Thursday, March 27, 2008

That explains everything

Just in time for my trip, Good Magazine came out with its China issue. I kept meaning to read it ahead of time, as I didn't want to bring anything that might be controversial into the country. I didn't get to it over the weekend, finally did start to read it yesterday. The first article in the series was... bad. I couldn't figure out why I was reading, yet not seeing any information of any substance whatsoever. It is truly rare to read something that is pure argument with no supporting information, and actually very little information even in the argument. I checked to see who it was that was wasting my time, and everything became clear: the author was none other than Thomas P.M. Barnett. It takes SKILL to make a career out of writing much and saying nothing, on a small scale and large.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mom Madness

If I were more tech savvy I would set up one of those branched charts or at least a voting mechanism, but I'm not so you have to vote with your comments.

The trip is 21 days including travel time. That's 21 day of quality family time. Please predict, without going over, how many times mom will say:

1. You've really gained weight!
2. I don't like your hair like that.
3. Have you started any fights with people at work yet?
4. Why don't you apply to Google?
5. Why are you bringing a sweater, it's warm out?
6. Why aren't you eating that?
6a. It's healthy.
6b. You shouldn't obsess about anything, including your weight.
7. Why aren't you drinking coffee?
7a. Coffee is good for you.
7b. You're so politically correct.
8. Don't put on sunblock- you need vitamin D.
9. You really don't think it's possible that we evolved from amoeba!
10. You don't know anything about history.
11. All government is idiots.
12. You're always so "correct."
13. The way you walk is so not sexy.
14. Your problem is that you're harsh and intimidating.
15. You're so socially overbearing!
16. Why are you so worried about germs? It's good to build up your immune system.

Bonus: How many of these comments will be worth waking me up in the middle of the night?

zucchini pancakes

I hadn't realized this was an ethnic thing until one of my coworkers, who was in Peace Corps in the Ukraine, said that when he would ask his Ukrainian host mother for recipes, she had a hard time being specific. We were talking about cooking, knowing how to cook, having a sense of what works when you cook, etc.

My mom, who is an excellent cook, doesn't follow recipes. When she's asked, or when I'm asked on her behalf, we have a hard time being specific. I do follow recipes, but not when I cook Russian food. Case in point: zucchini pancakes. They are always very well received, and very easy to make, but I never measure the ingredients, so I can't share the recipe. What I can do is share zucchini pancake cooking tips:

-The ingredients are zucchini, eggs, flour, oil, salt and pepper.
-The ingredients DO NOT include potatoes and onions. Those are latkes, not zucchini pancakes. Those are strong flavors that overwhelm the delicate yet flavorful taste of the zucchini. If you're going to use potatoes and onions, you may as well not use zucchini.
-The moosewood recipe calls for feta. I tried this one and don't think it works-- I think the zucchini speaks for itself when not overwhelmed by strong flavors.
-I've used white flour in the past but I'm going to try it with chickpea flour.
-Add salt only at the very end, right before frying-- otherwise it makes the zucchini water.
-Use a cast iron skillet.
-Shred the zucchini by hand; it should be course.
-Err on the side of more egg and less flour. You really don't need a lot of flour.
-Fry at a high temperature, so use the right oil (read: not olive). And turn the fan on so that your kitchen doesn't smell like fast food.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

It doesn't end

Mom calls me at 9:50pm on Sunday.

Mom: Are you asleep?
A.: No.
Mom: I got another letter from the bill collector...

I didn't realize that mail came at 9pm on Sundays. There must be some reason she chose to wait until I should be at least getting ready for bed to tell me about this.

Mom: I complained for Verizon?
A.: "To."
Mom: Are you sure?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Then what?
A.: Then what, what?
Mom: Then, "with"?
A.: "To."
Mom: I already said "to."
A.: What are you trying to say?
Mom: I complained to Verizon, with the attorney general...
A.: "And."
Mom: How?
A.: Look, write it to the best of your ability and I'll fix it, but do it fast because I'm tired.
Mom: Fine.

in one ear...

This is hardly an original thought, but I sometimes wonder whether my parents listen. It's like talking to a brick wall.

A.: Have you set up a ff account yet?
Mom: No-- what do I need?
A.: You're reservation code-- it's six letters.

Dad starts reading out a series of numbers.

A.: It's six letters.
Mom: Oh, I see it... it's...
A.: I'm not near my computer right now, nor do I have a pen. Give me a few minutes...
Mom: XZD...
A.: I'm not near my computer...
Mom: Okay. [three seconds pass] XZD...
A.: Stop. I can't do anything with that number right now.
Mom: Okay, I'll call you when I've figured out what to do.
A.: Sounds good.
Dad: You've already set up your account?
A.: I've had it for years.

We've been over this. It's why I have status, why dad and I will get Economy Plus.

I'll acknowledge that some people overvalue frequent flier miles or otherwise take them much too seriously-- a friend of mine who works with divorce attorneys once told me that divorcing couples fight over miles. As unfungible as they can be, miles are still worth something, and when you're flying to China and back, you may as well collect them.

***

Closely related to not listening is the phenomenon of arguing with the messenger. I am not the TSA, nor the Chinese customs bureau. I don't make the rules; I simply convey them to my parents so that they don't find their health and beauty aids confiscated.

Mom: I'm bringing only carry-on luggage.
A.: I think I am as well. My only hesitation is that I want to bring enough toothpaste.
Mom: What's in toothpaste? How are you going to blow anything up with toothpaste?
A.: I'm just saying.

Later

A.: Oh, if you're bringing prescription medication, bring it in its original packaging.
Mom: What? What am I going to blow up with pills?
A.: It's not airport security- it's Chinese customs. They'll want to ensure you're not smuggling drugs.
Mom: I'm not smuggling drugs. Who cares? What are they going to do?
A.: At the least, confiscate your medication.
Mom: But it's a big container!
A.: I'm just telling you it's an issue.

Actually, one of the frustrating things about traveling with mom is that she doesn't think rules apply to her. Say she's about to feed some ducks, when I point out a sign that says not to feed the ducks. Her response would be, "oh, that's just for locals- I'm sure tourists can do it," or something equally absurd. When I protest, she says, "you're so correct all the time." Guilty: I like to respect the rules and suggestions of the places I visit.

***
My dad, also, is often guilty of reasoning with the messenger. I was home for the holidays just after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Dad asked what I thought; part of my response was that Musharraf would be blamed.

Dad: But it's not to his advantage.
A.: That doesn't mean that he won't be blamed for it...
Dad: But that doesn't make sense.

I'll spare you the details, but dad tried to convince me that he wasn't behind the assassination. I pointed out that I wasn't suggesting he was, restated my case for believing that many people in-country would blame him, but to no avail: dad continued to believe that I was the one that needed convincing.

I'm really hoping we can stay away from political discussions for the duration of the trip.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

She's not helping

I am not that political, and this is not a political blog. I care about issues, less about politics themselves, and the political blog market is oversaturated. I confess to minor blog mission creep, but when I do address politics, I usually reference existing articles or metablog existing blogs. This is an essence a mom blog, and I'd like to keep it that way.

I've not once been tempted to address an issue that's been bothering me, and up to now I'd decided against it. Those of you that read the Post will have read or heard of that awful piece a few weeks ago on how women are uselessly emotional, practically incapable of making rational decisions (particularly political decisions). More research-based pieces have argued that women tend to follow issues less, know less.

I can't authoritatively confirm or deny this phenomenon. As one friend regularly reasons, about our collective national ignorance across both genders, when the people you know can find Canada on the map, it's hard to believe the statistics. Well, most of the women I know are well-informed, and I've run across one or two men who have displayed some stunning ignorance.

What I will say is, if this is true, stop. Stop, now. Put down the US Weekly and go learn about your elected officials (unless, of course, you live in the District, in which case you don't have any). Go look at an atlas; read the paper; watch some BBC news. There's no excuse-- it's your world.

The guest on Thursday night's Daily Show-- talked about defining patriotism not as pinning flags to your lapel but as being informed.

And it does matter-- it's not about obscure facts. These things MATTER. The identity of THE defining, influential Latin American revolutionary matters. The issue mistaken in the clip in the previous post MATTERS.

Should you choose to remain ignorant, however, the least you can do is not make the rest of us look bad.

logic, continued

This is the sort of horse$hit my mother sends me. Read at your own risk (of a logic-induced headache).

Friday, March 21, 2008

now that's embarrassing

watch to the end of the clip.

zen

This will probably surprise you, but I have only recently started to experience anxiety in the weeks before spending time with my mother. I used to look forward to it. It first happened just before the holidays this year. If you'll recall, I (accurately) predicted that my mother would miss no opportunity to express her displeasure with my hair and weight. I have no doubt that she'll do that over the next few weeks, starting Thursday, but I also suspect that she will not respect my wishes for a non-political vacation, and those wishes are quite intense. And I don't doubt that I will be asked to justify everything I choose not to eat (besides meat; she's had 16 years to get over that one).

How did I get myself into this situation? I erroneously focused on one aspect of mom-induced stress: she's difficult to travel with. I thought about that and dismissed it, thinking, 'it's an organized tour, the potential for conflict is minimal.' Which is kind of true, but more importantly, it's not the point. There doesn't need to be conflict-- even when she's not picking a fight, she is still often difficult.

I'm going to approach this as an exercise in zen, in creating my own peace. Or perhaps, in learning to deal with my mother.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

On language

Today marks the undoing of not one but two semantic principles I held dear.

I don't hold linguistic things dear lightly. You've seen me split infinitives and end sentences with prepositions, because those are bull$hit rules that add no grammatical value.

I will continue to cringe when I hear "Someone and myself..." as the subject of a sentence.

But today-- after a week of identity crisis induced by hearing educated people use it in the "new" way, I had to accept that "to comprise" can legitimately be used to signify "to make up," in addition to its 'pure' meaning, "to include." It's just too widespread; fighting it would be futile. And it sounds better than "to make up" or even "to compose," so meaning creep serves a useful purpose in society.

Not but a few hours after conceding to the expanded meaning of "comprise," the Express crossword (which is really a syndicated crossword) clued "enormity" as "vastness of size." I'd always liked to use it as "outrageous," "beyond normal." If I wanted to signify vastness in size, I'd use "enormousness." Alas, I will pick my battles and move on.

Monday, March 17, 2008

logic of complete idiots

Usually I ignore my mother's political rants, because I don't want to encourage her. Disagreeing, voicing an opinion, only provides fodder for name calling and more yelling. If I can't discuss things at a certain level of discourse, where each side is listened to respectfully, I'd rather not discuss things. However, sometimes her argument is so absurd and disappointing that I feel it would be irresponsible to let it go. In response to her jabs over the phone, I sent her this piece and as well as this one. Her response to the latter, as sent in a reply to the e-mailed link:

"logic of complete idiots (sic)"

This merits some discussion. First of all, that article was characterized by information, not a logical current. Second, with all due respect to mom, that comment is coming from someone who said, "I don't know what the intelligent design theory entails, but by it's name I think it must be right."

***
Lest you think I've been brainwashed into complacently accepting any logic laid out in a respectable publication, check out the jaw-droppingly inane logic that I came across this afternoon. The only good thing that can be said about this is that I was reading it on the elliptical, and feeling indignant got me to move faster. You won't be able to read more than an abstract, unless you subscribe to foreign policy, but it's no loss, unless you want to make your head hurt (if you are so inclined, I will send the article upon request). He doesn't define the very theme that he's writing about (nationalism), refers to vague categories of social scientists and other assorted detractors, and spews a whole bunch of other "interesting" logic.

***
Okay, off the soapbox in favor for a little superficiality: I just have to let you know that my assessment of my handbag has gone from cautious approval to outright awe. Today, it held my running shoes and gym clothes; coffee (tea) mug; three tupperware containers of lunch and snacks; and the usual assortment of personal items and portable health and beauty aids that I lug to and from work. I may be bombarded with interesting logic, but I no longer suffer from buyer's remorse.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

presumption

Mom: If you knew anything about history, you wouldn't vote for him.
A.: Bye, mom. I don't have time for this.
Mom: You don't know history!
A.: Bye, mom.

As a general rule, when you're interested of convincing someone rather than insulting him or her, don't insult them. Mom's not the only one who doesn't see how that work; I recall a recruiter from Medecins Sans Frontieres (as known, in the humanitarian aid community for its sanctimony and stubbornness as for its great work) telling an audience of grad students interested in aid work that they have no idea how lucky they are or what kind of hardship exists in the world. I could go on and on with examples.

It's not just the presumption and insult that detracts from the message; it's the arrogance of telling someone else what they know/think/don't know/don't understand. I can't speak for everybody, but I know that once someone starts lecturing me about what I don't know or understand, I become, if anything, less open to what that person has to say. When you respect someone-- a family member, friend, other person you're talking to-- you don't conduct a discussion under the assumption that you know better and just need your colocuteur to see the light. It just doesn't work that way.

***
A few minutes before mom opted to end our conversation on a condescending note, I'd asked my parents why they couldn't be bothered to set up frequent flier accounts with the airline. It can't hurt in any case, but I had good reason for thinking that mom valued frequent flier miles, as she'd mentioned several times in the past that I could give her mine. I sort of figure that since she'd ask, she would actually care enough to claim her own miles. What was I thinking? Anyway, then she asked me to set up accounts for her and dad, because it's not like she's the one who's retired or anything. And besides, now that I think about it, I think they have accounts and have lost their information... which puts me in the happy position of not being able to deal with it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

this was already getting old- six months ago

As promised, I called my mother to walk her through the itinerary-retrieval process. She'd apparently managed on her own earlier today. We discussed the trip for a a minute or so; then, she launched into... the Verizon saga (recap: she got Verizon; it didn't work (i.e. phone calls were not getting through) and they were not willing/able to fix it, so she canceled it and returned the equipment; they continued to bill her for said equipment and for service that was never provided; she faxed them receipts, etc.; they reported her to a collections agency; she wrote (i.e. I wrote) the MA attorney general and communications board; they're confused about what she wants-- largely because I thought she wanted to move on with her life, but I've come to understand that she is on a mission to expose their predatory billing practices). So the update is that the state attorney general called Verizon for mediation, resulting in Verizon's leaving her a message along the lines of, "we understand that you're having trouble paying your bill."

Mom's comment, to the person who writes her letters and listens to her saga? "Your entire government system is populated with idiots."

Did I mention that we'll be traveling together for three weeks?

more metablogging

Did I mention that I recommend this blog?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

lotus. flower.

This is one of those "I really should be asleep, but this must be blogged" posts.

Wendy's here (yay!). I decided to take mom's call... because she's trained me too out of aversion to either the "where could you be?" message (which, incidentally, I got on Saturday night) or the "you're already asleep?" message. Neither of which I feel like I should have to justify.

Wendy: They call late.

Sure, 9:30pm isn't 3am, but given what time I usually get up, why not call at, say, 7:30pm? I've actually been up since 4am and had the usual long day/long week.

Mom: Do you have your air itinerary?
A.: It's online.
Mom: Could you look up mine.
A.: We've been over this, no.
Mom: Why not?
A.: Because I don't have your login information for the airline.
Mom: Can you check mine when you check yours?
A.: No.
Mom: Why not?
A.: Because I can't. Because I can't access your account.
Mom: Well, how do I access it?
A.: Do you have your frequent flier number and other info?
Mom: I must, I've accessed it before.
A.: I think you accessed it by phone before.
Mom: Could you just look for me?
A.: No.
Mom: I wonder why I can't access it. Can you help me?
A.: Can we do this tomorrow?
Mom: ...Okay.
[I mean, if it were so urgent, why didn't she call earlier?]
Mom: By the way, your candidate...
A.: Mom. No. I'm tired, we're not having this discussion right now.
Mom: Why are you tired?

WTF.

A.: Because I'm tired. Goodnight.
Mom: Goodnight. You don't take after your father or me.

there are better ways of teaching resilience

What parents do to children!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

link

There is so much good stuff in the last week or so of http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/ that it would be silly to link individual postings; this isn't, primarily, anyway, a metablog. My point is, it's good... look it over.

whatever

It's REALLY not that hard. All you have to do is try.

Monday, March 10, 2008

if sanity were fat...

It occurred to me a few minutes ago that I may be losing it (I trust you all are too sophisticated to take any cheap shots there; that would be too easy and I expect better of my readership-- intellectually if not socially). Oh, and "it," unfortunately, is not weight. Every time I step on the fancy digital scale at the gym (gym at work: $23/month; no kids in sight: priceless) it adds a pound, which you would think would be physically impossible. I'm not sure what's going on (apart from girl scout season... and other stuff... whatever it is, it has to stop). But I digress.

I caught myself thinking, as I said to Gracie, "look you little $hit, this is not how I want to be spending my time either so shut the f* up and sit still," 'this is going to be even harder when she figures out that Monday is kitty hygiene night and starts to hide when it's time to brush her teeth.' So no, it's not the talking to my cat that signals the losing of the it that is not weight; it's that I was under the impression, albeit for a few seconds, that she keeps track of days of the week.

I also gave her some undue credit yesterday, thought "what a good girl for not being a whiny little bi&ch long before her dinnertime-- because she does know dinnertime and breakfast time, although it doesn't stop her from whining her powerful lungs off beforehand as an attempt to break mommy into feeding her early. Anyway, I thought it was sweet that she was being patient. And then I realized she was an hour off because of Daylight Savings Time.

Now before some of you obese-furball-huggers out there start feeling sorry for Gracie, let me make clear that the amount/intensity/timing of whining has nothing to do with hunger, because she can whine up a storm when she still has dry food in her dish. It's a power thing, and she needs to understand that she is not the alpha female in this household.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Crap that no one needs

Either Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert had a great quip about The Sharper Image's demise-- something along the lines of, "where will I go now when I need a $800 umbrella?"

Actually, Lewis Black had an even better line in one of his shows, about a CEO who had apparently bought a $20,000 umbrella or umbrella stand. Something like, 'my parents have one of those-- it's called a car, and they use it to drive to a place where it's not raining.'

This issue has come up in a couple of conversations recently and finds new relevance as nationwide economic crisis appears more and more inevitable: how much of our economy is based on crap that no one needs?

The Sharper Image was perhaps a bad example to start with, because the luxury market is a category all its own, and in many areas isn't hurting even now. So, forget "really overpriced crap that no one needs" and think about "plain old crap that no one needs." You know the stuff of which I speak.

Today I was at Home Goods, which is full of crap that no one needs. Why I was there is actually kind of a testament to this. Many years ago, someone gave mom a gift card to HG. She regularly complained about how she couldn't find anything there on which to spend it. At one point, she asked me if I wanted anything there, so we went together, and I found a Japanese tea set that I liked. But she didn't like it so she wouldn't let me get it on her gift card, even though she hadn't find another use for the card. Over the years, she chipped at it, until the amount remaining was $3.79, at which point, a few months ago, she handed it over to me. I stopped there a few times-- whenever I was in the area, i.e. going to REI one street away, and had the same experience (but more because $3.79 is a very difficult amount to work with... still, there is stuff there around that amount that I wouldn't "buy" for free). Last week, I bought a throw and thought I was rid of the card, but the throw had been wrongly repackaged, thus too short to cover my sofa (I still have not found a suitable throw, and I still have not mastered the art of lint-shaving all of Gracie's hair off the sofa... if it weren't so much work I'd consider shaving her). Anyway, I had to return this throw and once again shop for something, because I really wanted this gift card out of my life.

It was hard. I managed, eventually. But in the process, I saw some really ugly, and may I add, overpriced, stuff. I had to stop at Crate & Barrel on the way home to unshock my sense of taste. It kind of helped-- I got some nice silk blend, lavender napkins.

C&B is pricier and certainly without the odd hideous item, but it's not... useless. If I had to spend money there, it would perhaps be more money than I'd want to spend, but I'd have the option of spending it on something that wasn't... crap that no one needs.
***

In other news:
I haven't had Monterey's Pizza although I occasionally get their fliers, but I may start, because as I waited to cross the street in the pouring-down rain on Friday, a bunch of cars raced right by (I was in a crosswalk, too-- the one right outside the metro) but the Monterey's Pizza driver stopped to let me cross.

I did find a "grocery" store in Chinatown, but the only groceries sold there are the kind you drink.

Literary Honesty

If people want to tell a story, why can't they just write fiction? If they want to tell their own story, it can still be worth reading, even if it doesn't entail hard-core suffering (see Susan Gilman's "Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress" or David Sedaris' "Me Talk Pretty One Day."

This has always bothered me. It bothered me when Rigoberta Menchu did it and it bothered me when some friends defended her by accepting her horse$hit about her culturally relative sense of identity.

I promise you that if I ever compile an anthology of blog entries and add to it with other childhood stories, I won't make $hit up to go with it. Then again, I'd publish it anonymously and would be happy to pass it off as fiction.

***
As usual, Nicholas Kristoff writes the truth.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Quote of the day

Amen.

I am so glad someone has said it:

“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek

Thursday, March 6, 2008

In the words, or should I say word, of Otto from A Fish Called Wanda...

...disappointed.

And I blame Posh. I could agree with Christian's winning if the competition were to, say, design a collection for Victoria Beckham, rather than one that anyone else would wear.

The Fugs disagree. I feel their pain on Tim Gunn withdrawal, though.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Now if we could just get them their own airlines

This is one of the best ideas, ever. Don't listen to the detractor guy who tries to come off as a civil libertarian when really he sees a business risk.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

quote of the day

The story is okay. The quote is awesome:

Maintaining a relationship can be too much work, Chu added. "If when we eat I always put food on your plate for you and one day I don't, then you might get mad and fuss at me. These little fights are really hard," she said. "So you might have a one-night stand. It's just so much easier."

Yes comments

I have one or two things to say about this but I'm too tired to say them, so make sure to check back soon.

Monday, March 3, 2008

a little night music

It was suggested, several weeks ago, that perhaps my concern with Gracie's girth could be a projection of mom's treatment of me. I'll give it "perhaps." The central argument against that theory is that unlike Gracie, I am actually at a healthy weight. And unlike Gracie, I can take care of myself.

Still, I had to wonder when this evening, I caught myself serenading the plus-sized furball with "Baby Got Back."

Thankfully, I don't foresee mom doing that to me.

Gracie's shape isn't the only thing triggering musical associations in my mind.

***
I've been trying to determine whether the immunizations I got in 2002, and their respective boosters, are still good. There is very little information on the internet about this. One doctor did say that hepatitis shots worked for life. I've e-mailed the CDC and await their response.

If that is indeed the case-- or even if they work for ten years or something-- my trip to Panama has paid for itself.

Just thinking about that made me think of the bluegrass tribute to Van Halen.

***
Public Service Announcement: Get vaccinations when your insurance covers them, as mine did back in the day. At the time, Tufts covered travel vaccinations completely. Georgetown-- where I was when it was time to get boosters-- did as well (not including copay). MDIPA-- which I won't slam because it was quite generous with regard to my lacerated forearm, and has great dental and vision benefits-- covers jack $hit when it comes to travel vaccinations.

So if you have insurance that covers them, even if you're not going anywhere, get them now. You never know when you'll be at the receiving end of the handiwork of some food service worker that didn't wash his or her hands (which is all it takes to cause a hep a outbreak). It's a good immunization to have... but at $135 a pop for three shots, I'm hoping the CDC confirms that once you get all three, you're good to go.

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