Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014


Negotiations are complete. I expect that later today I'll be signing a contract to teach economics at a Chinese high school for the next two academic years.

Once I've actually signed, I'll let you know some more information.

Friday, February 21, 2014


This is how my China job back-and-forth is going right now.

I'll let you know when I know more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Adventures in Misspelled Last Names

My entire life, people have mispronounced my last name. I've always considered these people as somewhat foolish. My last name has seven letters that all follow the standard rules of English pronunciation. In fact, my last name is a word that appears in the dictionary. Nevertheless, most people insert an extra "I" into my name.

When I was a missionary I had my last name on my chest all day long (except for the one time we took off our name tags and pretended to be airplane pilots for S.C. Johnson & Co.). One day at church a woman spent about 30 seconds staring at my name tag before loudly mispronouncing my last name. I corrected her. She said, "But it's spelled like [mispronunciation]." I said, "No, it's not." A little bit later a child also mispronounced my last name. I said, "It only has one 'I,' like you'll have if you say it wrong again." That kid and I did not turn out to be friends.

Last month I interviewed for a job in China. I hadn't really heard anything back from them. I've been casually e-mailing one of their employees, and he tipped me off that I should get in contact with his boss if I'm still interested. It turned out the boss had e-mailed an offer to me within days of the interview, but had misspelled my e-mail address, so I hadn't received it. He had inserted an extra "I."

He didn't get anything back from Mailer-Daemon because it's a valid address for someone, somewhere in the world. And whoever owns that address probably thinks he just had a sweet gig in China fall into his lap. But he hasn't bothered to write back.

Anyway, now I have a couple hours' notice to decide if I want to move to Beijing for two years. Advising comments would be appreciated.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Shifted Curve

One of the economics blogs I follow, Conversable Economist, had a post today about unheralded changes in the U.S. labor market. I was particularly struck by the graph of the Beveridge Curve, which plots job openings against the unemployment rate. Here's a BLS graph:

Notice that two recessions are shown on this graph, that of 2000-2001 and that of 2008-infinity. In the first, the unemployment rate increased and the number of job openings declined, and then the recovery followed the same curve in reverse. But something happened between June 2009 and April 2010 to permanently shift the Beveridge Curve outward; now a given unemployment rate corresponds to a higher number of job openings. What happened between June 2009 and April 2010 that would make it so job openings sit vacant while available workers are not hired? Hmmmm, I wonder what it could be?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Actually, It's Einstein's Monster

Yesterday we spent the day in Cincinnati (because who hasn't wanted to be able to say that?). Among other things, we visited Jungle Jim's, easily the coolest grocery store ever. (I know that's a pretty low bar to clear, but it clears it with ease.) While browsing around, we saw plastic replicas of Frankenstein's monster's head, presumably filled with food of some sort. (We also saw non-replica pigs' heads, also presumably filled with food. Puke.) Jerome Jerome the Metronome yelled out, "Ahhh, look at those Albert Einstein heads!"

So the good news is that my six-year-old has heard of Albert Einstein. The bad news is that he thinks Einstein's a fictional monster. Which makes you wonder if he has been revering Frankenstein for his mathematical prowess. "Nnnnnggggghhhh, speed of light GOOOOOOD!"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Home of the Free"

I have a hard time with the national anthem lately. It seems like a useful tool for an oppressive police state. "If we tell 'em they're free, we don't actually have to let 'em be free!" In this light, the most ironic of song lyrics are those from Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be an American": "Where at least I know I'm free."

Some people bristle at this. "How are you not free?!" Have I personally been oppressed? Aside from when I went to see Barack Obama in 2010 and had my religious oil confiscated and was told I would be removed from the event if I wasn't supportive, no, nothing else oppressive has happened directly to me. But is that how we measure freedom these days? The folks in the Gulag weren't free, but the rest of the Russians were? It seems to me that a state that oppresses one citizen has removed freedom from all citizens.

So am I free to read the newspaper of my choice? Well, I'm not so sure. This woman isn't. After satisfying the universally-applied security requirements to pass into the secure area of the airport, she was subject to additional screening because of her choice of reading material. This doesn't have to happen to all travelers to curtail the freedom of all travelers.

Unfortunately, most Americans will be unaware of this event, and many of those who find out will discount it because of the source. "If it was real, I would have seen it in [my favored media outlet]." But that's not how media sources work. They are supposed to include a subset of real events, but their subset does not define real events.

Yesterday I read at Marginal Revolution about Americans sentenced to life who had committed no crime. Others are imprisoned for failure to pay fees associated with their unsuccessful prosecution for another crime. So the State wrongly accuses them, removes their liberty during their trials, then bills them for the costs of their improper imprisonment and jails them when they don't pay. I've written before about civil forfeiture. About every six months, without looking for it, I see a news story about an exonerated convict whose jailors refuse to free him, or a seized child whose court-ordered return to his parents is not allowed by the county workers who have, at this point, kidnapped him. Or what about the man whose rifle was confiscated because he was "rudely displaying" it? These didn't happen to me, but do they impact my freedom?

I live in a country where my property can be taken if it's nice enough (civil forfeiture) or if it threatens the State (gun confiscation), where I can be billed for having my freedom removed (like this woman billed for an improper cavity search) and then imprisoned for failure to pay the bill (debtors prison), or even imprisoned when no crime has been committed (as some wrongful conviction cases have shown). I can have my children seized on the strength of anonymous rumors generated by government-funded advertising against fathers holding their daughters' hands. If I am exonerated (although I'm not guilty, exoneration is never a sure thing when the county interrogators plant false memories), the county can keep my children away from me for several more years. I can have all of my telephone and Internet communications monitored and I can be imprisoned on the strength of a false story created to fit the facts (parallel construction). My political views might subject me to harassment by tax officials and law enforcement, or could result in my private information being disclosed illegally (like Obama did to Jack Ryan, Mitt Romney, Christine O'Donnell, and who knows how many others). And what I decide to read can result in law enforcement targeting.

Tell me again how free I am.

None of these things have happened to me (yet). But when you're in a dangerous neighborhood as defined by its murder rate, you don't have to be one of the murder victims to view yourself as unsafe. "Well, 300 people have been murdered in this town this year, but none of them was me, so I'm perfectly fine hanging out around here."

America is not a free country. Songs that would have you believe otherwise are false. My love of truth prohibits me from singing false songs.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mailbag, Mrs. Kelson Edition

Gayle writes, regarding my post "Find Out What's Up With Me,"

waive: to officially say that you will not use or require something that you are allowed to have or that is usually required. wave: to move your hand or something held in your hand usually in a repeated motion in order to signal or greet someone. You're welcome.
Belated thanks.

I didn't want to go back and correct the post before I acknowledged that I got it wrong. And what's weird is that just the day before in a different context I had typed "wave" when I wanted "waive," then I noticed it and corrected it. So when I read this comment I thought, "No, I fixed that, remember?" And the other part of my brain said, "Yeah, you totally fixed that. I do remember." But both parts of my brain were wrong.

In other news, apparently I'm schizophrenic. So I've got that going for me.

Friday, February 07, 2014

International ARS?

What's the deal with all the Russian and Ukrainian traffic I get? It can't all be pornbots, can it?

I think one of my Russian or Ukrainian visitors should leave a comment telling us what about A Random Stranger is so intriguing to the Slavic sentimentality. Is it the extreme level of failure in my life that appears to be modeled on the old Soviet Union? Does my blog satisfy a failure nostalgia in you? Let us know. You can even leave your comment in that crazy-ass alphabet you have (we have programs to convert it to intelligible symbols).

"You Wasted Life / Why Wouldn't You Waste Death?"

I read a couple books this year that compile near-death experiences. The stories have several similarities, but also some unique features.

The editor of the books specifically asked in his forward that readers not retell the stories as a way of keeping them from morphing into sensational tales different from the originals. So I'm just going to mention really briefly here that in one story the temporarily-dead guy overheard some others debating whether he was finished with his time on Earth and evaluating what he'd done so far with his life. He said a word they repeatedly used was "dissipation."

Tell me about it. Dissipation could be my middle name. I'm fairly certain the episodic play of my life performed in heaven is entitled "The Dissipation Monologues."

But the good news is, it's not just me. It's everyone. All the time. Virtually every element of human endeavor is a waste of time. The truthfulness of this really struck me at my kids' swimming lessons. Here was an expensive building and scores of people spending lots of time learning to make their bodies move through water. Why? Why does your body need to move through water? It doesn't. But we were all there doing it anyway. And the scene was repeated in practically every town in the nation that day.

The way in which people throw themselves into these distractions is almost indicative of their true understanding of the uselessness of the activities. Like a procrastinator who is going to do the world's best cleaning job in the basement, and then when that's finally finished, he's going to complete the fastest Sudoku ever. (I've just described two scenes from "The Dissipation Monologues.") How else do you explain professional sports? Not only do the athletes dissipate their lives by becoming world-class at crap that doesn't matter at all, the rest of us dissipate our lives by watching them.

A good blog post would end with a prescription for the future. "Don't do that; instead do this." But I never said I was a good blogger. (And if you've read more than one post, you already know just how not good of a blogger I am.) So I'm just going to end with the first part: don't do that. But I can't tell you what to do instead because I don't know. I just know that 99.99% of what I do in life is a complete waste of time, and the other 0.01% is a fluke.

Title from the Modest Mouse song "Ocean Breathes Salty."

Thursday, February 06, 2014

That's Not a Sport

I'm reading The Middle Moffat to our kids. The book was published in 1942 and is set in 1915. Last night we got to a chapter entitled, "Janey Takes Up Sports." Immediately after I read the chapter title, Articulate Joe said, "Oh, I hope it's NASCAR!"

Spoiler alert: it wasn't NASCAR. Which you should know because the chapter title says she takes up sports, not "skills shared by every American over the age of 16."

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"Find Out What's Up With Me"

Not only am I the type of person who quotes The Rentals in a blog post title, I'm the type of person who has probably used this quote more than once. And the type of person who just doesn't care. If you could see me, I'd be waving my hands in the air, the universal signal among the club-going public of a lack of caring. (Full disclosure: I've been to clubs, but at no time in a club did I wave my hands in the air. Because when I was in the club, evidently I did care. Quite a lot. But that's over now.)

So what, in fact, is up with me? I've been working on a professional website. It carries just the slightest hint of the stink of my failure. So slight you might be tricked into thinking it's just a French dude down the street.

I'm thinking that, when I get the website fine-tuned, I might retire this blog and replace it with a blog on the website. I don't know. The pros of keeping ARS going: 1) It already exists. 2) It's free. The cons: 1) Having a website and a separate blog makes my life slightly more complex. 2) Blah blah blah, nobody cares about my decision-making process. I could hire a one-armed Romanian prostitute to throw knives at a spinning wheel with sectors designated "KEEP ARS" and "DON'T KEEP ARS" and it would be about as scientific.

One of the draws of ARS was the anonymity. Not that I'm living a secret life here or anything, but I liked being able to share my honest opinions without consideration of politeness and decorum and whatnot. But that's over, anyway. Family members found my blog, people I know from church found my blog. The all-married man has no one to talk to, and that includes a blog-reading audience. So I don't think content would change dramatically if I started blogging under my name. It would probably skew more economic and less religious, and I'd be less-inclined to write things like, "I still feel terrible about not getting hired in Idaho." But the days of writing a post about the family members or ward members who bug me the most are gone. Let them go.

Title from the song "Friends of P."

Monday, February 03, 2014

Credibility Gap

My Wife: "Go running."
Me: "I'm not going to go today."
My Wife: "Go running."
Me: "I'm not going to go today."
My Wife: "Go running."
Me: "I'm not going to go today."
My Wife: "Go running."
Me: "I'm not going to go today."
My Wife: "Go running."
Me: "I'm not going to go today."
[five minutes later]
Me: "I'm going to shower."
My Wife: "I thought you were going to go running."