Thursday, March 31, 2016

First Quarter Completed - Reading Update

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 - 28%
  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 FINISHED Mar. 31
  5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles FINISHED Feb. 13
  6. Bleak House

KIDS BOOKS

  1. Man of the Family FINISHED Mar. 21
  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 - 18%
  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. Life of Fred: Goldfish FINISHED Mar. 22
  4. A Wrinkle in Time FINISHED Mar. 25
  5. The Out-of-Sync Child - 7%

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Baseless Speculation is My New Forte

My contract in China is up soon. We're looking for a new job, and some of my looking has included other positions in China. My wife is not that excited about the idea of staying longer. "China is going nuts," she said. Part of her reason for thinking that is the increasingly illiberal government. The Internet has been terrible for all of March, and some of that could be a response to this anonymous call for Xi Jinping's resignation. Yesterday news came that (perhaps?) the Chinese government wants Chinese Internet service providers to block websites lacking Chinese domain names. And of course there's the on-going oscillation between market discipline and protectionism. The books of 2075 detailing what went on behind the scenes in China in 2016 are going to be fascinating.

In response to my wife's claim that China is going nuts, I countered, "But America is going more nuts right now." The somewhat-Bernie-Sanders-inspired strong-arm protests at Donald Trump rallies promise a summer of insanity the likes of which has not been seen at least since 1968.

I said, "Here's what we're going to do: we'll go home at the end of this contract like we're planning, and while we're gone China will lose a war with the United States in the South China Sea and then they'll have a coup like Argentina did when they lost the Falklands War and we'll come back in September."

My wife had two responses First, she wondered if the United States could really defeat China in a war. But second, she said, "You can't schedule the coup like that. You're not on the coup-planning committee." I said, "Shows what you know." And then I said loudly to the walls, "Of course I'm not!"

Monday, March 28, 2016

This Is Not a Major Economy

Chinese Internet, even without Great Firewall issues, is terrible. Like, 1994-dial-up terrible sometimes. But the Internet of 1994 was designed for everyone having terrible Internet: websites were mostly text, with a few pictures and maybe some GIFs. Definitely no streaming video. Imagine trying to use today's Internet with your 1994 connection speed. Or if imagining that is too difficult, you can just come to China and experience it.

Don't worry, though: China is implementing plans to make the Internet even better. If by "better" you mean "insulated and controlled." Earlier this year, China banned foreign firms from "online publishing," and there's now a government proposal to block every website not registered in China. At which point, the Internet is just an intranet. In my experience, nothing cool is on an intranet. It's just project data and archived e-mails.

If I were an economic consultant for American firms, when they asked for my China advice, I'd say "pass." Ten years ago, maybe it was worth the hassle and the intellectual property theft to make 10% return for a while, but now that the growth rate has slowed dramatically (How much? Well, like all the other truly-developed economies, China's economic statistics are byzantine and opaque.), maybe give India a second look, instead.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Are They Infants or Are They Adults?

This article about a student protest at Emory University over anonymous support for the candidacy of Donald Trump is difficult to believe. Notice it has elements of the Anthrotheism theory I've outlined before. The students are yelling, "You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!" Pain caused by sidewalk chalkings that indicate some of their peers disagree with them. And the university administration needs to validate these feelings, because the atheist worldview doesn't allow for taking consolation in God's awareness of your troubles. A student said the university needs "to acknowledge all of us here." This is what people used to get from their relationship with God.

Notice also how the 1st Amendment is turned on its head: now allowing for speech is seen as approval of that speech. These students demanded the university release a statement specifying that "the university" disagrees with the anonymous student's political opinions. The university president specifically said he would not do that, and then the next day he did. (In that statement, he also specified the university's "commitment to an annual retreat to renew our efforts." Man, you know you have a rough job when your duties involve releasing statements about your plan to take a vacation and engage in a bull session.)

Notice, also, that we're now being told that "people of color are struggling academically because they are so focused on trying to have a safe community...." I don't doubt that many students' academic performance suffers when they become full-time Social Justice Warriors. But why do they need to become SJWs? How did a country led by a black president become so intolerably racist?

Finally, notice the university's support for hard-core navel gazing ("I think it's wonderful that students are taking a stand...for something that's so much about themselves--and we want to support that," said Assistant Vice President for Community Suzanne Onorato). Students used to go to university to learn about the world outside themselves. Now they're being encouraged to turn their focus even more onto themselves.

Nowhere in this article is there a question about the chilling effects of freedom of speech: a student expressed his political opinions and the entire apparatus of the university is out to find and reeducate him. If security footage implicates a student, the student "will go through the conduct violation process." There's no think like groupthink.

Meanwhile, all restrictions on sexual conduct are being removed at universities because "students are adults." These antithetical trends need to be aligned: either students are so immature that they need to be sheltered from every opinion different from their own (in which case they are so immature that they need to be sheltered from the physical and emotional dangers inherent in human sexuality), or students are so mature that they can make fully-informed decisions regarding all aspects of sex and reproduction (in which case they are so mature they can see sidewalk chalkings expressing different opinions and not hold an hysterical protest). You can't have it both ways.

I've had to recently explain what my seniors should expect to find when they get to American university. I told them that political correctness is not that different from what they already know: there are ideas you can't express in public. The difference, though, is that in China the enforcement comes from the government, and in America it comes from your peers. I told them that universities used to be places you went to be confronted with new ideas to help you determine what is objective truth, but now it is a place you go to learn arguments to confirm your pre-existing biases. Here we see both aspects: a student who supports Donald Trump will now be persecuted for it, and the traumatized students have learned innovative new ways to describe their "pain" instead of learning how to deal with differing opinions.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

I read a few articles today about an episode in the life of Heidi Cruz, wife of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-My Dreams). It seems a police officer found her sitting on a section of grass next to an expressway one night in 2005. And because Donald Trump gives the meaning to the phrase "Trump classy," this has become a campaign issue.

This is upsetting to me, because I've had my own mental health episode on a random piece of lawn. Mine was six months into the worst two years of my life, my time as a full-time missionary.

The missionary screening process includes questions designed to identify those with mental health issues. It makes sense that a minimum level of health is necessary to undertake rigorous service, but a large amount of talk about "every young man should serve" made me feel that I needed to lie my way through the mental health questions.

What would have happened if I'd been honest? Would I have been allowed to serve? I don't know. My life would be different now, that's for sure, in both good and bad ways. The good: I would have avoided a lot of mental health baggage I picked up on my mission that I am still learning to remove from my life. Maybe talking about these things sooner would have enabled me to start making that progress sooner. The bad: I would have the stigma of having not served. My choices of possible wife would have greatly diminished. I don't know if those leaving the list would have included my actual wife or not. Anyway, I said to myself, "If depressed people aren't supposed to serve, then it will be a bigger indication of my commitment that I'm willing to do it, anyway."

When I made the decision to serve a mission, I saw it as a choice between being a missionary or marrying the girl I had wanted to marry since I was six years old. But that didn't make it any more agreeable when she became incredibly distant, almost immediately. (I was still in the MTC when I got my first letter from her that made me wonder what was going on. She was living less than a mile away at the time.) So over the first six months of my mission, I had the agonizingly-slow loss of my girlfriend to a guy that I had known all along she was leaving me for, even when she didn't know it herself. Coupled with that, my first companion misunderstood something I said, took it as a slight of his intelligence, and threatened to beat me up. My second companion ignored my input, repeating the things I said like I wasn't there. My third companion would sit up at night talking on the telephone with people from his former areas. One night the phone rang so much it woke me up. When I answered it, a girl asked for him, but when I went to find him, he wasn't there. He came back several hours later. Because he was afraid I would mention this in one of the weekly letters to the mission president, he stole my outgoing mail and read the letters with his friends, making fun of me. (I learned this later from one of the friends with whom he'd read them.) And on top of all of this, I was in an area where people had naked contempt for our attempts to share with them something that we thought would make their lives better.

Suffice it to say, the first six months of my mission were terrible. I wrote letters to my girlfriend, but she was distancing herself. I wrote letters home, but my parents expressed concern that my less-than-favorable portrayal of mission life would scare my younger brother off of wanting to go.

One preparation day, my companion and I were with another set of missionaries. Someone suggested we ride bikes to a marshy area to look for crayfish. On the ride there, the other missionaries suddenly changed course and when I attempted to follow them, they lost me. I found my way to the marsh, but with no way of knowing where they were inside it.

I sat down on the grass on the side of the house next to the marsh. I was alone, which is completely against mission rules. Even though I hadn't made the choice to be alone, that didn't mean I wasn't alone, right? The same could be said of the entire mission experience: I didn't decide to have a brain unqualified for missionary work, but that didn't mean that if I stayed home I wouldn't be a young man who wasn't serving a mission. It was a Monday afternoon, so I thought the occupants were at work. I wish there was a dignified term for what I did, but there's no words for it that don't make me sound like a baby or an idiot. With my face in my hands and my head down, I was eventually surprised by a voice behind me that said, "Uh, do you need some help?"

That was probably the most embarrassing moment in my life.

I refused their help. I apologized and said I would leave. I got back on my bike and rode to another spot outside the marsh and tried to calm down, figuring eventually I had to be presentable when (or if) the other missionaries returned.

I think I've already told you about the next month: that companion got transferred, I got another one who brought different challenges, we went on a P-day bike ride and he got badly injured, comically early in the ride. With my letters to the mission president no longer being intercepted, he eventually received one pleading for help. He called and said we needed to meet that afternoon. I thought I had finally come through the storm. My spirits lifted. We stopped on the way to the meeting to eat lunch at Arby's in celebration of things getting better. And then my mission president spent two hours telling me that I was wasting his time with letters like that. "We all wish we'd been sent to South America," he said. "I have 200 missionaries who need my attention, and I had to drive out here this afternoon." He also blamed me for my companion's injury because mountain bike riding was against the rules, he said, although no other missionary in our mission had ever heard that rule before.

And that was when I quit. Not for real, because I'm too much of a coward for that, but I stopped trying to do absolutely everything I could. If it was there, I did it. If it wasn't there, I didn't go looking for it.

But it was sitting on a stranger's lawn on a Monday afternoon that I had a moment that helps me relate to Heidi Cruz, that makes me feel that when Donald Trump or his surrogates attack Heidi Cruz, they are attacking me. When I think about that experience, I still feel embarrassed, and I feel so bad for the guy whose lawn I was on. How awkward was that conversation for him? "Hey, there's some kid broken down on the side of my house. I guess I have to go see what that's about."

I've heard people talk about the need to support Trump in a general election against Hillary Clinton. I won't be doing that. And, frankly, neither should you. If everyone who hates both Trump and Clinton supported Gary Johnson, Johnson would win in a landslide.

I don't feel my sharing this story actually removes any of the stigma. It just assumes more of it. Now you know in a little more detail just how terrible of a person I am. But I'm fine with that. I'm not trying to impress anybody anymore. I'm an unattractive, unsuccessful man with a broken brain. I don't like it, but I don't hide from it anymore. That's who I am.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Chinese Labor Opportunities

I usually don't eat lunch with anyone, but today I ended up sitting with three colleagues. One started telling us stories of his last school, also in China. When he agreed to teach there, he was told the school had 300 students. When he arrived, they only had nine. By the end of the school year, they were down to two.

I asked, "What do you do with your time when you've prepared for 300 students and you end up with only nine?"

He said, "You get a master's degree. All the staff got online degrees while we were there."

I said, "Actually, that sounds awesome to me. I would love to get paid and have everyone leave me alone so I can finish my degree work."

He said, "My wife is best friends with the owner's wife, so let me know if you're serious."

I said, "I'll jokingly mention it to my wife, and if she doesn't immediately laugh me out of the room, I'll get back to you." But then I said, "With my luck they'll be up to 300 students now and they'll say, 'Of course you have to teach; what did you think we hired you to do, finish your dissertation?!'"

Monday, March 21, 2016

More Student Presentation Comedy

When I attend a dinner or a musical concert at my school, I'm always unpleasantly surprised by the initial speeches. For some reason I can never remember that every event starts with 20 minutes of a Chinese speech with a mumbled English translation.

I also forget that student presentations are going to include unintended comedy. It might be awkward comedy, but it will still be hilarious.

For instance, yesterday a student made sure to include in a list of John Nash's life accomplishments, "the birth of his bastard." And today a student expressed amazement that Edmund Phelps "does not own a car despite of these accomplishments [sic]."

What's been most-surprising to me in this round of student presentations has been the lack of antisemitism. So far in my time here every batch of presentations has been good for one casual mention of a Jewish economist's Jewishness in a "warts and all" kind of way. Maybe my continual reminder that this is inappropriate is bearing fruit. But we still have four more presentations to go tomorrow. It's too early to tell for sure.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Correlation and Dirty Paris

From this Marginal Revolution post I was directed to this article about the lack of cleanliness in Paris these days. Intriguingly, Paris is receiving increasing numbers of Chinese tourists. Anyone who thinks these things are completely unrelated has spent no time in a public space in China.

To Chinese citizens, any indoor or outdoor space is an acceptable place to spit or to have your child defecate. It appears as if the concept of "clean" or "dirty" don't exist the way they do elsewhere. Our kaolengmian guy uses a putty knife to flip and dice the food, and when the knife gets some food burned onto it, he scrapes it against the cinder block edge of the flower planter behind him. These blocks are grey with deposited air pollution and are occasionally spat or urinated upon. He must have some concept of "clean," or else he would have no reason at all to scrape the putty knife on the blocks. But his concept doesn't include the notion of keeping random bits of pollution, phlegm, and urine out of customers' food.

Last week my wife had to help Squidgems use a public toilet, but it turned out to be a false alarm. When she came back out, she told her friend, "If he had known there was nothing there, I wouldn't have had to have just experienced that place." Her friend said, "I wish that China would embrace a Japanese style of cleanliness. I mean, they're so close to each other, but their standards are so far apart!" Maybe what's happening in Paris is the beginning of Japan cleaning up after China. If only they could do it in more places than just Paris.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Early Morning Soccer - Now With Extra Earliness!

Starting about four years ago or so, I started waking up at 7:30 AM on Saturdays to watch the Premier League game of the week on American TV. The first time I woke up my oldest son, Articulate Joe, to watch with me. It was Arsenal versus Queens Park Rangers, and Arsenal won, so ever since then, he's been an Arsenal fan.

Now we live in China, where England's "Saturday afternoon" games are "Saturday bedtime" games, not "Saturday crack of dawn" games. We can't watch them because of early morning church and its commute. But Champions League games start at 3:30 AM. And since I'm supposed to be getting up at 3 AM, anyway, we have moved to watching those.

This morning I woke up Articulate Joe and Jerome Jerome the Metronome to watch the second leg of the Arsenal/Barcelona tie. I said, "Arsenal needs three goals, and here comes the first one right...HERE!" just as Mohamed Elneny scored, but there were no more goals to follow for Arsenal. And once Bitey scored for Barcelona, the boys went back to bed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Don't Absolve Terrible Voters

With the nomination of Donald Trump looking more likely each day, I've seen an increase in articles blaming...Mitt Romney.

Here's how this tortured thinking works: Romney's campaign was too left-wing for the run-of-the-mill Republican, who became so incensed at the excesses of Barack Obama that he was ripe for radicalization by Donald Trump.

Ridiculous. And absolutely necessary to refute.

If Romney was too liberal for the average Republican, then the average Republican was already on the way to radicalization. Romney was conservative where it counted: constrained government operating under previously-determined limits. Romneycare, such as it was, was a Republican's response to the nation's most-liberal state's goal of single-payer healthcare. Withholding a vote from Romney (which, in a two-person race, limits the threshold needed for Obama the same way that a vote for Obama would) because you were mad that he didn't sound opposed enough to Obamacare--thus ensuring a continuation of Obamacare--is the type of logic-free decision one would expect from the low-information voters who drive Obama's and Trump's popularity.

Eight years in the wilderness is not long enough to qualify as time spent in the wilderness, especially when both branches of Congress have been under Republican control for most of that time. Blaming Romney for Republicans' inability to stop themselves from voting for Trump is irresponsible. The voter is making the poor choice. He's not being driven to it because of something in the past.

Here are the two biggest questions that need to be answered to understand the end of the Republican Party: Why did Mitt Romney's campaign team so thoroughly botch the roll-out of ORCA on Election Day, and why did Paul Ryan embrace the worst aspects of John Boehner's ineffective leadership as Speaker of the House? (Perhaps related to the second question is one more: why did John Roberts switch his vote on Obamacare?)

Monday, March 14, 2016

Professional Development Is a Money-Making Racket for Professional Developers

At my work, we all have contracts that specify we work Monday through Friday for a maximum of 40 hours per week, and that if we work more than that, we get paid for overtime. Now, it seems it's standard practice in China that when you get a government-mandated holiday, you make up that day on the next weekend, so there have been about 10 times over the past two years that we were required to work on a Saturday or Sunday. But this year I've been moved to a different department, and our department head routinely schedules work events on non-holiday-makeup weekends.

In October he scheduled a two-day training for a weekend and told us we could skip the school field trip the day before as "compensation." In February he scheduled a two-day training for a Friday and Saturday and told us there would be no compensation because we were getting to miss classes on Friday, and that was our compensation. He said, "Your students are missing classroom instruction time on Friday, so that's the time off."

When he said that in the meeting, I said, "So are we compensated based on when our students study or based on when we work?" There were grumblings of agreement. He hesitantly acknowledged that he couldn't make us work on Saturday, so if we were going to skip the training, let him know and teach our classes on Friday.

It appeared that many of us would take him up on the offer. So we got a curious WeChat message from the other teacher I mentioned yesterday. It was a plea to attend the training, with reference to how hard it will be to secure school funds to schedule future professional development training if no one has attended the events in the past, and how this will then make it impossible for us to maintain our teaching credentials.

I responded:

As an economist, I know that the true value of an item is reflected in its cost, and the true cost of an item is its opportunity cost--what you give up to get it. If the school is unwilling to find time in my contracted work week for this training & is unwilling to compensate me for this loss of personal time, I have a hard time believing this is as valuable as we're being told it is. It's easy to be spendy with other people's time and money, which is why command economies (cough cough) don't work.

This is the background for me not working here anymore: the star employees are the ones who allow the school to ignore our contracts (and who agitate among their colleagues for the same) and the rest of us aren't invited back.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Enemies Wherever I Go

Friday a student wanted to leave my class to go see another teacher to get feedback on a project due that evening. I asked, "Why are you going to short-change my class in favor of this other class?" He said he didn't have any other time available. I said, "That's not true; you had self-study periods today." He said, "Well, [the other teacher] wasn't available then." I said, "Why did you let it go until today?"

Basically, I wanted to bust his balls a bit, but eventually let him go see the other teacher. After all, we were just working independently on something not due for a few weeks, so why wouldn't I allow him to use his time most efficiently? But I wanted to make him think about the choices he made that he could make differently next time.

I left class to go see the other teacher, to make sure it would be okay with him, and to talk it over with him a little, because I still wasn't sure if my inclination to trust the student's time management decisions was best.

I found this other teacher in his room. I leaned on his door jamb and had this conversation with him.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Hey, can [a student] come see you this hour to talk about his paper?

OTHER TEACHER: I'm available. But why is he going to leave your class for it?

ARS: Well, we're working on something not due for a while, and I understand opportunity costs. As an economist, I'm inclined to let him do it.

OT: I understand your thinking so much better now. But what is your answer as a human being?

ARS: Humans are economic actors, so it's the same.

OT: No, I can answer in a lot of different roles. I can say, "As a [recipient of past honors] this" or "As a [graduate of an Ivy League university] that."

ARS: Economics informs the decisions of human beings, so my answer is the same. There are times when economics is not the most important thing to do with his time.

OT: See, I'm different, because I'm passionate about what I do, so I always think [my subject] is most important.

ARS: It's not that I'm not passionate about economics; it's because I'm passionate about it that I can see that it applies at all times. And your statement that [your subject] is always the most important thing is just cheap talk, because there are plenty of times in your life when your actions would indicate otherwise, like when you're eating or when you're sleeping or when you're relaxing.

OT: Okay, well I have to get to work. Good bye.

[door closes in my face while I'm still leaning in the door jamb]

I can see that I was perhaps needlessly blunt when I called his cheap talk by its rightful name, but I count the first three provocations of the conversation as all his: first, when he condescendingly said my thinking is entertaining for him to understand; second, when he needlessly name-checked his major accomplishments (that he needlessly name-checks at every opportunity available); third, when he suggested I'm not passionate about what I do. So, yeah, when you antagonize me multiple times, you get called out on your grandstanding.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Virtue Signaling and Cross-Tribe Arguments

Last week I went to a gathering that, for whatever reason, was less conversation than performance. Instead of discussion, it was a series of soliloquies designed to highlight the speakers' erudition and gravitas. And that's fine: a series of soliloquies can be entertaining. People seem to enjoy The Vagina Monologues.

Many of the soliloquies were against Donald Trump. So I had this fresh in my mind when, the next day, I read on Arnold Kling's blog:

Denouncing Trump is a form of virtue signaling. That is, it is a cheap way to try to raise your status among well-educated people.
This is why Trump-bashing appears so boorish to me: it risks nothing in an attempt to appear brave. Many Trump criticisms are nothing more than a recitation of his name in the most derisive voice possible. When pressed for specifics, his critics respond with generalizations (sexist, racist, crazy, et cetera).

I'm not trying to defend Trump. I'm not a fan. But I want his critics to use arguments, not mood affiliation. Because mood affiliation is easy to dismiss when from someone outside your tribe. And the way to stop Trump is not to make sure that all his critics tell the same anti-Trump jokes to each other, but to win over members of his tribe.

If I'm going to criticize those speaking in generalities, I should try to be as specific as possible. So here goes: I worry about Trump's tendency to bully his critics. Either through lawsuits or public ridicule, Trump does not respond reasonably to criticism. His recent call for liberalizing libel laws (or would it be the tightening of anti-label protections?) is worrisome. A president who has thin skin, has a long memory, holds grudges, and controls the regulatory and prosecutory apparatus of the nation is not a positive for supporters of liberty. Trump as Sulla would include Sulla's proscriptions.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Church and "Front Row Culture"

This week I read a blog post by Seth Godin about "front row culture," meaning a group ethic that is anticipative and innovative, excited to be there.

Contrasting a group that fills a room from the front row with a group that fills a room from the back row, he writes

The first organization sees possibility, the second sees risk and threat. The first group is eager to explore a new future, the second group misses the distant past.
The question immediately came to mind: why does church fill from the back?

Not always, sure. There are some front-rowers in church. But usually you have a family or two on the front row, several rows with light usage, and a big group about three-quarters of the way to the back. Not in the way-back, because then everyone would think they were closet pornographers or something, but far enough back that they get to feel like they are watching a church congregation instead of being in one.

I know all the "I've got kids and we sit in back because we're late/disruptive/needing to leave without disturbing anyone" reasons. I just thought it was instructive to spend some time thinking about why church fills from the back and what it would mean if that were to change.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

An Economist Against Economics Education?

Here's a blog post about a news story that isn't available to regular people (way to completely not understand what you're trying to do, Wall Street Journal) about teaching economics in elementary school.

I cannot say this plainly enough: this is a terrible idea. All primary education is indoctrination. This is because young children do not yet understand how to question authority. As such, elementary education should stick to value-neutral, objective subjects. Like, oh, say, reading, 'riting, and 'rithmatic.

Economics is decidedly not value-neutral. And elementary school teachers are not known for their nuanced presentation of multi-faceted problems. Some might say this is because they themselves don't grasp the nuances of multi-faceted problems (I would never say that, but some might), or maybe it's because the kids are incapable of understanding overlapping truth claims. For whatever reason, elementary-school economics is going to be nothing but normative economics.

I could only read the very first line of the article, but it's enough to prove my point.

"What is the basic economic problem all societies face?" April Higgins asks her sixth-grade class.
Is she going to tell them "scarcity," or is she going to say "climate change," "poverty," "immigration," or myriad other statist economic concerns? The only reason I can see to teach economics in school to elementary-school kids is to present normative viewpoints before they can understand the difference between positive and normative economics. Keep economics out of elementary schools.

PS: I tried to set this post to publish on Sunday but I'm getting an error because of "daylight savings [sic] time 'gap.'" One more reason to hate daylight saving time.

"Papa Homer, You Are So Learn-ed." / "Learned, Son. It's Pronounced 'Learned.'"

Last week I was having a conversation with someone. We were talking about a family with the last name of Wells. I said, "What about the Wellses?" My conversation partner said, "What? Oh, the Wells?"

No, not the Wells.

I'm not sure why it is impossible for people who wear glasses, receive stitches, and pick their noses (We all do it!) to take a singular noun that ends in an S-noise and make it plural.

Another reason to not be pedantic: you don't look foolish when you're wrong. A different conversation partner that same day wanted to talk with me about the economics of John Maynard "Keenes." I let him talk, because what's the value in pointing out stuff like that? It might save him future embarrassment, but only by costing him current embarrassment. That's not really a welfare gain (especially since we're replacing future potential embarrassment with current actual embarrassment). And in the meantime, there's a chance he will learn in a non-embarrassing way the correct way to pronounce Keynes's name. Only if I knew that I could embarrass him now in front of someone who doesn't matter (me) to save him much more embarrassment in front of someone who matters a lot would that be welfare-enhancing. But the guy is already married and employed in his rest-of-his-life job (those are things that people born before 1970 got to have). There's no one that he needs to make very certain never sees him embarrass himself. So let it go.

And for Pete's sake, people, learn how to make plurals and possessives of names that end with an S.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Keeping Evil Abrupt

This week I read this quotation of Elder James E. Faust in the Sunday School manual: "...we tend to accept evil as long as it is not a shock that is thrust on us abruptly. We are inclined to accept something morally wrong if it is only a shade more wrong than something we are already accepting" [Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher's Manual, Lesson 10].

As our oldest kids advance into their early teen years (Crazy Jane is 13.5 and Articulate Joe is nearly 12), I am aware of the large divide between our kids' thoughts and behaviors and those of their age peers in America. My cousin has a daughter less than one month older than our daughter, and that girl seems like she's 25 years old.

I've been thinking about what makes the difference. I think part of the difference is that our kids don't have any peers in their lives who are pushing the sexualization envelope, and they definitely don't spend all day in a building of 1,000 such peers. They do have peers, but they are other homeschooled kids. My daughter spends time with a group of 13-year-olds who act and behave like 13-year-olds, not like college freshmen. Of all the things homeschooling does for us, one of the biggest is it helps us maintain the abruptness of evil.

President Thomas S. Monson is fond of quoting Alexander Pope:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

we first endure, then pity, then embrace.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Where to Go Next?

My contact is up this summer, so my family and I are looking for our next opportunity. The other day, someone brought up the idea of taking a different job still here in Beijing. I came home and asked my family what they thought. Jerome said he wouldn't agree to it because, "That means two more years away from macaroni and cheese." Since we're all going to be in America for at least two months this summer, anyway, I asked, "What if we agreed to allow you to eat macaroni and cheese every day while you're in the US this summer?" He said, "Then I'd agree, but at the end of the summer I'd change my mind, so I got TWO MONTHS OF MAC AND CHEESE!" He has this way of giggling maniacally when he finds himself especially funny, and this was a time he was quite proud of his hilarity.

Yesterday in church a guy gave me some advice on jobs to seek in Korea, so when I sat down with my family, I sent around this poll.

That's one yes, three maybes, and one no. (Although that one no might be entirely the result of Korea's macaroni and cheese deficiency.) Articulate Joe expressed what perhaps we all were thinking: "too close to N[orth] K[orea]."

For two years, now, I've been saying, "I'm not sure I want to come back to the US during the summer of 2016; things are going to get NUTS!" To those of you who thought I was being overly dramatic, I'd like to remind you that the presidential election is shaping up to be a contest between an unstable popularist and a felonious statist, all under the watchful care of a meddling narcissist with a naked contempt for the Constitution. Good luck with that.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Chinese Students and Race

Yesterday I was trying to teach about economic rent. I said, "There are millions of actors in the world. Why does Will Smith get $20 million for a movie? If the producers wanted to hire an actor, they could get one for much, much less. I would go talk to them and say, 'I'll take that part for a couple thousand dollars and unlimited access to the snack table.'" A student said in a tone indicating that I have a mental problem, "Will Smith is black."

Ah, Chinese students and their completely innocent racism. "You can't possibly do the same job as Will Smith because you aren't the same race that he is." While that might be true for Smith's roles in Ali or The Pursuit of Happyness, I don't know that that applies to all Will Smith roles.

Last year a student began her presentation on Milton Friedman by asking, "Does anyone know where Milton Friedman was from?" No one answered, so I said, "Brooklyn." She said, "No, he was a Jew." She then turned to the white board and wrote "JEW." Later in the year, the same student gave another presentation where she said white people shouldn't complain about unpaid internships because they are all rich. We had a lot of discussions about appropriate race-based comments in that class.

Again this year, in a presentation on Milton Friedman, a student stressed his status as a Jew. Like he was some sort of gonzo Zionist or something. I don't know that any work of Milton Friedman's is in any way dependent on his Jewish heritage. Why do these students keep bringing it up? And what kind of Chinese-language sources are they reading if this is the main point they wish to make in their class presentations?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Coming Hiatus?

China has new regulations coming next week that prohibit foreign entities from publishing on the Internet. I have no idea what this means for a foreign resident with a blog hosted on overseas servers. So just be aware that there's a possibility my blog will go silent around March 10th and not turn back on until I leave at the beginning of July.

Depending on how effectively the Chicoms can break the Internet here, I'm worried that a massive devaluation looms. I transferred money yesterday and had a palpable relief that I was able to get one more month in at an acceptable exchange rate. I feel like a guy on "Press Your Luck" going for another spin when everyone knows he's long overdue for a Whammy. (Only readers of a certain age will understand that cultural reference.)