Thursday, August 17, 2017

Everybody Sounds Old

Yesterday I watched a clip from a recent episode of The Simpsons. I haven't seen a new episode in three years because we haven't had television in a while. This clip was creepy because everyone, from the adults to the children, sounded old.

That's because all the voice actors are old.

Marge sounded like when they used to have episodes set in the future and Marge needed to sound like an old lady. Same thing with Homer. Miss Hoover sounded old. Even Lisa sounded old. I don't care how preternaturally young your voice sounds, when you get old you sound old.

Why not pull a Doctor Who and just reboot the voices? I just saw a preview for a Diary of a Whimpy Kid movie that doesn't shy away from acknowledging that they've recast all the parts. "New faces," it promised. Well, if The Simpsons wants to believably remain a show about late-thirties parents of three under-13 children, they need to do the same.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Parallel Stories

It's wrong in Les Miserables when Fantine loses her job at the factory because of decisions in her personal life. It has nothing to do with the factory if she had a child out of wedlock [Fantine was not married to Felix in the book; Hugo expected more humanity from his audience than did the musical's writers]. The manager is using public morality in an immoral way, seeking to damage her personally because she dared take an action that didn't comply with prevailing convention.

"No problems here."

It's wrong in America this week when Cole White lost his job at the hot dog stand because of decisions in his personal life. It has nothing to do with the hot dog stand if he marched in a white supremacy rally. The manager is using public morality in an immoral way, seeking to damage him personally because he dared take an action that didn't comply with prevailing convention.

"Whoa, slow down, racist!"

It was wrong when the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001. These works of art were the largest statues of the standing Buddha in the world, and it was wrong to view them solely as representing the ideology of the Buddha. The fact that Buddhism is part of Afghanistan's cultural heritage might not have been comfortable for the Taliban, but it is an historical fact and should have been preserved.

"Preach on, brother!"

It will be wrong when woke Americans succeed in destroying Stone Mountain in the future. This work of art is the largest bas-relief carving in the world, and it is wrong to view it solely as representing the ideology of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, or Stonewall Jackson. The fact that slavery is part of America's cultural heritage might not be comfortable for Americans, but it is an historical fact and should be preserved.

"Wait, wut?"

It was wrong last month when Liu Xiaobo's brother felt the need to issue a statement distancing himself from his own relative and publicly supporting the group persecuting him. It is reflective of the intolerance of the ruling regime that the brother felt such a statement was needed to shield himself from the persecution directed at Liu. Ultimately, the need of the regime to have such a statement shows their inhumanity and single-minded tyranny of all who disagree with them.

"Exactly right."

It was wrong this week when Peter Tefft's father felt the need to issue a statement distancing himself from his own relative and publicly supporting the group persecuting him. It is reflective of the intolerance of the ruling social order that the father felt such a statement was needed to shield himself from the persecution directed at Tefft. Ultimately, the need of the social order to have such a statement shows their inhumanity and single-minded tyranny of all who disagree with them.

"Oh, but this was different because...."

What I shouldn't have to say is this: I do not support racism in general or white supremacy in particular. But these parallels are striking to me. The tyranny we rightly condemn elsewhere is still tyranny when used against racists here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Least-Completed States

Several months ago, I blogged about which states I would say I'm "most" finished with. I had eight criteria I used:

  1. Have I visited the state?
  2. Have I visited every county in the state?
  3. Have I visited every neighboring state?
  4. Have I visited every neighboring county?
  5. Have I visited every county in every neighboring state?
  6. Have I visited the state capitol?
  7. Have I summitted the state high point?
  8. Have I visited every Mormon temple in the state?
The only political entity of the United States for which I've completed all eight criteria (if applicable) is the District of Columbia. Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia are all next closest (I have 13 more counties in Pennsylvania to visit). Also, I'll be completely done with Indiana once I visit my last 38 counties of Michigan. Ohio is held up by bordering both Pennsylvania and Michigan.

What about states I'm nowhere NEAR finished with? Well, Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Vermont are the only states that not only get answers of "no" for all eight criteria, but also are more than 10 counties away from completion or have more than one neighboring state I've not visited. (New Hampshire should be in this group, too, but since the state only has 10 counties total, it sneaks out. Also, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington would be in this group, but they each only have one neighboring state I haven't visited.)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Nexus of Wussification and Anthrotheism

As people become less able to deal with the natural state of the world and more demanding of social attention to replace the attention they would have received from the God in Whom they've stopped believing, I predict the threshold for retiring tropical storm names will continually drop. "Sure, that storm didn't leave much death or devastation, but it devastated ME, so it needs to be treated as a major event."

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Faith in a Faithless Time

I believe I've written before about the difficulty of having an original thought. (Diligent research confirms this.) The vast majority of our thoughts are the product of the prevailing thoughts of our culture. If our language lacks a word for something, it is nearly impossible for us to think about that thing. I had a philosophy professor at BYU who argued that thought could not occur without language. (This is my memory of what he said 20 years ago in a class I failed, so I could be wrong here.) Class members contended infants thought outside language, but the professor said once we learn a language, our thought happens within language.

I believe I've also written before about how a weeding-out process could raise the faith of the average group member by removing those of below-average faith. (Yep, some here and more extensively here.) But it's not just a matter of raising the average of 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 by removing the 3; removing the 3 can allow the 4 to become a higher number.

It's really hard for me to have faith sufficient to be healed of my health problems when everyone around me is talking about how modern medicine that minimizes symptoms is how God heals people in modern times. The scriptures tell us of healings, not management of chronic conditions, and the scriptures are given to us to help us focus our faith. But they can't work when everyone around you is saying, "That's a metaphor."

Notice how Laman and Lemuel are always asking Nephi if scriptures are to be literally understood (like here and here). It's the ploy of the faithless to explain away religious truths as metaphors.

I find a sliver of hope in the life of Abraham. When all his kinsmen in the land of the Chaldeans had turned to the worship of false gods, Abraham remained faithful. So it can be done, but it's awfully difficult to do.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Time Constraints

A few weeks ago, my boss said to me, "Do you think you can teach this class you've never taught before that's pretty much outside your discipline?" When you're on renewable 10-month contracts like I am, there's really only one answer to that question: "Of course I can."

Last week, I got a much more demanding calling at church. (I'm not going to tell you which calling because you'd be all, like, "Really? THAT guy?" What can I say--our ward is pretty small.) I still have my old calling, which was fairly demanding in its own right. And there are some upcoming pressing needs in other areas of the ward, so I'm going to be double-duty-ing it for a while.

I still have my full-time job, and my summer "vacation" (read: unpaid leave) ends tomorrow.

I still have four kids.

I still am trying to learn Mandarin. I was supposed to take the second-level exam this summer, but we pushed it to October so we would have the money to go take it (it's 300 miles away).

I still have a dissertation I'm supposed to be writing.

So blogging has fallen down my list of priorities. Ideally, by the end of the year I have completed my dissertation, I know what I'm doing in this new class I'm teaching (or else I'm done with it and never have to teach it again), and I don't have the older of my church callings anymore. But until then, things might be slow.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Changing Stress with Changing Parts of Speech: Contest

My wife is reading The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio and wants to know if I've ever blogged about the differing stress of the word "contest." As in, "I will contest the contest." I told her I don't know, but I'll do it right now to make her happy.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Posts About Eugenics Probably Shouldn't Have Funny Titles

The drive to Orlando features a billboard for vasectomies. That's nothing new; I guess truckers are a big target audience. But this billboard specifies that they have "low-cost" options, and even "no-cost" options.

What terrifying eugenics scheme is this? Who is paying for these no-cost vasectomies, and why are they willing to do it?

In "end of humanity" news, human sperm count is down sixty percent since the 1970s. What are we doing to ourselves?!

NB: the "math" label is the "science" label, remember?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Optimal Level of Discontent

This paragraph from Richard E. Wagner's To Promote the General Welfare impressed me:

What is perhaps of more concern for questions of justice is neither the distribution of income nor even the correlation between the economic positions of parents and children, but the extent to which people feel stifled by their backgrounds and locked into modes of life they do not truly choose. The widespread growth of such a sense could well undermine the basis for social order,.... If so, the legitimacy and stability of a social order would seem to require conditions that prevent the growth of such sentiments. However, objective measures of the results of economic activity mayb have little ability to describe the extent of this stifling of personal development. [p. 44]

For social growth, we need discontent with the status quo, but if the system itself is viewed as the status quo with which we are discontented, then we undermine society instead of help it progress. A player on a losing team is motivated to try harder in the off-season unless he thinks the league is backing a particular rival team, and then he quits the game in disgust.

To what extent can we prevent the growth of fatalism? Is there a social program or government policy that would work here without giving rise to criticism of state tinkering in private morality?

The faster rate of technological development can move more people out of any perceived ruts, but it doesn't do the job here because it's seen as random. Go to college and study something and maybe 15 years from now you'll be a millionaire because we all need what you were trained to do, but what's more likely is that 15 years from now we've automated what you learned to do in college. As this trend continues and accelerates, even the "winners" will feel increased fatalism.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Airline Ticketing and Skipped Legs

My wife is flying today, so I spent some time trying to understand the economic argument for the harm airlines say they incur when you skip a leg of a multi-part trip. And I can't see it.

First, the issue: sometimes it's cheaper to fly from, say, New York to London, by booking a ticket from New York to Manchester with a layover in London. Then, when you land in London, you get off the flight.

The airline says this is a Very Bad Thing, and they've sued entrepreneurs who create websites to help you exploit these pricing differences. But in what possible way are they harmed? The airline has been paid to move a seat from New York to Manchester, and so they have no argument that they receive harm. Once the resource has been paid for, it doesn't matter to the original owner what I then do with it. If it does, the first sale price needs adjustment.

Airlines say it's bad because they could have sold that seat to another customer. But that's a bogus argument, because they've already been paid for the seat. If they have unmet demand, they should raise the price of tickets, not complain about how the buyers make use of the product.

What if the airline is operating at its efficiency scale and this phantom demand for London-to-Manchester seats induces the airline to expand its flights on the route, thus operating with diseconomies of scale? Well, If they are on their short-run cost curve, in the long run they will switch to a lower-cost production method. If they are on their long-run cost curve, there is room in the industry for another firm to open. The inefficiency will clear, but it might do so through greater competition.

Is THIS the real problem the airlines don't like? I don't see how it's my responsibility as a consumer to help manufacturers maintain their market power.

One last possible argument is related to the experience I had in Bangkok, where my mangoes-and-sticky-rice provider had a menu listing whole plates and half plates, but when I tried to order a whole plate, they wouldn't sell one to me because there weren't enough mangoes. Economic theory says price is supposed to take care of this problem--it there aren't enough mangoes, raise the price and quantity demanded will decline. But they are unwilling to do this due to some combination of influences that can probably all be called menu costs: either actual costs of changing the menu prices, or the loss of consumers' good-will when the firm is perceived as taking advantage of poor people's love of mangoes and sticky rice.

So are airlines concerned about upset customers who get turned away from London-to-Manchester flights that still have empty seats, but the airlines are unwilling to raise the ticket price because of menu costs? It's true that many airlines find themselves in Bertrand competition these days, but they get around that by turning every possible flight-related activity into a fee. They can keep the price the same and charge a connection fee, or a missed connection fee (or, knowing airlines, both). And I just don't see loss of good-will governing that many airline decisions these days (I'm thinking of what the TV show 30 Rock said was United's slogan: "We hate this as much as you do"). And besides, airlines have the stand-by list to use to fill empty seats.

I have a hard time believing they are moving any empty seats anywhere unless there is not a ticketed passenger available to sit in it. And some of those seats are bringing in money from people who have skipped a leg. Airlines are upset because either, 1) a passenger got to London without paying as much as he otherwise would, or 2) robust demand will attract competition. Neither of these concerns is the passenger's responsibility to correct.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Things That Were Better Before: Amazon Kindle

I should make this a repeating series: Things That Were Better Before. Because, more and more, I am finding myself thinking, "That used to be great, but now it's not." Like the entire world has become a giant Quizno's or something.

My Kindle is underwhelming me more every day. My first problem is storage. It comes with a certain amount of storage (my model has 8 GB) with the option of adding an SD card. However, lots of the apps won't install to anything but the internal storage. I added a 32-GB SD card and moved what could move, which turned out to be about 500 MB. That's it. I still get "memory almost full" messages, I've had to remove apps, and others can't run because of space limitations.

So what's the other 31 and a half gigabytes of SD card doing? Well, Amazon now has a new "feature" where, if your device has unused storage, it automatically downloads videos to your device for you to watch later. So now I have a bunch of "The Man in the High Castle" or whatever the hell that show is called. There's a way to turn this "feature" off, thankfully, except I've done that and I still get episodes downloading to my SD card.

I've changed my setting so my pictures save to the SD card, so I guess I could take a ton of pictures. Except the Kindle camera is terrible because it can't focus (seriously, it's 2017 and there are still unfocusing digital cameras being made in this world?). Also, Amazon has changed the photo app so it's unclear where photos go when I take them. They are on the device but also in the cloud and when I delete the photo it only deletes from the device.

And Amazon's cloud service has decided that the unlimited storage plan I've bought doesn't exist anymore, so now I can switch to a variety of limited storage plans. Physical things aren't subject to the store repossessing them after the sale. Even defined digital items aren't subject to this (once I buy a PDF of an article, it's mine). But when the entire world is run on subscription services, what you've bought is only defined until the next billing period, when it may change at the whim of the provider.

The Amazon app store is under-serviced, so I can't get my bank's app on the Kindle without adding Google Play and doing some tricks to make the Google app store think my Kindle is a phone. But then I have to carry Google Play on my Kindle (in the device storage, of course) so I can do mobile banking. But with the terrible Kindle camera, I can't always take legible pictures of the checks I'm trying to deposit.

I've written before about how the commoditization of everything is ruining everything, about how radio is terrible now that radio station owners want to extract every possible cent of value from the radio listener. Well, the same thing is happening to the Kindle user experience. Five years ago, Amazon made their money from Kindle users when the users bought their Kindles. Now they are trying to make money from the users every time the users interact with the device.

I saw an article yesterday about how Amazon as a company is comprised of a breaking-even retailer and a digital services company that has some enormous profit margin. This means I should expect this trend to continue and worsen. I think Amazon is expecting mood affiliation to keep customers from defecting to Walmart. However, I have more affinity for Walmart than I have for Amazon.

Monday, July 17, 2017

South Carolina Fini-- No It's Not

My wife is going to California for our nephew's wedding, and since there's nothing I hate more than having to spend time with my children, I orchestrated pawning them off on my parents. (Actually, it's supposed to make it so I can work during these two weeks.) Since my parents live in Ohio and we live in Florida, we decided to meet in the middle.

We left last Friday and drove through eastern Georgia and western South Carolina. We camped at Sadlers Creek State Park.

Can I tell you how stupid it is that state parks and national forests don't let you reserve a campsite for one night on a weekend? Especially tent sites, since NO ONE CAMPS IN TENTS ANYMORE. Why do they even CALL it "camping" these days? There is nothing even remotely camp-like about what the people at the RV sites are doing. This park had 14 tent sites. Thirteen of them were empty. We were the fourteenth. But we had to pay for a night we didn't use because these tent sites are in such HIGH DEMAND that we can't POSSIBLY allow someone to reserve for only ONE NIGHT!

The next morning we finished the drive to Asheville, and summitted our ninth high point: Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina.

After we met my parents and abandoned handed off our children, my wife and I came home through Charlotte.

Our five-year-old car had its second cracked windshield from road debris. I mentioned this last February on my first trip back to America after 18 months in China, but American highways increasingly leave you with the feeling, "This country used to be rich." How about less crumbling infrastructure and more just infrastructure, America? Of course, that's not going to happen as long as public works projects continue to cost four times what a comparable project costs in Europe. Word of advice for drivers in Late-Empire America: get glass coverage from your auto insurance provider.

And a word of advice for Charlotte drivers: it's called rain, and you'd do well to learn how to drive in it. We saw six accidents in 20 minutes driving across town.

All in all, I added another 33 counties, moving my total to 1,807.

Looking at the map, you might be asking, "Why didn't you finish South Carolina?" Well, we have get to pick up our kids in the future, we thought. So I had a second trip planned for two weeks from now, which would have added these 37 other counties, completing South Carolina, western North Carolina, and adding our tenth high point: Mount Mitchell. However, comma, plans have had to change, and now my parents are going to drive the entire way to Florida to hand the kids back to us.

Good news about this change: two more days of working and not being robbed by another state park (this time it was going to be Tallulah Falls State Park in Georgia). Bad news about this change: no counties, no high point, and unsightly holes in my counties-completed map.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Annnnnd It's Gone Now

Last week I was weeding through some old correspondence (the real kind, kept in a box in my garage that I'm tired of moving about the country, hence the "weeding through"). As I was looking over old letters from friends, I came to an appreciation of these friends' friendships, and an idea that, despite how I've been feeling this year, I can still be friends with people who know I'm a failure. I resolved to write to them, but it was late, so I left the correspondence and the writing to complete the next day.

When I came back to it the next day, the correspondence seemed different. Instead of making me think, "Look at the good friends you have," it made me think, "Look at the good friends you used to have."

I've had this letter writing on my to-do list for a week now and I can't get any of it done.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Macron Makes Trump Look Like a Better Choice

French president Emmanuel Macron is beginning to draw some attention with his illiberal governance. However, he's not drawing nearly the level of attention he deserves, because he was the preferred candidate of the media class.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, has the undivided attention of the entire American media, ready to interpret his every move as a betrayal of America to his Russian taskmasters.

Assuming Macron and Trump have identical tastes for illiberality, which will be able to accomplish more of the illiberal agenda: the one with an under-scrutinous media or the one with an over-scrutinous media?

Macron is making Trump look like a better choice for president. Tell me this: in the days after a Hillary Clinton victory, does the Washington Post adopt its new motto "Democracy Dies in Darkness"? Given that they had eight years of an Obama presidency (the last three of which under Jeff Bezos) to find their defenders-of-classical-liberalism bona fides and they never got around to it, something tells me their attitude under Clinton would have been a lot more like the French media's attitude under Macron. If that's the case, candidates like Trump and Marine Le Pen have the added selling feature that they can goad the media into doing their job.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Perhaps News Is a Public Good

When I teach about public goods, I tell my students, "You have to get out of the mindset that 'public good' means 'government-provided good,' because it does not." In economics, a public good is any good which is non-rival and non-excludable.

If a good is non-rival, it means one party's use of the good does not diminish the user experience of any other party. A good is non-rival if it makes sense for you to ask, "Since you're already doing X, can I do it, too?" Of course you don't say to your friend, "Since you're already eating that sandwich, can I do it, too?" But you might say, "Since you're already watching that TV show, can I do it, too?"

A good is non-excludable if my provision of the good to one party is tantamount to providing it to all parties. I can't turn on the lights for just one person in a room; if I turn on the lights for one, the lights are on for all.

Many textbooks present a two-by-two matrix of possible classifications of goods based on whether or not they are excludable and rival. Like this:

To help reinforce my Prime Directive (Learn, Don't Memorize), I often tell students that I will constantly present the matrix to them one way but then on the exam have it the opposite way. However, that would involve remembering to always present it the same way in class, and I can't be bothered to remember crap like that.

Notice this analysis doesn't ask who provides what. Government can give away clothing and that does not move clothing from the "private goods" box to the "public goods" box. Nevertheless, there's a healthy percentage of my students who, when asked to identify the public good, select "a government-provided t-shirt." When economists call something a "public good," they don't mean that government is providing it, only that, without government provision, the amount provided will be inefficient (perhaps even zero).

The reason I mention all this is because Thomas Snyder writes in On Tyranny:

We find it natural that we pay for a plumber or a mechanic, but demand our news for free. If we did not pay for plumbing or auto repair, we would not expect to drink water or drive cars. Why then should we form our political judgment on the basis of zero investment? We get what we pay for. [p. 77]
Snyder isn't understanding excludability and rivalness. Plumbing and auto repair are private goods: when I pay for a mechanic, I am not necessarily providing one to everyone, and someone using a mechanic I've paid for leaves me with a worse service. But news isn't this way. That's why we think it natural to get our news for free.

Most solutions to the market failure associated with the under-provision of public goods involve government provision. When fire department protection was under-subscribed, fire departments became branches of local governments. So does this mean that news organizations should be paid for by government?

I started a new paragraph so that you'd have a split-second delay, and in that split-second delay, I think you probably thought of a million reasons this is a Very Bad Idea. (I've been reading A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books to my youngest--he's actually waiting the end of this blog post typing so we can read a chapter of The House at Pooh Corner--and I see I've picked up Milne's habit of capitalizing Important Concepts and Terms.) It would destroy the First Amendment. Yet news seems to be a public good, and if we are concerned about under-informed voters (or--what's even worse in my book--what could be called uninformed-but-smugly-confident-they-are-actually-hyper-informed voters), we're not going to get a market solution to this problem.

Monday, July 03, 2017

On On Tyranny

Timothy Snyder's book On Tyranny promises to be great. Perhaps that's why it is so disappointing when you realize that it's not. What could have been one of the most important books of our current times turns out to be just a bit of anti-Trump hysteria.

First, what made it seem good? It is short and small (how can such a tiny book be threatening to the non-reading majority of Americans?). It is written in an accessible style (any junior-high graduate should be able to understand the vocabulary and concepts). The chapters are short (readers need not worry about fitting the book into their lives). It's available at Target, and for a relatively-low price.

All of this accessibility is important because the topic--the threat of American tyranny--is important. This topic could easily lend itself to any number of massive tomes, but this is material that needs to reach the common American. This could have been the Common Sense of our day, the volume that every adult American read and could discuss.

Instead.

Instead, Snyder is content to hyperventilate about Donald Trump. While the twenty chapter headings are all non-partisan tips for resisting tyranny, the application of each heading is a purely partisan screed that gives the lie to Snyder's supposed concern with tyranny. It's not tyranny Snyder wants us to resist, it's Trump.

Which might not be completely contradictory, if Trump is, in fact, tyrannical. And Trump is the president of the day, so any resistance to tyranny in 2017 is going to be resistance to Trump, right? But Snyder gives no indication that America's march to tyranny had any origin other than the election of Trump. What of Barack Obama's growth of the surveillance state? Would the election of Hillary Clinton have set Snyder's mind completely at ease? Of course a criticism of the American government is going to involve criticizing the president, but Snyder doesn't criticize anything else.

Snyder writes, "European history has seen three major democratic movements: after the First World War in 1918, after the Second World War in 1945, and after the end of communism in 1989" (p. 11). This just isn't true. If Snyder was not an historian, he could be excused not knowing about 1848. But he is an historian, at Yale University. If he wrote, "Twentieth-century Europe has seen three major democratic movements," he'd be absolutely correct (and in line with his book's subtitle: "Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century"). I know any criticism of what is missing can be answered with, "Well, I was trying to keep it short and punchy," but my proposed wording does not increase the word count at all (counting hyphenated words as single words), and only increased the character count by eight (and that chapter has room for six more lines of material on its last page).

I see this as symptomatic of Snyder's tendency to simplify history beyond its breaking point. While he starts the book acknowledging the tyrannical nature of both fascism and communism, it is the fascists that come in for more of the criticism. He writes of disillusioned voters being ripe for picking by fascist politicians and "post-truth is pre-fascism" (p. 71), but in the twentieth century, more people were killed by left-wing post-truth tyranny than by right-wing post-truth tyranny.

"But it's the right-wing version we face today!" Is it? Again, Snyder seems to think so, but the way I see it, the threat of tyranny is coming from both sides. Snyder writes an entire chapter on establishing a private life (Chapter 14) with no mention of Edward Snowden, Barack Obama, and the NSA. He writes two chapters on resisting Groupthink phrasing (Chapter 9 and Chapter 17) with no mention of campus speech codes and the persecution of those deemed politically incorrect. Tyranny has many faces, Tim, not just (in the words of John Oliver) the "smug and somewhat gassy" face of Donald Trump. You should ask your former colleague Erika Christakis if the face of tyranny ever resembles a Yale student.

Campus fascists are clearly not in Snyder's concept of tyranny. He writes, "It is those who were considered exceptional, eccentric, or even insane in their own time--those who did not change when the world around them did--whom we remember and admire today" (p. 52). Does Snyder speak so highly of those who resist the imposition of non-binary pronouns on the verbiage choices of others? Or what about when Snyder writes this?

You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual--and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism. [p. 66]
Would Snyder condemn the "renunciation of reality" inherit in Kim Q. Hall's paper "'Not Much to Praise in Such Seeking and Finding': Evolutionary Psychology, the Biological Turn in the Humanities, and the Epistemology of Ignorance," wherein Hall complains that biological concepts of gender lead to "hostility and intolerance" towards "feminist insights" into gender? Was pre-transition Caitlyn Jenner being Woman of the Year a contributing force to tyranny? Well, since it wasn't Trump's doing, Snyder doesn't feel any need to look into it.

Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny could have been a seminal book in American history. Instead, it is echo-chamber literature for those terrified of Donald Trump. The chapter titles and the abstract introducing each chapter forms the outline of a great book that needs to be written. Maybe someday someone else will do it. Snyder didn't have time because he was presumably sharing anti-Trump memes on his friends' Facebook timelines.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why I Can't Maintain Friendships

I've noticed before that the most I can stay friends with someone is about seven years. I have a few friends I've known longer than that, but it's usually a situation where we were once friends, grew apart, and reconnected later.

So why can't I maintain friendships? Because my brain associates each person I know with the worst thing that person knows about me. And by the time I've known someone for seven years, that person has had enough negative experiences with me that I can only not think about the terrible things I've said or done to them if I stop interacting with them.

This is the main reason I ended the Personal Board of Directors, and the main reason I have a plan to cut all remaining ties with anyone outside my house. I'm to the point with my dissertation where I might have to quit for the sake of self-preservation, and if I do that, how am I supposed to interact with everyone whom I will have disappointed? I can't go around for eight years telling people I'm going to be a doctor and then be, like, "Just kidding, I'm not smart enough for that," without having it make further interaction impossible.

Monday, June 26, 2017

From My Journal: 4 August 2007

In Chicago Temple tonight thought "I wish Nancy had brought my gum." Then I found a piece of gum on the floor of my dressing cubicle. I thought "If you can't eat gum off the floor of the temple, when can you eat off the floor?" So I ate it. It was exactly the same flavor as mine from home. I thought, "This is just like the room of requirement" in the Harry Potter books.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Shame-Free Society

There's a large push in modern society to eliminate shame. Whether it's "fat-shaming" or "slut-shaming" or any other type of shaming, there are those who want to end the ability of someone to convey to another that standards of decency are not being met. This is irrespective of whether or not the activity or behavior in question is, in fact, shameful (in the sense that society or at least the individual suffers as a result).

(What's ironic is that they are not actually opposed to the concept of shame, since they are more than willing to shame those who are "wrongfully" shaming others.)

I thought of this when I read this in Richard E. Wagner's To Promote the General Welfare

the concept of dignity implies a concept of shame. [p. 41]
If there is no longer anything that can properly be called shameful, then we can no longer consider anything dignified. If we surrender the concept of blameworthy behavior, we must also surrender the concept of praiseworthy behavior.

The slayers of shaming don't acknowledge this. They think they can end the awarding of disapprobation while maintaining the awarding of approbation, but the failure to award approbation is just disapprobation by another name. When we finally live in the shame-free society, we will find we have no dignity remaining.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another City on My Black List: Daytona Beach, FL

About seven or eight years ago, our family stopped at a drive-through in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we paid over 10-percent sales tax. We have made sure to never again make a purchase within the city limit of Harrisonburg. How's that confiscation working for you NOW, idiots?

This past weekend, we went to the Orlando Florida Temple and stopped in Daytona Beach to buy a few things. Our receipts show we paid a "public usage fee," which is separate from the sales tax.

Sales tax is already a morally-bankrupt concept: absent the presence of the state, orderly transaction would be impossible. Wow, I guess it's a good thing the state coordinated my marriage or else I would still be single. Oh, wait, I was able to enter the most-important contractual arrangement of my life without a bureaucrat. But I guess I somehow wouldn't be able to buy a pair of pants without one.

Now on top of sales tax, I'm being charged a fee for being a member of the public with the gall to shop at a business. Congrats, Daytona Beach, you've joined Harrisonburg on my list of cities I will never shop in again.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

People Who Want to Believe That Americans Are Stupid

My wife shared with me a collection of items that are meant to show just how stupid Americans are. Among them: 24% of Americans don't know the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Is there a charitable explanation for this? Can we agree that these two questions are not equally difficult?

What does the Earth revolve around?

Does the Earth revolve around the Sun, the Moon, Mars, or Venus?

The first question is going to get a lot of people who answer "its axis" because they've confused rotation and revolution. But this doesn't mean they believe in a Jupiter-centric solar system or something. It means that most of us don't use the terms "rotation" and "revolution" regularly and so are rusty on their meanings.

Why does this article take such an uncharitable approach? What type of people want to believe that Americans are stupid? I can think of two types: those who want to feel superior to their peers (these are the people who wear "I see dumb people" t-shirts), and those who want to explain some aspect of modern America (e.g.: its president) as a result of American stupidity.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Negation Through Addition

Hoochie is an impolite word, and coochie is an impolite word, but hoochie-coochie is a just fine thing to say. How in the world did that happen? Are there any other instances like that? Usually compounding impolite words makes an even-worse word, like how you can say "ass" and you can say "hole" but you better not put them together. For some reason, this doesn't apply to "hoochie-coochie," which is something you could talk about with your grandmother. Weird.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I'll Believe Anything (Except What's True)

A blog I follow, Cafe Hayek, had a blog post recently with this quotation of H.L. Mencken:

Men in the mass will believe anything that promises to bring in the New Jerusalem, and the more idiotic it is the more eagerly they will embrace it. Nothing that is true ever convinces them.
This is something I talk about when I teach macroeconomics: we know what it takes to experience economic growth--fix your education system and wait 20 years. But we're constantly beguiled by the voices telling us, "What you need to do is allow the government to funnel money to a particular segment of the economy," or, "What really works is this latest redistribution scheme." I tell my students, "We all know what it takes to lose weight: consume fewer calories and burn more calories. Some combination of those two things will lead to weight loss. But most of us say, 'That's not going to work for me.' Then someone comes along and says, 'You can eat all you want as long as you only eat orange food after 7 p.m.' and we say, 'Now THAT's the diet for me!'"

But what really struck me about this Mencken quote is that the mass will believe anything that promises to bring in the New Jerusalem except for what will bring in the New Jerusalem. It's not a secret that early Christians practiced collectivism. It's not that hard to tease out of Revelation that economic inequality is not a feature of Christ's millennial reign. Latter-day revelation is much more explicit about millennial economics (which is to say the economics prevailing in the Millennium, not the argument that young people can't buy houses because they eat too much avocado toast), but even if you don't subscribe to latter-day revelation, you can see from history that any time someone has a goal of building Heaven on Earth, they have something to say about economic equality.

It should be quite apparent that we cannot continue to maintain economic distinction and hope to usher in the New Jerusalem, and the blueprint has been given to us of how to accomplish this (hint: St. Paul tells us that without charity we are nothing), but instead of increasing our own charity voluntarily, we support political systems that promise to force charity on others.

If you support confiscatory tax rates for millionaires and refuse money to the people milling around the Walmart parking lot (Is your Walmart as overrun with beggars as ours is? Is this just an American thing now?), you are exactly the sort of fool Mencken had in mind.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Do Go Not Gently Into That Good Night" Means "Go Ahead and Die, But Destroy the Place While You're At It"

Here's a thought I had the other day about people who insist one should not split a verb: can they never use the word "not"?

Here's an article with some background on splitting verb phrases. The example used by the author is "will faithfully execute." Some would say it is more grammatically correct to say "faithfully will execute" or "will execute faithfully." And either of those are also workable English sentences.

But what about when you use the adverb "not"? You can't say "I will execute not the office" without it taking the meaning that you will instead execute something else, and you can't really say "I not will execute the office" at all. The only way to do it is to say "I will not execute the office," which is splitting the verb with the adverb.

It seems like there has to be an exception to this "rule" for using "not," which is a good indication that the "rule" should just be ignored.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Weekend Blogging

How much do I blog as blogging, and how much do I blog as work avoidance? Well, how much blogging do I do on weekends and holidays? The answer is "not much."

"But, A Random Stranger, here's a recent post from a Saturday!" Check the time stamp: if it posted at 12:27 p.m., I wrote it previously and scheduled it to post later. So the weekends that my blog has a post are really just indications that the previous work week I went hard on the work avoidance.

I've written about this before, like when I noted on my blog's 10th anniversary post that "coincidentally" I average 21 posts per month and each month has an average of 21 work days in it. But I was reminded of this again when I thought, "Wow, Tyler Cowen has an assorted links post on Saturdays, too!" Of course he does, because he blogs as blogging, not as work avoidance.

Maybe this is legitimate extenuation or maybe this is just attempted justification, but I do benefit from practice making cogent arguments. ("And what does that have to do with your blogging?" Zing!) But if I really benefited from it, I'd be doing it on Saturdays and Sundays, too.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Females Are Strong As Hell"

I've written before about this experience I had in seventh grade: I had a boy at my school who was way too nerdy for his own good. His name was Keith. (A quick Google search indicates he's currently a physicist and not in prison like a different nerdy boy from my junior high school.) One day Keith saw me reading Don Quixote. He said, "They say the first time you read Don Quixote you laugh and the second time you read it you cry."

I said, "Shut up, Keith," because I was in the middle of a laughing reading and I didn't appreciate that he was trying to kill my joy. Then as I kept reading, I could see what he meant, and that got me even angrier, and eventually I had to stop reading it.

These days, I think one would express Keith's idea by speaking of the Straussian reading of Don Quixote. Well, today I want to write about the Straussian viewing of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The first time one views Kimmy Schmidt, it's a show about a naive woman acting foolishly because she is a teenager in an adult world. It's a step up from Napoleon Dynamite, where it's never quite clear if we are supposed to identify with Napoleon or feel superior to him (I lean towards "identify with" because otherwise the movie is too mean-spirited), because Kimmy isn't behaving this way due to stupidity or arrested development, she's merely transported past several years of development (like 13 Going on 30 or Freaky Friday; don't hate me because I've seen a lot of teen-girl-comedies).

The show, though, is not about a naive woman acting foolishly. It's about women and their relationships with each other, with men, and with themselves. And it becomes obvious that this isn't just a case of a show developing a message when you re-watch the first episodes. The message has always been there.

I was going to call Kimmy Schmidt the most feminist show ever, but that would be using the term "feminist" differently from what it commonly means. Feminist shows are shows like Rhoda or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, where a woman's not a person until she can kill a baby same as (presumably) any man can. Instead, Kimmy Schmidt is female positive. Kimmy doesn't have to give up heterosexuality to be a "true" woman. She doesn't have to eschew nurturing. But she also doesn't need to have those preferences or traits to be a woman, either. She's a woman because she is one, and there's no one way to be a "true" woman, because the women on the show are varied and all authentic women: Jacqueline and Lillian and even Mimi are women just like Kimmy. Some of the women make terrible choices, and they are usually terrible because they place a man's happiness before their own, but these women are still women, too.

I try to be as female positive as possible (I enjoy lecturing on the economic implications of Days for Girls) and I appreciate the female positive nature of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. But I'm not yet prepared to forgive Keith for killing my joy regarding Don Quixote. That was just unnecessarily cruel.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Another Neologism

We should have one word to convey the idea of "dying of thirst." Nobody has to say he's "dying of hunger," because he just says, "I'm starving." So why don't we have an equivalent for thirst?

My ill-conceived suggestion is "dehydromort." And since we don't make irregular verbs anymore, I think this one should conjugate as dehydromort/dehydromaert/dehydromurt. So the latest version of "Oregon Trail" will have a screen that reads, "You have dehydromurt."

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Wendy's Square Hamburger Patties

What's the deal with the shape of Wendy's hamburger patties? Has there ever been an attempt to explain why they are square, especially considering that their hamburger buns aren't square? This seems to me like spurious product differentiation. "Our burgers taste better--they're SQUARE!"

Possible (but unsatisfying) explanations: 1) Cheese is square. But if you're really worked up about the patty/cheese misalignment, get round cheese. 2) An attempt to make consumers believe they're getting more meat. The extra corners had to come from somewhere, right? But it seems more likely they came from smaller buns than from larger patties. 3) The extra corners taste better. A mouthful of meat and cheese with no bun to hold back the flavor express. Then why have a bun at all? As a delivery vehicle (no one is going to pick up a hamburger patty with his bare hands unless it's sanitized inside a bun)? You can knock down the size of the bun to allow for a better meat-and-cheese-to-worthless-bun ratio, and other firms would follow along this track if it was a truly superior dining experience. The fact that Wendy's is the only square burger restaurant going indicates that they are the misguided firm. ("What about White Castle, huh?!" It's adorable that you call White Castle a restaurant. I'm reminded of Conan O'Brien's joke that White Castle was going to cut out the middle-man and just start spraying its ground-up burgers around the insides of toilet bowls.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Universal Basic Income and a National Merit Lottery

In the argument against income inequality, what is often overlooked is the value that comes from unequal incomes, which lead to labor market equilibrium. Jobs that require more skill, a longer training period, or less-pleasant working conditions need to offer higher salaries to attract talent. If we were to level the income playing field, so to speak, we would create labor market disequilibrium.

Thus, a problem with Universal Basic Income (UBI) proposals is that they would empty the ranks of the low-skilled employees. Now, usually UBI is presented as a response to this emptying instead of a cause of it; given that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is turning some workers into zero marginal productivity (ZMP) workers, and given that ZMP workers can't sustain life if their wage equals the value of their marginal product, UBI becomes a basic human right. But the chances that we will select a UBI level such that all ZMP workers are sustained in life but no workers with positive marginal products are attracted to the doll is unlikely.

So how can we structure a UBI proposal to still allow for higher-skill trades to attract workers without driving income inequality? What if we coupled a UBI with a merit lottery? The gains from the higher-skill trades will be distributed randomly to members of those trades such that the expected value of their lifetime earnings is still higher and thus attracts the necessary higher-skill workers, but the unpredictable nature of when a worker receives these gains will couple with a lifetime consumption smoothing to produce a less-spendy upper class. They get their income like before, but it doesn't translate into as many possessions, so they a more-modest lifestyle. And since all the psychological harm of being lower class comes from the visual differences between you and the upper class, having a more-restrained upper class spending pattern should help reduce the harm of income inequality.

What are the rich people going to do with that money if they aren't going to spend it? Why, save it for the years the odds aren't in their favor. And more saving equals more investment, which, in a country with ever-mentioned crumbling infrastructure, should be music to our ears.

So how would the merit lottery work? Employers have to buy entries to the lottery for their employees, and the way salaries would rise to attract entry would be that employers would offer more entries, which would increase your expected value of taking the job. The employers are willing to pay more to gain another lottery entry because the skills are more valuable to them now. Lower-skilled workers are sitting at home watching the lottery with an entry or two, and higher-skilled workers are watching the lottery with a TV tray covered with tickets like an old lady with a gambling addiction. If no other benefit comes from it, it will be fun to subvert the typical class behavior of lower-class people having lots of lottery tickets and upper-class people never noticing the lottery at all.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Movies in Need of Lucasesque Tweeking

Fans of Star Wars hate that George Lucas can't leave the original trilogy alone, adding CGI and in some places even changing the story entirely (Han shot first!). But what are some films that could use a little George Lucas tinkering?

The Second Star Wars Trilogy

Imagine what someone could do with the second trilogy if that someone knew what he was doing? So long, Fodesinbeed Annodue and 45 minutes of podracing! Say hello to minor MINOR character status, Jar-Jar Binks! We could get a series with a three-movie plot arc instead of a collection of 30-minute sequences. Now that Lucas is no longer making the Star Wars decisions, I hope this can actually happen. Just wait a few years until the novelty of (and the story ideas for) these Rogue One-style movies runs out, and then maybe Disney will reboot the second trilogy.

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy

This one isn't a result of bad movie-making, it's just a result of now-distractingly-bad CGI. I'm reading The Lord of the Rings to my kids this year, with the expectation that we'll watch the trilogy around the New Year holiday, but I'm not looking forward to seeing movies I love and coming away not loving them anymore. I would like to think that Peter Jackson could smooth out some of the problems with a little Lucasesque tinkering. But maybe not, given fans' critical reviews of the Hobbit trilogy CGI. Are we going to have to make J.J. Abrams save every movie series now?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Asherah Knowledge and Mormon Feminists

Mormon doctrine includes a Mother in Heaven. Some wonder why this doctrine is not emphasized; in fact, some claim it is suppressed and see this as evidence of misogyny in a patriarchal organization.

There appears to be archaeological evidence that ancient Judaism included the worship of Asherah. (It's tricky, because is the evidence of "true" ancient Judaism, or of apostate Israelites admixing paganism to their religion?) Some might claim, "It's not legitimate because Genesis doesn't tell us anything about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob participating." However, dot, dot, dot....

What if...true worship of the God of Israel included worship of His wife? God sees how this quickly devolves into fertility cults and inappropriate doctrines. So when God's commandments for worship are re-revealed to Moses, there's no inclusion of His wife this time.

It makes sense to me. If I found out that I had students who were coming to office hours merely to lust over the pictures of my family I have on my desk, I'd stop having those pictures on my desk.

There's no reason to believe that the current extent of revealed religion is the full extent of God's gospel. The Law of Moses and the Sermon on the Mount are both religious systems revealed by a God who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." And just because we say we live in "the fullness of times" doesn't mean the current structure is the final structure, either. (I believe this is what Dieter F. Uchtdorf was getting at when he said, "Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us.... In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes 'all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,' and the 'many great and important things' that 'He will yet reveal.'")

This could explain why religions of neighboring Gentiles continued to be so attractive to Israelites, like early Jewish Christians who still practiced circumcision, or modern Roman Catholics who only attend Latin Mass; when a religion drops a requirement, there's a tendency to think, "I'll be an extra-good member and keep doing that old requirement."

Eventually, the post-exilic Deuteronomist reforms of Josiah uprooted all Asherah worship from Judaism, but that's not necessarily an indication that it is "wrong" knowledge, just that that group had shown they couldn't be responsible with the knowledge. (I don't know how I feel about Josiah's reforms. Was he right or wrong?)

Anyway, my point is that there can be very good reasons to keep some truths out of true religion without necessarily being the result of the church being a pious version of the He-Man Woman-Haters Club.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Trump Admin Leaks

Last week, a terrorist attacked a music concert in Manchester, England. The local constabulary (a word that caused difficulties for Carlos Tevez) is sharing information with American law enforcement. And somewhere in that chain, someone is sharing the information with American media.

Most people see this as a continuation of the Trump administration leaks, but I don't. These leaks are different. The leaks we've had so far have been the result of anti-Trump bureaucrats seeking to undermine the Trump administration from within. But that's not what's happening here.

I see these leaks as tied to American anthrotheism. Modern Americans can't know information without sharing it, because it's their only way of getting acknowledged by the God-stand-in that is the general public.

If you want to know what this ends up looking like, imagine every security-clearance-carrying government employee acting like Kristen Wiig's surprise-party-loving Sue character on Saturday Night Live.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

What Did Communists Use for Light Before the Candle?

A couple weeks ago I wrote, "When the EMP finally sends us back to the Stone Age...." When I wrote it, I paused and asked myself, "To what age would an EMP really send us back?"

I stuck with Stone Age because I think our bronze and iron manufacturing processes involve electricity, so they will be rendered futile. Of course, you don't need electricity to make bronze (which is why the Bronze Age came about when it did, long before the Industrial Revolution), but the world will have to reconfigure our bronze industry to use non-electronic manufacturing methods.

It would probably be more accurate to say that an EMP would send a targeted area back to the Stone Age with artifacts of more-advanced periods, and this condition would persist until new electronic equipment can be imported from non-targeted areas. But here's the next question: is advanced civilization a stable equilibrium, or an unstable one? Would we all calm down until the boats from Asia and Europe arrived with replacement equipment, or would be go full Thunderdome in a weekend?

My money's on Thunderdome.

PS: The post title is from a joke, which my students in China didn't understand.

Friday, May 26, 2017

"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Economist Paul Romer has been involved in a Deep State battle of his own, trying to get World Bank staff reports to limit the use of the word "and" to 2.6% of the text. (Seriously.) And, because it hurt the feelings of the poorly-communicating economists, he's been removed from managerial duties. (Double seriously.)

But here's why this has become the topic of a blog post here at A Random Stranger: because Romer wrote a blog post wherein he says "I slaughter kittens in my office."

Am I the only person who reads that and thinks of this meme?

Talk about an inelegant choice of words! Now who's the one in need of better communication skills, Paul?

Seriously, though: Deirdre McCloskey has written much about economics becoming intentionally inaccessible to preserve the mysticism of what economists do. While Robert Lucas famously said he didn't really understand something until he could write it in a model, someone else (sometimes said to be Albert Einstein) has said you don't really know anything until you can explain it to your grandmother. On this Lucas/Einstein spectrum, McCloskey and Romer would side with Einstein. The World Bank underlings would side with Lucas. (Shocker.)

In the old system (pre-1990s?), the underlings would dislike their boss and do things his way. But now, they got their boss reassigned.

This is related to other thoughts I have had this week about the Trump administration and leaks to the media, but I woke up late today (double-overtime victory for the Penguins last night!), so I'm trying to get back on schedule, which means keeping this blog post to one short idea. And that idea, evidently, is that Paul Romer might be sending us a cryptic message that he masturbates in his office.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Asian Communists: More Sexist, or Less Sexist?

One question I had before going to China was this: will I see more sexism or less?

China is in Asia, where cultures exhibit more misogyny. (Remember the wisdom of Austin Powers, who notes that in Japan women come second, "or sometimes not at all.") But China is Communist, and Communist societies exhibit less misogyny. (What matters to a Communist government is how good of cannon fodder its citizens are, and ladies can serve in human waves just as well as dudes.)

What I saw in China was an Asian level of misogyny more than a Communist level of misogyny. Husbands and wives out for a walk "together" would be walking in single file, with the man in front. Home production and childcare were the province of women, even if they also had professional responsibilities outside the home. My school had boys sports teams but it had never crossed anyone's minds that girls could play sports, too, until the Western teachers started teams for girls. And during the after-school play periods, football was exclusively for boys, walking laps of the track was exclusively for girls, and a small group of intrepid girls would join in an ultimate frisbee game.

What do I make of this? Well, maybe it's just further evidence that China isn't as Communist as they think they are. (Like when my students thought a regressive tax code was a good idea because it provided incentive for poor people to work harder, which isn't exactly a sentiment Karl Marx would have endorsed.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Maybe Drugs Are the Answer

Some of you maybe have picked up on the fact that I've been having an especially-difficult time these past 10 months or so. It has led to my paused-but-not-scrapped plan to cut all ties with pre-existing friends and family. How this summer turns out will be the deciding factor, I think.

Now, I never had any desire to try any drugs in my life, but that all changed when I saw Limitless. If I had access to Bradley Cooper's drug, I don't know what I'd do. (If I didn't have kids, I would take it with probability P > 1.) And with the success I'd have with it, the motivation for the friend-clearing plan would go away, so really my friends should be encouraging my drug use.

Two months ago, though, a second type of drug use became very appealing to me. Based on the strength of the recommendation in the lyrics to "Can't Feel My Face" by The Weeknd, I found myself wondering, "How would a guy like me even begin using heroin?" The good news is: I have no idea. I guess I'd find a marijuana dealer and work my way up? Sherlock seems like a totally respectable bloke and he's figured it out somehow, so it can't be impossible.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Net Social Loss of Toll Road Construction

I've written before about the inequality-increasing nature of toll road construction (everyone suffers inconvenience now, but only the prosperous get to enjoy the benefits later), but this past weekend, as I was delayed by toll road construction in Orlando, I realized that the total social benefit of toll road construction is negative.

Everyone suffers inconvenience now, so our social welfare declines. But in the future, the convenience is only available to those who pay for it, and with variable-pricing toll roads (as the lanes in the median of Interstate 4 will be), motorists will pay for the entire value of the convenience they experience. So even if I'm rich enough to pay for the toll roads, I receive no net benefit by doing so. Thus, my lifetime value is still negative (loss during the construction phase and no subsequent offsetting gain).

So not only do toll roads increase inequality, they also decrease welfare for all existing motorists.

EDIT (5/26/17): Upon further reflection, I guess this is only true for the marginal user; with a downward-sloping demand curve, there will still be those who value the toll lanes more than the price they pay to use them.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

This Complaint Is REALLY About Rexburg

Two weeks or so ago, I was tricked by my wife into complaining about Rexburg when the problem was actually happening in Provo. But now I have a problem that is happening in Rexburg. My 17-year-old niece arrived in town a month ago, having graduated high school early. Now she has a 21-year-old boyfriend.

Look, I'm all for adulting like you can't believe, but not until you are an adult. Yes, college kids shouldn't be playing video games in giant mixed-sex groups until their thirties, but they also shouldn't be pairing off with children who would normally still be in high school now.

Economics as Self-Help

A few weeks ago, I was trying to stress to my macroeconomics class the distinction between nominal and real variables and why money is neutral in the long run. I said, "Real things matter." I realized that I was sounding like a self-help guru. Then, later that day in microeconomics, when I was trying to help them understand the concept of Nash equilibrium, I said, "You can only control you."

Maybe there's a book to written there: Economics for the Soul. It could include something about sunk costs, too ("You can't get back the past").

Copyright pending or something.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Distribution of Talent: Bug or Feature?

In Richard E. Wagner's To Promote the General Welfare, he writes

Criticism of such distributional outcomes [singers and athletes receiving more income than others] is ultimately a criticism of people for liking to watch singers and athletes perform, as well as possibly a criticism of God for restricting the supply of such talents. [p. 23]
Has God ever given us a reason for His restriction of talent? Possibly, when He said "this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted in that the rich are made low."

God could solve poverty, but so can man. "For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves." Inequality is the beginning condition, but it's not God's desired ending condition. In fact, the presence of economic inequality is the foundation of sin. Our continuation in inequality disqualifies us for spiritual blessings we would otherwise be experiencing.

As Marion G. Romney said in 1966, "What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations." God's uneven distribution of talent isn't a bug of the human experience, it's a feature, and one that makes it possible for us to sanctify ourselves. We shouldn't criticize God for creating an initial endowment we have the power to alter, and we shouldn't use the threat of violence to take from others or force them to give under duress. All I can justly control is myself.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Practical Uses for Secondary Languages

When my wife and I want to communicate without our children understanding, we use Spanish. This is sometimes difficult because I've never actually studied any Spanish, so we are limited in what we can say, and it only continues to work because our children don't know Spanish, but it has gotten us through this far, so we'll keep using it. (The only time it didn't work was once our daughter learned that "helado" means "ice cream.")

However, yesterday I was out with my wife and I wanted to say something to her about the women next to us in the store. I couldn't use Spanish, though, because the one woman was speaking Spanish on the phone. (In fact, what I wanted to say was that I didn't know the origin of the one woman's unusual Spanish accent.) I couldn't use English because the women were speaking English to each other. I've tried before to use German with my wife, figuring it's pretty close to English so maybe she can figure it out, but she just asks, "Are you speaking German to me?", and doesn't even try to understand.

Good thing we both know a little Chinese, right? Herbert and Lou Hoover used Chinese to speak in front of White House staff they didn't want eavesdropping. So I began, "Tā shuō Xībānyáyǔ, kěshì--" but my wife interrupted me to say, "Are you speaking Chinese to me? I can only count to 10, you know?" Since I wasn't trying to say something about a number less than 10, I had to stop.

Aside from private conversations with your spouse, all secondary languages are pointless. You can accomplish the same result with just speaking your primary language slowly and excessively loudly.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"What's His Name, Uh, Mumbly Joe, Uh, I Saw Him on TV the Other...."

Our oldest son, Articulate Joe, has never really been big on verbal communication. (In fact, his blog nickname was originally Mumbly Joe because of his insistence on only communicating through guttural tones, but when he finally started using words at age three, I upgraded him to Articulate Joe.) Since speech is how most tests of memory arise, it appears he has a poor memory. In reality, his memory is awesome, but his ability to express it in words is pretty poor.

Once we went to the home of some friends and our kids spent four hours or so playing with our friends' kids. When we got home, my wife and I were talking about Articulate Joe's ability to remember names. I called him in the room and asked, "What were the names of the two boys you played with all day?" He immediately answered, "Don't Know and No Idea."

This week we've started watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is proving to be quite popular with our kids. The only problem is, Articulate Joe can't remember the name of the show because he can't remember the name of the actor. In fact, the first time he tried to talk about it, he also couldn't remember the name Mary Poppins, so he ended up saying, "The show with the guy from that movie."

He's improving, though: yesterday he called it The Bert Show.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Distraction and Deity

When the EMP finally sends us back to the Stone Age, this is what our nightly entertainment will look like.

I believe a population that regularly looks at the Milky Way will be a more spiritual population.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Healthcare Facts Accidentally Getting Publicity

We're approaching 10 years of public debate on government healthcare policy. Or are we? Debate is usually a process where claims are made and either supported or refuted. Instead, we've had nearly a decade of baseless statements.

Here are two facts that have been in the news lately that should have been publicized years ago: most people don't value healthcare, and some healthcare spending is unnecessary.

Possibly 70% of low-income people don't value health insurance at the cost of its provision. We can save a lot of money by giving uninsured people the cash equivalent of their personal valuations instead of giving them insurance. Why has this never been a component of the public discussion? (I know why, but it's a question worth making sure we all ask ourselves.)

Somewhere around $400 billion is spent every year to mitigate the effects of one lifestyle choice: carbohydrate consumption by those with Type II diabetes. This is like free lung transplants for unreformed smokers. Nihilism has made us think we can't possibly require behavior changes by those receiving public assistance. Annihilism is trying to make us think it is actually a good idea to funnel money to those making self-destructive choices.

It's ridiculous that it's taken nearly 10 years to have these things said aloud, but it's encouraging that they are finally being discussed.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Scouting and the Death of Masculinity

Last night, I attended my son's Blue and Gold banquet, which did serious violence to the word "banquet." But as I've written before, considering the professional, educational, familial, and personal complications they have going on in their lives, I am appreciative that the women who run our ward's Cub Scouts program have it running at all.

But I want to reflect for a moment on why Cub Scouts is run exclusively by women, and how that undermines the entire purpose of the program.

Scouting is supposed to make men of boys. I didn't appreciate that as a boy; I thought it was supposed to provide boys with entertainment and I thought they picked some cut-rate entertainment to provide. ("Seriously, was there ever a time when knots were entertaining? Get some video games up in here, stat!" - 14-year-old me.)* This is why I tell people that I didn't like Scouts that much as a boy, but as a parent I like it a lot. I want my boys to grow up to be good men, and Scouting is designed to do that.

To work properly, though, manhood has to be modeled. Sometimes in Boy Scouts the problem is lurpy** leaders who aren't models I want my sons to emulate, but the problem in Cub Scouts is that there are no men around at all, lurpy or not.

I understand why this happens, I guess: we don't have enough male leaders to serve in areas where they aren't needed.*** But instead of a program that models manhood for boys to emulate, the boys get to see their mothers wait on them hand and foot (as usual), only in exotic settings ("She's never cleaned up after me in a church before!").

This isn't just a problem in Cub Scouts, but in all aspects of raising boys. It is referred to as "the death of masculinity" and it shows up in all kinds of surprising ways. Recently, I had to interact with a Millennial male who, despite his full beard and visible tattoos, was, in voice, mannerisms, and behavior, a post-menopausal woman. Schools select for this because neutered men are more docile, and schools favor docility. Ideally, Scouting counters this societal trend instead of reinforcing it.

What can be done? Well, in a ward with a shortage of men who will take callings, we can't do anything, I guess. Cub Scouts will continue to be run by women and Boy Scouts is where you'll have a steep learning curve when mamby-pamby boys get thrown into the world of men. (Except increasingly the Boy-Scout version of "the world of men" is the world of poor leadership and video games, as my older son's Boy Scout meeting was last night.)

I guess I could go to my bishop and volunteer for a Cub Scout calling, but I'm loath to do that because those boys are TERRIBLE. They don't sit, they don't listen, they don't clean, they don't serve, they don't do ANYTHING except exactly what they want to do. Case in point: last night's "banquet." While the MC was speaking the boys began a chant of "Pizza! Pizza!" Then they were first to get food (instead of allowing their leaders and guests to be served first), first to get dessert, and first to leave the room when it was time to clean, leaving all cleaning to the women leaders.

Maybe the problem is that Cub Scouts is run by their own mothers. But what other women will take that calling? My wife said, "Thirty years ago we could have called some of the older women in the ward to Cub Scouts because back then boys would listen." Of course, people will say, "Children have been misbehaving since the beginning of time," but when we were children there were repercussions to misbehavior. Now misbehavior is just a manifestation of a learning disability and I'm being insensitive for not recognizing that.

Scouting is a program that society has left behind, and I wish there was a way of preserving it, but I don't see what that way is.

* = I recently read a blog post about better style formatting for blogs, and the woman recommended using bold instead of italics because it's easier to notice on a computer screen. So I'm trying to make the transition, but I'm very used to typing the italics tag, so it might take me a while to change.

** = A family word that means sort of doing what you're supposed to, but doing a real poor job of it. From the noun "lurp" comes this adjective "lurpy" and the verb "to lurp," as in, "That lurpy lurp is just lurping it up on his cellphone while his kid is performing in the talent show." A bad dad wouldn't be there, while a lurpy dad is there but might as well not be. The problem with a lurp is he thinks he should get credit for his half-assed efforts.

*** = We have a priesthood leader moving out of the ward in a month and there is NO ONE to replace him.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump and Comey

President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey yesterday. There are a number of ways to look at this, none of which is good for Trump.

THE COMPETENCE ANGLE: Word is no one at the White House thought this was going to be a big deal. If that's accurate, these people are even more out of their league than I previously thought. Also, it's said there's no replacement plan in place yet, and the paper trail was created in the past day. When the best-case scenario is "the boss decided to fire a high-level official on the spur of the moment," you have some competency problems.

THE LEGAL ANGLE: This is a red herring. Trump supporters are talking about the president's prerogative* to fire Comey, and it's true that Trump has that prerogative**. But just because a guy can legally do something doesn't mean he should, because....

THE RUSSIA ANGLE: I have to admit, Trump's Russia connections first struck me as less important. However, the more we look into the connections, the more Trump tries to cover them up. Just about the only consistent position of his presidency so far has been impeding the investigation into his Russia connections. This makes it look a lot worse than it looked back on Monday.

THE CONGRESSIONAL ANGLE: Remember, Congress can make law without the president's involvement, or even over the president's objection. So this shouldn't really derail any investigation. If it does, it means Congress has decided to not cross a weak, unpopular president. Why? Does Trump have dirt on them? How many models must have peed on Congress to make THIS the expedient course of action? Like, a million?

THE MANCHURIAN ANGLE: What if Trump wasn't Russia's guy all along? What if Trump is just the patsy that makes it so Putin's ACTUAL preferred candidate, Mike Pence, ends up president? (This is probably not true, but it would be a fun "twist" ending to the American republic.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the history books covering the Trump presidency will be fascinating.

* = Thanks, SpellCheck.

** = Now that I've learned how to spell "prerogative," I'm going to use it as many times as I can in this post. Prerogative.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Catching More Flies With Outrage

We live quite close to a Winn-Dixie location that never seems to have that many shoppers in it. However, it is across the street from a senior living facility, and many of those senior residents frequent the store.

This week, Winn-Dixie announced a plan to close the location. The local news had a story about how residents were experiencing "outrage" and preparing a petition.

Winn-Dixie is in business to make money for the shareholders, not to provide convenient groceries for members of the community. "That's what's wrong with capitalism!" No, your expectation that Winn-Dixie would provide groceries to you even if they lose money in the process is what's wrong with society.

How about asking Winn-Dixie to take a loss as a form of community service? How about asking the city to subsidize the Winn-Dixie location? How about asking the city to work with another grocery store to quickly fill the vacancy? These were the historic responses to this situation. But now we get out our outrage and think that's going to get someone to do us a favor.

Winn-Dixie owes you nothing. Some people keep this in mind when interacting with others, while others rely on outrage to get what they want. My feeling is that the outrage contingent is a quickly-growing segment of society.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Resources That Have Been TOO Freed

Here's a TED talk from a guy advocating Universal Basic Income. In it, he argues that people will not stop working because most of us have natural human ambitions for accomplishments.

I agree we all want to do something. But I think the modern entertainment-based world allows us to categorize non-productive accomplishments as achievements. Think of the feeling of achievement you get when you finish a show on Netflix, or (for those of us old enough) the feeling you got when you freed Princess Toadstool from Bowser.

How many people derive self-worth from food production? Some, sure, but as many as it takes to produce the food necessary to sustain all human life? I think a world that doesn't require work for sustenance will be a world with an overabundance of mediocre art, literature, and music, and a shortage of food, clothing, and shelter.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Rexburg Socialists?

EDIT (5/8/17): Now my wife tells me that the homeschool discussion group commenters were complaining about BYU-Original Recipe, not BYU-Idaho. I blame my wife's inherited ability to ambiguously use every pronoun she utters (when my mother-in-law says "she," it could be in reference to any woman she's thought about in the past two weeks).

My wife belongs to some online discussion groups for homeschoolers. In one group this week, an intense discussion erupted regarding the desirability of sending your kid to BYU-Idaho. Some of the group members said the faculty at Rexburg is indoctrinating students in socialism.

When my wife shared this with me, I told her I think there are three possible things going on here.

  1. Students who are unclear about the differences between socialism and Zion are hearing about Zion and thinking, "What's with these socialists?!"
  2. Parents who are unclear about the differences between socialism and Zion are hearing about their kids hearing about Zion and thinking, "Glenn Beck was right about the dangers of college!"
  3. Faculty members who are unclear about the differences between socialism and Zion are indoctrinating students in socialism because they think they are doing God's work.

One, two, or three of these things could be happening at the same time. As a professor, I'm aware of students' ability to hear what they want to hear (last week I got an e-mail from a student who wrote, "I know you said you drop the lowest homework score," when I have, in fact, said nothing like that). Also, a friend I have who teaches at BYU-Idaho is definitely enamored of socialism because he seems to think the godless aspects of the Republican Party imply the opposite of the Republican Party must carry God's favor.

Because this is related to my dissertation, I had previously printed a copy of Marion G. Romney's 1966 General Conference talk "Socialism and the United Order Compared." Elder Romney said, "The United Order is implemented by the voluntary free-will actions of men,.... On the other hand, socialism is implemented by external force, the power of the state." But the end goals could be the same, so we cannot reject something like Universal Basic Income merely because it looks a lot like socialism. At the same time, we shouldn't accept UBI because it looks a lot like Zion. My family functions along many of the principles of Communism, but I'm not a Communist. If we voluntarily redistribute our resources along socialist lines, we don't necessarily need to be socialists. Elder Romney said, "What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations."

In his conclusion, Elder Romney prayed for three things, the first of which was "that the Lord will somehow quicken our understanding of the differences between socialism and the United Order and give us a vivid awareness of the awful portent of those differences." Perhaps the BYU-Idaho faculty could use a better understanding of the differences, but it's also possible the students and their parents could use a better understanding of the similarities, as well.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

My Take on Meditation, Mysticism, and Mormon Transhumanism

For a number of years, I've been reading the blog Temple Study. I have found it interesting and informative, and I can't remember ever reading anything there that struck me as questionable. Recently the blogger, Bryce Hammond, has created a new blog, Thy Mind, O Man. This one is still interesting and informative, but when I read it I feel like I do when listening to evangelical radio.

See, I have a personal policy that, when scanning radio stations, I will stop and listen to any preacher until he says something that I can definitively say is untrue. Sometimes that takes 30 seconds, but sometimes it takes half an hour or more. My reasoning: truth comes from many sources, and injecting a little extra devotional listening into my life is desirable. But there's no need to listen to something obviously wrong, so when we cross that line, I move along.

Here's a recent example: the other day I heard a preacher making the case that fear is the opposite of having faith in God. I listened to some really good ideas for about five minutes or so, until he went into a wrong interpretation of what Paul means when he talks about "the third heaven." I said, "I gave you a wide berth because you had some good ideas, but now you're well past my line."

The result is that I end up listening with a more-critical attitude than I otherwise would; I sort of expect something to go wrong, and I'm just waiting until it comes about.

This is how I've been reading Thy Mind, O Man. First, there's a lot I can value. I can appreciate that there's value in meditation. The number of church leaders who have spoken highly of meditation far exceeds the number of regular church members who speak of meditation at all, even though the first group is tiny and the second group is huge. I can agree that manifestations of God occur in our minds. I can believe our experience right now is "all in our minds" (i.e.: we are living in a simulation). And when Hammond writes about these things, I find it edifying in the true sense of the word: I contemplate ways to become a better person.

However, God is a distinct consciousness, not another manifestation of my consciousness. I find Hammond is unclear on this point, seemingly thinking "the jury's still out" on this one. It's not. In Doctrine and Covenants 130, we read
the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man's heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.
and
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's
I can believe that God's reality is so complex that we cannot comprehend it with our limited, imperfect, mortal minds, so God presents things to us in ways we can understand. Think of how you explain stars to a young child. A star is like the sun, but really far away. Okay, but what's the sun? Well, it's a ball of fire. Good enough? For a kid, sure; for an astrophysicist, not at all. It's highly likely that the explanations we get of spiritual, infinite principles are profound simplifications meant for our limited understanding.

This creates the possibility that we reject the deeper reality in favor of the simplification. I'm reminded of something I read once in a blog post by (I believe) Dan Peterson, where he was paraphrasing a point by (I believe) Sidney Sperry. (How's that for narrator reliability?) [EDIT: Long-time reader Stephen found it for me--see his comment below. I searched Dan Peterson's blog and Interpreter's website, but because I was wrong about Sidney Sperry, I couldn't find it. It turns out it was Stanley Kimball.] Anyway, as I remember it, Sperry said that there is the basic level of church teaching, what we might consider "Sunday School answers," like "go to church" and "say your prayers." There is a deeper level of "warts and all" church teaching, and then there is the deepest level of church teaching, where the context of the warts, so to speak, is included. The point is that once you've advanced to the deepest level of church teaching, the basic truths are pretty much the same as they were at the most-superficial level.

In the original context in which I read this, it was presented as questioning the obligation we have to lead people to the deepest level when we know that some of them will be lost by exposure to that middle level. In the context of Thy Mind, O Man, I wonder what is the value of plumbing the depths of the human mind in a gospel context if the only result will be including quotation marks around the word "saw" when we say Joseph Smith saw God.

Monday, May 01, 2017

The Sex Panther of Prognosticators

My oldest son, Articulate Joe, is a fan of Arsenal Football Club. He came upon this allegiance quite simply: the first Premier League game he ever watched was Arsenal against Queens Park Rangers, and Arsenal won. (This experience also made him hate hoop-stripe jerseys, no matter the team wearing them.) Anyway, he's been an Arsenal fan ever since.

When we were coming home from church yesterday, I said, "What do you think happened in the North London Derby?" He said he didn't know. I said, "I think it's 2-1, Tottenham. Arsenal's down to ten men because Koscielny got a red card. The two Tottenham goals are Dele Alli and Harry Kane. Kane's was a penalty that came with the Koscielny red card." We came inside and I checked the score on a soccer scores app. It was scoreless at halftime.

Later in the day, I checked the score again. Tottenham had won, 2-0. And the two Tottenham goals? Dele Alli and a Harry Kane penalty kick.

So, as you can see, just like Sex Panther cologne, 60% of the time my prognostication works every time.

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Fake It Till You Make It" v. Moro. 7:6-8

Another scripture with which I have a problem (or maybe again it's just the common reading with which I have the problem) is Moroni 7:6-8.

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.

My first mission president once gave a zone conference talk based on this scripture, the gist of which was, unless we really, truly wanted to be there we were wasting our time and perhaps accruing strikes against ourselves. But is this an accurate reading of this scripture?

Spencer W. Kimball shared this story in a General Conference talk from 1975.

There is the story told of Lord George Hall of an earlier time. It is a mythical story. Believe it or not, but at least take the lesson if you find one there. “Lord George had led an evil life. He had been a drunkard, a gambler, and a cheat in business, and his face reflected the life he had led. It was a very evil face.

One day he fell in love with a simple country girl to whom he proposed marriage. Jenny Mere told him that she could never marry a man whose face was so repulsive and so evil-looking; and also that when she did marry, she wanted a man with a saintlike face, which was the mirror of true love.

Following a custom of the day, Lord George went down to Mr. Aeneas in Bond Street, London. Aeneas made waxen masks for people, and his skill was so art-perfect that the person’s identity was completely hidden. As proof of his skill, it is said that many spendthrift debtors, equipped with his masks, could pass among their creditors unrecognized. Aeneas went to his storeroom, selected a mask, heated it over a lamp, fixed it to Lord George’s face; and when Lord George looked in the glass, he had the face of a saint who loved dearly. So altered was his appearance that Jenny Mere was soon wooed and won.

He bought a little cottage in the country, almost hidden in an arbor of roses, with a tiny garden spot. From then on his entire life changed. He became interested in nature; he found "sermons in stones, books in brooks, and good in everything." Formerly he was blasé and life had no interest for him; now, he was engrossed in kindliness, and the world around him.

He was not content with starting life anew, but tried to make amends for the past. Through a confidential solicitor he restored his ill-gotten gains to those whom he had cheated. Each day brought new refinements to his character, more beautiful thoughts to his soul.

By accident, his former companions discovered his identity. They visited him in his garden, and urged him to return to his old evil life. When he refused, he was attacked, and the mask was torn from his face.

He hung his head. Here was the end of all; here was the end of his newfound life and his love dream. As he stood with bowed head, with the mask at his feet on the grass, his wife rushed across the garden and threw herself on her knees in front of him. When she looked up at him, what do you suppose she found? Lo! Line for line, feature for feature, the face was the same as that of the mask. Lines of beauty—regular features.

Isn't the point of this story that the way to change the heart is to change the behavior and the heart will follow? Isn't this the underlying principle in just about all parenting? You use your position of authority to set your child's behavior with the hope that he will internalize the behavior before he assumes full control of his own agenda.

A quotation of Brigham Young contained in this lesson seems to support the idea of doing something you don't immediately want to do. It is: "It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do."

I think too many church members interpret the original teaching from Mormon the way my mission president presented it to us, and I think that's wrong. It creates situations where the member says to himself, "I don't want to help that family move, so there's no reason for me to go help that family move; I've already messed it up with the bad desire, and since I will be 'counted evil before God' if I go now, it's best that I stay home."

Last year, Christmas was on Sunday. We attended church, then returned home to open presents. One present we received was The Force Awakens. We were all excited to watch it, but it was Sunday, and in keeping with the ongoing mini-Reformation of how we should honor the Sabbath, we were not going to watch it on Sunday. But to have our behavior "count" as righteous did we need to lie to ourselves about our initial desire to watch it?

I jokingly said to our kids, "Christmas on Sunday is lame!" When I shared that on Facebook, an acquaintance snarkily commented, "And with that attitude, you get the same credit as if you had watched it! Right? Double lame!"

I think this "wanting to do a bad thing is the same as doing the bad thing" interpretation of Moroni 7 is dangerous and wrong. Dangerous because it undermines righteous behavior. Remember your incredulous reaction to the beginning of Dr. Faustus when Faust reasons that, since he's once done at least one thing wrong in his life, he might as well make a pact with the Devil? It's that same specious reasoning that says, "Watch a movie on Sunday if you once wanted to watch a movie on Sunday."

And wrong because I don't believe this is what Mormon is saying. In Verse 10 he writes, "Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift." I think the wrong reading of the previous verses would lead us to read this as saying, "Your desires establish that you are evil, and your evil nature removes the goodness from your behavior." I believe the true reading of this should be, "Given that you are giving a good gift, you cannot possibly be evil." The fact that, despite your natural inclinations, you are doing a good thing is the proof that you are not evil. The "real intent" of my Sunday worship had to be there or else I wouldn't have produced the behavior. I didn't accidentally not watch The Force Awakens; I did it with real intent.

"Fake it till you make it" is a true principle and the average Mormon's reading of Moroni 7:6-8 is misguided and damaging.