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.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Truth Week: Moro. 10:22

Remember Truth Week? Well, I guess it's back, six years later.

I feel like there's no room for honesty in Mormon discussions sometimes. For instance, I have never been in a priesthood lesson where we talk about dealing with being attracted to someone other than your spouse. We act like it doesn't happen, or if it does it's a sin. I think we'd be better served by acknowledging that it DOES happen and that the attraction itself is NOT a sin; otherwise we're all left floundering in the face of this universal phenomenon. ("It's not universal--I never experience it!" Oh, cut it out. You're exactly whom I'm talking about.)

Another example: every Mormon book on GoodReads has to get a five-star rating. Can't we acknowledge that some Mormon books are just okay? (And by the way, you know what GoodReads rating corresponds to "okay"? TWO STARS, PEOPLE. Stop the star inflation!)

Well, today I want to write about something that I feel is another suppressed topic: scriptures that I have a problem with.

Why might we not acknowledge that some scripture is unhelpful? Because we're worried it's the first step towards chucking it all away and going on a coffee binge. It's like subscribing to Sunstone: you haven't quit yet, but you will in six months. (Yeah, I said it.) But scripture can cause me problems without me apostatizing. (Or maybe that's just what the editors of Sunstone WANT me to think!) It can be a result of inelegant wording (as in today's post) or wrong-headed interpretation by modern readers (tomorrow's post, insha-Allah). I don't think this makes me a terrible person that I have a hard time with some scriptures. It's the million OTHER things I'm doing wrong in my life that make me a terrible person.

So what is this verse? It is Moroni 10:22, which reads, "And if ye have no hope ye must needs be in despair; and despair cometh because of iniquity."

I'm fine with the first half of it. I read that and I'm, like, "Moroni really gets me." Because I am in despair pretty much ALL THE TIME. At least since I was about 10 years old. But then Moroni kicks me in the teeth with, "And it's your own fault, sinner."

Listen, just about the last thing a despairing person needs to hear is, "Your iniquity is why you feel this way." Because we already are telling ourselves that. Why can't I be happy? Because I'm too stupid to do it, or I'm too sinful to do it, or I'm too irredeemable to do it. These thoughts are the soundtrack of my life. And then Moroni comes along and says, "Don't forget iniquitous!" Uh, thanks, Moroni; I think I covered that one with "sinful".

Maybe he doesn't mean what we all think he means. Maybe he means it like how D&C 101:29 means "death causes all sorrow." At one level the reader thinks, "Not really; I sorrow about a lot of things that aren't death," but at a deeper level, all sorrow is removed when we overcome spiritual death. Separation from God is what allows sorrow to grow and continue, and when we are reunited with God, there will be no more sorrow.

So is Moroni saying "you've caused your own unhappiness," or is he merely saying "we currently live in a world where despair can fester because we are temporarily separated from God"? It would be nice if he was saying the latter, but those aren't the words he uses. And although Moroni says three different times to cut him some slack because he's not a good writer, I don't think this extends to "reinvent my sayings to make them easier to take." I have it in the scriptures that "despair cometh because of iniquity." All I have arguing on the other side is the thought, "It would be nice if he meant something else."

Tuesday, February 07, 2017


Yesterday in my Chinese class the teacher said, "ATM 机," which means "ATM machine."

Monday, February 06, 2017

Four Thoughts Over the Weekend

  1. The GEICO commercial where the lady sees the rapper Ice-T at a lemonade stand is confusing to me. When it switches from outside to a woman in her kitchen on a tablet accessing GEICO's website, I can't tell if this is supposed to be the same woman or not. She looks similar, but not identical.
  2. My wife was watching a video clip with Steve Harvey in it and I was struck once again with how unusual his moustache is. It's so dark and thick, but so short. There's no depth to it at all. You'd figure if he kept it cut that short, you'd see his skin through the moustache, but it's impenetrable by sight. It looks like Groucho Marx's moustache, but Groucho's wasn't real. I'm fairly convinced that Steve Harvey's moustache is fake; he uses a grease pencil before coming on stage and that way he is less-recognizable in public. That's my new theory, anyway.
  3. The Collector's Edition Wodehouse books are published by a firm located on Wooster Street in Manhattan.
  4. I had to ask my wife this weekend to remind me how checks work. I said, "Do I mail this to the bank or to the person I'm trying to pay?" In my defense, it's been about four years since I've written a check to someone.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Overly-Ambitious Student Seeks to Bankrupt Mom-and-Pop Retailer

My overly-ambitious student had this tale for me leaving class: "Last week I was getting gas and I thought the price was too high. I was at a mom-and-pop place and I said, 'I'll give you this much for it,' and the guy was, like, 'Yeah, okay.'"

He told me this like "smart student saves himself some money." But did he really bargain down an unjustly-high price, or did the retailer misunderstand and think my student was offering what he had available and the retailer agreed to be a nice guy?

And we just take a moment to ask why we all collectively lose our minds when it comes to gasoline prices? It is almost ALWAYS the case that the cheapest gasoline retailer for you to use will be the ONE RIGHT NEXT TO YOU, irrespective of the price. But we drive a mile out of our way to save five cents per gallon, which produces a savings of...less than a dollar. The gas station that is on your pre-determined route, with a right-in-right-out ingress/egress setup, is always your best bet. You don't need an app to tell you that, you just need common sense.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Decentralized Federal Agencies

Here's an article summarizing an idea being proposed by writers of different political persuasions: moving federal government agencies out of the Washington DC area.

I like this idea a lot. I like resisting the "Capitol/districts" setup that is increasingly taking shape in America, be it in terms of control ("they" make laws that govern "us") or economics (five of the six richest counties in America are in the DC area). I like making government less appealing of a job (not as many college students would be excited about a job in Detroit or Amarillo). I like using something the government controls to fight poverty rather than the government trying to control the economy or industry to do it.

Of course, it would be problematic. The DC area is overbuilt on office space if federal agencies move away. Would that invite an expansion of the remaining federal agencies to fill the empty offices? Or would it increase lobbying (most of which would stay in DC since that's where the lawmakers would still be) because the cost of starting a lobbying firm would decrease as rents fell? But these problems wouldn't be insurmountable: DC could be the next Silicon Valley if abundant office space were super cheap.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

My Falcon Ordered the Kosher Meal

What kind of resources are involved here? The story is about a wide-bodied Airbus plane rented out to transport 80 falcons to Saudi Arabia, but the unmentioned story is wealth inequality and the failed states of the Middle East. Eighty falcons worth $8,000 each and a chartered large airliner from Paris (a guess, since the article says the origin is unknown, but a really safe bet, in my book) to Jeddah starts at $125,000 (according to a fast search). That comes to $890,000 for a round trip.

I know that those with resources have the right to determine how to use those resources. But I think that the well-being of humans should take priority over a falconry trip (even a really nice falconry trip). The Middle East has the resources to eliminate its poverty problem, but those resources go into buying football teams and cheetahs. Again, if that's what the owners of those resources think is most important, that's up to them. But since Middle East poverty fuels terrorism, why don't Middle East plutocrats in Europe face massive terrorism-abatement taxes?