Friday, May 31, 2013

How's That Whole Zion Thing Working Out for You, America?

Sometimes societies respond to difficulties by returning to God. And other times they curse God and want to die.

In light of the recent economic downturn (which isn't over and hasn't even been halfway undone yet), upper-class Manhattanites are hiring disabled tour guides to allow them to bypass lines at Disney World.

Because nothing is more terrible than being somebody's equal, right?

Both articles came to my attention through Marginal Revolution. I'd give the MR bloggers a "hat tip" here, but I hate the term "hat tip."

"The Children Are Right to Laugh at You"

What is the point of fashion? When I get dressed, I'm not really picking clothes I want to see, because for the most part, I won't be seeing them. I'm also not picking clothes I think you want to see, because I don't care enough about your happiness to dress in accordance with your tastes. Instead, I'm picking clothes that will make you think things about me that I want you to think. We pick our clothes to signal our taste, our earning potential, our sense of aesthetics, our alignment with (or against) the prevailing culture, our personality.

What happens when the message I think the clothes are sending to you is not the message you're receiving? I pick a shirt that I think will make you think that I'm serious and conscientious, but what it really makes you think is "that guy's a hobo." I will keep wearing this shirt trying to send a signal it doesn't actually send until I become aware of the true signal it is sending.

This is why we should make fun of people who are dressed horribly.

I walked past this woman on my way to class. She was wearing one of those tube-top-slash-short-shorts onesie things that are so terribly ugly. She wanted me to see her clothes and think she was attractive, that she was sensitive to the latest trends, that she had disposable income. Instead I saw her clothes and thought she was an idiot.

I thought, "I should make fun of her so she knows that her clothes aren't communicating what she thinks they are." But I didn't know her and I'm not 12, so I didn't. Instead, I resolved to make fun of her to my students when I got to class, so she could be a sort of cautionary tale for them.

Except when I got to class, one of my students was wearing one of those things, too. And since it's still early days for this term, I didn't feel like I could mock her clothes. But someone should. Because she is not getting the signal out of her clothes that she thinks she is getting.

Title quote from Miss Hoover, 2nd grade teacher at Springfield Elementary.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Persuasion, McLaughlin Group Style

Some economic students at Washington State analyzed tweets regarding sporting events. The Daily Mail has summarized their findings as "being loud is the best way to win an argument."

But there's still hope for public discourse*. What The Daily Mail calls "winning" is what the researchers call "gaining Twitter followers." I think there are more reasons to follow someone on Twitter than because they have convinced you of the validity of his argument. Someone who makes humorously-brash predictions would be worth following for entertainment's sake. In the words of Chazz Michael Michaels, "No one knows what it means but it's provocative! It gets the people going!"

* = Just kidding, there's no hope for public discourse. But this research finding doesn't warrant more pessimism.

Mennonite Extremist Country

Last weekend we went to Pennsylvania. My wife enjoyed spending some time in Amish country, as she's always been fascinated by the Amish. As we were driving along, we had this conversation.

MY WIFE: What's the difference between the Amish and Mennonites? Are Mennonites a break-off of the Amish?

A RANDOM STRANGER: I believe it's the other way around. The Amish are Mennonites who thought the regular Mennonites weren't being serious enough. Like how Puritans were Anglicans who wanted to be less tolerant.

MW: Like how there are Muslims and there are Muslim extremists?

ARS: Yeah. In fact, I think that's a great name for the Amish. From now on I'm going to call them Mennonite Extremists.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Recently-Moved Church Members As Leaders

Have you ever had the occasion to talk to a Mormon from a congregation you used to live in? Or perhaps you've been the one who still lived there and you talk to an old ward member who had moved. Typically the one who moved will ask the one who stayed behind about changes in ward membership and leadership. "Who's the bishop now?" he'll ask. And I've found that, more frequently than you would think it should, the answer is, "Oh, it's someone who moved in after you left."

Maybe I'm wrong. I'm not keeping stats or anything. It just seems to me that bishops tend to be newer ward members a lot. Why is that?

I have two possible explanations. Maybe they're both accurate, or maybe neither is.

One: many are called but few are chosen. The process of becoming chosen involves being proved to see if you will do all things whatsoever the Lord God commands you. I think it is likely that, prior to a leadership calling coming, a trial comes first. And in the modern world, there's no more-common trial than unemployment and relocation. The soon-to-be bishop spends a period of time being humbled and relying on God, and responds to directions with a "thy will not mine" attitude, which results in him moving somewhere he wouldn't have chosen on his own. Once he's demonstrated this, the Lord uses him in a leadership position. Thus the moving into the ward was part of the trial that prepared him to serve as the ward's bishop.

Two: man looketh on outward appearances. Someone who has been a long-time ward member might think he has the ward "figured out." He knows who is leadership material and who isn't. But the Lord looketh on the heart, and the most-effective way of getting a bishop to take the Lord's direction is to use a guy who doesn't have any preconceived notions. If I had to pick a Relief Society president for my ward, I'd have a mental list of possible candidates. But if I had to pick one for your ward, I'd have to rely on direction from God, like I'm supposed to.

Anyway, the next time you ask about your old ward and find out that the entire bishopric is strangers, perhaps one of these two reasons is behind it.

The Purpose of Sport in the Modern World

In the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago, sport was tremendously instrumental in weakening and removing cultural and social barriers. There are those who want sport to play that role again, but without understanding why sport was in the unique position it was back then.

Baseball executives had a "gentleman's agreement" (recognizing the loose use of the term "gentleman" here) to not use black players. The executives' prime motivation, however, was winning. Eventually Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson, because Robinson was such a talented player that the added chance of winning was worth the potential displeasure of Rickey's peers. Within months, Bill Veeck of Cleveland had hired Larry Doby. The teams that resisted integration, such as the Philadelphia Phillies, suffered on the field (as the Boston Celtics did in basketball for the same reason).

There are those who argue that normalization of homosexuality is a continuation of the civil rights struggles of the past. And these voices are eager for sport to lead the way it did in the past. But what is missing is the furthering of sports franchises' prime motivation: winning. Rickey didn't hire Robinson because Rickey wanted to do something great for America. I don't even know what his personal views of racial equality were. The point was, his personal views on winning were stronger. This is how business can undermine injustice, as well. When the profit motive is stronger than the desire to discriminate, discrimination ends.

Several months ago, American soccer player Robbie Rogers announced his homosexuality and retired at the same time. Rogers had been playing professionally in England, where--it is agreed by most commentators--the social climate is much less receptive to a homosexual athlete. At the time, some suggested Rogers needn't retire so much as just return to America, where MLS has made strides to be the most inclusive sports league in the country.

In light of Jason Collins's announcement of his homosexuality and the largely-positive response he's received, Rogers did un-retire. His domestic rights were owned by the Chicago franchise, so Los Angeles traded Mike Magee for Rogers. Rogers played on Monday, the first openly gay male athlete to compete in an American professional sports league.

I've seen a lot of commentary of how great it is that Rogers is doing this, and about how great it is of LA Galaxy to do this. But I've not yet seen any serious analysis of what the trade of Magee for Rogers does to Los Angeles competitively.

The LA Galaxy exist to win, not to be an engine for social change. Now, I'm not saying Magee is a far better player; I don't know who's better. Rogers has played in Europe and with the national team, while Magee has never done those things. However, Magee had a series of injuries that set him back a few years, and he was instrumental in LA's title last season as well as its strong start this season during Landon Donovan's sabbatical. My point is that there's room for debate here, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of Rogers's and Magee's respective games. But I haven't seen any of that. All I've seen is "hooray for inclusion!".

A very small group of commentators has questioned the Jason Collins announcement as a marketing ploy: he's a free agent towards the end of his career, who could possibly be looking for sympathy, for a team looking to score public relations points, or for an excuse if he doesn't get any offers. I'm not saying that any of these are motivations behind Collins's announcement--I tend to believe a guy who says he just wants to be honest about who he is. But it says a lot about the current use of sport as social laboratory that these arguments are plausible. A player could receive more-favorable treatment in the free agent market because of his homosexuality, meaning the team could be taking a step backwards competitively.

This isn't the way sport is supposed to fight inequality. Players should be evaluated on their ability to play, and gay players will break barriers when their skills are sufficient that a team is possibly leaving a championship on the table by not signing them. But when we respond to gay players' announcements by discussing their courage instead of discussing their statistics, we polarize sport instead of allowing it to overcome society's polarization.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Getting My Purifying Boredom On

Mormon theologian Adam S. Miller says boredom at church serves a purpose. For me, that purpose is drawing comics.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Annihilism Update: Awards

So a lesbian porno won the Palm d'Or at Cannes. I'm sure a lot of conservative commentators are going to have a problem with that, but it doesn't bother me as much as some other recent awards.

Giving a cinema award to a porno is nihilism: who's to say your aversion to pornography is right or wrong? But giving government awards to politicians who have taken steps to undermine the safety and legitimacy of our government is annihilism.

Susan Rice was instrumental in the administration's eight-month cover-up of its mishandling of the Benghazi terror attacks. The night before Congress began to investigate the lies, she received something called the Great American Award, which made Sean Hannity roll over in his grave.

Hillary Clinton possibly spearheaded the lying (since the president was unavailable that evening). Last week she received a humanitarian award. You know what it takes to be a great humanitarian these days? Evidently all you need is the ability to deflect criticism by yelling, "What difference does it make?!"

For the record, humanitarians don't send ambassadors to under-protected facilities, deny their requests for additional security, and repeatedly deny requests by military personnel to rescue besieged government workers. But if you do all those things, you can at least get a humanitarian award, which is almost like actually being a humanitarian. At least to the TMZ and Daily Show crowd, it's indistinguishable.

Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, but executive branch officials who harass Americans about the content of their prayers can get promoted to oversee one-sixth of the national economy.

These accolades are annihilistic: they are rewarding activities that are designed to destroy the free republic we (ostensibly) live in. If we're going to get worked up about unmerited awards, let's leave the nihilistic awards alone. (After all, maybe it's a really good porno.) There are plenty of annihilistic awards that are much more important to stop.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Highly Competent Foreign Kids

A few months ago, I was in a Walmart in Garrisonville, Virginia, where I saw a woman's child knock over a display. She sort of apologized and left (with the kid, to her credit). Then a manager had a new employee fix the display. But the manager had to give directions like, "Find all the similar items and put them together, facing the same way." The new employee was at least in his late teens.

Today I'm in a museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I just saw a five-year-old Asian Indian kid knock over a display of brochures, then without any directions he picked them all up and reshelved them.

America is in for a LONG decline.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

It's a Conspiracy. C-O-N...spiracy

In light of the current administration turning out to be a bunch of gangland thugs, no less an authority than the Gray Lady herself ran a story yesterday asking why seemingly-rational Americans believe in conspiracy theories. The answer: it's a way for powerless people to fight against their meaninglessness. Like Freud's explanation for the existence of religious people, it starts from the premiss that those in question are idiots.

There's a saying in economics that one should never argue from a price change. An additional rule I tell my students is, "Your explanation for something should never come down to 'because they're stupid' or 'because they're bastards.'" A surprising amount of the world thinks that's a substantial argument (see: Thomas Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas?).

Here's a more-substantial argument: conspiracies exist.

In this sort-of-crazy-but-maybe-mostly-right article, Ron Unz points out a number of times that the national media refused to report important stories. Case in point: it turns out Joe McCarthy was right. Of course, if your only knowledge of McCarthyism comes from The Majestic, this will be news to you. But the point is that if your knowledge of McCarthyism comes from CNN, it might as well be coming from The Majestic. Or, if you want to appear high-brow, Good Night, and Good Luck.

The biggest argument against conspiracy theories is the impracticality of coordination. "You mean to tell me that someone went around and got all the people who saw the truth to be silent about it?" This argument is invalid, though, when you realize that there doesn't need to be directed coordination. People with similar viewpoints will self-coordinate without any discussion.

The heads of NBC News, CBS News, ABC News, CNN, The New York Times, Time, The Huffington Post, and--most importantly (sadly)--The Daily Show didn't need to get together in a room and have someone say out loud, "Let's kill this Benghazi story." It just happened. All of those people, and most of their subordinates, saw the story and said, "Oh, I don't think we'll be reporting that." And the same thing is happening with the IRS scandal. The actual top-down coordination didn't start until this self-coordination started to unravel, when the White House press secretary had a closed-door meeting with reporters before the public news conference last week. That would be the first time any top-down directive was given, eight months after the events that should have been news.

The presence of one true conspiracy makes others more likely. In 2008 I dismissed birther arguments. When Sheriff Joe's posse released its findings, I became unsure. The publicly-released birth certificate is, I'm fairly certain, a forgery. The old argument of "someone would have known; you can't keep that secret" doesn't work here. You don't have to keep it secret. You can tell everyone you want, if they're of the right persuasion.

I'm willing to bet that President Obama's college records show he was a foreign exchange student, meaning he either was born overseas or falsified his application for admission and financial aid purposes. And lots of people at Columbia University could make those records public if they wanted to (the same way Obama manages to always release sealed documents). But no one is going to do it, because they are self-coordinating the conspiracy.

Was the IRS scandal directed from the top? Maybe, but not necessarily. When you hire people who are more committed to the agenda than the country, you don't need to tell them what to do. They do it for you.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

This Is a Hard Post for Me to Write, Given How Much I Hate Wind

A couple months ago in Mental Floss, there was an article entitled "FDR's Weather Machine" (March/April 2013, p. 12). It's a wonderful example of the credulity of partisan Americans when told something they want to believe.

The claim is made that "when strong winds turned the Great Plains into a Dust Bowl, Franklin Roosevelt fought back by controlling the weather." Really? Controlling the weather? Let's look at this.

First of all, the Dust Bowl was concentrated in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and southwestern Kansas, but "trees were planted in a 100-mile-wide band that stretched from Texas to Canada." Secondly, the Dust Bowl was heaviest from 1935 to 1940. The Prairie States Forestry Project began in 1935 and ended in 1942. How mature are seven-year-old trees? Thirdly, in the Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions the mistaken notion of early Plains settlers that planting trees would change the climate. The government gave homesteaders a break on land they intended to keep as a forest. Part of what caused Almanzo and Laura to leave South Dakota is the failure of their forest section.

Okay, maybe FDR wasn't "controlling the weather" as much as he was just "blocking the wind." But blocking wind isn't a new concept. Growing up in California, I saw eucalyptus windbreaks my whole life.

I'll grant that barren soil blows away more easily than that bearing vegetation. If standard crops can't survive in a drought, planting drought-resistant trees can help curb soil erosion. But this isn't the heroic effort of a demigod.

The real reason for Roosevelt favoring the planting of 220 million trees was because of his wrong-headed Depression coping ideas. In his General Theory, Keynes wrote,

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. (p. 129)
This quote makes me want to bang my head against a wall. He honestly thinks real income would increase?! The treasury would have diverted productive resources to unproductive tasks. The treasury could have just handed the money out, which would have increased monetary income while not diverting resources. Real income necessarily decreases under such a scheme. When FDR campaigned on great-sounding-but-vacuous ideas (who else has done that recently?) like "let's plant a million trees to end the unemployment problem," he was taking Keynes at his word.

FDR didn't end the Dust Bowl, just like he didn't end the Depression. He made poor choices that coincided with those events ending naturally. Perhaps the Prairie States Forestry Project was an appropriate response to a period of soil erosion. That's a far cry from "controlling the weather." But we can't really make supermen of people who institute prudent coping mechanisms. When we hear our hero did the heroic, we're much more ready to pass it along as gospel than to question the tale's connection to reality.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Serious Names

When I got my first e-mail address, I was a missionary. One of my friends at home wanted to send me e-mails instead of letters, so I signed up for an address that would be easy for him to remember: since he joked that my initials "B.T." stood for "Butt Tiger," my address was buttiger@hotmail.com.

That worked well for about a year, and then I had to give my e-mail address to other people, people who maybe wouldn't appreciate the subtle humorous nuances of the nickname Butt Tiger. So I would pronounce my address like it was one word, "BUT-i-gher," ending like the name Gallagher.

Recently I've been hearing radio ads for an insurance company called Chubb. The ads are all about how other insurance companies aren't reliable, but Chubb is. And I think, "Really? You're more reliable? Your name sounds like the D-minus business school project of a frat boy. 'And we'll call the thing, like, Chubb, man!'"

Companies should have names that aren't embarrassing to say aloud. This is why I've never ordered the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity breakfast at IHOP. While IHOP's website insists the name is "fun to say," I completely disagree. I only wrote its name out here for reference's sake; from now on my blog will refer to it as The Breakfast That Shall Not Be Named.

(Gramatical aside: what's the deal with people thinking 'N means "and"? There are two letters missing, but only one apostrophe. The presence of at least one apostrophe indicates you know what apostrophes are for, but the absence of the second apostrophe indicates you are a fool. Even Guns N' Roses manages to get at least one apostrophe in their name. Wouldn't you like to indicate to the world that you are somewhat more learned than Guns N' Roses?)

Cold Stone Creamery (known among my friends growing up as Stone Cold Creamery) insists on making fools of their customers by replacing the sizes "small," "medium," and "large" with the sizes "like it," "love it," and "gotta have it." But at least there I can defiantly order a medium and get what I want. IHOP has no provision for ordering The Breakfast That Shall Not Be Named, and Chubb does not have a DBA with a respectable name, like Marine Underwriters of New York. "It's not our fault the name of our founder has come to be a synonym for an obese person," they'd say. Tell that to the harvesters of rapeseed oil.

I no longer have the e-mail address buttiger@hotmail.com. Companies that want my business should follow suit and get serious names (like my new e-mail address, chunkylover53@aol.com).

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Divergent Fortunes of American Soccer and MLS

Major League Soccer is in something like its 17th season now. (Wikipedia says it's in its 18th season right now. Close enough for my readers, right?) New, soccer-specific stadiums are mostly full for nearly all MLS games (Chivas home games the crazy exception). Professional soccer in the U.S. has never been more popular than it is right now.

And that makes me worry for MLS.

MLS television offerings are continually ignored by all and sundry. But it's not that Americans only like their soccer live: Liga MX has a healthy viewership, and NBC recently completed a surprising deal to air all of next season's English Premier League games. NBC, which airs a single MLS game each week on NBCSN and can't get anyone to watch it, will show every EPL game next year, even yawners like Southampton v. Cardiff City.

If the EPL takes the American soccer viewership, MLS will be at an even-larger disadvantage when it comes to attracting world-class players. NBC is paying the EPL $250 million, while MLS has made less than ten percent of that amount in a recent year.

The only silver lining here is that some argue the EPL itself isn't in such great financial shape. (I wanted that link to go to a story on Fox Soccer called "Premier League faces uncertain future," but their URLs are all nuts.) But the reintroduction of super-sonic commercial flight and two Premier League clubs in New York would kill MLS immediately. Instead of worrying about the placement of the 20th franchise, MLS needs to correct its domestic TV problem now.

Parental Affection

Several weeks ago I was driving along next to a woman who reminded me of a certain type of person. She was in her 20s, listening to loud music, driving with a foot in her lap, her blonde hair still wet from her shower. This type of woman usually is a high school graduate but has no serious plans for college. Maybe if her parents are on her case she'll go to community college for a few semesters. She has a service or retail job, being slightly under-qualified for anything more white-collar. She has friends to whom she's fiercely loyal and is more than a little ready to yell at and fight anyone she thinks is disrespectful. She probably smokes, definitely drinks, and engages in serial monogamy. You know the type of girl I mean? The standard modern upper-lower-class American girl.

Then I noticed a kid in the back seat. My first reaction was to feel sorry for this kid and the life he'll have available to him because of his mother's choices. However, I noticed that 1) the kid was in a child safety seat in the back seat, and 2) the mother wasn't smoking with him in the car. And that changed my sympathy. I didn't have to feel sorry for the kid, because his mother cared about him, and no matter how limited his life will be because of her abilities, at least it won't necessarily be an unhappy life.

This made me wonder about how natural or unnatural it is for a parent to care about his child. I remember telling my daughter when she was less than an hour old that I loved her, and part of me thought, "That's weird; you just met her." Nevertheless, I loved her already then.

How did that come about? Well, I loved her mother. And I'd been thinking about her for over nine months, starting from attempting conception. I didn't look at my daughter as a hindrance in my life, which--from an egotistical perspective--she definitely was. Lots of stuff I used to like to do I wouldn't be doing anymore. Lots of money I used to like to have I wouldn't be having anymore.

The egotistical perspective is what makes people write articles like this. It's what makes parents take kids to R-rated movies, send their kids to daycare (I mean "preschool") starting from their 10-week-old birthdays, or abort the babies outright.

I wonder (without wondering enough to actually do any research) if any work has been done on the connection between parental affection and life outcomes. It seems to me that many of the things that make a kid more likely to succeed happen more frequently when the parents are less egotistical and have affection for the kid. And this would mean that a statist approach to child-rearing, where time of bureaucrats and money of government are substituted for time and money of someone emotionally connected to the child, is less effective. Which is actually exactly the opposite of what we hear from the president, who wants more four-year-olds in school. When the well-being of the bureaucrat becomes the concern of the state, child welfare is just a political tool.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Life Coach (Olde Timey Edition)

In January, we got smart phones. I have been pleasantly surprised with the usefulness of it. But one thing that I can't get the thing to do is manage a useful to-do list.

I want to have my daily tasks scheduled to give me reminders. I want to dismiss the reminder without completing the task, so that it sits there until I get to it. I want to get rid of a task without completing it, so a day that I don't get around to a particular task doesn't interfere with the task showing up again the next day. I want to add a task that sits on the list until it's completed without having to do much more than type the name of the task. I want to see my entire list at once so I don't have any tasks that waiting for later that I could be doing at the moment.

I've tried at least six different to-do list aps (Remember the Milk, Astrid, Wunderlist, To-Do, Task List, and Google Tasks). None of do what I want as simply as a piece of paper.

Every day I have a sheet of notebook paper with the day's tasks listed, and I cross them off as they are completed. When I make the next day's list, I refer to the previous list for uncompleted tasks. None of the to-do list aps I've tried are as simple to use and as conducive to productivity as my sheet of notebook paper.

I've finally decided to stop wasting time on useless aps. If a piece of paper is best, why not just use a piece of paper?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Role of "Erik" Will Be Played By Corbin Bernsen

Last night I watched a movie entitled I'm Reed Fish. It was a sort-of-enjoyable movie until it ended and the credits began.

First, one of the credited writers is Reed Fish. Then the real Reed Fish is credited with a vanity role in the film. This made us look it up on IMDB and Wikipedia.

So Reed Fish is a real guy who wrote a movie about his life, which is okay when the subject matter isn't dumped fiancees, but less okay otherwise. What's it like being Reed Fish's ex-fiancee: first he embarrasses you and breaks your heart, and then he gets rich and famous off the story.

In the movie there's Reed Fish and two girls, and instead of choosing one and putting himself on the line, he waits for one to come to him. Worst ending to a romantic comedy ever (aside from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I think I might be wrong about that film's genre). To merit the love of the girl, the boy must burn his bridge with the other girl and then see if the girl of his choice will have him. Instead, Reed Fish makes a movie (yes, the movie character Reed Fish makes a movie--how meta of him!) and waits for the panties to drop.

Towards the end, one of the characters in the meta-movie tells Reed Fish that he doesn't know how to love. Later, a character in the regular-movie defends Reed Fish from this charge. The problem: it came from the pen of the real-life Reed Fish. That doesn't seem very intellectually honest.

I'm thinking of writing a movie where the character-versions of all my real-life friends and family say wonderful things about me. It is probably easier than getting them to say wonderful things about me in real life. Especially the ex-fiancee character.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crap Student Update: Wounded Souls Edition

This article relates to the issues I've been dealing with this week. It contains good advice for parents who need to let their children learn how to fail, but nothing really useful for me dealing with college students with fragile egos.

Last year when Crazy Jane had to take her end-of-the-year assessment so our commonwealth would allow us to continue homeschooling, I let her fail her timed math exam. She was so worried about the time that she could hardly do any work. I paused the timer for her to calm down in the bathroom (which I wasn't technically supposed to do), and then let her come back and cry quietly while time ran out.

I did this because I knew the ramifications were minor. Her overall performance would save her from public school, so she could get an F in something that didn't matter. She thought it mattered, though, which was nice. It was sort of like intellectual waterboarding. Which is enough to get my child taken away, probably.

I've also noticed something strange about people younger than about ten years younger than I am (my real age of 35, not my fake age of 44): their inflated egos somehow make them more vulnerable to criticism, not less. They think everything they do is wonderful, but they constantly need validation of that view. A true egotist thinks he's great and when you tell him otherwise, he ignores you. Today's young egotists think they're great and when you tell them otherwise, their worlds fall apart. In the words of Søren Kierkegaard, "What up wit dat?"

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mail Bag: Narcotics Edition

I asked for reader feedback on nootropics. Loyal reader benniegirl came through with a thoughtful, detailed comment, an excerpt from which appears here.

This was several months ago but since that day, [my disfellowshipped brother] immediately stopped following the word of wisdom & has sought to prove why we shouldn’t have to follow it. This has resulted in him saying this week he doesn’t believe in the church at all anymore. I feel that trying to explore the gray in the word of wisdom can lead to trouble even if my brother’s experience is not the norm.

On a more doctrinal note, this is my interpretation. In D&C 89:4 it says "Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils & designs which do & will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, & forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation." Not to say the drug doesn't have benefits, enticing and tempting benefits, but pharmaceutical companies seem to fall into the category of conspiring men so I would feel a little warned/cautious right away. Even though the word of wisdom as scripture was not a commandment, succeeding presidents of the church declared it to be a commandment. In President Boyd K. Packer's April 1996 talk about the word of wisdom, “The Principle & Promises”, he tells us we should avoid anything habit-forming, addictive, or injurious to the body or spirit. Being able to think in the ways this drug allows could become habit-forming and also injurious to the body & spirit. It disrupts our natural sleep patterns, changes the way our mind & emotions work, & from what I’ve read, it changes how we react to all around us which would interfere with our natural methods for feeling the spirit and using our conscience. Packer also warns us to avoid being extreme, fanatical, or a faddist. He states that everything harmful is not listed in the word of wisdom, such as arsenic, & that’s not habit-forming but it’s clearly unwise to use. D&C 88:124 says "cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated." This drug clearly effects the sleep cycle and disturbs natural circadian rhythms. With anything that I question, I use two scriptures as my guide: 1 Corinthians 14:33-“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” If the drug was inspired by Heavenly Father, you wouldn't feel confused about using it. Galatians 5:22-23ish “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance…”

Are these the feelings you have about taking the medication and/or while on the medication? I’ve read about people having experiences contrary to these feelings, such as being highly irritable and impatient. I’m sure it works somewhat differently on each person. There is nothing in LDS doctrine that clearly states this is forbidden. Based on information I can find, I’d never suggest it or try it myself but that ultimate decision is left to each person individually. If somebody I knew DID try it, I’d be interested to learn more about their experience but I know that it’s not for me.

All really good points. Disappointing to me, but really good.

I remember reading several years ago about Atlanta Hawks then-coach Lenny Wilkens, who sleeps less than four hours every night. I spent a long time praying for that, but it never worked out.

My parents got a "love on the rocks" CD set of talks by Richard Eyre and gave each of their kids a set, and there Eyre mentions that his wife used to stay up all night one night every week to get things done around the house. That sounds appealing to me, too, and in the past six months I've tried it a few time. I'll sleep from 9 PM to midnight and then get up for the rest of the day. It works fairly well.

I'm very intrigued by polyphasic sleep, but my wife says she wants me to be asleep next to her when she's asleep (kind of like how she wants me to die when she dies; quite pharaonic of her).

In short, I'm frustrated with the limitations of human existence. This is also why I can't poop without a book, because I hate the idea of a biological requirement to waste time just sitting there. Maybe this is just a cross of the world that has to borne; it's okay to despise the shame of it, but nootropics are probably a bridge too far.

Thanks again to benniegirl for her input!

Unbelievable

The student who missed the exam because "Finals Week snuck up on him" came yesterday to take his replacement exam that was only worth 75% of the original. He failed. I gave him extra points to get him the lowest D possible so that I wouldn't have to deal with him anymore.

Surprise surprise, I got an e-mail last night after midnight. He wrote he is "deeply disappointed" in his grade, and that it does not properly reflect "the effort and empathy that was expressed, as well as the growth i [sic] feel that I have achieved."

I wrote back:

You missed the final, so the replacement exam that I didn't have to give you at all was only worth 75% of the possible points.

You failed the exam I gave you. You could not solve for Cournot or Stackelberg equilibria. I gave you extra points to have you end up with a passing grade so that I wouldn't have to deal with this anymore.

You are not graded on growth. You are graded on performance. Your performance was sub-par.

It is embarrassing to me that you don't know you should be ashamed of your interactions with me this week. I found it interesting that today's exam had one instruction--that you use your own paper--and yet you didn't follow it. It is indicative of your attitude all week, that rules aren't for you and you get what you think you deserve, not what you earned.

You earned an F. Then I gave you a do-over and you earned an F again. Then you write of your disappointment that you passed. It would have been appropriate for you to write "thank you."

A Facebook acquaintance mentioned "this is what happens when kids have never learned how to fail." I know I'm part of the problem here by robbing my student of another opportunity to learn how to fail. But I can't be expected to correct all his deficiencies now that he's an adult. If receiving a gift D is such a burden, then maybe I am providing a learning opportunity.

Friday, May 10, 2013

"If I Buy the 32-Piece Set, the Mini Sailboat Is Included?"

I have a new thing I want: a Fitbit Flex. (Although right now my phone's not on the list of compatible devices. What the crap? I have a Galaxy S2, not a land line.) This and a supply of that Limitless drug*. That would be sweet.

* = No one responded to my earlier request to analyze the Word of Wisdom implications of nootropics. I'm serious here, people. I want to know if I can take this crap.

NB: Title obviously a quote from Lance, the guy who can't tear Uncle Rico's fiber-woven bowl, in Napoleon Dynamite.

When Did This Become Acceptable?

I have a student for the third time right now. In the first class she had some terrible excuses for missing work. Another professor became aware that we had the same student and he asked me if she was giving me excuses. A third professor heard and came over to say, "I had her last year and she did the same thing to me."

She passed, but with some suspected cheating. In the second class, she didn't show up until a week into the semester, told me she was going to give me a note from work excusing her from the first week of class (notice she did not ask if a note from work would matter), then she missed a lot more, then showed up with a note from work excusing her from about three weeks of class. I responded in part:

Your e-mail leaves me dismayed and frustrated. To begin, what exam did you miss? Our first exam is coming up this month. To be clear, you are not excused from this exam.

Regarding attendance, the syllabus states, "Absences are only excused in advance for religious observances or university-sanctioned activities." When you spoke with me in advance, you mentioned three classes you would miss. I approved this, even though, strictly speaking, work is not a religious observance or a university-sanctioned activity. It is your responsibility to schedule your classes and your work such that you can attend both.

Now, after the fact, your letter seeks to excuse you from six classes. Why did you not mention the second batch of classes to me in advance? According to the syllabus (which is the governing document for you, me, and all the other students in the class), on what grounds can I excuse you from the second round?

You have attended four out of 16 classes. You missed Quizzes 2, 3, 4, and 5. You are abusing my geniality.

You are excused from attendance on [dates], and from Quiz 2 and Quiz 3. You are not excused from your other absences or missed quizzes. You will not be excused from future absences, quizzes, or exams except under strict interpretation of the syllabus. To ensure there is no disagreement about what constitutes "university-sanctioned activities," you will have to receive documentation from the university approving your requested absence in advance of seeking my excuse.

I understand that students must work; I worked 20-40 hours per week throughout my undergraduate education while my wife and I raised small children. Sometimes work has to take precedence over school. However, to preserve the integrity of a college degree, it cannot represent for one student compliance with all classroom requirements and for another student a series of excuses and letters from work.

She said she completely understood and would never do it again, then she missed the entire rest of the semester except for the final exam, which she failed.

So this semester she's back again. She didn't attend the first month of class, then missed the midterm and e-mailed me why it should be okay, then missed another month, then came a few times. Every time I think, "She's been out of contact long enough that it must mean she's dropped the class now," she shows up for the next lecture.

Last fall I had a student show up a month after class began. "I misread the calendar," he said, "and I thought classes started in September instead of August." And of course he said, "I'll be here every day from now on." He was there for three consecutive lectures, then never again. But he didn't bother to drop.

This semester I have two different students who missed their final exams. One is at Road-Trip U., 100 miles away. He also missed the midterm. When he missed the midterm (because he thought he was going to drop but didn't), he e-mailed me the next week. (In the e-mail he wrote, "This won't happen again.") I ignored his e-mail, waiting for him to see me in person like a responsible person. He never did. He missed the final and had a work excuse and wanted me to give him the exam at a different time. Since he's 100 miles away, I'm not available on just any old afternoon. Of course, he e-mailed me about how he needs to pass this class to graduate.

Here is part of my reply:

The syllabus specifies "With advance notice and a legitimate reason, a student can replace the midterm exam with a more-heavily-weighted final exam. Otherwise, missed exams cannot be made up." For the midterm, you did not have advance notice, and "I thought I was going to have to drop" is not a legitimate reason. I did not respond because I was waiting for you to actually come see me in person, but it never proved important enough for you to follow up, either in person or via e-mail.

In your e-mail you wrote "this won't happen again." Yet it did. We had two exams and you managed to miss both of them. How am I supposed to evaluate your learning when you don't show up for the evaluations? At our last class period I specifically mentioned, "There is no provision for missing the final exam."

I will be available at [my local library] on Monday, 13 May 2013, from 3 PM to 5 PM. If you will be there, you must e-mail be before Sunday, 12 May 2013 at 3 PM to let me know. You will be able to take a final exam that will replace your two zero scores.

The time and location are non-negotiable. Any mention of what you "need" to graduate will result in my rescinding this offer.

He wrote back that he will be there. I have my reasons to be skeptical.

Another student at my local job missed the final because "I completely read my final exam schedule wrong." I wrote back

You've got to be kidding me. Since the first day of class, our syllabus read "Final Exam: Wednesday, [date and time]." Even if you can't read a calendar correctly (which is not the mark of a college-educated individual, by the way), how do you read "Wednesday" and think it says "Friday"? And how do you ignore my repeated comments in class about when the final exam would be? And how do you come to the review on Monday and hear me say the exam is in two days and think that means in four days? And how do you hear me say in that Monday review, "There is no provision for missing the final exam, so unless your grade can take a 40% hit, make sure you are there"?

Monday, [date and time], I will be proctoring an exam for a different class in [lecture room] (upstairs from the room our class met in). You can come to that exam and take a different final exam for your class. This exam will be shorter, more difficult, and only worth 75% of the final exam you were supposed to take on Wednesday. Otherwise, you can receive the zero that you earned for your final exam score.

On what planet is this acceptable behavior from college students? I guess the only thing that's surprising so far is that none of their parents has been involved yet. But Finals Week is still young. Who knows what Monday will bring?

Because "Biological Waste Evacuation Center" Doesn't Roll Off the Tongue

English is full of euphemisms for the room containing the toilet. The most common I use/hear are "restroom" and "bathroom." (Although my Swedish friend once told me, "I need to use the toilet," which was a little weird to hear her say. Lack of Swedish inhibition, I guess.) We don't rest in the restroom, and unless we're in our own home, we don't bathe in the bathroom.

I suggest a new term: relievatorium. It preserves the pussy-footing of the current terms while being more honest about what's going on: I don't rest or bathe there, but I certainly obtain relief.

Needless to say, my new term is totally rufus.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Semester Wind-Up

I'm finishing up three classes right now, and then preparing my summer term class on a short schedule (it begins before Memorial Day). This is why my posts have mostly been pictures lately.

I have a short list of things to blog, though, and that will begin towards the middle of next week.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Does This Come in My Size?

Why should dogs have it so lucky? I wish I could just put on a vest and have my anxiety go away. Maybe the largest of the seven dog sizes would fit me. I've seen dogs close to my size before.

I Think This Cow Works for Metro

It's a job requirement to figure out how to do your job while making people angrier than if you had done nothing at all.

Rising to My Potential

I like that the farmer has influence over who gets executive positions, but he's still a farmer. That's what the kids call "keeping it real."

Reverence Begins With Me

I draw very reverently.

(Right after I drew this and passed it to my daughter for her approval, the speaker said, "Bear with me--my heart is full." We had a good laugh.)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Church Comics

Instead of drawing this one during sacrament meeting, I did it while teaching a Primary class, so I had more crayons available. I think the final product speaks for itself.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Meanwhile, Back in Babylon....

On the way home from church yesterday, at the end of the block the chapel is on, sat a sports car that had been graffitied by the Mexican drug gang MS-13.

It frustrates me that the more I come to like the idea of moving, the less likely it seems.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Chicken or Egg?

Driving around Rexburg, I came across this park. If the park is named after the street, whence the name of the street itself?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A Binding Oral Contract

Some frottagers might think of this as a deal, not a threat.

Alternative title: "Ads Up in the Subway Are the Work of Someone Trying to Please Their Boss."

Effective Hint

I tried to log in to a membership program that I haven't used in over five years. I had my member number written down, but I didn't have my PIN noted. I clicked on "forgot my PIN" and saw the hint I had created back when I set up the account. "The only four-digit number you know," it read.

I nailed the PIN on the first try.