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.
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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Two Things That Bother Me Right Now

The good old days are back! At least, for this post they are.

I've tried to be more charitable in my life (which you probably know means I've tried to stop paying attention), and that has led to a sharp decline in "look at this idiot"-style posts. But there are two things that bother me right now.

The first thing: my wife's calling at church is in the Young Women organization. Several of the girls are hesitating committing to attend Girls Camp because they are waiting to see who their "camp mom" is. The argument is that a "fun" camp mom makes camp fun, and a "mean" camp mom ruins camp.

How is this a thing? Why is no one saying to these girls, "Maybe a 'mean' mom is mean because she just had to give up a week of her life to spend with a bunch of unappreciative brats"? Instead of telling the girls this is an opportunity for them to learn charity and selflessness and appreciation for the sacrifices of others, we're telling them, "Your self-centered attitude is appropriate; keep it up, ladies."

The second thing: church sports is still a thing here in Florida, and a really big thing, at that. And the problems are, well, all the problems that led to the demise of church sports 30 YEARS AGO. Our youth dislike the youth from other wards because of long-running sports rivalries. Given that stakes are supposed to be stakes of Zion, I don't see how any program that leads to ill-will within the stake is appropriate. ("It would be much better to have stake-level teams so the ill-will is directed outside the stake, right? Then we can bond over our mutual hatred of those jerks from the South stake!" Um, sort of.) Aside from the injuries (one of my students from the YSA ward blew out his knee and a girl from our ward injured her knee last week), I don't think we should be building ward camaraderie through stake animosity.

Here's my modest proposal that I bet would be widely opposed: when the schedule says "Ward A is playing Ward B," instead of having a team from Ward A play a team from Ward B, we have players from both wards show up at the same time and pick teams from a common pool. Thus some of your teammates are from the other ward and some of your opponents are from your ward. This makes it harder to hate the other team and easier to get to know people from outside your ward. (How well do you get to know the opposition in the current set-up?)

Here's why I think it would be resisted: without static teams, win/loss records are meaningless and you can't end up with a "champion" team at the end. So it seems church sports exist to serve the natural man's proclivity towards enmity. That doesn't seem like an appropriate use of our time and efforts.

Also, as I mentioned to my wife this morning while she was driving me to work, the callings associated with church sports take real time and effort from able-bodied, active members who could be doing something productive with that time. She said, "But all of our coaches have other callings, too." I said, "Assuming they only have a fixed amount of time in their lives that they can designate for their church callings, if we're wondering why they're half-assing it in the other calling, their sports calling can be the reason."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wherein a Student Misunderstands My Gender

My school's course management software assigns each class an unhelpful string of letters and numbers. While the program allows me to change the name of the class, it doesn't display this changed name anywhere useful. To help me manage my classes, I assign them pictures of famous economists. It's easier for me to think, "Milton Friedman is macro and Esther Duflo is micro," than it is to remember a string of letters and numbers.

A student came to see me yesterday. She's in my micro class. That led to this conversation.

STUDENT: At the beginning of the semester I thought you were transgender.

A RANDOM STRANGER: I'm sorry, what?

STUDENT: Transgender. A trans person.


STUDENT: Because your picture on [course management software] is a woman.

A RANDOM STRANGER: No, it's me as a child.

STUDENT: No, it's a woman. And I thought, 'I guess he used to be a woman.' And I thought, 'Good for him because he must have been a quite tall woman.' But then you talked some about your wife, and I wasn't sure. Then you talked some about your kids and I thought, 'Maybe not.'

A RANDOM STRANGER: Well, it was good of you to be so accepting, but I was never a woman. [shows student the picture of me as a child] This is my picture on [course management software].

STUDENT: No, it's a picture of a woman.

A RANDOM STRANGER: [shows student the picture of Esther Duflo] This one?


A RANDOM STRANGER: No, that's just for my convenience telling the classes apart.

Until this student said something, I never would have thought that I look like Esther Duflo, but now I think I see similarities. Do we look like we could be related? No one has ever mentioned it to me before. The usual celebrity-doppelganger I hear is Drew Carey (since Drew Carey lost some weight and I got thick-framed glasses around the same time).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Origins of the Intimacy of Sleep

Why do we attach intimacy to sleep? Whether it be sleeping with someone (in the literal sense of the word) or watching someone sleep, there's a feeling of intimacy fostered by these actions. It's not necessarily tied to modesty, because a person could be wearing shapeless, cover-all pajamas and be buried under several blankets and the intimacy would still be there.

I can think of two answers: one is tied to vulnerability and the other is tied to our animal natures.

First, vulnerability: when sleeping you're defenseless. People (or saber-tooth tigers) who have access to you in your sleep have the ability to harm you, so allowing someone to be there when you're sleeping is signalling a deeper level of trust, and thus signalling intimacy.

Second, animal natures: sleep happens in our personal animal dens that we verbally sanitize by calling them "beds." Whatever we call it, it's still an animal den. We go to great lengths to hide from each other the aspects of our animal natures (like how none of our myriad terms for "restroom" convey a sense of "this is where the defecation happens"), but the more intimate we become with someone, the more likely we are to end up having discussions about our stool. ("Nope, not me!" When was the last time you discussed your stool with someone who wasn't a doctor? Wasn't it with the person you'd say you are most intimate with?) Well, not only is the façade covering our animal natures dropped with those with whom we are intimate, a way of fostering intimacy is to drop that façade. As such, allowing someone to sleep with you, or to watch you sleep, or to know something about your sleep, is intimate.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Physical Anomalies

Last summer while driving across America, we had two weird things happen to us that I can't explain. One was near Justiceburg, Texas. We had come down off the Llano Estacado and ended up in a bit of a hollow, where we clearly picked up a Los Angeles, California, radio station until climbing up the other side of the hollow. The distance between Justiceburg and Los Angeles is over 1,100 miles.

The second was when we were driving east through Forrest City, Arkansas, and we saw the skyline of Memphis, Tennessee, which was still 45 miles away. While Forrest City is on Crowley's Ridge, the math says the farthest we should have been able to see at that point is 28 miles. The farthest you can see from the top of the tallest building in Memphis is 24 miles. While those two numbers sum to something more than 45 miles, it seemed strange to me that we could see so much of the Memphis skyline (not just the top of one building, which we probably wouldn't have even recognized).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reading for My Second Lifetime

Yesterday I came home from work and had a few minutes until we were going to eat. I realized I was out of books to read, so I went through our shelves and pulled a collection of books to work on next.

  1. 摩尔门经.
  2. The Book of Mormon, Language Study Edition (Mandarin).
  3. 69 A.D., by Gwyn Morgan. There are some history periods that interest me more than others. One is late antiquity, one is Arthurian Britain, and one is Late Republic Rome. I've owned this book for over 10 years, probably, but have never gotten around to it.
  4. Don't Mess With Travis, by Bob Smiley. My brother-in-law read this and liked it, then mailed a copy to us. My wife read it and liked it.
  5. The Castle, by Franz Kafka. I read his Trial and liked it enough.
  6. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. I read his Loved One, and it was pretty good. This is taking the place of the Wodehouse book in my life, which is there to mitigate depression. I think I remember reading before that Waugh is funny. The Loved One was funny, I think, but I read it almost 20 years ago.
  7. The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope. I feel like I should read more Victorian literature, but it takes SO LONG. These guys were getting paid by the serial installment. Vanity Fair was over 800 pages to tell a 200-page story. I think I will enjoy this, but when controlling for time spent, I'm not sure I'll find it worth it.
  8. Sailing Alone Around the World, by Joshua Slocum. My one son doesn't read as much as we'd like, so we have to search for different types of books that might appeal to him. We find he likes non-fiction adventure somewhat, so I picked up this book for him. He hasn't read it yet, and I figured I should read it to see if it's late-19th-century origin is going to make it too inaccessible for him.
  9. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Currently on page 287, two pages ahead of schedule for completion on Dec. 31.
  10. Freddy Goes to Florida, by Walter R. Brooks. While I've decided that Tolkien is the only book I'm reading to my older kids, my youngest son has progressed enough that he needs longer books read to him. While browsing a used bookstore, I found this. I've read a Freddy book by Brooks to my kids before and they liked it, so I figured a Freddy book set in Florida, where we now live, would be a good fit for us.
  11. Freddy the Detective, by Walter R. Brooks. When I decided to read Freddy Goes to Florida, I thought I should read the first book to introduce the characters. That makes sense, probably. But I was wrong about what the first Freddy book is. It turns out it's Freddy Goes to Florida. So I'm reading Freddy the Detective out of order, for no real reason. That sounds exactly like something I'd do.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reading Update: Was This "The Rest of My Life"?

Back on January 17th, I wrote this blog post about all the reading I had on deck.

So how have things gone?

  1. A Lesson in Secrets, by Jacqueline Winspear. FINISHED JAN. 30
  2. The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Currently on page 287, two pages ahead of schedule for completion on Dec. 31.
  3. Ukridge, by P.G. Wodehouse. FINISHED MAR. 13
  4. Meet Mr. Mulliner, by P.G. Wodehouse. FINISHED MAR. 24
  5. Piccadilly Jim, by P.G. Wodehouse. FINISHED APR. 14
  6. Uneasy Money, by P.G. Wodehouse. FINISHED FEB. 13
  7. Fortress Besieged, by Qian Zhongshu. FINISHED MAR. 5
  8. Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, by Grant Von Harrison. FINISHED FEB. 17
  9. Fathers as Patriarchs, by Grant Von Harrison. FINISHED MAR. 23
  10. Seeing with an Eye of Faith, by Grant Von Harrison. FINISHED MAR. 13
  11. Open Water Swimming Manual, by Lynne Cox. FINISHED MAR. 31
  12. The Book of Mormon, Language Study Edition (Mandarin).
  13. 摩尔门经.

During this time, I read some things off the list, also. It's gratifying to have completed (nearly all) of such a giant stack of reading.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Did Britain Cause Indian Malaise, or Did Indian Malaise Attract Britain?

Here's a blog post summarizing an article that quotes from a book. My question is about the book material. As such, I should probably read the book before I pose my question. But I've got things to do, nephew.

The book, Jon Wilson's India Conquered, finds that "economic growth and institutional dynamism" was strongest in the areas of India that escaped direct British rule. And here's my question: isn't it possible that institutional dynamism was a contributing factor to Britain being unable to directly rule those areas? Two Indian states, one with robust institutions and one without, would have different likelihoods of falling under direct British rule. Post-1946, the cultural traits that were the foundation of the institutions are still in place, and so this is where you see subsequent economic growth. It's not that British rule killed the chance of later economic growth, but British rule flourished in places that had the things that would kill the chance of later economic growth.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"There's Too Much Sex"

I wrote a novel that got poor reviews (among the two people who read it). Many of them (all two) mentioned that there was "too much sex."

Now, I wasn't seeking to write an erotic thriller or anything. But I also think that sometimes sex is necessary to tell a story about the human condition (a condition which involves sex), and that there's a difference between sex with meaning and meaningless sex.

Take, for instance, Submission, by Michel Houellebecq. (NOTE: Before we go any further, I am NOT saying, "I wrote a novel which can be compared to a novel that may well end up being one of the classics of our time." Let's just be clear on that. I wrote a novel that was begun by five readers and finished by two, and which was unliked by either of its two completers.) Now, I wouldn't say Submission features a lot of anal sex, but I feel most readers would agree that anal sex is like sriracha sauce: a little goes a long way.

Couldn't Houellebecq have written the novel without any anal sex? I say no, not really. Because the anal sex is an important figure for the total submission that the narrator wants from his sexual partners, which in turn is an important figure for the total submission that the Islamic rulers of France want from the narrator. Submission doesn't contain anal sex because Houellebecq is a perv; it contains it because he's trying to say something about the relationship between European non-Muslims and Islam.

Maybe I don't do a good job saying what I mean to say. That's very likely. But it's also possible that the sex is there for a reason, and if our reaction is to say, "Eww, sex! Skip it!" we will be missing the reason.

Monday, April 10, 2017

If Church Isn't for Drawing Comics, It Must Be for Solving Math Problems

Yesterday in church I asked myself this question: if I had a square piece of paper that I folded in half on an angle, and then folded the tip back to the crease, and then repeated that over and over, what equation would describe the placement of the tip after n folds?

If the square has sides of length equal to one, then the tip will always be on a diagonal line that has length equal to radical two. So I wanted to write an equation where I plugged in the number of folds and what I got back was how far along that diagonal line the tip would be.

Well, I'm not good enough of a mathematician to do that. Instead, all I could do was write an equation that requires you to know position from the previous fold. What I ended up with was this: the position (as measured along the diagonal line) can be represented by the fraction

where l is 2 to the (n-1) and k is the previous value of k, multiplied by 2, then with one either added (for even-number folds) or subtracted (for odd-number folds). So this would look like this:

This works for all n greater than zero. I can't quite figure out how to get it to work for n=0. I know the answer needs to be radical two. The denominator (l of zero) would be two raised to the negative first power, which is one half. So I need the numerator to equal one half. But now I need to know the position of the tip for fold (n-1), which seems like it should be negative radical two, but negative radical two multiplied by two and then added to one doesn't equal one half. So I gave up on being able to have my equation give the position for the zeroth fold.

Also, it appears this sequence is limiting to one third, though I don't remember how to solve that. Like I said, I'm not good enough of a mathematician to do that.

Meanwhile, my Sunday School class was defining "miracles" to be whatever they are currently experiencing in their lives so they didn't have to deal with the implications of Moroni 10:24. And thus we see why I set myself math problems during church: it's much harder to be charitable when you're paying attention (Fundamental Truth of Life #7).

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Greek Life Signalling

A quick look at the Greek alphabet will show that some letters are the same as in the Roman alphabet (or at least look like a Roman-alphabet letter), while others are distinct. Let's call these two groups shared letters and distinct letters. If I'm in a country that uses the Roman alphabet (like the United States) and I go around wearing a shirt with three shared letters on it, you will probably read them as Roman letters. If I want to signal to you that they should be read as Greek letters, I have to include one or more of the distinct letters.

I suspect that the naming of fraternities and sororities is affected by the need to include at least one distinctly-Greek letter in the organization's abbreviation for the purposes of signalling the nature of the organization. And the list of fraternities and sororities at the bottom of this Wikipedia page shows fewer than five names without a distinct letter from a list of more than 100 names. Given that shared letters make up 14/24 (58%) of the Greek alphabet, there's a 19.5-percent chance that you would select three random Greek letters and end up with all shared letters. This is four times more than what we actually see.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Career Path Pitfalls

I'll be the first to tell you that I didn't get into teaching because of any passion for teaching; rather, it was the job that was available when I needed a job. My passion is for economics education. Where that coincides with teaching, I'm a happy, effective teacher. But that coincidence can be rare, and it seems it is becoming increasingly rare.

I have a lot to say about students who don't follow directions, don't read the syllabus, don't take responsibility for their learning outcomes. But I probably can't say it without getting in trouble if it was ever discovered. Let me just say that I find it increasingly difficult to respect the high-school teachers and parents of students who have reached adulthood without ever having to be responsible for a decision they've made. I'm not sure they realize they are making decisions; they speak as if they are constantly backed into a corner with only one way out. I would love to require students to couch all their e-mails to me in "I decided" language, meaning this fairly-typical (fictional) e-mail:

I will be unable to come to class today because of my grandmother's death.
would be written like this, instead:
I decided not to come to class today because I decided to attend my grandmother's funeral instead.
While it still ignores my policy of NEVER E-MAILING ME ABOUT YOUR ABSENCES, it at least presents the student as a rational free-agent instead of a helpless recipient of Fate.

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Broken System of Academia

Here's an article about a guy who solved a long-unsolved mathematical problem and was ignored by the mathematics academic community because he:

  1. didn't use the correct word-processing program.
  2. proved something that people had lied about proving in the past.
  3. was not incentivized to participate in the byzantine peer-review process.
  4. published in an obscure journal of which he is an editor.
One man said, "It was clearly a lack of communication in an age where it’s very easy to communicate." But was it a lack of communication? He typed up his paper, posted it to an appropriate website, e-mailed it to people working on the problem, and published in an academic journal. Communication was happening, it just wasn't happening in the way the system prefers. Perhaps it's the system, not the communication, that's at fault.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

I Am Freaking Akela!

Our Cub Scout pack is running on fumes. I don't mean this as a criticism, just an observation. Our Cub Scout leaders are three single mothers, all of whom work full-time jobs, and two of whom are enrolled in night school. I'm not trying to be critical of how they run the pack; I'm amazed and grateful that it is running at all.

But the fact is, a lot doesn't get done, such as going to the council office and buying awards. I was going to that side of town this morning, so we contacted one of the pack leaders and asked if she would want me to get the pack's awards while I was there. She gratefully said yes.

One of the awards I needed to get was my son's Wolf badge. When I got to the counter, the worker told me I can't buy that without documentation that it was earned. I could fill out a form that said it was a replacement, and they would then check to make sure it was actually earned, but if the leaders had not previously come in to declare the legitimacy of the award, it would appear to be unearned.

What's more, she told me that rank advancements are to be given once each year, at the Blue-and-Gold banquet. I said to her, "I would not participate in a program like that." She didn't appreciate that.

Is this seriously the approved program? We tell a nine-year-old boy to wait up to 11 months to receive an award he earned? And this boy is supposed to be excited to be in this program? Where else in life do we make someone wait 10 percent of his life to receive the benefits of his completed accomplishments?

And what documentation is really necessary when I AM AKELA!?!?! Give me a paper and I will create the documentation. If a parent can sign off all the requirements of the Wolf badge, then keeping a parent from buying the badge is just asinine busy-bodyness.

On Monday I will be writing a letter to the local council and the national organization about the stupidity of making rank advancements a once-each-year thing, and the odious, needless bureaucracy that keeps Akela from buying the badges that Akela can award.

Friday, March 31, 2017

District of Columbia Resizing

I dislike political arguments that ignore other options. One of them is the argument for granting statehood to the District of Columbia.

The simplest way to re-enfranchise citizens of the District of Columbia is not the creation of a new state. Since that would violate the constitutional requirement that the federal government be separate from the states, it would require a constitutional amendment, which is not an easy process.

The second option is to shrink the District of Columbia to an area that only contains the Capitol, Supreme Court, and White House. The only disenfranchised citizens are now the president and his family, and I think being the Executive branch is an adequate means of having your political voice heard.

But (as I've written before, actually), the SIMPLEST simplest way of fixing this problem is repealing the Organic Act of 1801 which disenfranchised District citizens who previously had been represented by Virginia and Maryland elected officials.

Modern government is like the man who tells his wife the wonky leg of the dining room table can only be repaired if he purchases a new lathe and a laser-guided drill, which--yeah--that's a lot of money, but otherwise the table will never be fixed and it's possible it would collapse during dinner and KILL little Johnny, and why does his wife want little Johnny to die? There's no one saying, "What if we ate at the kitchen table instead?" Or, more aptly, "Why don't you stop making the table leg wonky?"

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Portraying "Good Government Administration"

Yesterday I wrote that the back of the Grover Cleveland-themed $1,000 bill should show "good government administration." I wrote that because that was one of the lasting hallmarks of his two (non-consecutive) administrations. If you want to know just how important a legacy this is, read some about the economics of institutions and reflect on what is happening currently in our return to a politicized bureaucracy that fights the administration from within.

However, even as I wrote it, I thought to myself, "I have no idea what the back of this bill would look like." But I was hoping no one else would notice. I mean, it was the last point in a post that was probably of interest to no one but me (which is the general theme of all my blog posts, actually). Yet, within half an hour, eagle-eyed reader Alanna commented, "Not sure how you portray 'good government administration' on that $1000 bill, though...".

Interestingly, as soon as I read her comment, I could answer the question I couldn't answer to myself before. The image would be one of a diverse group of Americans experiencing "the pursuit of happiness" while above them would be the words of Henry David Thoreau, "That government is best which governs least." Perhaps you might say this is begging the question, since a depiction of "experiencing 'the pursuit of happiness'" has no cultural touchstone. Well, what's more quintessentially American than a block party that required no government permits?

I realized that my brain was basically showing me some artwork I had seen years before. It was a Jehovah's Witness portrayal of the Millennium. (It was memorable because it featured a lion hanging out with a beach ball.) But that's to be expected; the reason Jehovah's Witnesses use that type of diverse-block-party imagery is that it resonates with most of us as a place we would be able to relax and feel peace.

© 2017 Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania [I'm not trying to violate their rights, here; I'm pretty sure I'm safe within the "fair use doctrine."]

So that's my answer for how you would show "good government administration" on the back of the $1,000 bill. Secularize it a bit and throw in the Thoreau quote and you're good to go.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dream Money

This would be my ideal set-up for American cash and coin.

First of all, retire the penny, the nickel, and the dollar bill. The penny and nickel experience negative seigniorage, while the dollar bill costs more to create, maintain, and replace than does the dollar coin.

Secondly, remove repeat honorees on money. This frees up space to acknowledge the contributions of women and minorities. There's no reason to have George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln on both a bill and a coin.

Thirdly, introduce some logic to the size of coins. With the penny and nickel out of the way, we can resize the quarter to what the nickel used to be and then resize the half-dollar to what the quarter used to be, creating a system where coins of increasing size are of increasing value. This won't mess with vending machines, because they already recognize coins of these sizes. They would just need a software update to count the coins at their new values. This would also make it so vending machines can now accept half-dollar coins.

Fourthly, switch to non-metal and non-fabric content. Stop making coins that kill dogs when they eat them, and stop making bills that fall apart so easily. This would mean use of aluminum and plastics for coins, and use of polymers for bills.

Fifthly, diversify the size of bills to facilitate distinguishing one denomination from the other. This can be done so that they still fit in wallets and vending machines (at least for smaller bills, but I can't think of the last time I put a $100 bill into a vending machine).

Sixthly, stop trying to prohibit illegal activity through restraints on all commerce. This means creating larger-denomination bills; if you want to stop the drug trade, fix the hopelessness that makes drug use appealing. When the Federales last issued a $10,000 bill (in 1934) for public use, it had the value of $183,000 today. Conversely, reintroducing a $1,000 bill today would allow for the same concentration of purchasing power as carried by $54.67 in 1934. Instead of entertaining asinine ideas to make commerce even more difficult, facilitate commerce and fight crime differently. (Also, create a $200 bill to fill the gap in the current system.)

Seventhly, these are three options I think are nice: use the golden ratio for bills, link the obverse and reverse images better, and introduce some color distinctions, as well.

My final line-up would look like this:

  • Ten-cent coin (18-mm. diameter, same as before): Franklin Roosevelt (obverse) and World War Two victory (reverse)
  • Twenty-five-cent coin (21-mm. diameter, which is currently the size of the nickel): Susan B. Anthony (obverse) and Female Suffrage Movement (reverse)
  • Fifty-cent coin (24-mm. diameter, which is currently the size of the quarter): John F. Kennedy (obverse) and the Moon landing (reverse)
  • One-dollar coin (26.5-mm. diameter, same as before): George Washington (obverse) and the Great Seal of the United States (reverse)
  • Two-dollar bill (66 mm. x 107 mm.): Thomas Jefferson (face) and Declaration of Independence (back)
  • Five-dollar bill (70 mm. x 113 mm.): Abraham Lincoln (face) and Lincoln Memorial (back)
  • Ten-dollar bill (73.5 mm. x 119 mm.): Alexander Hamilton (face) and the Treasury Department (back)
  • Twenty-dollar bill (77 mm. x 125 mm.): Harriet Tubman (face) and Abolitionist Movement (back)
  • Fifty-dollar bill (81 mm. x 131 mm.): Ulysses S. Grant (face) and the Capitol (back)
  • One-hundred-dollar bill (85 mm. x 137 mm.): Benjamin Franklin (face) and Constitution Hall (back)
  • Two-hundred-dollar bill (88.5 mm. x 143 mm.): Rosa Parks (face) and Civil Rights Movement (back)
  • Five-hundred dollar bill (92 mm. x 149 mm.): Dolley Madison (face) and White House (back)
  • One-thousand dollar bill (96 mm. x 155 mm.): Grover Cleveland (face) and good government administration (back)

No bill is longer than the current currency, and the two-dollar bill's height is that of the current currency. The twenty-dollar bill would be 11 mm. taller than it currently is, which is less than half an inch. I'm not sure how difficult it would be to accommodate that in current vending machines.