Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday ramble

I stumbled upon this article on how to handle unsolicited advice just as I was feeling guilty about being annoyed at my father's being himself. Most people dislike unsolicited advice most of the time (the author notes that there are exceptions), and--the author also notes--that even if the advisor is really just thinking out loud, it usually comes off as if (s)he thinks you're stupid. Did the people suggesting she get a passport (when she told them she was going to Europe) think she didn't know that? If they did, was it because they wouldn't have known that, or did they think that she, specifically, was clueless?

There are a lot of reasons that advice grates, one being that sometimes--most of the time--we just want people to listen. I tend to frame advice in the context of, 'this worked out well for me, don't know if this was already on your radar' or something similar. If anything, I tend to err on the side of assuming that people know things, where a suggestion might be helpful. But there is something super-galling about advice that presumes a greater-than-average level of ignorance.

And yet! Why should I care that, say, some random person on the street thinks I'm stupid? As the author said, if you want to change behavior, nodding or saying something generic won't get you there. I think with randos I do tend to smile and nod and whatever. But I digress. I was thinking about why my father's various antics so irked me. And, as with not appreciating it when someone presumes you're stupid, I don't appreciate it when my father implies that he's not impressed with how I'm living my life.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday roundup (brought to you by my frozen car battery)

Ukraine is a gangster state.

In Nepal, a young girl died sleeping outside because she was menstruating.

A Maasai woman stood her ground and improved thousands of lives
Finally, after nearly four years of dialogue, the elders in her village changed hundreds of years of culture and abandoned cutting. She had persuaded the men, and with them the village, that everyone would be healthier and wealthier if girls stayed in school, married later and gave birth without the complications cutting can create. 
Ms. Leng’ete — whose neighbors wouldn’t speak to her because she wasn’t cut — became the first woman in history to address the elders at the mountain.
In 2014, they changed the centuries-old oral constitution that rules over 1.5 million Maasai in Kenya and in Tanzania, and formally abandoned female genital cutting. 
In pushing to overturn a cultural commandment, she found that her own cultural pride was her strongest argument.
Here are some wise words about Poland from my former professor.

Will Modi try to cover for his mistakes by fomenting ethnic tensions?

Without an American security guarantee, the freedom-loving people of the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — would almost certainly be gobbled up by the authoritarian Russians. These Eastern European countries were occupied by the Soviets until the end of the Cold War, and they’ve lived in fear of Russian invasions since Peter the Great. To guard against their annexation, they were invited to join NATO in 2004. 
In a chilling story that posted overnight, two former administration officials tell the Daily Beast that a senior National Security Council official proposed withdrawing some U.S. military forces from Eastern Europe as an overture to Vladimir Putin during the early days of the Trump presidency. “While the proposal was ultimately not adopted, it is the first known case of senior aides to [Trump] seeking to reposition U.S. military forces to please Putin — something that smelled, to a colleague, like a return on Russia’s election-time investment,” Spencer Ackerman reports.
Here are some things that actually improve border security.

Two of the best responses to failed Ann Coulter:

How international papers covered 'shithole.'

This thread!

Milbank on Animal Farm.

I'd watch a gorilla channel.

Nursing homes can be very shady.

The Oprah for president moment is OBE, but this is an important point.

I live near a McDonald's and have to pick up trash all the time.
In denser living, a trash dump or a park next door affects the value of your parcel.
The sexual revolution made a vast number of previously unavailable sexual choices available. But it took place in a society that struggles to agree on what freedom actually means. And without a consensus on what constitutes a free choice, sexuality is bound to remain a domain wherein the powerful are able to exploit the less powerful — and call that freedom — even in a putatively liberated world. 
Quoting Hobbes, then 
In other words, calamitous circumstances don’t diminish a person’s ability to choose freely ; they just change the available choices. In this mind-set, non-physical coercion may not be decent or seemly, but it doesn’t invalidate the freedom of the choice that follows. 
Moira Donegan speaks revolutionary basic truths.
The spreadsheet was intended to circumvent all of this. Anonymous, it would protect its users from retaliation: No one could be fired, harassed, or publicly smeared for telling her story when that story was not attached to her name. Open-sourced, it would theoretically be accessible to women who didn’t have the professional or social cachet required for admittance into whisper networks. The spreadsheet did not ask how women responded to men’s inappropriate behavior; it did not ask what you were wearing or whether you’d had anything to drink. Instead, the spreadsheet made a presumption that is still seen as radical: That it is men, not women, who are responsible for men’s sexual misconduct.
This Ask Polly is long and I wanted to excerpt but there's too much that's too good.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Saturday ramble

I've been watching the horrendous "Iron Fist" just to round out the Defenders universe (I have to wait until March for more Jessica Jones); I was horrified--but shouldn't have been surprised, given the show's consistently, stupidly horrendous handling of racial issues--by the show's discussion of meditation. Danny describes meditation as a route to turn off feelings; weapons don't have feelings, he adds. Fair enough about the last part, I guess, but the show is perpetuating a harmful myth about meditation. Meditation doesn't turn off your feelings; it trains you to manage them.

Watch the second half of Trevor Noah's interview with Dan Harris and read this article--not specifically about mediation--about working with, not against, your mind. I've been listening regularly to guided meditations on an app I got through work--the work program also included live sessions, though I could only attend a few--and between those, and sessions I've attended in the past, the overarching theme is that it's human to wander, and that you don't beat yourself up for being human. Mediation is hard enough for people to make time for, without people making it harder by spreading misinformation. Like that awful Times op-ed that I didn't link to here.

I've been much better about meditating, and the difference is noticeable. On Wednesday as we were stuck in crawling traffic on the way to the airport, I should have been a wreck. I didn't anticipate traffic (I specifically booked a flight late enough that we wouldn't be driving in rush hour) and didn't allow a ton of time. I had a meeting that afternoon that I really needed to be at (it was scheduled after I'd booked my ticket), and I'd brought a suit with me as superstition/insurance: if I had a suit with me in the unlikely event that we landed in time for me to make the meeting straight from the airport, I wouldn't need it; I'd arrive in plenty of time to get home, unpack, and head to work.

Quick Saturday roundup

Rest in peace, John Young.

It should be no secret or surprise that Woody Allen is creepy AF.

It's true that some people are more used to the cold, but DC gets hit hard so shut the f* up.

The Flash would do better to eat plants.

"Thou," "yea," and "nay" meant more than their present-day synonyms.

On Twitter, men even mansplain to men
And of course to women

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Tuesday ramble

I've rambled (here (with wisdom from others), here, and here) about realizing--while in or just out of a relationship in which I was happy--that being in a relationship is nonetheless not magic. When I've been in a relationship that's started to go downhill, or even on a date that's going nowhere, I've thought about how deceptive it is to walk down the street with someone and appear to the world as a functioning couple. I remind myself of that every time I get the sense, walking down the street, that everyone else seems to be in a seamless, functioning relationship. I wonder about the experts--bartenders, waitstaff, others--who must develop a sense of who's a happy couple, who's an unhappy couple, who's on a good date, and who's on a bad date. I think about how often people have assumed I was partnered with someone I was just traveling with, especially a gay someone. I did, after all, earn the moniker 'Mrs. Jason' in India. And a number of people, looking at my photos, asked whether Alex and I were a couple. In their defense, we do look awfully couple-like in many of those photos, but Alex is also very, very gay. At the highest level of wondering, I wonder whether people think 'I wonder if she knows that her boyfriend/husband is gay.'

Apparently, many women wonder whether their significant other is gay (according to Google), when they should be wondering (according to experts) whether their significant other is depressed, or an alcoholic. It does prick a hole in the 'everyone else is in a perfect relationship' bubble--it's not that I find satisfaction in the problems in other people's relationships; but there is something comforting about idyllic appearances being deceiving. Relationships are complicated; snapshots are misleading. It's comforting even to consider--this is the opposite of schadenfreude--that fraught relationships bring their joys or whatever. I guess what's comforting is escaping the perception that it's so easy for everyone else (and its corollary: what's wrong with me, then?).

Tuesday Roundup

Most of us don't know much about the Korean War.

Time's Up is a much-needed initiative whose time has come.

POTUS #44 has an inspiring tweetstorm for you on the people who made 2017 better.
Add: the woman who tracks down 'fire cats.'

My mother might have written this letter, but probably not because she wouldn't have had the self-awareness to even doubt that her negativity could be a problem (though it seems like the letter-writer, too, is merely seeking validation; good for Carolyn for reality-checking her). You should be able to be happy for other people and share in their happiness without immediately feeling the need to rain on it with 'what if's.' My mother, like the letter-writer, would fall back on 'but this is who I am and I'm sorry if you can't handle me.' Yeah, I am too, if those are the only choices.

See also:
The criticism of your parenting and the fixation on kids in danger both suggest your mother’s “negative force” has an anxiety component. And instead of managing this anxiety from within, she tries to calm herself through control of the environment — or attempts to, at least. It’s an ugly and wrongheaded way for her to manage it, yes, but it also means you can’t “broach” the problem away.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year

The Atlantic has the market cornered on smart Iran analysis.

People are bat-shit.

If you're like me and you don't like to watch videos, i.e., you prefer to read your news, you'll have to read about how the UK is drowning in plastic in Russian.

Here's what people shoved up their asses (and other places) last year. And other stuff that must have hurt.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday ramble

This is not the point of the article on how expensive and precarious it is to be poor, but this is actually terrible rather than fantastic advice.
I once read a book for people in poverty, written by someone in the middle class, containing real-life tips for saving pennies and such. It’s all fantastic advice: buy in bulk, buy a lot when there’s a sale on, hand-wash everything you can, make sure you keep up on vehicle and indoor filter maintenance.
My mother accumulated a decades' supply of food that went bad--cans that corroded, etc.--because she bought things that were on sale and/or in bulk. It's more cost effective to buy what you need (she says as much in the next paragraph).

More to her overall point: it's also terrible advice to hand-wash everything. It's more efficient, if you have an efficient washing machine, to machine-wash. But an efficient washing machine costs money, is out of reach to very poor people, who thus can't benefit from its efficiencies.

Like the author, I've spent a lot of money buying cheaper things I have to replace sooner. I'm not poor so it doesn't break me, but I can back up her point that it does cost more money. I've probably bought the cheaper toaster that just ends up breaking faster or some other appliance that doesn't meet my needs and has to be replaced. I just made the mistake of buying the wrong case for my iPad and had to order another one. I think in everyone's life there's that category of expenses for mistakes and not knowing then what you do now. But when you're poor, those mistakes can be existential threats.

My mother always advocated for buying the cheapest thing (if not many of the cheapest things). She could never see the benefit of spending a little more money upfront to get something that worked. When I was a child, she bought me numerous ill-fitting swimsuits instead of one decent one. As an adult just out of grad school, she berated me for buying a decent (but not expensive) new suit to interview in instead of the cheapest second-hand one I could find. She would continue to try to foist upon me thrift-store finds that just didn't fit; the idea was that I should try to make them work, because the price was right. It was an uphill battle to get my parents a functioning, mid-range vacuum cleaner that works very well in place of the dozen shitty ones littering the house.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Self-help tips from the NYT, followed by a ramble

Willpower is an uphill battle; try pride, gratitude, and compassion.
We too often think about self-improvement and the pursuit of our goals in bracing, self-flagellating terms: I will do better, I will muscle through, I will wake up earlier. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t: Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable.
From the Times' piece on be happy by thinking like an old person, this stuck with me:
None went to a job he did not like, coveted stuff she could not afford, brooded over a slight on the subway or lost sleep over events in the distant future.
I thought about it again this morning, in response to a real dick move not on the subway but on an airplane. It was a full flight, and the woman boarding just ahead of me (but sitting at least a few rows behind me, it turned out) took up some premium bin space with a puffy coat. I asked her to take it out at least until I could get my bag in; she suggested that I try a bin a few rows back. I told her that bags take priority over coats in bins. The woman in the seat next to mine--already sitting down--told her that they've asked people not to put coats in bins. The offending woman took her coat and huffed ahead, who knows how far back into the plane. My seat-neighbor and I rolled our eyes in solidarity and mild indignation at the woman's entitled, dickish behavior. I started to take satisfaction in the indignation, and then I remembered the line from the Times story.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday ramble

I saw a preview, on YouTube, of the Tonya Harding movie, which I won't need to watch as I remember the whole episode from when it happened. Watching the preview, I thought, 'at least my mother was never that bad.' Which made me think--and for a second, feel guilty about thinking--how much less stressful the holidays are now that my mother doesn't say much at all. I have little to no anxiety about the upcoming visit, even more so because my dad and I had a breakthrough over mom issues earlier this year. I guess I forgot to tell you about that, so I'll do that in a minute.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

State of the Blogger (post-vacation staycation edition)

I'm awake. I'm yawning, but for first time in the near-week that I've been back, I haven't had that middle-of-the-night feeling during the day. That's a painful feeling, and it hasn't been awful this time around (for whatever reason--maybe because I'd adjusted more fully then and didn't have such a disorienting flight back--it was worse when I got back from Europe in June).

Normally, a full week off (my office closed this week) after more than two weeks off and before a few more days off might be too much for me, but I've really needed it. I did sign in to do some work today, and it actually felt good, and I've been periodically clearing out and dealing with work email. But I was such a mess before I left--the weekend before the trip, I...

-started Saturday morning with yoga, then
-swung by UPS to return half an order to Eddie Bauer, then
-swung by Ace to try to get a washer to fix my shower head, then
-participated in a parade, then
-dyed my hair, then
-delivered some pecans for the Smith club, then
-got my hair cut, then
-went to Home Depot, unsuccessfully, in further search of said washer, then
-got home and somehow tripped the fuse in my bedroom and adjacent room, which houses the internet router, and couldn't reset, and then spent the remainder of the evening trying to find an electrician who'd come out on a Sunday because I couldn't take more time off work before my trip.

-On Sunday, I ran a quick errand to stock up on cat food ahead to last my helpful cat-feeders throughout my trip, and asked the friend I'd be babysitting for whether she knew an electrician. She texted a friend whose husband was one, but he was swamped for weeks.
-Got home and cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.
-Friend dropped her daughter off around noon. I dropped off more pecans on the way to the playground.
-Friend picked up her daughter, and her friend offered her brother-in-law, who's also an electrician. He identified the issue (rogue lamp) and also fixed my outdoor outlet, and I didn't even care about the price because I was just happy to have power and internet again.
-Clean, clean, clean, clean, pack a bit. Crash.

The week, too, was a blur. I didn't pack each night as much as I should have, though I'd pre-packed (i.e., prepared stuff) a fair amount. I remember my dad asking me, maybe Tuesday night, whether I'd packed, and I remember saying, 'no but my kitchen is SPARKLING'). I got up early on Thursday and did laundry so I could leave the cat a clean bed, and then headed to the airport. I was on vacation.

Thursday roundup

Holy shit, Salma Hayek's Weinstein nightmare and the hell he put her through over Frida. The world is better for her having made it happen in spite of him.

Women are horrified but not surprised that men--especially male politicians--don't think sexual harassment is a real issue (via Melissa McEwan).
Abuse ranking is gross and "male politicians seeking higher office who have loathsome ideas about women, gender roles, and sexual violence is one of 'the real issues confronting the nation today.'"
Or, as Minnie Driver puts it,
“Men can rally and they can support, but I don’t think its appropriate, per se, for men to have an opinion about how women should be metabolising abuse. Ever.”

Rebecca Traister further nails it.
What makes women vulnerable is not their carnal violability, but rather the way that their worth has been understood as fundamentally erotic, ornamental; that they have not been taken seriously as equals.
Some journalists are really stupid about Russia.

FFS we're people like anybody else.

I've not yet read "Cat Person."

Don't just toss out that xmas tree. Not least because it's probably still in better shape than Rome's.

Where was Jesus really born?

This is a genius way to deal with phone scammers.

I did not know that high heels "were pioneered by horse owners in 15th-century Persia. Heels helped them stand up and stabilize in stirrups so they could shoot their bows with greater accuracy.

I find nothing (or at least not much) to mock in the Times' helpful list of life lessons.

Brighten your day with this thread, started and moderated by Merriam-Webster.

Kuala Lumpur

Leaving Borneo was bittersweet; we'd seen so much, and I wanted to see so much more but I was also ready to see KL. We got in pretty late--the airport is an hour from the city, and I think it took us as long to cross the airport terminal as it did to get into town. We'd planned to check out the night markets but we had some trail mix and crashed. As in Singapore, we opted out of the overpriced hotel breakfast (the other hotel breakfasts, apart from in Sandakan when we were on our own and bought some snacks from the supermarket, were included as part of the various tours). We picked up some samosas and fried banana balls from a street vendor on the way to our walking tour.

We started the tour in KL City Gallery, where the guide told us about how KL came to be and evolved over the decades. We learned that KL didn't get plumbing until 1962--until then, there were still people paid to collect waste in buckets from homes and businesses. We learned about how the press evolved and paved the way for Malay independence, which was negotiated rather than fought.

Gomatong Cave

Next stop: Gomatong Cave, aka bat shit and cockroach central. We were lucky to be there when workers were harvesting birds-nest soup. Made mostly of bird saliva. Retrieved from bat shit and cockroach central, and selling for exorbitant prices.

a miniature of the contraption used to harvest the birds-nest soup ingredients 
outside the cave

just outside the cave, abodes for the workers and/or security for the harvesters

Kinabatangan River

We stayed in Bilit, a village in the rainforest. It was so in the rainforest that pygmy elephants came foraging at some houses (not our lodge, for better or for worse) and left some droppings to remember them by.

We were very lucky to see pygmy elephants--they don't always come out of the forest. We saw three sets, including the foragers above.

Orangutans and sun bears (oh my)!

First stop was Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary. Our guide suggested that instead of watching the educational video before the feeding--the orangutans are offered food between 10-11am and again from 3-4pm--we go observe the young orangutans in their literal jungle gym. We're so glad we did this--and also that we saw the mama and baby orangutans come down for food in Semangoh in Sarawak--because no orangutans showed up at feeding time in Sepilok. It's fruiting season, so there's more fruit to be had on their own. Also, it was raining, and they don't like the rain (see one orangutan hilariously put beans on its head as rain cover). And some kids were screeching, and noise tends to scare them away.

Oh--one reason that orangutans need sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers is because palm oil plantations are destroying their habitat, so LAY OFF THE PALM OIL. Look at the ingredients in your processed food, and avoid it. That goes for you, too, vegans--oreos are vegan because they're made with palm oil. Earth Balance used to be made with palm oil but I think they've switched.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Turtle Island

There are three islands that make up Turtle Island National Park.

We went to Selingan. It was a beautiful, bumpy ride. The island just to the east of us was part of the Philippines, which cooperates with Malaysia on sea turtle preservation efforts.

All the turtle action happens at night--the turtles that hatched on Selingan decades ago come back there to lay their eggs.

turtle tracks from the night before
Visitors are called to observe the first turtle that comes ashore. Once it lays its eggs, the rangers move them to a hatchery, where they're safer from predators like monitor lizards. The soil temperature around the eggs determines the gender of the hatchling. Once they hatch, they scurry above ground, where the rangers put them into a crate and take them to the shore to be released to the sea. We get to watch that, too--and to help redirect any that seem confused (Alex got to handle a newborn turtle that kept trying to go the other way). Sea turtles have a natural sense of magnetism; they know which way is up. The rangers once tried to release them in the sea, where they'd be past at least some predators, but the hatchlings didn't know where to go from there so they were brought back to shore.

Sandakan and random musings

Sandakan was once the capital of Sabah, but it was destroyed during World War II and never recovered. The downtown is worn down, and the harbor is only beautiful from above,

Sandakan Harbor from the pool at the Sheraton Four Points

We look like a couple in this picture, which makes me vaguely uncomfortable.

but the floating houses are fascinating

and the city has its charms.

As everywhere else, people hang their laundry outside to dry

Kota Kinabalu and surroundings

We boarded a very early flight to Kota Kinabalu, where we were picked up from the airport by our tour guide and driver so we could head straight to Kinabalu Park, stopping at a couple of markets along the way.


Kuching, like Kotor, is named for its cats. Who knew I'd get to go to two cat cities--each with its respective cat museum--in one year? The city is dotted with cat statues.

And the cat museum is like nothing I'd ever seen before.

There was a whole Friskies display, which I'll spare you.

Sarawak is not about Kuching, but Kuching is a pleasant city.

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