Monday, September 30, 2013

1984

In 1984, I met my wife.

We moved to California that summer. We left Ohio the morning school started, and when we got to California we had two more weeks of summer vacation. I remember thinking, "To make sure I never lose these extra weeks, we must never move back."

My first Sunday in California, August 26th, we went to church and I sat behind my wife in Primary (children's Sunday School). I came home and reported that I knew who I was going to marry.

I realize this is atypical, but it is my experience, so I sometimes find myself thinking, "My kids (aged 11, nine, five, and one) are slackers because they don't even have a spouse picked out yet!" I try to calm down and give them a couple more months before staging an intervention.

1983

I went to a preschool where we sang a song about a boy who put his arm out the bus window and had it torn off by a passing truck. (It was a simpler time back then.) I also went to some preschool thing once where I got in a lot of trouble for suggesting we throw a misbehaving child out the window.

I got my fingers pinched in a roller slide. I ran on the field at my sister's soccer game and stopped play. I had a nearly-frostbitten toe. A boy moved in down the street and it turned out we had identical birthdays. My parents didn't believe I was telling the truth.

I started kindergarten at a school that has since been torn down. (It seemed fine to me.) I went to a speech therapist because I said Rs like Ws. I remember "therapy" consisting of me saying "wailwoad" and the therapist saying, "No, do it again." For several weeks.

We went on a long driving vacation from Ohio to Utah and back. We drove up a tall mountain in Colorado and played in the snow. My heart hurt and I had to sit in the car until it was time to go. We went to Dinosaur National Monument and I was fairly disappointed that there were more dinosaurs at the Carnegie than at Dinosaur National Freaking Monument. We went to Salt Lake City and I tried to stop crossing the street when the signal changed from a walking man to a blinking hand, but since we were in the middle of the street, my parents didn't appreciate that. We went to the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde. It seems that vacation involved a lot of camping, a lot of Oak Ridge Boys tapes, and a lot of playing tiny gravity-powered hand-held Pac-Man plinko games.

Friday, September 27, 2013

1982

In 1982, we went to Geauga Lake. Ohio was my 9th state (PA, MD, VA, WV, NC, SC, GA, FL, OH), and we loved it so much, we moved there later that year.

When my parents were in Ohio looking for a place to live, my grandmother came to watch us. I showed her that I could eat grass when I played like I was a cow. She told me not to do that.

Final memories of living in Pennsylvania: I wadded up a gum wrapper and got it stuck up my nose. My dad told us at dinner once that people at his business meetings ate with their mouths closed. (In my mind, this was new information to him that he was in turn sharing with us, but now that I'm older, I suspect he already knew about chewing with his mouth closed.) I got my finger stuck in a folding closet door and screamed for hours, but my mother couldn't hear me because she was watching TV. My uncle and his girlfriend (now my aunt) would babysit us some weekends, which consisted of cooking macaroni and cheese and watching "Solid Gold."

Once we lived in Ohio, I watched Pirates games when they were on WGN. I wrote to my friend in Pennsylvania, Mitch, and it turned out we had watched the same game one day. (This was back when all Cubs home games were day games, so a pre-kindergarten Pirates fan was guaranteed to see at least nine games on TV.)

1981

Nineteen eighty-one was off the hook. (Or is it "off the chain"? Which one makes me seem more "with it"?) This is the first year of stuff I can remember.

I remember watching the news when Ronald Reagan (SPOILER ALERT!) got shot. I remember hours of cameras trained on a red brick building. Like me the year before, Reagan didn't die.

That summer we drove to Florida for vacation. I remember walking around Monticello (and it's a good thing I remember it, because I can never afford to do it again). I remember a ranger presentation at Okefenokee Swamp (even back then, ranger presentations blew).

I remember a guy who had a blind alligator that tourists could touch. He'd make a sandwich and use a stick to feed it to the alligator, and while the alligator was distracted, you could come up and touch his back. My parents let my older sister and brother do it, but they wouldn't let me. I was inconsolable over it (and in some ways, I guess I still am).

Then we went to Disney World. Not a single memory. (Let this be a lesson to you parents out there.)

After that, we went to Cape Whatever-They-Were-Calling-It-In-1981 and saw a bunch of NASA stuff. I got a plastic space shuttle (which was the new hotness then) that my kids still play with. Then we went to the beach, where my dad took my sister and brother swimming out a long way while I played on the sand and lost the plastic alligator I got at Okefenokee. This, too, was traumatic.

A fun story I don't remember, but have been told: my parents had lined up with some friends to spend the night with them in the DC area. Everything was agreed, and then my parents called from a gas station a few miles away to confirm. It was still a go. But when we got to the house, the people didn't answer the door. My sister remembers my father beating on the door repeatedly. But no one answered. So we drove straight home from Florida to Pittsburgh (which Mapquest says is a 20-hour trip, but this was back in the days of a 55-miles-per-hour speed limit).

Thursday, September 26, 2013

1980

I'm told I went to Lake Erie in 1980 (in 1978 I had gone to Maryland, District of Columbia, and Virginia for the first time, and in 1979 I had tooled around south-central Pennsylvania (the original "South Central."))

1979

In 1979 I almost died. But (SPOILER ALERT!) don't worry, I didn't.

I went to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, where I watched Johnny Carson every night for a month. I also received a tracheotomy while I was there.

1978

In 1978 I was presumably adorable, but I have no direct memory of it. But I've been told people would stop my mother in the grocery store to ask if I was the Gerber baby. (Because Gerber babies do their own shopping in western Pennsylvania grocery stores, right? They don't have personal assistants buying their organic baby food in Hollywood boutiques.)

PS: The Gerber baby was a celebrity spokesbaby back when people had children instead of pets. Today's equivalent would be a dog or cat in an Iams commercial.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

1977

This is my 1,977th post.

I was born in the closing days of 1977. I know things that happened that year (like the premier of Star Wars), but nothing that I remember first-hand.

Freedom to Not Do Whatever You Can

A few months ago an article appeared that detailed the ways in which premature babies are suffering because of a lack of access to needed nutrients. Much of the problem comes from the bureaucracy that permeates health care (good thing we're expanding that, right?!), but an interesting bit was elaborated by the article's author, Alexandra Robbins. In an interview, she noted that some of the nutrients in short supply are being used by celebrities for their cosmetic benefit.

This is what freedom without responsibility looks like. And what most people take away from this is that freedom needs restriction. It is presented to us that the only way to protect these babies from being out-bid on the free market by rich celebrities is to take nutrient sales off the free market. What never enters the discussion is the responsibility of those who can afford whatever they'd like on the free market to restrict what they do buy on the free market.

One of the major drives behind campaign against freedom in this country is the feeling that those with freedom abuse it. I have two responses.

  1. Oh well. Deal with it. You must respect the ability of people to use freedom in ways you find distasteful because there are ways in which you use freedom which others find distasteful.
  2. Govern yourself. Forget everything that's been taught to you by the Crappiest Generation (i.e.: Baby Boomers) and stop viewing freedom as license instead of opportunity and duty. Live under self-imposed rules if you would not live under laws imposed by others.
Freedom is a gift from God. Who are you to take away what God has granted?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Mother Was Not a Scientist (Or Maybe She's Just a Sadist)

As a child, every Christmas morning we would have to wait on the stairs and drink orange juice before being allowed to open presents. But before that, we would have to brush our teeth.

Now, thanks to a video posted on The Kid Should See This, I understand why that was a terrible order to do things.

At the time, I just thought orange juice was gross. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I realized orange juice didn't have to taste like death.

NB: The "math" label is doubling as the "science" label again.

Stress Sucks

Several years ago I read Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, where I learned that the threat of losing your job is physiologically worse than actually losing your job. This resonated with me, as I spent the entire four years we lived in Kansas working for a company that would fire an employee, tell the rest of us there'd be no more firing, and then fire another employee.

Earlier this year I read this blog post by Steven Landsburg outlining the research of Susan Godlonton. I was going to blog about it in relation to my Idaho failure, then I didn't because I didn't want to jinx it, then I didn't because I'd failed, and now it's seven months later and I'm cleaning out my "to blog about" file.

As I read this, the best job interview approach is the one shown in Good Will Hunting.

Manhattanites

Previously I've blogged about Manhattanites hiring disabled companions when visiting Disney World (a practice which had led Disney to revoke the line-cutting privileges of the disabled). But I believe I have not yet shared with you this element of Manhattan culture: wigs for babies.

As the headline notes, "not all parents [are] on board." One, in fact, is quoted saying, "I don't feel like babies should be subjected to wearing wigs just yet." I like how she qualifies "just yet." Maybe later, when they're toddlers, we can start in on the body dysmorphia, but not YET. Now is just too soon.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lawlessness Under the Law

In many places around the country, authorities seize property they want under the flimsiest of pretenses. They need not demonstrate that there was any crime. I first heard about civil forfeiture almost 20 years ago (I believe it was in a John Stossel segment of "20/20"--I was an exceptional teenager), yet it continues unabated today.

The latest article I've seen detailing the abuses of civil forfeiture is here. One couple was threatened with losing their children when the local police wanted to confiscate their cash holdings.

In general, you needn’t be found guilty to have your assets claimed by law enforcement; in some states, suspicion on a par with “probable cause” is sufficient. Nor must you be charged with a crime, or even be accused of one. Unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence.
What kind of crap country is this? Lawsuits against inanimate objects?

Civil forfeiture is theft. Given that damages can be won from those guilty of crimes, the only reason to pursue civil forfeiture is a mixture of official avarice and civilian innocence. When the police want the property of the innocent, they use civil forfeiture to get it.

Notice how irrefutable stories are used ("I smelled marijuana"), how most cases come back to "war on drugs"*, and how the owners' innocence often has no bearing on the case. Ultimately, these people don't lose their property for anything other than engaging in behavior favored by criminals. Carrying around some cash? So do criminals. Give us your cash.

Criminals also use cars to get places, use names, and breathe. Holy crap, I do those things, too! I guess the police should take my cash!

The most important lesson I learned from this article is how important it is to not cooperate with the police. Ever. Never answer a question you don't have to. Never volunteer anything. Never allow the police in your home (or car) without a warrant. After stating your name and displaying ID, any other requests should only be followed if they are detaining you.

This is modern America: the police are no longer solely the enemies of criminals, they are now enemies of all citizens, guilty or innocent.

* - Wars on things go poorly for us. We lost the war on poverty and the war on drugs. Instead of losing the war on terror, we just switched to the winning side. Ingenious.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Witch Hunts in Rochester

My reading of the Fourth Amendment doesn't pick up any nuances about whether the user of the property is its owner. Yet renters in Rochester, NY, are subject to inspection because they are renters.

The Fourth Amendment was a response to general warrants, which allowed agents of the crown to inspect for wrong-doing without suspicion of wrong-doing (as Prof. James Otteson explains in this short video). This amendment is the reason we're familiar with the terms "unreasonable searches" and "probable cause." Unless the City of Rochester can demonstrate a renter is likely a criminal qua renter (or the landlord is likely a criminal qua landlord, and the evidence is in the rental property), searching the homes of renters is unconstitutional.

The new thing in America is to conduct illegal searches and then declare the "probable cause" was the refusal to submit to such a search. TSA does this all the time. "You must be a terrorist or you wouldn't mind us treating you like a terrorist" is nonsense. The only people who really should mind being treated like terrorists are the non-terrorists. After all, they're the ones who don't deserve it.

I know there is no such constitutional right as a "right to privacy." But it is fairly clear that Rochester inspections are not based on probable cause and constitute unreasonable searches.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I'd Like "Privileged Brats" for 500, Alex

Perhaps I only know the rules of Jeopardy! because I love the show and have tried out to be a contestant. If you don't know, the winner gets to keep the amount of money won, while second and third place do not. They win fixed amounts of money (I believe it's $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place).

Now that you know that, reflect on the salient points of this news story. The boy was perhaps wrongly judged to have supplied the wrong answer. (As I was told in try-outs, it's not a spelling contest, but Alex needs to be able to tell what you meant.) Because the answer was said to be wrong, his earnings went from $9,600 to $6,600. Had he been adjudged correct, he would have ended with $12,600.

The winner had $66,600.

It didn't keep him from first place, and it didn't move him down to third place. The outcome of the game was exactly what it would have been.

This being modern America, that's not the end of the story.

You see, evidently Alex Trebek insulted the boy by saying his answer was "badly misspelled," and then added to the insult by noting the correctly-spelled answer of the winner.

Here's the way this should have worked: the boy should have said he felt cheated, and his parents should have said, "It doesn't really matter," and then I would have been blogging today about Ylvis. But with today's tech-savvy kids, perhaps the boy wouldn't let it go, and he contacted the local newspaper. When the reporter called his parent for a quote, the parent should have said, "Hold on a minute," and then beaten the insolent boy. With the phone lying on the counter face-up, so the reporter heard the whole thing.

Instead.

Instead we have this news story that could have been headlined "Local Boy Embarrassed."

I was in a quiz competition in fourth grade. I thought the question was asking for the names of the states of the United States and Mexico that had the Rio Grande as a border. I quickly wrote down "Texas, New Mexico, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua." I then fretted that I misspelled Tamaulipas. And then all the contestants showed their answers. And I found out they really wanted the states of the United States that bordered Mexico.

I was the only contestant to get the question wrong. As a result, I finished in a lower place. And I didn't tell any reporters that I was cheated, or that I was no longer a fan, or that I deserved an apology. No one gave me the opportunity to explain to the audience that I wasn't as dumb as they thought, that I really knew the names of the American states that bordered Mexico.

That would have to wait 25 years for me to get a blog.

The Real Purpose of Money?

Here's a terrifying article about people who have gone bankrupt playing the free game Candy Crush. But within that article I found something even more terrifying.

For example, many free-to-play games have their own currencies, which makes buying things a lot easier. "Research has shown that putting even one intermediate currency between the consumer and real money, such as a 'game gem' (premium currency), makes the consumer much less adept at assessing the value of the transaction," writes Ramin Shokrizade.
This isn't just true of intermediate currency, it's true of primary currency, as well.

People think we do things for dollars (or euro, or yuan, or whatever). But we only want the currency for its instrumentality. Our demand for currency is derived demand. But many of us lose sight of the "real" things and focus instead on monetary units. This is called "money illusion."

What if money illusion is the driving force behind government-controlled currency? The people running Candy Crush have discovered that people spend more than they otherwise would when you make them do some conversion equations. Are we to believe that monetary authorities aren't wise to this fact themselves? Most modern governments undertake policies designed to maximize consumption on the theory that this makes the economy strong. (Just a few days ago I blogged a video of Milton Friedman explaining how purposeless expenditure creates poverty, not wealth.) Having things priced in an intermediate currency like dollars shields consumers from the true costs of their expenditures.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Materialism Sapping Spiritual Strength

I've been thinking lately about the lack of spiritual gifts present in the modern church. Sometimes we hear stories of healing these days, but not that much. The other gifts of the spirit are conspicuous in their absence. Hugh Nibley says this is because gifts of the spirit require faith and we have replaced faith in God with faith in ourselves. He says we see healing only in desperate situations where we can't do it on our own.

Moroni tells us in the closing chapters of the Book of Mormon that our modern world sees no miracles because it has no faith. And this is an acceptable explanation for the world at large, but don't Mormons (and most other Christians as well) have faith?

No, not really. All Christians have a record of the communalism inherent in true Christianity (The Acts of the Apostles), and Mormons have a record of the Lord's renewed affirmation of this principle (Doctrine and Covenants). In reading "No Poor Among Them" by Lindon J. Robison (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1 (2005): 86-97, 130) today, I was particularly struck by D&C 70:14.

Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld.
The early church has impressive tales of spiritual gifts. Only in the modern church with widespread materialism and wealth distinctions do we suffice with stories of finding missing keys.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Wealth Equalization Without Coerced Redistribution

Several months ago I blogged about the following scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants:

15. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

16. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

17. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

Longtime quasi-sister-in-law Angela commented thus:
Ironically one of my fb friends used that same scripture (D&C 104:16)to make a case for voting for Obama.

Coerced redistribution would magnify the end of verse 16 and ignore all of verse 17. The following video (featured here) begins with a comment from an audience member holding a worldview focused on the end of verse 16. It's the fault of the rich, and since the rich have what the poor need, we need to take it from the rich.

Friedman's answer is couched in a verse 17 worldview. There is enough and to spare; the poor don't have to take from the rich for the poor to get what they need. In fact, the best way for the poor to get what they need is to allow the rich to have their own resources and create wealth with them. Threatening to take the wealth creates incentive to use up the wealth.

Verse 17 ends with the declaration that the Lord has "given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves." The Lord would have us redistribute our wealth, but would allow us to do it voluntarily, thus earning blessings (or condemnations) for our decisions. It's not the Lord's plan to compel righteousness.

The Poor Get Richer and the Rich Get Poorer

Today on Twitter I saw this:

Shortly afterwards, I read this blog post in my Feedly feed.

Klein links to this article which contains Census data showing that median real income was lower in 2012 than it was in 1989. And Henderson links to this blog which contains UNICEF data showing that worldwide child mortality had fallen by nearly half between 1990 and 2012.

Americans are getting poorer, while the world's poor are getting richer (real incomes in Africa rose by 27% in almost the exact same time period highlighted in the Washington Post article).

As an American, I'm aware that my future is less bright than that of my parents' generation (in large part thanks to my future being plundered by my parents' generation). And that sucks for me. But it's not all Occupy Wall Street rhetoric that explains it. Wealth has moved overseas, often to people like Roman Abramovich and Carlos Slim, but more frequently to anonymous Asians and Africans who are nearly half as likely to have their young children die. And this tempers my moaning.

It's poor form for the world's richest country to complain bitterly when those living on a dollar a day now get two dollars a day. If our students continue to accumulate less human capital than Chinese students, they cannot expect to continue to be three times richer than the Chinese. With the ridiculous definition of American poverty compared to actual overseas poverty, I have a hard time seeing the trend described by these reports as anything but a good thing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Community College Value

Several years ago I saw an article that said workers with associate's degrees who also have higher degrees earn less than their peers who just have the higher degrees. Since then I've tried to find this article online many times, and I never can.

Here are two articles that have different conclusions. The first finds no penalty for beginning college at a two-year school, and the second finds a premium for attending a two-year school. So basically nobody knows anything.

How do I feel about my associate's degree? I like it (and not just because it ads two letters to my name when I pretentiously style myself "A Random Stranger, AA, BS, MA"). I like that I failed out of college at a four-year university and went back anyway. Like a first-round draft pick bombing out of the majors and working his way back through the minors. I'm the Rick Ankiel of economics (unless Rick Ankiel ends up majoring in economics, in which case I'm just some guy who went to community college).

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Internet Is Great

So I was sitting through a painfully-dramatized video of a guy announcing that he thinks he knows who Satoshi Nakamoto is, and I noticed this video waiting in the sidebar. What a rich reward.

The world's a better place with this video in it.

An Obligation to Consecration

I've written before that most adult members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have already covenanted to live the law of consecration. Not at some future date when they are asked, but now, since they've already been asked.

Here's an interesting short story by Orson Scott Card regarding the law of consecration. I was particularly intrigued by the standard for judging surplus: that which you would have spent on vanity.

When we moved to Ohio, we gave away our old TV with the intention of buying a new one after the move. (Had you ever lifted the old TV, you would understand why we were doing this.) We weren't quite sure at first, but when we saw we could get a slightly-smaller TV for under $200, and remembered that our parents gave us money for a new TV when I graduated in 2009 (that we spent on groceries at the time), we agreed.

Our initial shopping led us to decide on a particular model for $180. Then the well-intentioned advice of those around us resulted in our spending about $100 more than that. Most people would probably tell us we're fine; we spent under $300 when lots of people around us are spending more than $1,000. (Comparing to others around us is a sure-fire way to misjudge our surplus. So is listening to their advice, even when they are basically good people.) That last $100 certainly seems to me like it must have been my surplus property.

Remember that the Lord will come to Zion. He won't bring it; it will be here to greet Him. We are supposed to build it. And we don't build it by spending an extra $100 on a TV we don't really need, anyway.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Mormon Leaders Oppose Academic Freedom (Not How You Think)

I spent some time today reading two articles by Gregory L. Smith in Interpreter that I'd become aware of earlier this year. First I read "Dubious 'Mormon' Studies: A Twenty-First Century Construction of Exit Narratives," followed by "Return of the Unread Review: A Mormon Story." The first is an article that was prepared for Mormon Studies Review and led to the replacement of that publication's editorial staff. The second explains how that happened.

I'm aware that there are two sides to every story, but Smith's reasoned academic tone is infinitely more trustworthy to me than John Dehlin's scattered duplicity. Dehlin's version of events--that Smith was preparing an ad hominem attack on him--is refuted with a reading of the first article; while it seemed weird to spend 100 pages refuting the work of one particular guy, I felt Dehlin's work required a refutation, and I felt Smith wasn't belaboring any points. It took 100 pages to do the job. As I read, I thought, "I hope there's never a time when someone can write 100 pages about inconsistencies in my public statements regarding my religion."

So what is Smith's side of the story? Someone at Maxwell Institute leaked his article (at least a synopsis of what he thought the content was, as the leaker said he hadn't read it and Dehlin later said he hadn't read it, either) to Dehlin, who e-mailed a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy to complain, CCing the head editor of Mormon Studies Review and others. In his e-mail, Dehlin mentions bringing the matter to the attention of a member of the Quorum of the Twelve if he doesn't get a satisfactory response. Mormon Studies Review head editor Dan Peterson was later given by Maxwell Institute director Gerald Bradford an e-mail written by BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson, Jr. asking the article be held. Bradford later told Peterson he had not read the article, either. Subsequently Peterson, Smith, and the rest of the editorial board of Mormon Studies Review were fired.

We're a long way from The September Six.

Somewhere along the chain of command above Bradford, someone decided to suppress Smith's article to satisfy Dehlin. There's a good chance the decision was made by someone who hadn't read the article. And it bears mentioning that Smith's article defended church positions against the often-borderline-hostile work of Dehlin. How in the world do you publicly disagree with fundamental church doctrines and not only escape judgement, but get your critics fired by the church they're defending?

I read the blogs of both Interpreter and Maxwell Institute. The MI blog is filled with ecumenical mumbo-jumbo and Interpreter is filled with articles that begin with the premise that the Book of Mormon is true. On my list of things to do when I'm rich is subscribe to the print version of Interpreter. It makes me sad that BYU felt like Smith's article needed suppression without even affording it a trial reading. Smith's first article made me think of Dehlin as a well-meaning man with little idea what he's doing. Dehlin's subsequent actions have shown me that he knows exactly what he's doing, and I find it unsupportable. I wish Bradford's anonymous boss felt the same way.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

You Had One Job

Max Weber says the state is defined by its monopoly on violence. Okay, if you're going to have a monopoly on violence, have a monopoly on violence.

Instead, the state seems to run parallel systems: outside of prison, it has a monopoly on violence, but within prison, it has a monopoly on violence suppression. And in both places, the state uses its monopolies to injure.

I believe our treatment of prisoners is shameful. Most Americans either don't care (because prisoners are hidden from view) or think it's great (because the barbarism of prison serves as a deterrent to crime). But the state has a responsibility to not abuse its citizens, which includes its prisoners. If the general public likes inhumane prisons, at least the state should care to stop it.

Instead, the state thinks it's pretty great, too. The biggest deterrent most Americans contemplate when reflecting on potential crime isn't the loss of liberty associated with prison, it's the loss of safety. The state publicizes its failure to protect its prisoners; far from being ashamed of its dereliction of duty, the state trades on it.

In this blog post by Christopher Glazek we gain a glimpse of the problem. (For those of you who don't like to think about prisoners as people, don't read the article, which details the abuses borne by less-harmless criminals.)

The reliance on filed complaints appeared to understate the problem. For 2008, for example, the government had previously tallied 935 confirmed instances of sexual abuse. After asking around, and performing some calculations, the Justice Department came up with a new number: 216,000. That’s 216,000 victims, not instances. These victims are often assaulted multiple times over the course of the year. The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.
The old official estimate was off by more than 23,000%. That's not a "whoops, my bad," that's a refusal to see the problem.

I suspect most Americans would say, "What's the problem? If you don't want to be abused, don't be a criminal." This glib response ignores the very real possibility that not every convict is a criminal, and it ignores the police state reality in which we live, where everyone is a criminal who but for the grace of the state's merciful leniency would find himself in the same position. One teenaged boy caused $500 worth of property damage and was subsequently raped for 10 weeks in adult prison until he killed himself (he had completed about 2% of his sentence).

Does eight years of sexual abuse sound like a fitting punishment to $500 of property damage? How much sexual abuse is fitting punishment? How about "none"? Hugh Nibley calls converting life into property "the Mahan principle," the "great secret" Cain received from Satan (see Nibley, Approaching Zion). The decline of American society begun in the late 1960s and the 1970s was not stopped so much as it was hidden behind prison walls. The utter lack of humanity required to perpetuate this system shows that the decline of the American spirit has continued unabated, even while we have declared victory on the basis of rigged crime statistics.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"The [Middle] Eastern World, It Is Exploding"

I started thinking this week about my grandfather. He was a married father when he was drafted in 1943. I'm a married father, too.

Differences: he was still under 30. I'm 35 (read: 44). And he was able-bodied, but I have a plate and some pins in my ankle. (Although I've since run a marathon.)

I'm reading Across Five Aprils to my kids right now. I thought of my grandfather again when I read this passage today:

"Do you hev to do it then?"

"I guess I do. There's been a long chain of events leading up to this time; the dreams of men in my generation are as insignificant as that--" he snapped his fingers sharply. "We were foolish enough to reach manhood just when the long fizzling turned into an explosion."

p. 65

There are things I believe in enough to risk dying for them. Distracting the nation from the president's incompetence is not one of them.

Post title a variation of a lyric from "Eve of Destruction."

What Would Lauryn Hill Do?

Bloggers of a certain age have listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill several times in their lives, enough to read this article on (this was my first mistake) Slate and think of the lyric, "Can't take a threat to me newborn son."

Because when I read the deluded ramblings of Allison Benedikt, that's how I take them: a threat to my children. Benedikt argues--contra evolution and common sense--that I should place the welfare of my immediate progeny behind that of hypothetical strangers several generations in the future. She acknowledges that parents keep their children from public schools because the parents think the public schools are bad for their children. She doesn't argue that the parents are wrong. I don't want to jump to the conclusion that Benedikt has no children of her own, but I cannot think of a single parent who would knowingly place his child in what he considers harm's way because theory says it might pay off later.

Benedikt's concluding paragraph could only have been written by the product of a public school:

Whatever you think your children need—deserve—from their school experience, assume that the parents at the nearby public housing complex want the same. No, don’t just assume it. Do something about it. Send your kids to school with their kids. Use the energy you have otherwise directed at fighting to get your daughter a slot at the competitive private school to fight for more computers at the public school. Use your connections to power and money and innovation to make your local school—the one you are now sending your child to—better. Don’t just acknowledge your liberal guilt—listen to it.
Oh jeez.

Okay, deep breath, only focus on the major problems, and take them one problem at a time.

On what basis should I assume poor parents want the same thing for their children that I want for mine? Many of the outcomes that mark failed schools originate from lack of parental involvement. Parents who protest school weather closings because of childcare concerns rather than lost education don't want the same thing I want.

What parents want is also quite distinct from what children want. A disengaged parent might not want a high-functioning school, but I'm willing to concede they often don't want the violent school they get. That's on the children who bring the violence to school. Increasing the number of docile children doesn't lessen the violence, it just gives the predators more variety in their victims.

Computers are not the education magic wand Benedikt imagines them to be. They don't abate stupidity, they just make stupidity less boring. Parents are better off fighting for education in the classroom than for computers, and the parents who understand that are the ones seeking out schools that have education in the classroom. They're saying, "Use my property taxes to buy your kids fancy computers, and I'll use my disposable income to buy my kid education." Benedikt is saying, "Stop making that choice and come partake of these computers with us." No thanks.

Lastly, we see the shortcomings of "liberal guilt." American schools are phenomenally well-funded. The fact that parents have allowed the education establishment to ruin the education of their local schools does not require any additional action on my part. There is room for guilt over opportunity and input, but there is no room for guilt over outcome.

Benedikt ends by addressing those who feel liberal guilt, but her castigation isn't limited to them; she doesn't say "if you feel guilty about the public schools you don't use, you are a bad person." Instead she says those not using public schools are bad persons. So her liberal guilt has turned into an imperative for me. Which is the problem with liberal guilt: it seeks to address itself by controlling others instead of the self. It spreads the guilt around ("I'm not the only one who's doing something wrong here"), it reduces the demand that I change myself ("I'll begin a decades-long campaign to change society rather than a painful course of self-control"), and it rewards my conscience with authority over others ("I'll tell you what to do since I know what should be happening"). Benedikt has no right to demand my children have worse outcomes, no matter who she thinks might eventually benefit. The lives of today's poor have been improved by technological advances pioneered by yesterday's educated. Perhaps the best outcomes come from giving phenomenal educations to a handful of students and giving the rest iPads. Which is exactly what's already happening.

Monday, September 09, 2013

In Your Grocer's Pretentious Section

Nature intended cats to eat rats and dogs to eat their own vomit. Which makes the presence of refrigerators on the pet-food aisle more offensive to me.

Not only do people keep their substance from the poor for their own made-up needs, now they do it for their pets' made-up needs, too.

PS: Ten years ago I read this Dennis Prager article in The Washington Times National Weekly Edition wherein Prager writes:

For 30 years, I have asked high school seniors throughout America which they would save first, their dog or a stranger. In every instance (except some religious schools), one third have voted to save their dog, one third for the stranger, and one third just didn't know.
A decade later, those high-schoolers are now adults and their stupidity has intensified. In modern America, this counts as progress.

And people wonder how we elected Obama. Forty years of annihilistic public schools will create an annihilistic constituency. The morning after the last election I read a non-ironic post from an online commenter arguing that Mitt Romney was a bad choice for president because he wanted to "kill Big Bird."

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Church History That Won't Put You to Sleep

"...the situation in Kirtland deteriorated further. An open battle between Smith loyalists and dissenters took place in the temple, complete with pistols and bowie-knives." - Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, by John G. Turner, p. 53.

Why don't they ever teach THAT in Sunday School? It's always, "Oh, the Kirtland Temple: they ground up their shiny dishes," not, "The Kirtland Temple: gun fights!"

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Disclaimer

We went today to Sidney, Ohio's Applefest, where I saw a sign advertising "world's best root beer." But then I read the fine print. Did somebody get sued or something? (For the record, it was really good root beer: Fent's from Springfield, Ohio.)

Friday, September 06, 2013

Hijacked Notes

In my new office, I use a white board to make notes to myself about future research, blog posts, or things to do. My daughter has discovered this and has attempted to use it as a sort of Jedi mind trick.

First I'm supposed to blog about how Crazy Jane is the best, then evidently I'm to buy my kids a pet.

I like the mark of authenticity from using a bullet point to begin each list item. It makes it more likely I'll think it's a legitimate note.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Charity Behind a Veil

I've written here before about how hard it is for me to be charitable when I'm paying attention. And the other day I had the realization that this could be one reason that temple work is beneficial to the temple patron.

We've all had the experience where your happiness at performing some service is lessened by your interaction with the person receiving the service. You make a really nice meal for people and drop it off, only to see their looks of disgust or hear their reasons they don't eat that kind of food. You buy people a gift and see them misuse it or not give thanks. And you end up less likely to give service in the future. Even people we know well can bother us enough that we don't serve them like we should (see every failed marriage for further insight).

Of course it would be nice if receiving sufficient gratitude didn't matter, but we all know it does. And temple work helps us get around this by keeping a separation between us and those we're serving. We can imagine they're as grateful as we want, and we keep coming back. Maybe they are turning up their noses at your sacrificed time, but you can't see it.

So giving to unseen people helps us keep giving, because their humanity doesn't get in the way. This allows us to keep practicing charity, which then gets us closer to the ideal, where gratitude doesn't matter anymore.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Quick and the Dead

I've previously blogged about Manhattanites using the disabled as Disney World tour guides to skip long lines. Not to be outdone, rich Russians are abusing society's regard for the sick and injured to avoid traffic.

Don't worry, America: you can be just as self-centered. According to the first commenter on Marginal Revolution's post, ambulance taxis exist in Las Vegas, too.

This places a fairly clear externality on legitimate ambulance passengers. Either police stop ambulances to make sure they're not taxis (as the article says they are doing), which makes legitimate passengers' travel times to hospitals go up, or they stop allowing ambulances to disregard traffic laws, which has the same result. I guess the illegitimate passengers are figuring slowing legitimate ambulances is beyond the pale, so they will never lose.

Instead, police should just use astronomical fines when illegitimate passengers enter or (especially) exit an ambulance. Passengers can fake an entrance (is getting strapped to a gurney and taking an IV really worth avoiding Russian traffic?), but faking an exit is harder. It's pretty obvious when an ambulance stops at a non-hospital.

With high enough of fines, the low chance of getting caught still produces a high expected value of the fine. Would this behavior stop if the ticket cost $5 million? Probably. Then the sick can still get to the hospital without any delays.

Sure, there are still work-arounds. Once inside the ambulance, the passenger dresses as an EMT and then enters his destination with the ambulance crew like they are responding to a legitimate call. But the work-around seems inconvenient enough to make it unlikely. After all, rich people don't want to be changing costumes all day just to avoid traffic.

Why can't Russian rich people just take helicopters like Brazilian rich people? Or better yet, work in close proximity to their homes. Or even better yet, not be rich. That probably won't happen, though. I suspect the reason the Brazilian solution isn't good enough for the Russians is that it's not jerk-faced enough. Arriving by helicopter says, "I'm incredibly rich and dislike traffic," while arriving by ambulance says, "I'm incredibly rich and hate my fellow man."

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Why College Is Expensive

In the summer of 2007, I took a calculus course at University of Kansas. The textbook was written by James Stewart and cost over $100.

Calculus isn't proprietary information (because Isaac Newton's heirs weren't as good as Walt Disney's at getting a "not really perpetual" perpetual copyright). If the information is basically zero-cost, the textbook should be priced to only cover paper, ink, and entrepreneurial talent. The materials are low quality (the cover is paper, and the corners of the spine are worn), and the entrepreneurial talent is fairly non-existent (I required several supplemental books to make sense of Stewart's writing). So why did my book cost so much?

Two years later, when reading the Wall Street Journal, I found the answer. Stewart was building an 18,000-square-foot house (are they still called houses when they're larger than Old Navy stores?) that cost $24 million.

"If I hadn't commissioned this house, I'm not sure what I would spend the money on," he said. Well, he could have started by not rent-seeking, by not accumulating monopoly power and then using that power to create prices above marginal cost for his textbooks, by making a sufficient living from his talents instead of accumulating so much money that he quite literally was almost not sure what to do with it.

My copy of his book is the "University of Kansas edition," dramatically reducing my ability to resell it. What makes this edition distinct from any other? Well, it has a paper cover and it's missing Chapter 7. By creating BS editions for individual schools, Stewart not only took my money when I bought the book, but he kept me from getting more of it back when I tried to resell it.

There's lots of evidence that Stewart supports the Occupy Wall Street movement (he's a mathematics professor, he's Canadian, he's rich, and he dressed as Satine at his annual Halloween costume party in 2008). But many of the young people in the movement were to some degree impoverished by Stewart, and unnecessarily so. He gained rents from students left little choice (buy this overpriced textbook or don't get your college degree). And I'm sure Stewart has no idea that the real villains of the world look a lot less like Zidler and a lot more like a 60-ish Canadian in drag.