Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why I Can't Maintain Friendships

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

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

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

Monday, June 26, 2017

From My Journal: 4 August 2007

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Shame-Free Society

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another City on My Black List: Daytona Beach, FL

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

People Who Want to Believe That Americans Are Stupid

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

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

What does the Earth revolve around?

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Negation Through Addition

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

Sunday, June 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Weekend Blogging

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Females Are Strong As Hell"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 09, 2017

Another Neologism

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

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

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Wendy's Square Hamburger Patties

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

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Universal Basic Income and a National Merit Lottery

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Movies in Need of Lucasesque Tweeking

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

The Second Star Wars Trilogy

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

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings Trilogy

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