Saturday, December 17, 2016

Memo Received

Remember this? In a fit of confidence I applied. And I was so underwhelming that they cancelled the search and began a new one.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Be Very Afraid of This Efficiency Juggernaut

This Chinese DVD of Monsters University has it all:

  • The movie information at the bottom starts by identifying the film as Leaves of Grass.
  • Which probably explains why the name "Walt Willtman" appears in large red letters.
  • The special features advertised are all from the movie Tomb Raider.
  • All the movie information after the title is from the film Twilight.
  • There's a large, attention-grabbing graphic that warns the film Monsters University is not suitable for anyone under 18 years of age.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Popular Music and Theology

This week in our family's reading of the Book of Mormon, we read 2 Ne. 19:10, which is Nephi's quotation of Isaiah 9:10. That verse of Isaiah has a nice bit of conspiracy theory behind it, since Isaiah is condemning the Kingdom of Israel but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle quoted it approvingly on the Senate floor on September 12, 2001. In talking about it with my family, I pointed out the interesting question contained in Bastille's song "Pompeii": Where do we begin--the rubble or our sins?

It seems Isaiah supports beginning with our sins, Tom Daschle supports beginning with the rubble, and Bastille is noncommittal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Righteousness Vis-a-Vis Prosperity Metrics

Brigham Young said once

The worst fear that I have about [members of this Church] is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches.
In his novel Empire Falls, Richard Russo writes of his character Tick,
It was easier to believe in God, she said, or at least the possibility of God, on Martha's Vineyard than it was in Empire Falls. Miles knew what she meant, understood the bitter irony. Half the cars in the Vineyard chapel's lot were either Mercedes or Lexuses. No surprise that their owners believed that God was in His heaven.
So which is it: do riches make you more believing or less believing? If we use obedience to commandments as a proxy for belief, we can regress tithing payment, Word of Wisdom compliance, Sunday worship, and temple attendance on income. (Other variables of interest might include education level, education venue, family size, marital status, legacy of membership (how many generations ago was the first convert?), missionary service, employment, and years spent living in a heavily-Mormon environment.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Keynesian Yuppies

In a recession, demand for business output declines. Businesses respond to lower revenue by seeking to cut expenses. With wages exhibiting downward rigidity, businesses cut their wage bills by firing workers, which swells the ranks of the unemployed.

The Keynesian response would include transfer payments to the unemployed, but it would also include stimulus spending, which goes to firms and then to the workers who have retained their jobs. This increase in wages during a recession is on top of the real wage increase they already received by keeping their jobs at their old pay rates.

Unless we're saying that the share of stimulus spending that businesses pass on to labor is used ENTIRELY for new hires, and that unemployment benefits fully offset lost spending power of the recently unemployed, the Keynesian response to a recession exacerbates economic inequality.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to think this, but I wonder why many of those who most-loudly advocate a Keynesian response to a recession are the same lot that most-loudly bemoans economic inequality, and they never see fit to justify the one view with the other.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Grading Tales

My school uses a course management software where I record scores and students can track their progress. It allows students to turn on notifications so they get a message as soon as I have made a change to any graded assignment.

The first step to determining students' final grades is to input their scores on the last exam. Then I have to spend some time looking at numbers and determining if I am going to use the traditional 90-80-70-60 grade breaks or if I am going to move them down somewhat, and if so, how far. But as soon as I entered the exam scores, students were notified of the change. Before I was even finished, I had three e-mails from students with scores in the 79 or 89 range, complaining that they deserved the next higher grade.

Which is baffling, because NO GRADE HAS BEEN ASSIGNED AT ALL at this point. It's not like the student has a 79 and the program is calling this a C. All that's happened is the student has a 79, and on the basis of that alone, the student is e-mailing me all the reasons I should give him or her a B.

By the next day, when I was ready to upload actual grades to the official program that reports actual grades, I was up to 20 e-mails from students. I uploaded the grades and sent a message to all my students saying that final grades had been uploaded. Instead of stemming the complaining, it stoked it. Still no one had bothered to check HIS ACTUAL GRADE, but they all sent indignant e-mails based on their percentages. They earned the next grade. They deserved the next grade. The next grade would better reflect their effort. They couldn't afford to not get the next grade, either because they would lose their scholarships or they would have to retake the class.

I sent another message that told them to not e-mail me about a grade they haven't checked. I told them they were looking at their percentages and not their grades and they needed to check the grade program, not the course management software.

This morning I had a message from a student telling me I needed to give him an A because he had earned it. He had defended me in class (which he didn't) and he understood the material so well that he discovered places where I had presented the material incorrectly (which he never brought up). But the thing is, of course, I HAD GIVEN HIM AN A.

Who asks for a favor by demanding that justice be satisfied? And who writes such messages without even checking his grade first?

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Recording of the Prayers for the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

In my reading of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, I'm struck by the veiled nature of the references to the words spoken by Jesus when he institutes the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It seems that none of the writers want to record the actual prayer, but instead record Christ's explanation of the prayer, until we get to Moroni, who records the entire thing verbatim. Why is this?

First of all, my contention that the actual prayers aren't recorded needs some support. In Matthew we read:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Notice he "blessed it" and "gave thanks," but the words recorded are his instructions to the Apostles after he did that, not the actual words used in the blessing or the giving thanks. The event is recorded in Mark nearly identically, and also in Luke. John does not record the event at all, which I'll return to later.

When Jesus visits the Nephites, he also institutes this sacrament. Not only do we also not get a record of the words used to bless the emblems, we get a fuller explanation of the ordinance, and this explanation closely parallels the words of the prayers we receive later from Moroni (and that we use today), so much so that a reader might not realize at first that, once again, the scriptural scribe has not recorded the prayer itself.

So it seems as if the words used to bless the sacramental emblems are not to be recorded, until we get to Moroni, where he writes them completely. What's up with that?

I believe Moroni "ended" the Book of Mormon three times. The first time he finished the work of his father soon after the final battle at Cumorah. In Morm. 8:1 he tells us he has "but few things to write, which things I have been commanded by my father." In Verse 5 he writes that he has little room left and he has no ore to make more plates. This doesn't line up with the fact that he wrote the sealed portion of the plates (see Ether 4:4-5), which represent something like half to two-thirds of the total volume. Clearly he finishes the little Book of Mormon (meaning Morm. 8 and 9) in very different circumstances than he faces while writing the Book of Ether. In Ether 13, Moroni tells us he will "finish my record," and he starts Moro. 1:1 by telling us, "I had supposed not to have written more." What types of things does he write in the Book of Moroni?

It's a grab-bag of every remaining bit of information he can remember. He's the last person around who knew how the believers operated and he knows that anything he doesn't record will die with him. The first six chapters are short because he's following the "oh, yeah, I should write that down, too" method of writing. Then he copies a sermon and two letters from his father. The only original bit of the Book of Moroni is when he tries, for the third time, to bring the record to a close.

I believe that Moroni would have never written the sacramental prayer if he wasn't convinced that it would be otherwise lost. When Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Mormon all had an opportunity to write it down, they intentionally demurred. They explained the prayers, but they didn't record them. This seems to indicate that the words of the sacramental prayers were seen as too sacred for recording like everything else.

And this helps explain John's complete failure to mention the ordinance at all in two ways. First, if John felt the prayers were too sacred to record, he wouldn't have written them down unless he thought he had to. Second, John knew he wasn't going anywhere, so he didn't have to write them down.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Profit, Intention, and Quality - SPORTS EDITION!

And another thing!

Isn't this exactly what happened to sports that makes die-hard sports fans so ambivalent about their favorite sports? When the NFL was a football league, they produced great football and they happened to make a ton of money doing it. Now that they're a football-themed profit machine, the product is non-compelling and the fans are all thinking, "I wish I knew how to quit you!"

I weened myself of football about five years ago, but the same thing is true of my replacement drug sport, soccer. Every soccer fan loves soccer and every soccer fan hates FIFA. And it's because FIFA went from the group that runs soccer to a soccer-themed money-laundering front organization.

Baseball jumped the shark BEFORE they cancelled the World Series; it was the three-divisions-with-a-wild-card move that made it so sub-500 teams can make the postseason. Later came the tied all-star game, the idea that the all-star game should affect the World Series, and the expanded playoff round that tells fans, "You were suckers to pay attention to any of the regular season games."

Sports league's whose intention becomes profit generation see a decline in quality. "But A Random Stranger, baseball metrics have never been better! Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout are all-time greats!" I'm talking about fan satisfaction after viewing. Fans are increasingly frustrated with the business decisions of sports leagues because they are just that: business decisions. The "Monday Night Football" post-scoring-play commercial rate (touchdown, commercial break, extra point, commercial break, kick-off, commercial break) is not done to make the product better. Starting World Series games after 8 p.m. on school nights is a great way to make money now and make sure no adults 20 years from now care about baseball. I would guess that fan satisfaction after viewing is tanking, and most sports leagues don't care because their viewers are emotionally invested. No one with a team-logo tattoo is ever going to stop watching, right? But how many people are going to get team-logo tattoos in the future?

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Profit, Intention, and Quality

A few weeks ago, I read this listicle of ways in which dog breeding has ruined dogs. This morning I realized that this idea gives structure to some nebulous thoughts I've had about media in general and the Internet in particular.

Sometimes when some ancillary product of behavior becomes the intentional product, that kills the product itself. Sometimes in class I tell students that the "animal spirits" idea of economic recessions is like when you're learning to ride a bike; the first time you are actually riding, things are going okay until you think, "Holy smokes, I'm doing it! I'm riding a--" and then you crash. It was the conscious verbalization that killed it. That's why you can say "banana" every time you need to until you need to say it 15 times fast.

Dogs owned by associated people would breed, and this produced breed variation. But when the breed variation became the focus, all hell broke loose. We used to watch a Saturday-morning show about dog breeds that would describe the breed, tell what made them desirable, and tell what health problems they had. And every segment would end with our family saying, "Let's not get one of THOSE!" Did you know that pugs can have their eyeballs FALL OUT OF THEIR FACES?!?!?! (Warning: that link has a stupid video that plays with sound.) I guarantee you NO pug owners knew that before getting a pug!

There have always been people trying to monetize media, but that didn't make it bad. In fact, that made it awesome. Because people will provide services to you if they think that there's a benefit for them in it. But I feel there's a distinction between "I run a radio station because I want to make a profit" and "I make a profit and my particular method is running a radio station." In the second case, the ancillary product has become the intentional product. When this happens, when a suitcase manufacturer, for example, becomes a suitcase-themed profit manufacturer, quality declines and customers become frustrated. The brand has "jumped the shark."

So this is why the Internet of 2009 was superior to the Internet of today. Sure, in 2009 there were people trying to monetize the Internet, but because they didn't quite know how to do that yet, they were trying a bunch of different things, providing a huge range of services and information. But now profitable things are behind paywalls and non-profitable things are neglected.

It's not just the Internet this applies to. People have drawn attention to Hollywood only rebooting franchises and making sequels; others have shown that popular music is homogenized; the rise of reality TV is another example. I once read an article from a long-time TV writer who said people complaining that prime-time TV is over-sexualized aren't realizing that sex jokes are all TV writers are allowed to make anymore because of political correctness. Recently Jerry Seinfeld has complained that PC-ness has weakened all comedy in general. And while it might seem these anti-PC arguments aren't related to mine, I believe they are, because the automatic compliance with the tenets of PC-ness is a result of the "don't f*** with the formula" outlook of modern media. Everything has to be something that a corporation would feel comfortable sponsoring, which means it all has to offend no identifiable group, which means it has to be saccharine and repeated.

A few weeks ago, I went grocery shopping with my wife. When we turned off the car, the radio was playing a song. When we returned to the car maybe 90 minutes later, the radio was playing the same song. The same station was repeating a song within two hours. This process ends in everyone listening to "Everything Is Awesome" and watching "Where Are My Pants?" ad infinitum.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Soundtrack of Our Long Car Trips

Thanksgiving saw us drive a long distance to my sister's house, which meant I listened to some Taylor Swift again. ("A Random Stranger, cut the crap, we all know you have a Pandora station that's 100% Tay Tay and that's all you listen to at work!") ANYWAY...I was reminded of another lyrical improvement I'd recommend to Ms. Swift. In "Blank Space" when she says "Rose garden filled with thorns" I think the song would be enhanced if she said "Rose garden, pelvic floors." And it gives new meaning to the next line: "Keep you guessing".

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Problem With Entertainment

For some reason this morning I ended up reading the Wikipedia pages for Gorillas in the Mist and Dian Fossey. Later, on the parents guide of IMDb for the movie, I read this:

Sigourney Weaver and her lover are seen in a bathtub together, no nudity is shown.
Which I'm pretty sure isn't true.

Perhaps Dian Fossey and her lover are portrayed in a bathtub together, and perhaps Sigourney Weaver and the actor playing Dian Fossey's lover are seen in a bathtub together, but unless we're accusing Sigourney Weaver of being romantically involved with her co-star, we can't say that she was seen in a bathtub with her lover.

And that's the problem with entertainment: even though we know we're being shown something that isn't real life, we can't help but respond as if it were real life. It reminds me of when I saw Rita Wilson on Oprah's show and an audience member asked Rita if her husband, Tom Hanks, was going to run for public office because "I love him and he'd be great." You LOVE him, rando woman? You don't KNOW him. You love the way he portrays characters but you can't possibly love HIM. And what can you possibly know of whether or not he'd be great as a politician? I guess we can assume Tom Hanks's political positions are similar to those of other politically-involved actors (so somewhere between Elizabeth Warren and Che Guevara), but until he gets specific, we're all just guessing.

Some could say that our inability to distinguish between real life and media is a result of the relatively-recent invention of media. Our brains have evolved to accept the things we're seeing as fact. But I don't think this is so. From the moment the first caveman reenacted an especially-dramatic hunt, we've had dramatic portrayals. And given what we know about the stories of fisherman, we've probably had our first fiction for just as long. It's not like everything we saw was true until the days of Thomas Edison. So why haven't we yet learned* how to distinguish entertainment from real life? And should we expect things to get any better with more people going through real life like this?

* = Probably my finest split infinitive ever.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Psychiatry

"Why don't you see a doctor about your depression, A Random Stranger?" Well, I have nice benefits through teaching at a state university, but even so, there are problems.

  1. There's a stigma attached to mental illness. I read an article once about Thomas Eagleton and the political baggage of his depression. As long as depression is something that some people associate with being weak-willed or self-indulgent, depressed people will continue to feel pressure to hide their condition.
  2. I want to learn to be not depressed, but if that's not possible, I at least want to learn to manage my depression. I don't want to take a pill to mask the symptoms, especially as many of the side-effects of such pills are, in my view, intolerable. I've read many books about diet and lifestyle corrections. Obviously the professional training of a psychiatrist could help, but I don't want a psychiatrist who says, "Oh, you're depressed? Here, take this pill."
  3. Even if I get a doctor who's willing to look at dietary or amino acid supplement corrections, it's a discouraging task. There are scores of potential problems and it could be years of trial and error to find what works.
  4. Meanwhile, I'm supposed to be focused on finishing my dissertation. It's a dilemma, because the biggest motivation I have to seek treatment for my depression is that it would enable me to do the work I have to do, but the biggest discouragement I have is the distraction it would be from the work I have to do.
  5. Finally, my insurance covers psychiatry, but our deductible is so high that I basically regard my insurance as catastrophic insurance. I don't have room in my annual budget for my deductible, so I can never seek medical care.

I know someone reading this will say these are all crap excuses. But, hey, my whole life is crap excuses. Only someone brand-new to this blog would expect anything BUT crap excuses from me.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Depression Update

I've never been to a doctor about my depression (more on that later), so nothing I'm about to write has ever been vetted by a medical professional. This is just the way I think I work based on my observations and some books I've read about depression.

I have depression. I believe I have more of a dysthymia type of depression, in that the type of debilitating episodes most people associate with depression (can't get out of bed of a morning, et cetera) rarely hit me, and when they do they last for about an hour or so, but I have spent probably 80% of my waking hours over the past 27 years feeling terrible.

During that 80% of my time, though, the intensity of the self-loathing comes and goes. And for the past six months or so, it's been pretty strong. I realized a few weeks ago that I was winding down my social connections, and when I realized that, I didn't necessarily think I should stop it. I began archiving my social media posts as a preliminary step to disconnecting from social media. I stopped returning e-mails and phone calls from friends. I foresaw a future where I no longer interacted with my parents or siblings and I didn't see that as a bad thing. I wasn't making friends at church or at work and I didn't mind. I had allowed my blog to putter to a stop.

Part of my brain knew that concluding social relationships is something people do before suicide, and that part of my brain was a little worried, but I decided a few years ago that my wife and children would be very upset if I killed myself. See, even though I believe they'd be better off without me, THEY don't believe that, so their response to my suicide would be anger and pain, and since they would stop interacting with me at that point they would never come to realize that I was right and they were wrong, so they would just continue in anger and pain, and since I like them I don't want to cause them a lifetime of anger and pain. But once they realize that I'm a jerk and that they should hate me, this restriction will be gone. I believe, though, that my children are sufficiently spaced that, by the time the youngest is an angsty teen who wouldn't mind seeing me die, my eldest will either be past that phase or else have some children with whom I can start the process over again. But I'm not sure about this, because my youngest is preternaturally angry and my eldest might delay marriage and childbirth, and that explains most of my reasoning for wanting at least one more kid.

I guess some of my friends and family might read that I wasn't too distraught over ending my relationships with them and take offense, like I'm saying, "You people suck and I don't really mind if you're not in my life." The reality is I am saying, "I suck and they won't really mind if I'm not in their lives."

Anyway, my family went to my sister's in Richmond, Virginia, for Thanksgiving last week. We left on Wednesday morning, and the day before I had floated to my wife the idea of her and the kids going without me to help ensure everyone had a nice visit. She shot that plan down, so I went.

When it came to planning the trip back home, we wanted to observe the Sabbath. Our choices were to stay for Sunday and drive home Monday (I don't teach on Mondays), leave Saturday morning so we'd be home for Sunday, stay for church with my sister's family and then leave and drive all night, or try to fit church into the drive home. My sister didn't want us there Sunday night while her kids were doing their week-prep routine, it didn't seem worth the trip if we'd only be there for Thursday and Friday, and I didn't want to drive all night and ruin my sleeping schedule for several days. So we decided to go to church on our way home.

We woke up Sunday morning at 4 a.m. and dressed for church and left. We went to Raleigh, North Carolina, and stopped for church at 9 a.m. in the Beaver Creek Ward of the Apex North Carolina Stake. We could see that the two sacrament meeting speakers for the day were a companionship of missionary elders. The conducting bishopric member said the topic for the day was "it is not good for man to be alone." I thought it was ironically cruel to make two single young men talk about something that we normally associate with the commandment to marry.

The elders approached the topic from a non-marriage perspective. They talked about social connections and how a Zion people would not be an isolated people. And I realized at this meeting that I needed to actively stop this disconnection that I was watching happen in my life.

So here I am blogging again. And I'm going to return e-mails and phone calls, too. But it's hard, because I still don't want to do it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Blogging Was Invented for Posts Exactly Like This

What's the deal with guys who let their pants drop to their ankles when they're in a public restroom stall? When I sit on a toilet, at home or abroad, my pants never descend below my knees. I keep them pulled up as high as possible. Aside from the side of my hip, I have no more skin exposed than before I entered the restroom. In fact, once my wife came to talk to me because she thought I was just sitting on the toilet lid fully clothed.

But these guys. Jeez. I shouldn't see you underwear, guys. Why do you want the pants you're going to wear for the rest of the day to pile up on the floor immediately in front of a public toilet? And besides, isn't it drafty letting everything drop to the floor?

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

There Was an Election Yesterday

If I was a good writer, I'd put these thoughts together in a polished piece. But instead I'm a blogger. You're lucky I'm using standard spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

  • It is shocking to reflect on how weak of a candidate Hillary Clinton turned out to be. For nearly 20 years, now, Republicans have been living in fear of Hillary. The conventional wisdom has been that any Republican who ran against Hillary would lose. Part of this was gender politics ("Half the electorate starts off supporting her because they have similar genitals!"), part of it was Clinton political machine ("They know how to run and win national campaigns!"), and part of it was personality (which some might describe as low-grade sexism--"She's ruthless!").

    I think this fear of Hillary was why many never-Trumpers stayed out of the race. They criticized Trump, but they didn't run against him, because if they won, they'd have to go up against Hillary.

    And now we find out that the worst Republican of them all could beat her.

  • The turnout story is frustrating. It is that the "evangelical Christians" (read: Jesus-themed bigots) who stayed home in 2012 so they didn't have to vote for a--GASP!--Mormon, these voters came back for Trump.

    So their morality tells them to oppose the charitable man of faith who makes and keeps sacred vows, while supporting the contentious areligious serial adulterer who denigrates and belittles (and assaults?) women. That's one hell of a moral code you got there, evangelicals. And you call that Christianity, huh?

    The returning bigots theory is deeply frustrating. As a Christian, I am very upset when someone turns the gospel of Jesus Christ into a cover for whatever un-Christlike behavior they wish to justify. I have written before of my anger at people who use Christianity as marketing or signals to bystanding bigots. To the millions of "Christian" voters who were uncomfortable voting for Romney but had no problem voting for Trump, I would suggest to them that their understanding of the words and deeds of Jesus Christ is seriously suspect. They are now not only responsible for Obama's second term, but also for Trump's first term.

  • Rush Limbaugh today is saying that Trump's victory shows that Obama could have been defeated in 2008 and 2012. I disagree for two reasons.

    Firstly, Obama is a different race from Hillary. Hillary dramatically underperformed among racial minorities.

    Secondly, and this is just my theory, but I suspect that racism is more hated among the majority (whites) than sexism is hated among men. So a white voter was more likely to vote for Obama because "it's a vote against racism" than a male voter was likely to vote for Hillary because "it's a vote against sexism."

    Thirdly, Hillary struggled even with voters who were "like her," while Obama didn't have the same problem with voters who were "like him." Blacks went for Obama 93-6 in 2012, but college educated white women only went for Clinton 51-45. Hillary's weaknesses are idiosyncratic and we can't read them back to 2012 and say, "If only Trump had gotten at Obama back then!" If Obama were on the ballot yesterday, I strongly suspect he would have won.

  • Two white people running against each other seems like an impossible time to make a racism argument, but if there's one thing you should know about modern America, it's that there's never an impossible time to make a racism argument. So Van Jones on CNN last night called this a "whitelash." Hillary did worse among minorities than Obama did--how is that the fault of white people? This is just another example of how some Americans see every disappointment as the result of nefariousness.

    "Oh, but what you don't see is that they are voting for Trump because they want him to stick it to racial minorities! That's how it's racist!" And what of that monolithic 93-percent black vote for Obama? You live by identity politics, you have to be prepared to die by identity politics. To tell me that only some people are allowed to vote their racial identity, and it depends on their race if it's okay or not, is racist.

  • Obama's entire eight-year presidency will be a giant waste of time if Trump repeals and replaces Obamacare. That's his only achievement. And not because of race-based obstructionism, but because of the partisan, heavy-handed way he brought it about. In response to the largest recession of the past 60 years we got a massive advance of statism that few wanted and that didn't address the fundamental economic problems that were causing actual, immediate harm. And we got "you have to pass the bill to find out what's in it" from what promised to be "the most transparent administration in history." He didn't have to govern as he did. No one made him waste eight years trying to run out the clock. Within two years, it will be as if the Obama administration never happened. (But not in regards to political rancor, the emboldening of our enemies, and the effect of eight years of doing nothing to address our actual problems).

  • This was supposed to be Libertarianism's big moment. In most ways, it failed to live up to that billing, but in one way, maybe it didn't.

    As you probably know if you're a regular reader, I supported Gary Johnson. I felt he would be a superior president to both Trump and Clinton. With so much of the electorate deeply opposed to the two major-party candidates, it is a shocking condemnation of Johnson, Weld, and the Libertarian Party that they showed so poorly. How can you run for president in this environment and NOT do at least as well as Ross Perot who, remember, QUIT THE RACE FOR A MONTH IN 1992!?!?! I like Johnson as a man, but this just seems like shocking malpractice by a politician.

    Maybe you think, "Libertarians were never going to win, A Random Stranger. They should have aimed for five percent so they get federal election funds in 2020." Okay, well, again, a failure from the party and the ticket. Right now he's running at three percent. "He more than doubled what he got last time!" He still only received four million votes in a country where half of Trump and Clinton voters were voting against someone rather than for someone. If Libertarianism can't crack five percent now, it never can.

    What's the one ray of hope? The freak-out among the Left about the unchecked power of the modern presidency. People who hated Guantanamo between 2001 and 2009 now suddenly hate it again. People who loved Obama's use of the NSA to spy on cellphones now suddenly think presidents shouldn't have that power. The other day I heard Sean Hannity speak glowingly of WikiLeaks disclosures. Does this mean he recognizes that Edward Snowden is a great patriot?

    I know most people have a convenient way of ignoring these inconsistencies in their reasoning, but the more they have to confront them, the more likely it is that the inconsistencies crumble eventually.

  • People are talking about Republicans happy to win. Are they? Trump voters are happy to win, but there was no victory for monolithic Republicanism last night. Protectionism won, nationalism won, but not Republicanism per se. The whole point of the never-Trumpers was that winning with Trump wasn't actually winning. Scott Sumner writes, "This is the most Republican national government of my lifetime. Will they shrink government, or increase spending and deficits?" This government will be Republican in name only until we see how it governs. Trump is remaking what it means to be a Republican president. If he does as Tyler Cowen thinks he will, "pursue mass popularity with a lot of government benefits, debt and free-lunch thinking," small-government fiscal conservatives will have to go somewhere else in the future.

  • Defeated Hillary supporters maybe will be slow to learn this lesson, as well. This morning on NPR I heard a guy say Trump can't undo much of the Great Social Shift because "you can't roll back marriage equality." The host said, "He can with Supreme Court nominees." The guy said, "If he does that, it will open up repercussions that the Republican Party structure can't protect him from."

    That's where I had to turn him off, proving once again my rule that you can only listen to NPR for 15 seconds before you hear something asinine that requires turning the station. Because what this guy doesn't get is that THERE IS NO MORE REPUBLICAN PARTY STRUCTURE. Trump destroyed it. Did this guy not just live through the last nine months of America? Trump isn't going to need the Republican Party to protect him from the effects of any of his decisions. Effectively there is no party right now until Donald Trump lets us know what it'll be like when (and if) he remakes it in his image.

  • I tweeted last night, "The Great Social Reset is here. Keep your head down." As I drifted off to sleep this morning I had the passing thought that I should take down the Johnson sign outside our house to avoid reprisals overnight. My last conscious thoughts were formulating a plan for helping my children escape their bedrooms should someone through a Molotov cocktail through the garage-door windows on the floor below them. (I decided to throw my kids out their windows onto the roof of the car, which would only be a four-foot drop.) Should we expect more or fewer thought exercises like this one? NO ONE KNOWS RIGHT NOW. It's up to Donald Trump and his supporters.

  • And that might be my final thought: there is no institution that can stand in Trump's way right now. The Democratic Party lost the election, the Republican Party was destroyed by Trump, and the Libertarian Party was unequal to the moment. The only nationwide institutions we have anymore are products of the culture and media and so are illegitimate in the eyes of half the nation. Maybe that will change as we move forward, but right now it's true. As I wrote in my journal this morning:

    For the past week or so, I've been more open to the idea that it could happen, although I still thought it unlikely, but I'm not as shocked by the results as most Americans are. During the day yesterday, and especially in the evening as I watched the returns, I was rooting for him. Why? Well, they're both terrible candidates, but I feel that the public perception of just HOW terrible Donald Trump is will mean that he'll be on a shorter leash, so to speak. I think a President Hillary would have continued doing the things that are ruining the country, while a President Trump will try to do some new ruinous things that Congress and courts will restrain. But who knows? It's not like Trump voters are going to turn against him easily, right? So popular opinion will be against any of these government agents that try to restrain him. When I watched this morning parts of his victory speech from last night, I was struck with how unknown the future is to us. We're relying on the restraint of a man who has shown himself incapable of exercising restraint. Oh, boy.
    Realizing we're at the mercy of Donald Trump's restraint is not a comforting thought.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Why a Border Wall Won't Matter

I was teaching about outsourcing yesterday. A student made the connection between job protectionism and economic rents, which pleased me. I mentioned that the American worker's claim to relatively high wages was disappearing due to underwhelming education and productivity, and the broadening of language skills among overseas workers.

A student said, "Some jobs can't be outsourced, like local service jobs."

I said, "The increase in robotic technology and telecommunications will allow the Mexican plumber to stay in Mexico and come 'steal' your job, anyway." We will eventually live in a world where you submit an online service request, it gets translated into the plumber's native language, a drone delivers a plumbing robot to your home, and a plumber guides the robot while watching the procedure on a video feed.

We celebrate the emergence of a global middle class and bemoan stagnating domestic wages. These are different names for the same thing.

I'm not someone with a cushy job pooping on your parade, I'm just like you: I, too, will soon be rendered unemployable through a combination of technology and foreigners. I just don't think Donald Trump will save me.

Friday, October 28, 2016

New E-Mail Investigation

I don't think it's conspiracy-theorist stuff to say that Barack Obama and his entire administration want Hillary Clinton to win this election. So why would the FBI re-open their investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails 11 days before the election?

  1. They love truth and there's an objective reason to do this.
  2. Barack Obama doesn't love truth but James Comey does and he's off the reservation here.
  3. Barack Obama is lying when he says he wants Hillary Clinton to win.
  4. Barack Obama wants Hillary Clinton to win, but he wants to make her sweat.
  5. They think Hillary has large enough of a lead that they can afford this so she's not starting with impeachment hearings.
  6. Hillary's already rigged the vote. (That's my shout-out to any Trump supporters I might have in my readership.)
  7. Obama loves a constitutional crisis.
  8. Tim Kaine is running the show.
  9. It's a prelude to the Nov. 6th announcement that Hillary is completely innocent so Trump's support collapses immediately before Election Day.
  10. Some other reason.

It's probably #9, but personally I think it's a mix of #3, #7, and #8. But that's the conspiracy theorist in me talking.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Something That Makes Sense But I Hadn't Thought of Before

When I think of my bowels (which is sort of frequently, actually), I imagine their empty state as being hollow tubes that are about the diameter of a piece of poop. It was only today that I realized their empty state is probably collapsed, with the opposite sides touching each other. Otherwise, there's no explanation for farts. Why would your bowels push out some air if they are constantly filled with air?

I'm not sure why it took me this long to figure this out.

NB: Remember, the "math" label is the "science" label.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Southern Hospitality

We live in the South now, which means we can shop at Winn-Dixie, something our kids think is great since they've all read Because of Winn-Dixie. My wife and I don't think it's all that great because Winn-Dixie is expensive. But one thing they have going for them there: they pride themselves on customer service. On our first visit we walked through the doors and a cashier who was 20 feet away and in the middle of checking out a different customer yelled a greeting to us. Later I took an on-line survey where I was specifically asked if an employee greeted me when I walked through the door. It's a welcomed change from DC-area Target stores, where evidently part of the staff's training is to never be tricked into speaking to a customer.

Saturday after cleaning the chapel we wanted to go to a used-book store on that same side of town, but we arrived 20 minutes before it opened, so we went to a nearby Winn-Dixie to buy doughnuts while we waited. When I got to the register the very friendly cashier asked me, "How much are a dozen doughnuts?"

I remembered seeing the half-dozen price, but not the dozen price. ("Why do six people need a dozen doughnuts anyway?" BECAUSE WE ARE GREAT AMERICANS. NOW SHUT YOUR FOOL MOUTH.) I hadn't realized the pricing burden would be on me. I know we're no longer in the 1970s when the cashiers had to memorize 30,000 prices, but the reason they don't have to do that anymore is because of technological advancements like bar code scanners. If the box doesn't have a bar code, next she should refer to her vegetable cheat-sheet that often includes bakery items. If she doesn't have one of those, next she should pick up her phone and call the bakery. It seems like the last place to go is the customer's memory for trivia.

But she just stood there waiting for me to supply the price. I knew the half-dozen was $2.99, so I said, "It might have been $5.99?" But then I realized I was wrong, that the second half-dozen was discounted, so it was much more likely that the dozen price was $4.99. But I couldn't tell her because it would look like I was lying to get a good deal. "Oh, if you're just going to use whatever price I give you then I clearly remember that the doughnuts were two bits for 16 dozen."

So I ended up overpaying at the expensive grocery store. But I don't remember if I was greeted when I walked in the store, and I didn't even get an adorable dog that can heal The Preacher's damaged heart. What a rip-off.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Long Way Around

When I'm driving eastbound on Emerson Street, I pass under I-95 and then continue to the next traffic light. Immediately after this intersection, there's a sign advising me that, if I want to reach I-95, I should...keep going straight.

This is because I'm driving on US-1 Alternate, and that road will eventually intersect with I-95.

This is probably the most misleading road sign I've ever seen. It's even more misleading than the sign on I-15 north of Las Vegas that tells you "exit here to go to Great Basin National Park."

While that sign in Nevada makes it seem Great Basin National Park is NOT actually over four hours away, at least it is honestly the most-direct route to get there. But this sign in Jacksonville is telling you to drive about 10 miles to get to something you can LITERALLY SEE IN YOUR REAR-VIEW MIRROR AS YOU DRIVE PAST THE SIGN.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Three Book of Mormon Thoughts This Weekend

  1. As I was falling asleep Friday night, I was thinking that perhaps our prayers should be focused on outcomes instead of instruments. The outcome might be "providing for my family," and there might be a thousand instruments that would accomplish that (one particular job, a different particular job, rising asset prices, game shows, inheritance, et cetera). Unless we've been inspired to know which instrument to back, we're better off allowing the choice of instrument to be God's. Anyway, to test this theory, I looked to examples from the life of Nephi. There was a time Nephi backed a particular instrument ("give me strength to burst these cords") and instead received the outcome (becoming untied) through a different instrument (the cords fell off). And when it came to obtaining the plates of brass, he didn't back any particular instrument until he was inspired to kill Laban, and even then he refused the instrument at first.

    At this point, I thought, "What was Laman and Lemuel's reaction to Nephi returning from Jerusalem and telling them, 'I just killed a guy'?" He must have appear a psychopath to them. For the rest of their lives, they had to think, "What if he decides to kill us, too?" Once Lehi died, they probably told themselves, "We have to kill Nephi before he kills us first." My point is, I could see the killing of Laban being a major stumbling block to Lehites following Nephi, like how things in (or supposed to be in) Joseph Smith's history are major stumbling blocks to people following him today. And I realized that maybe the Lord intentionally uses people who have complicated histories so there's tension between what your brain tells you and what the inspiration of the Holy Ghost tells you. I mean, Moses had a lot of baggage, from an Israelite perspective, right?

  2. It's convenient sometimes to present the gathering at the Bountiful temple (in 3 Nephi 11) as related to "safety" so then we can go from discussing the physical safety the Nephites received at the temple to the metaphorical safety we receive through regular temple attendance. But I don't think the analogy holds up chronologically. The destruction happens in the first month of the 34th year (3 Nephi 8:5) and the gathering at the temple happens "in the ending of the thirty and fourth year" (3 Nephi 10:18). It is said to be "soon after the ascension of Christ into heaven," which is thought to have happened 40 days after the Resurrection. So at the least we're talking about six weeks after the destruction. It seems clear to me that this wasn't a gathering for physical safety. Sorry, but find a more apt metaphor.
  3. 3 Nephi 10:16 gives more evidence of the identity of Zenos and Zenock that I've never noticed before. Mormon says the Lehites are "a remnant of their seed." It's possible the reason the plates of brass contained the writings of Zenos and Zenock is because they are ancestors of Lehi. While they contained a lot of what we would consider the Old Testament, they also had "a genealogy of [Lehi's] fathers" (1 Nephi 5:14). It seems Mormon is telling us Zenos and Zenock aren't just Israelite prophets, they are ancestors of Lehi.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Silencing Critics By Becoming Unspeakably Terrible

There's a lot to hate about this election, but one thing that especially bothers me is the way that depravity has become a defense against criticism.

In a nation of laws, criminals go to jail. But in a legitimate democracy, election winners don't imprison their opponents. Normally we think of elected officials thinking they are above the law, but now we have candidates thinking they are above the law because it would cheapen our democracy if they were prosecuted for their crimes. The lesson learned is: go all in, so when your critics accurately describe your behavior, they sound like conspiracy theorists.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Narcissism Metrics

I asked my 300 students to alphabetize their exams when they turned them in today. A handful of them alphabetized by their first names.

Has ANYONE alphabetized by first name since leaving kindergarten? Every class period they have to check their names on the attendance list, which is alphabetized by last names. Every time I hand back assignments I call them out in alphabetical order using their last names. In what possible universe does a roomful of adults think they are going to be organized by FIRST names?!?

I think scenarios that give emphasis to our last names are less personal and more automated. Your preacher or your therapist uses your first name, while the DMV calls you by last name (unless the DMV has gone whole dehumanizing and called you by a number instead). How many college students think first name only is sufficient identification? Is that number increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wussification Metrics

What percentage of animal chases in nature programs end with the prey escaping? I suspect that the percentage has increased dramatically during my lifetime, especially when the prey is a juvenile.

What percentage of animal chases in Russian-language nature programs end with the prey escaping? What about Mandarin-language nature programs? And is that percentage increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Is This the Untimely End of Milhouse?

Blogging was a lot easier back when I hated most things. Now the only thing I really hate is me.

I used to get a lot of mileage out of politics and the fools surrounding me. Politics has become ridiculously uninteresting. The next president will probably be either a terrible person who will cause irreparable harm to our republic or...a terrible person who will cause irreparable harm to our republic. And yet something like 80% of Americans takes comfort in the thought, "Well, MY terrible person is a different kind of terrible from that OTHER one." I'm going to be voting for Gary Johnson this election, not because he's wonderful, but because he won't burn the whole thing down. But we're past the point where a blog post is going to cut through the mood affiliation.

Several years ago I stumbled upon one of the truths of life: it's harder to be charitable when you're paying attention. And since I need to have charity, I've starting trying to not pay attention. This dramatically reduces the opportunities for "listen to what this jackass did at the grocery store today!" posts.

It's not that the world isn't a terrible place, but that I've come to see more clearly that the biggest problem with the world is me. At least, it's the only one I can hope to address in any meaningful way. But that doesn't make for good blog reading. "Hey, here's another short-coming I've been making zero progress on for almost 40 years." Posts like that would take my double-digit readership down into the single digits with a quickness.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"A Chilling Preview of Things to Come"

So this just happened.

I'm sitting at my desk when I notice papers coming under my office door, then I hear running. I get up to see the papers. One reads, "What is Aleppo? - Johnson." The other reads, "Who's your favorite foreign leader? - Chris Matthews #6%Club."

I take these notes as opposition to my support of Gary Johnson, as I believe that's what they are intended to be. My Twitter is public and I have tweeted a number of things supporting Gary Johnson, but I've said nothing political in class (with one exception I'll detail in a footnote*). So I have students who have spent at least some time researching my political opinions and then put more time into harassing me about them. It's sort of funny, but more-than-a-little disturbing.

I had some trepidation about returning to work in American academia, and it was all based on the intolerant climate that prevails here. As I said to a friend, "I'm a cis-gendered, heterosexual, classical-liberal, married, Christian male with a stay-at-home wife and four children whom we homeschool; my entire life could be taken as a micro-aggression." I thought if I kept quiet about these things in a professional setting, I could get by unscathed. But I didn't account for the intolerance of Groupthink. Remember when Homer Simpson gets the crayon removed from his brain and then tries to sit through the movie Love Is Nice? Patty says, "Wait a minute. Somebody's not laughing here." It's not enough to allow people their opinions, I have to full-throatedly support them. You'll probably say I'm over-reacting, but this seems like the first (admittedly tiny) step towards what will eventually be struggle sessions.

I knew the Great Social Reset would be messy, but I had hoped to avoid the mess by not being associated with the social agenda that's about to be violently rejected. I see now that my hesitance to support the violence will make me a target of the violence, as well.

* = Here's the exception: when discussing the gravity model of trade, I said, "If we could somehow move China to occupy Mexico's physical location in the world, what should we expect to happen?" I laughed to myself and said, "Well, besides Donald Trump having a heart attack." I then added, "That's not meant to signify support or opposition for Trump, and I'd like to think that, if Donald Trump were here, he'd laugh along with us."

NB: I've probably used that quote from Kent Brockman as a blog post title before.

Five Unrelated Things

We evacuated over the weekend and returned Sunday because the utility company's website said our power was restored. It actually was restored a few hours ago today (Wednesday).

In the Mumford & Sons song "Sigh No More," the lyrics begin, "Sigh no more no more." But doesn't that mean "start sighing"?

Also from Mumford & Sons, another entry in the list of songs with lyrics that are really saying the opposite of the explicit meaning of the words. "But there will come a time you'll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears" is saying that right now you're crying a lot and love is breaking your heart.

There are two ways to get to my office, which is on the third floor. The main stairwell has 15 stairs to a landing, 11 stairs to the second floor, nine stairs to a landing, and 15 stairs to the third floor. The back stairwell has 16 stairs to a landing, 10 stairs to the second floor, seven stairs to a landing, nine stairs to a landing, and eight stairs to the third floor. What kind of jackass architects did they have designing this place?! Why is the first floor 26 stairs tall and the second floor is only 24 stairs tall? Why not 25 each? And why can't the landing be halfway up the flight, like everywhere else in the world? And the second flight on the back stairs could EASILY be divided into three segments of equal length, but instead they made a lot of extra work for themselves to make sure they were all different. I hate it.

In the movie Two Weeks Notice Lucy Kelson's friend Meryl yells at her husband Tom, "Everything is not about you!" But what she really means to say is, "Not everything is about you!" They have very distinct meanings. (Now that I've written this, I'm pretty sure I've written it once before on my blog. As you can tell, this bothers me a lot.)

Friday, October 07, 2016

Notes on the Music of Taylor Swift: Hurricane Evacuation Edition

Part of our soundtrack for our evacuation from Hurricane Matthew was Taylor Swift's album Speak Now. My daughter reminded me that when I first heard "Mine" I tried to convince her that the lyrics said "a hairless man's hairful daughter" and that the song was a rejected entry to the Brave film soundtrack.

But my most-important observation: if Taylor's telling the truth when she sings "there's nothing I do better than revenge," why do so many people screw with Taylor Swift? I think Taylor needs to accept the fact that she is actually quite terrible at revenge.

Case in point: Kanye West. Kanye humiliated Taylor at the VMAs and her "revenge" was so devastating that he...made a video with him writhing naked in bed with a computer-generated Taylor Swift. When it comes to taking revenge, Taylor should think about using fewer moody ballads and using more knives. The saying is "snitches get stitches," not "snitches get heart-breaking melodies."

Speaking of Kanye, whenever I have to pause a Taylor Swift CD, I say, "Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you, and I'mma let you finish in a minute, but who's interested in stopping at Taco Bell [or whatever would be appropriate to the moment, but it's usually stopping at Taco Bell]?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Notes on the Music of Taylor Swift

If you ever drive from Los Angeles, California, to Jacksonville, Florida, via Dayton, Ohio, with a 14-year-old girl, be prepared to become quite familiar with the oeuvre of Taylor Swift. (I write as one with experience.) Here are some notes I've developed on Taylor's art.

  • In "Mean," it is easy to mishear the lyrics as "Someday I'll be living in a bagel city." And I guess her song "Welcome to New York" makes me wonder if that is indeed a mishearing.
  • Taylor seems like more of a gangster if you mishear the lyrics to "I Knew You Were Trouble" as "And now you're lying on the cold hard ground." She's not an emotional wreck: she's a cold-blooded killer!
  • You want gangster Taylor Swift? How about mishearing the line "wish I never hung up the phone like I did" from "I Wish You Would" as "wish I never held up a gun like I did"? Thug life, nephew!
  • It seems impossible to me that Taylor didn't follow the lines "I don't know about you / but I'm feeling 22 / ... / You don't know about me" with "but you're feeling 23." How, Taylor?! HOW?!?!?!
  • In "Blank Space" the line "don't say I didn't say I didn't warn ya" makes my head hurt. What am I not supposed to say she didn't do now? (Luckily Taylor's website gives the lyric with a comma after the first "didn't". I checked.)
  • We developed alternate titles for the first several songs on 1989. "Welcome to New York" can also be called "Promotional Consideration Paid by the New York Bureau of Tourism." "Blank Space" can also be called "I'm Crazy; Let's Date!" "Style" can also be called "Fashion-Conscious Woman Seeks Boyfriend." "Out of the Woods" can also be called "From the Little Red Riding Hood Soundtrack." "All You Had to Do Was Stay" can also be called "Dog Obedience School Drop-Out." "Shake It Off" can also be called "Accurate Self Assessment." "I Wish You Would" can also be called "Actually, It's Not All Good, Not At All; I'm Not Sure Why I Just Said It Was." "Bad Blood" can also be called "I Know Every Living Celebrity Under the Age of 30!" "Wildest Dreams" can also be called "I'm Riding a LION, People!" Then we ran out of steam.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Songs That Mention Songs

I'm intrigued by songs that mention songs, because I think they are doing it as a short-hand way of building on the meaning of the original song. Like how a book's epigram informs the way the author intends you to look at the story you're about to read. I mentioned to my wife once, "If I was getting a doctorate in music theory, I'd write about songs that mention songs, comparing the original to the referencing." My wife said, "I don't think you know what music theory is about."

Anyway, here's a small list that comes to me right now.

  • "Roy Orbison singing for the lonely / hey, that's me and I want you only" sung in Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."
  • "Elvis singing 'don't be cruel' and I wonder / if you feel it too, it's like we're going under" sung in The Killers' "The Way It Was."
  • The title of The Killers' "Deadlines and Commitments" is a line from the Bob Seger song "Against the Wind."

There are a lot more I've noticed lately, but I didn't write them down and I'm in a hurry now. Maybe I'll keep track of this in future blog posts, like how I have recurring posts about words with alternate pronunciations when they are different parts of speech ("I'll permit you to drive with your learner's permit because your dominate hand will dominate.").

Found Notes

My daughter found some notes I made in church several years ago. There are three of them.

  1. The Bible records the Hebrew names (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) and Babylonian names (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego) for four people. So why do we use one Hebrew name and three Babylonian names to talk about them? That inconsistency bothers me.
  2. "Not run faster than [we] have strength" is too often taken to mean "run as fast as you want." It should mean "get strength."
  3. After hearing a very incredible--in the true sense of the word--story, I wrote, "That story sounds about negative ten percent believable. We need a Mormon Snopes." Then I listed possible website names: mormonsnopes.com, faithpromotingrumors.com, theworkandthestory.com, marvelousworkandablunder.com, or correlationmeeting.com. (Crazy Jane noted that Marvelous Work and a Blunder was her favorite.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

What Katy DIDN'T Do Was Make Her Books Easy to Get

Last summer I read this article about Jacqueline Wilson's new book Katy, an updated version of Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did with some significant changes. I thought reading both books and analyzing their differences and similarities would make a good school project for Crazy Jane, who was going into eighth grade. However, we were living in China, where books were more difficult and expensive for us to get. When it turned out we couldn't get an e-book of the Wilson volume (with this being 1986 and all, it's to be understood), we postponed the project to this year. While the material is below her grade level, I think the project will be a good fit, and perhaps it's best to learn more-difficult analysis with easier material.

To get things moving, we went to the library to check out the Coolidge book. But the library didn't have it, so we had to request it from elsewhere in the system. While we waited for it, my wife ordered the Wilson book online.

When the Wilson book arrived in the mail, it turned out to be a free sample of the first 50 pages, sold to us as the entire book. She wrote to the bookseller and they are supposedly mailing us a copy of the entire book now. Maybe someday in the next five years, we'll have copies of both books in the house and the comparative literature class can commence!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Insane Roommates

Remember when you had roommates? At least one was completely insane, right? Like, "lacking all ability of self-reflection" insane. This is what China is in the modern geopolitical landscape.

China does things like, oh, kidnap non-citizens abroad, and is bewildered that anyone could have a problem with it. Then when a Taiwanese pop star waives a Taiwanese flag, China craps itself in a fit of "hurt feelings."

I had high hopes for the continued maturation of China, but the current leadership has taken several great leaps backward. They are betting that the mythical Chinese middle class is such an orgasmic dream that everyone around the world will agree with anything necessary to access it. But western firms are increasingly realizing that doing business in China has enormous costs and paltry rewards. Chinese economic glasnost is ending because China has shown the world they are crazier than a crap-house rat, and who needs an insane roommate?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Like I'm Going to Ride to the Grocery Store on My $3,400 Bike!

I wanted a new bike, so I helped things along by giving my old bike to my son. My wife was a little miffed because I had given him an expensive bike. But like Gob Bluth with his suit, every time she mentioned the cost of the bike, it went up another fifty dollars. "I'm not sure why you gave him a $400 bike," became, "You should just take back your $450 bike," became, "He's just a kid; he doesn't need a $500 bike." Finally, when I was on a bike website looking at a $750 bike, my wife said, "That's what your old one cost."

Saturday when I was cleaning out a filing cabinet, I found the original receipt for my old bike: $330.

In my wife's defense, we were so poor that a $330 bike was an ENORMOUS purchase for us that required calling in early a bunch of Christmas and birthday money from our extended family.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Old Boys' Club

We've recently moved into a new ward. It seems we're the first new people in this ward in about 35 years.

If we checked the records we might see that's an exaggeration, but based on the way people behave in our ward, it's not much of one. They seem unable to realize that some people in the ward don't already have all the institutional knowledge available.

Our ward has a "linger longer" dinner periodically, but for some reason they call it "dinner on the grounds." Now, when you hear the words "dinner on the grounds," does it not imply that you will be eating outside, on the grounds, if not actually outside on the ground? Nope, this dinner is in the gym, just like any other Mormon ward dinner.

My wife reports that someone asked in Relief Society if they could use a more-apt name. This sister said, "I visit teach someone who isn't going to come because she thinks it's outside on the ground." Oh, how the ladies laughed at that! And then they kept right on calling it "dinner on the grounds."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Get the Memo

A few years ago, I applied to work at a place. They acknowledged my application and didn't select me to continue with the process. I e-mailed to ask why (in a polite, respectful "I'm trying to improve myself" way, not an "are you people insane or just idiotic?" way), and I got a response, and I sent a thank-you e-mail. Then a few months later they called me up to ask if I was still interested in the job. I went through the entire hiring process with them and ended up their Number Two choice. And now this week my wife saw online that they are hiring again.

One way of viewing this: I should totally apply, because if I was Number Two last time, there's a great chance I'll be Number One this time.

However.

However, applying again would be like calling up an ex-girlfriend because you heard she'd broken up with her boyfriend, thus requiring her to say, "If I'd broken up with him because I wanted to be with YOU, I knew how to call you. But I didn't call you, did I?" I don't want to apply and get that acknowledgement-of-application-while-not-selecting-for-continuation e-mail. A reader might think, "You should have more confidence." But I know my life and I know what to expect: increasingly-embarrassing mortifications. There's a reason I came up with Fundamental Truth of Life #8; it's been my experience through many, many occasions.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

R.E.M. Promised Me the End of the World As I Know It

When I was a kid, I was afraid of the end of the world. But now I realize this world sucks and I'm sort of looking forward to it being over. I'm not alone in this: Sweet Meteor of Death has a campaign website and has some good polling numbers.

Actually, part of why I'm not having a good day today was the realization that I had yesterday that we aren't as close to Ragnarök as I've been telling myself we are. But I hope I'm wrong in this fear. Here's hoping it's all wrapped up this Rosh Hashanah.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Economics of Emigration

People do a lot of research on the economics of immigration (i.e.: what made immigrants leave their homelands and the effect they have on their new countries), but I'm not sure I've seen much of anything on the result in the homeland of the emigration. I would expect that it's reinforcing of the initial decision.

Let's say Country A is of comparatively "low quality" in some way that makes citizens of Country A want to leave for Country B. But not all citizens feel this attraction equally. Those most likely to get "emigration fever" would be those who would expect to see the biggest gain from the change of regime. If Country A's institutional framework hold back productive citizens, it's productive citizens who want to leave. Country A loses its most-valuable resources, continuing their poor economic performance.

I thought of this while driving through the South. With the large-scale migration of rural southern blacks to industrialized northern cities in the early 1900s, those most eager to go would have been the productive and capable who were being held back most by the South's broken institutions. The southern economy suffers, producing a bigger difference with the North and thus attracting even more high-quality workers. (This works for all races, I think: the inefficient economy of the Jim Crow South would give high-productivity whites incentive to leave, as well.)

What you're left with are low-quality workers who won't see a boost to their earnings if they left, and high-racism workers who are willing to take lower wages to continue living in their Apartheid dreamworld. That doesn't sound like a pleasant place to live.

The lesson to learn is this: when high-quality workers start leaving an area, stampede for the door.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Saying the Opposite

I'm intrigued by songs where the impression I get upon listening is exactly the opposite of the meaning of the lyrics. For instance, in the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," the line "from now on our troubles will be miles away" leaves me with the feeling that the narrator has a ton of troubles. In the Weezer song "Island in the Sun," the line "we'll never feel bad anymore" leaves me with the feeling that the narrator feels terrible.

Recently I've been hearing the Bastille song "Pompeii" (I know it's not new, but I was living abroad for two years, so cut me some slack) and it seems to me that it's another song like this. The line "if you close your eyes does it almost feel like nothing changed at all?" leaves me with the feeling that everything has changed for the narrator.

Bonus intrigue from Bastille: contemplate the line "where do we begin: the rubble or our sins?".

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Blood Sport Merit Badge Is A Required Merit Badge

I have an Eagle Scout belt buckle that I wear every day (except Sundays because I'm new in my ward and don't want to do anything that might result in a Scout calling). I walked into class yesterday and a student asked, "Are you an Eagle Scout, professor?"

I said, "Yes. Or else I killed one and took his belt buckle. Why the dichotomy? Both are true. That's actually how you become an Eagle Scout: the last requirement is to kill an existing Eagle Scout. Ask any Eagle; he'll back me up on this."

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Bahamian Dollar

Tuesday in class I sold 12-ounce bottles of Coca-Cola to teach students how to derive a demand curve make money. I spent $3.33 on an eight-pack and I made $6.25 from selling six of them (I drank the other two).

I didn't quite make back my costs (which included a bag of ice and a sketchy Styrofoam cooler). Part of that was because I drank 25% of my inventory, and part of it was because I limited the segment of the class that could participate in my first lecture so we didn't get bogged down counting students for 10 minutes (but in my second large lecture I found a way to open it to everyone while keeping things snappy, and as a result I achieved my highest price of the day: $1.75).

In my final class of the day, one of my students potential customers asked, "Will you accept Bahamian dollars?"

A RANDOM STRANGER: I'd have to look up the exchange rate.

STUDENT: It's one-to-one.

ARS: Then I'd need to reflect on the likelihood that I'll be going to the Bahamas soon.

S: Oh, you should go. It's great.

ARS: Oh, I'd like to go, but the problem is I have four kids and then they'd want to go.

S: You should take them. They'd love it.

ARS: I'm sure they would, but I'd want to go to the Bahamas with just my wife, not with my kids.

DIFFERENT STUDENT: Oh, you're one of those guys?

ARS: Of course I'm one of those guys. How do you think I got four kids?

(Everyone laughed, which, I think I've mentioned before, is my measure of whether I've done my job. Last week I said to my wife, "My top goal in class is to have everyone think I'm funny. Then, if there's time, I hope they learn some economics." That weekend we met two of my students. My wife brought to my attention that both of them told me, "You're funny!")

I told the student I would take Bahamian money if he would take change in Chinese or Canadian money, which I still had in my bag from the summer. He agreed. When I took his dollar I looked at the labeled picture of Sir Lynden O. Pindling on it and asked, "Who's he?" Another student said, "Oh, he's a good guy." I laughed and said in another voice, "My dad and him used to golf together." More laughter. I was an excellent teacher on Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On Cancelled Presidential Elections

In 2012 I wrote this about a potential delay of a presidential election. And in February of this year I wrote this about how such a scenario could play out this time around. Now here's an article from U.S. News & World Report about the idea.

I see the coming Obamacare death spiral as related to this topic (please forgive me for linking to Vox; I only did it because I read about it on Greg Mankiw's blog (the one entitled Greg Mankiw's Blog) and he linked to Vox). A guy who ignored everything else but healthcare and who takes pride in the eponymous nature of public discourse on the project--such a guy will not quietly step aside when faced with "repeal and replace."

The biggest issue, to me, is the fact that we have a system in place that allows for a president to be elected without a popular plebiscite on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, but I suspect most Americans (and all American media) will ignore that.

Think Florida 2000 writ large.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Requiem for the All-Married Man's Club

Earlier this week I tweeted "Fiona is a 'disorganized tropical depression.' Now that I live in Florida, I'm all three of those things, too!"

I want to talk openly about depression, but I feel I can't do that. Some of that constraint is external and some of it is internal.

Externally, I get the feeling that most people with whom I associate still think of depression as a fancy name for being weak-willed or lazy or soft or neurotic. When I'm in one of my cyclical troughs and I show up at, say, a family gathering, I get attitude for harshing the celebratory buzz. Or if it's church, I get the "you probably need to repent or something" vibe.

Internally, I still carry the lessons of my formative years: that I'm seeking attention, or holding a pity party, or underhandedly seeking for compliments, or any number of ways to let me know that what is happening is wrong and needs to be hidden.

I had a "Personal Board of Directors" e-mail thing going on for about eight months, but it got to the point where the only new update I had was that I was still a failure, and my friends don't need that in their lives, right? I'm not much of a friend if I make them read that.

I have a theory: life is a constant process of relying on something other than God and having God show you that that thing is unreliable. This continues until you learn that you should rely solely on God, or until death (whichever comes first). Some people rely on terrible things: drugs, pornography. Some people rely on okay things: hobbies, work, sports teams. Some people rely on good things: family, friends. But when we ask them to fill the role that only God should fill, even the good things are false gods and we need to be shown that they are ultimately unreliable.

On the sidebar of my blog is one of my favorite quotes. It's from The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. Since Blogger doesn't allow for HTML in a sidebar text box, it might not be clear what's going on.It's a conversation between Ethan and Joey. Joey speaks first.

"Story of my life. When the cards are down--no place to go. Nobody to talk to."

"You should get married."

"That's nobody to talk to in spades."

"Maybe you're right."

"Damn right I am. There's nobody as lonely as an all-married man."

I use the tag "All-Married Man's Club" for posts about these feelings. I had a vague idea once of sort of a group Personal Board of Directors called The All-Married Man's Club. It never really came about, I guess because everybody else in my circle of acquaintances doesn't have this problem: they all have relationships with God they way they're supposed to. It's only me who's crapping the bed of life.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hyper-Detailed Memorial Highway Signs

What's the deal with naming every single feature of every single highway after a fallen soldier or first responder? That's frustrating enough as it is, but given that we are going to do this, can we at least not use 30 words to do it?

First, why this is frustrating: in a post-God world, people insist on recognition by all of humanity to replace the recognition we used to believe we would receive from God. I've named this "anthrotheism" and I've written before about this here. Once I worked in an office where a co-worker's father died. The rest of us signed a condolence card. One of the men in my office wrote something about how "you'll have your memories" as the thing that lessens Death's blow. It came to me then just how bleak the atheistic view is. Really? A unique existence just ended and the ONLY saving grace is that some of us remember it? What happens when the remembering ones have died? Thus is born the drive to achieve celebrity. And so when a loved one dies in the line of duty, we want a highway sign so thousands of people every day will read his name.

Second, why we're doing it wrong: highway signs are supposed to convey needed information. There is a cost associated with each sign as it distracts the driver who must read it. There are some bits of information that would be nice to have but which aren't important enough to merit the added distraction they would cause. Many memorial highway signs, however, include the person's full name, his rank, and his unit. So instead of a sign marking the, say, Davis Memorial Bridge, there's a sign marking the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Sgt. Adam Francis Davis Memorial Bridge. It takes longer for the driver to process the information, which makes the highway less safe.

The first issue leads to the second. If I'm Sgt. Davis's family, and I need all humanity to think of my son because that's the only way he continues to exist, then Davis Memorial Bridge doesn't cut it. There are lots of Davises in the world. It's the seventh-most common surname in the United States. A sign that makes you think of a generic "Davis" doesn't keep my son's memory alive in a post-God world. So I need the sign to be as specific as possible. If there was a way of including his picture, I'd want the sign to do that (and I bet somewhere in America, such a thing exists).

The end of every life is a tragedy. But what we've forgotten is that death is not the end of life, nor is the gradual assumption of anonymity of past generations. God remembers our dead, so we don't need to make everyone on the highway do it for us.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Circular Abbreviations

My school has posters up advertising "WOW," which stands for "Week of Welcome." However, I really want it to stand for "Week of WOW." It could be like how WACO started off meaning Weaver Aircraft Company of Ohio but eventually came to mean Waco Aircraft Company. It's the first thing I'll bring up after I get tenure (which will be a major coup, since I'm not in a tenure-track position, or even permanent faculty, but--hey--Nietzsche got his doctorate without having to complete a defense, so maybe they'll just come to me and throw tenure in my lap).

Friday, August 19, 2016

Who Were the Zoramites?

This morning I was reading Alma 48. I was intrigued when I read this:

And thus he [Amalickiah] did appoint chief captains of the Zoramites, they being the most acquainted with the strength of the Nephites, and their places of resort, and the weakest parts of their cities; therefore he appointed them to be chief captains over his armies. (Alma 48:5)
Why would the Zoramites be most familiar with these things? Well, maybe because they were the most-recent dissenters from the Nephites, but maybe there's more.

The Zoramites came from Antionum "which was south of the land of Jershon, which also bordered upon the wilderness south, which wilderness was full of the Lamanites" (Alma 31:3). And the land of Jershon itself was "south of the land of Bountiful" (Alma 27:22), and "between the land Jershon and the land Nephi" (Alma 27:23) was stationed...the Nephite army.

Is it possible that the Zoramites were members of the army?

When I thought of this, I realized it answers one of the nagging questions I've always had, which is: was Captain Moroni really such a great military leader? I mean, Mormon's got a Level-5 man-crush on the guy, obviously (named his son after him and all, and the whole "if all men had been and were and ever would be" bit), and Mormon's a battle-hardened general himself, but in the past when I read the war chapters of Alma, I went away thinking Captain Moroni was more George B. McClellan than Ulysses S. Grant. All the previous Nephite generals met the Lamanite armies and won. Only Moroni manages to turn the thing into an existential crisis with three fronts (the east where he is in command, the west under Helaman, and the resistance led by Nephihah [NB: Actually Pahoran. Sorry. -ARS] against the Fifth Column in Zarahemla) that requires child warriors to succeed. But if Moroni is fighting against mutinous military leaders, it really is a marvelous victory he manages.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Let Them Eat HOV Lanes

Others have probably mentioned this already somewhere, but I don't remember seeing it: the current round of toll-road construction in the United States is a form of regressive taxation and thus contributes to economic inequality. With the amount of this type of construction and with the current emphasis in some circles on economic inequality, I'm surprised that I'm not seeing this point being made.

States give money for construction, or at least preferential treatment to the private firms that will operate the roads. (Granting of state favors is the bestowal of state resources just the same as cash handouts.) Then the roads are inordinately accessed by upper-income users. This is ensured in the variable-pricing set-ups most of these new toll roads use: when the road is most desirable, that's when it's accessible to the smallest group of well-off users.

Maybe the revenue from the roads goes into the general fund and helps the disadvantaged (I seriously doubt it, but it's possible). If so, isn't this just about the most round-about way of taxing rich people ever devised?

A second tax is from the construction delays. The poor are inconvenienced by the construction process and then don't get the benefit. "They get a less-congested road when the rich pay the tolls." I don't think so. When the regular road is uncongested, no one pays the toll and things are as they were. When the regular road is congested, if enough users are moving to the toll lanes to relieve the congestion, that's an indication that the variable toll is too low. The toll should be set such that the regular road stays congested enough to make it worth your while to pay the toll. So these won't relieve congestion, they will just make it chronic.

I'm not sure how I feel about the focus on economic inequality. I suspect that most of the discussion points (and nearly all of the recommended remedies) are bogus. But for people who live and breathe this stuff to not talk about it seems fishy. If I had to guess why we don't see it, I'd say because the professional hand-wringers are the ones benefiting from the transfer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Worth the Wait

If a guy named Sal wanted a website for his sausage store, he could get www.salsausage.com, unless someone else had already started a website documenting salsa usage.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Doldrums

I live in Florida now. That's just one of the many things that has happened in my life while I've been very busy and very depressed. I was even thinking of stopping my blog, because it's only my arrogance that makes me assume people care what crack-pot opinions I have. But I think I'm going to keep this going, at least for now. Just not yet, because I'm still busy and depressed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Fantastic Idea

A humb drive (a human thumb drive): a midget with a photographic memory.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Set for the Next Month

This morning I had a temporary window of VPN connectivity, so I scheduled flashback blog posts for the rest of my time in China (while listening to Ed Sheeran--I love the line "I'll never try to win you over like a step-father").

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Everything's Dead Now

A few months ago, my VPN stopped working at work. But my work had a VPN service we could use. I had avoided it, because it didn't seem legitimate for one branch of the state to provide the tool to circumvent another branch of the state, but once there was nothing else I could do, I started using it.

Last month, my VPN stopped working at home. So anything I needed to do online (aside from family history work--a shout-out to Ancestry.com for working better without a VPN than with one) I had to do at work.

Last week, my work decided to switch VPN services. Gaining access to the new VPN requires applying to HR (why not IT, I wonder). I decided to not do it.

There have been some improvements in using my VPN at home, though (which is how I'm writing this), but I no longer have reliable Internet connectivity to anything that matters.

I return to America in 30 days.

I have a plan to run "best of" blog posts for that time, but since I'm not really comfortable identifying anything on this blog as "best" (let's be honest: it's all crap), I am going to do more of a "on this date" type of thing. Then I'm not making any claims to superiority, just to passing time.

In related news, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said this week that American businesses are beginning to wonder if they are welcome in China. He's just being polite: it's painfully obvious to everyone that Americans are no longer welcome here.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Chinese Elevators

Our apartment building seems to pre-date elevators (I'd estimate construction as somewhere in the mid-1980s), or at least come from an era when elevators were incredibly scarce. Many buildings in our neighborhood bear evidence of this, as well. Here's how you can tell: add-on external hallways on alternating floors.

Chinese apartment buildings don't have internal hallways. Instead, a small collection of apartments on each floor will have doors opening onto a stairwell, and a building might have four or five of these stairwells. An important part of your address is not just your building number, but which door of the building you use. Neighbors with a common wall often have to go to the ground and exit the building to visit each other.

Back when elevators were rare, instead of building an elevator for each door, construction plans would feature one set of elevators at the end of the building, with stuck-on hallways protruding from the building to allow residents to transit from stairwell to stairwell. And to limit the costs of these external hallways, they only appear on alternating floors. So our elevators go to odd-numbered floors and you then use the stairs to access the other floors.

Our elevators don't share an operating program, and this gives rise to the bane of our building: people on the 13th floor who call both elevators because they're not sure which one will show up first. We live on the fifth floor, and we often watch both elevators go past us to 13, only to come back down with one person in one of them. This would be so easy to fix with just a computer program that could coordinate elevators, like most other buildings have. Just because the hardware is from the 80s doesn't mean the software needs to be, too.

Another inefficiency of our elevators comes from the Chinese nationals who won't ride the elevator with Westerners. If we get in one, they often turn and wait for the other one, or if they get in one and see us coming, they make no effort to hold the door. This blog post about the mathematics of elevator coordination doesn't mention if the algorithm accounts for xenophobia or not. Hey, you have to protect your credit score, right?

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Family That Shaves Together...Is Weird

Last November I grew this sweet moustache.

Behold its glory!

Of course, everyone in my family hated it, like they hate it every time I grow a moustache. So on November 30th, I came home from work and let them each have a turn shaving 1/5 of it.

The joke's on them: thanks for the free shave, suckers!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hot Moms of Children's Literature - New Champion!

I've written before about the hottest moms in children's literature. Until today, the winner was the mom from Blueberries for Sal. But that was before I read Go, Little Green Truck! by Roni Schotter.

Hotchy motchy!

Never let anyone tell you that you shouldn't read to your kids.

PS: My Kindle's screenshot function involves the volume button, which is why this screenshot includes a view of my volume setting.