Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Eve Roundup

It's even harder to climb out of poverty where public transportation is a mess.
Falling oil prices are having Saudi Arabia rethink its economic model.

A look at the people we lost in 2015, including people who literally saved and improved many lives.

Vichy gets a bad rap for events that were beyond its control.

Say goodbye to these sticky science myths.

Stand up straight; it's good for you.

There was a time when religious minorities actually acted upon our dissatisfaction with the hegemony of xmas.'' I have to say, as much as I think the school acted foolishly, I'd have chosen something else; I think it's generally in bad taste to have people unknowingly repeat religious statements. A friend of mine, who is Hindu, once told me she was uncomfortable in a yoga class where the teacher had students unknowingly repeat Hindu chants (in Hindi). It's the same principle. I wouldn't want to proclaim, for example, Jesus as my savior. In any language.
As I've written before, I've never cared much about authenticity when it comes to food, for reasons similar to those written by that chef: I grew up amid people--and of a culture--for whom food was scarce and not to be wasted. You made do with what you had; you improvised, you used leftovers, etc. If something might work, you tried it.

I guess I'm lucky (or I'm deluding myself) because I don't identify with any of these abusive-mother-induced attachment styles.

I really needed this Modern Love column--I've been feeling very much the same way, and I was just at an awful mixer where I felt literally swarmed (by the wrong dudes).

Monday, December 28, 2015

Better than dresses

For better or for worse, I love shopping. I love finding just the right thing (especially for just the right price). I relish the value for the money, and the item itself. I especially love shopping for clothes, and wearing them. The other day, I stumbled upon a stunning, super-flattering dress for a truly negligible price. That was a win-win. And I'm actually a pretty picky shopper: I don't turn my money over for just anything; it has to be just right.

So it surprise me every year--as I tell you this every year--how easy it is to turn my money over for donations. With no hot dress to show for it, it's nonetheless the easiest, most no-brainer spending of the year. When you consider how much angst I put into spending $20 on a dress, it's amazing how spending orders of magnitude more in donations has exactly the opposite impact. Not to put too fine a point on it: I'm f*ing vain and I f*ing love my hot dresses more than anything, so why am I so willing to spend many times more on things I can't even wear? Even as the social science is on my side, I'm almost baffled. And yet: even as far as my super-vain ass is concerned, spending money so that other people can do good things that help other people (and animals) is easily the best spending there is. There's nothing like helping people do good.

I gave to some local organizations and some international ones; here are some of the latter:

Oxfam USA
Medecins Sans Frontieres
Human Rights Watch
Women for Women International
Center for the Victims of Torture
American Jewish World Service
International Rescue Committee
International Planned Parenthood Federation

It is so awesome that these organizations do what they do, and I'm honored to be able to contribute in any way.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The last few months, in photos

Here's an assortment of photos from the last few months, in case you were wondering what I was doing between neglecting the blog and returning to brood on it. In no particular order.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Post xmas roundup

Meat is really bad for the planet.

GMOs can mean a lot of things.

Tried-and-true, low(er)-tech detective work, works wonders.

In break-ups, "out of sight, out of mind" is a huge gift, but with social media, it's less of an option. Enter the breakup industrial complex.

DC appears to be a microcosm of people making six figures and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Some examples are more understandable (children in private school and expensive activities, child support) than others (spending $2,000-$2,600 a month on "dining," perhaps for not knowing how to cook, or buying expensive cars or other status symbols).  Some are personal trade-offs that people can only make for themselves (some of which I make as well--paying more to commute less). But the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses and lacking basic personal finance skills will bring people down without providing any value in return.

Here's a fun fact about xmas in America: if I did celebrate it, I'd celebrate in January.

Here's a fun fact about xmas in Catalonia: its nativity scene includes a pooping man.

Here are some fun and not-so-fun facts about what people stuck in their rectums (and other orifices) this year.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Xmas ramble

I'm a day late in directing your attention to the classic xmas eve post from two years ago. I didn't get online last night; I spent the afternoon and evening setting up my grill. I'd ordered it in the summer, and it had sat in my living room, in a box, for months. The reviews noted that it was a pain to set up, so I'd left it there until I had time--and since yesterday was a forced half-day at work, I had time. I thought I'd steer into my non-celebration of xmas by making it that much sadder, but it was actually a lot of fun: an engineering project that I wouldn't have enjoyed a few years ago. I might have had a meltdown (there were a lot of parts and screws and nuts and bolts) or a lesser panic, but this time--maybe because this wasn't my first assemblage rodeo--I just got into it and enjoyed the process.

I'm not at my parents' for these holidays, which may disappoint some of you for the lack of blog fodder, but I gave you plenty to work with in June and October. I decided not to travel up there for a number of reasons--I have to work, I've been traveling a lot and my cat hates me, I was there just recently--and I invited my parents to visit me instead, and dad thought about it but ultimately deferred to mom, who of course said no.

I feel surprisingly unpathethic, considering that I spent xmas eve setting up a grill and half of xmas day doing yard-work. Upon reflection, some of my loneliest-feeling holidays were those when I was in a relationship (which says a lot about my relationship history). Spending the holidays with my parents is lonely in its own way--we don't celebrate xmas, obviously, but at this point we don't celebrate anything anymore and none of us really knows what to do. So if I'm going to be not-celebrating, I'm perfectly happy to not-celebrate on my own.

Xmas roundup

If any story merits a trigger-warning, it is this must-read case of misguided certainty of "false" accusations.

On shrimp and slavery.

Indonesia's transgender community.

Egypt's approach to treating Hep C.

Citizenship and dissent in UAE.

Science is the process, not (just) the discovery.

Students of color aren't there for the majority, but the majority benefits nevertheless.
No, produce isn't worse for the environment than meat. That study was misrepresented.

Carolyn counsels a woman after a breakup, with lots of wisdom crammed into a single column. One excerpt:
Or you can leave him mostly out of it and concentrate your mental dialogue on forgiving yourself — for picking the wrong guy, for missing signs that all wasn’t well, for not fully embracing upfront that having real feelings for real people is a messy business, that disappointments are inevitable — and that some slap us harder than others. Or just forgive yourself for caring so much, since it’s better than the alternative — even when it feels otherwise.
The artisanal chocolate that wasn't.

Airlines are deliberately making your experience worse. This time last week, I was flying back to the east coast from California, in crammed middle seat. I was surprised to have been offered the option to pay an extra $87 for a middle seat a few rows up.

Sometimes when you hear something, don't say something.

What should we call Xmas?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Another Saturday ramble

Of the myriad ongoing internet think-piece wars--for example, here's why millennials are useless vs. stop calling millennials useless--I'm going to unironically talk about the two solipsistic ones: (1) are selfies a sign of the self-absorbed apocalypse vs. why do people have such a problem with selfies?
(2) when a writer inserts herself into a story not about her (eg., about a conflict or a phenomenon), is it healthy or unnecessary? Just kidding; I have nothing to say about selfies (except 'why not') and everything to say about how it's natural to tell a story or explore an issue from your own perspective. Which is not to say that you shouldn't be careful about centering yourself in a story about a race, gender, or religion that's not yours--unless you should, because I'm about to.

Specifically, I'm going to talk about Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment. It horrified me after 9/11 and it horrifies me now--and it horrifies me beyond a theoretical, academic level. It horrifies me even beyond the concept that 'Jews should be especially horrified about discrimination,' even though we certainly should (see Jews are uniquely positioned to stand up against Islamophobia (Twitter link should get you around the paywall)). As should every American, as an American. But it horrifies me in my bones, because I've been there.

I went speed-dating last night, and you know I never come back from speed-dating without a story or two. In fact, I think the story last time was the (American) guy who tried to ask me where I was from without asking me where I was from. This time, a Latvian dude proceeded to mansplain the former Soviet Union to me. Without an inkling that, maybe, that was unnecessary. Ironically, the next guy, who was Russian, asked me where I was from the minute he sat down--and he didn't mean 'where in the United States.' He meant--because he then said--'your name is Russian' and you could tell he was thinking, you look somewhat Russian. So I told him, and we chatted in Russian for the five minutes.

Saturday ramble

If I can't stop ruminating over the body-weight-as-a-microcosm thing, it's because analogies are everywhere. I was reading some election-season article used the term "unforced error," and thought about forced and unforced errors in general, and of course, in weight management.

I'm mindful that we as a nation can't have an adult conversation about internal and external factors, and the interplay between the two, without reductionism and absurdity. I remember when Charles Blow--who writes about the system underlying factors behind poverty--ran a column about poverty and choices, he was accused of blaming the poor for poverty. The same goes for obesity: it's hard to talk about systemic factors, choices, and the interplay between the two without butting up against the perception of blame.

Saturday roundup

Immigrants enrich a small city in Maine.

Behold the is-Trump-a-fascist-or-just-a-demagogue thinkpieces.

Tibor Rubin was an amazing man with an amazing story.

Fatemah Mernissi was an amazing woman with an amazing story. Although, to this, I say the Western man can go f* himself.
“The Western man,” she wrote, “declares that in order to be beautiful, a woman must look 14 years old. If she dares to look 50, or worse, 60, she is beyond the pale. By putting the spotlight on the female child and framing her as the ideal of beauty, he condemns the mature woman to invisibility.”
Yeah, most multi-ethnic identities involve complex questions and deserves an answer that’s better than a simplistic recitation of ethnicity.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Wednesday ramble: mixing metaphors

Would you allow me another solipsistic ramble about life lessons from outdoor adventures? It involves shrubbery (in the "Spamalot" sense):
...our heroes are stuck in a dark and very expensive forest, and their enemies--the very annoying 'knights who say nee'--demand, of all things, a shrubbery. Knowing they're in no place to acquire a shrubbery, they break into "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," only--in the middle of the song (well, toward the end)--to come across a woman coming through with... a shrubbery that she was getting rid of.
The moral, for our purposes, being that you can't worry about where your shrubbery might come from. You can't focus on the high unlikelihood of shrubbery, or at least you can't let that stop you from making your way through the forest. It's like that quote--of unknown origin, though often mistakenly attributed to Goethe--
"...the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Sunday roundup

The R. Kelly case teaches us about the tactics (and strategies) of sexual predators.

There are things that reduce gun violence.

On race and privilege.

Jews are uniquely positioned to stand up against Islamophobia (Twitter link should get you around the paywall).

Trump: classic demagogue.

Serious about what you can do about climate change? Eat less meat.

A woman considers divorcing her husband when he decides to become a vegetarian.

You can give effectively and emotionally; the two are not mutually exclusive.

We're naturally prone to fall for stories.

I love the story of how "Bohemian Rhapsody" made it into "Wayne's World."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tuesday ramble explaining last Wednesday's ramble

I say this all the time, but today I'm going to explain why: when I write about weight, it both is and isn't about weight. Last week I rambled about weight, and it mostly wasn't about weight.

I used to work for Outward Bound, which both was and wasn't about outdoor sports. It was about personal growth by way of outdoor sports. It was (is) a value system that I still ascribe to, and a concept I continue to believe in. I worked in the offices--specifically, in the fundraising office--so it was my job to convey to donors the power of the concept, and I occasionally got to partake in short courses to appreciate it first-hand. It works.

Tuesday roundup

A former Guantanamo inmate fights for his country.

In memory of Bob Fletcher, a real American hero.

In memory of El'dar Ryazanov, whose films were truly classic and subversive. By the way, they should have interviewed some people who lived in the former Soviet Union. We have a gut-level aversion to lines.

Read this, not the silly Times op-ed it rebuts. Here are some more detailed resources for the hard-core.

Revisiting Jill Lepore's piece on reproductive rights.

You've (almost) got to feel bad for the serial swatter; how tortured do you have to be to inflict harm just for the fun of it?

Dudes have been mansplaining Harry Potter to Jo Rowling.

How good are we at detecting bullshit?

Women and men are from the same planet, brain-wise.

Think about labor issues as well as environmental issues when choosing cat food. It's hard, though.

Have we talked about meat and climate change?

I found the French Onion and it is amazing (as is the woman's Onion).