Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A New Year's Reminder

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

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

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

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

By the way, the floor was covered in pee.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2016 - Year in (P)Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

The All-Knowing State Is the All-Abusing State

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

"Merry Christmas" in Cantonese, Fools!

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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

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

Unfortunately, that wasn't it.

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Peeing on Display

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

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

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

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

Eating At the Brown Door

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Non-Credible Threat of Guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not All Long-Lasting Memories Are Equal

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Reading Plan for the Remaining Year

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

ARS Neologisms

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

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

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

Here's to another ferpect decade of eating chips!

Monday, December 07, 2015

This Is Honestly Insane

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Chinese Lessons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 04, 2015

Current Reading Situation

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

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

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

Thursday, December 03, 2015

A Donald Trump Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Gold Medal in Acquiesence Goes to....

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

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

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

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