Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Egg Room

At the end of our block is an alley market. At the opening of the alley market is a tiny shop filled with only eggs. The first time I noticed it, on my way to the bank, I came home and asked my wife if she'd seen it. She had, and she was equally confused by it.

Do they really sell a room-full of eggs in any reasonable amount of time? I had shared with her an article I read last year about non-refrigerated eggs around the world, but this seemed to be going to extremes. I can't imagine how the egg room isn't just swarmed with chicks. (And before you get all condescending and say, "They aren't swarmed with chicks because the eggs aren't fertilized, smart guy," I would say that cracking open a few Chinese eggs will disabuse you of that idea with a quickness.)

The next time I walked past, I tried to take a picture, but it was a bright day, so the egg room turned out on the photo to just be a black cave.

Last weekend, as Articulate Joe and I were walking home from our seven-hour Saturday trip to church activities and meetings, we passed the egg room. Because it was dark, and the job of the egg purveyor is never done, the lights were on. I thought, "This is a perfect opportunity to capture the true essence of the egg room." I took out my phone. Articulate Joe, who had been eating a Dairy Queen Blizzard that he'd finished, said, "I'm going to go throw this away in that trash can over there," leaving me alone to snap the shot.

When I got my phone out, the room was deserted. It was even empty when I first tapped the screen to take the picture. However, comma, since my phone takes a long time taking a picture, by the time the image was actually captured, a woman had come out of the back room and was looking at me strangely, as if to say, "Why is there a white guy taking a picture of my egg room right now?"

Had we been in America, a minority taking a random picture in public is grounds for calling DHS, right? I think the Patriot Act actually requires it. But here, she just looked confused. I quickly pocketed my phone and ran over to the trash can where Articulate Joe was waiting.

Obligatory Post That Readers Should Feel Free to Ignore

I have blogging on my to-do list. But I don't have anything socially-acceptable to blog about. So this post exists solely to allow me to cross off blogging from my to-do list today.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Subway Injuries

This was a bad weekend for me, commuting-wise.

Saturday, Articulate Joe and I both had to be across town, so we went together. Like all of our trips across town, it took over six hours. We left at noon to drop Joe off at a friend's house at 1:30 for me to ride with her husband to a building where I had a meeting at 3 PM. My meeting went long, then we had to go back to the friend's house to get my son.

As usually happens whenever I leave the house, the point where I am frustrated and ready to be home came when I was still hours away from being able to actually be home. So we were trying to make our commute home as quickly as possible. We got to the platform for our first train, and there was a train waiting there, doors ajar. However, it was getting pretty stale, since we weren't even in earshot when it had entered the station. But the stairs were close to the train doors, so I said "come on" to Articulate Joe and we tried to hop aboard the train.

On our "home" subway line, Line 1, a warning bell sounds when the doors are about to close. This usually means, "When the bell finishes, the conductor will begin to think about closing the doors." The sounding of the bell, then, is the stimulus for much platform running and gap minding. However, we weren't on Line 1 at this time. We were on Line 10, where evidently the watchword is "close the doors and then sound the bell by way of explanation."

We were off the stairs and on the platform and I had decided to jump through the closest door, all before the bell began. In my mind, there was going to be no problem. But the bell began to sound as the doors closed, exactly on me. Blessedly, I was right in the middle of the doorway, so it closed on my shoulders, and my frame was substantial enough to stop the doors, which the reopened. But it turns out the doors close with a lot of force, and my elbows are still sore. Had it just been my arm in there, I'm not sure what would have happened.

Line 10 is one of the lines with working platform doors, so while my shoulders had jammed the train doors, Articulate Joe's heel was stuck in the platform doors. But he pulled it out and joined me in the train.

Perhaps you remember my blog post from November about the woman who died by being stuck between the train and platform doors. I remember it. Had my shoulders not stopped the train doors, I possibly could have led my son to his death. I am a terrible father.

My second subway injury of the weekend happened Sunday. The trip to church requires two transfers. Beijing metro transfers can be quite long. The first transfer is a long one, and the second one is long enough that it gets singled out on Wikipedia as an example of a transfer needing reconstruction. Since most ascents and descents in the subway only have stairs available, and since the trains are always crowded, we don't take a stroller to church. But since the streets of Beijing are filthy with air pollution and human waste, we can't have Screamapilar walking at all if we plan to pick him up later, because then the bottoms of his shoes get on our clothes. So I pick him up when we leave the house and I hold him for an hour and a half, setting him down once we're inside the church building.

Carrying him through long transfers can be difficult, so I tend to have him ride on my shoulders. (This gives the passing Chinese anxiety because they're used to toddlers in crotchless pants, so they think I'm taking my life into my own hands.) But the stations weren't built for six-foot-three guys with kids on their shoulders, so he often has to duck to avoid signs. I know which signs are problematic and I reach up to move his head down when needed.

Sunday we were approaching a sign that had never given us trouble before, but for some reason this time, it looked lower. What's more likely is that Screamapilar has grown. Either way, at the last second I reached up to cover his head. I didn't have time to move it, just to provide a protection in case we hit the sign. Which we did, right on the corner, which cut my finger fairly seriously. It hurt from the collision, it hurt from the cut, and now because I've been cut by something filthy in China, my finger is going to die and fall off. It is my right-hand middle finger, which is the one I favor when I need to flip someone off. I can't think of a single time I ever flipped someone off and DIDN'T use my right-hand middle finger. And now that's going to come to an end, thanks to the Beijing metro.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Bubble Boy" Is a Better Movie Than "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble"

Bryan Caplan likes to say he lives in a bubble (or "a bubble within a bubble") and he recommends we follow his lead and create our own bubbles.

On the one hand, I think this matches up well with a rule I've named after myself: if something is causing you stress, stop doing it. On the other hand, this seems like the anti-voting argument that all brand-new libertarians shout from the housetops. Yeah, great, I get probability. And you are suppressing the vote total of candidates you ostensibly support. Someone's going to win the election, and it's not going to be the guy whose supporters have smug math-based reasons for staying home on Election Day.

I don't think bubble living is compatible with the ideas expressed by Arthur Farrer (and quoted by Neal A. Maxwell here):

Though argument does not create conviction, the lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced, but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief is possible.
Caplan would prefer to live in a world that embraces libertarianism, but that will never happen if all libertarians retreated within their bubbles. It will probably never happen anyway, but Caplan's system more-completely guarantees it.

The bubble strategy would say, since I can't influence nuclear negotiations with Iran, the stability of the Yemeni government, or Barack Obama's petulant revenge on Benjamin Netanyahu, I should ignore those things. But Jesus tells us that the Signs of the Times are given for the benefit of observers. This means I'm supposed to observe, not ignore, world events.

Perhaps there's a hybrid strategy, being in current events but not of current events. I can follow the news without allowing it to change my emotional state. Be in a bubble, but watch the world outside of it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Brother" As an Honorific

As a church, we've lost the point of the use of the terms "brother" and "sister."

The idea is to grow intimacy. You aren't a stranger, you're my brother (or sister). But then I undermine that intimacy when I combine the title with your surname instead of your given name.

Is it significant that early members of the church knew "Brother Joseph" and "Brother Brigham," but today we know "Brother Jones" and "Sister Davis"? I think it is. The surname short-circuits any familial intimacy the "brother" or "sister" had hinted at. I'm supposed to treat you as family so we can build up Zion, but then you're so distinct from family that I'm not even allowed to use your given name.

The article to which I linked in my previous post calls a guy "brother" when there is no connection to his status as a church member. He's a member of the public who did an interesting thing as a member of the public, not as a church employee or as a church official. Why does his status as a church member matter? What if he hadn't been a church member, or if he had collaborated with a non-member? Would the article refer to such a duo as "Brother Johnson and Mr. Harris"?

Here the term "brother" has been further undermined, not just losing its intimacy through its coupling with a surname, but losing its universality through signifying in-group/out-group status. The point of calling ANYONE "brother" is that ALL men are my brothers. While the struggle of a Zion mentality is to expand the circle of affection, the exclusionary use of "brother" and the coupling of the term with a surname builds a wall around the in-group and then compartmentalizes each member of the in-group in isolation. This is not an expansion of the circle of affection, but its greatest possible contraction.

Adversarial Economics

I know some people who are constantly trying to make money in financial markets. They think that I, as an economist, should be a natural ally. I start to talk about "random walk," "efficient market hypothesis," "mutual funds," and "buy and hold," and their eyes glaze over. Borrrr-ing! Why can't I be more like Jim Cramer? That guy doesn't tell people crap like that! (It is interesting, though, to imagine what that would be like. Cramer's show would be 15 seconds, like the winning Lotto numbers. He'd come on and say, "Here's my advice for today: keep holding what you already have. See you tomorrow!")

Beyond the poor economics of trying to beat the market, I have additional qualms. Production is win-win, investment is win-win, but participating in secondary markets is win-lose. If you make money from it, by definition someone else lost money. That's not how you change your mind to a Zion mentality. If I know something about the company that leads me to believe there's money to be made, I have a responsibility to tell the existing owner, not play dumb and wait for the profit.

"But what if it's not secret information? He already knows some people believe this, he just doesn't agree." Have I put any effort into showing him the error of his ways? Or do I just mumble a grateful prayer for the "sucker born every minute" and pounce?

I read an article yesterday that brought all this to mind. Someone found a picture for sale on eBay.

“When I discovered the image and knew who it was, I began to shake,” said Brother Fox. “I called my wife in to look at the image. I realized I had found something very special and very valuable.”
So when you find something on eBay that you realize is very valuable, do you still participate in the auction, which is designed to give the seller the lowest amount of money possible? Yeah, I'm aware that most auctions are subject to what Richard Thaler calls "the winner's curse," but with imperfect information, some auctions end up like this one: the seller and all other potential buyers have too-low a valuation and one potential buyer has an accurate valuation. What do you do if you are the accurate potential buyer? Contact the seller and tell him he's about to lose a fortune, or wait quietly with your poker face on, hoping no one notices your dancing feet under your chair?

I don't know what this guy did. I don't know what I would do. But I know what I should do, and I don't think participating in adversarial economics moves me closer to that goal.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Husband of the Year

Yesterday afternoon I had a thought I decided to share on Facebook.

I like my wife. And I've liked her for 31 years, now. I tell her sometimes, "I'm surprised I haven't grown tired of you yet." That sounds mean, but I just find it surprising that, three decades after meeting her, I still think she's great.
What a nice husband, right?

Wait for it.

Last night, I locked my wife and daughter out of the house before heading to bed.

May I remind you of what a nice husband I am?

So here's how I ended up locking them out: Our door has a key-operated lock and a small deadbolt that is only connected to a knob inside the apartment. So when you're inside, you can lock the door with the deadbolt, but when you're outside, you can't operate the deadbolt. You can also use the key-operated lock from the inside, but it requires a key. Fearing that, in an emergency we would not remember to unlock the door with our key, we keep a key in the lock. However, this interferes with using a key from the outside. So someone who is inside the house has to prepare the door for someone trying to use a key to enter the house.

Before going to bed, I pulled the key 80% out of the lock, so it was still in the door if we had to leave quickly due to fire or something, but so that it wouldn't interfere with my wife using her key from the outside. But I forgot to disengage the deadbolt.

I went to bed. They came home and unlocked the door, but couldn't get in. They called, texted, and WeChatted me, but I mute my phone at night because it doesn't allow me to turn off notification noises from e-mails and I get e-mails all night long (because it's mid-day in America). They sent me e-mails, Twitter messages, and Facebook messages, but my iPad allows me to turn off those notification noises. Eventually, they remotely activated my son's Kindle location service, which made it beep enough to wake him up. He then heard them knocking and let them in.

I had a lot of notifications when I woke up this morning.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Good Reading

I can go years at a time between reading really excellent books. Well, I guess the same could be said of someone who barely reads. But I actually read quite a bit, I think. It's just that I think words should mean something, and not every author who bangs away at a keyboard has, upon growing tired of banging, produced something "amazing." Not every book is a five-star book. Something most people seem not to realize is that on GoodReads it's the TWO-star rating that means "liked it." Not three. (Currently on my GoodReads account, of the 866 books I've rated, I have given 68 five-star ratings, which is 7.85%.)

The culture disagrees with me, it seems. Every actor or actress describes all his or her co-stars as "amazing." My wife and I were recently reading through the GoodReads reviews of some decidedly middling books and were dismayed with how much hyperbole was employed. "I absolutely LOVED this book!!!!!" started most of them.

I know that criticism is easy and creation is hard. I'm not looking down my nose at these authors. They've created books that are probably better than mine. (Some of you have read my novels. The fact that you prefer to pretend you haven't is confirmation of my surmise.) But I also think I do artists a favor by describing only truly extraordinary achievements as, in fact, extraordinary.

This is why I'm very surprised that I'm currently reading two very great books. They are For Zion by Joseph M. Spencer and The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen. They are both great enough that I will have long blog posts detailing my responses later. But for now, I'm very happy that, when I finish a chapter of a great book, I get to read a chapter of another great book. My reading these days is very enjoyable.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Boosting Blog Production

Occasionally my blog production slows down and I fight it for a while, then decide there's nothing I can do until it comes back, so I write a blog post where I say, "Sorry, I'm out of ideas for right now." Then, invariably, a bunch of ideas come.

So it seems obvious that, when I want a bunch of ideas, I just need to start with the declaration that I'm all out of ideas. So that's what I'm doing here.

Expect a whole bunch of posts this week, people.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Articulate Joe, Jr.

Back when Articulate Joe was known as Mumbly Joe, it was because he came around to talking quite late. When he finally did decide to start talking, it was often unintelligible. Once while driving in the car to Walmart and being convinced he was talking about robots, I discovered that, to him, they were homophones. Some people say "they're their there" the same, some say, "marry Mary merry" the same, and my son said, "Walmart robot" the same. Later in his life, he got assigned the job of saying "three free trees" and making each word sound distinct.

Anyway, a few days ago, I became aware that Screamapilar has his own homophone tongue-twister: "bicycle skyscraper."

It's no accident that Articulate Joe calls Screamapilar [Articulate Joe] Junior.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Jerk Brain

At about 4:50 this morning, I had a very convincing dream that my wife had accidentally woken me when coming to bed, and I talked to her a little bit and checked the clock and saw that it was almost midnight.

Ten minutes later, my alarm went off at 5 AM, and I felt like I'd had the shortest night of sleep in my life.

Thoughts on the Economics of Consecration

As I've been reading more and more about ideal socialism schemes, it has become more and more obvious to me how different socialism, even in some utopian model, is from Zion.

Firstly, Zion is entirely based on utility calculations. This contrasts sharply with socialism, where levels of goods are what's equated. How much to redistribute is based on comparing quantities possessed. If Person X has more money that Person Y, take some money from X to give to Y until they have the same amount.

Secondly, the controlling party is the self. In socialism, redistribution is imposed from outside the self. Only ideal models have us redistributing out of the goodness of our hearts, because at the point where my calculations show the utility gained is negligible or negative, the levels are still different. I say, "That should be good enough," and some controlling party says, "It's not; let's have some more."

Thirdly, ideal socialism requires the defeat of self-interest, but self-interest can never be defeated. Instead, it has to rely on self-interest through the desire for self-preservation in the face of a threatening controlling party. In contrast, Zion redefines self-interest through empathy. I share willingly not because I am threatened, but because I care for someone else. I receive positive utility from sharing instead of receiving negative utility from not sharing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lest We Forget How Much Our Superiors Hate Us

I got another e-mail reminder that we must be at work until 4 PM on July 8th.

Poor Advertising

Several years ago, I bought a KHS bicycle. I blogged about it, and I included the promotional picture in the blog.

Today I had reason to browse around in my old posts and I saw that the picture I used has been replaced with one that reads, "This is a stolen image from KHSbicycles.com."

So I created a free ad for KHS and they were so worried about copyright that they undermined it. Because, evidently, the revenue stream from a copyright-protected picture is greater than that expected from a favorable user review.

Scenes of Domestic Bliss

A RANDOM STRANGER: You're the laziest woman I've ever met. And I've met [Crazy Jane].

MY WIFE: I bet there's a conference talk about not calling your wife lazy, either*. I don't call you lazy when you play your iPad game.

A RANDOM STRANGER: That's not lazy. Conquering the world is hard work. Who's ever accomplished it? Alexander the Great? Failed. Adolf Hitler? Failed. [A Random Stranger]? Once a day!

CRAZY JANE: [laughing throughout]

* = As I remember it, one Saturday I was dismayed by the lack of cleanliness around the home. I called our kids lazy for never cleaning after themselves. Then I went out the door to watch a session of General Conference at church. In the session, President Hinckley said, "Brethren, don't ever call your children lazy." I came home and called the kids to me and said, "President Hinckley said I'm not supposed to call you lazy, so I'm sorry." Articulate Joe (who was not yet speaking at the time) hugged my leg and ran away.

However, I can't find the conference talk now. It happened while we lived in Kansas, I know that, which limits it to five conferences (between our moving there and President Hinckley dying). I've looked through all of President Hinckley's talks from those five conferences and none of them is it. So maybe it was a Worldwide Training Broadcast, but I don't know where to find archives of those.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Scheduling (Or Lack of It)

My school's schedule was set by a drunk. That's the only explanation that allows me to sleep at night. Because if a sober person developed this calendar, and is in an authoritative position, well, I don't want to think about that.

I teach AP classes, where the capstone event is the AP exam. These exams happen during the first two weeks of May. School then continues for two more months.

Well, only for teachers. Seniors get to stop coming to school at the end of May. The other students get to stop at the end of June. Only the faculty has to keep coming to work until July 11th. And we've been told very explicitly, we must be at work until 4 PM on July 8th.

You've got to hand it to those Communists, still sticking with the labor theory of value. If we make our workers be at work, even if they have nothing to do, we make the school better.

There are three major American holidays in summer: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. If I were overseas and looking to go back to America for a visit, I would target a holiday, when it would be more likely that my friends and family would be available to see me. But our school is in session for all three American summer holidays.

I'm fine with it because I wasn't going to America for the summer, anyway. But this isn't the schedule of a school that wants to increase its appeal among foreign potential teachers.

Kid Nicknames

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, was very blond, very blue-eyed, and very non-verbal. Our second son, Jerome Jerome the Metronome, is less blond, brown-eyed, left-handed, and has been reading since he was three. Our third son, Screamapilar, is a slightly-more-verbal copy of the first. This is why he calls the youngest [Articulate Joe] Junior. Under the influence of our non-stop reading of the Harry Potter series (we started Book Five last night), I referred to Jerome as Squib [Articulate Joe].

The thing is, the boy already has more nicknames than everyone else in the family combined. It comes from his dislike of nicknames. As a result, he is called Fritz "The Spritz" MacGuillicuddy, 3rd Earl of Tootington (a.k.a. Eyebrows Johnson). Rarely, though, does the entire name get used at once. He's usually just Fritz, Fritzy, Eyebrows, Mr. MacGuillicuddy, or Lord Tootington. Also, because of his terrible morning breath, when I first wake him up, I usually call him Baby Stink Breath. Oh, and when he's especially demanding, like that annoying kid Colin in The Secret Garden, I call him The Little Rajah. I told you, he has a lot of nicknames.

And that's just in seven years' time. By the time he gets married, his wedding invitations are going to require 11x17 paper to fit his entire name.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Keeping Our Friends Close and Our Colleagues Secret

I work in an "international department" in name only. Many, many things happen around here in Chinese instead of English, or at best, in both languages side-by-side. Each office has a sign on the door identifying the workers it contains, with the foreigners' names in Roman letters and the Chinese names in characters. This was how I spent a week e-mailing a guy who, it turns out, sits ten feet away from me. I can't read his name on the door.

I've mentioned to both my boss and his boss that this doesn't breed collegial familiarity. They both agreed and said they would correct it immediately. It's been three months.

This morning, a colleague (he of the bank meltdown) came in my office and asked, "Where does Mrs. Zhao sit?" Now, because the two Chinese women in my office are identified to me only by their English given names, I have no idea who that is. I asked, "Who is that?" His answer: "Mrs. Zhao."

Well, since neither of the Chinese women in my office are married, there's no "Mrs." anything around here, smart-ass. I said, "There's [Name 1] and there's [Name 2]." He said, "Not [Name 1]." I said, "So [Name 2]?" He said, "Yeah, Mrs. Zhao."

When I was IMing my wife about this later, she asked, "Was he all perturbed like he was at the bank?" I answered, "No, he was all friendly about it, like, 'All us friends call each other Mrs., even when we're not married! Wheeeee!'" Then I added, "Full disclosure: he didn't actually SAY 'Wheeeee!' with his mouth, but his flamboyancy said it for him."

Jobs I Didn't Get

My post from last week about which of my connections got me which of my former jobs left me thinking about the jobs I didn't get. So here, to the best of my ability to remember, are the jobs for which I got interviews but didn't get the jobs.

  1. Kinko's: I thought, "I like typing and stuff," so I applied for a job at Kinko's (back when it was a local Ventura County business) to format and print word processing jobs for customers. But just because I knew how to format the types of documents I liked to make didn't mean I knew how to format all the different types of documents customers would need.
  2. WaldenBooks: I barely remember interviewing here, but it seems like the manager wasn't impressed with my lack of ability to recommend books. If someone told me, "I like mysteries," I'd say, "That's cool. They're over there." I guess I was supposed to be able to say, "You should try [some mystery author--I told you my recommendation ability is unimpressive]."
  3. Del Taco: The manager seemed to feel I was overqualified for the fast food industry. I felt I wanted to take home his money. The manager won the argument.
  4. City of Sahuarita, Arizona: I applied to be a city planner there. They didn't hire me. Which might be just as well, as I'm not really sure I know how to say "Sahuarita." Where is the stress in that word? Hua? Ri?
  5. Camden County, Missouri: This isn't a "job I didn't get" so much as a "job I didn't take." They made me an offer, and I turned them down. The distance from Camden County to Springfield would have made finishing my schooling virtually impossible, and without finishing my schooling, I probably wouldn't have been able to get any other job. We (I was married by this point) thought, "If we take this job, it's the job for the rest of my life." And we didn't want to commit to living in rural Missouri for 50 years.
  6. Richmond American Homes: Another job I turned down. They didn't offer enough money to make it worth my while. At least, I thought that at the time. Over the next two years of nearly-broke poverty, I repeatedly questioned that assessment. But I was in graduate school with evening classes and they were very adamant that sometimes I'd have to work evenings with no advance notice and they weren't going to back down on that.
  7. Casey Trees: Not getting this one sucked. I had "set a date" (former Mormon missionaries will know what that means) and my wife discovered this job posting on the date I set. It would have paid about double the Richmond American offer that was too little. I applied, got an interview, and progressed to the short-list interview. And I felt that interview went really well. But I didn't get an offer.
  8. County of Fairfax, Virginia: This one also sucked. More than enough money, good commute and hours for school, and generous benefits. I was going to do GIS work for them. But I'd been out of everyday GIS work for about two years at this point, and the version of their software was one generation newer than what I'd used at my previous job. Part of the interview was completing a task within a given amount of time. I totally screwed it up. In the parking lot I made sure to remind myself that I should have taken the Richmond American job.
  9. Some school in Shenzhen, China: I applied thinking, "Working in China could be fun." I got an interview with a headhunter, and he seemed to like me, but he said the school was looking more for a single person (that's the type of thing you can still get away with over here in China). My family was very opposed to the idea. My children specifically prayed, "Please don't let Daddy get the job in China." And, for a change, our prayers about employment were answered.
  10. Church Education System: If you can't get a job with regular people, maybe it's just people being jerks. But when you can't get a job with your own church, it could be that God doesn't want you to be employed. (Keep that in mind for a later failure.) I applied, I thought the interview went well, my skill set and availability lined up well with what they needed, and I really needed a job by this point. But the dude decided to not hire me. Then, because he was in my stake's leadership, I got to be reminded of my failure every time I saw him at a stake event. Good times.
  11. Koch Foundation: I thought this interview was going very well. One woman on the panel noted I had written that Hayek's Road to Serfdom was an influential book for me. The book had just received some press, but I had read it several years before. I decided to make a joke by saying, "I read it before it was cool." She then asked a pretty intense question about Hayek's meaning. I thought I answered it well, but it was hard to read her reaction. I don't know if they thought I was a pompous jackass who got taken down or if I wasn't. Another job that would have paid well, had benefits, and had a lot of room for future opportunities.
  12. Some tutoring company: Another job I turned down. The commute would have been terrible and I probably wouldn't have been able to finish school. A few years later, the hiring manager requested me as a Facebook friend. I figured it was a result of just requesting everyone she'd ever e-mailed.
  13. Some firm: This job would have involved writing of some kind. I don't remember. I know I already had two other jobs by this point, so I didn't need the work as much. I had to go home and complete an assignment. From the interview, I had decided I didn't really want the job, so I contemplated not doing the assignment, but I did. It passed muster, but I declined the offer.
  14. Virginia Commonwealth University: It sucks when you already have a job and are basically interviewing to continue or receive more work and they turn you down. My first semester at VCU I taught two classes and it was worth the 100-mile commute. My second semester I only had one class. They wanted to know if I was going to come back for a third semester and I basically told them, "Not for only one class." They said, "Well, then, it was good working with you."
  15. BYU-Idaho: I don't want to talk about it.

And now I live in China.

I used to think I interviewed well and my resume was my hold-up. If I could just get the interview, I could get the job. My first interview after I got my associate's degree was the first time that I didn't have to explain why my lack of education was a problem. It was very relaxing. Then, I progressed to where hiring managers often start the interview by commenting on the strength of my resume. I've been told several times, "When we saw your resume, we knew we had to bring you in for an interview." So now when I don't get the job offer, it isn't because they have some hang-up that doesn't allow them to see past my lack of education. Now, they've taken the time to get to know me, and they are fully aware of just how terrible I am. I think I'd rather go back to the old days when I had no degrees at all.

The Value of Time

Here's an article about a guy who decided to Photoshop the original NCC-1701 Enterprise into the J.J. Abrams reboot. This article provides today's evidence of America's worthless decadence:

As Acosta told Wired, each image took an average of eight hours to complete. It was clearly worth it.

Say WHAT?!

Clearly worth it? On what metric of "worth" is it "clearly" worth eight hours to produce a Star Trek picture?

Something is "worth it" if the utility derived from its existence is more than the utility that would have been derived from all other alternative uses of the consumed resources. So only if this was the most productive use of Acosta's time (in terms of happiness produced) is it worth it.

I don't doubt Acosta is happy with the results. After all, he didn't have to do this, but he decided to. That's a powerful case for the argument that he received more utility from this outcome than from his forgone alternative outcomes. But what about the rest of us? Some people will derive pleasure from these pictures, sure. But more pleasure than from his forgone alternatives? Questionable. I think of things that are "clearly worth it" as being so obviously beneficial that there's no room for argument. I don't think Star Trek pictures surpass that threshold. I think there's plenty of room for arguing that perhaps it's not worth eight hours of your time to produce something that nearly all observers will look at for less than five seconds before saying to themselves, "How is this different from every other Star Trek picture?".

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Inadvertent Mail Bag: Wealth Inequality Edition

My sister sent me this article about the online criticism of Dave Ramsey's large home and Ramsey's response, with the following commentary:

Sometimes you express frustration over people who purport to be righteous but seem to spend a lot. Thought this was a good take on it. What do you think?
I responded, and then, since I'm lazy, I thought, "I could just Ctl-C Ctl-V and, BAM, blog post!" So here's my response.

Sorry I didn't respond for a few days. I had it sitting around waiting for me to have time to get to it.

There's tension between the natural man response to material things--which is to get more for myself, even if it's at the expense of others--and the commandment to love one another. For Mormons, this is heightened by the Law of Consecration. We have committed ourselves to having no poor among us.

This is a giant personal struggle for each of us. At least it SHOULD be. I get frustrated when I see others not struggling, but rather embracing class distinctions.

"Maybe they're struggling without you seeing, [A Random Stranger]." Fair enough, but it seems unlikely to me that someone who flaunts his opulence is struggling with his opulence.

"How does this even effect you, [A Random Stranger]?" A legitimate question. But since Zion is a societal outcome, the efforts of others has a bearing on the reaching of the goal. This is like saying, "What the lady down the street does in her bedroom has no bearing on you." True, except sort of not true. A town full of perverts will see the public normalization of perversions, and other sins will manifest themselves, sins that aren't confined to bedrooms. This is why I have an interest in the attitudes of others towards money and things.

When I give money to poor people, I don't give them my large notes. Why? Well, I could argue it's because I need those bills for my expenses. But one could also argue it's because I'm a terrible person. After all, when I get out my wallet and say to myself, "Not the 100; I need that for me," and I give the person a five or a 10 instead, do I really think the poor person DOESN'T need the 100? [NOTE: Current conversion rate is ¥6.26/$1; my name ain't Rockefeller. - ED.] Even more than I do? But my wants are more important to me than the poor person's needs. And that is why I am a terrible person.

With all these personal decisions, there's a lot that goes into it that an outside person can never know. Thus the command to judge not. But Christ IMMEDIATELY follows the command to not judge with a command to not cast pearls before swine. So I have to evaluate who is "swine" and who isn't. There's an element of judging involved in that, I think. [NOTE: This argument is made more clearly here. - ED.] And I'm committed to live in a Zion society, yet most of my fellow covenanters want 10,000-square-foot Bear Lake cabins. [NOTE: Like this one. Yeah, I know. "It's for family reunions!" Those used to happen in parks, not themed master suites. - ED.] This is the source of frustration.

Sure, Mitt Romney has given more money away through tithes, offerings, and non-church charitable contributions than I could ever possibly own in a billion years. Yet he has a car elevator. Is he a terrible person? I don't know--judge not. But I don't think I would be moving closer to Zion if I bought a car elevator for myself.

In Zion, none of us will have car elevators until everyone has something just as frivolous of comparable value. When someone has food insecurity, there will be no car elevators. The goal is to move towards this. Public opulence is not evidence that we are moving towards this. I have an interest in the public opulence of others, but I shouldn't judge. All I know is I'm a terrible person because I went on a vacation to Thailand while I live on the same street with people who don't have enough to eat. I'm supposed to work against that.

I don't know if this makes sense or not.

Love, [A Random Stranger]

Sunday, March 08, 2015

I Feed Myself With a Squid on a Stick

Last Thursday night was some sort of lantern festival. It was two weeks after New Year's and it's an excuse for discharging all your remaining fireworks.

We went to a public area called Hou Hai and walked around. I bought a squid on a stick.

My wife took this picture. When we got home, she said, "Look, I even got the moon in the shot. It's you and a squid, out for a romantic stroll." Then she cracked up.

We saw squids on sticks in Tianjin and thought, "That is insane." Then we tried some squid at a coworkers birthday and decided it actually was very tolerable. But we still couldn't overcome the fact that there is a squid, and it's impaled à la Shaka Zulu, and then it's gnawed on à la a mischievous dog.

When I was in line to buy the squid (and here I'm using the term "line" so loosely as to do violence to its meaning--perhaps I should write "when I was mid-scrum"), the shop was showing all scrum-members a video of how they prepare their squids. That video did nothing to ease my misgivings. (This is also the case on the subway TVs: they show delicious food, then detail the unappetizing and unsanitary preparation method.)

But I came out the other side with a squid on a stick. We made everyone try a bite. Jerome refused, but he usually complies with stern looks (he's so Chinese already!), so he ended up trying a bite. Then he tried another. Then he asked for more. Eventually, he declared that next time he wants his own.

Post title a paraphrase of obesity-disabled Future Bart.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Mail Bag: Questions About Questions About Poop

Long-time reader Stephen has commented:

I need to know the weird Staples questions that were asked.
Here you go.

The interview started with a company-wide questionnaire. Working my way down the list, I came to the question, "How many shouting matches have you been involved in at work in the past five years?" I thought, "What kind of person do they think I am?" The next question was so similar that, at first, I thought it was an accidental repeat: "How many shoving matches have you been involved in at work in the past five years?" Once I realized what the question actually said, I thought, "What kind of people am I getting myself mixed up with?!"

After passing the written exam (hint: the best answer to both those questions is "none"), I moved on to the oral exam. The manager came in and talked with me a little about the position, then he asked, "What kind of things are you willing to do if you came to work here?" I thought, "Is he trying to find out if I'd sell drugs out of the warehouse for him?" Like every good prospective employee, I said, "Whatever the job requires, sir!"

Then he went into more detail. "If you get hired, one of your duties will be checking the restrooms every hour to see if they need cleaning or restocking of supplies. Let's say that one time you go into the restroom to see if it's clean, and it turns out it's covered in feces. What would you do?"

I thought, "That is the weirdest hypothetical question I've ever been asked in my life."

I gave another "good prospective employee" answer, about how I obviously wouldn't enjoy it, but someone has to clean it, so I'd just try to get it over with as quickly as possible.

Fast forward two weeks or so. I'm on the job, making my rounds to check the bathroom, and one of the stalls is completely covered in feces. That's when I realized: that question was so weird because it wasn't hypothetical! They had a recurring problem, a serial poop-smearer.

So what did I do? After all, I'd told the manager I would clean it, didn't I? Well, sort of. What I had actually said was, "Someone has to clean it." But I'd been hired at the same time as another employee with identical job duties. He also was supposed to check the restrooms once every hour and see if they needed cleaning. So I just eased my way out of the restroom and waited.

After a while, my co-worker came to see me. "You will not believe what I just had to do!" he said. "Oh," I said with as much interest as possible, "what happened?"

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Diverging Predictions

Predicting the future can be hard. That's why Tomorrowland sucks so bad. But we like the idea that it's possible to do, with the right information. And so we hope that experts, who have studied all the information available, will come to agree.

Sometimes that works out. Now, no one knows who's going to win the Champions League this year, but no expert is predicting Basel, right? There's a range of legitimate expert opinion. A handful of teams are possible winners, and the rest is crazy talk.

One thing that bothers me is the areas in life where expert opinion is so wildly scattered. In the past few years, while some people worry about an impending U.S. hyperinflation, the Federal Reserve has been battling an impending deflation. This isn't a disagreement over -2% versus 3%. It's more like -2% versus 300%.

Here's an article with the reasonable title "Doomsday: Preparing for China's Collapse." Its opening paragraph calmly notes, "the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) [has] reached the final stage before collapse." Is it possible that the "Chinese century" will end before it's even a quarter of the way over?

Most people aren't talking about the collapse of China. Recession, okay, but not collapse. When expert opinions diverge so wildly, it's impossible to say what's coming next.

I guess we should expect more divergence, not less. After all, were any Communist bloc watchers saying in the summer of 1989, "Just a few more weeks now"? Crazy things happen in the world, quickly, with little warning. If there is a Chinese collapse in our future, and we saw it coming from months away, it wouldn't really be a "collapse," would it? But I wish opinion wouldn't be so widely scattered.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Fighting Back Starts the Fight

Here's something I first realized when I had a roommate in college: the conflict doesn't start when one person begins abusing the other. The start of the conflict is when the abusee stands up for himself.

If I decide I'm going to eat your food, or never wash any dishes, or not respect your sleeping hours, or steal your CDs, or any of the other things my college roommate did, and you go along with it, there's no conflict. But when you say, "This is unacceptable," I can say, "We were getting along fine until you started a fight."

I think most people get this. But E.J. Dionne Jr. does not. His column is all about how Benjamin Netanyahu has damaged the special relationship between Israel and the US because Netanyahu had the temerity to say, "What you're doing needs to stop."

In Dionne's view, Obama is just a guy getting disrespected, not the guy who started the disrespect that will no longer be tolerated. Note his use of terms: "trashed an American president's foreign policy" (is it worthy of being trashed?), "Tuesday's speech was 'a very harsh wound to Israel-U.S. relations'" (what is the actual wound, the action or the speech that calls it out?), "his attack on President Obama's approach to negotiations" (capitulation counts as an "approach to negotiations" now?). Then he tries to accuse Netanyahu of Reductio ad Hitlerum. I'm aware of Godwin's Law, but I think the Prime Minister of Israel gets an exception. Elie Wiesel was there for the purpose of highlighting the connection to the Holocaust; should we accuse he who is arguably the world's most-famous Holocaust survivor of "playing the Hitler card"? If he doesn't have the right to do it, who does?

It's not a "reach" for "the most devastating metaphor available to him" to say a regime that has consistently declared a goal of killing all Jews is akin to a regime that strove towards a goal of killing all Jews. That metaphor is apt. If it's devastating, the devastation was supplied by the Obama administration's willingness to negotiate with such a regime. Dionne, though, would have us believe Netanyahu was somehow out of line to call attention to the devastating nature of the negotiations.

The most important part of the piece, though, is the quotation of Nancy Pelosi describing Netanyahu's "condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran." Because if that's true, if Pelosi and (assuming who she means by "our") the Obama administration are aware of the threat posed by Iran, then these negotiations are even more treacherous than we thought. Would that Obama is being duped. Pelosi insists he is not. He already knew everything Netanyahu had to say (there was "nothing new"), yet he continues to press ahead with the talks. Note he didn't bother saying that anything Netanyahu said was inaccurate or false, only that we already knew it. This is the Hillary Clinton defense ("What difference does it make now?") writ large. Do something treacherous, wait 24 hours, then say everyone already knows it so it doesn't matter.

Dionne has fallen under the Obama Narcissism Doctrine (OND): everything is about BHO. It couldn't possibly be about Jewish survival and the existential threat of an annihilistic version of Islam. No, it's about insulting the president, about "condescension" and "painting the president as foolish." How much more foolish behavior must we tolerate before we can call the fool a fool? Or can we only call certain fools on their foolishness? If so, E.J., which fools, and why?

The foolish negotiations are also a result of the OND: Obama will do what Reagan and Clinton, his two most-illustrious recent predecessors, were unable to do--normalize relations with Iran. It never once occurs to him to wonder if the current Iranian regime is one with which it would be proper to have normalized relations. What's "proper" and "improper" has a different meaning when viewing the world through OND. The things that make Obama look good are proper. That's the only criterion. As such, any deal Iran signs will be a proper deal.

In one sense, Netanyahu understands OND, and that's why he came to Congress. You can't stop a narcissist from staring at his own reflection, but perhaps you can stop the implementation of his self-serving policies. Let Obama sign his treaty, as long as the Senate will fail to ratify it.

In another sense, though, Netanyahu doesn't understand how far-reaching OND is. Obama is already arguing that this agreement isn't an actual "treaty" and so doesn't require Senate confirmation. And even if it did, executive amnesty shows that Obama implements what he wants, when he wants. There's no binding check on OND. We're all Obamists now.

Connections

I'm reading a paper about intergenerational economic mobility. It mentions the likelihood that children of well-paid individuals got their jobs through their parents' connections. This made me wonder what my connections were for each job I had.

  1. Paper boy, local newspaper: I answered an ad in the paper. I had no connections with anyone.
  2. office lackey, my father: I was heavily-connected to the key decision-maker in the hiring process. And my only competition was seven years younger than I was.
  3. photographer, probate referee: My then-girlfriend was working for her brother and then she went away to college. I took over the job for her.
  4. "Courtesy clerk" (bagger), grocery store: My then-girlfriend (different girlfriend)'s mother worked in the deli and got me an interview with the store manager.
  5. Phone operator, Sears service: My sister's sister-in-law had previously held this job, so it was recommended to me, but there was no "connection" aspect at all, since the turn-over rate was so high.
  6. Phone operator, wide-area telephone survey company: My then-girlfriend (she of the butcher mother) was working there and got me an interview.
  7. Telemarketer, "Center for Excellence" (actual company name): I answered an ad in the newspaper.
  8. Research assistant, university professor: A professor of mine liked my work and asked me to work with him.
  9. Student intern, local city government: My former-girlfriend's brother (he of the probate refereeing) was on the city's planning commission and was instrumental in getting me the job. I don't know if he just knew of the opportunity and got me an interview or if he said, "Can you make a spot for my sister's ex-boyfriend?"
  10. Stocker (not stalker), Staples: I responded to an ad in the newspaper and answered the weird interview questions correctly (have I ever written about the weird interview questions they asked?).
  11. Planning technician, local city government: My former job hired me back at a more-advanced position. Partly a result of my connection and partly a result of them liking my previous work.
  12. GIS analyst, GIS company: My wife responded to a position she found advertised online.
  13. Undergraduate teaching assistant, university: A professor of mine asked if I was interested in a teaching opportunity.
  14. Research manager, financial consultant: My wife responded to an ad she found on Craigslist.
  15. Graduate lecturer, university: I responded to an e-mail asking graduate students if they wanted to teach.
  16. Adjunct professor, university: I responded to an e-mail my graduate department sent out asking if anyone wanted to teach at a nearby university.
  17. Teacher, Chinese high school: I responded to a Facebook post of a friend saying a different friend of his was teaching at a school in China and they had openings available.

So there you are. Some jobs were heavily dependent on connections (photographer, courtesy clerk, phone operator, student intern/planning technician), while many others were cold responses to postings. I don't know if this is normal or abnormal.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington

I watched a recording of the Netanyahu speech to Congress from yesterday (or earlier today; I don't really get how time works now that I live in China). It's the type of great speech that a leader makes. I especially appreciated how he wasn't advocating replacing the proposed deal with a military response, but instead advocated a different negotiation plan.

Anyway, I had three thoughts that I wanted to share.

  1. "They need the deal a lot more than you do." - Netanyahu

    But not more than Obama does. Obama's narcissism requires him to do things that mere mortals can't. Every president since 1979 has failed to negotiate a deal with Iran. He's going to negotiate one, no matter the substance, and use its existence as evidence that he's a greater president than them all.

  2. "I know that America stands with Israel." - Netanyahu

    Really? Because I don't know that. This week I've read about a former national security adviser advocating an armed response to Israel attacking Iran, and the UCLA student council rejecting a girl's membership because she's Jewish. Over forty members of Congress boycotted the speech, the vice president and the secretary of state weren't available, and the president made a point not to listen.

  3. At the five-minute mark of the video embedded above, the woman whose job it is to say "President Pro Tempore" can't say it correctly. This tells you everything you need to know about modern America.

A side point about Obama's lawlessness: the Constitution explicitly requires treaties and agreements to be ratified by the Senate. Is it a surprise to you that Obama has argued that he does not have to submit any agreement with Iran to the Senate? House Republicans want to pass a bill requiring Obama to follow the Constitution. What did he recently say about such bills? "They can have that vote. I will veto that vote...."

Rush Limbaugh says he expects Obama to fast-track the agreement now. I agree.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Two Small Items

1. Back to teaching today. At the end of last term, I sent my students an angry message about their behavior. One thing I mentioned was that we would now have a complete ban on classroom technology. (Various articles about such an idea can be found here and here and here and here; men went to the moon with pencils and slide rules.) Anyway, today I asked, "If we sealed the doors and made our classroom its own economy, does the fact that we only have 500 yuan among us mean that we couldn't make and sell computers?" One student hastily spoke up, "None of us have any computers with us!"

2. I just had this IM conversation with my wife.

ME: If you want to meet me tomorrow at 11:30 we can go together and see if we have to pay any money on your phone, too. We could get something for lunch while we were out. If not, we don't have to.

MY WIFE: sure. that sounds fun (i'm trying to forget our first trip to the phone store.) :-)

MY WIFE: That sounded sarcastic. I was trying to say, yeah, that sounds like it'll be fun. No sarcasm.

ME: I don't read sarcasm into your IMs, although knowing you, I probably should.