Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Theology According to The Smashing Pumpkins

From their song "Zero" come the lyrics

Emptiness is loneliness

And loneliness is cleanliness

And cleanliness is godliness

And God is empty, just like me

Emptiness = Loneliness?

What makes a person feel "empty"? Is it not having a sense of purpose or meaning? In About a Boy (the awesome movie, not the crap book), Rachel tells Will, "The first time I met you, I thought you were a bit blank." Will had prided himself that "I didn't mean anything, about anything, to anyone." Having no purpose leads to isolation because it is only though our common purposes that we connect with those around us.

Loneliness = Cleanliness?

This is the connection I find most suspect. Billy Corgan is suggesting that uncleanliness comes from others only, that a person can be clean solely by being alone. While it might seem Sartre's line "hell is other people" might support this view, I disagree. I believe Sartre is saying that having to be with other people is punishment, not that being with other people provides the justification for punishment. Sartre says, presupposing uncleanliness, forced socialization is a fitting punishment. Corgan is saying that socialization is the source of the uncleanliness and thus the justification for punishment.

Cleanliness = Godliness?

This is just a rephrasing of the well-known line "cleanliness is next to godliness." Notice "next to," not "is." Being clean gets you closer to God's condition, but there is more to being God than just being clean.

God is empty?

The progression breaks down on the weakness of the middle link. Since other people are not the only source of filth, there is no reason to suppose that God must be isolated to be remain God. He can connect with others through a common purpose. Mormon theology teaches that that purpose is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." But even outside Mormon theology, Corgan's assertion that God is empty does not hold up. (Besides, if God is empty "just like me," how lonely are the two of you, anyway?)

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Personal Assistant

My school has three guys whose job it is to help the foreign teachers navigate living in China. One of them is in charge and the other two help when needed. The one in charge is pretty close to worthless most of the time. You have to ask three times and then the situation resolves itself by being too late to do anything. One time he told me, "You should have a Chinese friend help you with that." I said, "Are you not supposed to be my 'Chinese friend' for these things?"

I have half-jokingly said to my wife all school year that I needed to hire a student to do some of these things for us. But the problem is that most of my students are too rich to want to work for money. Fortunately, I have one student who wants to go on a graduation trip to Japan and her parents either won't or can't pay for it, so she's trying to earn some money. She took to selling snacks in the hallway, but her merchandise and honor-system cash box was stolen. So I asked her if she would do some jobs for us. Her first assignment was ordering vanilla beans for us online. Check. Her second assignment was finding out how we use the pool. (Everyone keeps telling us, "We have a pool you can use," but no one at the pool speaks any English, so we need to know all the rules ahead of time, and no one answers our questions.) She found out a teacher who uses the pool all the time and told me to ask him. Unfortunately, he was one of these, "You walk in and use the pool" kind of guys. No, you don't. Don't you need a "deep-water card" (something I've heard mentioned, but never had explained)? "Well, yeah." Don't you need swim caps for everyone, even short-haired dudes? "Well, yeah." Will they allow my kids to swim without an adult right next to them? "Well, I'm not sure." Can you take a stroller onto the pool deck? "Umm, hmmm."

So Linda's only batting 500 right now. Although she has the added advantage of having chosen the English name "Linda," which is a perfect name for a personal assistant. "I'll have Linda set that up" just rolls off the tongue. But I'm not too excited about her being mere weeks away from graduation. Now I'm going to have to go through the hiring process all over again.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Videos

Last night on Facebook I saw a video my friend's mother shared. It was lettuce harvesters working at blazing speed in a field. One guy picked the heads of lettuce and placed them in front of another guy, who threw three in a bag (literally threw, so that the first one in the bag would force the bag open) and then filled a tray.

Today on Facebook I saw a video a former coworker shared. It was of three guys making rolls. One guy cut off a strip of dough, pulled it out, then cut off segments at blazing speed, throwing them in a continuous stream to the other two guys, who placed them on sheets for baking.

I felt bad after watching the first video, but not the second. Why?

Because in the first video, you could tell that the device holding the lettuce-receiving trays was motorized, slowly driving forward. The workers were fast because they had to be fast; someone else determined the optimum speed for the rolling apparatus. If the workers didn't appear harried enough, that probably means the machine isn't rolling fast enough.

In the second video, the workers were fast because they chose to be fast. At any moment, one of the guys could say, "Wait a minute; I've got something in my eye." Their speed was a skill, not a survival mechanism.

The things we choose to do take on a different character when we're forced to do them.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Color Blindness

Most color blind people are men. But my wife cannot determine color sometimes.

I owned a backpack from before our marriage that I would refer to as my green bag. She had no idea what I meant because, to her, it was black. I agreed that it often looked black, but that was a result of a trick of lighting. When I first bought it in the BYU bookstore, it was green. After we were married several years, she finally saw the bag under the correct lighting conditions and said, "Your bag looks green right now!" She did not, however, update her idea that the bag wasn't actually green.

We owned a car that, according to official Ford Motor Company documentation, was green, but my wife thought it was silver. She would laugh when she took it in for service and the technicians had filled in paperwork that called the car brown or tan or gold, but she didn't realize it was just as laughable to me that she didn't know the car was green. I mean, when we bought it they gave me a tiny little can of spray paint that said "spruce green" on the outside of it.

This morning while I was dressing for work, we had the following conversation.

A RANDOM STRANGER: This tie looks okay with this shirt, right?

MY WIFE: Let me see. Yeah, they're both grey.

ARS: But these pants aren't grey.

MW: Yeah they are.

ARS: They look grey, but they're blue.

MW: You're crazy.

ARS: If a blue whale was wearing these pants, people would think it was naked.

MW: And blue whales are grey.

ARS: And yet they're called blue whales.

That recent "what color is this dress" deal should settle this: I woke up and checked Twitter and Facebook and saw a close-up picture of a black-and-blue dress, then saw a bunch of posts about people being unable to determine the color of the dress. Later, my wife woke up and checked Facebook and asked me what I thought of the white-and-gold dress going around. And science says...I saw the real colors.

I said to my wife this morning, "I like when you give me blog post material. I don't even have to think about what I'm going to write today. Bam, blog post! Move on to my next item!"

The Law of Conspiracyless Conspiracies

I read an article about Tim Tebow being signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. In the comments, someone said, "Hopefully in the future somebody will write a book on what really happened with the Tebow situation. I'm betting there was quite a bit of collusion." This reminded me of my Law of Conspiracyless Conspiracies: a conspiratorial result doesn't require a conspiracy to exist if all actors want to produce the conspiratorial result.

For instance, Barack Obama's college transcripts are not kept from public view by a conspiracy. No one is identifying everyone who has access to the files and coordinating their continued compliance with the cover-up. Instead, everyone with access to the files has independently decided, "I don't want those files released." Result: a conspiracyless conspiracy.

The same is probably true for Tebow: no owner or general manager decided, "I want this guy who wears his Christianity on his sleeve to be banned from the league, so I'm going to call everyone and make sure it happens." Instead, all the owners and general managers decided, "I don't want to hire Tim Tebow." No phone calls required, but the same outcome results.

Is it a more-heroic assumption to think there is uncoordinated agreement among so many actors? Not with political correctness, standardized education, and homogenous culture. The kind of person who works in Columbia University's records office agrees 100% with all his coworkers about whether Barack Obama's transcripts should be released. ("But A Random Stranger," you say, "those files aren't released because they aren't for public consumption." Jack Ryan laughs at your naïveté.) The kind of person who runs an NFL team is uncomfortable with all-but-superficial Christianity among his players. No one had to call him on the phone to get him in the conspiracy.

The implausibility of a directed conspiracy is what undermines most conspiracy theories. We hear a theory presented and we say, "Really, someone is organizing this agreement across thousands of people in every country and through multiple generations?" No, no one is organizing it. But that doesn't mean it's not happening.

PS: What do I think Barack Obama's college transcripts would show? I think they would show that he applied for college as a foreign student. His supporters want to suppress this because he either was born overseas and so is ineligible for the presidency or he was an American misrepresenting himself as a foreigner for favorable consideration; neither option is desirable for him.

Monday, April 20, 2015

If I Were a REAL Substitute, All the Kids Would Call Me "Mr. M"

When a teacher is absent here, the other teachers are the substitutes. Last Thursday I substituted in a German class, where I said, "Sie können zusammenarbeiten," and the students said, "In English, please." Today I substituted in Music Composition, where I know absolutely nothing, so I just made jokes no one found funny, like, "It would be highly appropriate for you to report that I was the best substitute you've ever had. Make sure to add, 'And that's not hyperbole.'"

Anyway, when I was in the music teacher's room, I sat at his desk and graded papers. (My own papers; I'm not actually the best substitute ever.) And sitting at the teacher's desk was how I couldn't help but see some awkward mail he'd received.

Honestly, I kid you not, it was in a place of prominence, like where someone would leave a note they absolutely wanted to make sure someone read. And it was a rejection letter from a credit card company.

It gets more awkward.

Because they specifically noted that he was turned down for a low FICO score.

It gets even more awkward.

Because it included a bullet-point list of the reasons his FICO score is low. (I know, I could have not read the whole thing, but he also could have been a little more discreet with it.)

At this point, I didn't know if I should leave it out or cover it up. If I left it out, when he comes back, he'll realize what happened. But if I covered it up, and he remembers that it wasn't covered up, he'll also realize what happened.

It's probably not that big of a deal; there's a reason all these residents of the Teachers' Lounge of the Damned came to China, and for most of them, it probably has something to do with money. (As my wife likes to indelicately phrase things, "Everyone here is running away from something." Then she adds as an afterthought, "Except you.") I'd be shocked if this teacher is the only one to get a credit rejection this year. But I still don't want him to realize that he left this letter out for all his substitutes to read.

I ended up leaving it alone. I figured it was best to leave things exactly how he left them. We'll see tomorrow if this was a poor decision or not.

Bee tee dubs, my FICO score is awesome right now, thank-you-very-much. But that actually makes it worse that I saw this letter because I can't be, like, "I feel ya, cuz." Or whatever the kids say these days to signal commiseration.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Errata for the Week of April 10th

Remember yesterday's post when I said I was pressed for time, and a better blogger would have just waited to click "publish," but I didn't? Do you remember? That was awesome. Actually, it wasn't. I completely left out the proximate article that got me thinking along those lines: ESPN reporter Britt McHenry's merciless critique of a towing company employee's appearance brought on by McHenry's car being towed. Because the woman's weight and teeth had something to do with whether or not McHenry's car legitimately deserved towing, I guess?

I talked about these things with my wife last night, and she wondered why men are competitive, but they don't compete like women do. I said men are competitive within a sphere, but they ignore the things outside the sphere. So if I'm competing with a guy at work, his work and my work are what matter, not who looks like what. Another guy's looks start to matter when, let's say, we're competing for the affections of the same woman. But I give absolutely no thought to whether I'm better- or worse-looking than the men in my office, unless someone is ridiculously good-looking, and then I'm like, "Dude, well played." But women will go from competing at work to critiquing physical appearance. Again, some women might say it's because guys put it in their minds. I don't know if that's true or not. But I do know that women's all-out assault on their rivals seems a lot more like the description of sociopathic behavior described in Snakes in Suits (a book which, despite its repeated pleas to not use the text to diagnose sociopaths, I find indispensable in my hobby of diagnosing sociopaths). So, you read it here first: women are sociopaths. (Look for a walk-back on that statement in next week's errata.)

While discussing these things in front of our kids last night, my wife mentioned a body-positive ad campaign from Always. Our 12-year-old daughter said, "I don't know what Always makes." I said, "You are not going to like my answer." I said this because she has been creeped out by human sexuality her whole life. When she was about five years old I tried to explain to her the appropriate name for her genitals, and how with women there isn't just one name for the whole deal. She cut me off to explain, "I just call it 'The Babymaker.'" I reminded her of that two nights ago when I was telling my wife about an article entitled "The Case for Teaching Kids 'Vagina,' 'Penis,' and 'Vulva.'" At that point my daughter asked, "Isn't vulva a type of car?" I said, "No, it's what you've told me before you call 'The Babymaker.'" She said, "I still call it that, or I call it 'The Weird Thing.'" I said, "It's not weird." She disagreed. I said, "Your eyes do a crazy job but you don't call them 'the weird things.' No body part is weird. It's just maybe not as well-understood by you." But she insisted that it was weird.

Anyway, that's why I told her, "You are not going to like my answer." I explained, "There are two ways of dealing with menstruation. Well, there are three, but the third one creeps out Mom." I explained tampons, pads, and my wife's nemesis, the Diva Cup.

Anyway, on to issue number two: here's an article about helicopter parenting being illogical in a time of increasing children's safety. While I agree, I think the article does a poor job by not addressing this question: are children safer now because of helicopter parenting? How can you cite declining numbers of children pedestrians, cite declining numbers of vehicle-versus-children-pedestrian accidents, and come to the conclusion that children should be allowed to walk around more often? You should show that children who walk are safer, not all children.

Notice that the couple in Maryland in a battle with their county had their children abducted by agents of the state who wanted to make the case that, if you let your kids walk around, they can be abducted. An abduction doesn't stop being an abduction simply because it's conducted under the threat of state-sanctioned violence.

Thirdly, here's an AP article about the increased number of Mormon missionaries not leading to an increase in the conversion rate. Some Mormons, though, are aware that missionary success is not measured in conversions (see Hel. 7:1-3, cf. Hel. 10:4-5). The increased missionary effort can be described as "hastening the work," not "increasing conversion." Some Mormons might be troubled by this "lack of effectiveness," but thoughtful ones shouldn't be.

The Biggest Objectifiers of Women Are Often Women

A colleague went home for a vacation a few months ago. She reported that her mother and sister watch television together and just criticize the appearance of every actress on the screen. "Why is she wearing that?" "Her hair looks atrocious." Things like that. And it's all negative; according to two over-middle-aged British women, no professional actress is attractive.

Last week Pink (the singer, not the color) was criticized on social media for appearing overweight, I guess, although I've seen the picture in question and she doesn't appear overweight at all.

First, an aside: so what if she actually was overweight? Well, being overweight is unhealthful, though to differing degrees depending on your individual physiology and the amount of excess weight. Some people might feel it is their responsibility to bring this point to the attention of an obese celebrity. (Although the chances that my social media comment is going to save a celebrity's life are fairly remote.) Secondly, I guess a celebrity who was presenting himself as a sex object should receive feedback about whether or not he was, in fact, sexy. This is why it is okay for me to say that Hannah Davis looks like a creepy mindless doll. But Pink (still the singer; in fact, I don't think I'll end up talking about the color pink at all in this post, so just be aware of that) was photographed at a charity event, not at a bikini shoot. The dress was fairly revealing by some standards, but by modern celebrity standards, it was quite tame. She was definitely not trying to elicit a sexual reaction from anyone, she was just presenting herself how she thought was appealing, in the way that I might paint my house a particular color because I think it looks nice.

Today in class we were watching a documentary on the 1997-8 Asian financial crisis, and it was interspersed with advertisements. One was a really long ad for Dove soap, but I thought, "This is presenting a positive body message to girls, so I'll let it run." Most of my students were like, "What is this?" But at the very end, for some reason, when the Dove logo came up, they burst out laughing. I don't know if it was unexpected, or they think it's ridiculous that an ad for soap would have nothing to do with soap. I don't know. Had they burst out laughing at the concept, I would have stopped that, but as it was I didn't know what to make of it.

I've written before about how strange it is that, while Americans are becoming more overweight and less healthy, they place more-exacting standards of health and fitness on their celebrities. Statistics would lead us to assume that most of Pink's body-shamers are 50-pounds-or-more overweight, but Pink herself is not. No matter, they still feel a need to call her fat.

I could try to tie all this together, but I'm running out of time before the next item on my schedule. Women will say that they objectify women because the "patriarchy" has gotten inside their heads. I don't think so. I read an article on Men's Health magazine that said women check out a stranger's breasts more quickly and for longer than men do. Men basically give them a glance like, "Are they fantastic, 'cause if they are, I don't want to miss 'em." And usually they're not fantastic. In the words of Julia Roberts's character in Notting Hill, "They're just breasts." Women look more like, "How exactly do her breasts look compared to mine?" Maybe it's because they don't know how men actually respond to fantastic breasts, which is to say, "Wow, those were nice. I wonder where I should go to lunch now."

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Great Leap, Well, What's the Opposite of "Forward"?

My wife and kids have had a standing plan to go to Tian'anmen Square with another family. They've been waiting for a day with cleaner air. Last night's sandstorm (which raised the PM 10 reading to "exceeds index" for a few hours) cleared out all the pollution and things are fantastic today. So when I was preparing for work, my family was preparing for a day of tourism.

On the agenda is seeing Mao's dead body, which creeps my kids out. I told them, "They had to do so much to it to preserve it that it's basically a wax work." They said, "Then why didn't they just use a wax work?" I said, "Some places around the world are more comfortable with death."

On my way out the door this morning, I said, "Enjoy seeing Mao's dead body. Don't get caught up in his cult of personality. Remember, he murdered millions of people." My wife said to the kids, "Don't mention that while we're there."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Repeat After Me

One of the most frustrating experiences of my mission (and there were a lot of them--there's a reason I call it the worst two years of my life) was the companion I had who would repeat everything I said like I wasn't there. So if I opened and taught the first principle, he would then re-teach the first principle before teaching the rest of the discussion. If he opened, I never got to say anything.

Right now I'm proctoring an exam. I made an announcement before we began wherein I told students what they should have on their desks and asked them to raise their hands if they were missing anything. Then my boss repeated the exact same announcement.

What's even more frustrating is that some students raised their hands for him.

Analysis as Self-Analysis

I'm sure this is a point already made elsewhere by someone much more capable than I, but I've been struck recently, several times, by how the lens through which we analyze a situation says more about ourselves than about the situation. In fact, one could say it says nothing about the situation at all, which is some objective event I an incapable of observing without my observational bias coming into play.

So when I see someone in a leadership position and I think, "That guy is totally going to abuse his power," what I'm really saying is, "If I were in his position, I would abuse my power."

Now that I think about it, I'm not so sure I haven't written about this before. I think that, on that previous occasion, I mentioned how I had a different understanding as a child of the saying, "When you point a finger at someone, you're pointing three fingers at yourself." I used to think it meant, "I accuse the other person of X, but really I am showing that I am judgmental and critical." Now I think it means, "I accuse the other person of X, but really I am showing that I am very likely to engage in X myself, since it came easily to my mind."

Someone could disagree along these lines: "I accuse you of X because I see the signs of X, having once engaged in X myself." I've noticed that lately, too. It's a little disconcerting because it means that, back when I was engaging in X and I thought, "No one knows about my secret struggle with X," actually a lot of people knew. So now that I'm struggling with Y, a lot of people know about that, too. So hypocrisy doesn't pay; you're duplicity isn't fooling anyone.

Time Bandits

Working out of my classroom today instead of my office, and the time banditry has increased twenty-fold. It turns out most people don't sit down for an hour-plus chat when there's no place for them to sit and where there are five other people working quietly. Take those constraints away and get ready for a gab-fest!

The first unplanned conversation today was actually good. A colleague and I hashed out several topics related to my dissertation. The second one, not so much. My boss stopped by to talk, which was equal parts helpful discussion of economics (I got an answer to a question I was about to look up for an e-mail exchange with a potential collaborator) and unhelpful check-up on whether I'm any good at my job. (Spoiler alert: I'm not; there's a reason I had to move to China to find work.) I was tempted to implement a tactic I learned from the The Simpsons episode when Bart takes Focusyn and stand up to get him to leave. But I didn't, because I don't want to be fired.

In other news, my boss pronounces the word "analysis" not as "annalysis" but as "anal-ysis." Dude's got issues.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Citation Needed

From Lucas and Woodworth's Working Toward Zion, regarding tithing:

Later the requirement of the initial consecration was dropped. [p. 44]
That's a pretty bold statement to make without a reference. How many other times has "a standing law unto them forever" (D&C 119:4) been dropped?

Earlier in the Lucas and Woodworth paragraph, a different footnote argues against the idea that the law of consecration is forever dropped, and it cites numerous places where it is said the law of tithing has been characterized as a preparatory law for a later resumption of consecration. Only one of those sources is available to me: a Marion G. Romney talk from the October 1975 welfare session of General Conference. (Welfare sessions are like the non-consolidated schedule: seriously old-school.) President Romney said:

The requirement to live the united order at that time was then withdrawn. The lesser law of tithing was revealed, which, with the law of the fast, has prevailed and persisted in the Church until now.
Far be it from me to correct President Romney, but I think he was imprecise with terms, which can lead to confusion. The requirement to live in the United Firm was indeed withdrawn, but that was not the law of consecration. The law of consecration was called by the Lord "my law" (D&C 38:32, see also D&C 42:2). It was given in February 1831. The revelation to begin the United Firm was given in March 1832 (see heading to D&C 78). The United Firm was ended in 1834; the law of consecration has never been ended. (Many of those who argue otherwise have actually covenanted to live the law of consecration.) The law of tithing, far from being a "lesser" law which foresees its eventual replacement, is said to start with a consecration of all surplus property and is called "a standing law unto them forever."

I believe that the law of tithing and the law of the fast are portions of the law of consecration, not replacements for the entire thing. Joseph M. Spencer argues in his book For Zion that "such interpretations are entirely misguided" (Loc. 3897). He quotes Gordon B. Hinckley as saying "the law of sacrifice and the law of consecration were not done away with and are still in effect."

Lucas and Woodworth are making their task more difficult. First they argue that capitalism must be replaced by the law of consecration, then they argue that consecration is a law not currently in effect. They quote Brigham Young noting that "the Lord Almighty has not the least objection in the world to our entering into the Order of Enoch," but they say the necessary law is not in effect. In short, they require renewed revelation and a complete replacement of the prevailing economic order. I contend that Zion requires neither of these things. The required laws are currently in effect and the prevailing economic order is compatible with Zion.

"Tough Crowd; They're Booing Shakespeare!"

My friend informed me of her family's actual "Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked" words.

This comes from my side of the family where we have no pioneer ancestors. Don't know if that makes it better or worse.

"Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked.

"Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked.

"Sometimes they laughed and sometimes they cried.

"Sometimes they lived and sometimes they died.

"All day long they sang as they walked and walked and walked."

I also changed the line in "There is Sunshine in my Soul [Today]" from "where the peaceful, happy moments roll" to "where the peaceful, happy Mormons roll."

As someone who also has no pioneer ancestry, I say it's wonderful. It's a lot more accurate than the original lyrics. And besides, my wife's cousins celebrate their pioneer ancestry by drinking beer and being inactive. I don't think the pioneers did what they did so they could have a bunch of Jack Mormon descendants.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

"I'm Gonna Have to Punch It Up on the Fly"

One of my favorite bits from The Simpsons involves Krusty the clown playing King Lear. Krusty feels hamstrung by the material and decides to "punch it up on the fly."

This is how I often feel when singing songs from Children's Songbook. I know at least some people feel the same way; friends of ours have changed the words to "Pioneer Children Sang As They Walked" to better-reflect the reality of the Mormon migration. They sing something like, "They washed at streams and worked and cried / Sundays they camped and some of them died." (For our part, our family shows the reality of the journey by ending the song with about a dozen more "and walked"s than the songbook calls for.)

In our family, we've developed our own words for "Christmas Bells Are Ringing" and for "Follow the Prophet." The Christmas song we've updated for use in other holidays, and the prophet song we've updated for President Monson.

We've added several versions of "Christmas Bells," but all I can remember is the Easter on, which we've used quite a bit. "Easter bells are ringing / Hear what they say to you / Easter's not about / Eggs, sheeps, and bunnies / Eggs, sheeps, and bunnies." Of course, it is to be sung in a round.

Our most-recent lyric change was the verse of "Follow the Prophet" we added. "Tommy was a prophet, tried to burn a field / But the fire went crazy and it would not yield / Later he raised pigeons, swam laps in a pool / Then stopped a friend from killing himself because that is not cool." For supporting material, see here, here, and here.

I've heard of others singing "High on a mountain top / A monkey chased a squirrel" and "Has given me an earthly home / With parents kind of weird." We also incorporate those in our family singing.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Zion Starts in Your Head

I've begun reading Working Toward Zion by James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth. Sadly, it proves the notion that most things you anticipate will end up disappointing you.

Part of the problem is something they couldn't really control: right when they sat down to write a book about the terrible economics of the developing world, the developing world really started to get its act together. So what reads, in 2015, like a problem with the book could actually be seen as one of its strengths. Global poverty was a giant problem, they wrote about it right when lots of other people agreed with their assessment, and now it's not such a problem. Criticizing this book for that would be like criticizing Uncle Tom's Cabin for making a big deal out of American slavery, which everyone knows doesn't even exist anymore. Maybe there's still room for critique because Lucas and Woodworth didn't see the change coming and wrote many dire predictions of extreme poverty's advance, but I think it's kind of unfair to tell someone, "You should have foreseen a major change in the long-term trend." In the words of Monty Python, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition."

As for the part of the problem Lucas and Woodworth could have gotten right but didn't, their economics is suspect. Since the book begins with a lot of economics to motivate the search for a different economic system, that's a big problem. For instance:

While ineffective policies of Third World governments bear considerable blame for their economic plight, from the view of the Have-nots, it is still principally the Haves that are causing the growing gap between rich and poor. To illustrate, India's nearly [at publication] one billion people make up 16 percent of the earth's population, yet they use only 3 percent of all energy and account for only 1 percent of the world's GNP. At the other extreme, the United States has only 5 percent of the earth's population, but uses 25 percent of all energy and accounts for 25 percent of global GNP. These two extremes are not unique cases; rather, they are typical. [p. 37]

I should hope they are typical.

Here's another way of writing about these same figures: "The United States has three times the energy efficiency of India, and eighty times the productive efficiency." Given that we have limited resources available to us, where should resources be channeled?

It's as if Lucas and Woodworth aren't aware that the P in GNP stands for product. They write of GNP distribution like it's something everyone has equal right to, and that countries with disproportionately-large shares are somehow cheating the others. Rather, GNP is made, not received. America makes more because America is more efficient. Even in a Zion system, we would want the productive to produce. Instead of writing about shares of global GNP (are there non-global citizens producing here, or why can't we just talk about "global output"?), what really matters is the after-production holding of income. Use your talents and the resources over which you have stewardship, produce as much as you can, and then share your excess with those who don't have enough.

This imprecise equivalence of production with exploitation is matched by an imprecise equivalence of calories and nutrition. More than once, they write of the high percentage of Americans on diets to show the decadence of the rich while globally malnutrition is a problem. However, America's obesity problem has its roots in malnutrition. People eat crap food (I just had some bean paste bread and a bottle of peach juice, and when I finish this post I'm going to eat a dark chocolate candy bar, so I know of which I write), so they are malnourished. In America, they are rich enough that they address the problem by eating more of the crap food that caused the initial problem. (Writing about the candy bar made me realize it was sitting there not being eaten, so now I've begun eating it. This is perhaps the most ironic paragraph about malnutrition ever written.) In a section on childhood malnutrition, Lucas and Woodworth end up writing about childhood mortality rates without analyzing how many of Angola's 172 deaths per 1,000 children under the age of one are actually related to malnutrition. UNICEF says "malnutrition is an underlying cause in most child deaths" in Angola, but the previous paragraph notes, "malaria, diarrhoea, respiratory infections and neonatal problems compounded by low birth weight are major killers of children...." That sounds to me like a contributing factor, not an underlying cause. Do mosquitoes favor feeding on the malnourished? Malaria eradication (something which, to their credit, Lucas and Woodworth note, as early as 1996, was a possibility only unrealized due to insufficient funding) would end malaria more completely than nutrition programs would. (The candy bar is gone now.)

Lucas and Woodworth want to motive their readers to seek alternative economic programs. It's unnecessary and a distraction. Keep capitalism (or, as Deirdre McCloskey calls it, "market-tested betterment"); Zion isn't a product of the method of production. Zion is a system for the post-production distribution of acquired resources. Now, if we all had a Zion mentality, I doubt modern capitalism would fail to undergo some significant changes, but starting with the criticism of capitalism is missing the point.

This is good news and bad news. Good news because I can actually do something about it. My efforts to eradicate Angolan childhood malnourishment will be as a fart in the windstorm, but my mind is something I can influence. Bad news because it's hard work and I'm left without excuse. I can't shrug and say, "Zion would be nice but what are you gonna do?" The Lucas and Woodworth approach is satisfying to such armchair consecrationists, and that's why I don't like it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

You're Gonna Have a Bad Time

I don't watch South Park, but I have enough awareness of memes to correctly use the saying, "You're gonna have a bad time." And I find myself telling it to my students. A lot.

I tell them, "If you study exclusively in Chinese for a test that will be administered in English, you're gonna have a bad time." Or I tell them, "If you never use technical terms to get used to their meanings, you're gonna have a bad time." And they continue to ignore me. Then something like 80% of them missed a question on the practice exam because they didn't know the meaning of the phrase "in addition to."

If I was in charge of the exam content, I'd be a jerk to use terms they don't know. But they are taking AP exams, the content of which is outside my control. So I tell them to get better at English, they continue to avoid English like a cliche about the Plague, and, well, they have a bad time.

My boss teaches a section of the same class. All his students have absolutely no problems. We had an awkward conversation about how I'm such a terrible teacher and he's so wonderful. I told him that it's not under my control when they ignore the English textbook and read the Chinese translation of it. He said it must be under my control because his students don't do it. I said, "How do I control something that happens at night after I've gone home? I tell them to not do it, and they do it anyway." He said, "Well, my students don't do it." I said, "Why is that?" He said, in essence, that he cares about his students, and they can sense this. I said, "So your students think, 'It would be easier to read this in Chinese, but my teacher cares about me, and he'd be disappointed if I did this, so I'll do the hard thing'?" He sort of shrugged like, "Well, what else can explain this outcome?"

If you take a job working for a narcissist, you're gonna have a bad time.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

"Nobody Asked You, Patrice!"

On How I Met Your Mother, Robin has an irrational hatred of her coworker Patrice. Patrice is the sweetest woman ever, always kind and helpful to Robin, but Robin ends up just shrieking, "Nobody ASKED you, Patrice!"

My wife and I can relate. We've felt this way about people in our lives. Growing up, there was a boy in our ward that was my wife's Patrice. She spent a year driving him from Seminary to school, making sure to contradict everything he had to say. She just couldn't handle him saying something that wasn't wrong.

In my family, I'm my dad's Patrice. I mentioned this to my sister once, and she laughed at how inappropriately exact the characterization was.

For my personal morning scripture study, I've been reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few days ago, I read Section 134. I had a new thought after reading Verse 12.

We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.
My thought was, "Does this explain the LDS Church's acquiescence to government restrictions on proselyting?" Every week here in China, we start sacrament meeting with a reading of the announcement that begins, "It is important for foreign members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in or visiting China to be aware of the unique restrictions...." So if we feel bound by the Savior's command to tell the world of His gospel, why do we agree to do absolutely no proselyting ("active or passive") here? Maybe this verse helps make sense of it. As, in 1830s America, it was improper to preach to slaves and thereby create conflict between the wills of their masters and the slaves' consciences, it is improper to preach in 21st-century China for the same reason.

Anyway, I wanted to discuss this idea with friends, so I created a Facebook post so everyone could ignore it and thus help me remember that I don't actually have friends. But not everyone ignored it. When you're someone's Patrice, they can't let anything you say pass without pointing out what's wrong about it.

My dad wrote that Article of Faith 12 is the reason. China says don't do something and we say, "Okay." Which is how most modern members read Article of Faith 12, but which I believe is incorrect. I read D&C 134:5 as contradicting this incorrect reading. The history of the church between Reynolds v. United States (1878) and Official Declaration 1 (1890) is not one that follows this modern reading. Wilford Woodruff didn't write, "Well, the Federales said so," but rather, "God showed me the results and told me to choose."

The confusion comes from an unfortunately misunderstanding of the distinction between "law" and "legislation." Under the common law tradition, law exists or emerges and is not created by man. It can be codified, but not everything codified by the government is law. Legislation is not law. Article of Faith 12 says we believe in obeying the law, not the will of (sometimes unrighteous) legislators.

To help our children understand this point, we recently read a book called The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law, because I want them to grow up to distrust the state. I shared this link in response to my dad's comment.

My dad replied that Article of Faith 12 is a blanket statement that requires obeisance to any temporal ruler. I asked, "Then why do we celebrate the Founding Fathers, who refused to be subject to their king?" My dad answered, in part, "Because they won." I wrote, "I disagree that the Founders are right only in hindsight." He wrote, "I concur with your assessment. The frame of reference was changed by the Lord saying that they were guided and directed."

"And this is where it ended?" you asked hopefully (in the legitimate sense of the word). No, it's not. Because I have a character flaw. I cannot refuse to speak when someone says something wrong. I have a compulsion to argue against error whenever it arises. I saw in my dad's comment a possible problem, namely, the idea that it is only in light of the Lord vouching for the Founders that we can support their behavior. I wrote back, "No, D&C 134:5 indicates this isn't a Nephi-and-Laban thing. Rebellion is only 'unbecoming' (not even 'wrong') if your government protects you in your rights. Implication: rebellion is fine in the face of tyranny."

I was sharing supporting material for my beliefs, but I was getting no indication that the supporting material was being acknowledged. Instead, I got, "You can find a supporting argument for whatever you want to do. And those arguments can come from the same book (of scripture). John Wilkes Booth thought that he had an answer to tyranny." I wrote back, "I'm glad I wasn't raised by someone so ready to accept moral relativism. Oh, wait.... [winking emoticon]"

And it was the winking emoticon that diffused the situation, through its ambiguity. The wink indicates "someone's being made fun of here," but it's up to the reader to determine who. It could be my dad, the apparent moral relativist, or it could be me, the person who is reading moral relativism into my dad's posts. Both parties get to assume that the butt of the joke is not themselves, so the tension subsides.

But the wink was at my dad.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

There Are 300 Million of Us

America has produced hundreds of professional athletes who could compete for the title "world's best." Scores of professional actors who win Oscars. Dozens of scientists who win Nobel prizes (including economists, even though their Nobel prize is kind of a fake one). Countless CEOs of top-level international corporations. And yet every four years we have a presidential election that brings out the best candidates and we are left to say, "Really? THESE are the best?"

There are over 300 million Americans, yet we're asked to believe that drunks, libertines, and those perpetually given to malaprops and other "hot mic" victimizations, THESE are the best we have on offer. And now, to narrow things down even further, some believe a qualified presidential candidate need either be a Bush or a Clinton. (Although, showing a broadness of mind, Hillary Clinton qualifies through marriage alone.)

People pine for another Reagan, but I don't know what's more shocking: that we haven't had one in public life in over a quarter of a century, or that even when we had one, we only had one. Why are Reagans so incredibly hard to find?

Now we have both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz running for president. It's too soon to determine if either would make a good president, but I'm pleased that we have at least two candidates whose gut reaction to a proposed government program is to question it, not embrace it.

Two is a good start. After a quarter-century wait, two is almost an embarrassment of riches.

Hugh Nibley Tweets

Hugh Nibley died in 2005. Twitter was founded in 2006. Yet I follow @HughNibley. Not to worry, these aren't tweets from beyond the grave; someone (evidently one of Nibley's children) tweets quotes from Nibley's writings.

Yesterday, after posting about the tendency to read blame into scriptures about faith and despair, I checked Twitter, where the following Hugh Nibley tweet awaited:

I get it. And I agree. And yet.

And yet it is a very succinct accusation of faithlessness leveled at the depressed. Yes, the Savior took upon him all our sicknesses and infirmities, but people still get sick, and some of them chronically so. Jesus can heal, but should we tell the diabetic or the cancer-stricken that evidently they do not fully accept what Jesus did for them? After all, some have the faith to be healed (D&C 46:19), and the sick must not be among them.

I submit that gloominess is as much an evidence of faithlessness as is a dialysis machine. And yeah, I know, 140 characters, but if something can't be tweeted without space considerations doing this much violence to the truth, maybe it shouldn't be tweeted at all.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Hope and Hopelessness

As a depressive, I've often felt the requirement for hope and faith before the bestowal of a blessing was a bit harsh. The typical member's reading of D&C 9:11 follows this "well I guess it's you're own fault for being depressed" reasoning, and his reading of Moro. 10:22 is an even-harsher "you're probably depressed because you're a bad person."

I recently finished reading Joseph M. Spencer's For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope, and one of the things I appreciated most about it is the discussion in the first two chapters about Paul's description of Abraham as one "who against hope believed in hope," and Spencer's translation of this as "hopeless but hoping."

I feel there's got to be a blessing for hopeless prayers because the existence of the prayer shows the underlying hope. A complete lack of hope would have no prayers at all.

The widow of Zarephath's plan was to die, not to be miraculously saved, yet her hope was sufficient for the bestowal of a blessing. She wasn't told, "Well, you had faith, but then you didn't, so screw you," and she wasn't told, "You could have more faith if you'd stop being so terrible."

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Marriage Is Scary

I don't want to gossip about people's difficult personal situations, but I periodically become aware of people whose marriages falter very, very quickly.

First was a widower I knew who got remarried and, by the wedding night, his new bride was telling him she'd made a mistake. By the end of the weekend, she was making plans to get an annulment.

Second was a widow I knew who got remarried and, within a month, was divorced.

This week I learned of a woman who got married for the first time a little later in life and now, a week or so later, is uncertain whether her marriage is going to end.

What the hell, people?! I always figured that remarriages and later-in-life marriages were going to be more rational and sane. I imagined it was a lot like the Frank Sinatra song "The Second Time Around." But it turns out I was wrong.

My wife has a friend who has not been married yet, but has been engaged to a guy who, it turns out, is already engaged to another woman. And I believe this has happened more than once to her.

I've written before that, now that I'm older, I'm scared to death of marriage. So much could go wrong. You are connecting your life to that of someone who you think you know, but how well do you really know? When you're young and foolish, you're more likely to ignore important questions and say, "She looks phenomenal in yoga pants; this is true love." But I expected older people to be wiser.

Four possible explanations I can see:

  1. Older people are more desperate, thus more willing to ignore warning signs. So I say, "She's clearly insane, but I don't want to die alone. I can tough it out." But I'm probably not going to "see the light," as it were, in just a week, am I? The people I know like this took several years to fully understand that, no, you can't just tough out crazy. (My wife still hasn't figured it out yet, and our 14th anniversary is in three weeks.)
  2. Older people have more deal-breaker baggage. The longer a crazy person lives, the more craziness he has under his belt. A crazy guy at 18 maybe did some weird stuff to animals, but by 40, he's probably a felon. But why didn't you fully vet him? Are we back to Reason #1? If we are, it should take more than a week for things to fall apart.
  3. Later-in-life singles think normal stuff is deal-breaker stuff. I had a mission companion who theorized that sister missionaries had a harder time getting along with their companions because they were older and more set in their ways. The longer you let someone be in complete control of his life, the harder it's going to be for him to compromise with a new spouse. So we get married and then I say, "You only buy HALF-gallons of milk?! This marriage is OVER!" But again, most people stick out terrible commitments due to fear of looking foolish. Think of it as the sunk-cost fallacy's contribution to marriage stability. I'd be interested in finding out how long the average divorcee takes between knowing the marriage is doomed and filing divorce papers. So while it should take longer than a week to find out that the marriage is doomed, it should take even longer to act on that knowledge.
  4. Older people are more adept at hiding their crazy deal-breaker baggage. This is the only explanation that is satisfying to me. One partner is clearly insane and has become really, really good at keeping that hidden. The reason he's 45 and still single is because it's taken him several fiancees to figure out how to hide it completely. But I guess even this isn't that satisfactory of an answer because, knowing himself to be insane, why did he think he could let his freak flag fly on Day 1 of married life? He knows divorce is a thing, right? You'd figure he'd ease his way into it.

So I guess I'm still stymied. But I know I am completely terrified of having to get remarried. If my wife dies, I am never getting remarried. There's just way, way too much that can go wrong.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Gaystapo

I wrote a blog post about an article I read, but then, fearing the knock of the Gestapo, I decided I probably shouldn't share it. So instead I'll write something that will anger the Gaystapo instead: religious liberty laws are not Jim Crow laws.

Marriage has always been a sacrament of the church. It became an interest of the state because it changes the social structure so dramatically. There was a big difference between the proper behavior of a married person and that of a single person, so many laws used marital status as a criterion for application. But the state was never the origin of marriage, and changing the state definition of marriage just means the state is going to be misusing a term.

Would it were that simple. The problem is that the new state definition will be (is being) used to undermine the religious definition. The rights of churches and their members to define marriage is being removed.

A baker says, "I make wedding cakes." A gay couple says, "Make us a wedding cake." The baker says, "I make wedding cakes, not whatever-the-state-is-recording cakes." The gay couple says their civil rights have been violated.

How does one have a right in the action of another? This is having a right to enslave. Yeah, I know that's the way the legislation was written 50 years ago, but that doesn't mean it's not nuts.

A baker refusing to serve a gay couple? That's wrong and should be illegal. A baker refusing to serve a gay wedding cake? That's a matter of conscience in which the baker should have his rights protected.

A pizza parlor refusing to serve a black family? Wrong. A pizza parlor refusing to cater a Black Panthers gathering? Matter of conscience.

A florist refusing to serve women? Wrong. A florist refusing to produce floral arrangements for a NARAL meeting? Matter of conscience.

I think the reason some Americans can't get this is because they can't believe anyone can ever disagree with them unless it is based on bigotry. (This is why so many people can't get their heads around the possible existence of ANY non-racist reason to opposed Barack Obama.)

Friday, April 03, 2015

Yahoo! Saves Its A-Game for Foreigners

I've written before about how September 11th got me in the habit of checking Yahoo! News, and how the habit has become increasingly terrible as the news coverage has become increasingly abysmal. But Yahoo! News has one saving grace: they push legitimate, substantial news stories on foreigners.

If I visit Yahoo! with my VPN on, I get a bunch of articles about Suki Waterhouse (which sounds like an accounting firm started by Tom Cruise's kid, but which is actually a collection of money and clothing). But if I turn my VPN off, I get story after story analyzing the Chinese economy, military, and political landscape. It completely changes everything. Yahoo! goes from my worst news source to my best, just by turning off my VPN.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

[A Random Stranger]'s Law of Ignorance

I believe I've written before about this truth of life: it's easier to be charitable when you don't pay attention. I read (church-related) books in sacrament meeting, and as a result, I haven't heard a bad sacrament meeting talk in years.

Also in the realm of things I think I've blogged about (but I'm too lazy to verify) is the stake conference priesthood session I attended where our stake president said he'd been at a dinner where an apostle told his fellow diners that we should take it easy on Harry Reid and try to understand where he's coming from.

Combining these two items leads to this result: I studiously avoid reading articles about Harry Reid.

But then sometimes I don't, because I'm a crap person. So yesterday morning I read Breitbart News's analysis of Harry Reid's bathroom and how the laws of physics seem to show Reid's explanation of his eye injuries is non-credible, and then today I read an article about Reid's contention that he's not sorry for lying about Mitt Romney's taxes because it brought about the election result he wanted.

If you would like to at least maintain your current level of charity for Harry Reid, I would recommend against you reading these two articles. Just keep on not paying attention.