Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday ramble

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 30, 2017

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

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

Friday, December 29, 2017

Friday ramble

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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

State of the Blogger (post-vacation staycation edition)

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday roundup

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

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

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

FFS we're people like anybody else.

I've not yet read "Cat Person."

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

Where was Jesus really born?

This is a genius way to deal with phone scammers.

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

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

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

Kuala Lumpur

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

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

Gomatong Cave

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

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

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

Kinabatangan River

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

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

Orangutans and sun bears (oh my)!

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

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Turtle Island

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

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

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

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

Sandakan and random musings

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

Sandakan Harbor from the pool at the Sheraton Four Points

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

but the floating houses are fascinating

and the city has its charms.

As everywhere else, people hang their laundry outside to dry

Kota Kinabalu and surroundings

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


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

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

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

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


In planning for the trip, I'd seen Singapore described as "Disneyland with the Death Penalty" and a "shopping mall with a foreign policy," both of which miss the spirit of Singapore. There's no shortage of severity

"urinating in lifts" is very specific as prohibitions go

No fines for durians? Honor system?

or glitz,

Who doesn't want to ride in a gondola in the mall


but there's so much more than that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Borneo: intro and logistics

Behold the pygmy elephant.
Now, for scale, behold a family of pygmy elephants foraging underneath someone’s house.

The (critically endangered) pygmy elephant is found only in Borneo, as is the proboscis monkey (well, there and in the Singapore zoo).

You can find orangutans (‘man of the forest,’ in Malay) only on Sumatra and Borneo.

Borneo is the third-largest non-continent island on the planet, after Greenland and Papua New Guinea. Indonesia has turned much of its portion over to logging and palm-oil plantations; Brunei takes up a small speck surrounded by Malaysian territory. Malaysia hasn’t eschewed palm oil entirely (or nearly enough), but it has managed to preserve a fair amount of wilderness.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Thursday roundup, brought to you... getting up before the crack of dawn so I can do laundry so that the cat has clean sheets to shed (and hopefully not puke on) while I'm on vacation.

We all pay a price for devaluing women.

Billy Bush's op-ed is good but not that good. He does succeed at framing.
We Americans tend to be, as a culture, skilled at telling and reacting to individual stories, and much less good at appreciating the systems that give those stories their broader shape.
At a conference in Iceland, gender stereotypes are reversed.

Mr. Prats Monné wanted to know more about the building, a striking modernistic structure, and someone pointed him toward a gentleman in a gray suit.
“The building manager or something,” Mr. Prats Monné explained after they spoke.
When I told him later that the man turned out to be the speaker of the Icelandic Parliament, Mr. Prats Monné laughed. “In this setting, when you see a man, you assume he’s the janitor.”
 When Petri's good, she's good.
There's a pretty clear line between something like this: A congressman's accuser: Blackballed and baby-sitting for cash and less power-driven flirting at work.
 It is completely within the norm of human exploratory romantic behavior for people to take steps—sometimes physical steps—to see if the other person reciprocates their feelings. It is OK to flirt with a person who you aren’t sure wants to be flirted with. It is OK to not be 100 percent great at reading signals. It is even OK to be grossed out by someone’s advances, as long as those advances stop once you make clear you aren’t into it. There are predators and harassers, even more of them than I thought, and there are some lines that are simple to draw, even if we haven’t been enforcing them until now... The difference between actions that can get you married and actions that can get you fired can’t simply be whether or not the person you are interested in is interested back. Careers should end when someone tries, and is rebuffed, and does not heed that rebuffing. Careers should not end just because someone tried. We’re not all attracted to the people who are attracted to us.
Kashana Cauley on patriotism.

Even artificial intelligence has to actively combat bias. I mean, look at that flow-chart with the cats and dogs!

Check out these bad bitches.

The Chicago Pile reactor was cool. Scallop eyes are really cool.

Some decent cleaning hacks for pet owners.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Saturday roundup (brought to you by Exhaustion)

Because if I were less exhausted, I would be cleaning.

I wouldn't know what to say to people who have lost so much.

As North Korea missile explainers go, this is a very good one. And here's a good one on "gay" wedding cakes.

Just another way a country's xenophobia ultimately just fucks it over. Conversely, as I noted earlier this week,

The tax bill is, needless to say, horrendous.
The story of this Afghan filmmaker gives me life.

Rosa Brooks speaks for so many of us about why we let things go at the time.
They were so common they were forgettable. Inappropriate comments and the occasional drunken assault? They were only what every woman expects to encounter in the workplace.
You don’t get a special “survivor” merit badge when you’ve only gone through what every woman goes through, do you?
There’s a continuum of crappy male behavior, and it runs from the merely obnoxious and offensive all the way through to the clearly criminal... But none of it’s okay, and at every point along that spectrum from merely offensive to actually criminal, crappy male behavior is part of what pushes women out of the national security workplace.
This this this this:
The solution to eliminating sexual harassment is not to lock up women, but to hire and elect them. And ffs, listen to them.
And--this has been said but it cannot be said enough: this wave of accountability and reform must reach beyond white collar workspaces. All women in all workplaces must be free of harassment and assault.

This Veritas thing is amazing in its ineptitude. It's almost satire.

Also deserving of satire: the Times domesticated-nazi profile.

This is how you profile a questionable character (in this case, Jill Stein).

Well, that's creepy.

Getting more people to eat less meat is more effective (at mitigating climate change and saving animals) than getting fewer people to eat none.

Kids often have an intuitive sense that something's not quite right about meat. My stylist was just telling me that her young daughter is turning away from it and will say things like, 'poor chicken!' See also, this awesome kid.

Moving on to Large Adult children... it's amazing how absurd and silly the first children are.

This is a spring-2016 interview that I only recently came across; contrast what we see now with the graciousness here:
In some ways, when you struggle for a while, and you’ve had the ability of being an ordinary person and you’ve gone shopping, changed diapers and tried to figure out how to pay the bills and so forth, so that you’re not some overnight success. Then handling some of these issues ends up being easier because you have a better sense of perspective. You don’t sense somehow that this is because I’m just so special, or because I’m so much smarter than that other person. Because in fact you’ve known those other people who are talented and smart and capable. In some ways you got a break, you were lucky. And that, for me at least keeps me grounded because it reminds me that, you know, for all the blessings and privileges and responsibilities that I’ve gotten, I’m just representing a huge cross section of people who are talented and capable and supported me getting to where I came from.

Carolyn Hax rightly appraises this characterization as genius. I've been there.
I seem to be trapped in a producer role for an audience that doesn’t care but won’t leave the theater either.
Yep, this is how I feel about xmas music.