Thursday, July 30, 2009

Friday roundup

Ratings justice. No thanks to some people.

That's not racist at all. People are so sensitive these days.

Some good bad puns in Milbank's first paragraph.

A compelling plea to get over soundbite discourse and gaffe analysis:
The more concerned you are to avoid saying anything wrong or offensive, the less likely you are to say anything inspiring or true. We have elected a president with a speculative mind. He wrote a book worth reading -- wrote it himself! -- even before running for president. It's interesting to hear what he thinks about various subjects -- even those that don't immediately affect his own presidency. But every teachable episode we put him through teaches him that speculation is risky. And the riskier we make it, the less of it we're likely to get.


A great interview or book review, with a concept described on the last page that, should mom embrace it, would make it tolerable or even interesting for us to have intelligent conversations:
That the truth is out there somewhere and I don't fully possess it and you don't fully possess it and our job then is to listen and learn and imagine enough to be able to get to that truth.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Still stuck on the linear thing

Maybe again, if not still.

And by the linear thing, I mean the way my mom gets stuck on things (like why I mentioned Nina on the phone this morning, or who is David Eggers, etc.). It makes joke-telling futile, because she'll start asking questions that are irrelevant. I think I've expounded on this before, but here's what I mean:

A.: A man walked into a bar...
Mom: What man?
A.: It doesn't matter...
Mom: What bar?
A.: It doesn't matter.
Mom: Why did he walk in, then?
A.: I'm getting there.

It also makes watching movies very difficult, unless the movies are so absurd ("Zoolander," "Dude, Where's My Car?") that mom's attempts to establish order just add to the enjoyment of the film.

Anyway, I was reading the New Yorker--and this is off the topic, but here's some great civics-for-dummies from Hendrick Hertzberg:
"In other free countries, legislation, social and otherwise, gets made in a fairly straightforward manner. There is an election, in which the voters, having paid attention to the issues for six weeks or so, choose a government. The governing party or coalition then enacts its program, and the voters get a chance to render a verdict on it the next time they go to the polls. Through one or another variation of this process, the people of every other wealthy democracy on earth have obtained for themselves some form of guaranteed health insurance or universal health care.

The way we do it is, shall we say, more exciting. For us, an election is only the opening broadside in a series of protracted political battles of heavy artillery and hand-to-hand fighting. A President may fancy that he has a mandate (and, morally, he may well have one), but the two separately elected, differently constituted, independent legislatures whose acquiescence he needs are under no compulsion to agree. Within those legislatures, a system of overlapping committees dominated by powerful chairmen creates a plethora of veto points where well-organized special interests can smother or distort a bill meant to benefit a large but amorphous public. In the smaller of the two legislatures—which is even more heavily weighted toward conservative rural interests than is the larger one, and where one member may represent as little as one-seventieth as many people as the member in the next seat—an arcane and patently unconstitutional rule, the filibuster, allows a minority of members to block almost any action. The process that results is less like the Roman Senate than like the Roman Games: a sanguinary legislative Colosseum where at any moment some two-bit emperor is apt to signal the thumbs-down."
But I digress. However, before I get back to the subject at hand, I will direct you to this article, also from the New Yorker, about the "man cave" in the New York State Senate.

It was the article on Siberia, though, that brought me back to the linear issue. I thought, "I should send this to mom." Then I thought, "she'll just ask me why I sent it to her."

And then I thought about all the similar questions mom has asked me, and I wondered whether her questioning wasn't just an engineer's tendency to impose a certain logic on the world; I realized there was also a certain laziness to it.

Mom's flat-out admitted that in some ways she lets herself go when we're together (not so much in temper, because she does that when I'm not around, too, but in organization). When we travel together, she relies entirely on me to keep schedules straight. So why not extend that to thinking about books, movies, articles, etc.? It's like she can't be bothered to take that not-so-extra step that most of us take without a second thought, i.e. "hmm, this person sent me this article on things to do in Buenos Aires. Must be because she knows I'm going there next month. I'll skim it and take note of anything useful, and then delete it," she calls me and asks why I sent her said article. When watching a movie, instead of thinking, "huh, I wonder why that character did that; I guess I'll find out as the movie progresses," she just asks me why the character "did that," even when I have no insider information about said movie.

Or it could just be the engineer thing. I don't know.

It's getting old

Mom called, invited me to the Cape in September.

Mom: The [place they're renting] sleeps six. Natasha and Misha will be there.
A.: Oh-- I chatted with Nina [N&M's daughter, who lives in Prague] this morning.
Mom: This has nothing to do with Nina.
A.: I know. I just thought you might like to know that I chatted with her.
Mom: Anyway, I saw that Jetblue was having a sale, so I thought I'd let you know.
A.: Thanks. I doubt I'll be able to make it-- we're going to get really busy by September.

Which is very true. But what I didn't say--in addition to, "I keep forgetting that you get distracted by bits of information that are only indirectly related to the matter at hand, even though I just blogged about that"--was that even if the timing would work out, I don't think I want to subject myself to that.

Yesterday, over lunch, when my colleague shared the story about her friend's mother (see yesterday's "Projecting" post), and I responded in telling her about some of the things my mom's said to me, she said it's good that I manage it and can maintain a relationship with her. Others, she said--and I have friends in this category--sever their ties with verbally abusive parents. I wouldn't want to do that, and I've learned to manage my mom's outbursts. But I've also grown increasingly disinclined to spend a lot of time with her.

I'd come to this before, and then came away from it, for one reason or another. We'd spend time apart and I'd forget how bad it had been--not how bad it could get, but how bad it actually did get--and then things would be fine and I'd actually want to spend time with (both) my parents. This time around, instances of how quickly, and without apparent provocation, mom can turn, abound in my recent memory, and none inspires me to spend a whole week in her company.

I actually make a decision this morning:
nina: I am planning to come to the US around the holidays but we'll have to spend a lot of time in Michigan cause we haven't been there for a while
me: I'm going to spend less time in Boston than I normally do. The house is a good excuse.
me: My mom is not getting any easier to deal with.
nina: Yeah.... I can imagine.

***
Nina and I also talked about other family issues. You probably won't recall my mom's birthday dinner a few years ago, at which her (older) brother's drunken misbehavior was laughed away by their mother. Another friend of mine is going through something similar, i.e. parents' turning a blind eye to, or even justifying, their son's poor judgment (while, at least in Nina's case, giving her a hard time for just about everything). Double standard? What do you think?

We also talked about what's wrong with kids these days.

Nina: And they live in a pretty expensive neighborhood, so it is really hard for the kids to understand why they can't have a new iphone or ipod every 6 months x 3 kids, and [their mother] doesn't say no to them
me: well she should. that would be a good experience actually.
nina: she buys them shit and tells them not to tell their dad
me: we never got everything we wanted as kids, and turned out okay
nina: I know! If anything we turned out better than those rich Brookline and Newton twats around us :)

I don't know about that, but I think it's a teachable moment in personal finance: keeping up with the Joneses can destroy your finances. You don't have to do it. Why not teach your kids that?

Wednesday evening roundup

The legendary Julia Child is especially respected among her fellow Smithies, and I now value her legacy even more, knowing that she introduced real food to the country.

The impact of meat eating on the environment is no joke. It's why I became a vegetarian in the first place. That, as the article states, nobody wants to talk about it at the risk of sounding preachy and alienating people, doesn't make it any less true.

I love this (alas, more embedding woes, so if you click on a different day, you have to look for today's cartoon).

Examples of Darwinism in the job market.

Kathleen Parker has high hopes for what a beer can do. I can't say I'm not disappointed, though, with one of those beers being a Budweiser.

Over-reliance on technology: a cautionary tale.

Wednesday morning roundup

Venezuela's tortured cacao industry.

Dowd on Palin (and Hillary Clinton).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Projecting

Over a celebratory lunch with a team I'd worked with a while back, the director told us about a friend of hers whose mother very blatantly projected her emotions and even sensations onto her daughter (the friend's sister). She would say things like, "I'm cold; put on a sweater," and "I have a headache; you should take some advil."

My mom doesn't go quite this far, but she does often express shock that I don't experience the exact same sensation. If I say I'm cold, she'll say, "but it's warm in here!" and when I express interest in food, she loves to proclaim how not hungry she is.

There was also the time--in Russia, on Lake Ladoga--that she convinced me not to take a book because I should just look at the water and scenery (we weren't late, but she wouldn't give me thirty seconds to get my book). But it would be a long boat ride, and the ferry broke down in a fairly standard-looking part of the lake, giving me way too much time to stare at the scenery. Mom, of course, had her book.

Then, of course, there's was the accusation that I was leaving my job because I was so overbearing that couldn't get along with people, and had alienated everyone. I actually told my former team, with whom I'd worked quite closely for the better part of a year, about this, upon hearing the story of the more direct projecting. They thought that was really funny. It's certainly not come up in any of my reviews... and believe me, it would have had it been an issue.

What's your favorite tale of parental projection?

Tuesday evening roundup

A friend of mine at work-- a guy-- actually tried the Master Cleanse. He liked it better than Time's Joel Stein.

More currently, the Post reviews the fourth "Eat This, Not That". The writer recommends it, in spite of herself. Blogger note: I find it of limited practical utility because I don't go to restaurants often, nor do I tend to buy processed foods, but it's still interesting. I'm not suggesting you buy the book, but do check out the website.

The other dynamics at play in Gatesgate: putting the elite in their place. Also, here's what Colin Powell has to say about the incident.

I agree that there's some silliness, pettiness, what have you, but could you not throw around the term "genocide" when "pettiness" or even "obstructive pettiness" will do?

Video tributes to Sarah Palin

The Daily Show's:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Quitter
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day


Stephen Colbert's (embed link is broken).

and Mouthpiece Theatre's:

Tuesday morning roundup

The new form of Hillary-bashing.

A military application of an old truth: our instincts are powerful. Especially when they're not overwhelmed by anxiety.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday evening roundup

Helene Cooper puts Gatesgate in perspective. Very much worth a read. Meanwhile, some people have too much taxpayer-funded time on their hands.

I've posted quite a few things on the dangers of defending human rights in Russia; it's no picnic in China, either.

Grist takes on the Post op-ed page for having provided a forum for Palin and Will to spew misinformation on climate change.

Guess what: I did not go to one (or two) of the country's most liberal colleges.

Thankfully, I don't think even my dad could have won this contest. I'll let him know about, nonetheless, should he choose to compete next year.

Eat the ham, Tina

When I first read about this study, I thought it would be cool to be a volunteer (although it would not be cool to have diabetes). Next, I thought about my mom telling me that chocolate was good for you, and my reminding her that a little bit of chocolate could be good for you. Mom's not one of those people who appreciates the nuance of "if a little of something is good, it doesn't mean that more of it is better."

I got to thinking about mom's other bogus nutritional advice, and the awesomely faulty logic behind it. Her constant refrain in China was, "have more rice; rice doesn't make you fat. That's why Asians aren't fat."

Now, I never welcome mom's unsolicited guidance about what to eat--it has a way of taking the enjoyment out of dining--but this was particularly annoying. You may recall that mom wouldn't pass me the rolls on one occasion, saying that rolls were the worst thing for me.

The thing is, I never really cared for rice. It's fine as a vehicle for curries or other saucy foods, but by itself it's really kind of blah. I wasn't obstaining from it out of fat concerns; I just didn't want any. But thanks for bringing it up, I thought.

Then--back to today--as I thought about this, i.e. the broader topic of people bringing up issues you didn't know you had or at least weren't thinking about--at first I thought of Jay's having asked whether I'd thought about dying my hair. And then I thought of that line from "Napoleon Dynamite":
Do you drink skim milk because you think that you're fat? 'cause you're not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to.”

Monday morning roundup

If you think your local officials are incompetent and/or corrupt, see China.

Host a radio show? The woman is, among other things, painful to listen to.

Judith Warner searches for common ground via Gatesgate.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Really, Alexandria police chief?

When a politician engages in behavior that, if or when discovered, threatens his, or occasionally her, career, there's an element of hubris that convinces him--let's stick with "him" in this case--that he'll get away without being found out. Behavior such as adultery-leaving aside the issue of being detrimental to one's family--doesn't actually carry inherent risk of getting caught. The same cannot be said of driving smashed--and I mean blood alcohol of .19 smashed.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sunday morning roundup

Frank Rich takes the media to task.

Nicholas Kristof continues to report the profoundly f*ed up.

Maureen Dowd's intelligent analysis of Gatesgate. From yesterday's paper, this is also a good piece, and valuable in the debate because it takes the race-neutral perspective, i.e. looks at police dealing with difficult people. I agree with one guy's point: you're not dealing with people at their best; no one is happy in a situation where police has become involved. You don't have to take slights personally, and you can choose to de-escalate. By the way--am I the only one to gird for accusations of elitism to point out that "stupidly" is an adverb, rather than an adjective? And while I agree that we have a ways to go in terms of open, honest discussion on issues of race, I think it's interesting that the side-taking in this debate hasn't fallen strictly or even mostly, as far as I can tell, along racial lines. And we can all benefit from challenging our assumptions.

Metro still doesn't get it, and "it" isn't limited to the crash.

What happened to not rewarding terrorists?

Should we be afraid of, or at least more careful, with robots?

Some people are unbelievable

Timely book

While we're on the topic of David Eggers, and the country is on the topic of racial profiling and people getting arrested on their own property, check out this story about "Zeitoun", Mr. Eggers' new book.

The Mount Vernon Trail and the Tortillas

As with many blogworthy topics that mom loves to talk about, such as my weight, her going on about lakes--in particular, her access to them and my lack
thereof--bothers me less for the content and more for the intention or insensitivity. Some things may be true, but they needn't be said; other things, having been said, are established and needn't be repeated at every opportunity. Mom has as much as admitted that she brings up the lakes issue to remind me that there is no natural swimming hole within reasonable driving distance from where I live. I find that unnecessary. And while I like a good lake as much as anyone, I don't dwell on the issue. I mean, I don't sit around, doing nothing, thinking, "if only I had a nearby lake."

This was going through my mind as I cycled on the Mt. Vernon Trail this morning. That trail is more than I could have wished for: it would have been enough to draw me to live in Alexandria, in and of itself, although there was plenty that drew me here without it. The segment that I take to work--that between Old Town and the 14th Street Bridge--is mostly pleasant and occasionally beautiful (and occasionally not so much); The segment that I take on weekends--from Old Town to Mt. Vernon--is just plain beautiful. I often wish I had my camera (although not enough to remember to bring it next time). It's ten miles of overwhelming beauty.

And it's right there. I get on my bike and go. None of this waiting for my parents to dilly-dally and discuss whether or not they've packed enough food, all while the morning slips away.

It's more challenging than the Old Town-to-Rosslyn segment, more hilly. The last mile, in particular, is one butt-kicking hill. But it's worth it.

***
I like to go early, before it gets hot or crowded. It wasn't too bad this morning, even though I left later than I like to, around 7:30, but more than once I had to brake because runners, if I may use the lingo of the day, behaved stupidly. In one case, three people were running, apparently together, ahead of me. I'd gotten into the other lane to pass them and was about to warn, when one turned around, without looking, and got into the same lane. I braked, she saw me, catastrophe avoided, but still: keep your eyes open, people. In another case, a group of runners was standing off to the side and one decided to step onto the trail just as I was coming her way. She saw me, apologized, catastrophe averted again, but seriously, people: pay attention. Don't get me started about the people who sprawl an entire lane or two (either collectively or individually).

***
I stopped into Trader Joe's on the way back. I'd gone too long without their whole-grain tortillas. Whole Foods' whole wheat tortillas just aren't the same. What follows is hardly ever a good thing: I found myself in a situation that reminded me of Tom Friedman's writings. I think this was in "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," but I could be wrong. Do you remember his thing about how Japan at one point decided to boycott Israeli products, which was all well and good when Israeli products were mostly oranges and stuff, which one could import from just about anywhere, but once Israel started exporting products that reflected cutting edge technological innovation, Japan found it difficult to keep its money where its mouth was? Anyway, I got into the express lane with my tortillas, hummus and eggplants. I was third in line and in no hurry--in fact, I was getting through the small cup of coffee I'd poured--but something was not right, the line wasn't moving. The woman checking out had just started writing a check. She waited until everything was scanned to start writing, and she was taking her sweet time. In the f*ing express lane, where one has no business writing checks, anyway. Then the cashier took her sweet time processing her check. And then it turned out that the check processing thing was broken. But even before that, everyone in the line was fuming. It had probably been at least five minutes, and all of us just thought, wait, she's almost done, but no. It was bad. We were all shaking our heads, and all went to different lines, from which we commiserated with one another, and the other cashiers commiserated with us. It all worked out, we all got our stuff and moved on.

While I was standing there, though, I thought, "if it weren't for these tortillas--if any other place carried tortillas this good--I would drop this basket right here and walk right out the door." I wouldn't even have put my stuff back-serves Trader Joe's right for allowing check-writing in the express lane. But I wanted my tortillas, so Trader Joe's got my business, and I had to admit that Tom Friedman, while arrogant, is occasionally onto something.

Saturday afternoon roundup

The last sentence of this article basically sums it up: there's a double standard. It's like how women in the office are seen as bitchy no matter what they do. The rest of the article sums it up, too: context matters. And the dude was in his own house after a flight from China. For all you know, he was sitting next to a screaming child for twenty hours.

On the Amazon, threatened communities.

The third excerpt from "On Faith" is particularly good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Phone call

I asked mom whether she'd sent the complaint letter. Instead of answering, she starting going on about how she's been working with Irina, how wonderful Irina has been throughout this whole ordeal, how she's a perfectionist and besides, has taken up the cause as if it was her own, and so on. She didn't say "unlike some people," but it was clearly implied. After she was done, she talked about something else, and then came back to how wonderful Irina has been in helping her craft her complaint letters.

Later, she called me back and asked what to put in the subject line of an e-mail she was sending, the body of which would be the text of the letter, to a newspaper or online forum or something designed to help people in these situations.

A.: How about, "stuck in gym membership..."
Mom: No! The issue now is ABC Financial. That should be in the subject line.
A.: That's all well and good, but the root of the issue is the gym membership that they won't let you drop. That's why they've sent the financial people after you. You can write both...
Mom: No!
A.: Well, I don't know, then.


And then mom wonders why I don't meet her expectations for complaint letter help. First of all, did she ever thank me for editing the letter she sent me on Monday? Then, when I do help her, she doesn't take my advice. And you'd think I never offered or agreed to help her, such that she turned to Irina. All I did was ask her to send me the specifics of the situation. Is that too much to ask?

Knowing my mother, I decided against point out any of this. I just let her rant.

***
Mom: Where's the cat?
A.: She's right here. She's crawled under the tarp, actually. [Note: it's scary that I almost, intuitively, typed "TARP;" "tarp" looks wrong.] It's quite cute.
Mom: What tarp?
A.: You know that green thing I use to cover the futon in the yard, when it rains?
Mom: Is it raining?
A.: No.
Mom: But the cat's under the tarp?
A.: Yes.

Thankfully, one of us changed the topic.

This reminded me of an earlier conversation with mom, that for some reason I didn't blog at the time:

Dad: What are you reading these days?
A.: Mostly magazines, actually, but I'm also still slogging through "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." It's good... but I can only take it in small doses.
Mom: What?
A.: A-Heart-breaking-Work-of-Staggering-Genius.
Mom: Who wrote it?
A.: David Eggars.
Mom: Who's he?
A.: A writer.
Mom: Whose genius?
A.: His own. It's quasi-facetious/ironic.
Mom: I don't get it.
A.: You kind of have to read the book.
Mom: I've never heard of it.
A.: [Shrug]

I get annoyed whenever my parents ask me to repeat a book or film title, because usually no amount of repetition is enough. This is nobody's fault; my parents are not native English speakers. What I don't understand is why we have to keep playing the repeat-the-long-title game.

***
Mom: Do you have plans for the weekend?
A.: Mercifully, no.
Mom: So you're just going to stay home all weekend??
A.: Um, no. I just said I didn't have plans.
Mom: So what are you going to do?
A.: I don't know. I'll go on a bike ride, maybe call around and see who's in town. I will veg and read some, though. What are your plans?
Mom: We'll probably go out to the lake.

To her credit, she didn't go on about how she has lakes to go to and I don't.

Friday evening roundup

Another fascinating insider account of the kitchen debate.

The WSJ says there's more than meets the eye to those studies that make you think, WTF?

Check out this interview with Mark Bittman. Contrast the tone/concept with that of the fru fru terminology offered up by these commenters.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday evening roundup

Slate asks whether one can stay informed through print media alone. Good question, disappointing discussion.

This birther boom would be less funny if the country weren't facing lots of Real Problems.

I don't like air conditioning unless it's the only option. I hate staying in hotels where I can't open the windows but it's too hot not to turn on the AC.

Thursday morning roundup

A year ago--or perhaps now, had the election gone the other way--this would have had me long for a bygone era. Of intelligence and wit in foreign affairs, not of Nixon or the Cold War.

Speaking of the Cold War, Gail Collins maintains that we're still prepared for it:
Of course, the F-22 had been totally outmoded since the collapse of the Soviet empire. We’ve been through two wars without ever finding any use for it. We’ve already got 187 of them sitting around, available should the Soviet Union reconstitute itself tomorrow and send its pilots into our airspace for a stealthy dogfight.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wednesday evening roundup

I have very, very low expectations of the WSJ editorial page, but this?? Really, WSJ? For a reality check, see--and I can't believe I'm linking to the Washington Times editorial page and actually agreeing with it, but Arnaud de Borchgrave knows his stuff, which doesn't explain the drivel in most of the paper, but I digress--see this.

The Collins-Brooks conversation of the week is very timely-- first of all, that discussion of being able to disagree with someone, yet admire his or her intellect. Which reminded me of Richard Cohen's column on Sonia Sotomayor. I see his point, but I don't think he's being fair. In that conversation--and do read the one on health care linked within, which sparked the one I linked--David Brooks talks about how his party has left him. We--some friends of mine, at least one of whom considers himself a Republican--were just talking about this phenomenon (i.e. that party catering to, and being left to, its lunatic fringe).

Democratic Senators--albeit not those of my state--demonstrate balls. Maybe they could carry them over to health care reform.

Parsing the Skip Gates debacle. That link justifies the policeman's behavior; this is supposed to be the companion piece/counterargument, but Lawrence Bobo's piece, which the Post has made impossible to find online, works better in that sense.

I came across this quote in a cartoon; it spoke to me.

Wednesday morning roundup

Seriously: when you get behind the wheel, put down the phone.

The hidden costs of health care as we know it, explained well. For a similar, understandable explanation of the climate bill, see last night's Daily Show.

The Metro has serious issues.

Mark Bittman rocks my culinary world. I'm not kidding: the Post recently updated its recipe finder so that you can limit your search by factors such as "healthy" and "fast," with "fast" defined as under an hour. I don't think I've ever spent an hour on a single recipe, nor do I think I'll ever want to. What's the point?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

First of all, GOOD RIDDANCE. It's about f*ing time. Here's to more where that came from.

And [please forgive the obvious statement that will follow; I am framing the links, not insulting your intelligence] it, i.e. the contractor takeover of the national agenda--is not just a waste of money; it has a detrimental effect on innovation and policy. Even the contractors grow fat and happy, knowing they have a meal ticket. Only their lobbyists are exercising their muscles. The Sunday Post had a whole section on the anniversary of the moon landing, and the gist of it was, "we've come a long way... back."

Meanwhile, amateur astronomers are finding holes in Jupiter's atmosphere. What the f* have I been doing with my free time?

On a different note, this is impressive.

Back to the theme of food and the free market: before you cry socialism at Michael Pollan's thoughts, keep in mind that agriculture in this country already constitutes its own welfare state; it's not more socialistic to re-skew the system so it's not subsidizing the worst possible food.

Interesting thought: can anyone be trusted these days the way Walter Cronkite was? Some of the responses baffle me, particularly Deepak Chopra's. The Dalai Lama's not selling anything but peace, my a$$. In the most literal sense of the concept, he's sold books. But the bigger issue is, nobody’s always right. You know how I feel about Jon Stewart, but he’s not--he can’t be (a) perfectly informed or (b) right about everything. Even he knows that. You can trust someone's intentions without accepting their all-knowing authority.

It's funny-- I absolutely agree that this would be a waste of public funds, but only because of the length and expense. We actually had an in-house version... so it was free or almost free, but it was AWFUL. The topic was incorporating humor into oral presentations. The people teaching the class had very mediocre presentation skills. It was sad. They did bring in a comedian for about twenty minutes--that probably cost money--but he salvaged the whole thing, made it worthwhile.

Okay, first but least of all, having returned from China to the East Coast, I know that I wouldn't want anyone wasting my time afterward. More importantly: seriously? I mean, the guy shows you his ID, which has his address, and you're still going to give him crap for being in his own house? That would be when you apologize and leave.

Moving on... I can say a lot about bilingual children, because I grew up as one and also studied language acquisition back in the day. This article misses some major points, one being that bilingual kids learn to think differently about language. They learn to separate the word from the thing, earlier on. I can also say, having learned several languages the hard way, in addition to the two that I learned the easy way, and having observed other people learn languages the hard way, the way you think about language is huge. People can be their own worst enemies, either because they don't get it or they're too lazy to get it. It being that you're not sticking a bunch of new words into a system you already know; you have to learn a whole new system. And the sooner you get over yourself and stop fighting it, the sooner you start talking.

RM update

We actually had a few civil conversations last night. He asked me how King Lear was, I said good but not up to the hype. To be honest--I'm either not sophisticated enough, or I overthought this--the Balkan setting threw me. I thought it was very well done, music and all, but apart from everything going to shit at the drop of a hat in both situations, I just wasn't feeling the connection. It was an excellent production, but it didn't blow me away the way Rock'n'Roll did, didn't make me wonder why I'm not at the theatre every week.

Anyway, RM said Penn Quarter--where the play was--reminded him a bit of the Village. It had come up among his colleagues-- someone had said he loved the area, another said it was seedy and dead (apparently hadn't been there since the opening of the Verizon Center and gentrification that came with it). Later, we talked about the exorbitant costs of pet care (his wife is flying out to meet him at his business trip location, and kenneling the dogs apparently costs a small fortune). Oh, and I get the house to myself for almost a week. Can't complain.

Complaint letter update

Yesterday morning, mom finally sent me a draft letter about her gym membership saga. She sent it at about 8am, with a note saying, "if you're going to add anything, do so ASAP." She didn't call me or anything-- it was by pure chance that I saw the e-mail within half an hour of her having sent it. I didn't have a whole lot of time but took a few minutes to make some changes. Her issues are valid--the gym is being obnoxious--but I'm not sure how she ever expected me to keep the facts/timeline straight. I could only help her once she put it on paper. I didn't even need it in paragraph form, but even something like: November-joined the gym; January-started experiencing pain in joints; would have helped. Telling me this stuff on the phone, particularly before she tells me that I'll be writing a letter, and then insisting that she's already provided all the detail I need, just doesn't help either of us. Nor does sending her draft when she knows I'm already at work and entreating a prompt response. But it worked out, I hope.

Tuesday morning roundup

Populism, crime, and delusion in Venezuela.

If you're driving, put the f*ing phone down.

I heart ven diagrams. Apart from that premise, it's just worth a skim.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday evening roundup (not for the weak)

Starting with North Korea... its labor camps to be exact.

Onto Russia. At least the tragic story has an inspiring quote:
The death of each friend was making it harder, not easier, to quit. She had talked about it with Natasha on the night of Mr. Markelov’s funeral, and that is what Natasha had said. To quit would betray their memory.


Still on Russia, I have a lot to say about this letter from "New Europe. Like put your money where your mouth is. I mean, I feel your pain, but I'm not sure you're helping your cause. Especially since the Georgia war is no longer seen as an act of unilateral aggression.

On the topic of not-helping-one's-own-cause, DADT is an unmitigated disaster.

Onward and lightward, I guess, to issues of finance. I really wanted to post the photo that came with the print edition of this article, but the Post apparently did not deem it worthy of posting online, so the corresponding quote will have to do:
Like most of you, the only real investment I've considered making since last September is purchasing a $14 portable battery-operated shredder. I'd carry it out to the mailbox and mulch my 401(k) statements into poor man's cat litter the second it arrives.
And while we're on the topic of the recession, see one way it's playing out in Japan.

And here. Which is hardly less tacky.

I'll end on a lighter note: you never sit down to read the news knowing what to expect, but this surpasses my wildest non-expectations.

RM and the rules

RM returned latish last night. He did not break the rule whose breach so offended me the very first weekend we were both in the house: In general, do not try to talk to me when I'm watching The Daily Show or Colbert Report (or in the rare occasion that I'm watching anything else on TV when How I Met Your Mother is in reruns). In particular, do not even think about talking to me when I'm watching TDS and/or Colbert on a Sunday night, because it means that I've had an insane weekend and I've finally gotten a chance to sit down to watch TV, and hell hath no fury like a woman whose roommate tries to get between her and the Daily Show.

He did, however, break a couple of rules--rules that have been made explicit: (1) when something is recyclable, for f*'s sake, recycle it; (2) the uncovered rubbish bin in under the kitchen sink is not for anything sticky/smelly/decomposing. For that, there is a covered rubbish bin, lined with an odor-countering trash bag. The bin in the kitchen is just for convenience, and nothing that bares any trace of food, and would thereby attract bugs, goes into it.

This will have to be discussed, and I'm at the point where I don't want to have to have discussions with my roommate. I will also ask him to move his bike to the storage room and out of the living room. Yes, mine is in the living room, but it is partly confined behind a screen, and it's a necessity-- I use it every other day or so and it's too much to bring it up and down the stairs every time. If he's only using his occasionally, it can go upstairs. Is that reasonable?

I won't discuss the third rule he broke, which I also discovered while taking out the kitchen trash: please do not buy foods just because you've seen them in my pantry (or part of the fridge--whatever). Seriously. Grow the f* up, or act your age.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday morning roundup

I know it's been said before, but Parker and Rich say it so well it would be a travesty not to post their articles. Here's an excerpt from the latter:
...[T]he Sotomayor show was still rich in historical significance. Someday we may regard it as we do those final, frozen tableaus of Pompeii. It offered a vivid snapshot of what Washington looked like when clueless ancien-régime conservatives were feebly clinging to their last levers of power, blissfully oblivious to the new America that was crashing down on their heads and reducing their antics to a sideshow as ridiculous as it was obsolescent.


Maureen Dowd is worth a read, too.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

More on the art of listening

On my way to work yesterday, I once again find myself puzzling over RM and his tendency to trample all the boundaries I try to establish and to ignore everything I've told him about not trying to be my friend/parent.

I just don’t *understand* him. I don’t understand people who just don’t listen. I mean, I should be able to by now, because my mom just doesn’t listen, but I haven’t gotten any better, over the years, at comprehending this kind of behavior. Don’t people want to listen? Isn’t it a great way to gather information that helps you in your behavior and decision-making? Why would you just ignore the evidence in front of you, presented to you by another person with the intent of helping you understand the situation? Why?

Later in the day, I went to get a veggie burger out of the freezer in the kitchenette by my office, which made me think of a recent occurrence at work (of low importance/drama) that demonstrated a plain vanilla lack of listening skills. By which I mean, there's not room for ulterior motivation (my roommate, and my mom, very much hear what they want to hear).

Anyway, at the picnic the other day, a friend/picnic organizer came up to me and said, “we have bad news… but there’s also good news.” I thought the dessert I’d brought had been overturned or spilled to the ground. It was just a veggie burger mix-up, though.

In the kitchenette, I had a big box of veggie burgers in the freezer. A friend had gotten them for me from Costco, and I opted to leave them at work, where she brought them, rather than risk having them thaw on the way home. I stuck a label on them with my name and the date, so that they wouldn’t be tossed out in a random fridge cleaning.

The picnic organizers charged with procuring the vegetarian sustenance had also placed boxes of veggie burgers in the freezer, and labeled those boxes with the name of another organizer, whose job it was to transport those boxes to the picnic.

As you may have guessed, he took my box instead. Which is fine—we agreed that I would just take the boxes originally meant for the picnic. I didn’t know exactly how many burgers I’d had left, and it didn’t matter much—it was about the same.

The lack of drama aside, neither of us understood why this guy, who was given clear instructions to grab two small boxes, in a CVS bag, and labeled with his name, instead grabbed one big box, in a different bag, labeled with a different name. I mean, why would you do that?

Is it a personality type thing? Are some people just not good with details? That was a rhetorical question, as is this next one: do some people just. not. listen?

That last one is not a rhetorical question: why the f* not?? I mean, as I established in the first paragraph of this post, it’s a no-brainer—it’s a flat-out beneficial behavior. It’s like exercise, except it doesn’t even require exertion. It’s all gain, no pain. Why, why, why do some people eschew it?

***
As I headed to the gym, something else reminded me of RM, and all of the sudden, it hit me: I have a live-in parent. I was very careful to find a roommate that would be trustworthy, considerate, etc., and ended up with something I didn't want because I didn't consider it as a possibility, but it's actually hilarious. Especially given my relationship with my actual parents. Whom I actually like.

My roommate thinks I need a live-in parent.

No, scratch that. It's not quite right, gives him too much credit, or shifts the focus too much toward me. He doesn't really think about what I need or don't need. He's a parent, and he lives here, therefore, he acts like a parent. Whether or not I need one is immaterial to him.

But I don't think he's around this weekend, so I'm going to take that as an opportunity to not think about him at all.

Composite roundup

On Ms. Estemirova.

Before you get too excited that we don't live in a land of vigilante (in)justice, a candidate in Real Virginia sure sounds like she wants to bring it on. But really, we out of touch elitists are misreading whatever the hell she really is trying to say.

Okay, I have to give ETC credit: here you have a sanctimonious veteran who politicizes his service to support an unrelated agenda. But the guy's politicizing race, too (also for an unrelated agenda), so I'd still argue that he doesn't reflect a huge trend.

I've been going out of my way to only buy sustainable shrimp and salmon, but it's really hard. I ended up--long story--with a big bag of Atlantic salmon (which is almost never wild/sustainable) in my freezer... and I've been edified--or brainwashed, if you prefer--to the extent that I won't touch it.

I love the Onion.

Take Gail Collins's quiz. I got seven out of nine.

The humor piece in the New Yorker, under the heading "Shouts and Murmurs," can be very funny. This week's was okay-- very satirical, quite funny, but disproportionately long (in proportion to funny). However, Paul Rudnic's piece is f*ing hilarious (and requires registration).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lotus flower

If I were conspiratorially-minded, I would be thinking he did this on purpose: played normal for a whole month before asking whether he should move out, and then went all buddy-buddy (or parent) on me after I told him he could stay.

Perhaps you'll think I'm overreacting. All he did just now was knock on my office door so he could say, "have a good day." But he could have just as well said this from the hallway, through the door, if he felt so inclined.

You do appreciate that the dynamic I have been working to establish is, "as far as social interaction goes, pretend I do not exist." I exist only in the following senses:

(1) I own this place and require payment for the rented room.
(2) I do not like cockroaches or fruitflies; therefore I do not like crumbs or other food mess.
(3) I don't like to wake up in the night, freezing, because of cranked AC.

Apart from those minor details, I'd just as soon he operated under the premise that I'm not here. There is no need to go out of one's way to wish me a good day. Really.

Morning obsessive thoughts

For reasons I don't understand, I started the morning annoyed at my mother. I was rightly annoyed at my roommate, because he'd turned the AC down below the agreed-upon level and I woke up around 4:30AM, freezing. I'd told him to leave it, that it would cool down, but nooooooo. And this was after I told him he could stay (and he is).

RM has yet to get up--and I have no intention of knocking on his door to make sure he hasn't overslept. He usually uses me (particularly, my alarm clock) as an initial alarm clock and then has an actual alarm clock that goes off ten minutes later as a backup. But I turned my alarm off when I woke up, so if he's counting on that he's SOL. Also, we had a power outage during the day, and I had to reset my clock. I told him to check his, but he seemed to dismiss it. I'm telling you all this to say that there is a good chance that he's overslept... and I in no way think it's my responsibility to make sure that that's not the case.

Also, I wonder whether at some point in the morning, my irritation at RM somehow morphed into irritation at my mother. Or maybe that phone call the other day sparked further irritation.

The particular irritation was based on memories of cooking with mom. I'd been thinking about this recently when I made tiramisu, because I once made tiramisu when I lived at my parents' house before I'd found my own apartment in Boston. I'd made it for a potluck, and then my parents wanted to try it, so I (we) made it again. Later, my mother would discover that Costco sold tiramisu and would proudly announce that it was much better and why bother making it when Costco's was so good (not to brag, but my tiramisu is so much better than Costco's). But mom loves going on about how commercial products (such as Celeste frozen pizza) are so much better than anything I make. But I digress.

I was making this tiramisu for the potluck, and my mother was dissatisfied with my delicate handling of the lady fingers in relation to the coffee, so she picked up the dish of coffee and poured it over the lady fingers. I, needless to say, was livid. Not only does that overwhelm the entire flavor of the tiramisu, but it also makes the biscuits entirely too soggy, and too saturated to absorb the cream.

We can go on about how mom's behavior was just plain rude and meddling--and not a one-off occurrence. I remember making something else that in no way concerned her, when she decided it didn't have enough garlic, so she took it upon herself to put in a whole bunch more.

So you'd think that since I was channeling my RM irritation into mom irritation, the meddling thing would have taken prominence, but my thoughts focused on mom's inability to appreciate subtle flavors. Maybe it was because I was making my oatmeal--putting in strawberries and blueberries--and I thought about how mom puts everything in the house in her oatmeal, such that the flavors just compete.

In any case, I told myself to stop obsessing about my mother. And I did.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On laziness

Laziness a funny thing, because more often than not, it costs you more work in the long run, and sometimes, you know that when you opt for the lazy way.

My bike ride to work is neither grueling nor leisurely. It's hard to describe objectively, even to myself, because my perceived exertion depends on some mystery formula of sleep, food and caffeine intake, temperature, wind speed and direction, and tire pressure. And the prior day's or week's physical activity. Sometimes I barely notice the exertion, and other times, it's one painful slog five minutes into the ride. Sometimes the morning ride is fine and afternoon is painful, or vice ersa. It *is* always beautiful, at whatever time and lighting.

I learned the hard way give myself a break once in a while-- when I first started riding to work last summer, I biked nine days in a row-- a combination of riding to work during the week and riding to Mt. Vernon on the weekend. And I got burnt out.

So I thought about giving myself a break today, following a two-week streak of non-stop physical activity streak, including the hike at Harper's Ferry two Sundays ago, the physically grueling volunteer work on Saturday, Budokon on Sunday, and alternating gym classes and bike rides on the other days. I biked to the office picnic yesterday, and then biked the remaining three miles to Mount Vernon before heading home, since I'd had one or two cookies too many at the picnic. So I thought today would be a good day of rest. My internal dialogue followed.

A.: Good. I'm tired. Now what.
A.: Now go wash your hair.
A.: What? I don't feel like it.
A.: Here are your choices: wash your hair now, or bike to work and wash your hair at the gym.
A.: Bike. Gym.

The ride, which is about eight miles and not without its hills, is at least as physically taxing as the act of washing one's hair.

And in my head I knew that. But I really didn't feel like washing my hair at that moment. So I got on my bike and rode to work.

And it was a good ride. I have no idea why.

I thought the ride home would be painful, but it wasn't. I even got to help someone out. I'd just turned onto the river route after what I've taken to referring to as the Bermuda Triangle-- it's slightly uphill, but hardly the steepest incline on the trail, and yet it's disproportionately exhausting. Anyway, I was riding along the dock and looked at the jogger running in the opposite direction. I probably looked at her longer than I would have normally, because she looked a lot like my friend Anne. Who lives outside of Paris (and doesn't jog)... so I knew it couldn't be her... but the jogger looked enough like her that I looked just to make sure. And she noticed, and called out, "wait!" At which point I thought, "maybe it's Anne!" But it wasn't; she stopped me because she saw my dorky helmet mirror, and asked if she could use it to remove a bug that had flown into her eye. I said she could, she did, and she was much happier. And I still think she kind of looks like Anne.

Anyway, I'm not biking to work tomorrow. I am going to the gym, though, and Katy's teaching, so I have no doubt it's going to hurt.

Crisis made real

I'd written, several months ago, that while I never take my employment status, much less my job, for granted, and I have much compassion for people who have lost their jobs or haven't been hired, I had yet to experience survivor's guilt.

Thing is, you can go about your business in the Washington area and ask yourself, "what recession?" Stores are packed, restaurants are packed, etc. It's one thing to read about something and have an academic sense of compassion about it; it's another to see real people, with real hopes, who really have things to contribute.

See, I walked into a public sector job fair. My cube-neighbor had gotten a call from a friend of his who was going, and it turned out the fair was taking place across the street from our office building. He and the friend finished grad school together, and the friend hadn't yet found a job. The cube neighbor offered to meet him there, and asked if I wanted to come along. I said, "Sure-- may as well troll around for free stuff." He said, "what??" I repeated, explained. Now, it's not like I need more conference freebie junque, especially since RM had taken to sharing his and passing it off as art, but I developed this habit when I was looking for work, and it made me feel like I wasn't completely wasting my time, even when I knew the odds were slim that anything would come of the job fair. Like many silly coping mechanism habits, it stuck. Luckily, in this case, it had redeeming value: my cube-neighbor found a ton of crappe that he could give to his (small) kids. He leaves town every weekend to see them, and buying them something every time was "getting expensive," so I did him a huge favor by leading him to the stress balls and light pens.

But I digress. The point is, the place was packed. Lines were long. I felt bad being there--it felt voyeuristic--and that was not my intention. I really hope those people--the qualified among them, anyway--which I bet are most of them, get hired.

Thursday evening roundup

Always check your bank records regularly.

I love these clips, not even so much for the style angle, but because they give such a great feel for DC neighborhoods.

Although I regret the unemployment that will result, this consequence of the recession has an big silver lining.

Another, sadder side of Ghana.

Thursday morning roundup

It's important to keep in mind quality of life as scientists research quantity.

Gail Collins distills the Sotomayor hearings to all you need to know.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Phone call

Mom: Did you hear about the shooting near the Capitol?
A.: No...
Mom: Turn on the TV.
A.: I don't have a TV.
Mom: Well, there was a shooting near the Capitol. This man open-fired. I don't think he hit anyone.
A.: I'll check the internet after we get off the phone.
Mom: So, you're already home?
A.: Yeah. I didn't go into the office. We had our picnic.
Mom: Why?
A.: Why the picnic?
Mom: Yeah-- why would you have a picnic?
A.: Why did your companies always have picnics?
Mom: I see your point.
Dad: We had an ice cream social at work today, but I didn't go to it, since I'd OD'd on ice cream the other day at a fundraiser they were having at work.
Mom: It's just ice cream. Big deal.

***
A.: So, a colleague of mine studied in St. Petersburg a while back...
Mom: When?
A.: I'm not sure.
Mom: About when?
A.: I really don't know-- within ten years?
Mom: Where?
A.: I don't know. Does it matter?
Mom: Maybe it was the LIT [where she got her grad degree]..
A.: I doubt it. Anyway, he was telling me this story about how when he first got there, he went up to one of those kiosk-like food stands...
Mom: Where?
A.: I DON'T KNOW. Anyway, he bought what looked like a pastry, but it turned out it was a cake of lard.
Dad: [laughs]
Mom: Is he Jewish?
A.: I don't think so.
Mom: Then what's the big deal?
A.: Um, he was going for a pastry, and ended up with lard.
Mom: So?
A.: [Sigh] Nothing.

RM update (drama level: you decide)

I still don't know whether RM is staying or going. He never did tell me last night, and when he knocked on my door this morning just before 6:00, I thought it was so that he could deliver his decision, but instead, it was to make sure I hadn't overslept. Which is a reversion to providing favors I don't need.

I'm sorry to bore you with the logistical details of my daily life, but I must now reiterate them for context: I normally get up at 5am. Very occasionally, if I am very, very tired, I'll turn off my alarm, in which case I don't usually sleep past 6am anyway. I've done this before, and RM has never felt the need to knock on my door. He would have had even less reason to do so this morning, as he knew that I would be going to my Team picnic (I was making a dessert for said picnic when he came in yesterday; he asked about dessert, I told him about the picnic). He doesn't know that the house is halfway between my office and the location of the picnic--so it makes little sense to go into the office in the morning, particularly since I can work from home as needed--but that's hardly important. I believe he knows I have a flexible schedule (i.e. can show up to work whenever the f* I want)--this was revealed back in the day when he was still grilling me about such things--so there's just no reason whatsoever to make sure I hadn't overslept. Especially before 6am.

I was already awake, so it wasn't infuriating; just unnecessary. And by virtue of being unnecessary, it makes me wonder what he was trying to accomplish. If it was genuine concern, it was seriously misguided, for the reasons stated above. If he was trying to prove his concern and considerateness, it was misguided, too, for the same reasons: symbolic gestures that have no basis in actual need are just annoying. This we have established. [See Daniel Syndrome, or whatever I called it, from a couple of months ago]. But I am curious: is he bullshitting himself as well--does he genuinely think he's looking out for me--or is he just trying to bullshit me, under some sort of delusion that I'll find his (unfounded) concern endearing?

If he's going all annoying and oversolicitous on me again, I want him out. I was neutral when I thought we'd settled into a pleasant routine of his not trying too hard. If he's going to try too hard, I can't stay neutral.

***
Are you sick, yet, of my drawing wisdom from advice columns? I thought this one was a propos, even though the question is about love. I believe Carolyn's response is a great barometer for any kind of healthy relationship--friends, roommates, etc:

"...the things s/he does for you, and says to you, reflect careful attention to who you are."

***
Ever since RM moved in and launched his charm offensive, almost every element and tactic of that offensive has been generic (and has fallen flat or offended). I reiterate that I expect nothing, and prefer nothing, apart from the basic requirements of cohabitation (cleanliness, quiet when the other person is sleeping, etc.)... but if you're going to take it up a notch and want to be effective, you need to actually think about who the other person is. Otherwise, just stop.

***
I want an honest answer: do you guys think I'm being a jerk? Is it really the thought that counts, even when it's a tortured thought? Am I the one in the wrong by cynically interpreting this "concerned gesture" or at least dismissing it--as well as many that came before it--as misguided and unnecessary? At what point, as a social being, do I have an obligation to feel or feign gratitude for favors that I neither requested nor needed, and that can be detrimental?

Wednesday morning roundup

Two very different portraits of two very different evangelical Christians.

Maureen Dowd on empathy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

OMG, I so feel this review of The Half-Blood Prince. The movies will never be as good as the books, but I understand that they shouldn't be just like the books. I thought the first one was meant to read too much like a book, and I also thought the third was the best so far. As for the new film, the Pope likes it more than the Post.

***
You shouldn't be surprised to read that I don't have a problem with "Choose Life" plates. The key word is "choose."

Babies in restaurants

(1) Some restaurants are more family-friendly than others. If I have a headache and want a quieter, less interrupted discussion with my friends, I'm not going to go to Chili's or Chipotle.

(2) If the babies are happy but really loud-- like constantly letting out shrieks--that's annoying. If they're giggling at mid-volume, I think that's fine.

(3) It's actually really toddlers that are worse-- they're the ones that run around and trip people up.

Barney Frank is from my hometown, BTW

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barney Frank Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day


The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barney Frank Extended Interview Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Tuesday evening roundup

Watch the head of Operation Rescue make an ass of himself. I mean, freckles??

I've gotta say, it's weird to hear the term, "Senator Franken."

I am *so* sick of wiselatinawomangate. Some perspective.

Do you live in one of the country's most dysfunctional states?

Renter beware.

An escalation on the concept of pieces of flair.

How is Minnesota like Honduras?

Global economic inequality made understandable and blunt.

Two ads of questionable taste.

Good for Reston.

RM speculation

He's being all sheepish, which I think means he's moving out. Not that he has the anatomy to tell me.

***
And there's no middle ground. I asked him--nicely--to make sure that Gracie's in if he locks up for the night. Just now, he came upstairs and told me that Gracie was in and he was going for a walk. I told him he didn't have to always make sure she was in; just before he locked up for the night. His voice was shaky; he said, "well, she's in."

Can the dude not take constructive requests? WTF? How old is he?

Meth houses

A scary trend.

RM ramble

RM and I have an understanding--this one is neither tacit nor confined to my head--that whichever one of us locks up in the evening, locks up completely. I.e. if I hear him turn on the alarm, I am to know that he's also closed the back door and the window in the kitchen, and let Gracie in. Letting Gracie in is important--she's declawed and defenseless, and there are animals (possums, etc.) around.

Guess who left Gracie out last night? Now she's (understandably) extra-clingy.

***
Sunday night

B.: It sounds like neither of you should have a roommate.
A.: I've always lived with a roommate. But I'm not getting another one when he moves out-- too much chance of disaster.
M.: I think you can get around that by a carefully-written ad.
A.: I did that this time.
M.: I don't know... I've had plenty of roommates, too...
A.: Yes-- and one of them stalked you.
M., nodding: ...true. [Pause] That's true.

***
When we talked on Sunday, one of his reasons for thinking about moving--the thinking was brought about by his friend's offer of a room, but he initially rejected said offer, then decided to think about it--was that we are so different and have such different lifestyles and it's not "fair" of him to live his lifestyle in my house. I told him that I didn't expect him to live my lifestyle, that my jurisdiction, for lack of a better term, didn't extend to his lifestyle. I mean, if his lifestyle entailed bringing in a different crack-wh*re every night, that would be one thing; but the stuff that doesn't affect me, doesn't affect me, and I would never take it upon myself to influence or dictate his lifestyle. It occurred to me then that the attempted aping of my eating habits was part of an attempt to adapt his lifestyle to mine. This was another situation where he was expecting some kind of acknowledgment that he was trying hard on my account, based on some mistaken assumption of what I expected from him.

Meanwhile, the things I *did* ask of him--recycling, cleaning out the crumb tray--fell short of my expectations. And that's just it: that's all I wanted from him--be a good roommate, but be your own person.

For him, he still can't get over this 'we live together but we're not family' thing. He said as much on Sunday. He's used to being the dad, used to taking care of everyone.

The other "meanwhile"--the complement to not doing some of the things I ask--is that there are some things that would be nice. Like the other morning, he was making coffee in the automatic coffeemaker, and I thought, it would be nice if he offered to make a cup for me. I mean, all it takes is putting in more coffee (and for a while he was using my coffee, before he bought his own). But he didn't. Maybe because he didn't think too (so much for being too considerate), maybe because he thought that offering me a cup of coffee would be another thing I'd take as an assault on my boundaries.

Which is why in a way, he's right: we are very different. So different that we don't function in a rule-based system, because we have entirely different understandings of the rules. Everything has to be explicitly deemed okay or not okay, because he and I cannot seem to come to a shared understanding of what works.

Maybe I do want him to move out. We'll see.

Monday, July 13, 2009

RM update (drama level: high)

I'd thought things with RM were going well; there were a couple of small things here and there that I happily let go of because they weren't worth it. For example, I was very excited to come home Saturday afternoon to cleaned bathrooms--this is admirable, but not heroic, considering that he lives here and it's the first time he's ever cleaned them (I give them a cursory clean every weekend but it's been a few weeks since they were thoroughly scrubbed). So I was thrilled. Until I noticed that he broke my foam soap dispensers by filling them entirely with soap. Which is particularly silly since they have fill lines on the outside showing how much to fill them with soap and how much to fill them with water. But whatever. I didn't care that much-- the only reason I even mention it is that it fits the general pattern of what's been slightly frustrating, which is that he continues to guess when he should just ask. Like, ask me where I keep the lightbulbs, instead of shoving them into the dresser in the hallway, where I only found them by accident. Again, not a big deal in the scheme of things, and it was nice of him to buy lightbulbs, so I let it go. But as I said there's a bigger pattern here besides the soap dispensers and the lightbulbs: in a way, he's still trying to "surprise" me. I welcome that the form of these attempted surprises is practical rather than creepy (as characterized by naval uniforms and inappropriate birthday gifts), but the thing is, for you to surprise someone and for the surprise to have a positive effect, you have to know the person pretty well. Otherwise, you're asking for trouble. But I digress.

The much bigger drama stemmed from the other big underlying issue that I'd thought I could correct on the surface, which is his confusion about the nature of our relationship. He still apparently thinks of me in a daughterly/sisterly way; apparently, he can't help it. And he still takes it personally when I do my own thing-- there's some expectation on his part that I interact with him on a level that is beyond cordial.

This came out on Sunday morning, which started out with his acting kind of sheepishly. His behavior was similar to that displayed right before our discussion about a month ago. I wracked my brain to think of what I could have done this time to upset him.

He asked if we can talk, said he had some great news for me: the roommate of a friend of his has moved out, and asked him if he wanted to move in. I asked why he thought I’d think that was great news, and he goes on about how he feels like he’s in my way and he overcompensates because he’s “too considerate.”

Now, before I go on with the funny-because-it's-preposterous part of this story, I realize that this is some mixture of genuine feeling and manipulation to see if he can break the lease without the penalty stipulated in said lease by making it sound like I want him to move out. Not gonna happen. I told him that if he wants to move out—if he thinks he’d be happier elsewhere—that’s fine, but not to do it on my account. Which is true: since I’m not going to get another roommate, I’d rather just put up with him for another few months. He’ll decide by tomorrow.

Anyway, I pressed for what he meant by "too considerate." He offered the exampleof tiptoeing around if he comes in after I’ve gone to bed, which I don’t find “too considerate”—just common courtesy when you live with someone. After all, I tiptoed last night to avoid waking him when I got home after 11pm. It's the other example, however, which is priceless:

That very morning, I’d left for a quick bike ride and left the back door open. He was already up so I figured he’d close it if he were to go out. Which he does when he leaves for his run, but then he thinks, “what if she didn’t take her key?” and comes back from his run to be home in case I didn’t have my key. And jumps rope instead, and then, when he sees me return, goes for his run again. And that’s how considerate he is.

He probably expected gratitude or some sense of awe on my part at his considerateness, but I just looked at him incredulously. I didn’t actually say, that’s not considerate; that’s being the parent I don’t need in this house.

I mean, I guess I appreciate the thought, but it was so insanely unnecessary; unlike him (because that's what he pulled a couple of months ago), I would never leave without a key and count on my roommate to not leave the house unless I asked him first.

I’m responsible for myself. Feeling like he needs to be a parent is not the same as being considerate.

I could go on about how maybe I'm particularly insensitive to this line of logic because my mother regularly assumes incompetence on my part and does unnecessary things to compensate for the assumed incompetence, at best creating extraneous work for herself and at worse making things worse, but you (the five of you who read regularly) already know all that. This isn't even about mom, or my mom baggage. This is just his being ridiculous.

I find the behavior itself a combination of somewhat endearing and unnecessary. I find the fact that he declares it as evidence of his overwhelming considerateness just plain comical.

Principles

I quasi-inadvertently planted a mommy-war landmine for myself this weekend by replying to a suggestion to get together with friends by saying that I would love to meet the newborn babies of two of said friends, but if we involve said babies, we should not do it in a restaurant, because babies in restaurants can be obnoxious (unless the parent is vigilant about removing them when they scream). I stand by that. Offense was taken, counter-offense was taken, issue was resolved. The counter-offense in my part was rooted in the insistence that one's feelings for babies in general could be and were in this case separate from the issue of etiquette and principle. Not only do I think it's rude to other restaurant-goers to introduce into their nights out potentially-screaming restaurant goers, I could not, as a blogger who consistently complains when other restaurant goers do so, encourage such an act. It would be like a Republican, family-values-touting Senator having an affair or soliciting gay sex in an airport. Except that I actually like to live by my principles.

A reason I bring this up, in addition to providing a personal mommy-wars tale, is that I think it's pretty laughable that I take myself seriously as a blogger. I actually harbor no delusions about how few people read my blog--even fewer today than I did a week ago. Just the other day, Jay sent me a Youtube link to "Pregnant Women Are Smug." I mean, are you f*ing kidding me? And then, just today, Gina sent me an invitation to join Twitter, ostensibly so that she could better keep up with me. Because it's not like I have a blog.

Now, I won't Twitter (and I don't Facebook, even though my fellow resisters are starting to waver), because it's just such a stupid concept. We've established that there's no need to share every thought and every action. There's something to be said for completed, thought-out thoughts. But that's a lesser point.

I'd like to reassure you that as long as I have even one regular reader--and by my count I have at least five--I will not be caught proverbially toe-tapping.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Composite roundup

The Times' piece on Minneapolis youth as Somali fighters is good but long. If you're not up for the whole thing, this page is fascinating.

Two angles on the tortured future of the Republican party.

Good news for my fellow potty-mouths.

Following the recent study--I posted news of it over the last couple of weeks--that cats are useless, here's another that finds them to be manipulative. This one gives Gracie too much credit, as she's been pretty slow to catch on to the fact that this particular human doesn't take well to nagging.

I'm not in the mood for a fight, otherwise I'd send this to my mother. Who, if you'll recall, chided me for not remembering how much I paid for salt.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review of Penn Quarter/Chinatown restaurants

It's amazing how the 7th Street (NW) corridor has developed over the years. When I lived in Shaw over five years ago--before it was "the new U"--walking down 7th, and 9th, was a little sketchy. Walking from the L St Safeway to the Mt. Vernon Sq metro is still sketchy, but south of K Street, it's a whole different neighborhood.

Some things are still true: there aren't a lot of places to go out to eat near the Mall. I remember when my parents came down for my graduation and we went museum hopping... and then ate at Teaism. And I've eaten at Teaism three times in the last two months with different sets of museum-hoppers.

Now, Cafe Atlantico is across the street from Teaism, but orders of magnitude out of my price range; 701 is nearby, but I'll never go there again after they asked us to leave because they had a party waiting. Jaleo used to be the old standby in the neighborhood, but I maintain that it's gone downhill in the last few years. I don't care for La Tasca, either. I tried Oyamel for the first time on Monday--that's where Jay and I met for lunch--because it was one of the few places in that area that I hadn't tried. He accused me of going to a Heatheresque restaurant because I'd later told him that the celebrities that the Post had been stalking had eaten there, but I assure you that that didn't figure into my decision calculus. Oyamel was good--definitely better than La Rosa Mexicana, where they may make guacamole fresh at your table, but they don't even use lime! Who's heard of guacamole without lime? Although these days they're making guacamole without avocado.

This evening RM asked me where in the city to go for dinner. I told him I knew Chinatown best, since that's where I worked, and suggested a few of my favorites: Zaytinya, Rasika, Matchbox. Maybe the Chophouse (they have good pizza, should you be wondering what a vegetarian would eat at the Chophouse). I like Kanlaya for Thai, but Em said Thai Royal, recently opened, was better. I've heard/read good things about Tony Cheng's-- both the Chinese and Mongolian parts--but have not been. I've had lunch at Wok & Roll; it was okay.

Of the brew pubs, Gordon Biersch has the best food (yes, I know it's a chain). Clyde's and RFD are okay, and the Irish Channel is pretty good.

I always mix up Proof and Poste-- I can vouch for the drinks at both, and I can say that the famous truffle fries at the latter are overrated. There's just no point in frying potatoes in truffle oil. There just isn't.

All these places are a five-to-ten minute walk from my office, but I usually bring my lunch. Nonetheless, there are celebratory lunches, other lunches, all kinds of happy hours, etc.

What do you think?

***
BTW, Tom Sietsema (the Post's restaurant critic) just moderated a chat on the area's most overrated restaurants.

OMFG

What?

Friday evening roundup

More on leadership.

Check out the City Paper's controversial cover; it's the talk of the town.

Another "who the f* are these people" advice column. And lest you feel a smidgen of cultural superiority over the modified but still obnoxious terms of this Afghan law, check out this letter (feelings of constitutional superiority are justified).

While we're on the topic of Afghanistan, this is a huge issue and I've heard both sides of it... and they're characterized by self-righteousness rather than an orientation toward a solution.

And while we are (or were) on the topic of women, do you agree with Judith Warner's assessment of this situation? I agree with the principle of free-range parenting but still question the woman's judgment-- no place is really safe. But then again, that ceased to be the point early on in the situation.

Should you care what other trends in parenting get my seal of approval, I tip my hat to introducing real food early on.

I rarely disagree with Grist, but there's a reason I don't generally bother with fruit-based desserts: why go to all that trouble when fruit is perfectly tasty in its natural form? Chocolate, on the other hand, benefits from cooking or other manipulation.

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