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 from 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.

A RANDOM STRANGER: Um, why?

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?

STUDENT: Yeah!

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.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Presidential Neologism

For some reason when I collected all the neologisms I've coined in this blog's first decade, I failed to include one I'd created just two weeks before: Trump professionalism. Of course, at the time I created both it and its parent term, Trump classy, I had no way of knowing there would one day be a need for a third term: Trump presidentialism. This is when a president thinks he's a paragon of statesmanship when really he's just a yahoo who gets to ride on Marine One.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Police Association Stickers Make the Rest of Us Less Safe

Here in Florida there are a number of people with adhesive badges stuck to their license plates that identify them as affiliated with a police association. Now, I've written before regarding a theory of optimal stranger information. But what if there's more to these police association stickers than just optimal stranger information? What if they are costing me money? What if they are endangering my life?

First: the money angle. These stickers are a form of rent-seeking. Assuming police cannot pull over EVERYone violating traffic law, they must pick among myriad offenders. These stickers are designed to ingratiate the driver with the police, thus reducing the likelihood the driver is stopped. But this increases the scrutiny I will face, since I don't have one of these stickers, and with increased scrutiny comes increased expected value of fines. ("Hey, A Random Stranger, just don't break the law and you'll be fine!" We're well beyond that now, ignoramus.)

Why don't I just get one of these license plate medallions on eBay (one's available now for $38)? Well, besides the fact that, ironically, THEY ARE ACTUALLY ILLEGAL, I'm opposed to the things on principle. The correct response to the growing kleptocracy is to oppose it, not to join it.

Second: the safety angle. Earlier this week, Scott Sumner blogged about a law of conservation of bigotry, which would say that we have a natural human tendency to see things along an in-group/out-group divide and when we break down one sense of the out-group, we have to create a new one to replace it. With the increased media attention to violence targeted at police officers, a growing number of police officers would come to view non-police as members of the out-group. (Think of every criticism of the "black lives matter" movement and ask how they apply to the "blue lives matter" movement.) As bigotry towards the out-group increases, the possibility of using violence against the out-group would increase, as well. Thus, these medallions help create a world where police are protecting themselves and members of their in-group by subjecting us members of the out-group by whatever means necessary.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Found Math Notes

I spent part of Spring Break sorting through boxes of garbage, which means I found these notes I made when I asked myself: what proportions would a paper need to have so that, when folded in half and turned 90 degrees, the proportions remained the same?

The answer is: one-over-the-square-root-of-two to one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Another Blog Post About Word Pronunciation

Some of you might be aware that I notice words that change pronunciation when they change parts of speech. Blog posts I've written about this can be found here, here, and here.

Well, I found a piece of paper I used to remember some of them, and it has three more I've never blogged about.

PROGRESS: The progress will progress until it stops. The noun has the stress on the first syllable, while the verb has it on the second syllable. Also, some people pronounce the first syllable of the noun with a different vowel noise, more of an "aw."

SUSPECT: I suspect the suspect will be caught. Again, the noun has the stress on the first syllable and the verb doesn't.

ADVOCATE: The advocate will advocate on your behalf. The stress is the same, but the noun has almost a short-I vowel in the final syllable, while the verb has the long-A noise the spelling would indicate.

And along the same lines as "advocate" is SYNDICATE. The syndicate will syndicate the TV episodes.

Finally, I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but now that I'm in my 12th year blogging, I think I have earned the right to repeat myself: there are two word pairs where the change of a letter changes the pronunciation of a different letter. They are: prophesy/prophecy and Nigerian/Nigerien. (A quick search of my blog reveals this is the FOURTH time I've written about prophesy/prophecy, but only the FIRST time I've written about Nigerian/Nigerien.)

Found Quotation While Cleaning

The fact that the ship is sinking is no reason for allowing her to be a floating hell while she still floats.

Well-brought-up people have always regarded the tumbril and the scaffold as places for one's best clothes and best manners.

C.S. Lewis, "De Futilitate," Christian Reflections.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Reading Movie Title Cards

This morning, while reading Wodehouse's Meet Mr. Mulliner, I came across this, said by a movie talent scout to one of Mr. Mulliner's nephews:

I want you, and I'm going to get you. And if you think you're going to prevent me, you're trying to stop Niagara with a tennis racket. Boy, you're great! When you register, you register. Your face is as chatty as a board of directors. Say, listen. You know the great thing we folks in the motion-picture industry have got to contend with? The curse of the motion-picture industry is that in every audience there are from six to seven young women with adenoids who will insist on reading out the titles as they are flashed on the screen, filling the rest of the customers with harsh thoughts and dreams of murder. What we're trying to collect is stars that can register so well that titles won't be needed. And, boy, you're the king of them. [pp. 111-2]
This reminded me of when I went to see Star Wars: Episode 1--The Phantom Menace at Carriage Square Theaters in Orem, Utah.

Carriage Square was one of those second-run theaters with severe maintenance issues. A friend of mine said, "I have never been to a movie at Carriage Square that didn't involve at least one delay." When I saw The Sixth Sense there, the projector broke while Cole is peeing, before the ghost walks past in the hallway. The house lights came up while they worked on the projector. The movie restarted with no warning, house lights still up, just as the ghost enters stage right. It was the least-startling screening of The Sixth Sense ever experienced.

Anyway, when I went to see The Menace of Jar-Jar Binks, the place was packed with poor college students who had probably all seen the film at least once before, but who were eager to see it again at a discounted price. Along with them was one woman there with her pre-K children. When the Star Wars screen crawl began, she leaned across her children and began reading it to them. She wasn't trying to be loud, but she had more than one kid and she had to be heard over top of the film score. For at least one college kid in the audience, it was too much to take. He turned to her and said clearly and loudly, "Shut the hell up!"

To her credit, the woman did not sound like she had adenoids.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Complacency of Lulz Culture

Three years ago I read this article from The Economist which showed the human achievements society has foregone because we were busy watching the music video for "Gangnam Style." Now, one could argue that the rejuvenation we experience after a good "Gangnam Style" refresher makes us more likely to, say, build this millennium's equivalent of the Pyramids, but I doubt that's the way things are going right now. At the end of the week we're no further done with anything major but "Gangnam Style" has a few million more views.

Today a friend of mine re-tweeted this video. It takes 30 seconds to make this point: a set of shoe squeaks in this weekend's Michigan State/Kansas basketball games resembles a segment of the hook in Cypress Hill's song "Insane in the Membrane." The video is even tagged with the label "This Is So Stupid."

What becomes society's set of possible achievements when high school students perfect the flipping of water bottles?

NB: When I first published this, I wrote that the song was House of Pain's "Jump Around." And then I immediately realized I was wrong because my brain was singing the rest of "Insane in the Membrane."

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Church Comic

Last week a guy at church told a story about his sister having abdominal surgery, and for some reason the surgeons were unable to sew her back up. It sounded like the sister had permanent access to her internal organs. I'm not sure. Anyway, because I could tell my kids were super grossed out by this story, I drew this comic for them.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Striver or Just Really Poor?

Economist Tyler Cowen has a new book, The Complacent Class. I haven't read it. What I understand from blog posts is that it's about Americans' loss of motivation for improvement.

To help spread exposure to the book, there's a quiz to determine how complacent you are. At the end, you get sorted into one of four categories: trailblazer, striver, comfortable, or complacent. I took the quiz, and it said I was a striver.

Here's the thing, though: many of the answers that make me seem like a striver are really just results of my failures. For instance, the reason I have lived in over five states is because I'm constantly earning subsistence wages. The reason I have visited five foreign countries is because I couldn't support my family in America and we had to go work in China. My "striver" badge is really just a poverty badge.

Maybe that's the real reason for the rise of a complacent class. As Pat Buchanan once said [paraphrasing from memory], "There's something fundamentally wrong with this country that wasn't wrong when we were a much poorer country."

Wives, Nannies, and Perceptions of Racism

Most people are now aware of the BBC interview of political science professor Robert Kelly that was crashed by his children. A woman speeds in the room and pulls the children away. Early commenters guessed at the woman's identity. Some guessed (correctly) wife, and some guessed (incorrectly) nanny. And, of course, what with the civility that pervades the Internet, each side was calm and reasonable about the other side's guess. LOL, j/k, it because a major point of argument.

Is there an argument for guessing the woman is a nanny without necessarily being a racist? Let me point some things out:

  • Prof. Kelly very much appears to be Caucasian in the video.
  • Most children of Caucasians are Caucasian.
  • The video quality being sub-optimal, and his children's race therefore not being obvious, there is room to assume that his children are Caucasian.
  • The video quality being sub-optimal, and the woman only being in the background and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible (and only for eight seconds), I would argue her race is also not obvious. Ladies with dark hair exist in every racial group. I think the assumption that she is Asian (here a correct assumption) is influenced by Prof. Kelly's declared location: Busan, South Korea. If this interview had been happening from, say, Lansing, Michigan, I think an assumption that the woman is Asian is less-supported guess.
Okay, so now we have an (assumed to be) white guy in Korea with (assumed to be) white kids and an (assumed to be) Asian woman who is a caregiver. With this information, we are guessing as to the relationship between the guy and the woman. Is it racist to guess that the woman is a nanny?

I say no, and here's why. How many white guys with kids, in Korea, are married to Korean women? How many white guys with kids, in Korea, have Korean nannies? While obviously both groups have a lot of guys in them, I think the second group is larger. Some white guys are married to Korean women, sure, but some are married to white women. However, I would bet that the number of white guys in Korea with a non-Korean nanny is practically zero, since nannies are more-likely to come from the local population. So whether or not the woman is statistically more likely to be a nanny or a wife depends on likelihood that a white guy with kids, in Korea, has a nanny at all. I see the assumption that the woman is a nanny as based on the assumption that he has a nanny. When I lived in China, I knew white guys with Chinese wives and white guys with white wives, but provided the family had a nanny, it was always a Chinese nanny.

Notice how many assumptions this is all based on. There's a reason they say assuming makes an ass of "u" and ming. But I don't see a racist reason behind the wrong assumption. It would be just as presumptuous to assume she was his wife. "What, only a wife can be in the same house?! Maybe she's a sister, or a friend, or who knows what?! Jeez!" The point is, we all presume lots of stuff, all day long, because information gathering is not costless. Assumptions are only racist if they are made on race-based assumptions. Assuming she's a nanny because, say, white guys aren't attracted to Asian women, or Asian women are less-desirable to have as wives, or whites and Asians shouldn't marry--then THAT would be a racist assumption. But assuming she's a nanny because we're assuming there's a higher probability that a white guy in Korea has an Asian nanny than that he has an Asian wife might be WRONG (I don't know statistics for these groups), and it was wrong in this case even if it does have a higher probability, but it's not a racist assumption.

Personally, what did I assume? When I showed this video to my wife that morning, I said, "A woman comes in the room." My wife said, "Is it his wife?" I said, "I don't know. It could be his wife or a nanny." And for me, the data I needed before I assumed one way or the other, was their ages. If they were of relatively similar ages, I would assume wife, and if they were of quite-distinct ages, I would assume nanny.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Feminism and the Other "F" Word

There are two meanings to the "f" word: one is discussing sexual intercourse, and the other conveys contempt for a person or a thing. The first meaning is given when you tell someone, "I want to f--- you," and the second meaning is given when you tell someone, "F--- you."

Why are we to understand that a word for sex expresses contempt? You're supposed to have affection for your sexual partners, not contempt. There's an element of self-loathing involved in it, basically saying, "If you would take me as a sexual partner you must not be worthy of my esteem."

Why don't we refute the idea that one should have contempt for one's sexual partners? And that would begin by no longer using the "f" word in the second sense. This would seem especially true from a feminist perspective. Feminists who use the "f" word in the second sense are inconsistent, on the one hand supporting female equality but on the other hand continuing the notion of having contempt for the things that we f---.

("But, A Random Stranger, the verb 'to f---' implies no gender!" I disagree; there's a reason that the Blink-182 song "Dammit" includes the line "did you hear he f---ed her" instead of the line "she f---ed him." Most people instinctively feel that the guy is doing the verb.)

Instead of implying that someone having sex with them is the ultimate worst thing that can happen to someone we hate, let's move on to other expressions of contempt that don't have anything to do with sex. My personal favorite is "die in a fire." Very little ambiguity there.

Really FINISHED Finished States

I keep track of the counties I visit. Currently, I've been to 1,774 of America's 3,132 counties (and county-equivalents). I am finished with 15 states. Today I spent some time thinking about which of those states you could say I'm "most" done with.

Map courtesy of the awesome county-gathering website www.mob-rule.com/counties

STATES COMPLETED (15): Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia.

STATES COMPLETED & I'VE VISITED EVERY NEIGHBORING STATE (14): Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia. [Not Nevada, because I have not yet visited Oregon.]

STATES COMPLETED & I'VE VISITED EVERY NEIGHBORING COUNTY (eight): Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Utah, West Virginia. [Not Kansas, because I'm missing five neighboring counties in Nebraska. Not Kentucky, because I'm missing two neighboring counties in Tennessee. Not Missouri, because I'm missing four neighboring counties in Arkansas and one neighboring county in Oklahoma. Not New Jersey, because I'm missing one neighboring county in New York and one neighboring county in Pennsylvania. Not New Mexico, because I'm missing one neighboring county in Texas. Not Virginia, because I'm missing three neighboring counties in North Carolina.]

STATES COMPLETED & I'VE COMPLETED EVERY NEIGHBORING STATE (zero). [Not Arizona, because I've not completed California. Not Colorado, because I've not completed Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. Not Delaware, because I've not completed Pennsylvania. Not Indiana, because I've not completed Illinois and Michigan. Not Maryland, because I've not completed Pennsylvania. Not Ohio, because I've not completed Michigan and Pennsylvania. Not Utah, because I've not completed Idaho and Wyoming. Not West Virginia, because I've not completed Pennsylvania.]

Perhaps of added consideration is which states I've visited not just every county, but also the capitol, the high point, and any Mormon temple. Those are Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. As soon as I complete Pennsylvania, three of them will be completely finished, meaning there's nothing left for me to do in those states or in a surrounding state.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

We Used to Just Call This the Howell Freeway

I was reminded of my post about hyper-detailed highway signs when I read this section of the Wikipedia article about Interstate 580 in Nevada.

There was a time we would have just called it King Freeway and Howell Freeway. Time's arrow is hinted at with the way the older naming includes Dr. King's full name but none of his titles ("the reverend doctor"), while the newer naming includes not just Officer Howell's titles ("deputy sheriff"), but also the jurisdiction that employed him.

And don't be a jerk who tries to turn this into "A Random Stranger thinks Officer Howell shouldn't have a freeway named after him!" That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying there's a loss of public safety when we decide to post eight-word freeway signs where two-word signs would do, and if we still go around using eight-word signs, we must feel we're getting something else that compensates for the increased danger. I believe that "something else" is anthrotheism.

Songs That Refer to Their Song Properties

I've written before about noticing songs that mention other songs. I also notice songs that refer to properties of the songs themselves. For instance, dot dot dot:

  • "When You Were Young," by The Killers. When singing the line "I know we can make it if we take it slow," Brandon Flowers slows down for the last three words.
  • "Sweet Transvestite," from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When singing the line "I see you shiver with anticipation," Tim Curry stops for a bit in the middle of the word "anticipation."
  • "Thunder Road," by Bruce Springsteen. First, when singing the line "I've got this guitar and I've learned how to make it talk," this is immediately followed by a short guitar riff. Second, when singing the very next line, "My car's out back if you're ready to take that long walk," the word "long" is held for a long time.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Great Moments from the Comments Section

Yesterday I read two articles that were good enough that I found myself reading the comments, which is something I almost never do. The first was Charles Murray's assessment of his experience two weeks ago at Middlebury College. In the comment section was this exchange.

That's gold, Jerry. GOLD!

Following the principle that it never rains but it pours, within 24 hours I also read this priceless exchange in the comments section of an article about Israeli-American footballer Kenny Saief's international football career.

This also made me laugh out loud, or "LOL," as some kids are starting to say these days.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Qutting: Good or Bad?

Yesterday I mentioned that I applied Fundamental Truth of Life #4 ("If something is stressing you out, stop doing it") to my Chinese class. But my quitting Chinese could also be related to my winding down all my interpersonal relationships. Which is it?

Probably both. But, if things go for us how I'd like this summer, I have plans to start attending Chinese class again this fall. And to anyone who might care whether or not I have interpersonal connections, that would probably seem like a good thing.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Great Moments in Quitting

Back in 2011, I formalized what I now call Fundamental Truth of Life #4: if something is stressing you out, stop doing it.

Two weeks ago, I quit my Chinese class. If was killing my Mondays and Wednesdays, which should be prime dissertation-writing days. And when I found out that even the Internet-based HSK exams have to be taken in person for some reason, I backed off on my plan to take HSK-2 this summer, since we're uncertain what our financial position will be (making a trip to Miami difficult to justify). I'm still studying Chinese on my own, and I intend to attend classes again in the fall (assuming I'm still at this school in the fall), but for now, I've taken one more step in quitting my way to success.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Singing Hymns

I think our ward chorister made a mistake recently that resulted in our ward singing the same four hymns two weeks in a row. One of the hymns was "Thy Spirit, Lord, Hath Stirred Our Souls."

Now, usually I try to sing without the hymnal. I find having to remember the words makes me actually think about the words more than I otherwise would. But I don't have all the hymns memorized. And, even though it was our second week in a row singing it, I don't yet know the words to "Thy Spirit, Lord, Hath Stirred Our Souls." So I had to make them up.

Thy spirit, Lord, hath stirred our souls:

it's stirred them up real good now.

Not much has stirred our souls this much.

I'm telling you they're super stirred.

How stirred our souls? From one to ten,

it's easily eleven.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

"The Holy Roman Empire Was Neither Holy, Nor Roman, Nor an Empire. Discuss."

My blog is included on an aggregator called Mormon Blogosphere. It's found under the heading "The 'Y' and LDS Student Blogs." I feel like I'm guilty of misleading someone to show up in this group.

I attended BYU for three semesters, which not-coincidentally is the fastest someone can fail out of BYU (Academic Warning, Academic Probation, Academic Dismissal). As for being an LDS student: I guess, sort of. I still have to register for school each semester, but writing a dissertation as you approach 40 years old isn't exactly what people are looking for when they want to read an LDS student blog. ("What ARE they looking for?" I don't know, judgmentalism and super dates? Zing!)

In terms of "life successes," I totally fit in this category, though. I have the young Mormon's business plan down pat (1. Show up. 2. ? 3. Get rich.), and I am constantly telling myself that, six months from now, I'll be totally killing it! But I think most people expect a youth component to an LDS student blog, and no matter how you define it, I'm all out of youth.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Sex and Opinions

Remember when people were all, "It's a shame that Jennifer Lawrence had her privacy invaded when her Apple account was hacked!" and then some people were all, "But she didn't care about her privacy because she took the pictures in the first place!"? That second group of people is a bunch of idiots. Their argument is like saying, "You must not care about modesty because you get naked for a shower EVERY DAY!" Context matters. I don't invite the world in to watch me shower. Jennifer Lawrence should be in control of who sees her naked and when.

And then an entirely different group of idiots were thrown off by Jennifer Lawrence's Vanity Fair photo shoot because she was (gasp!) naked in it. "Look," they said, "she must not care about her modesty after all because she's naked in a publicly-accessible venue." But the problem was never concern for modesty or public access to views of her. It was sovereignty over her body, which sovereignty should reside with her at all times. If you understand why marital rape is a thing, you should be able to understand why Jennifer Lawrence should be able to do full-frontal nudity without undermining her claimed violation of privacy with her Apple account.

Last week, a new group of idiots saw pictures of Emma Watson (also in Vanity Fair, actually) and said, "She's a hypocrite because she's previously said women should be viewed as complete persons and not just as sex objects, but now she's using her attractive body for attention." This isn't hypocrisy, people. A "complete person" INCLUDES a sexual component. Just because she wants it known that she has opinions, she is not arguing that she no longer has breasts. She can have both (opinions and breasts, that is, not just left breast and right breast) at the same time.

Lastly, let it be known that I read all 800 pages of Vanity Fair and there were nowhere NEAR this many nude babes in the version I read. There was a surfeit of satire, but no boobs. Thanks a heap, Thackeray!

Friday, March 03, 2017

Evidence We're Living in a Computer Simulation

I've read a few articles lately that have been making the case that the increasing occurrence of statistically-improbable events is evidence that we're living in a computer simulation. The examples I've seen given are the election of Donald Trump, the outcome of this year's Super Bowl, and now the best-picture fiasco at the Academy Awards.

While I'm sympathetic to the idea that we're living in a simulation (and I can see how this would square with all of my religious beliefs), these are not convincing arguments. These arguments boil down to "it looks like there's a Decision Maker involved." This "Decision Maker" used to be called God, but now that we don't believe in God, we have to call it "superior intelligence that is running our simulation."

Remember what I said about the real-life lessons that can be learned from Jasper Fforde's Global Standard Deity: a God who is increasingly making bare His arm, only to be willfully ignored and called a supernatural computer programmer, is not a placated God.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Social Media Honesty v. Attention Whoring

One of the biggest complaints about how others use social media is that they are fundamentally dishonest with their posting. "Everyone only shares what's good," this complaint goes, "and no one ever shares what's bad, and as a result I feel like a failure because I'm comparing my life to edited versions of my friends' lives."

This complaint is probably second only to the complaint that our friends are being attention whores with posts inviting sympathy.

Make up your minds, people. Either you want your friends to tell you everything or you don't. When a friend has an unending stream of "my life is awesome!" posts, you claim she's fake. When she mixes it up with a few "my life is terrible!" posts, you claim she's an attention whore. What you really want is a friend who posts nothing but reactions to what you've posted. Because you're a narcissist.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How Horrorcore and Electronic Dance Music Ends Up on the Same Compilation CD

Yesterday I read a quote from Mike Posner describing the influences behind his song "I Took a Pill in Ibiza." (Shockingly, the influences were: 1) taking a pill in Ibiza, and 2) nothing else.) Anyway, Posner described the dance floor of a club as being populated by "kids." That made me realize that many people in the music industry are much older than their audiences. And these audiences, in the words of the Harvey Danger song "Little Round Mirrors," "[take] what they make twice as seriously as they could ever hope to do."

This morning I was driving to work listening to Jack FM, which played Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" and then played John Parr's "St. Elmo's Fire." I thought, "In the actual 1980s, the people who wanted to listen to 'Wanted Dead or Alive' did NOT want to listen to 'St. Elmo's Fire.'"

And, of course, Adam Smith said that the division of labor is limited by the extent of the market.

These three things together create the following fact: in 30 years, the radio station playing your favorite music will also be playing the music that, right now, you hate.

As the listening audience ages, music becomes less important to them. (Only "kids" take music seriously. Okay, kids and adults in arrested development.) The dwindling marketplace for a particular precisely-defined musical genre means suppliers will no longer fine-grade their product. (Less division of labor as the market shrinks.) And the result will be a radio station in 2050 playing "all the hits from the 2010s" following up Jay-Z with One Direction.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Undramatic Dramatic Movies

We watched Hoosiers Friday night for Family Movie Night. And it made me wonder if the movie was ever dramatic. I mean, from the very beginning, the first time a basketball is seen, you know that this team is going to be champions of whatever basketball tournament they're going to be in. Right? I'm sure I'm not ruining the movie here for anyone. So no one is actually worried when the Hickory Huskers find themselves down by one with the final shot in the air, right?

Not even superhero movies are as undramatic as sports movies, because even though you know the superhero is going to win in the end, you're unsure if the end of the current movie is the end of the story arc, so the villain could still be unfoiled as the credits roll, and you don't know what collateral damage there's going to be, so it's dramatic when people like Mary Jane Watson are in danger. But a movie about a rag-tag band of sports-playing misfits is going to end with them hoisting a trophy and we all know that before we've even seen a single ad for the film.

I bet the literal translation of the Chinese title for Hoosiers is "inevitable basketball championship."

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Pick a Body and Go with It!"

The other day I was thinking about a student I have who looks unhealthfully thin, and I thought, "She maybe has an unhealthful body image." Then I thought of a very overweight person I know, and I wondered what his body image was like.

As we continue to push the "love your body" message as a way of helping people deal with eating disorders and self-esteem problems, is it possible we go too far and condone body types that cause a different set of health problems, like diabetes and heart disease? As with just about all things in life, the answer is somewhere in the middle: you shouldn't want to be as thin as possible, but you also shouldn't give yourself a free pass to be as large as you find yourself being.

Of course, since none of us knows the limitations and conditions of someone else's health and fitness, the lesson to learn here is to not judge others. But what about for the self? Our good-hearted efforts to ease our self-condemnation by accepting our current body types might not lead to optimal health.

Post title from an old Saturday Night Live skit.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fortress Besieged Map

I'm currently reading Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged. A friend of mine commented on Facebook that she thinks it's a great book. I replied, "The realism is a bummer." She correctly observed, "'Realism is a bummer' should be the subtitle for most modern Chinese novels."

One problem I face is that the translators rendered all proper names in Wade-Giles, but I'm learning Chinese in the era of widespread Pinyin. This makes it so I don't know how to pronounce any character's name.

Armed with a trusty conversion table, I have discovered that the main character's name is Fang Hongjian (the book presents this as Fang Hung-chien). I was also able to convert the place names noted during Hongjian's soul-crushing journey to his new place of employment, San Lv University. To assist any other readers who might Google the phrase "Fortress Besieged map," I include below a map I made.

This 13-hour drive took Hongjian and his traveling companions about a month, it seems.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

California Republic

EDIT: Through a combination of spellcheck and being foolish, I originally wrote "succession" in many (all?) places I should have written "secession." Thanks to longtime reader Richard for pointing this out. I've fixed them now (at least spellcheck TELLS me I did).

Here's a question no one's asking me: what do I think of the California secession proposal?

Generally, I'm in favor of self-determination, and I don't think we should be beholden to the political structure our ancestors determined to use. I believe our Founding Fathers would agree with me, which is why they supported independence and they left us with a constitution that allows for amendments. This is why the Confederacy thought they'd have the Founding Fathers on their side.

However, I also understand that the Constitution makes no allowance for secession, so joining the Union is a forever-after thing. Maybe that shouldn't be the case, but the way to go about it is by constitutional amendment, not unilateral withdrawal. The uncertainty that would result from states entering and exiting the Union in response to every political change would be destabilizing and invite foreign meddling.

So I think California should have a right to independence, but they currently don't have one.

More practically, what would an actual attempt at California secession be like? Well, I don't see Donald Trump as a states-rights guy. A President Ron Paul would be cool with it, but no one else in national politics. I think the Federales would use budgeting means to strangle the state into submission. If that didn't work, the U.S. has a military and California does not. What's more, military-minded Californians are politically more conservative than the average Californian, so they are less likely to support secession. California liberals would declare their independence and then ask their conservative compatriots to protect them from federal troops. And why? So California liberals can more-easily subject their conservative compatriots to their progressive Utopian schemes. I don't see military-minded Californians helping out with that one.

What if it somehow happened anyway, if Trump was so crazy or destabilizing that the Federales couldn't even exercise their authority over California even with no Californian military to overcome? Well, large, geographically-contiguous regions of California are filled with people who detest California liberals and their plans. I cannot see a world where an independent California maintains its present borders. If the governing liberals were willing to respect the political rights of the minority conservatives with some sort of constitutional limitations on the power of the state, then maybe, but why go to the effort of seceding to just keep things exactly the same? If you're going to have a revolution, HAVE a revolution. I see the final border of Independent California being much closer to the coast, and Rump California (they would probably want a better name than that, but you would have thought the same about "West Virginia," right?) remaining in the Union as either a state of its own or an addition to Nevada.

I can't decide where San Diego, the Inland Empire, and Crescent City wind up.

Of course, Independent California would have a lot of people and industry and very little agricultural base, so they would need to maintain good relations with the Union. Again, this undermines the reasoning for going alone. Placate the Union too much and what's the point of independence? And I've already said that California's best chances of independence are tied to Union destabilization. But if for some reason the Union was glad to show Independent California to the door, then we could have a divorce so amicable that better border hashing would be possible, with non-contiguous parcels under each authority. I could see the Federales demanding oversight of California's defense (because otherwise it would take about four days for China to colonize the place) and maintaining all defense land, like Vandenberg and Pendleton. The map would look like central Germany under the Holy Roman Empire.

Ultimately, I think absolutely nothing will come of this.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Digging My Own Grave

Part of me is worried that, when I die, this picture caption is going to be one of the pieces of evidence against me. But it made my daughter crack up in sacrament meeting, so I think it was worth it.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Tibetan Slavery

(This post is going to be quick and to-the-point because I had a longer, developed post on this topic that my computer caused me to highlight and delete and then Blogger immediately saved the deleted version.)

A former student of mine from China is now a university student in the United States. He posted something about the Dalai Lama supporting forced labor and China's occupation of Tibet being a humanitarian mission to save the Tibetans from slavery. I asked for clarification if he thought China was opposed to forced labor and if he thought Tibet would experience more forced labor as an independent country, and he said yes to both questions.

That's just insane to me. The sources of information on China's use of forced labor are wide and varied. For instance: American citizen Charles Lee was imprisoned and made novelty slippers. Periodically Americans find pleas for help shoved into the packages they open. It can't be said this is a Western conspiracy to discredit the Chinese government because that ignores the breadth of agreement in non-Chinese sources; much of Western media is controlled by those sympathetic to state-run socialism. In the past, these people would have been called "fellow travelers" (or "useful idiots"). If this is indeed an anti-China conspiracy then it stands alone as the ONLY thing that EVERYONE outside of China can agree on. Remember, for years claims of a Soviet Gulag were said to be hysterical, and then they were shown to be pretty much spot-on.

In 1999, I started a personal boycott of items made in China. This was because of the structure of Chinese exports, where export companies are branches of the People's Liberation Army, so a cut of every item purchased from China goes to their military. That wouldn't necessarily be terrible, except I'm from Los Angeles, so the periodic Chinese threats to destroy Los Angeles with nuclear weapons are disagreeable to me.

My personal boycott ended in 2001 because 1) it became impractical as China replaced nearly all other sources of manufactured goods sold in America, and 2) I got married and my wife wasn't as dedicated to the boycott as I was. My father gave me a pair of Homer Simpson slippers and jokingly blacked out the tag where it noted their Chinese origin. A few years later I read that Charles Lee spent his prison sentence making this exact style of slippers. I could no longer wear them.

Now, Tibet was a feudal society before the 1950 invasion, and there's not much difference between a serf and a slave. So the argument can be made that the Dalai Lama was a slaveholder and that Tibet had widespread slavery before 1950. But the idea that China brought liberalization with them is wrong. The Danwei system was as all-controlling as serfdom, and its phasing out didn't start until the 1980s. Some aspects of illiberalism persist today, such as the two-child policy. (Serfs and slaves don't need government approval to reproduce.)

What's more germane to this argument, though, is whether a Dalai Lama ruling over an independent Tibet would return the nation to pre-1950 feudalism. Given the nature of the modern world, I just don't see that happening. Of course, we can't know right now, but there's no indication that Buddhism requires it, as the world's predominantly-Buddhist nations aren't feudalistic.

My former student had a number of friends who attacked my post, telling me that I can't know the truth because I can't read the Chinese sources they can read, and that I was disrespectful for attacking China. I didn't respond, as it wouldn't change their willingness to accept the story they've been told by their government, and it would only hurt their credit scores. But Occam's razor would lead us to believe that arguments which require a conspiracy of all non-Chinese media personnel should be disbelieved. There's nothing we in the West can do to discredit the Chinese government more than what the Chinese government already does itself.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bizarro World Presidency

Lots of people have strong opinions about what's going on in American politics right now. Instead of writing about that, I want to write a little about what might have been.

What if....

What if Mitt Romney had won in 2012? He probably would have faced Hillary Clinton in 2016 (she was the 2016 nominee ever since 2008), and given what we know about the re-election rate of sitting presidents, and what we now know about how terrible of a candidate Hillary was, I think it would be safe to assume that he would have been re-elected. So what I want to know is how many of Donald Trump's most-adamant critics would take that trade: change the outcome of the 2012 election to prevent Trump winning the 2016 election?

Maybe you think this isn't reasonable, that the two elections have little relation to each other. I don't think so, though. I think the core of the Republican Party was open to Trump because they thought: "We tried a compromise candidate, someone who should have been tolerable to a vast majority of Democrats, and they decided to paint him as 'Mormon Hitler.' Well, we'll show 'em...not 'Hitler,' of course, because that comparison lacks civility and reason, but something not quite a zero on the Hitler Scale."

And now you say, "Oh, come ON, A Random Stranger! When did Republicans ever try to show their goodwill by embracing a candidate from the opposite party to show they can be reasonable?" Um, how about Obama's first election? The week after the election his favorability rating was 75% and it peaked at nearly 80% at his inauguration. It's been 50 years since a president has hit 80% without a war or terrorist attack. The story of the racist Republicans who were always opposed to Obama is false. Trump won the presidency because of Obama/Trump voters in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa. I know Obama lost me and others like me when his response to the recession was to nationalize healthcare. It's not racist to oppose statism.

Anyway, that's getting too far afield. The point is this: there's an argument to be made that a Romney victory in 2012 would have cuts the legs out from under any Trumpism groundswell in 2016, not just delaying it four years, but snuffing it out. And so I wonder if Trump's most-strident critics would be prepared to accept an offer: we can completely avoid a Trump presidency at the cost of a Romney victory in 2012.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Automation, Displacement, and Social Welfare

A key tenet of economics is the benefit of what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction." The idea is that the displacement caused by technological advancement is what frees resources from their now-inefficient uses so they can be redirected to new uses that lead to economic growth. Before the Industrial Revolution, somewhere over 90% of the workforce was involved in food production. Now that number is under 10%, but we don't have 80% unemployment. The automation in agricultural production that heralded the start of the Industrial Revolution made it so the labor necessary for factory jobs was available. The same could be said of the Digital Revolution. Computers displaced workers, and those workers can now do things that were previously going undone. Human existence is nicer because of technological advancement.

But what if the rate of technological advancement outpaces humans' ability to adjust to it? The McCormick reaper and other inventions made most farm labor superfluous, so those workers learned how to become factory workers, and that change lasted for three or four generations. The vacuum tube and other inventions made most factory labor superfluous, so those workers learned how to become office workers, and that change lasted for two generations. Some people tell us to not fear the coming AI Revolution because it's just the latest in this string of technological revolutions that have drastically improved human life. I worry, however, that the pace of automation has surpassed the ability of humans to learn their new roles in the economy. With the past revolutions, there was someplace for the workers to land on their feet. Currently, though, a displaced worker might leave a retraining program to find that his newly-acquired skill has also been displaced.

What will never go away? Things we only want humans to do. But that list of tasks is shrinking rapidly. And besides, most of us have an aversion to entering service. We can't square "all men are created equal" with a nation consisting of a handful of satraps and their personal courts. And what's the ROI from retraining when education costs continue to outpace inflation but careers have now become gigs?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Change of Mentality

In the Maisie Dobbs book I read most recently (A Lesson in Secrets--the eighth novel in the series), Maisie hires a young widow, Sandra, to help in her office part-time. Sandra suspects her husband's death was not an accident and goes looking for evidence. She gets arrested after breaking into an office to go through some files. Maisie is out of town, so she asks her friend Priscilla Evernden to take Sandra in and look after her. Sandra runs away and leaves a note explaining that she couldn't stay at the Everndens' house because she's a known criminal and as such a threat to the Everndens' young boys.

Sandra would not be a supporter of Ban the Box, and I doubt her actions would be understandable to Jack Crowley.

Eighty years ago, people discounted their personal knowledge of circumstances and made decisions based on the assumptions they supposed a member of the public would make. Today people criticize the assumptions the public makes and insist others gain more knowledge than can be gained in a single lifetime before forming an opinion. Both are insane behaviors.

Monday, February 13, 2017

(Other People's) Marriage Is Stressful

When I got married I was, like, "There's nothing to worry about because I know I'm not a terrible person and I'm pretty sure she's not a terrible person; I mean, just look at how HOT she is! God wouldn't let a terrible person be hot--it wouldn't be fair!" And my marriage has turned out all right (so far). But when I hear that other people are going to get married, I am overcome with anxiety on their behalf. Because, really, no matter how sterling your vetting process, it's pretty easy to slip through. Just look at all the wack-jobs you know who are (or have been) married. Most people's due diligence consists of "s/he looks great in those jeans I like, and s/he professes affinity for the same bits of popular culture I happen to like."

I was reminded of this when reading Wodehouse's Uneasy Money today. One character's subconscious is attempting to convince the man that he was lucky to have been released from his engagement.

Why on earth do you think that you would have been happy with this girl? What do you know about her except that she is a beauty? I grant you she's that, but are you aware of the infinitesimal part looks play in married life? My dear chap, better is it for a man that he marry a sympathetic gargoyle than a Venus with a streak of hardness in her. (p. 208)

I knew my wife for 17 years before we got married, and I STILL regularly think, "Man, I got lucky that she turned out to be okay." I guess we should all be grateful that so many people subscribe to the sunk cost fallacy.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Four Points to Begin the Weekend

  1. Here's a really long blog post (I mean a "think of the longest blog post you'd be comfortable reading and then triple it" really long blog post) about how Americans are paying four times as much for everything but getting the same quality of services. Scott Alexander, the writer, ends with a series of possible explanations. I would add maybe one more: mission creep. Schools aren't just schools anymore, they offer meals and child care and psychological counselling, among other things. And the same is true of hospitals, universities, and every other public service. But that can't explain why building a subway in America costs almost seven times what it costs in Germany. America is broken, but the Trump sideshow isn't going to fix anything.
  2. In Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse, an auto manufacturer who is always thinking in terms of cars has his attention for a gorgeous woman described as "experienc[ing] disturbing emotions when he beheld her perfect tonneau and wonderful headlights," which is pretty cheeky for a novel from 1916. It made me laugh.
  3. Speaking of Uneasy Money, I'm frustrated by this portion. A woman named Elizabeth has a brother nicknamed Nutty. Nutty meets a man named Bill and they go to dinner in a restaurant, where a woman named Lady Wetherby performs a dance she calls Dream of Psyche. Later the narrator tells us
    In her heart Elizabeth knew perfectly well that this was because Nutty, when in the presence of the bees, lost his head completely and behaved like an exaggerated version of Lady Wetherby's Dream of Psyche, whereas Bill maintained an easy calm....
    I don't like that it seems Elizabeth knows that Nutty's behavior is like Lady Wetherby's dance, since Elizabeth has never seen the dance.
  4. Here's a fun paper: "College As Country Club: Do Colleges Cater to Students' Preferences for Consumption?" Spoiler alert: yes. But it's not like you couldn't figure this out on your own, right?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Truth Week: Alma 39:5

Yesterday I wrote that today's post would be about a scriptural verse that is not troublesome in and of itself, but in the widespread interpretation. That verse is Alma 39:5:

Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?
This has been widely interpreted among church members and church leaders as referring to the enormity of sexual sin. This, also, is not a stand-alone problem, but when we categorize the entire catalog of sexual sin as being nearly as terrible as murder, it becomes a giant problem.

Awkward paragraph commencing; consider yourself warned. I spent a good deal of my teenage years pretty sure I was going to hell. Here's the logical progression. 1) Murderers go to hell (D&C 132:27). 2) Sexual sinners are next to murderers (Alma 39:5). 3) I was a sexual sinner because I occasionally masturbated (my personal experience). Ergo: I was probably going to hell. I know there's a Doctor Faustus quality to this scriptural reasoning, but that was what I thought. I wasn't helped by the fact that I couldn't talk to anyone about this ("Hey, I'm nearly a murderer, but I have a question and I was wondering if you could answer it...."), and the one time I did tangentially ask in Sunday School class about it (I said something like, "What happens to someone who knows what he's supposed to do but repeatedly doesn't do it?"), the teacher supported my theory by telling me that such people will not be saved from their sins. Awkward paragraph concluding.

(Actually, now that I've written the rest of the post, I realize the awkwardness doesn't end there. Oh, well. Deal with it.)

Before you say, "Well, you're the only person who ever reached that conclusion," I would tell you that I have recently learned of many instances to counter this claim. Natasha Helfer Parker, an LDS marriage and family therapist, writes

within the last 6 months I’ve known of two LDS adolescent boys referred to the addictions program offered by the church because they masturbate 1-3 times a week and three LDS adolescent clients tell me they believe their masturbatory behavior to be a sin next to murder!!!
In an article entitled "Historical Development of New Masturbation Attitudes in Mormon Culture: Silence, Secular Conformity, Conterrevolution, and Emerging Reform," Mark Kim Malan and Vern Bullough recount the tale of Kip Eliason's suicide, which was fueled by his masturbation shame. His LDS psychiatrist paid a malpractice settlement when sued for endorsing Eliason's bishop's abstinence attitude (pp. 98, 101, 107-8). Clearly, I was not some lone wacko jumping to conclusions no one else would even consider.

In the past two years I've come across more material presenting a saner view of such matters. It began when a friend shared this thought-provoking article from LDS therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife about whether single LDS members can have a complete mortal experience if complete abstinence from all sexual activity of any kind is the watchword. I was interested to learn from Parker's blog post that For the Strength of Youth and the Bishop's handbook no longer contain the word "masturbation." Malan and Bullough also write about changes in teachings. Just a few months ago, this was highlighted by the church's decision to stop producing a pamphlet of a General Conference talk by Boyd K. Packer on the subject.

Some might say, "Well, A Random Stranger, the fact that you felt so terrible about it is the reason they told you to not do it," but that's getting the causation backwards. I'm not going to detail here why (any interested personal friends can ask and hear the story offline), but I am personally convinced that the truth is a lot closer to what Parker and Finlayson-Fife are suggesting than to what I was told when I was growing up.

And what's more, in this Sunstone article by Michael R. Ash (oh no, my six-month countdown has begun!), he makes a strong case that Alma isn't even talking about sexual sin when he is discussing the sin next to murder. This article was shared on Meridian Magazine, but indicative of the widespread member acceptance of the prevailing interpretation of Alma 39:5 is the reader's comment at the bottom, where he doubles down on the murder/sex nexus. We're more interested in making sure that the story we've told ourselves for years continues than in properly understanding truth, and in reaching that proper understanding saving unsuspecting youth a lifetime of problems. Because I can pretty much say that at least 90% of the trouble in my life has come from Alma 39:5 and the way it's read and applied by most Mormons. Regarding this cultural use of the scripture, Parker writes

If this is what we are teaching our youth – then we are emotionally abusing them. And it needs to stop. I will no longer be a compliant witness to this type of psychological assault. I know my language is strong and I intend it to be. The numerous stories I could share about masturbatory shame run in the thousands and I find it unnecessary, harmful and life altering.
While my depression problems started around 10 years old or so, before this became an issue in my life, and have continued after this stopped being an issue in my life, there's no doubt in my mind that the severity of my depression is tied to the cultural interpretation of this scripture and how it has impacted my life. Like I said, 90% of my problems are tied to it. It would be the top thing I would like to see changed in our church culture. But as the reader comment at Meridian Magazine shows, it's unlikely to happen anytime soon.