying "well, the Bible doesn't mention it" is far from iron-clad reasoning.

Combined with the new introduction to Official Declaration 2, I would not be philosophically troubled by a future declaration of female priesthood conferral, though I think these groups should have more of an attitude of petition and less of demanding.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Perpetuating the Problem

The United States has spent $3.7 T over the past five years fighting poverty. That's $740 B per year. The Census Bureau says there are 46.5 M Americans in poverty. That's $15,913.98 per year per poor person. In 2012 there were 9.52 M households in poverty, meaning the average poor household has 4.88 people in it. If we just handed out the poverty expenditure, the average household would receive $77,660.22, more than 2.5 times the poverty level for a family of five.

What does this mean? It means the government could completely eliminate poverty for less money than it's currently spending on maintaining poverty. Every year every family below the poverty line could receive a check making up the difference (and some extra) and our spending on "the war on poverty" would be less than it is now.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Something I Realized During My 6th Poop of the Day

Prunes are very effective.

A Product of the Times

To some extent, our ability to conceptualize is limited by the prevailing thoughts found in our society. The hardest things to think of are the things no one has ever thought of before. We laugh at the anecdote from the Decembrist revolt about "Constantine and Constitution" (which Wikipedia says is not true, by the way), but the reason the story is plausible is because of this limitation of thought. In a society with no limits on the ruler's authority, it's hard to get your head around the idea of a piece of paper defining the limits of the ruler's authority. This is the reason for Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four; if the language of revolt is transformed into the language of conformity, it becomes difficult to even think of revolting.

In our new ward, there is a high-functioning-yet-still-nuts young man (HFYSNYM, pronounced "heh-FIZE-nim"). He sits in the foyer with his computer playing video games and loudly talking about science fiction and pop culture with anyone who has to leave sacrament meeting for any reason. My mother was frustrated with him because when she was the Seminary teacher she overheard him giving her Seminary students an endorsement of coffee, contra the Word of Wisdom. I said to my wife, "He's just a guy with a compulsive personality who has grabbed onto the things society has presented to him. If he had lived a thousand years ago, he'd be some monk's assistant and be as over-the-top into Christianity as he is now with Star Trek."

This is the biggest obstacle to Zion thinking--that we are surrounded by ideas and behaviors antithetical to unity and selflessness. All we see around us from infancy onward is consumerism and confrontational individuality (by which I mean not sovereign individuality representing the freedom of the individual, but the zero-sum "every man for himself" system that pits people against one another in a battle for survival like the contestants in The Hunger Games). Those of us too weak-minded to formulate another way (and that is most of us; I'm not claiming I'm some intellectual superior to the masses of fools) engage in the consumerism we come to believe represents the only possible course of action for modern humans.

I thought of that when I read this article about subprime auto loans. Now, I've had two auto loans in my life. The first was zero percent, and the second is 0.9 percent. So when I read about the unfortunate people in this article who have 21.95-percent loans, my heart breaks for them. They are ruining their lives because they can't see any way of living other than buying a car (or, in most cases, multiple cars). The government and banking system support a society based on consumerism, so policies and practices drive consumption of superfluous goods in excess of prudence and reason.

In the event we want to assign blame, we say it's the fault of the individuals. But who told them they needed to overextend themselves financially, be it in purchasing a car or two, purchasing a house, or purchasing a college education? Who gave them the money when they couldn't afford to do it themselves? Who created an education system that prohibits critical thinking and demonizes heterodox thinking? These people have had the advantage taken of them, just as surely as if they were robbed of their life savings. It is their misfortune to live in times when any other behavior has been rendered literally inconceivable.

PS: My favorite story about HFYSNYM comes from two Sundays ago: I was in the foyer with the Screamapilar and the speaker said something like, "We live in unstable times." HFYSNYM yelled to me, "I'll say! This country--" I silenced him and motioned to the ceiling speakers. That held him for a while, but a little later he yelled, "If you really want to know what's going on in this country, you need to read my blog!" I thought, "That would be highly entertaining," so I said, "What's the address? I'll check that out." Unfortunately, it's a Facebook group, which then led to HFYSNYM wanting to become my Facebook friend. Luckily the "still nuts" part came to my rescue and he forgot to send me a friend request.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Spontaneous Limits

Earlier this month, Don Boudreaux made an interesting observation over at his blog, Cafe Hayek. In reading John Marshall's opinion in Marbury v. Madison, he found the following sentence striking:

The powers of the legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten the constitution is written.
Boudreaux sees this as evidence that the restraints existed before the document outlining the restraints. This seems true to me. It is an important point in an age where shrill voices attempt to receive acclaim for blaming our current problems on the Constitution's restraints of government.

Of course, Marshall leaves open the possibility that a constitution is getting the limits wrong (and the rest of the opinion would appear to support this conclusion, since it creates a massive change to the Constitution). So we can debate whether the "real" restraints are more- or less-draconian than those currently found in the Constitution; that's still open for interpretation.

Whence these restraints? Well, they have to come from something that predates the government they are said to restrain. That can be God, or it can be the human rights of the individuals creating the government. But it can't be the government's sell-restraint. It is not the largesse of the government that gives us what rights it deigns allow us. Rights come from the primary rights-giver that existed before government.

Many people like to point out there's no right to privacy in the Constitution. Under Marshall's reasoning, this does not mean man has no right to privacy, only that the Constitution does not now include such a right. If I have such a right, it is not a gift of the NSA, nor can it be negated at the NSA's discretion. And if there is a fundamental right to an abortion, it is not now in the Constitution, but its inclusion or opposite-of-inclusion (I don't have time to look that crap up; I'm late for swimming with my son) has no bearing on its existence.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Annihilism Responses

America is in the grasp of annihilism, my term for the moral system that finds death superior to life. (Here's an article questioning why immigrants risk harm to come here, only to actively seek to destroy what made America worth the journey.) What does this mean for our future? I had a professor who told us, "When things get really bad, I've got enough money to get out and move to New Zealand." I have a brother who likes to say he's going to move to New Zealand. The thing is, though, that there's not really a nation on Earth that has the type of easy immigration necessary to just up and leave on short notice. Even if it's not out-right prohibited, most countries will only allow you in if you are coming for a job (that the firm has demonstrated can't be filled by domestic workers) or if you are independently wealthy and won't work at all.

This post isn't about how stupid is the zero-sum economic reasoning of most people. (But I can't help myself, so I'll summarize it thus: there are not a finite number of jobs in the world, so someone working in one job has no bearing in whether another job is available for you; it actually makes it more likely because when their labor is specialized they have greater need for others to do labor for them.) My point here is merely that none of us is moving to New Zealand "when things get really bad."

We have four options: 1)Not go anywhere, 2)Leave before it gets bad, 3)Work to keep it from getting bad, or 4)Bunker down somewhere safe domestically.

  1. Maybe things won't get terrible in my lifetime. Maybe a new stable equilibrium will emerge quickly. Maybe things will never get bad at all. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to have the worst pass me by. These don't seem plausible to me. The American ruling class no longer tolerates a free citizenry. Even if I don't have a dislike for slavery, a large segment of the population does, which will create unrest while they are subdued.
  2. How do you know when to leave? Leaving is expensive and complex. Most of the places to go require knowing a different language. What's to say they will be any better? Most countries' track-records on liberty are pretty poor. If the state is weak enough, its attempts to subject its citizenry can lead to statelessness, but is the citizenry moral enough for statelessness to be survivable? It seems a shame to go to a lot of hassle to not actually avoid the dangers you're trying to escape.
  3. A surprising number of people seem to subscribe to this theory. Surprising because it's failed so consistently for so long. If it were sufficient for me to be moral and to encourage my neighbors to be the same, we wouldn't be in this position today. I know, I know: Melchizedek did it, but I'm not Melchizedek. Nothing I can do can have any bearing on society at large or my peers in particular.
  4. Get away from the cities where people will tear each other apart like dogs, defend yourself, and wait it out. But this underestimates the reach of the government. Where in America can you actually escape the reach of tyrannical government? And the government's attempts to disarm its subjects will extend to you. People talk a big game about defending their Second Amendment rights, but who is really going to shoot the government official who comes to confiscate your arms? In this scenario a sudden collapse is preferable to a slow decline, but a sudden collapse requires faster preparation in the face of no apparent danger.

The problem is that it takes years of plenty to prepare for years of famine. I know I was told to prepare, and I know I did an insufficient job. "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." I'd like a reprieve, but I don't think we are going to get one. I'm going to have to make my preparations for the future while I don't even have enough for the present.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

American's Uneducated Idea of "Education"

A few months ago, the Real Salt Lake v. Toronto FC soccer game had to be shown on tape delay in Utah. Like all TV stations, the station that owned the rights to the game was required to shown three hours of children's "educational" programming each week. The station had sold the block of time to another company, which didn't agree to move the programming, so the soccer game had to move.

The educational programming was "Yu-Gi-Oh!"

This requirement, and the non-educational methods of fulfilling it, is directly responsible for Ren Stevens's terrible "We Went to the Moon in 1969" song.

To hear the most-common objections to homeschooling, the raison d'être of public education is socialization. Children must spend 13 years being taught state worship and moral relativism so they can pick up friend-making skills that they would learn in a single Saturday afternoon at a community event. "But good parents work at home to counter the ill effects of public school." This is like saying, "Good parents take their kids for chemotherapy after forcing them to play with mercury all day." If that's what "good parents" do, then the parents who refuse access to the mercury must be just terrible.

Show me the parent that completes the sentence "When I want my child to learn something, I turn on the TV program..." with the name "Yu-Gi-Oh!" Such a parent doesn't exist. So why does the government give such a show credit as educational? Forty years of social engineering in schools has created the modern world where the average American is dumber than the average adult on the planet. But you know what we need? More money for iPads and more educational programming on TV and above all, more socialization. That's what most American adults believe.

Of course, these are the opinions of the dumber-than-average, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Willful Surrender v. Seizure

Danes were recently ranked the happiest people on Earth. Consequently, there's been a lot of discussion about what makes Danes happy, and how we can get in on that action, or where in America are we closest.

Americans are said to be interested in the Danish model. (But seriously, who's not interested in a Danish model? Mmmm, danish.) And then the discussion turns to recriminations: who's the bastard keeping us from being a giant-ass Denmark?!

This article tries to explain how Danes feel about their own model.

When asked why they are happy, Danes usually give two reasons. First, they point out that most of their society is not created for the upper class. ... Second, they mention the great services that the state provides.
So if Denmark has it great and we don't, it could be that our "society" (represented by the puppy in Chrissy Taylor's groundbreaking children's book The Puppy Who Lost His Way) has been designed for the benefit of the upper class, and we don't have enough government services.

Why do we have these two problems? I believe they are related. Firstly, we have a society designed for the benefit of the upper class because we have a government run by the upper class. Only 1% of Americans are millionaires, but 47% of congressmen are. There's the argument that one must be independently wealthy to dedicate his life to public service, but the $174,000-per-year salary is over three times the median household income of the country. You don't have to be rich to be a congressman, but being a congressman will make you rich.

Sure, becoming a congressman involves an expensive campaign, but why does it cost $1.4 M to become a representative and nearly $9 M to become a senator? Buyers spend up to the value of the item. A Senate seat is worth $9 M of prestige, bribes, future employment leads, and power.

If we want to stop attracting the rich to positions of power, we need to make the positions of power less powerful.

Secondly, America is lacking in desired government services because the American people do not trust the American government with the authority that comes with the provision of those services. Time and again, the American ruling class has shown its doubtworthiness, with many examples from just the past 12 months. The IRS requires (contra the Fifth Amendment) the self-reporting of financial records, which it shares with the White House for political purposes. The NSA listens to phone calls and reads e-mails of citizens not suspected of any crime. The Department of Agriculture used its access to public funds to redistribute billions of dollars to the supposed victims of discrimination who were not required to demonstrate any actual discrimination. State and local governments are guilty of countless other violations of the public trust. Is it any wonder that a majority of Americans do not want a federal presence in their healthcare decisions?

The problem with expanded government services is the expanded bureaucracy of discretion that provides them. The creation of personal fiefdoms and attendant vassals is the hallmark of the government monopoly of service provision.

When a government is trustworthy, its citizens willfully surrender more control. But a government that wants to wrestle that control from its citizens is demonstrating its doubtworthiness. There are plenty of instances in our own lives when we are okay with something for which we volunteer, but having the same experience forced on us would be seen as a violation of privacy and liberty. It's not just a matter of pridefully rejecting someone else's authority. Acknowledging this distinction is the basis for marital rape laws. Denmark has surrendered some freedoms to its government which the Danes feel they can trust, but Americans can't do the same because their government isn't trustworthy.

How does Denmark eliminate competition in social services without the loss of quality (and freedom) experienced in America? How does Denmark trust its government? How are Danes okay with the loss of social status associated with lower inequality?

The Intellectual Life: Quotations

"Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker." p. xviii

"Great men seem to us men of great boldness; in reality they are more obedient than others. The sovereign voice speaks to them." pp. xxi-xxii

"The man who has not the sense of true greatness is easily exultant or easily depressed, sometimes both together." p. xxii

"A life with too ambitious an aim or one content with too low a level is a misdirected life." pp. xxii-xxiii

"When the world does not like you it takes its revenge on you; if it happens to like you, it takes its revenge still by corrupting you. Your only resource is to work far from the world, as indifferent to its judgments as you are ready to serve it." p. xxiii

"To start precipitately on a road which one could not tread with a firm step would be merely to prepare the way for disillusionment." p. 3

"To get something without paying for it is the universal desire; but it is the desire of cowardly hearts and weak brains." p. 6

"Have you two hours a day? Can you undertake to keep them jealously, to use them ardently, and then, being of those who have authority in the Kingdom of God, can you drink the chalice of which these pages would wish to make you savor the exquisite and bitter taste? If so, have confidence. Nay, rest in quiet certainty." p. 11

"By practicing the truth that we know, we merit the truth that we do not yet know." p. 19

"Contemplation, whether religious or secular, scientific, artistic, or literary, is not compatible with the complications and burdens of an excessively comfortable life. 'Big men have little beds,' notes Henri Lavedan. There is a luxury tax to be paid on intellectual greatness." p. 42

"Slacken the tempo of your life. ... Society life is fatal to study. ... When one thinks of a man of genius, one does not imagine him dining out." p. 42

"The things that count must set up a barrier between him and the things that do not count." p. 49

"The workshops of old, especially those of the artists, were a gathering of friends, a family. The workshop of today is a jail, or a union meeting." p. 54

"One begins with enthusiasm, then as some difficulty arises, the demon of laziness whispers: What is the good? Our vision of the goal grows dim; the fruit of effort is too distant or appears too bitter; we have a vague sense of being duped." p. 55

"...in society a man passes the more surely for clever, the more he has killed his intelligence." p. 60

"Evening! How little, usually, people know about making it holy and quiet, about using it to prepare for really restorative sleep! How it is wasted, polluted, misdirected!" p. 91

"...dissipation is not rest, it is exhaustion." p. 92

"It is very important to work in joy, therefore with relative ease, therefore in the direction of one's aptitudes." p. 119

"The great enemy of knowledge is our indolence; that native sloth which shrinks from effort, which does indeed consent now and then capriciously, to make a big effort but soon relapses into careless automatism, regarding a vigorous and sustained impetus as a regular martyrdom." p. 124

"The strong man rears the ladder of Jacob before him for the ascent and descent of the angels that visit us." p. 125

"Everything must have a beginning. 'The beginning is more than the half of the whole,' said Aristotle. If you produce nothing you get a habit of passivity; timidity grows continually and the fear caused by pride; you hesitate, waste your powers in waiting, become as unproductive as a knotted tree-bud." pp. 200-1

"One should never write 'in the manner of' so-and-so, even if the so-and-so were oneself. One must not have a manner; truth has none; it is there, objectively real; it is always fresh and new." pp. 205-6

"Inspiration is incompatible with selfish desire. Whoever wants something for himself sets truth aside: the jealous God will not sojourn with him. We must work, we said, in a spirit of eternity; what is less eternal than an ambitious aim? You are consecrated to truth, you must serve, not use it." p. 210

"One wants to keep one's secret; one hides one's lack of competence; one poses as big, knowing oneself to be little; one 'asserts,' 'declares,' 'is sure'; at bottom one does not know; one imposes on the public; and, half-duped by one's own game, one deceives oneself." p. 211

"This virtue of independence is so much the more necessary as the public, in the mass, has all the qualities needed to pull you down. The public has the elementary school mentality. In most circles and by the majority of its votes it proclaims conventions, not truths; it likes to be flattered; it fears above everything to have its quietude disturbed. To get it to listen to the essential truths, you must impose them by sheer insistence. You can do it, and the solitary thinking must try to exercise this felicitous violence." pp. 213-4

"The very people who require you to court their favor despise a flatterer and surrender to a master." p. 214

"The ruses of sloth are endless, like those of children." p. 217

"When one does not make room for rest, the rest one does not take takes itself; it steals into the work, under the form of distractions, of sleepiness, of necessary things that demand attention, not having been foreseen at the right time." p. 245

"Use wiles with yourself if necessary; promise yourself in the moment of effort some pleasant relief of which the thought alone will refresh your mind until the moment comes when the actual pleasure will renew your energy." p. 247

"Work cures the pains of work and those of the worker...." p. 249

"It is childish to defend one's work or to try to establish its worth. Worth defends itself." p. 251

"What do you desire? Vain glory? Profit? Then you are but a pseudo-intellectual." p. 253

"Truth is revealed little by little; those who bring it out of the shadow have not the right to ask it to make them a halo...." p. 253

"Sadness and doubt kill inspiration; but they kill it only when one yields to them." pp. 254-5

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Time Share Children

Two kids in Virginia recently were suspended from school for playing with guns on private property outside of school hours. This is another instance of the MacGyverization of America's children, an attempt to teach them that there's absolutely nothing worse in the world than a gun. This has two purposes: it makes them cower in fear of those who have guns and it makes it certain they will never use a gun themselves. This is very desirable to those who would use guns to rule over us.

Equally troubling in this article is the one boy's mother's quote. "My son is my private property. He does not become the school's property until he goes to the bus stop, gets on the bus, and goes to school."

I disagree that child ever becomes the "property" of the school, but I also disagree that the child starts as the "property" of the parent. Kids have a weird legal status. Within some non-natural boundaries, I can do whatever I want with my kid, but outside of those boundaries I cannot, and the placement of those boundaries changes with popular opinion. So in ancient Rome and Israel, a parent could kill a child. Now he cannot. In more-recent times, a parent could sell a child. Now he cannot (aside from some weird implications of how adoptions work, but nobody involved wants to think of it as "selling"). Within my lifetime, a parent could seek (or not seek) appropriate medical care for a child. Now he cannot. And just a few years ago, a parent could name the child after historical figures he admires. Now he cannot.

What's wrong with this march of children's freedom? Well, the stated goal of some advocates is to remove all parent decisions that don't pass muster with the collective. We homeschool our children to (in part) keep them from being indoctrinated with the wrong opinions of the social majority. We teach our children religion. There are those who view both as forms of child abuse.

I've blogged before about the bad situations of some kids and the limited ways in which we can respond. I don't expect to solve the conundrum in one (or two) blog posts. But I think this mother does herself and her son a disservice when she speaks in terms of children as property. Once you've conceded that argument, you've granted that you hold title to your children--like all your other property--at the mercy of the state. I hold that my position with respect to my children is not that of a property owner and cannot be transferred to the state voluntarily or by force. There should be a legal mechanism to recognize when a parent has forfeited his right to his position, but it requires a society with similar morals. A means of leaving a society does not exist, but since the days of John Locke all arguments of individual liberty have been based on that idea. Without it, we're all just the state's property, children and adults alike.

Hypocrisy U.

A for-profit university, Grand Canyon University, is transitioning to Division I athletics. The presidents of the Pac-12 don't like it. The president of Arizona State University said, "A university using intercollegiate athletics to drive up its stock value — that’s not what we’re about."

So, what are you all about? Tyler Cowen once said in class, "It's a little unclear what a university is trying to maximize. Do any of you have any idea what George Mason University is trying to maximize? I've been here for 15 years and I still don't know." But whatever a university is trying to accomplish, it certainly seems to involve athletics. Nearly every major university in the nation runs its own multi-million- (sometimes billion-) dollar corporation using indentured servants. Because most athletic departments are separate entities, their success does not necessarily advance the academic missions of their universities. That might be ancillary, but it's definitely not primary.

Universities are using intercollegiate athletics to drive up the wealth/power/prestige of the university president and athletic director. That's what ASU, every other school in the Pac-12, and nearly every other school in Division I is about. And it's unclear to me that this is so morally superior to driving up stock value. Stock is more-diversely held than the wealth/power/prestige combination ASU is maximizing, so benefits more people when its value increases. The Pac-12 continues to schedule contests against NCAA-rules-violating schools like USC (a Pac-12 member), but helping grow grandma's retirement portfolio is beyond the pale!

I think what's really happening here is top-tier schools fighting second-tier schools' attempts to blur the remaining distinctions between them. When Americans think about "going to college," they imagine the ASU experience much more than they imagine the GCU experience. Schools like Grand Canyon, University of Phoenix, Strayer University, and their for-profit ilk are seen as a tangible step down from the nation's non-profit colleges and universities. Billions of dollars are made at the top of that pyramid. The more second-tier schools provide top-tier experiences, the less money comes to top-tier schools. The Pac-12's behavior is nothing more than ordinary rent-seeking behavior.

Hey, I've finally answered Tyler Cowen's question.

Monday, October 14, 2013


The Idaho job rejected me. Then several weeks later they called and asked if I was still interested. I went out for an interview and came to really look forward to the job. I was one of two finalists. Then I was rejected again. Because, you know, the initial rejection was too easy to take.

My parents offered to allow us to move in with them. Persephone and I both thought that was a terrible idea, but the more we compared our options and thought about what it would really be like, it began to look not so bad. I got a job interview in Nebraska and we decided that, comparing the Nebraska job to the offer from my parents, living with my parents would be better for us. So we decided to move to Ohio.

The Pirates had a winning record. They lost the division by three games, which sucked because I could name four games they had no business losing (Startling Marte's drop in Saint Louis, Bryce Harper's home run in Washington, Mark Melancon's blown save against San Diego, and Jordy Mercer's throwing error against Cincinnati). The Pirates won the wild card game against Cincinnati, then lost a five-game series against Saint Louis (where home field advantage would have been very helpful). It was a little hard to accept that the Pirates had won half their games against the Cardinals and were somehow adjudged to be the worse team. But a winning record and October baseball went a long way towards dispelling the gloom that bad been hanging over my life since 1992.

I was blogging and thought I should write a blog post for every year of my life. Then I realized I've been alive for a lot of years and they were all either pathetic or boring (usually both), but it was too late because I'd already begun. Then I was writing the last sentence of the last blog post of the series.


I got two more jobs, bringing my total to four. After a while, I quit one, but kept the three teaching positions. One was at a school 100 miles away, in anticipation of moving away from Washington, but that never worked out for us, so I spent the school year driving to Richmond twice each week.

We had our fourth kid. He spent the next four months screaming as loudly as possible. I applied for a job in Idaho we thought would be great. Our two biggest kids learned how to ride a bike.


I graduated with a master's degree. My mother watched our kids while Persephone and I went camping in West Virginia. Armed with my new degree, I got a worse job than I got in 2001 with nothing but a high school diploma. But I also was hired to teach in my department (although teaching in a university was another thing I had done years before with two-fewer college degrees). We flew out west to visit some family and then I came home early to move us across town and sit for my field exams, which I passed. I had entered the final phase of graduate school.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


I already wrote about 2010, back in 2010. Now that I'm into the years where I was blogging (my blog began in 2006), I don't have that much to add to what I've already said elsewhere.

We went to Philadelphia for the Holidays (i.e.: spring break), and I said, a la Gob Bluth, "I've made a huge mistake." We started scaling state high points. We began our yearly habit of going nearly bankrupt every August. I spent some time as a temporary employee at a utility installation company for terribly little money. The workers had crazy drama going on that I tried my best to avoid.


I heard back from graduate schools. Eventually we were deciding between Philadelphia and Washington. We went to Washington because the school was my first choice. But I think our lives would have been much more enjoyable had we gone to Philadelphia.

We went on a vacation to Utah in July, then moved to Virginia in August. My program had evening classes, so I would sleep from 2 AM to 10 AM. My home teaching companion heard that and thought I was the laziest person he'd ever heard of.


We had our third kid. He was born with a bum heart (meaning a heart with a defect, not the actual heart of a homeless man--kids aren't born with such things, but have to wrestle them out of the corpses of the homeless they've killed themselves using principles learned from first-person computer games). He had heart surgery when he was two weeks old, and he hasn't had a noticeable problem since then.

At the end of the year, I began to apply to graduate schools. We weren't sure where we were going: Boston, Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Saint Louis, Nashville, or Houston.


The place I worked kept firing workers. In their defense, though, a lot of those workers needed firing. (But who should be blamed for hiring them in the first place?) I decided to go to graduate school after finishing my bachelor's degree. There was a large gap between the level of math I'd have to complete to graduate and the level of math I'd have to complete to be accepted to grad school, so I became a math minor and began filling that gap. We traveled around the Midwest a lot.

Friday, October 11, 2013


I applied to begin night classes at KU. I was accepted, then learned that KU had no degree paths available at night. Coming from Los Angeles, where every university had the option, I was unprepared. I would have to go to school during the day, which meant I would have to do something about my work schedule.

The mapping company was open to the idea of me taking classes during the day and rearranging my work schedule. They kept saying, "You'll have to go to part-time." But when I asked what that meant, they didn't know. How would my salaried position convert to hourly? They'd have to get back to me on that. I was accepted for the fall semester and registered for classes, but they still hadn't determined my compensation package. I had to take vacation time to attend the first day of class. I went to work and said, "This needs to be finalized in the next two days." I had proposed a 40-hour schedule that involved me working late every evening and working all day on Saturdays. They had rejected it. Now they came to me and said I would be limited to a maximum of 29 hours per week. They computed the cash value of my benefits, added that to my salary, then divided by 52 weeks, then divided by 29 to determine my new hourly rate.

I felt like one of those poker players who has to pretend like he hasn't just been handed the deal of a lifetime. I was going to work 29 hours to get what I used to work 40 hours to get. I was receiving a 38% raise.

Two days after I accepted their offer, they must have figured it out, because they came to me and said, "Or, if you prefer, we can do the schedule you originally proposed." I said no thanks. Management hated my guts for the rest of the time I worked there.

I started school. I went to my first class and told myself, "There's no pressure. All you have to do is graduate. Grades don't matter." Leaving my first class I told myself, "Unless you want to go to graduate school."

I had to travel with the company's biggest jerk (and at that company, that was a title that was hard to claim) because everyone else had been their long enough to know him and refuse the assignment. I used the opportunity to travel to New Mexico to get new counties, including Los Alamos, a tiny county I had not visited even though I'd been to all its surrounding counties.


I worked until February because I thought I could help train my replacement. But government regulations prohibited the city from advertising my position until the first day I wasn't working anymore. I guess in case I changed my mind. So my effort to ease the transition was wasted.

On my separation papers I checked "retirement" as my reason. The HR lady crossed that out.

I had over $10,000 in my retirement account. We cashed it out and figured it would last us until September. By then, whatever we would be doing would need to have come around.

I finished my associate's degree and intended to enroll in the state university in the next county over. Then the new state university in our county added economics degrees for the fall. That seemed propitious. I applied, was accepted, and enrolled.

At the very end of July we went to Utah for Persephone's friend's wedding. We were planning to stay until Monday morning, drive to Las Vegas and stay Monday night, then finish our trip home on Tuesday. But for some reason I woke up Sunday and packed our things and checked out of the hotel. The clerk didn't express alarm that I was a day early. We packed our car and then spent the day seeing sights. We tried to go to church and ended up in the foyer because the chapel was full. There were no speakers in the foyer and they never brought the sacrament out. Then we started driving to Las Vegas. I told Persephone to call and tell the hotel we'd be there late. They said, "You have no reservation for today." That was when we realized what had gone wrong that morning. They had no available rooms for Sunday night, and they would not refund our room rate for missing our Monday night stay because we were giving less than 24-hours' notice. We had nothing to do but just drive straight home. We arrived around 4 AM.

I was irate. The entire problem was a result of me making a mistake and not even realizing it was a mistake. The same thing happened in 1996 when I crashed my truck: I had pulled over to sleep, but then for some unknown reason I had awoken convinced I needed to leave right away or I would be late for something important. In reality, I had over 20 hours to complete the remaining five hours of my drive.

But by coming home from Utah Sunday night instead of Tuesday, I was home and available when my father called to tell me my older brother's family was having problems in Kansas and ask if I could fly out the next day to help.

By this time we had begun entertaining the idea of moving out of state soon than we had originally anticipated, so while I was in Kansas, Persephone looked on the Internet for job postings. She found one at a mapping company in Lawrence, Kansas, about an hour from my brother. I applied and called to see if I could interview while I was in the area.

I presented myself as "moving to Kansas," instead of "maybe moving to Kansas if I can find a job." The mapping company wanted to know when I would move. I wanted to know when I would be hired. Eventually they said they were going to hire two more employees after the start of the fiscal year in September, and that I would be one of them. Persephone and I decided I would move with our things at the end of August. She and our kids would stay in California until I was working.

I guess we were thinking that would keep our living expenses down, or that, if things didn't work out in Kansas, I'd move back. But then it kind of became obvious to us that we had already crossed that Rubicon, so they flew to Kansas on September 14th.

The mapping company said it would be October, not September. A man at church worked for a temporary agency and told me he could get me a job if I wanted something to do for a few weeks. I figured, "Sure, might as well make money while I'm waiting." I worked at a garage door factory. I ate water for two meals a day, helping reduce our grocery bill and helping me lose weight. Our entire family had to wake up at 5 AM to drive me to work. At least it was only for two weeks.

After four weeks at the garage door factory, the mapping company called up one day and told my wife (since I wasn't home) that they wouldn't be hiring anyone. They asked her to pass along the message. And they wished us luck. Which was nice.

The next week I got laid off from the garage door factory.

Just to point out how terrible 1997 was, 2005 was still not the worst year of my life.

Our retirement account had been exhausted. Our credit cards were approaching max-out (a collection of debt that lingers with us today). I took a job working at Triple-A.

In December, the mapping company called to tell me they were hiring me. I had reservations about working for a company that was so chaotic, but with very few alternatives, I took the job.

PS: Persephone just walked in and asked, "What are you typing about?" I said, "2005." She looked concerned. She said, "We've done a good job making it look like our life is awesome and then you go and ruin that by being, like, 'Here it is, people.'" She would like you to retain your initial (false) impression that our life is awesome. If you could do that, that would be great.


Articulate Joe was due towards the end of April. We didn't want him to be born on our anniversary. He was.

Persephone came to get me from work for lunch, and when I got in the car she said she thought she was having contractions. She wasn't sure she wanted to go to the hospital yet, and I was starving, so we went through the McDonald's drive-thru while she figured out what her uterus was doing. It turned out it was squeezing out a baby, so we went to the hospital and, within two hours, had a son.

I promise the birth stories of Child #3 and Child #4 don't involve me eating lunch while my wife's in labor.

By the end of the year, I wanted to quit my job. I felt like a tool of the state, using the police power to raise the property values of existing home owners. An old man within the city's sphere of influence had a failed septic system and I got to tell him he had to spend $15,000 to annex to the sewer district. I didn't relish being the face of oppression. Many of our decisions were designed to enrich the already rich at the expense of the poor. Instead of wondering why a family was living in another's garage and trying to correct the situation, we evicted the garage dwellers and then exacerbated the problem with severe land use restrictions. How terrible is someone's life before they agree to live in a garage? Why weren't we doing anything to improve those terrible lives?

I did not like the prevailing model of the American family: kids go to school, parents go to work, and the home is a collection of boarders. I read Thomas Keneally's Abraham Lincoln and found I thoroughly agreed with Lincoln's take on labor, wages, and entrepreneurship. It was very important to me that, by the time Crazy Jane was school aged, I would work from home and we would homeschool our kids. In this sense, I wasn't a conservative who wanted to turn the clock back to the 1950s so much as I was a conservative who wanted to turn the clock back to the 1750s. To be in a position to work from home, I would need to finish school faster than I was as a full-time worker. I would quit my full-time job.

Of course, a lot of this was dependent on God helping me out for doing what He would have me do. But to have faith in that, I'd have to know that I was doing what He would have me do. Which is tricky sometimes. I spent a long time trying to understand what God would want me to do. Finally, I concluded that my good-faith efforts to understand God's will put the ball in His court; if I tried my best to understand and then pursued a course of action, it was His responsibility to dissuade me from traveling down a wrong path. I felt strongly that I would not be free as God intended as long as I worked for someone else in a wage-earning setting, that I would not be raising my children as God intended as long as I turned their care and education over to government, and that I would not be building family relationships as God intended as long as I was away from my family members for a majority of our waking hours.

In November I told my boss I wanted to quit and go to school full time. He said I should think about switching to part-time and going to school in the evenings, and that the city had an education assistance plan. But I didn't feel driven to study urban planning, and I didn't want to enter a drawn-out process. I wanted to be out of California within five years (the problems with living in California are an entirely different subject). He told me to think about it and we'd talk again after the first of the year, but the more I thought about it the more I was worried I'd end up second-guessing myself out of something I was supposed to do, so before the end of December I told him I was sure.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


We were awesome parents.

We got a new car at the end of 2002. A guy from church was starting a financial consulting firm. He guilted us into talking about our finances with him and he was going to come up with a plan to help us out. Our only debt was a zero-percent-interest car loan and we saved 10 percent of each paycheck. I had a retirement account through my job. He didn't have any suggestions of what we should change.

If that dude could see our finances now.

But back then things were great. We ate at restaurants a couple times each week. We bought a new book about once each week. We bought more Little People sets than Crazy Jane could possibly play with.

Persephone's parents were planning to serve a church mission, so they invited us to move into their house and tend it while they were gone. Soon after we moved in, however, her father was called as bishop of the ward. So we were living with my in-laws, which made us even richer once our $1,100-month rent payment for our one-bedroom apartment was gone.

In September we went on a vacation with my extended family to Lake of the Ozarks. Everyone learned from the experience, and we've never tried it again.


Persephone was a cute pregnant lady. I gained a lot of weight. All of a sudden, I was slightly rotund.

We took a tour of the hospital's birthing center. The tour leader kept referring to "vag delivery." In the anonymous survey afterwards, I wrote, "The tour sounded like the dialog of a bad porno."

Our birthing class was taught by our sister-in-law who told us that, despite what you see on TV, rarely is the first sign of labor having your water break. But one Friday morning Persephone was getting ready to go to Target and her water broke. I left work and took her to the hospital. She was having no contractions but Crazy Jane was now exposed to the outside world, so Persephone would have to be induced. They hooked her up to Petocin and left us with a TV. It was sooooooooo boring.

Since nothing was going on, I left. I went to get something to eat, then I stopped by the store to get Persephone a book to read. When I got back, she had started having contractions in my absence and was sort of bitter about it.

She got an epidural that didn't work. The anesthesiologist came back and yelled at her (and didn't fix it). She labored all night. Crazy Jane was born around 6 AM on Saturday. About an hour later they moved us to a recovery room, where the tour leader came to passive-aggressively confront us about our responses to the anonymous survey.

About a month later, friends of ours who had a vacation home near Yosemite let us go there for a weekend. It was a brand new home, and while we were washing our sheets before leaving the final day, the sewer line backed up into the house. We got it under control, but we had to report back to them that we flooded their house. It turned out to not be our fault--the septic contractor hadn't turned on either of the two leach fields, so sewage went down the pipe to the junction and then stopped. We were the unfortunate users who were there when the backup reached the house. But we still got spooked by it and have never again used friends' houses while they weren't there.

That Christmas we flew to Virginia for a family gathering at my sister's house.


... put my arm around her shoulder and kissed her on the temple. The party continued. Around one, we ended up playing darts against each other. I had spent a lot of the previous summer playing darts, so I imagined I'd have a pretty easy time of it. But I lost. And, sadly, I wasn't even trying to let her win.

Or maybe not so sadly, because immediately upon throwing her winning dart, we were kissing.

On the way home, I told her, "Well, I know it's only a couple hours old, but so far this has been the best year of my life." I had my return ticket to Utah already, and my plan was to wait out the school until they let me back in. So after spending the first week of the year dating Persephone again, it was time for me to leave. We had a talk about what would happen while she was in California and I was in Utah, and that was when she told me she was "70 percent [my] girlfriend."

I boarded my flight. We took off and the day was clear enough that I could see Ventura County, could see Persephone's neighborhood. I thought, "What am I doing going back to Utah when my girlfriend is in California?" So I landed in Utah, got online and rented a moving truck and drove my stuff back home.

I got a job at Staples. I had to get up at 4 AM. I would occasionally see people I knew, which was embarrassing. One time I saw a guy from the city government who knew me from when I interned there the previous summer. He told me of a temporary opening I should apply for.

Staples was a terrible job. When applying I had to answer written interview questions. One read, "How many shouting matches have you been in at work in the past year?" The next question read, "How many shoving matches have you been in at work in the past year?" At first I thought it was a repeated question, so I went back and read it more carefully. I thought, "What kind of people do they have applying here?!" Then in the oral interview, the manager asked, "What are you willing to do in the line of work?" Like a good applicant, I said, "Whatever the job requires." The manager said, "Part of your duties involve hourly inspecting the restrooms. Let's say one time you go in there and see the stall is covered in feces. What would you do?" I thought, "This is the weirdest hypothetical situation I've ever heard."

But it wasn't a hypothetical.

After getting hired, I went once to inspect the restrooms and found one stall with feces all over the walls, door, toilet, and floor. I quietly backed out of the restroom and waited for a coworker with the same responsibility to discover it. Later that day he came to me and said, "Man, you would never believe what I just had to do!" I acted surprised.

Also, we weren't allowed to use coupons ("Coupons are supposed to bring in customers who wouldn't otherwise be here, but you're here already"), and we had to clock out at 10 PM and then close the store (balancing registers, re-shelving put-backs, and sweeping the floors). I complained and the assistant manager said, "It helps make sure you do it faster." When I left with less-than-two-weeks' notice, the assistant manager told me it was very unprofessional of me and reflected negatively on my religion. But I figured it got us even for the no-coupon and unpaid-overtime issues.

Persephone and I got married in April. So it seemed to some folks like we only dated for four months before our wedding, but it was really more like nine years.

We couldn't afford to live in our town, so we had to illegally rent a granny flat. I worked for the city department that enforced the granny flat regulations. When coworkers asked where we were living, I had to change the subject. When I was finally hired full-time, we moved to a legal apartment.

We were in bed asleep when my mother-in-law called to tell us about September 11th. We got out of bed and turned on the TV and saw the second tower collapse. Then I went to work for the day. Someone came in to get a permit and asked, "How are you?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Yeah, me too."

By the end of the year, Persephone was pregnant with Crazy Jane.


Lots of people went around saying we had started a new millennium. We hadn't; we were in the final year of the old one.

I broke up with my fiancee in an incredibly-slow process that probably ensured she hated me as much as possible at the end. I started very casually seeing a girl from Arizona. She went to Europe for the summer, and mailed me a letter telling me she didn't like me anymore. She must have really wanted to let me know, since Air Mail is more expensive than a standard letter.

Then I dated a really tall girl. She was fun; at the video store (remember those?) the clerk asked, "Are you two, like, the tallest couple in the world?" and she said, "We might be." (I've since seen a news article about the tallest couple in the world, and it wasn't us.)

The tall girl was done with me in one month. (Yes, everybody breaks up with me. I'm aware of what this says about my quality.) The day she broke up with me was Persephone's birthday, so I sent Persephone a happy birthday e-mail. She answered. We e-mailed a few times.

Back at college for my final semester (you only get to fail three semesters in a row before they kick you out), Persephone was finishing college the actual, graduating way. She was student teaching at a high school and invited me to go to her school's football game, but I was busy that evening. I invited her to go to a dinner with a senator (I was chairman of College Republicans at the largest university in the state). At the dinner, the senator's staff took our picture and said they'd mail it to us. They didn't.

The year before at a College Republicans meeting, we had a speaker who was like a real-life Indiana Jones. He had gotten himself smuggled into Chechnya to make a documentary about it. (How do you get yourself smuggled into Chechnya? He said he went to Azerbaijan and let some people know of his interest, then just waited to get kidnapped.) At the end of his talk, he was selling copies of his documentary. The chairman at the time directed me, the treasurer, to buy a copy for the club. Transactions were through his assistant, who was smoking hot. The next year as chairman I had a lot of election-year debate appearances, and after one a good-looking girl came up to talk to me. I invited her to the club's election-night watch party. But the election wasn't over yet when the campus buildings were getting locked up. I mentioned I didn't have a TV to watch the results, so she invited me over to her place. We ended up dating for a little bit, and that was when I found out that she was the assistant I'd talked to the year before. And that she had dated the real-life Indiana Jones. And that she was the one who ended their relationship. This obviously meant one thing: I was cooler than Indiana Jones!

I had two apartment-mates: one was a psycho in the ROTC who slept with a knife under his mattress, and the other was a Chinese national. The Chinese kid was super nice and very interested in American politics. As the election came nearer and the outcome seemed like it would be very close, I began in my position as chairman of College Republicans agitating against voter fraud. The Chinese kid was intrigued when I described how easy voter fraud was in America and he said he was going to vote in the election. I had to talk him out of it. I've since seen a news story about him and his goal last year to ask for outlandish things as a way of experiencing failure every day.

The fall semester ended and I knew I wasn't going to be allowed back to school in January. I went home for Christmas, and so did Persephone. Through e-mails and phone calls we had become somewhat of friends again, but once we were back home, she ignored me again. I persevered and invited her to a friend's sister's birthday party. At the party, I invited her to a New Year's Eve party. I remember finishing The Winter of Our Discontent (my favorite novel ever) before going to pick her up so that it would count for my 2000 page total. She answered the door in a tank top. I'd made a good choice.

We went to the party and had awkward interactions. We were there together, but not really sure if we were dating. People are supposed to kiss at midnight, but I wasn't really sure she wouldn't punch me (see: 1992), so when the clock struck midnight I...


I came home and started college. Persephone and I went out once and at the end she said to call her if I needed help finding a building on campus, which was the ultimate blow-off to a two-time county geography bee champion. I ended up engaged to a girl I didn't want to marry because she wanted to marry me and I didn't have anything else going on. I had three jobs but my debt continued to grow. By the fall semester my grades had fallen from straight As to just about straight Ds.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


When I had a companion who wanted to work, I worked. When I had one who didn't, I didn't. Spending all day knocking on doors produced a bone spur on my right middle finger's knuckle.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


This was the worst year of my life (so far).

My first companion threatened to beat me. My second companion wouldn't let me speak. My third companion disappeared in the night and stole my letters to the mission president. My fourth companion had a collection of homo-erotica. My mission president responded to my pleas for help by telling me I was wasting his time when we had to meet together. My girlfriend who swore she'd wait forever waited for six months, then broke up with me because she was more emotionally attached to a different missionary who left after I did. I had to baptize a man who lied through his baptismal interview, who was only converting to convince his baby mama to come back to him, who wanted to leave his baptism early because he was hungry, and who seduced the woman who shared his baptismal service and convinced her to not return to church.

I spent the last four months of the year severely depressed, unable to get help because you're not allowed to be a missionary if you're depressed but you have to be a missionary.

Monday, October 07, 2013


I had taken underachieving in school to new heights. So much so that I was in danger of not graduating. I'd fail a class at high school and drop 2.5 credits under the requirement, then take an evening class at the community college and go 2.5 credits over the requirement. I did this repeatedly for most of my junior and senior years. The last week of school the grades were settled and I failed another class without enough time to make it up at the junior college. I did not graduate. I sat with my friend's family and watched Persephone graduate. When they got to my name in the program they had a brief hushed conference and then moved on.

That weekend at a party I was approached by the only other kid in our class to not graduate. He thought we were going to be friends now. He was misinformed.

Before becoming a Super Senior, though, I had led the Knowledge Bowl team to an undefeated season and county championship, and I had won the district Geography Bowl for the second year in a row. I also specialized in home-made t-shirts, including one that referenced our school board member that shot a man outside a bar. On the front it read, "Look Out! Here Comes Fred Judy!" and on the back I'd drawn his portrait and the quote, "I'm packin' heat!" This shirt was a particular favorite of a few teachers, who told me privately they thought it was great.

Persephone left for college on her birthday, one week after high school graduation. I enrolled in a replacement class at the community college. In July I drove up to visit Persephone for a weekend. On the way back home, I crashed my truck and broke my ankle. I took an "incomplete" on my replacement class, further delaying my high school completion. In the fall I spent several weeks going to college on crutches, which filled out my shoulders, making me look more like a former football player than a former distance runner.

At the end of October, I finally completed my summer class, took my transcript back to my high school, and received my diploma. Since they hadn't known I wasn't going to graduate, they had prepared my diploma back in June, so there's no real evidence I was four months late graduating.

I submitted my mission papers. Persephone came home for Christmas and I got my mission call. I was going to the Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission.


I learned how to ditch class without leaving campus. Then I learned how to leave campus at will. My grades suffered accordingly.

As the school year approached its close, a girl started making efforts to date me. Since I had nothing else going on, I entertained her offer. But right before summer vacation started, Persephone left a note on my windshield telling me she wanted to be friends again. I quickly invited her to join a group of us going to the Angels/Blue Jays game. (We wanted to go on July 4th for the fireworks, but it was sold out, but they were doing fireworks the next night, too, so we went July 5th.) The other girl was part of the group, and she didn't take kindly to the arrangement.

Leaving the stadium, we couldn't find our car for a long time. In the search, I didn't realize that a road that had been one-way INTO the parking lot before the game was now one-way OUT of the parking lot, so I looked the wrong way when stepping off the curb and almost got run over. An angry old man in the back seat of the car stared me down as the car drove away. The license plate was "AUTRY 26." And that was how I met Gene Autry.

I was leaving the next week for a month at California State Summer School for the Arts. The other girl panicked and kissed me the night before I left. I spent the month learning that I didn't want to associate with the types of people professional writers associate with. Since we were confined to campus all month but classes only met on weekdays, weekends were incredibly boring. As a result, a friend I made at summer school dyed my hair blue. After I got home, I redid it to get it much brighter.

Persephone and I started talking more regularly. By December, we'd kissed.


Persephone had a friend that didn't like me, and under that friend's influence, by 1994 Persephone wasn't speaking to me.

This was the high-water mark for my high school academic and athletic career. After 1994 I didn't really care enough to try anymore. But as a sophomore I made the honor roll and ran a 15:15 three mile.

Friday, October 04, 2013


Early in 1993, I broke down Persephone's resistance and she agreed to be my girlfriend. This involved writing each other notes and holding hands as we walked between classes. I still wasn't sure if she'd punch me for kissing her, so I didn't try.

About a month later, she broke up with me. This made no sense to me; she was my future wife. We were practically engaged. But she wanted to go back to just being friends.

I began tracking the counties I had visited. I reviewed all past family vacations with my parents, asking questions about sights seen and routes taken. Even though my parents were absolutely convinced we had covered everything, years later information keeps coming to light. (This is why the county I'd celebrated as my 1,000th county turned out not to be my 1,000th county.)

Later in the year, my friends said, "There's a girl in one of my classes who says she's been having sex dreams about you all week." That's sort of a weird pretense under which to meet a girl.

At the very end of the year, I turned 16 and got my driver's license.


I graduated junior high. In the fall, I would be attending high school, and Persephone would be at my school. In anticipation of the obvious (to me) fact that we would soon be dating, I decided to prep her for this by having a friend let her know that I liked her. This seemed like a smart move to me. I later found out she thought this was creepy.

My sister got married. My brother graduated high school. I went to a church youth conference for a week in Utah. I got braces.

The week before school began, I attended freshman orientation. Persephone was in my group. I looked down her shirt. I'd made a great choice.

My brother and I went to see Guns N Roses and Metallica at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Axl Rose complained mid-set that we were a crap audience. He sat down and threatened to end the show unless we cheered more loudly. We cheered more loudly.

My mother and I flew to Pittsburgh to attend the middle three games of the National League Championship Series. We flew home during Game Six and the pilot gave us score updates. Then the next evening was Game Seven, and the worst evening of my life (so far).

Persephone was in my early morning seminary class. Since I was convinced she was moments away from being my girlfriend, I sat next to her to let her get used to the idea. At school, we were in the same health class together. Every Friday I'd ask, "What would you do if I asked you out?" She'd say, "I'd say no." I'd ask, "What would you do if I kissed you?" She'd say, "I'd punch you." Then I'd wait another week to see if the answers changed.

Despite not agreeing to be my girlfriend, she let me sit with my hand on her leg while we watched movies in class (and we watched a LOT of movies in that class--mostly after-school specials about kids with drug or sex issues).


I spent the entire calendar year thinking about sex.

Other things were going on around me, though. They included:

  • Magic Johnson got AIDS. Everyone was so convinced that he was going to die that our yearbook was dedicated to him. I saw him on television last night, 22 years later.
  • I had my first "girlfriend." Her name was Jennifer. I walked a few blocks with her after school for the last week of classes, then rode my bike across town to see her once during the summer. Then she broke up with me over the phone. The only time we touched each other was when I put my arm around her for someone to take our picture. When I got the film developed, I removed the picture before allowing my mother to see them. She counted the pictures and wanted to know why one was missing. I feigned ignorance. She looked at the negatives and identified the missing picture. Because if there's one thing a developing teenaged boy shouldn't have, it's things he doesn't share with his mother.
  • I had a large mole removed from my neck. I had been born with it and my parents had ignored it until a woman on an airplane told my mother raised moles can be cancerous. The removal was terribly done, leaving me with a massive scar.
  • I had a computer class where the assignments were given at the beginning of the semester and the students could work at their own pace. Students could repeat assignments to achieve a higher grade. I completed all the assignments, received As on all of them, and spent the last several weeks of the semester playing Solitaire. When my report card came, I had a C-plus, and the teacher was retired to northern California.


I was in the academic Olympics again. I qualified for the state round of the National Geography Bee again. My standard school outfit was a sweatshirt from an Ivy League university with the sleeves pushed up paired with shorts. (I lived in coastal California. Sweatshirts and shorts weren't such a strange combination.) I went to sixth-grade camp, which wasn't as cool as I'd been led to believe it would be, but we all pretended it was anyway.

I graduated elementary school; when I switched schools a few years before, I began attending a school with a very small enrollment. Our graduating class was 12 students, so going to junior high with "all" of my friends wasn't really a big concern. I wanted to attend the junior high on the other side of town because it was said to have a better honors program, but my parents didn't want me to start high school with all my junior-high friends at the other school. However, comma, our town was undergoing a demographic shift as families with children were priced out of town, rendering some schools obsolete. The school district reshuffled students, busing thousands of kids across town, meaning that the kids who would attend my high school would be attending my preferred junior high. So I maintained my cross-town bike commute and book reading.

I only knew four people at my school, and three of them I didn't want to know. But I attached myself to one boy from church and became friends with all his friends. These were my friends for the rest of my schooling.

Around Halloween, I was sitting in the back of English class, crushing up Smarties to eat them like Pixie Stix. (We were ahead of our time.) We noticed that the white Smarties resembled cocaine when crushed. (At least, we noticed they resembled TV-and-movie cocaine, which is all any of us had ever seen.) I left a few lines of crushed white Smarties on my desk with a note that read, "Fifty dollars per line. Leave the money in Locker B-69." Then we moved on to our next class.

Here was the brilliant part: B-69 wasn't my locker. I figured I'd get away with it. But several periods later I walked into science class and the assistant principal was waiting for me. The jig was up. I was suspended for three days for "possession of a drug lookalike substance."

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I heard about the National Geography Bee and got my school to compete. I won and took the test to qualify for the state round and passed that, so I went to Sacramento for the nerd convention. They gave me a shirt that my wife now wears as pajamas. Just this week I said to her, "I bet when they handed me that shirt they didn't know what I'd end up using it for. But then, neither did I."

My parents would go out on Friday nights and I would stay home watching TGIF on ABC. ("Mr. Belvedere" was great, "Dinosaurs" was terrible.) In October, Peter Jennings interrupted my shows to report the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


I participated in my first academic competition, winning a city-wide geography contest for 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders. My 4th-grade teacher told my parents I either needed to skip a grade or transfer to a more-challenging school, but they suspected that she was trying to make her life easier by getting rid of me, so they resisted. In the fall my 5th-grade teacher repeated the recommendation. My parents liked her, so they listened. I began attending a school on the other side of town, so I had a two-mile bike commute each morning and afternoon.

Trying to make good use of the time, I learned how to ride my bike while reading a book. I paid more attention to traffic in the morning, but by remembering where the parked cars were, I could concentrate more fully on my book in the afternoon. Except one day a mobile garbage bin had been delivered during the school day. I ran right into the side of it, chipping one of my bottom teeth (interested readers can leave a comment and I'll e-mail you a close-up present-day picture of said tooth).

I had been secretary of my previous school, so I ran for secretary of my new school. A girl in my class combed through the election bylaws to discover that I hadn't been a student at the school long enough to qualify.

The national presidential election was the first I remember noticing. (I remember watching a Reagan/Mondale debate in 1984, but not much more than that.) I liked Michael Dukakis because he was Greek and so was I. My dad said, "Maybe you should find out what he'd do as president before you decide if he should be president." I read some newspapers and watched some TV news broadcasts (the only way of getting information back then) and retracted my support. I was a George H.W. Bush fan before it was necessary to use the H and W.

My brother had been a stand-out runner in junior high, so somehow the junior-high track coach and my parents arranged it so I could leave my school for races and participate on the junior high cross country team. That stopped when I started riding across town to school and was too far away from the junior high.

I began my job as a paperboy. The route for my neighborhood wasn't available, and neither was the neighboring route, so I had to serve an area two neighborhoods away. Every day I had to deliver the regular newspapers to my customers and once each week I had to deliver sample newspapers to the non-subscribers. That required me to do my route, come home to reload, and do my route again, this time for free. I quickly realized I could dump the free papers and no one would know. The first time I did it, I just dropped them all in our recycling can on the side of the house. After I left for school, my mom went out to recycle something and discovered the papers, thought I'd dumped the actual papers I was contractually-obligated to deliver, and became quite angry. (Most of my childhood can be summarized as "something happened and my mother became quite angry." But this time it seemed warranted.) When I got home from school and explained what had happened, she would not agree to me doing the same thing in the future. So on Thursdays I would run my normal route, come home for the free papers, ride away on my bike, and recycle them in some random recycling can I passed on the street.


My parents bought a massive orange van. My sister was so mortified that she told her classmates that the woman picking her up from school was our Hispanic housekeeper. When my mom pulled up my sister would say, "Hola, señora," and my mom would (somewhat confusedly) answer, "Hola." When my mom found out what was really going on, my sister got in a lot of trouble. But seriously, it was the ugliest van you've ever seen.

Fun fact about the van: when my parents thought it was on its last legs, they sold it to the father of a friend, who used it for several more years to commute five times each week from Nephi to Salt Lake City.

My brother was in some track invitational in northern California, so while we were up there we went to San Francisco. We took the orange van to many of the city's most-famous sites, thus ruining the photographs of countless tourists at Lombard Street and the Golden Gate Bridge.


I left the country for the first time when I went to Tijuana in the summer of 1986. I wasn't that impressed.

Third grade was pretty sweet. I wrote a story that got published in the local newspaper. It was my first time being in the paper since being the spokesbaby for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in a 1980 fundraising campaign. As a harbinger of my future treatment at the hands of the press, my name was misspelled and at one point in the article I was referred to as "she."


We moved into the house that I lived in until I got married. My younger brother was born. We went on a vacation that included Virginia City, Sutter's Mill, and Whitney Portal.

My second grade teacher was especially mean. One day she was absent, so I organized a lunchtime protest demanding her removal. When she came back the next day she talked to the girl who lived across the street from me, who broke down crying and ratted me out. The teacher asked if I tried to get her fired. I said yes. She asked why. I said, "Because you're mean."

When learning multiplication, I learned my 7s before my 6s (because I was a football fan). I got in trouble for that. (I told you the old bat was mean.) We learned multiplication by using dried macaroni noodles as manipulatives. The teacher insisted we were not to eat them. I thought, "Who would eat dried macaroni noodles?" My friend ended up eating all of his. Later, I broke the news to him that girls didn't have penises.