Monday, February 29, 2016

I'm Sick, and Tired, and Sick and Tired

Articulate Joe was sick Thursday night. My wife was sick overnight on Thursday. Squidgems was sick on Friday night. Crazy Jane felt a little run-down on Sunday. And then I noticed Monday afternoon that I had achy muscles, like I was getting the flu. I came home from work and went to bed at 4 PM. I slept until 7 AM, taking three hours off for being sick in the bathroom. So now I'm back at work on Tuesday, not terribly sick anymore like I was last night, but also not feeling like doing anything.

And that includes blogging. So suck it, fools.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Another Reading Update

Two months gone and here's how things stand now.

WODEHOUSE BOOKS

  1. The Pothunters FINISHED Jan. 29
  2. A Prefect's Uncle FINISHED Feb. 13
  3. The Gold Bat FINISHED Feb. 13
  4. The Head of Kay's FINISHED Feb. 29
  5. Mike at Wrykyn
  6. Mike and Psmith
  7. Psmith in the City
  8. Psmith, Journalist
  9. Leave It to Psmith
  10. Uneasy Money
  11. Piccadilly Jim
  12. Jill the Reckless

VICTORIAN NOVELS

  1. Jane Eyre
  2. The Moonstone
  3. Vanity Fair
  4. Wuthering Heights - 15%
  5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles FINISHED Feb. 13
  6. Bleak House

KIDS BOOKS

  1. Man of the Family - 15%
  2. The Home Ranch
  3. Mary Emma & Company
  4. Grk and the Phoney Macaroni
  5. The Magical Fruit
  6. The Moomins and the Great Flood

MAISIE DOBBS NOVELS

  1. Among the Mad FINISHED Feb. 23
  2. The Mapping of Love and Death
  3. A Lesson in Secrets

JAMES BOND NOVELS

  1. Moonraker
  2. Diamonds Are Forever
  3. From Russia, With Love

NON-FICTION

  1. The Theory of Moral Sentiments - 32%
  2. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
  3. America-Lite
  4. Crossing
  5. The Servile State
  6. In Search of Zarathustra FINISHED Feb. 3
  7. Heaven on Earth
  8. Not a Suicide Pact
  9. The Tyrannicide Brief
  10. Coming Apart
  11. Scarcity
  12. The Collapse of Complex Societies

CHURCH BOOKS

  1. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow FINISHED Feb. 21
  2. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith - 10%
  3. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant
  4. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith
  5. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay
  6. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith

OFF THE PLAN

  1. Ruby Redfort: Pick Your Poison FINISHED Jan. 31
  2. Book of Mormon - 18%
  3. A Wrinkle in Time - 37%

Friday, February 26, 2016

Helping the Poor By Helping Them Work

Many of us think of our duty to the poor (when we think of it at all) as being charitable donations. We will use our resources to maximize our income, and then out of that income, we will share the excess.

However, we know that living on the dole undermines a person's self-esteem. If our behavior is effectively saying, "You can't be trusted with the means of production because you suck at producing, so you just sit over there and wait until I do all the producing necessary," we keep the poor alive but in a demeaned state.

When we impart of our substance to help the poor, it should be with an eye to helping the poor work, not just donations after maximizing profit. What would this look like? Well, it could mean less-efficient production because the poor have been included in the process. The end result might be the same, efficiency-wise, as ultra-efficient production with charitable donations afterwards, but the self-estimation of the poor will be increased.

Think about how we sometimes do jobs around the house in slow, inefficient ways because our kids want to help. Why do we do it? Because we care about them as people, not just as obligations.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Trumpmania As the Great Social Reset

Remember two years ago when I predicted the eventual backlash to the social revolution gone too far? This Great Social Reset will be illiberal, and as such I find it undesirable. But I find the conditions that have led to it abhorrent.

Remember the lesson of the Book of Mormon: a society embarking upon its death throes will feature two sides equally committed to violent opposition, neither of which is God's side.

Reese-Eees Piece-Eees?

Like a correct person, I have always pronounced the name "Reese's" as "REE-says." Everyone I knew did this. I never had cause to doubt it.

Then one day, about five years ago, we were driving through Romney, West Virginia, and we stopped at a Dairy Queen. I ordered a Reese's Blizzard and the woman had a hard time understanding me. Then she said, "Oh, REE-SEES."

I chalked it up to the eccentricities of West Virginians. But later we moved to western Ohio and many non-idiot people we met there also said the name as "REE-SEES."

Here's the deal, though: this isn't just a matter of "tomato/tomahto." Because we know how to pronounce the word "pieces". So even if we don't know if H.B. Reese pronounced his name as "REES" or as "REES-EEE," we can be sure that no company on Earth would develop a candy intended to be called "REE-SEES Pieces."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Trump As Sulla

American politics has gone insane. This is equal parts awesome and deplorable. Awesome in that we're seeing things we've never seen before. Deplorable in that we're seeing things we never hoped to see.

Donald Trump is the leading candidate for the Republican nomination. Now, there are reasons to like Trump and reasons to dislike him; I lean more towards dislike, personally. However, two common responses to Trump frustrate me to no end. One is the response that relies on conventional wisdom to justify hatred. This is when people think "Donald Trump" is all the explanation necessary for their opposition. This is not unique to Trump haters; George W. Bush and Barack Obama both have their detractors who can't articulate anything beyond saying their names in the most condescending way possible.

The second response to Trump is the equally-empty declaration that he's "dangerous" and the endless comparisons to Hitler. What single, concrete proposal of Trump's is anything like an action of Hitler's? The comparison relies on rhetorical affinity, that Trump promises to "make America great again" and that, when Hitler promised something similar to Germany, the result was the Holocaust.

That's a giant, disingenuous leap in reasoning. Is every promise of renewal a commitment to genocide? No. Some are just, well, promises of renewal. This extreme rhetoric gets people worked up beyond reason.

So I while I dislike Trump, I dislike his detractors more. When I became aware of a campaign to ostracize Trump supporters on Facebook, I became a Trump supporter on Facebook (and I lost at least three idiot friends by doing so).

What are the elements of Trump's proposals that I dislike? Well, I think his approach to things like immigration are decidedly lacking in empathy or charity. But I get it; it's hard to recommend a charitable response to the unconscionable annihilists in our midst. The worst are full of passionate intensity, and as a result, the love of many has waxed cold. Trump is the candidate for everyone who's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore.

I'm worried when I read things like Barack Obama's statement, "Mr. Trump will not be president." Is this a prediction or a promise? What if it looks like Trump will win the election? Does Obama take steps to stop this from happening?

I don't think Trump is Hitler, but I can see parallels to Sulla. Sulla was also a dude who was mad as hell, who hated what the rulers before him had done to Rome and who vowed to "make Rome great again." (Did Sulla had a weird 50-cent trucker's hat with the slogan on it? It's hard to tell because organic matter like cotton hats is difficult to preserve for 2,000 years.)

I'm not convinced a Donald Trump presidency would be nothing to worry about. But I'm also not convinced it would be an unmitigated disaster. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Perhaps we'll get a chance to see just where.

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Read It Here First

I have a crazy prediction that probably won't come true, but I want to record it here in case it does, so you can all say, "WHAAAAAA?!?!?!" and bow to my awesome powers of prognostication.

Maybe Donald Trump in the Republican nominee, but I think this still works if he isn't. You'll end up with a Republican that nobody likes leading in the polls in October. At this point, Barack Obama orchestrates/uses a late-October emergency to "delay" the election, like how New York's mayoral election was postponed on September 11th. But there's no provision in the Constitution for this. If the states do not choose their electors in popular referenda on November 8th, and those states do not already have provisions in place for choosing their electors some other way, the joint session of Congress cannot certify a winner, and so the election of the president falls to the House of Representatives. Although it would depend on the composition of the yet-to-be-elected Congress, the current House is Republican controlled and a Republican leading in the late-October polls would give no reason to assume that would change. But the Republican Party is deeply divided, and no leading candidate is a consensus pick for the disparate wings of the party. Where would Republicans find a non-threatening competent candidate on whom they can all agree?

And this is how Mitt Romney becomes the 45th President of the United States while sitting out the election of 2016.

Yes, probably crazy enough that it will never, ever happen. Except if it does, no one in the WORLD would believe me when I said, "I predicted this last year." So now I have this blog post as my time-stamped proof.

Observations on Returning (Briefly)

I was back in the United States last week. I had been away for 18 months. Here were some of my observations.

  • I have the anti-jet-lag kung fu. Here's how I did it. Going there, my flight left at 6 PM or so. It also landed at 6 PM or so, which would be able 6 AM for me. I then had to drive several hours to my sister's house. I needed to be awake enough to drive, but tired enough to fall asleep when I got there, so I could get on an American schedule for the things I had to do. Within the first hour of our flight they served us dinner. I took some Z-Quil with dinner and slept for about five hours or so. I spent the rest of the flight reading. When I got to my sister's, I took some Z-Quil again and slept from midnight to about 5 AM. For the rest of my visit, I was generally awake by 5 AM and functioning all day. Then, coming back, my flight left at noon and landed at 3 PM the next day. I took some Z-Quil with dinner again, but this time I crashed insanely hard and only for about 90 minutes. So once I was home and ready for bed, I slept from 11 PM or so to 7:30. My second night back, I slept from 11 PM to 3 AM, which is my preferred waking time. NO JET LAG, BABY! Woo-hoo!
  • Am I terrible racist for noticing that just about every person working at an American airport is some sort of ethnic minority? Anyway, the first dozen or so employees I encountered all surprised me with their lack of accents. I guess I have become used to speaking English with accented foreigners from Asia and Africa.
  • American roads are a shambles. Potholes everywhere!
  • Americans are on average obese, but not morbidly obese.
  • Chinese girls don't start trying to be attractive to men until they are 18 or so. American girls start at nine.
  • My first two business interactions immediately after landing were both exercises in chicanery detection. First, the rental car agency responded to my refusal of their "insurance" (they call it that, but the agreement specifically says, "This is not insurance") by trying to get me to sign a receipt for $120-worth of insurance. I told the guy, "I told you no," and he still told me to sign. I said, "So this is a requirement?" He said, "Well, no, it's not a requirement." Only then did he stop. Secondly, after buying an American SIM card and calling the provided number to activate it, I was enrolled in some cellphone plan that was NOT what I bought. I had to call a different number to ask why. The guy said it was my fault for activating it by phone instead of online. I activated the card by following the instructions provided for the plan I bought.
  • After all that effort refusing the rental car "insurance," I was especially frustrated when the terrible road conditions contributed to a barrage of giant rocks hitting my windshield, creating a large crack. I called my credit card company and asked about their promised rental car insurance that was advertised as saying, "Never worry while driving a rental car!" The woman said, "It only covers collision, not glass damage." I said, "So I should go run into something now?" She hesitated for a long time. I laughed at her.
  • Every piece of technology works how it's supposed to. You can check the Internet on your phone. You can send and receive e-mail on your phone. You can tweet on your phone. It's fantastic.
  • Not once in the entire week did I encounter an advertised item that was unavailable. Not once. If it was for sale, it was available. This is completely unheard of in China.
  • Everything for sale to eat is bad for you. All of it.
  • I was aware that Playboy had removed nudity, but it was still shocking both times I saw Playboy for sale at the register (once in a bookstore and once in an airport convenience store). It's interesting that, in the past year, Playboy has become Maxim and Maxim has become GQ.

And what were my observations upon returning to China after a week away? Nobody in China knows how to queue for ANYTHING. Two possible explanations: a generation of only children cannot imagine that the entire world does not revolve around them, or they act oblivious so they can politely behave like sociopaths. I support the second theory. When I landed, our plane emptied onto a skyway that required us all to ride up an escalator. Escalators cause bottlenecks. Despite the fact that we ALL had to ride the SAME escalator, the Chinese nationals all bypassed the bottleneck and tried to jump on right at the escalator mouth. Then the line at immigration was so long that it spilled out of the crowd-control ropes. The line had a few more impromptu back-and-forths in it. Every Westerner sized up the line, found the end, and went to it. Every overseas Chinese went to the end of the crowd-control ropes and acted like he didn't notice that he was jumping to the middle of the queue. Finally, the subway line from the airport dead-ends. Everyone getting off the train has multiple suitcases, and the train is not going anywhere for at least five minutes while the conductor walks from the one end to the other. No matter: every person waiting to get on the train pushed aboard as soon as the doors were open, not allowing for anyone the leave. After just seven days away from it, I am very frustrated by returning to all this sociopathic behavior.

Oh, and the subway videos were showing a graphic series of executions and suicides from films set in World War II. But, hey, it's not really terrible when it's the Japanese or enemies of the Revolution who are being killed, right?

Monday, February 15, 2016

A Coming Conflict

China has taken a page from the American playbook and decided that national boundaries are no limitation on national law. Recent events have included Chicom "private eyes" of sorts tracking down dissidents in American and "convincing" them to return to China, China kidnapping British and Swedish citizens in Thailand and Hong Kong because they've been using their Hong Kong bookstores to sell books that disparage Xi Jingping, China attempting to censor an art show held in Bangladesh, and China ordering more propaganda work among Chinese nationals studying overseas.

Meanwhile, Chinese students overseas are converting to Christianity in increasing numbers. As China moves towards becoming the home of the largest collection of Christians in the world, and as Christians begin to outnumber Communist Party members, China has announced plans to develop a "state-approved" version of Christianity.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Second Boxer Rebellion.

A few weeks ago I asked my students, "Can I at least get a promise from you that, in the event of a China-U.S. war, you won't try to kill me?" One of my students said, unjokingly, "Promises mean nothing."

Passages from Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Here are the bits of Tess of the d'Urbervilles that I thought worth noting.

"All these young souls were passengers in the Durbeyfield ship--entirely dependent on the judgement of the two Durbeyfield adults for their pleasures, their necessities, their health, even their existence. If the heads of the Durbeyfield household chose to sail into difficulty, disaster, starvation, disease, degradation, death, thither were these half-dozen little captives under hatches compelled to sail with them--six helpless creatures, who had never been asked if they wished for life on any terms, much less if they wished for it on such hard conditions as were involved in being of the shiftless house of Durbeyfield." [Loc. 392 of 6418]

"...the stress of threadbare modishness makes too little of enough." [Loc. 2116 of 6418]

"He observed to his father that he was then six-and-twenty, and that when he should start in the farming business he would require eyes in the back of his head to see to all matters--some one would be necessary to superintend the domestic labours of his establishment whilst he was afield. Would it not be well, therefore, for him to marry?" [Loc. 2634 of 6418]

"Sheer experience had already taught her that in some circumstances there was one thing better than to lead a good life, and that was to be saved from leading any life whatever." [Loc. 3917 of 6418]

"No prophet had told him, and he was not prophet enough to tell himself, that essentially this young wife of his was as deserving of the praise of King Lemuel as any other woman endowed with the same dislike of evil, her moral value having to be reckoned not by achievement but by tendency." [Loc. 4258 of 6418]

"...the tolerable nature of her own, if she could once rise high enough to despise opinion." [Loc. 4482 of 6418]

"Beauty to her, as to all who have felt, lay not in the thing, but in what the thing symbolized." [Loc. 4761 of 6418]

From a modern perspective, this was definitely a weird book. Tess of such an anti-feminist, but it allows the overall book to be an incredibly feminist text. Tess is almost caricaturing the misogyny of her times. It's like Thomas Hardy is punking us from the grave; we think, "I can't believe women had it THIS terrible!" and his face is in convulsions trying to hide the joke.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Readings in Unity

Yesterday for my morning reading (I feel weird using the term "devotional reading," but I'm not reading scriptures, so I can't say it was "scripture reading"), I read this quote from Lorenzo Snow.

If we have division in our midst; if we be divided either spiritually or temporally, we never can be the people that God designs us to become, nor can we ever become instruments in His hands of making the world believe that the holy Priesthood has been restored, and that we have the everlasting Gospel. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, pp. 196-7)

And then last night for our evening couple reading (again, we're not actually reading scriptures), we read the sustaining and releasing of church officers from last General Conference.

What do these have to do with each other? Well, it's become a commonplace occurrence for people to object to the sustaining of the church leaders. This means that the transcript contains the response, "The vote has been noted," as well as an invitation for the objectors to contact their stake presidents to express their concerns.

While we were reading last night, I was struck with just how damaging their objections are. Far, far more damaging than if they were to leave the body of the church. As long as we have these objectors who pride themselves on their objections, the church is not united. We cannot build Zion and we cannot be recognized as the Lord's people. The church is stagnating because of a small group of members who take pleasure in objecting from within. (And then they say, "See, my objections are well-founded because the church is stagnating under this benighted leadership!")

Anyway, yesterday I had a bit more understanding of the importance of unity, be it within the nation, within the church, or within the home. I'm doing a poor job with all three.

Bibimbap

The mall across the street finally opened (after sitting vacant for what we've been told has been six years). One of the restaurants has a Chinese name and a Korean name. The Chinese name is Quan Wei, which means "Powerful Flavor." It has a subtitle of sorts. When I put each word in my translator app, I found it means "Stone Bowl Bibimbap."

I thought my app was having problems. What in the world is "bibimbap"? That's not an English word. But it turns out it's a Korean dish that Wikipedia says has been voted one of the world's 50 most delicious foods.

The first time I went there, the only problem I had was when I needed to get it to go. Every other casual dining restaurant asks us if we want to dine in or carry out. This place doesn't. I said, "Wai mai," which means "takeout food," but since 90% of the people we encounter cannot understand anyone with even the slightest hint of an accent, that meant nothing to the cashier. When I pantomimed walking out of the store with a bowl, she eventually got the picture.

The next time I went there, I tried to order the same thing I got before. The cashier said, "Meiyou," which means, "We don't have that." She then pointed, on a menu of at least 30 items, to two items. That was the extent of their menu today?! She also didn't understand "wai mai," but as an added complication, she didn't understand my pantomime either. The manager saw me standing waiting for my food and told me to go get a seat. I told him "wai mai." He had no idea what I meant. I pantomimed leaving with food and he thought that meant I was in a hurry, so they jumped me to the front of the line and gave me a tray of food to eat there. When they finally understood what I wanted, they were indignant that I wasn't staying. Instead of giving me the hot sauce packet to add as I saw fit, they added it in the takeout bowl.

It's not like I'm asking for something they can't do. They are completely equipped with takeout bowls and bags and everything. Why can't they understand that I want takeout?!

But the food is delicious, so I keep going back. Most recently I made my wife go with me so they wouldn't be as mean to me. They still didn't have what I wanted. But this time I got something that translates as "Hot flavor chicken leg meat bibimbap." Personally, I prefer the alternative translation of "vicious or ruthless flavor chicken."

Mr. Websley is a MONSTER!

Lots of our children have watched the LeapFrog letter and number videos, but there's this one scene of "Letter Factory" that seems especially terrible to me.

Notice that the mis-formed H can say, "And the [unintelligible] says..." just fine, so he's sentient and capable of speech. No matter: he still gets sent down the garbage chute to oblivion.

Some might say, "Mr. Websley is just a potential investor. He's not responsible!" But isn't Tad's dad brutalizing the letters because that's what Mr. Websley has made clear he requires in any letter factory that wants his investment?! Notice the way he looks at the problem like, "Homie don't play dat!"

This is like the pre-schooler's version of Heart of Darkness.

My Grueling Commute

During Spring Festival, I'm watering the neighbor's plants in return for using his apartment as an office. This is my lunchtime commute.

So Many Notches in His Belt

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, had a belt that eventually died. But one Saturday while we were browsing the Racist Alley Market (so named by our family because it's the one with the vendor selling busts of Hitler), I noticed a guy who makes belts. Perfect! A few weeks later, when it was Joe's turn to go to lunch with me, we walked down to get him a new belt.

I showed the guy the dead belt and pointed at Joe. The guy picked out a strip of leather and set to work. The leather strips already had the end with the holes finished. I figured he would cut off the excess from the other end. But no. For some reason, he decided to keep the belt adult length, and just put a new set of belt holes in the middle of the belt.

As we walked home, I told Joe, "Sorry, he kind of made it a weird." Joe said, "I can just keep this belt for the rest of my life." Well, there certainly is plenty of room for additional holes as needed.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Why I Hate Why We Hate Us

This book is really two books--one a great commentary on the current ills of American society, the other a terrible, self-indulgent, winking exercise in autohagiography--that got shoved in the same blender and thoroughly mixed. So while I don't hate the entire thing, the parts I hate, I hate intensely, because it is impossible to separate them from the parts I like.

Meyer is a weird mix of very old and very young. The very old part is the insufferable crank. He is full of stories of the "and one time I had to tell off some punk no-good-nik for being dressed like a slob" variety. At one point he throws in the thought, "I don't understand tattoos at all" (126). Um, okay? That kind of has nothing to do with the point you're making (that crass tattoos signal a contempt for others) and just makes you sound really, really old.

Balancing this seeming decrepitude is his love of all things Holden Caulfield. Now, I've noted before that The Catcher in the Rye should be the favorite novel of every 17-year-old, and that it shouldn't hold that distinction anymore by the time you're 27. Oh, you hate phonies? Grow up.

Well, Meyer hates him some phonies. And I can relate: I hate when a telephone robot says to me, "Give me a moment while I look that up." It's fake. It's phony. But where he loses me is where he tries to justify this as a stand against hypocrisy. I've written before about the false definition of hypocrisy that most people hold. In short: it is NOT necessarily hypocritical to support values you do not follow. What determines if it is hypocrisy is WHY you don't follow them. Succumbing to human weakness isn't being a hypocrite. Embracing a new value you do not yet follow is how we become better. Meyer bemoans the demise of public morality but then contributes to it by supporting the idea that you better not support any moral doctrine that you have not, are not, and will not follow 100 percent.

I hate the way Meyer complains about boorishness, citing public vulgarity as an example, and then includes the F word at least 10 times. I hate the way he complains about free-agent politicians using media to go over the heads of party bosses and directly access the people, and then praises Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a senator who defied his party leaders time and time again. I hate the way he complains about phonies and then praises Tiger Woods and John Krakauer, two people definitely open to their share of criticism regarding authenticity. Meyer loves Ernest Shackleton, but conveniently forgets that, in his day, Shackleton was criticized as a media-loving phony.

This book accurately describes the ways in which an amoral society becomes irksome, but Meyer can't bring himself to prescribe morality because it would be too judgmental or--worse yet--phony. He's blind to ways in which he spends 90% of the book prescribing behavior (don't dress like a slob in restaurants, at live theater, or on airplanes; don't swear where unnecessary unless it's in a book you're writing entitled Why We Hate Us; don't be named Sheila and follow your conscience unless you want an author to mock your belief in "Sheilaism"; don't commute; don't over-identify with your personality traits or favorite hobbies; don't have large weddings; don't drive Bentleys; don't subscribe to Real Simple magazine; don't have breast augmentation) before concluding with a call to "value pluralism." So which is it: should I give others the benefit of the doubt and trust their ability to value things differently from how I do, or should I hate the depictions of wealth in the Sunday Times?

Here's my take on why we hate us: we hate that we're unevenly yoked with people whose values are antithetical to our own. Some of us despise our shortcomings and want to be better, and we can't escape those of us who embrace our shortcomings in an annihilistic celebration of crapulence. Meyer sees the crapulence and can identify it as such, but--like so many other products of the 60s--he lacks the self-assurance to oppose the annihilism behind its celebration. He can't say, "That's wrong," he can only say, "I don't like that." But without God, whence moral authority? "Here's a value system that has worked for thousands of years" is insufficient, because its opponents respond, "We hate those very values." And too often in human history, such value systems were used as cudgels against the heterodox.

Authority and plurality must be blended. Plurality without authority becomes relativism. But to most believers in authority, there's no room for plurality. "God says 'do this,' so why should we make allowance for other behaviors?" they ask. They are leery of plurality because it seems a tacit admission that their understanding of God is incorrect. God's not handing out 18 different dietary codes, right? Either mine is right or it's wrong, and I believe mine is right, so why should I allow you to follow yours?

For Christians, the obvious answer is, "Because God told you to." This is where Christ's command to "judge not" comes in. Because even if your God is perfect, your ability to understand and implement His will is NOT perfect. So give others the benefit of the doubt. You can have your religion, and you can follow it as explicitly as you are capable of doing, and you can still allow others to not follow it, because you don't know yet if you are correctly interpreting your religion.

None of this is in the conclusion of Why We Hate Us, but it should be. After all, how do you write a book about everything wrong with America that is getting everyone riled up, and then end with a chapter that says, "Chillax"? Are you saying my concerns are meaningless? But you articulately expressed that you share many of the same concerns, so are your concerns meaningless? This book should have been one chapter on what's wrong with America, one chapter on what value pluralism is, and the rest of the book on how to implement value pluralism, why it's hard to do, and why it would be worthwhile. Instead, it's eight chapters of what's wrong with your fellow Americans and one chapter of advice to calm down about it. It's a missed opportunity to talk us through how to calm down about it, and for that, I hate it.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Home-Buying

It's always good to throw a little heterodoxy out there. From the "everyone knows buying your own home is the best way to financial security" department, we have this collection of arguments against it.

I remember seeing a television ad for realtors that noted the children of home-buyers have better school outcomes, but there was no mention in the ad that this could be the result of rental housing being redlined into service areas for terrible schools. When I worked for a city planning commission, a proposal to build apartments was met with severe community opposition because "I don't want my kids going to school with kids who live in apartments." (That's an actual quote from a citizen at the planning commission meeting. When staff noted that market-rate apartments rent for more than the average neighborhood mortgage payment, the citizen commenter did not apologize for making kids who live in apartments go to school with his poor-ass kids.)

I think the main way the advise of the "buy your home" crowd works out is with an expected political climate. As long as housing has barriers to supply, such as bureaucracy and NIMBYs, housing will continue to look like an appreciating asset. And as long as home-buyers can rely on the formation of property bubbles, there'll be an element of a Las Vegas casino's appeal to purchasing a home.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

End of January Reading Update

One month gone and here's how things stand now.

WODEHOUSE BOOKS

  1. The Pothunters FINISHED Jan. 29
  2. A Prefect's Uncle - 24%
  3. The Gold Bat
  4. The Head of Kay's
  5. Mike at Wrykyn
  6. Mike and Psmith
  7. Psmith in the City
  8. Psmith, Journalist
  9. Leave It to Psmith
  10. Uneasy Money
  11. Piccadilly Jim
  12. Jill the Reckless

VICTORIAN NOVELS

  1. Jane Eyre
  2. The Moonstone
  3. Vanity Fair
  4. Wuthering Heights
  5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles - 38%
  6. Bleak House

KIDS BOOKS

  1. Man of the Family
  2. The Home Ranch
  3. Mary Emma & Company
  4. Grk and the Phoney Macaroni
  5. The Magical Fruit
  6. The Moomins and the Great Flood

MAISIE DOBBS NOVELS

  1. Among the Mad
  2. The Mapping of Love and Death
  3. A Lesson in Secrets

JAMES BOND NOVELS

  1. Moonraker
  2. Diamonds Are Forever
  3. From Russia, With Love

NON-FICTION

  1. The Theory of Moral Sentiments - 24%
  2. How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
  3. America-Lite
  4. Crossing
  5. The Servile State
  6. In Search of Zarathustra FINISHED Feb. 3
  7. Heaven on Earth
  8. Not a Suicide Pact
  9. The Tyrannicide Brief
  10. Coming Apart
  11. Scarcity
  12. The Collapse of Complex Societies

CHURCH BOOKS

  1. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow - 55%
  2. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith
  3. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant
  4. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith
  5. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay
  6. The Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith

OFF THE PLAN

  1. Ruby Redfort: Pick Your Poison FINISHED Jan. 31
  2. Book of Mormon - 11%

What Else You Got?

I finished reading In Search of Zarathustra. I really liked it, as perhaps you could tell from the number of things I read in it that gave rise to blog posts. (Although you'll see later this week that it's not always the case that only good books make me blog about them.) It's a well-written guide to ancient Near-Eastern and Middle-Eastern history and religions that gives wide berth to the line between travel-informed non-fiction and self-indulgent travel log.

Anyway, the final blog post based on my reading has to do with something Kriwaczek writes at the end. He's writing about how modern atheists have unwittingly glommed onto Zoroastrianism to explain their godless worldview. He writes, "It is as if those who have abandoned religion are left with a residue of concepts that must now be justified by other means" (Loc. 4397 of 4637). Which set my confirmation-bias sense a-tingling.

I've written before about the way in which godless society demands the performances of God come from the state. In this terrible human condition, I want some all-powerful entity who acknowledges my pains and sorrows, comforts me, and sets them right. When society believed in God, that was His job, but now that society has declared God to be dead, it must be the state that either performs these functions or uses its police power to require all citizens do this. This is why much of the Black Lives Matter rhetoric on American college campuses has to do with "acknowledging." The Mizzou protest was partially about the administration not acknowledging that minorities feel as if poop swastikas could really be made (even if there's no evidence that one actually was made). The Yale protest was partially about university faculty being insensitive to what it feels like to have aspects of your racial identity turned into Halloween costumes. The Oberlin College list of demands included ending the insensitive practice of serving low-quality sushi. (Seriously.)

Godlessness leads to totalitarianism because my need for cosmic compensation can only come from an all-powerful God or from an imposition on all of creation.

Monday, February 01, 2016

One More Thought on the Tree of Life Vision

I just re-read 1 Ne. 8 again and I wonder if there's something else to notice.

Lehi sees a tree (v. 10) and goes to it (v. 11). No big deal. No mention of a path or a "rod of iron." There's a field with a tree in it, so he walks to it. He calls his family (v. 15) and they come, too (v. 16). Still no mention of a path or rod.

Then Lehi notices the path and iron rod (vv. 19-20). Lots of people (v. 21) are "pressing forward" to obtain the path. Not until "a mist of darkness" arises (v. 23) does the iron rod become necessary. Then people are pressing forward to catch "the end of the rod of iron" (vv. 24 & 30)

Is it possible that Lehi's vision describes not just the general human condition, but different times in the history of man? In Lehi's day, coming to the tree was a matter of walking to the tree. Later, a path and a rod of iron defined the way. And later yet, the path is obscured by a mist of darkness, and only those who hold to the rod of iron will reach their destination.

Why I Hate the Metric System

Living overseas gives many Americans an opportunity to embrace the metric system. I'm not one of them. I'm conversant enough to figure out what's going on, but I resist adopting the metric system.

Let me tell you specifically why Celsius temperatures are stupid. "It makes so much sense; zero is freezing and 100 is boiling!" And as a result, each degree is doing the work of 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit. So less information is being communicated when citing a temperature, unless you're going to go full pedant and use tenths of degrees. And what temperature range do people experience in normal life? Is there some reason we need to be able to talk about temperatures near boiling? The Fahrenheit scale gives you about a 100-degree range of real-world temperatures (shockingly enough, ranging from zero to 100). The Celsius scale gives you half as much. Zero is freezing, 10 is cold, 20 is cool, 30 is nice, 40 is hot.

When I thought about writing this post, I thought, "Someone could raise the objection that you just like Fahrenheit because it was what you were raised with." But my real objection is to the hubris of engineering systems that are better than what emerges from social convention. There is a certain outlook of authority that goes with thinking, "There are efficiency gains waiting to be gathered in once we take away people's right to choose an 'inefficient' system," and it is an outlook I completely oppose.

About this big-picture disagreement regarding authority, let me share a recent event from our lives. A few weeks ago, a woman in our building had smoke pouring into her apartment. There was a cardboard box fire in the stairwell several floors down from her. She WeChatted the building's English-language-residents group and several families evacuated. In the aftermath, a discussion arose concerning the question of why our building doesn't have a fire alarm. Our Chinese handler told us, "The building does have a fire alarm: when there's a fire in the building, an alarm sounds in the neighboring guard booth."

Here's how the system works: the guards next door get notified there's a fire. They then knock on each door to tell us there's a fire. (Remember, the guards speak NO English, even though the guards all received 12 years of English instruction in school and many of the building residents speak only English.) Problem solved.

The Westerners in the WeChat group were dumbfounded. How does anyone think this is the most-efficient way of notifying a 14-story building of fire? (I joked with a colleague that the guards' reaction to the alarm would be, "Don't go in that building; it's on fire!") But it helps point out the fundamental divide on views regarding information. Westerners generally believe that broad dissemination of information is best, while Chinese generally believe information should be dispensed from above. You don't tell residents their building is on fire, you tell the guy in charge of the building and he decides if anyone else needs to know. Not only is information "need to know," it's also "get to know." As in, "you haven't curried favor with your authorities, so you don't get to know something you need to know."

Americans who support the metric system tend to have a more-favorable view of top-down, coordinated behavior. They distrust the masses to make uncoordinated decisions, and they take it for granted that any uncoordinated decisions cannot be efficient. They favor things that "make sense" over things that work. They have a view of society that involves the enlightened and the benighted, and they are among the enlightened. It would be great if the benighted allowed the enlightened to run the show, but the benighted have crazy notions of equality and human dignity, and so the enlightened have to trick/cajole/constrain the benighted to create the more-efficient world we have within our possible grasp.

I completely oppose all of this. I am willing to live in a less-efficient world if it allows for more liberty. This isn't just because I was raised with Fahrenheit thermometers. This is because God made man to be free.