Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A New Year's Reminder

Returning from Hong Kong, Jerome needed to use a restroom when we were halfway across town on the subway ride home from the airport. He and I left the rest of the family to finish the trip by themselves and we used a subway toilet, where I saw this sign.

I could read the first sentence ("Zhè shì wǒ yīzhí xiǎng duì nǐ shuō dehuà"), but then they stole my self-praise by translating it to English for me. The second sentence, though, I didn't know. It turns out it says, "Xiǎobiàn rù chí. Wénmíng nǐ zuìměi," which means, "Urinate into the pool. Your best civilization."

Or does it? 美 means "beautiful," but it's also a shorthand way of saying 美国, which means "United States." My phone app says 最 before a place means "nearest to." So it's possible that the last sentence is really saying, "Your civilization closest to America."

But the government's frenemy attitude towards the U.S. makes that translation unlikely. It would be more likely for them to say, "Don't pee on the floor like those American capitalist dogs."

By the way, the floor was covered in pee.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 - Year in (P)Review

Well, another year over. It seems like an appropriate time to review my accomplishments this year.

First of all, I became a doctor. Not the kind that helps people, but still, it’s something, right? When I finally got my work, my family, and my brain to allow me to work, finishing my dissertation turned out to not be that hard. I took my three days of paid vacation (China is so decadent!) and flew to the U.S. to defend.

Probably the second-biggest event in my life this year was the birth of our twin girls, finishing off our family with three of each. Crazy Jane was ecstatic about getting two younger sisters, even if they are 14 years younger. I was ecstatic about my wife relenting on the use of that beautiful-but-unusual girl name she’s been refusing to consider for several years now.

My contract at my Chinese school was up and we spent several months looking for our next job. We were ready to be closer to family again, but hesitant to return to America right in time for the summer of race riots, political assassinations, the declaration of martial law, and the suspension of the presidential election that precipitated the military coup. (Here’s hoping the generals were serious about their six-month timeline for the resumption of democracy.) Fortunately, we ended up with a job offer that moved us to the other side of Beijing (so 8:30 church next year won’t be such a terrible ordeal) and paid us enough money that we can travel to see family periodically. Now we just live right down the street from my favorite Indian restaurant!

With my dissertation done, and with a longer commitment to living in China, I was able to put in more effort with my Chinese studying. I passed my HSK Level 1 exam and have plans to take Level 2 in just six months.

I also read a dozen more Wodehouse books (one every month), and six Victorian novels (one every two months). Martin Chuzzlewit is an okay book with a terrible title. I completed the final drafts of both of my unpublished novels (I know that makes me sound like a giant failure of a person; I tell myself it’s okay because I’m now the kind of doctor who doesn’t help people) and shored up my nascent piano playing enough that, when all the branch members who actually know how to play the piano go out of town, I can fill in for them.

I completed Phase 1 of my Hot-By-40 plan, getting down to my ideal weight. Phase 2 is for next year: building muscle mass. I’m okay with getting old (and even with growing bald) as long as I don’t look terrible. I used to be able to compensate for being overweight by being young and lion-maned. As I’ve lost those traits, I’ve had to start eating responsibly.

In family history, I finally found my connection to the immigrating ancestor that started my family’s time in America in 1733. (I’d long suspected he was the grandfather of my furthest-known ancestor, but couldn’t find which of his children was my link to him.) As a ninth-generation Pennsylvanian, I feel I should be able to identify “Pennsylvanian” as my ancestry. It’s been nearly 300 years, guys; I think we’ve acclimated enough that we don’t have to keep telling people we’re “German.”

What’s on the horizon for 2017? I’m going to keep working on Chinese, Wodehouse books, Victorian novels, and piano playing. I’m going to run a marathon again, and this time be under four hours, and then I will be satisfied and forever retire from marathon running. I’ve got to learn how to sing respectable eventually, so I think I’ll start that this coming year. Depending on how much the political situation calms down in the U.S., it might be time to start looking for a job that brings us back from China. I’d love to live in Philadelphia and do family history in my spare time.

Of course, my actual 2017 will probably end up very different from what I’m foreseeing here. After all, it wasn’t like I could accurately predict all these major events of 2016 at the end of the previous year, right?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The All-Knowing State Is the All-Abusing State

I'm a ninth-generation Pennsylvanian. I haven't lived there in nearly 35 years, but I would like to move back, if I could just get my crap together. (That's an awfully big "if," I know.)

Here's an article about what's going on in Pennsylvania these days. And it turns out most of what's going on is inappropriate e-mail chains. The state attorney general, Kathleen Kane, has politicized the police power of the state government to an incredible degree.

In The Roosevelt Myth, John T. Flynn writes about Franklin Roosevelt's political use of New Deal relief programs. In Power to Destroy, John A. Andrew III writes about Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon using the IRS to target political enemies. Barack Obama met with his IRS commissioner over 150 times while multiple field offices targeted conservative tax-exempt groups before the 2010 and 2012 elections (meanwhile, Barack's half-brother Malik got his tax-exempt group approved with the approval backdated to cover previously-received donations).

The more information available to the state, the more state power becomes attractive to authoritarians. Pennsylvania state employees are now experiencing what the rest of us will experience when tech companies become fully integrated into the NSA. But the headlines will be about the inappropriate subject lines of your messages to your friends, not the totalitarian use of the access to that information.

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Merry Christmas" in Cantonese, Fools!

We weren't going to go anywhere for Christmas this year, but then I found out that I am off work Wednesday, too (not just Thursday and Friday), and Beijing declared another air pollution red alert, so when I left work last Friday, I had nine days off work. So we quickly threw together a trip to Hong Kong.

Sunday night we had "Christmas Eve," and Monday morning we had "Christmas morning." We have my staff Christmas party tonight and tomorrow we are flying to Hong Kong. We hope.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

If You Had to Describe the Glorious Revolution in One Word, Would You Use the Word "Glorious"?

Two days ago, I got a letter in the mail. That's a pretty rare occurrence here. It was from the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs. I thought, "Well, the jig is up. I guess I'm being sent home."

Unfortunately, that wasn't it.

No, they are giving me a free one-month subscription to China Daily, the state-run English-language newspaper. The letter says it's to help me "tell the story of a more comprehensive, genuine and vivid China to the world."

Why me? Well, it's not everyone here. Maybe it was random. Or maybe they've watched my Internet usage and listened to my conversations and are starting with a very under-the-radar correction.

I'm not opposed to reading China Daily; some of the more-obvious bits of propaganda would make good blog post material. But the letter tells me nothing about how I'm going to actually get my newspapers. So maybe I'm not actually being targeted for propaganda at all. I'm more being made aware that some foreign experts are being targeted. But maybe I'm not cool enough to be an actual target myself.

If they think one month of access to propaganda is going to win me over, while they continue to set the conditions for a currency depreciation of over 15 percent, they don't really understand what matters to me right now.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Peeing on Display

A British colleague of mine who's new this year was concerned about the lack of teacher's restrooms. He said, "Students and teachers sharing a washroom wouldn't fly in the UK." I said, "Wait until you go use the gym locker room."

The bathroom on our floor has a frosted window, but that window is always open, because every Chinese bathroom, no matter how fancy the building, smells like an open sewer. (Because the mechanics of a squat toilet means each bathroom is an open sewer.) The position of the urinals right next to the window wouldn't normally be a problem on the third floor. Except the building takes a corner, and so right outside the bathroom window is a classroom window.

From penis-height, you can see several desks in the classroom (including the desk of the teacher, a young woman).

This from the culture that reedited a prime-time TV show to show less cleavage.

Eating At the Brown Door

My wife has heard good things about a restaurant near the Pearl Market called The Brown Door. I said to my son, "That sounds like a euphemism for a bumhole. In fact, I think that's what we'll call it in this family from now on."

Last weekend my wife and I went shopping at the Pearl Market, and when we finished, we crossed the street and ate at The Brown Door.

It was pretty good. The jiaozi had anise in them, for some reason, which made them gross. (Black licorice sucks, people! Stop cooking with it, for Pete's sake!) The rest of the food was very good. When we got back home, I told my son, "There was nothing even-remotely bumhole-like about it." My wife said, "Will you stop equating gross things to food?!" I said, "I'm not talking about the food at all. It's not like I'm saying a dish looks like tiny brown balloon knots."

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Non-Credible Threat of Guns

We were very close to buying a gun in late 2013, but then we accepted this job offer in China. Since they don't allow you to own guns here, it seemed pointless to spend a lot of money on something that was just going to sit in a relative's basement for two years.

Sometimes when I'm bored I trot out in my classroom a little feature called "Ask a Real Live American." And one of the most-popular questions to ask me is, "Tell us about guns." (Yes, my students are sports reporters, I guess.)

I tell them I was going to buy a gun, that virtually my entire family owns guns, that I have gone shooting several times in my life. They have no idea what to make of that information. I tell them that no one I know has ever been murdered. They ask if I know anyone who's been shot, and the answer is yes: my wife's cousin's first husband had been shot, years before any of us knew him. But he was also from a much different segment of society. And I suspect my uncle might have been shot once, but that was at the hands of the Viet Cong.

Are we going to buy a gun when we get back to the U.S.? Well, the way I see it, gun ownership is a non-credible threat. See, the value of an armed populace is to limit the government. But the first thing the government is going to do before becoming tyrannical will be taking away guns. So the question becomes, when an agent of the state comes to my house to confiscate my gun, am I prepared to use force to stop him? And the answer is no.

Deciding to shoot a state agent is deciding to die. Maybe not right away in a shootout, but eventually, once you've been arrested, convicted, brutalized in prison, and then executed. If I felt my death would in some real way contribute to the maintenance of freedom, then maybe I'd think about it. But America is already a coercive police state, and the only thing that would be different if I fought gun confiscation is that my family would be much poorer. That's not really something I want to do to them.

The state knows this, so they don't worry about the increase in gun sales. In fact, the more cynical among them probably own stock in firearms manufacturers. They rattle the cage on gun control and see their dividends increase, and when they finally get around to taking guns regardless to their increased numbers, most Americans will hand them over (and the state's decision-makers aren't the ones in harm's way at collection time, anyway).

Not All Long-Lasting Memories Are Equal

Because I have a lot of Facebook friends who live in Utah Valley, I saw posts about this property listing. Like with all good real estate porn, I was equally disgusted and titillated. I hate that it exists but I want to live there. I thought about blogging my response to it, but I decided not to. The main emotion I feel is disapproval, but I'm not supposed to condemn people I don't know for things I barely online once.

Now I see it's been turned into a Yahoo News story and I want to comment on just one portion of it. It's the part that says the owner's motivation was "to create a place where memories could be made to last a lifetime." When I read that, I thought, "The only way to build memories was to spend $20 million on a vacation property?" (The Yahoo story clarifies that the house actually cost $32 million to build.) I don't know. I just think that for that much money, you could have built a totally kick-ass medical clinic in some country with a really low HDI number, like Niger, and taken the whole family there for a few weeks every summer, and the memories made there would be equally long-lasting. Though they would be different, I'll grant you that: in Africa the memories would be of spending your resources to help others, while in Orem the memories were of spending your resources on yourself.

Like I said, I don't know the dude, I don't know his situation. I'm sure his family needs 20 bathrooms for some reason (just this morning I had to wait while both bathrooms and the training potty were occupied; the struggle is real, yo). And what I hate most about this is that, if I had $20 million dollars sitting around, I would probably buy this place. Which is a really good reason that God keeps me from having $20 million dollars sitting around.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Reading Plan for the Remaining Year

The other day I was feeling too constricted in my book choices, so I went through my "to read" list on GoodReads and tried to find them on the digital library sites we have available to us.

First of all, we have access to a lot of libraries. This comes from me being a professional failure, which has led to our family moving around frequently. We can get e-books from libraries in California, Kansas, Virginia, and Ohio--six systems in all.

Second of all, it turns out I like some obscure crap. Because nearly every book I looked up wasn't available.

You can use three broad categories to sort my "to read" list: LDS apologia, economics, and fiction. Only some of the fiction was available. And that was how I ended up reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A little later, a copy of The Martian became available. And one of the libraries took acquisition requests, so I'm now also reading Why We Hate Us. So by the end of December, I should finish the following books:

  • Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - 67%
  • Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear, by Lauren Child - 76%
  • Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro - 80%
  • The Martian, by Andy Weir - 20%
  • Why We Hate Us, by Dick Meyer - 13%

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

ARS Neologisms

This things been going for just under 10 years now. I'm like the Samuel Pepys of the Internet age!

Anyway, in that time, I've created a lot of new words or phrases. Here's a summary of them:

  • THREVE: a word that means "all three," like how "both" means "all two." So when there are two things on the table and you say, "Give me both of them," you could also say of three things, "Give me threve of them." You can NOT use this word with the word "all," such as "Give me all threve of them." You would never say, "All both," so you can't say, "All threve." (invented Jan. 2005)
  • TRUMP CLASSY: a word that describes something not classy at all, but very expensive, so the person who spent all the money thinks it's classy. (invented 10 Apr. 2005)
  • FERPECT: a word that means "perfect" when used sarcastically. For instance, when you try to toss something into a trash can with precision, only to have it miss the can and burst open on the floor next to it, you could say, "Ferpect." (invented Nov. 2006)
  • EATING CHIPS: wasting your life in worthlessness. Used in a sentence, one would say, "He spent his early twenties eating chips." (invented 29 Mar. 2005)
  • VOMITOUS: likely to vomit. (invented 26 Jan. 2009)
  • ZNOOPY: Zombie Snoopy. (invented Nov. 2012)
  • TWIENER: a tiny wiener. (invented Dec. 2012)
  • SCALLION: a scandalous stallion. (invented Dec. 2012)
  • TRAVESTATE: devastate by means of a travesty. (invented Mar. 2013 by my daughter)
  • TO VERB: to make a verb out of a noun or adjective, even though such a verb already exists (for instance, "utilize" instead of "to use"). (invented 19 Apr. 2013)
  • ANNIHILISM: the pursuit of social policies that will most-assuredly destroy society. (invented 25 Apr. 2013)
  • RELIEVATORIUM: a truer-meaning word for restroom or bathroom. (invented 10 May 2013)
  • RESOLVENT: having brought a situation to a resolution. (invented 18 Dec. 2014)
  • APPROPARANOIA: appropriate paranoia. (invented 12 Oct. 2015)
  • ANTHROTHEISM: the belief that one should receive from all mankind the kind of attention and favor that is only available from God. (invented 7 Dec. 2015)

Here's to another ferpect decade of eating chips!

Monday, December 07, 2015

This Is Honestly Insane

Is this really where we are now, that there are eight sets of gender pronouns (nine, if we count the pronounless option), and we are supposed to introduce ourselves by stating our preferred gender pronoun?

This is crazy. Seriously crazy. As in, the word "crazy" was invented to describe just this type of thinking.

If I told the world, "Refer to me as a chimpanzee," I would be a candidate for psychiatric evaluation, even though I have something like 70% DNA similarity with a chimp. If I insisted that I actually am a chimpanzee, I'd be insane. But a man who is genetically male, anatomically male, a socially male can declare a desire to be considered female and suddenly we all have to agree.

This is another example that supports my theory: atheists require the omnipotence of God and so demand society fill the role their denial of God has left vacant. "How dare you try to fit me into your 'either/or' framework?! You must perfectly know me individually to be able to speak (or think) about me at all!" You know who actually can perfectly know you? God. But since we're all pretending He doesn't exist, we make society do His jobs, instead. So society has to acknowledge all my grievances, and society must right all wrongs in my life.

This theory has come up enough in my blog posts lately that it needs a name. Sociotheism? Anthrotheism? I'm leaning towards the second one.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Chinese Lessons

When I was 17, I wanted to be a professional writer. I became aware of something called California State Summer School for the Arts, a month-long, well, summer school (for the arts). I had to apply and save a bunch of money, and then negotiate assistance from my parents, but in the end, I managed to attend.

My father seemed of the mind that, since writing was the career I decided I wanted to have, this summer school was the first step in my professional development. I should come home with a bunch of contacts and prospects for the future. Which makes sense. But instead I came home with the realization that I didn't want to be a professional writer. The prevailing worldview was atheist and statist, and I determined that if I immersed myself in that culture, I would not end up the type of person I wanted to be. In one sense, then, it was a giant waste of time, but in another sense, it was helpful to learn quickly and up-front that I didn't want to continue down that path.

I feel like my time in China is another one of these early corrections. Everyone in America thinks China is the wave of the future, but what I'm learning here is that I don't agree with that. China is a dying society the same as America is, though they are dying for different reasons and in different ways. America is coming apart while everyone pursues extreme privilege and license. China is coming apart while everyone pursues extreme commercialism and greed. State illiberalism is acceptable to the people because it has facilitated gonzo consumerism. If that economic miracle is over now, things are about to get crazy up in here.

American license is realized at an individual level. So screw my commitments to anything larger than myself, I'mma get me MINE. Chinese greed typically includes the immediate family inside the circle of "self," so people are willing to bear great sacrifices for their parents or their child. But as soon as you step outside that circle of self, if you don't have any money to give to me you'd better expect absolutely nothing from me.

Here's a story of a man nearly dying while airplane and ambulance staff argued about who is required to carry him off the plane. After he crawled to the ambulance he had to crawl inside on his own, then he was taken to a more-distant hospital for billing purposes. Each of these people would crawl across hot coals for his mother or baby. But since this man was a stranger, he was only a potential payday.

Of course you can't make blanket statements about two people, let alone 1.3 billion people, without being wrong. I've met some truly kind, polite, caring Chinese people here. However, they tend to be social "losers," people who aren't getting ahead in the world. The cleaning woman on my office floor is a dear friend, even though we can't speak to each other at all, but many of my teaching colleagues are suspicious jackals. I feel a need to keep learning Chinese, and I'm not sure why that is. But the main thing I've learned from my time here is that I really want to limit my time here.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Current Reading Situation

Well, it took me a long time to get here, but I am finally down to four books. That's about as good as it's every going to get. A work book, a kid book, a church book, and a relaxation book.

  1. The Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith - 24%
  2. Ruby Redfort: Feel the Fear, by Lauren Child - 58%
  3. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - 42%
  4. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro - 3%

I hope to be done with everything but Adam Smith by the end of the year.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Donald Trump Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving we had some people from church invite us over. It was the hosts, an Australian family, a family that tries my patience, and us. In all, 20 people were there.

At one point, the hostess and the couple that tries my patience started a political discussion. The hostess started it, by bemoaning those who want to block Syrian refugees. I feel like the hostess is mature enough and intelligent enough that, while she has strong opinions and makes them known, we could have had a civil conversation looking at both sides of the issue. But the other couple, well....

The husband kept talking about "how crazy it is that Donald Trump is leading after some of the things he's said." He kept presenting it that way, "some of the things he's said," without specifying which of the "things he's said" should have disqualified him. Is this because he doesn't actually know anything that Donald Trump has actually said? Now, I'm not a Trump supporter, and I have a history of voting Libertarian when the Republican candidate is underwhelming (I backed the 'Stache in 2008), so I've got no problem with people criticizing Donald Trump. But the more he talked in very general terms, the more I came to believe he has no idea what Donald Trump is about. He's only responding to the idea that "smart people think Trump's a joke, and I want to be a smart person, too!" He expressed amazement that Trump has any support at all, which means he has no grasp on what matters to the majority of Americans.

Then he said, "You know what, if he actually ends up running, I would love to support Bernie Sanders." And that was when I knew this guy was a clown. First of all, Bernie Sanders has been in something like three presidential debates so far, so why the qualifier "if he actually ends up running"? Secondly, you don't go from the Republican Party to Bernie Sanders unless you're just chasing the tail of whatever appears popular at the time. I get it: the dude's spent a lot of time around statists and wants to appear smart and open-minded, so he's going to say, "I could get behind your wack-job candidate."

Later, his wife explained parliamentary democracy to an Australian woman and the hostess, who is Canadian.

But it wasn't all bad. At one point, for some reason I don't know, the Australian woman said to her son, "That's not a knife." It was like I was having my Thanksgiving dinner with Crocodile Dundee himself!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Gold Medal in Acquiesence Goes to....

I remember the debate surrounding the renewal of China's "most favored nation" trade status in 1990. (I was a nerdy child.) At the time, the argument was that deepening economic ties will one day lead to the liberalization of Chinese society.

Instead, what we've seen is sort of the opposite: deepening economic ties has made Western nations more willing to turn a blind eye to Chinese illiberalism. Which was exactly what happened when the renewal was granted in 1990. We couldn't possibly express dissatisfaction over Tian'anmen Square: there was money to be made.

Now we've entered a world where only autocratic governments are interested in hosting major international competitions. Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014, World Cup in Russia in 2018, World Cup in Qatar in 2022, Winter Olympics in China in 2022. What might that world look like?

It will probably look a lot like this: a contestant for Miss World was barred from reaching the competition because she won't be silenced regarding China's persecution of Falun Gong practitioners. With no push-back, expect this practice to become more wide-spread. The gold medal in 2022 will not necessarily mean "world's best." Instead, it will mean "world's best out of the group of people who haven't upset the Chinese government."

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movies Are Terrible

Every movie trailer I see looks like a great movie. But how many of the movies I've seen are actually great movies? Great in the sense of, if I had access to a time machine I would not use it at the end of the movie to get those two hours back. Nearly none of them.

I've discovered a way to stop wasting my life on stupid movies. I don't see any movies all year. Then, I read a lot of "best movies of the year" articles online. I note which movies consistently show up on these lists, and these are the movies to rent during the next year.

"Oh, but then you're not seeing it in the theater!" That's a feature, not a bug. Seriously, I don't understand what the draw of the movie theater is. It's too loud, there are no captions, the screen is too large to see the entire frame without moving your gaze, you're surrounded by strangers with different senses of public decorum, you can't stop the movie to use the restroom, and you have a limited food selection (that is overpriced). Oh, and you're paying $10 per person instead of $3.99 for everyone. Everything about a trip to the movies is a frustrating waste of time and money. No movie is worth a movie theater experience. I imagine that, if I ever write a movie, unless the studio comps me a ticket to the premier, I'll just wait until I can stream it on Amazon.

Anyway, last year I read several good reviews of The Two Faces of January, so my wife and I watched it last weekend. Here are my thoughts on this movie. Spoilers included, but the movie is nearly two years old, now.

  • It was enjoyable.
  • I couldn't tell if Rydal was scamming the American college girl when they were at the café. The dialog, shots, and math were too fast. Now that I've seen the rest of the movie, I'd bet he was.
  • Why couldn't Chester just go get the hotel staff and say, "We've had a crazy accident"? Because then the Greek authorities would detain him for his past crimes? He could cover that up. Go to the guy's hotel room and clean it up, say the guy was trying to rob them, leave town before they find out that he was there because Chester is a criminal. Movies that could be fixed with a 15-minute phone call are frustrating to watch.
  • We've made fabulous advances in the field of ladies' underwear in the past 50 years.
  • I could have sworn we'd eventually find out that Chester spoke Greek.
  • When Chester goes to Rydal's room and looks at the bed and suspects Rydal had slept with Colette, I got the impression that we were supposed to think Chester was just paranoid and that nothing had happened. Later, Rydal tells Chester that he had, in fact, slept with Colette. But is this true, or is he just trying to get a rise out of Chester?
  • I spent the whole movie expecting someone to double-cross someone, because of the film's title. Did Chester know Greek? Was Rydal working for the same people as the dude that slipped in the bathroom? Was Colette working for them? Maybe someone who's dead isn't really dead. Rydal's dad? The bathroom dude? Colette? In the end, I don't really think anyone was two-faced. So why the allusion to Janus? And why change it to "January"? No one is named January, and I can't tell if the film is set in January, because it's Greece and the weather is beautiful all the time. I'm sure that the novel made the title clearer, where the author had more time to weave the imagery into the plot.
  • I thought that Rydal's story to his tour group about Theseus coming back from Crete and giving his father the wrong signal would factor into what was happening in the police checkpoint when Rydal and Chester came back from Crete. Rydal points at Chester, Chester thinks he's being turned in and starts to run, but really Rydal isn't turning him in at all.
  • Did Rydal not make it out of the Athens airport, and that's why he is working with the cops in Istanbul?
  • Seriously, WHO IS TWO-FACED?!

NOTE: Yesterday was my 2,500th post. Today was a half-assed movie review. It's nice to see that 2,498 posts haven't really changed things at all.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

2,500

According to my Blogger dashboard, this is my 2,500th post.

I think I've written before about how I was tricked into blogging. My wife's friend started a blog and my wife wanted to comment and, when she had finished registering to have a profile for commenting, found she had accidentally set up a blog. I laughed at her for her inability to figure out the website. And then, about two weeks later, when I wanted to comment on my wife's blog, the same thing happened to me.

I think I thought that I'd become somewhat famous and/or rich from this. (Disclosure: neither of those things has happened.) I wouldn't be the Mary Higgins Clark of blogging, but the Chuck Palahniuk: when two people learned that they both liked reading A Random Stranger, they would take it as evidence that they should be best friends for life.

Instead. Instead of that, I'm a dude who's live-blogging his professional failures. That wasn't what I thought I'd be getting. I thought I'd be getting the ability to comment on my wife's blog.

Mao, I Do Believe

Last week a maintenance guy came into my room and placed a large sticker of the Chinese flag above my whiteboard and then left. I wasn't sure if everyone was getting one or if I was being singled out for subliminal balancing of my capitalist teachings, so I went around peeking in other classrooms. They all had them, too, so either we're all capitalist dogs or else there was another explanation.

My office-mate is only in my room a few times a week. He came in that day and I pointed out to him or new decoration. He said that it was so cold in the mornings this winter that the Monday morning Communist Party rally on the football pitch was being moved inside; students would attend in their homerooms and they needed a flag to salute, so that was why every room got a flag. A female colleague stopped by to listen, since information distribution is so terrible here.

I wasn't excited about the prospect of having to attend the Chicom rally. The rally is one of the things that makes me feel most uncomfortable here, where the fuzzy line between education and indoctrination isn't even given a cursory nod as it is ignored. My office-mate said, "It'll be okay. I used to attend Catholic school, and every Monday we started with prayers." Our female colleague, either due to excessive Catholicism or excessive anticommunism (or maybe both), jumped in with, "It is not the same f***ing thing!"

Friday, November 27, 2015

Being a Mormon in a Muslim Society

This past week I read Michel Houellebecq's book Submission. It's about a secular atheist Frenchman (is there another kind of Frenchman?) in 2022 when a Muslim political party wins control of the government and how his life changes. I thought the first half was fantastic, the third quarter was a little lame, and the ending is leaving me thinking a lot. Which is a good way for a book to end. As Tyler Cowen wrote of the book, "The correct reading is always a level deeper than the one you are currently at."

Anyway, one of the things I've been thinking is how much my life can comply with a Muslim lifestyle before I'm going against my conscience. I think of when I would attend Mass with my Catholic friends, and the congregation is supposed to respond "Lord, I do believe" to four statements. I figured I'd participate as much as I honestly could. The first two statements (as I remember it) were about God and Jesus, and I could agree to them wholeheartedly. So when (notice what I did there?) Muslims order my society, can I do things like eat halal food and pray five times a day? Sure, as long as the prayers aren't prescribed. Can I agree that Muhammad was a prophet? Mmmmm, maybe. Can I agree that he's God's only prophet, or at least the last one? No, I can't.

Anyway, in thinking about this, I was reminded of two events related in the Book of Mormon. The first was Alma's encounter with the Rameumptom. When Alma first sees it in use (Alma 31), Alma is "astonished beyond all measure." Getting atop a tower to offer prayers seems like a completely novel thing to Alma and his compadres.

Forty-one years later, Alma's great-grandson Nephi is using a tower in his garden to offer prayers.

The Rampeumptom might have been new to Alma, but it wasn't in itself offensive to God; it was the Zoramites' prayer that was most grievous. A prophet can use a Rameumptom with no problems.

Can a Mormon woman wear a niqab? Sure, why not? Can I follow the schedule of the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours for my personal prayers? Sure, why not? Can I follow Jewish ritualistic washings before eating? Sure, why not? There's a lot of room for accommodation.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

PC Fascists

Yesterday my work had a Thanksgiving lunch that feature a LOT of durian pizza. Because, you know, Pilgrims.

I have a co-worker who married a beautiful woman and then adopted the credo, "Seem as gay as possible." Every single thing he does is meant to make you think, "But I've met his wife!"

Anyway, his wife is pregnant (?!?!), and in preparation for the birth, they are moving out of their two-bedroom apartment. (Naturally.) So he's trying to get us all to move into their old apartment. At lunch, he explained that their new apartment will be closer to his wife's work, "So she can come home and milk feed the baby."

What? "Milk feed"?

The other guy in our three-person conversation was a straight-up gay dude who doesn't feel the need to use affected speech or mannerisms one way or the other. And he said, "Oh, she's going to milk feed," like it's a totally-normal term he's heard many times before.

Am I going crazy, here? Did the world decide to start using this term and no one told me? An Internet search for "milk feed" brings up a lot of analysis of milk-to-feed ratio (which evidently is an important proxy measure of dairy-farming profitability). I found one instance of the term "milk feed" being used the way these guys were using it.

Here's my question: where's his wife getting the milk? From her breast? So why not call it "breast feeding," which is the already-existing name for it? I can see a few reasons, and all of them are worrying.

Number 1: The guys are uncomfortable using the word "breast" in public. In which case, we have two grown-ass men behaving like prepubescent boys. "Eww, boobies are gross! Don't mention them!" Breasts are non-sexual organs than have been so sexualized that we don't even talk about breasts when we actually want to talk about the actual non-sexual function they perform.

Number 2: She's not going to actually latch the baby to her breast. This is, sadly, believable, because her husband is all about "gender studies," and I could totally see him saying, "The mother-child bond is a social construct that results from the patriarchy forcing women to exclusively feed the baby just because of the biological accident that women's breast tissue produces milk and men's breast tissue does not. So we're going to harvest the milk from my wife and make sure we exclusively bottle feed on a completely-even alternating schedule." I could see him saying this very, very easily.

Number 3: Some feminist crank somewhere in the world decided to use the term "milk feed" and these guys are so eager to signal their position within the politically-correct feminist group that they very consciously make sure to only use the term "milk feed" from now on. Also a very believable reason.

Whatever the reason, these people are idiots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trump Professionalism

My family is in negotiations to homeschool the child of a colleague. (It's a weird story that I prefer to think about as little as possible, so I won't recount it here.) Anyway, we've identified a number of questions that would need to be answered, including the amount of compensation we'd receive. Earlier this week, the colleague came to me and said, "We kind of need an answer right now." I said, "You haven't answered all of our questions." Specifically, aside from acknowledging that some compensation would occur, they have never offered a specific number.

The reason is that my school would be picking up the tab, which then creates an awkward situation for my school where they are paying us to homeschool one employee's kid while not giving us any money for homeschooling our own kids. They have preferred we not know that other teachers have been getting educational stipends (because other people have one school-aged kid and we have three).

Yesterday I'm mid-lesson and my colleague knocks on my classroom door. She could see through the door's window that I was teaching, so I was going to ignore it. One of the students, though, opens the door. She comes in and comes to me at the whiteboard and says in a bit of an undertone, "[School employee] is going to contact [my wife] today."

Are you kidding me? You interrupt my lesson for this? Would you tolerate me interrupting your lesson with non-emergency personal business? And why am I involved in this discussion at all?! If my wife needs to expect a phone call, freaking WeChat her yourself!

I've been having private interviews with each of my kids once each month. In my most-recent interview with Articulate Joe, I asked him what he thought of this plan. He said, "That would be crazy. No one would get anything done." When even your 11-year-old can see what's wrong with the plan, it's definitely wrong. But my colleague has backed us into this corner by continually telling us how this is the only alternative to her son's completely unbearable school situation. Argh, I told you I don't like to think about it.

Remember several years ago when I invented the term "Trump classy," which meant something that Donald Trump would consider classy, which the rest of us would consider gauche and obscene? This colleague's behavior has been an example of Trump professionalism.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jerk College Athletes

Some college athletes get a bad reputation, but that bad reputation doesn't always follow them into the pros. Why is that?

For instance, look at two American football quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Cam Newton. Both left the college game with a lot of critics. So why is Newton entering into America's good graces and Winston is not? I think it has to do with what they were doing that got them their bad reputation to begin with. Newton had professional-caliber football talent but was forced by NFL rules to attend college. He either wasn't capable of or wasn't inclined to academic success, so his time on campus was widely seen as a mockery of education. When he left school, all his problems went away. Winston, on the other hand, is said to have sexually assaulted a female student and then used his star athlete status to skip out on consequences. When he left school, that didn't really alleviate the problem.

Kevin Durant was the same way. When he was at University of Texas, people were frustrated with the cynical way he was complying with the NBA requirements, but the real problem was the NBA, not Durant. As soon as he left school, the problem was over. Now his single-minded focus on professional success makes him even more popular.

Unfortunately, people like Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger show that even sexual assault will be forgiven an unrepentant champion. Maybe we've made progress in the years since their assaults, but I'm afraid of what we'd find out if Jameis Winston wins a Super Bowl.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Post

A snowy day out my office window. That building under construction is my air quality measuring stick: when it's just a grey outline of a building, the air is terrible.

My wife and I went in a restaurant. When we were seated, we noticed the menu said, "Cosmic Korean food." So it's not like we went out to a Korean place (which we tried once, but they wouldn't bring us anything we pointed to on the menu, so we left). Anyway, this was our meal. Nothing looks especially "Korean" here to me.

An ad for one of our grocery stores promises you'll be surprised by their fish. (When we were in that grocery store last week, they had these long, skinny whole fish that were frozen solid. I wanted to pick one up and chase my wife around with it, but not as much as I wanted to not touch one of those fish.)

So Singles Day is a thing here. I guess it's supposed to be where you buy something for someone whom you want to be your Valentine. But most of the ads in the subway were of the "buy yourself something nice" variety, so we call it Chinese Single People's Valentine's Day. This subway ad isn't an appeal to self-indulgence so much as it's just weird. This ad (今天换我来爱你让你一次买个够) says, "Jīntiān huàn wǒ lái ài nǐ ràng nǐ yīcì mǎi gè gòu," which I think means something like, "Today we'll exchange 'I love you's once you buy your fill."

Somehow this dude looks even more pathetic than the last one.

The worst air we've had in several months. The visibility is less than a quarter mile.

The picture is from just south of the Yuquan Road subway station, looking south. The next intersection is where visibility ends.

On days like that, you can just stare at the sun all you want.

Why did we even leave the house that day? Why, for churros and ice cream, of course!

Here's a bike parking lot with some of those lifts like they use at Wal-Mart to fit more bikes. There's a bike valet attending the lot. I'm not sure if he rides your bike to its rack spot or not.

So our apartment is full of locking door handles, and when we moved in we were bequeathed a giant pile of keys. What we've come to learn, though, is that most of the keys do nothing, and most of the locks in our apartment have no corresponding key in the pile. Earlier this month I came home to find out that our youngest kid locked the bathroom door and pulled it shut. I got to break the handle off that door. Well, last week I got a WeChat message that said, "[The Screamapilar] is locked in your bedroom and Mom can't get him out." I came home from work to find that my wife had gone to take a shower and our youngest kid had locked himself in our bedroom. It had been over half an hour by this time, so he was freaking out. My wife was wrapped in a towel, forever separated from her clothes. Normally at this point I'd say, "All's well that ends well," but she had to go somewhere. Obviously, the pile of keys was completely worthless, so I got to go all Jason Bourne and kick in the door. This picture is what we sent to our apartment building WeChat group to say, "Seriously, you give us 20 keys and NONE of them work anything?!"

This was the first ad I could read in its entirety. It says, "You love beauty. You want to drink fruit juice."

And a second ad I could read, from the same company. This one says, "Listen to mother's words. You want to drink fruit juice."

Finally, at the grocery store (the one with the ad promising a fishy surprise), there's a old guy next to the registers. His job is to make sure you don't try to take the cart on the escalator. But for some reason, this week he had a table with riot gear waiting for him (and a buddy, I guess), in case an angry mob tries to take all the carts on the escalator.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Smoking Cigarettes and Watching Captain Kangaroo

China broke the computer I brought with me. My work has given me a laptop and iPad, but they're going to take those back before I leave. China won't allow anyone to use telephones aboard airplanes, even when set to "airplane mode." (Meanwhile, every week there's a news story about a passenger who tried to open a door mid-flight to get some air circulation going. But before we make sure our passengers don't kill us all, we're going to put resources into stopping the use of phones on airplane mode.)

What does all this mean? It means that my wife and I are going to be extremely bored for 14 hours when we fly back to the United States this next summer.

Actually, I will be bored, because she will be flying solo with four kids. I have to stay until July 10th or so, but they already have their tickets for the end of June. So I'm going to be flying alone with nothing to do. I'm already bored just thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Insulated President

In this blog post by Arnold Kling, he writes

I fear that there is no one close to President Obama who is capable of voicing dissent regarding either his substance or his tone. He needs somebody to to tell him that people who disagree with him are not necessarily evil or stupid. They are just people who disagree with him.
Why would the president not have anyone within his circle that can voice dissent? He determines his circle, right? So he either has never had a dissenting voice near him and has not actively sought one, or he has purged dissenting voices from his circle. Both possibilities are believable to me. Kling wants this to change. This means the president must seek out dissenting voices or tolerate them when they pop up organically. But if he thinks "people who disagree with him are...evil or stupid," how likely is this? Especially when anyone who says, "People who disagree with you are not necessarily evil or stupid" are, in the process of saying this, disagreeing with him, and so fitting into his definition of evil or stupid?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Can't Figure You Out

Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, I read a book trying to explain Saddam Hussein's behavior. The conclusion was: the dude is nuts. And crazy people follow a different logic, which we can't predict because it doesn't follow the orthodox logic that the rest of us sane people use. So while we were saying, "The only reason to risk invasion and deposition by not allowing nuclear inspectors to return is because you are violating the nuclear arms restrictions placed upon you," Saddam Hussein was saying, "I'm not going to allow inspectors because purple monkey dishwasher."

I saw a headline today about the "confusing strategy" of Islamic State. Is this another instance of crazy strategy isn't really strategy? I don't think so, because this time we have a group that is very willing to tell us their strategy. It might seem crazy, but it doesn't need to be confusing.

Islamic State reads future history as being about the return of the Mahdi. His return will be presaged by violence and plague killing one-third of the world, so Islamic State is helping hasten the return of the Mahdi by spreading violence. Illogical, but not confusing.

What makes it "confusing" to Western observers is a hesitance to take Islamic State at their word. They say they're an Islamic caliphate. We say, "Well, you can't mean that," because we don't want to besmirch Islam. So when they do something like attack Parisians, and they tell us why, we spend time being confused.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Open Craziness

When I first started grad school, I was unimpressed with the gonzo libertarians who were opposed to religion and voting. I didn't really understand the appeal of undermining your acceptance by the average citizen just to maintain your libertarian street cred. I met one kid at a conference who insisted that Iran should have nuclear weapons as a deterrent for the United States. Now, I agree that the United States needs a deterrent in the world (everyone does), but giving nuclear weapons to Iran would guarantee another Holocaust. I oppose all kinds of Holocaust denying, both past and future.

Anyway, Open Borders is another example of libertarians working hard to marginalize themselves. The shame is that those paying the real cost are the refuges that won't be allowed to flee their persecutors because some libertarian enjoying peace and comfort thinks he can't compromise without being a sell-out.

Millions of people need to get out of Syria and into Europe or North America. But demanding the doors be thrown wide open is a great way of making sure they don't get the chance. Firstly, I don't see how anyone can deny that there are terrorists in the world who wish to harm Westerners. ("But the West brought it on themselves!" You're insane. We're not debating cause, we're acknowledging effect.) Terrorists would be negligent if they passed up the chance to join the mass of refugees. So there must be controls and a vetting process.

Secondly, economies do not instantaneously equilibrate following such population shocks. You can't ignore the Westerners' concern about the adjustment costs. I know, those fleeing terror don't have that much of a concern about the growing pains the West will experience. So there needs to be a two-stage solution that will allow for immediate relief from war and a gradual joining of Western society.

I think the G8 countries should announce objective criteria for refugee acceptance and commit to accepting as many refugees as meet these standards. Then, stable regional partners such as Turkey should agree to house refugee camps. At the camps, refugees have medical and safety evaluations. Once they are vetted, they get on a plan and begin their new lives in the West. This would spread the burden (and provide a demographic boost to dying countries like Italy and Japan), while protecting Westerners from disguised terrorists.

Anyone who can't support a plan like that is too interested in his libertarian fanboy status.

Lighten Up, Francis

I've got a relative who has to be constantly outraged about something. She fits right in with the modern world. She's one of these "How DARE you express solidarity with Paris unless you also acknowledge a similar attack in Beirut!" people.

Should people be upset about the Starbucks Christmas cup? No. Turning Jesus into a marketing ploy is more offensive than a red cup without wording.

Should people be upset about the Yale response to "culture-appropriating Halloween costumes"? No. The open denial of the right to free speech is a sign of just how oriented towards indoctrination modern education has become.

Should people be upset about Mormon policy regarding baptism of children from same-sex marriages? No. The policy respects the family and helps the child not have to choose between his parents and his church until he's an adult and can decide how he will live his own life.

Should people be upset about racism at University of Missouri? No. Racism is deplorable but not a crime, and there's no actual evidence that a poop swastika ever existed, let alone evidence that it was racially motivated.

Should people be upset about expressions of support for France? No. I do not need to acknowledge all tragedies to recognize one. What I wrote last week applies: what the modern secular world wants is something only found in religion: a complete recognition and redress of all tragedies. Only God can know all injustice and set all inequities right. Because God doesn't exist in the secular outlook, the next best thing is requiring all of existence to acknowledge your problems. Thus the grievance culture.

Lighten up, Francis.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Still Thinking of Baseball

Several years ago I wrote this blog post about how long it's been since each team has won a pennant. But lots has changed since then. So here's an updated list.

  • Kansas City: 0 years
  • New York (NL): 0 years
  • San Francisco: 1 year
  • Boston: 2 years
  • Saint Louis: 2 years
  • Detroit: 3 years
  • Texas: 4 years
  • New York (AL): 6 years
  • Philadelphia: 6 years
  • Tampa Bay: 7 years
  • Colorado: 8 years
  • Chicago (AL): 10 years
  • Houston: 10 years*
  • Florida: 12 years
  • Los Angeles (AL): 13 years
  • Arizona: 14 years
  • Atlanta: 16 years
  • San Diego: 17 years
  • Cleveland: 18 years
  • Toronto: 22 years
  • Minnesota: 24 years
  • Cincinnati: 25 years
  • Oakland: 25 years
  • Los Angeles (NL): 27 years
  • Baltimore: 32 years
  • Milwaukee: 33 years*
  • Pittsburgh: 36 years
  • Washington: 38 years**
  • Seattle: 46 years**
  • Chicago (NL): 70 years

The teams with a single asterisk (Houston and Milwaukee) have never won the pennant of their current league. The teams with a double asterisk (Washington and Seattle) have never won a pennant in their history.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I Couldn't Be More Wrong

When I was younger, I heard people talking about how good of a band Echo and the Bunnymen was. I was a member of a CD mail-order club (remember those?), so I looked through the next catalog and saw an Echo and the Bunnymen CD available, so I got it. It was titled "Reverberation." I listened to it and I liked it.

It turns out, "Reverberation" is, like, THE Echo and the Bunnymen CD that you're not supposed to like. They switched lead singers, critics and fans hated it, their label dropped them, and the band broke up.

But I like it.

Genghis Khan Used This Method of Communicating, Didn't He?

I try to wake up at 3 AM so I can work on my dissertation. This means I need to go to sleep at 8 PM. At the same time, I have so much worthless crap to do at work that I have to stay until 6:30 or 7 most night. So the evenings that my wife has something to do (like Tuesdays when she takes our daughter across town for Young Women or tonight with her book club), I don't see her after I leave for work in the morning.

This past Tuesday when I was getting our youngest ready for bed, I noticed a bump on his thigh. Now, it could just be a freckle or a wart or a sebaceous cyst, but it could also be molluscum contagiosum, a super-annoying skin condition that has cycled through all three of our boys over the past six years. He had recently had his last bump go away, so it if was another one of these, we'd need to start covering it and treating it.

I needed to bring this to my wife's attention, but I would be in bed before she got home and I would see her for about 40 eventful minutes the next morning. How would I make sure that my wife saw this bump and knew what my worries were?

I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure that using your son's body as a whiteboard gets you fast-tracked for some sort of Father of the Year award.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missouri Gets Stupider Every Day (But You Can't Say It Out Loud There)

I earned my undergraduate degree at University of Kansas, which is the rival school of University of Missouri, which sucks. While many schools advertise their rivalry as a "civil war," Bleeding Kansas and Quantrill's Raiders was more than just a football game. Mizzou fans celebrate the murder of hundreds of unarmed men and boys, so Kansas fans celebrate the fact that Missouri is lame. (I mean, really, you call your school "Mizzou"? What, you got a college education but never learned how to say the name of your state?)

So it's not surprising to me that now at Mizzou you are supposed to call the POLICE if you witness HURTFUL speech.

If you read this blog post aloud next to those stupid columns (at least when a building burns down in Kansas, we have the good sense to rebuild it), you would be reported to the police. You know, for speech. Because that's how we roll in America.

Wait, what's that? That's not how we roll in America? Well, it is now, fool. Get with the times. And frankly, I could do with a little less hurtfulness in your speech. Don't make me report you.

Monday, November 09, 2015

American Safety

My wife said to me this week, "One thing I'm going to miss about China is the safety." We can go anywhere in Beijing. Just because we're in a poor neighborhood doesn't mean that we're not safe. Contrast that to the tourist guides that try to impress on foreigners just how quickly they will die if they try to visit the Frederick Douglass House in Anacostia.

This morning when I checked the news I read a story about a burned body found in Massachusetts and--most worrying to me, as someone who owns an SUV, has a hot wife, and wants to live in Philadelphia--a couple was shot while having sex in the back of an SUV in Philadelphia.

Not to worry, the police are busy responding to the real safety issues: a poor woman who left her children nearby while interviewing for a job. She was arrested. That's some fine police work there, Lou.

The State of Education

Here is a series of articles about various things wrong with education.

  • Here's an article about a San Francisco junior high school where the (white) principal canceled the student body elections after too many white students won. The principal told a TV news crew, "That is concerning to me because as principal I want to make sure the voices are all heard, from all backgrounds." I have two problems with that. The first is the assumption that a representative must share my race for my voice to be heard. The second is that she is ignoring that their voices were heard in the election, which she decided to ignore, which is something obvious enough that a seventh-grader notes in the article. The principal says she wanted to "capitalize on a teachable moment." So do I: everyone should realize that this is the kind of race-based crap that passes for "education" in public schools these days.
  • The University of Missouri doesn't have a racism problem. It has a drinking problem, like virtually every other college in America. Students go to college to have a four-year bacchanalia and do all the things society had told them they weren't supposed to do. Surprise surprise, on that list of things, for some students, is "say stupid racist stuff." But some taboo stuff is cool and some is beyond uncool. A group of protesting students (led by a student who is blaming the university president for the economic consequences of Obamacare) wanted the university president to resign for not taking their pain seriously, as near as I can tell. The university president has now resigned. The hunger-striking student has ended his hunger strike. Perhaps worth noting: no racist incident was stopped or punished, and no graduate student had his health insurance restored. But who cares about stuff like that, right?
  • What if you say, "Free speech allows racist students to say racist things?" Well, that defense of free speech doesn't play well at Yale. Again with the call to "recognize my experiences." If there's no God to recognize you, I guess the next best thing is recognition by all of existence. Expect these and similarly idiotic students to be emboldened by the results at Mizzou.
  • Here's what people really care about in American education these days: protecting the rights of boys to say they're girls so they get to shower in the girls' locker room. It makes sense that, now that Obama has fixed Iran, Syria, North Korea, China, Russia, immigration, health care, and student loans, he would move on to such a trivial issue, right? Here's my question: if sex is a biological fact (if I left my blood behind at a crime scene, investigators would know I am male), why do we accommodate people who want to deny that fact? If a student insisted that he was King of England, the school wouldn't be requiring everyone to address the kid as "Your Highness," they would be getting him psychological counseling. But if the student wants to insist he's a girl, everybody better accommodate that with a quickness.

The biggest issues on American campuses today are race and sex identities. Remember that when you wonder why American wages are stagnating relative to world wages, or why American businesses want free immigration.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Everything Is a Proxy for the State, Including Language

Last week I wrote about my frustration with the passive-aggressive English opposition at my nominally "English only" school. Does it surprise anyone that it's just a manifestation of government policy?

I think a good rule of thumb is that increased nationalism is generally a cover for regime failure. When your government cracks down on innocuous individual expression like unapproved dance steps, or it asserts its prerogative to change the tenants of your religion, or it kills its only stellar accomplishment, it won't be too much later that they come out with some sort of "in-group v. out-group" rallying cry.

I've been told that the heads of my school know that the low rate of voluntary English usage is a problem, but they don't know how to fix it. So this year the foreign staff has tried to fix the problem for them. One particular colleague is getting closer and closer to flipping his lid in his quest to get the staff computers' operating system to stay set to English. I sent him a message that said, "When you finally go crazy and run through the halls naked setting Chinese dictionaries on fire, will you give me a heads up, because I will join you." He hasn't reached that point yet, but every time he tries to use the copy machine and finds it's been reset to Chinese, we get a little bit closer to that blog-worthy event.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Lose Weight Now, But Don't Ask Me How

Look, I know any public talk of weight is weird, and I'm not trying to get compliments or anything, I'm just stating some facts.

I had a typical weight over the past ten years that we'll call X. This weight X was 128% of the middle of the "normal weight" range on the BMI charts for my height. When I got up to 1.05 X, I would say to myself, "You've got to do something about this." Then I would eat more-healthful food, limit my portions, and exercise. When I got down to 0.97 X, I would say, "Day-umm, you look good!" and I would eat whatever I wanted, then the cycle would repeat.

In preparation for coming to China, my wife and I spent two months eating whatever we wanted. As a result, when I got on the airplane I weighed 1.11 X, which was my heaviest since my first year of marriage, when I was happy and rich and gained a bunch of weight seemingly overnight.

Since arriving in China, I've lost 16% of my weight, and I'm now the lightest I've been in 10 years. I've gone from technically obese to the low end of technically overweight. My current plan (yes, I have a schedule for everything) is that I should be technically normal weight by the end of the year, and the middle of my normal weight range when I leave China in July.

I have two things I want to mention. One is that I look at myself and I cannot believe that I am more than halfway to the middle of my normal weight range. My body looks pretty much identical to me. Rolls in all the same places. No wonder so many people find losing weight demoralizing. If I can lose 1/6 of my body and not even notice it's gone, what's really the point of losing 1/6 of my body?

The second point is related: not only can I not tell a difference, no one else can either. Yesterday was the first time anyone has said anything to me. A colleague said, "You look a little lighter." I wanted to grab him by his beard and yell, "A LITTLE lighter?! Try over 40 pounds lighter, jackass!" But I didn't. Mostly because he keeps his beard trimmed really short.

I'm sure I seem like a terrible person because this entire post is about superficial appearance and receiving public recognition for it instead of being about becoming healthy or whatever. The thing is, if I can't see an appreciable difference, can my heart? My blood tests right after I got here said I had "fatty liver." (I said, "It's called being a BBW connoisseur," and they said, "Liver, not lover," and I said, "Oh. My mistake.") Is my liver any less fatty now?

How does this story end? It can go one of two ways. I either return to the U.S. with no taste for processed foods and animal products and continue at something close to my normal weight range, or I immediately eat three Double-Doubles upon landing and continue from there. Which is more likely? Well, I've been thinking about In-N-Out a lot lately.

I'm Like the Non-Radio Version of Delilah

I had a request from Alanna to write about the changes to China's one-child policy. If the request had been accompanied by some sappy dedication letter, I would include it here. But it wasn't. It just said, "Hey, fool, write something someone actually wants to read for a change!" And so here it is.

In economics when we teach about price controls we make a distinction between binding and non-binding price controls. A maximum price of $2 for a barrel of oil would be binding right now, meaning it would actually change the market for oil. A maximum price of, say, $5,000 for a barrel would currently be non-binding.

For most people in urban China, the one-child policy has not been a binding constraint lately. This was shown when the policy was relaxed in various ways over the past few years and the forecasted children weren't created. The majority of middle- and upper-class Chinese don't want two kids.

This shouldn't be surprising when we remember that Japan has demographic problems and no government fertility restrictions in sight. The modern developed world is a less-fertile place. Deal with it.

China isn't dealing with it, and this policy change isn't really a change, at all. After all, the biggest problem with the one-child policy from a liberalism perspective was the control itself. That remains. The Redefales (remember, Red Federales--we're going to make this a thing, people!) will still force you to have an abortion and will still force you to be sterilized. The only difference is when that will happen. This isn't a victory for liberalism.

So the change will be great news for the small set of people who want a second child, but it's not an expansion of freedom in any sense. It won't change the overall demographic problems that China won't address. That would require a removal of any fertility restrictions and hope that the actively-breeding rural poor have enough kids to offset the demographic mischief the Party has done, but that's not desirable because it would undo so much of the economic gains China has worked for. And with the rumors I read about the true current state of the economy (limping along in the top-tier cities and dismal in the hinterlands), the last thing China's potential breeding grounds need is, in the words of Elvis, "another little hungry mouth to feed." Especially if internal migration continues to be as restricted as it currently is.

This makes it sound like I subscribe to the Malthusian views that were the basis of the fertility controls in the first place. I don't. But free breeding in the poor areas won't work well with massive state interventions in investment and internal migration. If, in the future, the two-child policy isn't working (as it won't), and so the government moves to free reproductive rights while continuing to direct state investment into the top-tier areas and continuing to restrict movement to the economically-developed areas, then you will see either real advances in liberalism or brutal repression, and probably both.

In other news, the "life coach" label is now also serving as a "futurist" label. Both of them are my future phoney-baloney careers.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Random Pictures That Aren't Good Enough for Blog Posts

One day outside the mall there was a giant temporary sculpture of a whale. We took a picture because our oldest son loves whales. This makes it look like the whale had its own security guard, but really it was a guy standing there to keep the metal fence pieces from blowing away. (It was a very windy day.)

Generally speaking, if there's a safety sign up in America, it means their lawyers want to protect themselves against possible future liability. If there's a safety sign up in China, though, it means several people have died and management is getting tired of having to deal with it. This sign translates as: Please note: Watch out for bumped heads.

Sam's Club sells giant-ass bathtubs. That's just under $300 for an adult-sized bath pod.

And for only $780 you can own a life-size Boonie Bears bear. (Sexy-ass model not included.)

If I wasn't trying to limit my meat consumption, I would totally try this yak meat.

The motorized ramps down to one of our local groceries stores recently received these "one-way street" signs. The Chinese translates as "please don't go in the direction not allowed by traffic regulations." When each character is an entire word, you can get wordy like that, I guess.

When my school took all the students on a field trip to an auto museum, I didn't know what to expect. If it was going to be China-centric, wouldn't it be a fairly small museum? Evidently, no, not when moving giant blocks on rollers counts as a "car." But seriously, this museum was pretty cool and my family is going to return sometime soon for our kids to check it out.

I'm curious how this pillow is supposed to improve my eyesight. But not curious enough to buy it and try it out.

Since there are no laws against negligent parenting here, we're allowing our kids to do the kinds of things that used to be totally normal. A few weeks ago, our oldest kid, 13-year-old Crazy Jane, rode the subway across town by herself to go to the movies with a friend. She even got back home okay!

I stole this from someone's Twitter feed last week. Evidently the jar is labeled "happiness" and the first guy is saying, "Where did you find that? I've been looking for that forever!" The second guy is saying, "I made it myself."

I once had plans to write a blog post about the hottest moms in children's literature. It was inspired by this mom from Wait. But then I couldn't find some of the pictures I wanted, like some LDS kids book we have boxed up in America called something like A Teddy Bear, a Prayer, and a Flash Light. So I'll just include the ones I found before I got distracted by something else.

Another hot mom of children's literature, this one from Am I Big or Am I Little?

Finally, perhaps the hottest mom in all of children's literature, the mom from Blueberries for Sal.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

[Sad Trumpet Noise]

I only have depressing things to say today. I'm like the Debbie Downer of the blogging world this morning.

Here's one for you: every source of comfort and joy in your life is improper and will be removed from you, one source at a time. You'll end an ascetic; you can fight it or you can embrace it.

I told you: everything coming out of my brain today is crap.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The International Language

In Better Off Dead, Ricky's mom says her son speaks "the international language" with the French foreign exchange student, which she specifies is the language of love. Teaching in my school's "international" department leads me to believe that the true "international language" is Mandarin Chinese. Because that's all anyone ever uses around here.

At my first orientation I was told we would have special stamps to award students who speak English in the corridors between classes. I've never had to use such a stamp. A co-worker of mine is going slowly insane as he fights a losing battle on WeChat with our IT department to get the computers' operating systems' language settings to remain English. My top classroom rule is "只有英文," which means "English only" (expressed in Chinese for irony). It is continually ignored.

Last week we went on a field trip. Before releasing us into the museum, they made an announcement. "十点五十," I heard. I thought, "That means '10:50,' but surely if they were changing the departure time from 11:30 to 10:50, they would follow that announcement in English." They were changing the departure time, but they did not make an English announcement. I thought maybe it was because the woman with the megaphone spoke no English, so later in the day when I needed her help finding my bus, I held up the Chinese hand-signal for "Six" (which we recognize as "hang loose"). She said, "Bus Six is that way; walk about 30 meters."

Yesterday my family accompanied me to the department's Halloween party. I was certain that it was a national department event because every announcement was made in Chinese, as was the handout showing where different activities were occurring. My wife assured me that the e-mail announcement said it was for the international department only. The people running the event gave one of the handouts to my kids.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Almond Milk and Resource Prices

This week I read a few articles about the environmental impact of plant-based milk, specifically almond milk. Evidently, if you are thinking of drinking some almond milk, you might as well just kick in Earth's door and take an upper-decker in its toilet.

I wish these articles' writers would differentiate between costs borne by the consumer and uncompensated costs borne by society. To say that something uses a resource is meaningless; all items use resources. The question is, did the consumer pay for the resource used?

When a product uses a resource, that resource is no longer available for use in any other product. We use price offered to evaluate value of competing claims. I want to use the same gallon of water as you. I think it will bring me $2 in value. You think it will bring you $4 in value. So you outbid me and you get the water. This is desirable because it allows for our limited resources to go where they produce the most value.

If a single California almond takes over one gallon of water to grow, as claimed, this is not in itself evidence that almond milk is "bad" for the environment. Perhaps California is an inefficient place to grow almonds. The price of almond milk should reflect that. Consumers will stop buying as much almond milk if the price increases. More-efficient growing locations will begin producing almonds. Price does all this for us. No one has to write bombastic moralizing screeds to make this happen.

The more-likely problem is that the price of almond milk will not reflect the water used because water is a necessity and so is subject to price controls, because we live in a world where people think you're better off being able to afford something you can't find for sale than having to buy less due to a higher price. All of my students say poor people are helped when a price ceiling makes a necessity scarce. Funny, I thought poor people would be harmed by starving. But what do I know, I'm just an economist.

"But the problem is, smart guy, that we're using up resources that won't be left for our CHILDREN! Won't you PLEASE think of the CHILDREN?!" Okay, I'll think of the children. And so will the owners of the resources. They can pull the resource out of the ground now and sell it for money which they then invest at the prevailing interest rate, or they can allow the resource to sit unharvested until a future date when they pull it out of the ground and sell it to the children. They will do the activity that has the higher present value. That's why no one ever pumps all the oil now. There will be water for our children, because they will be willing to pay for it. When water becomes more scarce, future water becomes more valuable, meaning you will have to pay me more money to sell you water now. The current price of almond milk will increase and you will economize. Not because you love "the children," but because you love yourself.

Again, this only works if the price of water is the market price. Once we screw with the market price, we shouldn't be surprised that it no longer works as a motivating factor for us.

It would be great if everyone loved all unborn generations, but they don't and with price, we don't need them to. So instead of brow-beating you into drinking less almond milk, we should allow the price of water to do it for us.

A Day at the Races

Somehow I ended up with a son who loves auto racing. And because I'm a good dad, I don't spend a lot of time telling him that auto racing sucks. Often his reward for doing a good job at school is getting to watch a NASCAR race online.

The plutocrats behind Formula 1 racing have developed a new series of races for electric vehicles called Formula E. Last fall the inaugural Formula E race was in Beijing. We found out about it after it happened, but we made plans to attend following year.

Like most things in China, there was very little information available about the event. I don't know if that's because everything here is sketchy so they don't publicize something that might not actually happen, or if it's because most people are too poor to attend expensive events, or if it's because they figure the people who should know do know, and everyone else can get lost. Whatever the reason, it is virtually impossible to find out information about anything before it happens. And it's not just a language barrier thing; the Chinese-language website for the event venue never had information about the event.

It turns out a friend from church went to last year's race. We asked him how to get tickets. He said last year they never actually sold tickets to the general public. They gave them all away to corporate sponsors who kept what they wanted and unloaded the rest through scalpers, which here are called "huángniú," or "yellow cows." So we planned to buy tickets from a scalper on race day.

But when was race day? It turned out to be delayed a week, which meant that it coincided with a weekend that my boss was requiring us all to work (in violation of our contracts, natch, because China). When enough people complained, he passed out a sheet of possible compensation options. Option 1 was to skip the school field trip on Friday and call that our weekend. Option 2 was to take one day off in the next two weeks. Option 3 was to take two days of flexible time where we would only be required to be at work for the classes we teach. And Option 4, which he heavily promoted, was to do nothing and just work when he wanted us to.

The problem with Option 1 is that the school field trips are things we look forward to. It allows us to see things we wouldn't otherwise know about or get to visit. The problem with Option 2 is that we don't use substitutes here, so taking time off makes your colleagues cover for you. When they take time off in return, you cover for them. So the end result is you work the same amount. And notice that we'd be getting one day off in exchange for two days worked. The problem with Option 3 is that being allowed to go home for two hours in the middle of the day isn't that big of a deal. Most teachers live off campus, and we all have work we have to do. The problem with Option 4 is that we're not indentured servants.

I turned in my form with an Option 5 selected: I'm not available that weekend. I was a little afraid they'd get really angry, and then I was a little hopeful they'd get really angry, but they didn't get angry at all. (We'll see if my paycheck this Friday is for the correct amount.)

We showed up at the venue just as the first practice laps were taking place. We couldn't find a scalper anywhere. I was looking for shifty-looking single men with small shoulder bags, but everyone who fit the description didn't want to talk to us. We asked some of the (literally) hundreds of security guards who were standing around where we'd buy tickets, but they answered either with vague directions to somewhere else, declarations that we couldn't buy tickets, or amusement that we were speaking Chinese. Eventually, Jerome noticed a ticket office marked on a map of the event. The office was located on the complete opposite side of the course from everything else--at least a mile away from the gate. We headed in that direction.

When we finally got to where the ticket office was supposed to be, we found some scalpers. (Maybe that was what they meant by "ticket office"?) They offered two tickets. I said we needed three. They said Jerome didn't need one. I happened to know he did. They pulled out a third ticket. I inspected them closely, since everything here is counterfeit, including Apple stores and bottled water. I told the guy I didn't know if they were real. He said he'd walk us through security to show we were fine. So we walked with the guy until we were inside the event, and then we bought the tickets from him.

The boys liked that every vendor booth had a version of remote control race cars for them to play with. When it came time to find our seats for the next round of practice, though, we started to have problems. First, what was my fault: the third ticket the scalper sold us was in a very different seating section from the other two. That could be a small problem or a large problem, depending on how far away the seats would be. Here, it was an enormous problem, because of how the event was laid out. The third ticket was about a half mile away from the other two, but because of how the crowd was directed, it was 1.3 miles of walking from one seat to the other. And that walk involved leaving the event and coming back in a different entrance.

We decided to just pretend Jerome was a lap child (the typical cut-off in China is 1.2 meters and he's about 1.35 meters tall, which, to express that in a more-usable form, is 0.00072894 nautical miles). He was worried because he's a good kid and he thought I was telling him to break a law. When you tell your kid, "Just be cool and everything will be okay," that's as good as telling them, "Why not freak out and confess to all and sundry?" But I explained to him that we weren't stealing anything: the event organizers were compensated when they released three tickets, and the scalpers were compensated when we bought three tickets. We weren't dishonestly buying low-end tickets and then stealing a high-end experience, we were doing the best we could with our limited Chinese (I had to say "Wǒ xiǎng mǎi sān zhāng piào" a lot and not much else). If this wasn't going to work, I was going to send the two boys in and I'd wait outside.

But it did work, with no problems at all, even though I later found out that the event organizers had announced that there was no allowance for lap children. Every spectator required a ticket. And it turned out that getting to the seats was where the real check of ticket authenticity would occur, so the scalpers walking us through security was all just for show. But the tickets were legitimate and we got to watch the race.