Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fixing the Glitch

I've done a poor job at my, well, job this year. I don't believe that's the result of me being unable to perform the work. I believe it's a combination of a poor administrative structure, a poor culture of communication, and a psychopathic boss. Yesterday I found out I'm being assigned some other duties for next school year that will do nothing about the first two problems (and actually possibly worsen the second one), but should at least alleviate the third problem.

That's the upside. The downside is that my workload will (probably) increase and the prep I did this year is now (mostly) worthless.

Monday, June 29, 2015

What a Month

June ends in just over 14 hours (here in China), and frankly, it can't end soon enough. The world has gone more bat-shit crazy in this solitary month than in the entire rest of my 37 years.

June started with Caitlyn Jenner debuting herself on the cover of Vanity Fair. Next was a riverboat capsizing on the Yangtze River that drowned over 300 people. Sepp Blatter resigned after being reelected FIFA chairman less than one week earlier. It was announced that TSA failed to find 95% of the weapons in airplane luggage. Denny Hastert was arrested for withdrawing his own money from the bank. China hacked the U.S. government computer network so thoroughly even they were like, "Wait, what?" Rachel Dolezal's racial identity was disputed. Sepp Blatter said, "Just kidding." A racist in South Carolina killed nine people, and somehow this ignited a vendetta against Bo and Luke Duke.

Then things really picked up steam the final week of the month. The Supreme Court found that the literal reading of Obamacare would kill Obamacare, as the law's framers intended, so the court re-wrote the statute. This wasn't an interpretation of what someone maybe meant 230 years ago. The intentions of the legislators was obvious and known. They went so far as to say, "In Scenario X, the law will fail," and then Scenario X occurred. The IRS decided to extra-legally stop Scenario X. The court found they had to be allowed to do it, because otherwise, the law would fail. "You can't seriously think they wanted that to happen" is now the law of the land.

The next day, we found out that a completely fair and inclusive institution such as traditional marriage was actually nothing of the sort. Whereas the rules had applied equally to everyone (find one person of the opposite sex who is not already married or too-close of a relative) without regard to sexual orientation (no one asked me when I went to get married if I was straight or gay), now those rules were found to be exclusionary and harmful. "If the court rules this way," said some defenders of traditional marriage, "polyamory and persecution of religious objectors will follow." Detractors scoffed, "That's crazy talk." Within 24 hours of the court ruling came calls for legalizing polygamy and for removing the tax-exemption of churches.

And just in case the Supreme Court's craziness wasn't enough for your liking, they included some bonus craziness: you can be sued for racism if your equally-applied race-blind policy results in different outcomes for different races. Let's say you decide to hand things out based on an alphabetical list. You racist! All those Chinese kids with names beginning in Q, X, and Z are disproportionately at the bottom!

The rest of the world wasn't sitting out Crazy Month. The Shanghai Stock Exchange had spent the first six months of the year building a bubble that burst in June, losing 20% of its value in the month. One day saw an IS attack at a factory in France, one on a beach in Tunisia, and one at a mosque in Yemen. IS spent May complaining about cartoons of Mohammed and then in June decided the best way to honor his work was to offer pre-teen sex slaves as a prize for Qur'an memorization. And the Greek government decided to screw over its citizens as completely as possible by defaulting on their loans but giving a week's notice to their creditors, so they could make sure to not restock Greek banks with cash.


Unfortunately, June doesn't give any indication that it has contained its craziness. Spillovers into July appear likely. What's going to happen after the Greek referendum on Sunday? What's going to happen when the Chinese stock market keeps correcting? What's going to happen when Amnesty Summer II: Montezuma's Revenge gets into full swing? What's going to happen when another white police officer kills another black teen? What's going to happen when China finishes its new islands?

July could end up making June look like Victorian England.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

You Took No Thought Save It Was to Sit There Like a Lurp

One source of criticism/anxiety for modern Mormons is the apparent lack of revelation flowing through the leadership to the members. Anyway, I was doing my personal morning scripture reading, which is currently "scripture" reading, since I'm not reading actual scriptures, but the Teachings of Presidents of the Church manuals. Today's reading was Chapter 21 from the Joseph Smith manual. (My goal for the year was to read one manual each month. Now here I am, halfway through the year and not quite halfway through the first manual.) I came across this (I can't include a page number because the Gospel Library version of the manual doesn't have page numbers):

Brother Joseph arose and said, to receive revelation and the blessings of heaven it was necessary to have our minds on God and exercise faith and become of one heart and of one mind. Therefore he recommended all present to pray separately and vocally to the Lord for [Him] to reveal His will unto us concerning the upbuilding of Zion and for the benefit of the Saints.
I was struck by the idea that a non-Zion people ("one heart and one mind") would not be receiving direction. Also, instead of showing up to General Conference as an observer, we have to come as participants. "Let's see what they have to say to us" is the wrong attitude. Then we say, "It was all just a bunch of 'try harder'; they must have some sort of receiving problem." The leadership are not receivers so much as transmitters; if there's a receiving problem, it is on our end.

"I Can Show You the World"

Ladies in China are all about their legs. Short skirts and short shorts are the orders of the day. Sometimes that's nice, but As a married man, I am constantly offended, and sometimes it's downright unattractive. Yesterday, riding home from church on the subway, I was sitting (a rarity) next to my wife (a double rarity). Across from us sat a squat little woman in a short dress. The sitting pulled her dress higher, and then her manspreading (also a rarity here in China, unlike the "epidemic" American media makes it seem to be in New York) pulled it higher still. As we rode along, she began to slump down in her seat more. I said to my wife, "Why is this lady trying so hard to show us her junk?" My wife said, "Yeah, I don't know."

Just then, the lady across from us got an itchy shin. So she lifted her left leg up to allow her right hand to reach it without having to remove her shoulders from the seat back. The timing was such that my wife and I both laughed.

In America, the explanation would be that she was perving on us somehow, that she was satisfying an exhibitionist urge. But the look on this lady's face didn't support that. She wasn't thrilled by showing off for us; she wasn't even aware she was doing it. She was an unattractive lady with bad posture and an itchy calf.

I was reminded of the words of Barry Zuckerkorn: "It's never the ones you hope."

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cleaning, From Another Angle

Even though China has so much surplus labor that every grocery store has dozens of employees roaming the aisles, my school has a skeleton crew of cleaning people. They are in charge of the restrooms and the hallways. They used to take the garbage out of the teachers' offices but then they stopped for several months before just recently starting again. But when it comes to the classrooms, they do nothing.

This is supposed to give the students opportunities to serve. However, since the rich only-child special snowflakes have ayis (maids/all-purpose gofers) at home, they have never been forced to clean up after themselves in their lives. And since the students are required to be at school from 7 PM to 9 PM without adult supervision, the classrooms get destroyed at night and the day-time students resent having to clean up the mess the next morning. So our classrooms are pigsties.

The classrooms have a posted cleaning schedule. It is entirely in Mandarin characters. Just to reiterate: this is an "international" department, and all teaching and business is supposed to take place in English. If the schedule was at least in Pinyin, I could read it. By posting the schedule in characters, they made sure it was accessible to everyone except the teacher. (Later, I found out that the kids scheduled to clean my room aren't even my students, so I don't know them and don't know how to follow-up on their lack of cleaning.)

Half-way through the year, the school had a group of students make a humorous instructional video. The premise was that a Hygiene Angel can magically appear and beat especially-foul students. (One of my students played the role of Hygiene Angel.)

The video got a lot of laughs when it was screened, and then the classrooms remained just as dirty. So I added something to the board above the trashcan: when the trashcan was empty, it read "The Hygiene Angel Loves You All," and as the room got progressively dirty, I would replace the word "loves" with some other appropriate word, such as "likes," "hates," "likes (but only as friends)," or "it's complicated." This usually works. The students notice this and empty the trashcan within a day of the status changing to "hate."

Today I was walking to my room and saw this poster in the hallway.

I was never asked who my best cleaners were, so how would they know? I have another teacher in my room once each day, but the two students who won recognition from my room are my students, not his. And neither of these students stand out in my mind as especially diligent cleaning the room. One is a kiss-up who might clean sometimes if she thinks it'll make me write a better college recommendation letter for her next year, and the other stopped coming to school two months ago because of a health issue. I don't disagree that they are fine people, but they are being recognized for work they might not have ever done. Meanwhile, the actual students who empty the trash just saw someone else get recognition of their own work.

I'm thinking of making a video called The Recognition Angel, where I magically appear and beat brown-nosers and the credentialing bureaucrats who enable them. (And by "make a video" I mean "ask a kid to hold my camera phone while I pummel someone.")

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Muggle Life

I'm still reading the Harry Potter series aloud to our kids. We're 15% into Book 6 now. The worst of Harry's sullenness is behind us.

Last night we read about the owls bringing Harry and Romione's letters to The Burrow. I said, "Muggles must see owls flying around with letters all the time. They probably think owls steal mail. Mailboxes are probably adorned with scarecrows to ward off owls." Jerome said, "Owls are bringing their O.W.L. results! I wonder if they have newts bring the N.E.W.T. results!" I said, "They can't have the owls bring the newts because the owls would land and hack up newt skeletons clutching tiny envelopes."

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Temptation, Frustration / So Bad It Makes Him Cry"

Everything I have to blog about today is negative. And Gretchen Rubin says in The Happiness Project that writing or speaking your frustrations doesn't make them better. So I guess that means no blog post today.

But yesterday I read this article that says I'm supposed to write down negative thoughts. So here's at least a list of topics that could have been the star of this blog post if I wasn't trying to not focus on my negative thoughts.

  • My relationship with God.
  • My relationship with my parents.
  • My dissertation.
  • My school's management.
  • My school's schedule.
  • My local government's authoritarianism.
  • My national government's authoritarianism.
  • My personal finances.
  • My school's bait-and-switch approach to costs and fees.
  • My children's teeth.
  • My family's health and nutrition.
  • My jackass extended family member.
  • My poor performance in my church calling.

I think that's all of them.

Post title from The Police song "Don't Stand So Close to Me."

Monday, June 22, 2015

My Wife's Birthday (Actual)

I woke up and did some yoga while my wife slept. (I know, dudes who do yoga are totally ridiculous/gross/sad, but I've recently started and I think the reason I'm okay with it is because I already was ridiculous/gross/sad.) Once we were up and dressed, we went to our hotel's breakfast. It was a great combination of Chinese and western food. After we ate and I checked out, we walked back home to drop off our suitcase and head out for the next portion of our plans. On the walk home, we stopped at Dairy Queen and bought an ice cream cake for later.

The kids were fine, so we left for lunch. Another bus ride (the third one of the weekend) and then Line 6 all the way across town to eat lunch at Home Plate Texas BBQ.

The only disappointment of the weekend: ¥20 for a 12-ounce can of A&W Root Beer. But I like my wife and she likes root beer. The pulled pork was great, though.

We took a cab to the Pearl Market. When the guy dropped us off right outside the door, my wife said, "Cabs are so convenient!" I was not trying to develop her taste for expensive transportation.

A woman from church told us to go to a particular vendor and tell her, "Julie sent me." Our experience, though, is that people often think this type of introduction is sufficient when it is not. Ninety-five percent of the time you should expect to hear, "Julie who?" So my wife made sure I had a picture of this church friend on my phone before we went. However, as soon as we told the vendor, Nancy, that Julie had sent us, Nancy said, "I love Julie! She's my best friend!" And lest we think she was just a very effective saleswoman (which nevertheless she turned out to be), she then told us all kinds of details about her relationship with Julie to prove we were talking about the same person.

My wife selected a black pearl, and then we had to select a setting and a chain. Eventually we left with this.

Fearing that my wife was getting too used to traveling by cab, we rode the subway home.

Finally home for the day, we finished our evening with the ice cream cake.

Although it looks like all we did was take pictures of it (and pictures of taking pictures), we did, in fact, end up eating it.


The other day I had a bit of a nap, so when it came around to bedtime, I wasn't quite tired yet. My wife went to bed and I finished playing a computer game I had started. When I came in to bed later, she was mostly asleep. I got into bed next to her and said, "I love you." She murmured (what I'm telling myself was) concurrence. Then I said, "I love you so much I'm going to let you keep sleeping on my side of the--" She interrupted me with an angry murmur and shifted back over to her side of the bed.


Something I noticed while reading Bruce R. McConkie's Mortal Messiah series was the man's penchant for using words as non-obvious parts of speech. Today I came across an example in Ronald D. Siegel's Mindfulness Solution.

The sentence is this:

Research documents changes in both inner experience and outward behavior resulting from mindfulness practice. (p. 33)

As I read this, I thought "research" was an adjective and "documents" was a plural noun. Then I got to the supposed verb, "changes," which didn't agree in number with the subject, and the entire sentence fell apart. It turns out the first word was the noun, the second was the verb, and the third was a plural noun.

There's nothing wrong with a sentence like this, other than it's just not using words the way my brain would use them.

My Wife's Birthday (Observed), Part Two

My work had our passports for nearly a month, going through the renewal of our residency permits. The goal was to have them back to everyone before this past weekend, since it was a holiday weekend (Dragon Boat Festival) and lots of people would be traveling. Since you need your passport to stay in a hotel in China, our night out depended on getting our passports back from work. When I returned to work from clothes shopping, I found out that the passports were ready for pickup.

I finished my day and came home to pick up my wife. She wasn't quite ready yet, but she finished right around when the kids' dinner was supposed to be delivered. When we got down to our gate, we saw the pizza guy on his phone and guessed that he was calling my wife's phone, which we'd left with Crazy Jane. Most delivery guys say a bunch of stuff, then we say, "Běi mén," which means "North gate," where we will meet them. They say some more stuff, then we repeat "běi mén," they get the picture that we can't say anything else, they say, "Okay," we say, "Okay," and we go down to meet them. But sometimes a delivery guy doesn't understand why we just keep repeating "běi mén." We were a little worried about leaving Crazy Jane in charge of the entire transaction, so I called her to make sure she knew the delivery guy was there. She was in the stairwell coming down. I wanted to watch the transaction take place because it is kind of interesting watching your kids when they don't know you are. My wife didn't see Crazy Jane come out of the building yet, so she didn't even know it was happening. A student of mine saw me standing there with a suitcase and came over to ask me if I was traveling for the holiday weekend. I said, "Sort of." Crazy Jane recognized my voice and looked at me like, "Why are you spying on me buying pizza?" Then we walked to our hotel.

We checked in to our hotel. I had spent a tiny bit more (seriously, it was a very marginal increase) for a room with the word "executive" in the description. It turned out to be way better. We got all kinds of preferential treatment. Our room was great, with a super nice bed, desk, sitting area, and shower.

Although we were on the top floor, the hotel is not very tall, so we couldn't quite see our apartment, which is directly behind the peach-and-white building to the left of this picture.

After checking in, we left for our dinner reservations. We could take the subway there, but the walk to the closest subway station from the hotel was kind of long. Plus, it would involved Line 1, Line 10, and Line 13, the three most-annoying subway lines we've every ridden. We could take a taxi there, but all the taxis on the hotel's street were refusing passengers for some reason. So we started walking up the street to find a taxi. We eventually ended up taking a bus to Line 6, which is a nice line because we get on at the terminus, so we can get seats. We completely avoided lines 1 and 10, which was great. But I did manage to take my wife on a second bus ride of her "fancy" birthday celebration.

The restaurant was great. Tasty Indian food, my wife's wasn't too spicy for her, and we weren't stuffed beyond comfort. It was really really nice.

We were a little nervous because we both wanted to try an Indian restaurant but neither of us know much about Indian food. The menu did a great job explaining each dish very well. Then we were nervous again because my wife's first order was refused by the waiter. "That's too much food," he said. This made us hold back from ordering a dish we wanted to try, for fear that the waiter would again accuse us of gluttony. But I think we were happy not getting too full.

Outside the mall which housed the restaurant sat a sculpture that included an uncircumcised penis. Zoom in if you doubt me. (I took another picture where I zoomed in for you, but my cellphone camera falls to pieces anytime it's asked to zoom.)

We hailed a taxi and showed the guy the Chinese address I'd written down, and I'd done well enough that he could read it. If making out in the back of a taxi wasn't on my wife's birthday dream list, well, then, I guess that part was for me, not her.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Wife's Birthday (Observed), Part One

I do a poor job with holidays. Part of the reason is that I'm usually broke. And part of it is that I tend not to plan that far ahead. And part of it is that I just don't think it's that important. And I could probably place some of the blame on my wife's responses to my presents over the years. When we were 14, I gave her some Christmas presents that included candy and, in an attempt at something more serious, a hair clip. I don't believe she ever wore the hair clip. A few years later, I got her a locket that had our picture in it. She wore it sparingly and later explained tactfully that she didn't wear it because it was ugly. Anyway, whatever the reasons, I've always phoned it in on each holiday, telling my wife I'd make it up next time.

Now that we had been married for 14 years, she was probably justified in wondering if "next time" would ever come. I was beginning to worry that one anniversary (or birthday or Christmas or Mother's Day), I'd wake up and find a note on her pillow explaining why she'd left. (At least I wouldn't have to return any presents, though, right?) Since I like her, I decided I didn't want that to happen. So last month, after phoning it in on Mother's Day (my presents included making her cook her own meals and ride the subway to and from church on her own with four kids), I resolved to actually do something for her birthday.

I started by discussing with our oldest whether she'd be okay being in charge over night if the parents were only a five-minute cab ride away. She said that would be fine. Next, I looked up recipes on Pinterest (this gave me an excuse to make a secret board, which was thrilling). Then I asked my students how to make a phone call in China (something our school employee "helpers" have never shared with us), and then once my students proved incapable of answering, I looked it up online. I called and made reservations at a restaurant we have been wanting to try.

I decided that we would celebrate my wife's birthday the day before her actual birthday, then spend the night out. The next day, her actual birthday, we would have dinner and dessert with the kids. The night before her observed birthday, she took two kids to a book club and I took two kids grocery shopping to get the ingredients we needed for her birthday breakfast the next morning. One of the kids mentioned that he didn't have anything to give my wife for her birthday. While I had a lot planned, much of it didn't involve the kids, so we got some presents while we were out.

We couldn't find syrup at either of our neighborhood grocery stores, so we had to WeChat my wife and have her get some. I was hesitant to do it, because it gave away some of the surprise, by we didn't have time to take the subway to the more-western grocery store where we'd find it, and she was on the American side of town that evening.

The next morning, I got the ingredients ready. Because our building is "authentic China," and that includes bugs everywhere, I had to do the preparation on the dining table, not the kitchen counter.

Part of running things past my daughter was asking if she'd be okay waking up early and walking down to my wife's favorite bakery to get her favorite doughnuts. Crazy Jane said yes. That morning, though, it was raining, and she'd been out late the night before at her book club. But it quickly became apparent that I didn't have enough time to do everything I needed before I had to be at work, so if there was going to be breakfast, I'd need Crazy Jane to run to the bakery.

In my prep work, I tried to find out when the bakery opened. Because it was a Chinese business, it made sure to make essential information impossible to learn. But it was a bakery, for Pete's sake, so it had to be open before everyone was heading to work, right?

It turns out, no, not really. So Crazy Jane walked down there and the employees let her stand inside while they started getting the store ready for the day. Eventually she realized they would have nothing to sell for a while yet, and she came back home.

While she was gone, I was tempted to cut back on the menu, figuring we didn't need to overdo it since we'd be getting some bakery food. But then I remembered that the reason this sounded like a good idea was because I was used to half-assing holidays. So I woke up Kid #2, Articulate Joe, to be my sous chef.

I was aware that my wife has an incredibly-low opinion of my cooking ability. She believes I would burn boiling water, if I ever had the inclination to try to get water hot. Although there are some advantages to this (like never being expected to cook anything), I also don't like her thinking I'm completely incompetent. I'm not a terrible cook, I'm just too lazy to ever try. Plus, I'm very undemanding when it comes to food. She still won't believe me when I saw that I would be very happy eating Craft Macaroni and Cheese at least one dinner every week. I hate spending time making food. It just seems so stupid. When I'm single (like when she's out of town), all I eat is one microwave meal a day. Even time spent waiting for a frozen dinner is a waste of time. But I sucked it up and put in an effort to actually do something with food this time.

Eventually my wife woke up and offered to help. I didn't want to make her make her own breakfast, but Articulate Joe did a crap job breaking eggs (he just sort of exploded them in the bowl, shell and all), so I let my wife help. I showed her the recipe we'd be following and, while I made the potatoes, she made the French toast and supervised Articulate Joe making the eggs.

I had to make some adjustments for being in China. For instance, the potato recipe called for bacon, but since Chinese bacon creeps us out, I used a type of small sweet sausage we've had in restaurant dishes. I was also supposed to use something called Old Bay seasoning, but there was no chance of finding that, so I figured we'd just add some chili powder if they needed something more. And because of time considerations and the limitations of the sous chef, the eggs ended up just eggs and some milk scrambled together, without the tomatoes, cheese, or green onions I had planned on.

We finished just in time for me to leave for work. So I left the kids with instructions to do the dishes, and then we quickly gave my wife the presents we bought the night before: a fly swatter (because our poorly-sealed apartment is constantly harboring a handful of mosquitoes) and some socks (my wife wanted socks between no-show and knee-high length, which she'd had difficulty finding).

My work makes us work more than 40 hours per week, so they allow us four hours of "banking hours" each month to do whatever business we need to take care of during the work day. Most months that's just transferring money at the bank, but since we weren't going to be able to transfer money in June (I think I already explained this to you), I had all my banking hours left over. Since my Friday schedule has an empty four-hour block, and my school has adopted a more-liberal attitude towards using banking hours without approval as the term winds down and everyone needs to be prepared to leave for the summer, I had my wife meet me and we spent half a day at the mall.

We have three nearby western-like malls. The closest is smaller and the stores are more Chinese. Another is larger and nicer, but still fairly Chinese in the available stores. The third is harder to get to (quite a walk away from the subway), but it has our nearest H&M and Gap, and it has a Uniqlo, which is the most-normal of the fashionable Asian clothing stores (ones like Evisu, Chocoolate, and A Bathing Ape are too avant-garde for us middle-aged rubes). It turns out there's a bus that goes right from my school's south gate to the mall, so we took that bus (I'm an expert at taking girls on the bus for dates, remember?), and spent the afternoon shopping.

Scenes from a Chinese fitting room.

It turns out it's hard to leave parent mode when shopping. We saw a bunch of things for our kids in Uniqlo, but we weren't there to buy for our kids. We ended up getting a lot of stuff at H&M. Then we were supposed to get chicken fries at Burger King (that mall has our closest Burger King), but the lunch line was incredibly long and my wife was still full from breakfast. We took the bus back home, where the kids each got to pick something to give my wife as an additional present, and then I went back to work.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Stink Was Glorious

Last night I went to a student drama performance. Sitting in the audience waiting for the program to begin, I had the following conversation.

CO-WORKER: Did your wife like the graduation robe? [Earlier in the day I had told her, "When my wife sees me in this thing, say hello to Baby Number Five!"]

A RANDOM STRANGER: Oh yeah. She was like, "Just send the kids and you stay home alone with me!" I said, "Relax, we have it all weekend. There'll be plenty of time to incorporate it into all of your fantasies."

CW: My high school made us buy ours.

ARS: Ours let you rent them from the school because they had unique school colors. [NOTE: My wife has told me I am misremembering this. In my defense, I was never in an actual high school graduation.]

CW: Our school colors were orange and teal, but the robes were black. But you had to buy a new one, you couldn't even reuse a sibling's or a friend's.

ARS: That just sounds like your principal was getting a kick-back from the retailer.

CW: Oh, I don't doubt it. He ended up being arrested for embezzlement. And the dean of my college was, too. And the I.T. guy was embezzling for so long that they couldn't even prosecute him for all his crimes.

ARS: What state are you from?!

CW: Wisconsin.

ARS: What? Wisconsin has a reputation for good government.

CW: Well, we used to. A few governors ago. With Doyle.

ARS: You know, you say that, but which party dominates higher education?

CW: True.

ARS: Corruption knows no party. It's the international language.

CW: But Walker has a new proposal to allow anyone with a bachelor's degree to teach any class in high school.

ARS: I know credentialism is a big problem, but that might be going too far. I think your degree should at least be related to the class you teach.

CW: But this proposal will undermine Wisconsin teaching credentials. Teachers are leaving the state enn massey [NOTE: she meant to say "en masse"] and it makes me seem less qualified.

ARS: I'm not a credentialed teacher. Does that eat you up inside?

CW [clearly flustered]: No. Because you've taught college, so you're qualified to teach high school.

ARS: But when I taught college--

CW: How did you get your first job?

ARS: I was a good student and my professor said, "Do you want to try teaching?" It was a lot like how Chief Wiggum got hired as Springfield's police chief. I had classmates in one class who, a few hours later, I was their professor.

CW: But you had a higher degree than what you were teaching.

ARS: When I first started teaching undergrads, my highest credential was a high school diploma. [NOTE: Upon further reflection, this is untrue; I had an associate's degree. But I was still teaching above my degree.]

CW: I know I feel like my credential is very important. Like, I'm credentialed to teach seventh grade, and I don't feel like I'm qualified to teach sixth grade.

ARS: You're putting too much trust in someone else's opinion. Kids are kids, especially sixth- and seventh-graders. Have more self-confidence. You've got this.

And that was when the program began. The following things in this conversation made me want to share it.

  1. I knew what she was getting at with the "A few governors ago" comment. I could have let it slide. But, as noted elsewhere, I like to stir the [excrement] just to make it stink.
  2. I'm not at all confident in my co-worker's assessment of Scott Walker's proposal. Look that crap up before you go around saying this is true.
  3. I liked the irony of complaining about appearing less qualified while mispronouncing "en masse." As soon as she did that, I thought to myself, "I've got to blog this conversation tomorrow."
  4. Talk about demeanedizing someone! (To demeanedize is defined by Daniel Klein as undermining someone's self-perception or confidence of ability. It is a problem of authority that it makes those overseen value their own judgment less.) The credentialing bureaucracy is so inside her head that she thinks, "I can teach that 12-year-old, but I'm completely unqualified to teach that different type of 12-year-old." All because of what's on a piece of paper issued by a body that cannot know her abilities as well as she knows her own.

Being "Hot" and Being a "Hot Mess" Are Different

My Wife: You're hot.

A Random Stranger: No I'm not. No unsuccessful man is hot. That's why there are no hot homeless guys.

MW: Yeah there are. There's an entire Arrested Development episode about that.

ARS: But the point is Lindsay is an idiot.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

You Say You Want a Revolution

One of the provisions of the American constitution allows for a new constitutional convention. Sometimes you'll hear people say that's just what we need. You should distrust such people. They either haven't thought things through, or else they have. In both cases, they're to be avoided.

Maybe they haven't thought things through. In their minds, the new constitutional convention gets together, passes only the "good" provisions, stops all the "bad" ones, and goes back home. But what assurances exist to guarantee this is what happens? What will prohibit a bizarro convention, where only the "bad" provisions get passed? One of the truths of life is this: opportunists gonna opportune.

Maybe they have thought things through. In which case, they are the opportunists of whom we are supposed to be wary.

My point is, when you open the door for renegotiating non-negotiable principles, you might be unpleasantly surprised with where things end up. And this generalizes beyond politics. Part of the reason my wife and I got married (aside from her award-winning ass*) was our agreement on the fundamental basic principles of life and marriage. Many of these principles are embodied in our common religion. If I were to undermine that religion and declare it no longer has value, in my mind every reasonable person would respond the same way I would. But in reality, some people will respond quite differently. Maybe I think the only effect will be some weekend drinking or a new habit of attending Sunday brunch. But what might actually happen could be very different, and not at all what I intended. It might be becoming an ISIS comfort woman, murdering in the name of environmental protection, or developing a drug addiction. Once you open Pandora's box, you can't expect to have a say regarding what comes out.

One of the reasons to celebrate the American Revolution is that it turned out the way it did. The revolution itself was fairly liberal and came with no reprisals, and the inevitable counterrevolution (another truth of life: there's always a counterrevolution) was even more liberal and bloodless than the first (replacing the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution involved no fighting at all). But this is the exception. Nearly all revolutions don't go as smoothly. The tagline on the movie poster advertising the French Revolution read: "Zair will be blud."

Think twice before you revolutionize your life. And then, think one more time.

* = An honest-to-goodness, actual award-winning ass. (Nicest Ass, Somis School 8th grade, 1992.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Length of Commute

Soon after we got married, we moved to an apartment a half-mile away from my work. We have always been a one-car family, so we said, "That'll be great because then I can just walk to work!" But instead of waking up like a CHUMP at seven FORTY-FIVE and WALKING for EIGHT MINUTES, I stayed in bed until 7:55 and just drove to work.

Since then I've had longer commutes, but usually still well below the national average of 25 minutes.

Even my bike commute in Kansas was under 25 minutes (except for coming home in the summer). Really, my only time having a real commute, where I was driving myself and couldn't do anything else, was when I spent a year teaching at a college 100 miles from my home. But even that was two days a week, and I managed to learn some Spanish and memorize long scriptures.

My commute right now is a walk across a soccer field. But my building is going to be remodeled and won't be available for the first half of next year. All information regarding the replacement location was closely guarded. We were told "it will be no more than a 10-minute walk away." But a quick review of what's within a 10-minute walk showed there were not that many options. Then students started speculating, telling each other, "I heard it'll be in Yizhuangzhen," which is a 90-minute subway ride away. Finally, with no fanfare at all, the announcement was made that we would be using temporary classrooms built in the campus library.

My commute just got 17% shorter.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chinese Grocery Store Pictures

First up, we have the mustard with anti-theft devices.

Next, we have the check-out-line condom display. Let's see, which condom sounds more appealing, "Fetherlite," or "Tight"?

Then, since the condoms in the check-out-line are at kids' eye-level, the Screamapilar pointed out to us the adjacent Jissbon package with the adorable cartoon condom on it. Seriously, it's like they are marketing these things to preschoolers. (Except that in the background is a woman's hand grabbing a dude's tool.)

Finally, even though this blog post title promises only items from the grocery store, I'm not disclosing anything earth-shattering when I say that I'm a bad blogger, so here's something from McDonald's. (Our McDonald's is right next door to our grocery store, though.)

Anyway, our McDonald's has been advertising this pineapple ice cream treat for months. Every time we get up to the counter and show the woman a picture of the ad, she tells us they can't possibly be expected to make something like that. EXCEPT LAST TIME! This last time she turned around and started trying to make our order. Then she left her tiny booth (the dessert workers are in a cubicle with a walk-up window) to ask someone about it, then she came back and told us she couldn't make it. But at least this time she THOUGHT she might be able to! (The next evening my wife and I saw two people walking away from McDonald's eating things that look like the pineapple item. Perhaps it is possible, after all!)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Europe and Civil Asset Forfeiture

I read an article about Cristiano Ronaldo's mother, Dolores Aveiro, trying to board a flight with €45,000 in her purse. Of course, because this is the way the world works now, she was a criminal, either because she had a lot of cash or (more insidiously) because she didn't tell a government agent that she had the cash.

Here's what I found interesting.

Mrs Aveiro will may now be fined at least €600 for the attempt to illegally export cash. By paying the fine, she will be able to collect the confiscated money.
Say what?! In the U.S., that money would have already been added to the police department budget by now. She could get it back by proving that the money (not her) was NOT guilty of a crime. But in Spain all she has to do is pay a fine to cover the policing costs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Bradley Effect Writ Large

A few days ago I watched a semi-suppressed TED talk about the dogmas of modern science. The presenter, Rupert Sheldrake, recounts a conversation he had once with a metrologist. Sheldrake asked if the drop in the speed of light observed during the 1920s and 1930s was a result of scientists "fudging" their numbers to match those around them. He recounts the subsequent conversation.

He said, "We don't like to use the word 'fudge.'" I said, "Well, what do you prefer?" He said, "Well, we prefer to call it 'intellectual phase locking.'"

This was fresh in my head when I read this article, "Millennials Are Lying About What They Want to Eat, and It's Destroying Fast Food." The author, Ashley Lutz, effectively says restaurants are being led on a wild goose chase trying to provide Millennials' desired food items because what Millennials say they want is not what they actually buy. Lutz's explanation is Millennials' inability to afford the nicer things they desire. Perhaps (although Millennials are better-off financially than the preceding Generation X). But I think a better explanation is intellectual phase locking.

Millennials are the product of activist school teachers and Captain Planet cartoons. They've been subject to propaganda their entire lives. They've come to maturity as political conformity has become a dogma. Express your individuality through your clothes and music (although even that is debatable), just not your thoughts.

I submit that Millennials have learned to publicly declare the accepted view, but in private they don't follow it. They might tell everyone that they eat local vegan artisanal hormone-free non-GMO all-natural quinoa, but in reality they believe what everyone knows in their heart of hearts to be true: that shit NATHTY. Companies like McDonald's get survey results and cut the McThrombosis from the menu, and then everyone wonders why Shake Shack is the new hawtness. (NB: I'm aware that the phrase "the new hawtness" is no longer the new hawtness. I'm using it ironically, because evidently I'm a hipster who does things I hate.) Instead of blaming all this on economic inequality holding Millennials back from their desired food consumption patterns, we should recognize that the problem is Millennials' belief that they have to espouse views they don't actually hold.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Off the Record

Faithful reader Alanna has commented:

So I was teaching Sunday School this last week and the lesson we're on was "Woe Unto Ye Hypocrites!" and I found your definition on hypocrisy [from here - ED.], which I really liked, and was all set to use it, but then before I could, Craig raised him hand and talked about how he really liked the definition you gave. So your blog has become like scripture. Which is probably why they released me the very same Sunday...!
I was going to note that anyone who quotes my blog in church should expect to be released immediately, but maybe that's exactly what you want to have happen. In which case, quote away!

Maybe I'll go all John Dehlin and start teaching my own alternative doctrine. Who wants to contribute money to my bank account Mormon outreach program?

Monday, June 08, 2015

Al Capone's Conviction

In the 1930s, the Federales sent Al Capone to prison for tax evasion because they couldn't prove his guilt for the other stuff. This eventually led to Tom Cruise's line in the film The Firm, "It's not sexy, but it has teeth!"

Some people see the convictions of Martha Stewart and Barry Bonds, and now the prosecution of Denny Hastert, as a continuation of the Al Capone approach. I do not. With Capone, tax evasion was a crime in its own right. In the modern instances, the "crime" has only been outlawed because it is assumed to coincide with another crime. This is how civil asset forfeiture is justified. If you have $10,000 in your car, you must be a criminal, so we don't need to figure out what, exactly, you did that was illegal.

Martha Stewart did not go to prison for insider trading, she was convicting of not aiding the investigation of her alleged insider trading. Barry Bonds was not convicted of using illegal substances, he was convicted of not aiding the investigation of his alleged use of illegal substances. And Denny Hastert is not being prosecuted for sexually assaulting a minor, he is being prosecuted for accessing his own money in a way that was designed to avoid notice.

We don't defend these people because they are public villains. The government is using their villainy to normalize the prosecution of those who do not kowtow to government bullying. We're all less free because we can't stomach defending Martha Stewart, Barry Bonds, or Denny Hastert.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

So Much Extra Space in a Tweet

I was thinking yesterday about how the major issues of our day are debated on Twitter, where everyone is limited to 140 characters, and how this does not lend itself to a full, nuanced treatment of topics. This week in particular the issue has been Bruce Jenner's transition to Caitlyn Jenner. Most public figures who are tweeting about it are then having to issue several apology tweets later. You just can't say what there is to say in 140 characters.

Then I realized that the entire thing boiled down to whether you call him Bruce or call her Caitlyn. And that requires just a handful of characters. The world has no time for nuance. Pick a hashtag and we'll know which tribe you're in.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

"Wealthy Kids Who Cheat"

No, that's not my school's motto. It's not even from my school's letterhead. It's a quotation from this article about Chinese students being expelled from American universities.

Before arriving here, I had some discussions with the man who turned out to be my boss. (It was sort of weird that this wasn't made clear in the interview process, don't you think?) Anyway, he was just over the moon about these students. They were fantastic and so mature and could do no wrong and were performing on the level of college juniors. Yadda yadda et cetera.

Now that I'm here, I disagree. Strongly. But that's not to say they are all terrible. Much of the issue is a bunch of 16-year-olds acting like 16-year-olds. Another major problem is their contempt for English, even though they have entered an English-language high school to prepare for English-language instruction at an American or Canadian university. My first week here, I was given a stamp to use for awarding students who "go above and beyond what's expected." An example of what would qualify was using English outside the classroom. When I heard that, I thought, "Really? That's worthy of a stamp?" And now, nine months later, I have never had reason to use the stamp even once.

I feel like I have four types of students. Type 1 is studying economics because his parents want him to. That's about 20% of my students. Type 2 is studying economics because he's been told he'll make a lot of money that way. That's about 40% of my students. Type 3 is studying economics because he's been told that's how he should signal that he's really smart. That's about 40% of my students. Type 4 is studying economics because he wants to learn economics. That's about, well, let's see, what's left over?

My boss has made the argument, "A Random Stranger, you're a bad teacher. All my students love economics and get 5s on the AP exams. Your students don't." Which is true, they don't (although my average student has above-average scores), so it's hard to argue with the conclusion that I'm a bad teacher. But in all the practice exams we did in class, 25% of what the students missed came from a lack of English proficiency. I've been telling my students for months that they need to commit to English, that the ship has sailed on this argument and they need to embrace the reality of their English-language education. They continually ignore me. My boss says his students don't have a problem with it. Why do his students study in English and mine refuse to? His actual answer was, "They know I care about them and I'd be disappointed in them."

I've been using Greg Mankiw's textbook because it's what the school already had and it's not terrible. One of my best students has been reading exclusively from a Mandarin translation of Mankiw's book (probability that Mankiw is seeing any money from the sales of this translation: p less than zero). I continually tell my students to study in English. However, this student brought his book to me to tell me that Mankiw got something wrong. I said, "We'd need to look to see what Mankiw actually wrote." He said, "This is it right here." I asked, "Mankiw writes his textbooks in Mandarin?" It was then that he realized that he had the Mandarin book, not the English one.

The biggest change I'm going to make for next year is to clearly and forcefully, from the first day, specify acceptable behavior. I had been told these students were great. The reality is that they are very skilled at rote memorization and consequently perform extremely well on standardized tests. But they have been raised in a system that does not value academic integrity or curiosity. I must remove every chance of cheating, because they will all take it if it's available, and I must set stringent requirements because they are not self-motivated learners.

Life, the Hologram, and Everything

There are some things that people just hate having to think about. My oldest son can't stand thinking about The Simpsons episode "Trilogy of Error," specifically the scene where Homer gets his thumb cut off. Any mention of this and he covers his ears and hums until he's sure the topic has passed.

For me, it's juggalos, and for my wife, it's the prospect that the universe is a hologram. Whenever I mention an article about the idea, she says, "I don't want to think about it."

The particular article to which I linked above is interesting to me because the one co-author, Dr. Daniel Grumiller, references Plato's Cave by way of explanation. Just like the shadows on the cave aren't the things themselves, the universe we see might just be the visual effects of the "real" universe we don't see.

The Plato's Cave analogy is especially apt, but it's more because of what Dr. Grumiller doesn't mention, what Paul Harvey might call "the rest of the story." Namely, how the people in the cave kill the reporter with the accurate information about the false nature of their understanding of their universe. That part might be worth remembering before Dr. Grumiller writes any more papers that freak out people like my wife.

Monday, June 01, 2015

This Week in China

Here's some random crap we've done.

Our local McDonald's has a small walk-up window where they do all the ice cream orders. This pineapple-sundae-thing has been advertised there for over a month now. We take a picture of the ad, walk up to the window and show the picture to the worker, and the worker shakes his head no in the incredibly-common-in-China indication of "we don't actually sell the thing we told you we'd sell." This has happened to us several times now. We'd love to try one of these. Unfortunately, they don't sell them in China. They just advertise them here.

Here's a cake sold at our local bakery. It's either supposed to look like Baymax from Big Hero 6 or else like a roll of toilet paper meant to fit on a new type of dispenser.

I've been taking my kids to fathers-and-sons outings for 10 years now, and this was the first time it involved a subway. (Well, maybe not; there's a good chance that sometime in the past decade we stopped for Subway sandwiches on our way to the campsite.) We were going to go camping, but that was going to be difficult to pull off here, so we had a barbeque at the branch president's apartment instead.

Our youngest has learned the word "skyscraper." He talks about "our skyscraper" and "Dada's skyscraper." But perhaps he's gotten carried away. Walking home from the subway on Sunday after church, we walked past our local police station (pictured above) and he said, "Dada, that's a police skyscraper." Now, call me old fashioned, but in my day "skyscrapers" were larger than garden sheds.

What the hell is this about? I can try to translate the characters, but I'm really afraid of what I'd find. This poster has been hanging outside my school building for several weeks now. What is he drinking? Why is he drinking it that way? Why is it pouring out of the bottom of his mouth? Why didn't he tweeze his three moustache hairs before agreeing to this close-up? What could they possibly be hoping to get me to do with this picture?

Here in China, condoms are sold at the register with all other impulse items, like candy and gum. (Seriously.) And that's where we saw this brand of condom, Jissbon. "Bon" is French for "good," and "jiss," well, it's kind of the universal language, isn't it?

China has groups of people doing stuff in public spaces all the time. Usually it's old ladies dancing, which the government is trying to curtail. (Seriously.) One of the complaints about the dancing grannies is the noise. And yet these guys can whip their spinning tops all they want. The video does not accurately capture, well, anything, because my phone sucks. But of special notice is the way the video doesn't capture the loudness of the noise each time the whip contacts the top. It is several hours of a half-dozen guys making gunshot noises outside your apartment. But the dancing grannies MUST. BE. STOPPED.

I'm pretty sure this is just a birthing tub being used as a fish tank at the grocery store.

Daily Earthing

My wife said to me the other day, "I read an article about the importance of having contact with the Earth every day. Not just walking on the ground, but taking off your shoes and having your skin touch a natural surface. I thought it was interesting that it's so different from your post about living so much of your life not at surface level." We talked about it some and she said, "I don't even know where the closest place is I could stand on a natural surface." This is because the play fields at my school are all concrete or field turf. She said, "I guess I could climb in a planter and stand in some bushes." I said, "Between the gym and the sidewalk north of it, behind the bulletin board, they laid some sod." But I'm not sure if laid sod counts as "natural."

We're Terrible At This

Me: This concert is boring. Let's sext.

My Wife: [redacted non-serious response]*

Me: Furious thrusting. Furious thrusting. Grunt. Snore.

* = My wife sent me an IM that said, "Seriously, you can't publish sexts between us." I wrote back, "It's not a serious sext! (Is it?)" She assured me that, while it was not a serious sext, she didn't want her side of the conversation made public.

Texts From My Marriage

Me: My phone's top suggestion after "you're not wearing any" is "panties."

Me: My phone knows the kind of woman you are.

EDITOR'S NOTE: My phone's aspersions about my wife shouldn't be taken as accurate.