Monday, November 30, 2015

Movies Are Terrible

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2015

2,500

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

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

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

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

Mao, I Do Believe

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Being a Mormon in a Muslim Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

PC Fascists

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

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

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

What? "Milk feed"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever the reason, these people are idiots.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trump Professionalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Jerk College Athletes

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Picture Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Smoking Cigarettes and Watching Captain Kangaroo

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Insulated President

In this blog post by Arnold Kling, he writes

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

We Can't Figure You Out

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 16, 2015

Open Craziness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lighten Up, Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lighten up, Francis.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Still Thinking of Baseball

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I Couldn't Be More Wrong

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

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

But I like it.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 09, 2015

American Safety

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

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

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

The State of Education

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Everything Is a Proxy for the State, Including Language

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Lose Weight Now, But Don't Ask Me How

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm Like the Non-Radio Version of Delilah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 02, 2015

Random Pictures That Aren't Good Enough for Blog Posts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 01, 2015

[Sad Trumpet Noise]

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

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

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