Monday, May 31, 2010

Monday morning roundup

I've been doing this a lot lately--dropping a disclaimer about how I don't love cliches, but sometimes, they hit the spot (which, I guess, is why they're so overused in the first place). I find the following particularly annoying: "If you always do what you've always done, the way you've always done it, you'll always get what you've always got." And yet, you want to whisper it in the ear of the Israeli government.

The Italian government apparently subsists on wiretapping.

Good move, China. It's not just my potato-loving Russian roots speaking; potatoes are so much better, and better for you, than rice. But don't you already have lotus? Mmmm, lotus.

Dionne on the barbecuification of Memorial Day and what it says about the nation's relationship with its military.

Using Ancient Greek plays to treat combat-induced PTSD.

People who say stupid things to the media, and then get flak for what they said, often go on to blame the messenger, i.e., the media.

I'll take Old Town over Reston Town Center any day (my mortgage bill reflects that choice strikingly), and I've never been a fan of artificial town centers and main streets. But, really? People can't *walk*? I quote: "...but if the front door of the Target isn't on the main street and people don't have to get, let's say, out of their car and walk across the street to get to Target, they may park almost in Target, go shop at Target and get back in their car and leave."

Sunday, May 30, 2010

If this is bizarro world, I don't want to go home

(1) Yesterday, at "Hamlet," I head not a sound from the audience. No whispering, no unwrapping candy--not even coughing. It was heaven.

(2) Last night, I made it to Potomac Yard in a straight shot. All green lights. Must have taken me less than five minutes.

(3) This morning, the Mount Vernon trail was abuzz with civil cyclist-pedestrian interaction. "Thank you"s for warnings, "thank you"s for stepping to the right, etc.

(4) This morning, in town, cars kept yielding at stop signs, even when it was their right of way, to let me go.

Sunday morning roundup

The relationship between democracy and violence in Jamaica, among other places and Mexico.
More here, with a focus on China, and mostly on the topic of authoritarianism and capitalism.

A different perspective on how legal immigration needs to work better. A "bureaucratic disinclination to take the time to examine applications by mom-and-pop operations" is not a valid aspect of the process.

Frank Rich on the politics of the Gulf tragedy. Ravi Howard on the blow to regional culture.

I'm not reading this entire article about the food industry's defense of salt, at least not yet (it's a nice morning; the fresh air beckons). My initial thoughts are: it's always disturbing to see how much influence the food industry has; and, moderation, people. Moderation and unprocessed food.

There's a lot to say about this article about one woman's brain injury and the Foreign Accent Syndrome that ensued; for example, the assholishness of Fox News commentators never ceases to amaze me. More to the point, though, it's interesting how having an accent changes how people see you, interact with you, interpret you--what a part of your identity it is.

Verlyn Klinkenborg on why e-books are just not the same.

The text of Heidi Montag's prayer. Also funny: Patricia Marx's column on shopping for your new graduate.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A surprising endorsement

Shrek Forever or whatever it's called was really fun, but that's not the only reason I'm urging you to see it--it's also because there's a character who will remind you of Gracie.

Saturday morning roundup

Cam Cardow on China and North Korea (see 5/27).

UVA just says no to the overreaching Attorney General.

Post readers slam the paper's sexist language, including that in Robin Givhan's coverage of Elana Kagan and her fashion sense.

Gail Collins on viral political ads. That last one is a real winner.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Friday evening roundup

For once, I actually care to read about the "allegations" against Miss USA, and if anything, they show that the allegers are jackasses.

Worst Security Council resolutions ever.

You know you're getting old when...

...your friends urge you to take gravity into consideration.

I was making shopping plans with Marcela over e-mail, told her I was in the market for dresses and that I was struggling to find ones not too trashy or overly casual. or overly low cut in either direction. She replied that I'd better show my stuff now before gravity takes its toll.

I figured everyone would be out of town, so this might be the weekend for catching up on errands and stuff. But I have three sets of plans for tomorrow and at least one for Sunday and Monday. I can't complain... but my house and lawn might.

Now that it's nice out, it's fashionable to preach the virtues of cycling. Don't get me wrong: I love cycling. I have trouble, however, with the assertion that you'll get great legs. I mean, you will--literally. Your legs will get strong, substantial, etc. They won't fit better into your jeans, though, if that's what you're after.

This morning, I was on my bike when I came up about 10-15 feet behind two women, and started to say, "passing on your left!" when one of them turned into the other lane (to my left, where I was about to pass them). I braked suddenly, and was far enough away that I neither hit her nor fell off my bike, although it was close. But she had THE NERVE to say, "you really need to say "passing on your left!" I said, "I had started to when you crossed into the other lane without looking." I think her companion had heard me and agreed, but I couldn't tell. You should never, ever just turn around into another lane without looking behind you. Ever.

We could turn this into cyclists/walkers, or whatever, but the point is, we're constantly interacting with one another, as people, and we're often not paying attention to our surroundings, whether it's because we're caught up in a gadget or another person. I could wax self-righteous but I've been there too--who hasn't? Of course, when I'm the one not paying attention, I don't then turn around and chew out the person who was doing everything right. Which is also a lesson to cyclists: always warn, and never pass too fast/too close.

Friday morning roundup

A South Korean asks, where's the rage? More perplexing attitudes here.

India, Pakistan and river rights.

Steve Pearlstein points out that BP execs are doing one thing right.

Egan on the Palin brand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thursday morning roundup

Gotta love it when your policy of ignoring a regional basketcase works, because you let it self-implode; or when, for example, in Somalia, long-standing battles benefit from an indigenous resolution. Speaking of international basketcases, Zimbabwe's diplomatic corps apparently engages in heckling.

Through Nicholas Kristof's column, quote of the year:
“True Christians, like Sister Margaret, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that they make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teachings. Only a group of detached, pampered men in gilded robes on a balcony high above the rest of us could deny these dilemmas.”
Gail Collins on the latest state political developments.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wednesday evening ramble and roundup

Remember that article I posted a week or so ago, in response to which I actually took the parents' side? I still do--I don't think children should be confined to certain sections of a park, and I don't think dogs that tend to jump people, including children, should be let loose to do so. Nonetheless, I agreed with some of the sentiments about how some parents go on as if it's everyone else's job to accommodate them. On that note, (1) this is a great article that echoes what I've been saying all along about kids on planes: focus on, and if need be, ban, the parents who let their kids terrorize fellow travelers; (2) I had a run in on the metro escalator today on the way home from work, not with a parent, but on account of a parent.

A mother and her two small children had just taken up the entire row of the escalator. Now, even if you don't live in DC, if you read this blog, you are aware that the Metro has a walk-on-the-left/stand-on-the-right policy. Unlike, for example, the London Underground, the Metro hardly goes out of its way to point this out to passengers, so you almost can't blame them for not figuring it out. But it's still annoying.

Just before I got to the escalator, another woman, on her cell phone, cut me off. She proceeded to take the little boy's hand, and held it for a good fifteen seconds--which is an eon during rush hour, so I thought she maybe knew them or something. I said, "excuse me." She snapped at me. She said, "I AM TRYING TO STEP AROUND THIS LITTLE BOY, AND YOU SAID 'EXCUSE ME'?" I said I had no idea that that's what she was doing. She said I should pay attention. I said, I just thought I'd ask.

In reverse order: when I said I had no idea what she was doing, it's because she gave no indication of what she was doing. How was I supposed to know that she was carefully sidestepping this child, whose mother should have gotten him out of the way in the first place? And second, I said, "excuse me." I did not say, "get out of my way, bitch!" Ergo, her response was unnecessary.

Now, I mentioned that it was rush hour, but even during rush hour in DC, you can still wait a while for a train. (And if you're going to bring your small kids on the metro and have them take up the entire escalator, prepare to incur the wrath of your fellow travelers). Anyway, I got down to the platform and thought I'd just missed my train, but luckily, the doors were kept open for a little longer, and I just managed to slip in. Which was really good; I really wanted to be on my way home, and not waiting on a grimy platform. Point being, a few seconds on the escalator can cost you five-ten minutes of wait time. Now, sometimes, that's just the way it is. If someone genuinely needed to take up the escalator--I am not one of those people who rams into blind people or those on crutches--so be it. But if someone's just being clueless, I am perfectly within my rights to say, "excuse me."

Speaking of people ramming into you on the metrorail system, I was standing on a train when someone rammed into me and then said 'excuse me.' What you actually want to do is say that beforehand, so the person can perhaps adjust her position, in case you are so large that you cannot navigate a train without ramming into people. That is not other people's problem; it is yours.

I thought about posting Ruth Marcus's column about SP this morning and decided not to, until this companion piece came out. They're both worth a read.

This subscription-required New Yorker piece on the empirical science of development is a must-read for those interested in the field. I was thinking about it today when I got an e-mail from Mint telling me I'd gone over my grocery budget. I anticipate another telling me that I've exceeded my entertainment budget. What does this have to do with the economics of development? Esther Duflo, the economist profiled in that article, sets out to measure things and question assumptions. A common assumption among economists is that people make rational choices, i.e., they choose what is to their benefit. Well, Ms. Duflo argues that the very poor have a more limited set of choices; they often cannot choose to their benefit. It often makes sense to buy more of something for a lower price per unit, but if you only have enough money for one unit, you can't do that.

But I'm not poor (much less extremely poor); nor am I as broke as I was a year and a half ago when I bought this house. However, I'm not wealthy enough to pass up great opportunities, so when I get a chance to go to the ballet for $20, I do it. For that reason, blowing my entertainment budget--to the extent that I have--is an achievement to be proud of. In the last couple of weeks, I saw an excellent play (The Liar) and awesome ballet (Genius 3). In the coming weeks, I'll see "Hamlet," Second City, and Mrs. Warren's Profession. And go to Trivia with some friends. And to an event on Jewish women in comedy (that one's free, but I bring it up for another reason--see below). My point, while we're still on this topic, is that budgeting is necessary and I'm glad that I've Mint to point out that I'm spending more than I'd anticipated in one category or another. I'm also grateful to have the financial freedom to be somewhat flexible with that, and to be able to spend more when it's worth it. You only live once, and performances are unique. When you have the chance to go, especially for a great price, you have to go.

Anyway, with regard to Jewish women in comedy: the actual topic is, when is it okay to laugh at ethnic stereotypes? This piece on Tina Fey echoes the wisdom in the zine article: there's something funny about things that are inappropriate. Consider Dave Chapelle, whom I consider a master social commentator as well as comedic genius (and I'd say the same about Tina Fey). What better way to address thorny social topics than through humor?

Wednesday morning roundup

A younger generation of Gaddafis appears to shun the bat$hit aspect of the family legacy.

It's true: there are, indeed, "...Jews, maybe some Indians, working in the inner core of the American administration." I wonder whether Kal Penn knows he's implicated in a conspiracy theory?

Before you get carried away and allow yourself to think Pakistan has some sort of monopoly on antisemitism or conspiracy theories, keep in mind that VA's governor has selected for his administration someone whose prior work includes--I $hit you not--having compiled a *list of Jews* for the Nixon administration.

I'm almost speechless. This reminds me of some of the stuff I used to hear around the office (prior office), except it's a lot dumber. I'm kind of glad these people have found a forum through which to vent their well-informed anger.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Response to comment

(1) I wish restaurants would offer smaller portions for less money, period. When I'm here, it's find to take leftovers home, but when I'm traveling, I hate having to throw away food. I often end up ordering appetizers, and they're often plenty. I'd order dessert much more often if the menu weren't full of mammoth confections for over $6. I'm not a fan of Chili's, but I went there with coworkers on a business trip once, and it's was great to be able to order a "mini dessert."

(2) Going back to that controversial Times piece about do's and don'ts for restaurant staff (it's on this blog somewhere, I think in December of 2009), restaurant staff should always be able to answer questions about what's in the food, how it's prepared, etc.

Tuesday morning roundup

Once in a while, I hit a point where I just can't read stuff like this any more because it's just depressing. And I don't just mean stuff about the destruction of rare forests; it's all sorts of recurring themes, where I just think, "why? I already know the Congo is still f*ed up; I already know people in Haiti are still homeless." And most of the time, I, you, should read it, because there's a difference between knowing in theory and reading about people and specifics. But sometimes you just have to say, "enough of this $hit."

An Indian village is divided over an honor killing.

China's business are hurting for innovation.

Here's some good news: violent crime had declined in the District and nationwide.

Toles on whom you'd want in a foxhole. Richard Cohen on the complexities of having not fought in Vietnam (as long as you're honest about it).

The Dalai Lama on compassion.

I'm not sure I've ever read a quote that so captures reality: “Children’s menus are the death of civilization.”

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday evening roundup

WTF? and WTF????

I didn't find Michael Pollan's analysis of the rise of the food movement particularly interesting, but I know my handful of regular readers would be disappointed if I didn't link to it.

What caught my eye, from the same source, was this piece on younger American Jews on Israel, particularly paired with last week's thought-provoking, powerful New Yorker fiction. I don't know whether the writer of the latter was endorsing the positions of his protagonists; I know that I could see where he was coming from, and I could see that he might have wanted to argue that when you haven't been there, who are you to judge. But I know that that mentality--kill them before they kill us--and the fear-mongering that perpetuates it has been at the root of many a genocide, and that at some point, you have to break the cycle and move to a paradigm of seeing whether you can not kill and still not be killed. My mom would say, 'what do you know?' But "what do you know is not an argument." If I thought she'd read it, I'd send her the former article, which I'll excerpt here:
the leading institutions of American Jewry have refused to foster—indeed, have actively opposed—a Zionism that challenges Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and toward its own Arab citizens. For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.
Many of Israel’s founders believed that with statehood, Jews would rightly be judged on the way they treated the non-Jews living under their dominion. “For the first time we shall be the majority living with a minority,” Knesset member Pinchas Lavon declared in 1948, “and we shall be called upon to provide an example and prove how Jews live with a minority.”

But the message of the American Jewish establishment and its allies in the Netanyahu government is exactly the opposite: since Jews are history’s permanent victims, always on the knife-edge of extinction, moral responsibility is a luxury Israel does not have. Its only responsibility is to survive.
But there is a different Zionist calling, which has never been more desperately relevant. It has its roots in Israel’s Independence Proclamation, which promised that the Jewish state “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew prophets,” and in the December 1948 letter from Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, and others to The New York Times, protesting right-wing Zionist leader Menachem Begin’s visit to the United States after his party’s militias massacred Arab civilians in the village of Deir Yassin. It is a call to recognize that in a world in which Jewish fortunes have radically changed, the best way to memorialize the history of Jewish suffering is through the ethical use of Jewish power.

A Post contributor on why we moralize and how to do it better:
A long line of reformers directed their moral rage at poverty, hunger, racism, segregation, sexism or other forms of injustice, turning the focus from individual sinners to communal wrongs.

Martin Luther King Jr. described the social gospel beautifully when he called on his listeners to become good Samaritans, to forget their selfish desires and to care for needy people of every race. King stood squarely in an American tradition of reformers stretching from William Jennings Bryan ("You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold") to Franklin Roosevelt ("These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is . . . to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men") and Lyndon Johnson ("Should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be [racially] unequal . . . then we will have failed as a people and as a nation"). From this perspective, political morality means worrying less about teen sex and more about ministering to our neighbors.
Do I have to start smiling at fellow passengers? I see her point but this is just one side of things; what if you get an RM prototype?

Monday morning roundup

A scary story of a mentally ill man, the son he raised to be an extremist, and the people who fail to take issue with his perspective. Well-timed to that article is Ross Douthat's column, in which he calls paleoconservatism "self-marginalizing" and "self-destructive."

Dionne urges us to put aside sanctimony and embrace real family values.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Response to comments

(1) I prefer being directed by a human who knows the area, and, in fact, I would have gotten home faster at least five minutes yesterday had I turned off my Garmin once I knew where I was. Any idiot who's been driving around Old Town for years knows that taking King Street is just a bad bet. The Garmin--which I have yet to name--just doesn't know the shortcuts, which make a huge difference around here.

I do mind being directed by humans who aren't really paying attention or taking their navigational responsibilities seriously. But yes, I do get annoyed when--let's call her Bianca and see if it sticks--she interrupts.

Why "Bianca"? Because I just googled girls' names, and it was the first one I found unpretentious. It works for the voice, too.

(2) I agree that the article was silly. I've heard a lot of people with kids say that if people knew what they were getting into, they wouldn't do it. I've heard the same thing about home ownership. The reality for both is, it's all about when you're ready, who you are, and what you want. In both cases, no snapshot--even a longer-term one--is going to capture the experience. And more so with parenting, you don't get the child you think you want; you get the child you get.

Interacting with various families, I see touching moments, frustrating moments, and banal moments. I was at a family-friendly party yesterday where lots of kids of various ages were exhausting the $hit out of their parents. Observing all that, and talking to people, I entertained familiar thoughts--those parallel to the ones that crossed my mind when I contemplated buying a house: I can handle the amount of work; I'd have a harder time with the uncertainty; but please don't let me become one of those tiresome people who talks about mortgages, paint colors, and landscaping [or diapers, stroller brands, and pre-school calculus classes] like anyone else cares.

Spending time with other people's children makes some people's biological clocks tick; this is not the case for me. I marvel at these children--I find them interesting, I enjoy interacting with them, etc.--but I'm glad I can give them back after a few hours. I'm also aware that biological clocks aren't exactly figments of the imagination, but I really believe--as with home prices and interest rates--it's really more about when it's the right time for you.

My long-winded point being, it's birth control for people who harbor delusions about what it means to be a parent. If you think it's all about cute outfits and a tangential change in your lifestyle, you might need a reality check. (If you think homeownership is an idiot-proof investment, you might need a reality check). If you already have a more realistic perspective, you're still going to be surprised when you have a child (or buy a house), but becoming aware of the everyday challenges isn't going to change what you really want.

Laundry around the world

Check out this awesome photo essay from a few WashPo Magazines ago.

Bill Maher calls for birth certificates

More here.

Sunday morning roundup

It's actually been known for a while that, in the developing world, women are more likely to spend money on their family's education, while men are more likely to blow it on booze.

Arizonans voice their thoughts on immigration.

Frank Rich on the implications of the Randslide; Bill Maher on Rand Paul: "The $h^t doesn't fall far from the bat." See more: Virginia's Attorney General continues his crusade against the state's universities. Like the ones that uncover truth about lead in drinking water.

How English became Globish.

My cluttered fridge door does not indicate the level of clutter in the rest of the house. But yes, being around some families is the best birth control, ever.

While this personal finance column isn't exactly full of useful tidbits, I agree with the overall premise: the realms of personal finance and nutrition are full of parallels.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday morning roundup

I hope the utter inanity of Rand Paul's latest gem sparks a national conversation about labeling opposing views as "un-American." And about letting accidents happen through lack of regulation. Oh, here we go: the Times editorial page takes on the latter issue.

Generic condoms aren't sturdy enough for DC youth.

A number of interesting discussions in "On Faith.

I love a good deal as much as anyone, but are we really what we buy, and do we need to broadcast it?

My response to this article about finally getting a car is very conflicted: on one hand, I think, "I'm glad I live in a place where I don't need a car;" on the other, I realize, "even in this place where I don't really need a car, it's good to have a car." I mean, there's ZipCar, I suppose, but it is, nonetheless, good to have a car.

On a related note, I now also have a GPS system--a birthday gift from my parents. (Ernessa, I'm Team Garmin as well, although the TomToms were significantly less expensive and give you the option of downloading Snoop Dogg for the voice, although I don't have the proper UBS cable, and I can't find the Bluetooth, to register the system, much less download voices). But I digress. I've been driving more often than normal over the last couple of weeks, and the system has been useful. I found myself getting somewhat defensive last week when a passenger was finding it annoying--but not out of blind devotion to the GPS; more out of a 'you people who don't drive don't get it. It's stressful to drive around in circles, which I've done quite a bit. All you have to do is show up--and it's fine--I'm more than happy to help other people, especially my friends, make do without their own cars. Not this person, but a friend of a friend that I was dropping off after a party was going on about how she's never had to have a car. Good for her, but that's because other people have been driving her @$$ around.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday evening roundup

The Post brings you a helpful graphic to understand the financial reform bill; Ezra Klein points out that this Congress has accomplished quite a bit.

The oil spill in cake form.

It would behoove Texas to stop messing with social studies and maybe teach people about nutrition.

Friday morning roundup

From an article about swingers in China, an interesting water/wine analogy.

Tom Toles illustrates the sorry state of the Metro's governance.

How many times do we have to establish that it's *the same* God?? Why are people so dumb? Here's a partial explanation, discussed further in Valerie Strauss's post on the worst social studies standards in the country.

The Onion on media coverage of social networking.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thursday morning roundup

China's knife attacks show no signs of abating.

Afghanistan's sole native Jew isn't going anywhere.

Primaries signal changing political rules that minimize the importance of party structure.

Just in time for Bike to Work Day, two Post pieces on cyclist-driver relations. I'm so sick of drivers who selectively treat bikes as vehicles: they get frustrated when cyclists walk their bikes across crosswalks, but feel completely free to pass us really closely as if we're not there--only to block our way at the next traffic light. Stop passing me within inches of my bike, and I'll learn to keep my middle finger on the handlebars.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wednesday morning roundup

Meatless Mondays have taken off.

An informed prescription for dealing with North Korea.

Why do some people hate DC so much that they want to make it easier to kill people there?

Iraqi Kurdistan takes a journalist-hunting page from Russia, but people actually fight back.

Maureen Dowd revisits the unfortunate spinning of Elena Kagan's single status. On a personal note, I can't tell whether or not I should be offended--whether or not a friend meant this comment to be catty, no pun intended, when, at Sunday's bbq, the unbearable woman, whom I'd not seen in years, asked whether I'd kids, and a friend said, "no, she has a cat." In context, when I told this friend that I'd bought a four-bedroom house (recall the circumstances: it cost little more or even no more than a one-bedroom condo), she said, "one for you, one for the cat..." implying something similar to the very concept Maureen Dowd slams in her column. I ascribe it largely to bitterness--not a small part of her is jealous that I have a life. On a less personal but more amusing note, I direct you to the related 30 Rock "The Moms" episode:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday evening R&R

While I wait for these ****ing cookies to cool, this would be as good a time as any to catch up on unblogged issues. But first, a one-item roundup: Shocker! SP engages in delusional revisionism.

Anyway, some disjointed thoughts:

Apart from the uber-mangy deer, I actually liked Nara Park. Once the air cooled and a lot of the crowds dispersed, it was a scenic, enjoyable place. I am really drawn to Japanese art, in the most literal sense of the word but also in the more general sense: in the way nature is "organized." Even though Nara Park isn't as meticulously planned as the various unbelievably scenic and perfectly arranged temple grounds we visited, the Park still had an air about it.

RCN update: mom called to say that she had returned the equipment she was being billed for, at which point RCN told her that in that case, the bill was for some service, and if she didn't pay up, they'd report her to the credit agencies. This being the case, I volunteered to write the complaint letter.

Tuesday morning roundup

The generation gap over immigration is trickier to explain when one's parents are immigrants, but trying to find rationality behind any of my mom's political opinions only makes my head hurt. But yes, shut the f* up and stop whining about having to "press 1 for English." If that's the kind of thing that ruins your day, you have bigger issues.

It's not news that Russia has made a sport--local and national--out of hunting journalists, but how widely and strategically it's practiced is noteworthy.

The Post points out that the oil rig workers who died in the Gulf and their families have been largely ignored.

Also not news: the District's lack of voting representation in Congress. But framed in Petula Dvorak's perspective, it's even more galling.

Especially in light of people's attempts to reframe pro-choice as anti-women, it's important to leverage language to get your political points across.

How Texas' governor and tea party candidate puts taxpayers' money where his mouth isn't.

For the gazillionth time, bottled water is no safer than tap.

Response to comment

I actually loved Japan, and I thought people, for the most part, were very polite. I just don't think I'd want to live there. It's exactly some of the things you mentioned that would grate on me in the long run (enthusiasm for gadgets), as well as the cult of cute. The friend in question left because she couldn't take the misogyny, and apparently, a number of women do the same.

I left the U.K. almost a year before my work permit ran out because I was ready to move on with my life. I needed something after college to clear my head, and my time in Wales worked well for that. I would be the last person to turn down an opportunity to live in London, but it was time to move on.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday evening roundup and rambles

Oh, Ukraine.
The Onion on knowing how Jesus felt.

The DC Council has come up with the second best idea ever, after the bag tax. Now if the lobbyist could drop the faux populism (my goodness! people's grocery bills!), we might get somewhere. And I'm looking forward to seeing how another set of lobbyists spin a new study that correlates pesticides with ADHD. Just keep telling people organics are no healthier.

I usually don't care much for stories on social networking, but this Chat Roulette piece from the New Yorker is remarkably insightful about Russian culture and society. Some excerpts:
"Like his grandfather, Andrey Ternovskiy knows when to toe the pro-Russian line; for example, when reporters from state television call. In private, however, he gripes, albeit cautiously, about his country and his countrymen. He doesn’t like his peers’ increasingly anti-Western attitudes, which he says make him “uncomfortable” because most of his virtual friends happen to be in the U.S. He is puzzled by Russia’s hypersensitive self-absorption. He has also been worried about getting drafted into the Russian Army, which has become infamous for hazing so brutal that it kills dozens of draftees every year. As a self-described happy nerd—a word he loves to drop in English—he cringes at the anger and frustration that he sees in his compatriots. When I asked him where he got his optimism, he said, simply, “Dad is happy, Mom is Russian.”

"Ternovskiy also has reason to be skeptical of the Kremlin’s recent interest in grooming intellectual talent, given the exodus of scientists from the country—by 2002, more than half a million had left—and the pitiful state of Russia’s intelligentsia since the fall of Communism. Andrey’s parents are exactly the kind of people Russia might be cultivating in its modernization drive, yet Vladimir makes only five hundred dollars a month and Elena three hundred. Official talk of modernization and innovation rankles Vladimir, who supplements his income with work for Russian Souvenirs. “It’s demagoguery,” he says...

"And Andrey knows that if he stays here no one will support him. The country doesn’t need people like him.”

Andrey, in turn, feels that he doesn’t need the country, and declares that he does not want to run a Russian company, which might be forced to pay “dirty,” under-the-table salaries to avoid a crushing tax burden, or to deal with extortion from corrupt tax and fire-code inspectors."
The story about getting to the airport also really resonated--that is so my family (although even we are more organized than that)--but the bickering was spot on. Bickering, arguing has a varying role in different cultures, and it's a pretty standard thing in Russian families. I was just having this conversation with some friends last week. I was talking about that situation I blogged about last night--how I feel bad about snapping at my parents--when two friends said it was cultural, i.e., in "ethnic" families, snapping at parents is not acceptable. Um, my family is pretty ethnic. They--African Americans--went on to argue that in African American, Latino and Asian families, it's an entirely different situation. A Latina friend disagreed, said that it varies so completely within that "ethnic" category and within families. I spend enough time with Latino friends and other Latino families to know that there is certainly no blanket cultural predilection against snapping at one's elders. Nonetheless, I'll grant you the amount of bickering in my family is largely cultural.

I have something else to add to last night's post about how mom and RM both have a knack for timing: Gracie's awesome that way, too. Guess who pooped and made mommy just miss a train, making her extra late for work this morning? At least Gracie has an "excuse": she poops when she feels neglected, and she's "neglected" when I'm especially busy. Which makes me wonder whether it wasn't a subconscious passive-aggressive power thing on RM's part as well.

Speaking of RM--yes, the experience was so traumatic that it continues to haunt me--I was thinking today about how the first rule of interpersonal conflict management is to make sure you're having the same conversation. For example, when I'm having a "I'm sorry I don't like the china" conversation with my mother, we're really having a conversation about how I have a right to determine what takes up precious real estate inside my house, and I have a right to my own tastes. Which means that I may end up paying more for things like flatware then if I just accept from her the set she found at a yard sale, but I'm okay with that, and it's time for her to respect that. If we argue about a specific china set, or a specific lamp, we'll continue to talk past each other (and we have).

With RM, I really did try to have the right level conversation (i.e., the issue is boundaries, not earrings), and he just wasn't hearing it. His power to ignore reality and selectively understand things was just that strong. It took me a while to fully grasp what that level of conversation was, but even when I did, it went nowhere. Well, we're all glad that's over.

Thinking about RM, and other people with whom I've recently interacted--a couple of coworkers, and Susan (who is too nice and normal, actually, to be put in the same category as RM)--it's amazing to me how very different these people from me and from most people I know. This got me thinking about "types" of people. At the barbecue I went to yesterday, various types of people were on display, in full contrast. There was one grad school colleague that I'd not seen in ages who is so annoying that people actually chose classes around her (I was not that bothered, although in the couple of classes we had together, I often regretted that). There were the hosts--very good friends of mine, but, at this point, committed suburbanites. Another urbanite guest made a catty comment about the cake (it was a child's birthday party) and its "happy birthday" stenciled lettering. She said, more than once, "I guess this is what people in the suburbs do." Which isn't really fair: there are plenty of people in the city who have chocolate molds. But there were things about the area that struck me. A certain type of person can live there, and it's not me.

The barbecue offered other food for thought about type, more than I can get into here. When the hostess introduced various people to another guest as grad school friends, the other friend pointed out that we were well represented, at which point she (hostess) talked about what a great time it was, and how from a social/interpersonal perspective, it was a great opportunity to make friends. Within certain parameters--and with great variation, actually, we were all a certain 'type' of people. She said it was the first time in her life where, in some ways, she didn't feel like a freak. Not that she wasn't a freak, she added.

To which I said, it seems to me that anyone who could stay sane in Japan for a prolonged period of time is kind of a freak. She agreed, said that she and her other friends who left after a year or so because they couldn't take it often talked about the people that can stay longer--especially men, who are more likely to manage for longer. She's wary about the type of person who can thrive in Japan for more than a year. [Ernessa, I'm not sure how long you were there, but from your previous comments on the matter, I gather you're an exception, in any case.]

Speaking of Japan, I found myself talking about deer poop at the barbecue (at least it's not panda porn). Someone else had talked about how she got for her mother some of that civet poop coffee for mother's day, and watched her open it on Skype. Her mother's reaction was not what she was expecting. (I wish I'd been there to see Jay open his deer poop, but imagining his reaction was good enough).

Back to what's going to have to suffice as a point, I couldn't agree more about how my grad school friends, different as we all are, are my type of people. It's not a value judgment, I'm not suggesting we're better people; just saying we understand each other.

Monday morning roundup

Tom Toles cartoons are awesome.

Paul Krugman says the extreme right is anything but new.

Thank you, Ruth Marcus, for responding to the infuriating Capehart post I blogged about yesterday.

Schools find an innovative but controversial way of teaching the connection between behavior and consequences.

Shanghainese stand up for their right to wear pajamas in public.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stop. switching. phone companies.

You know how RM had a knack for being a particularly aggressive talker when I was most tired and busy, when I most wanted time for myself? Not once, he would decide that he wanted to chat right after I'd spent the better part of the weekend running around--forgive the cliche--like a chicken with my head cut off. His special timing powers even worked for individual evenings--say, after an especially crazy work day, when I'd just spent the last few hour or so tidying up or running errands and couldn't wait to sit down and read or watch TV.

I'm wondering whether he learned it from mom?

I just got back from a barbecue that was over a half hour's drive away. On they way home, I stopped at the mall to get a wedding present, and then stopped at a grocery store, because I'm seriously running out of food. I was busy all day yesterday, and this evening I need to prep food for the week, make cookies for a work event, do laundry, and vacuum. I came home to find a message from mom. It sounded pretty urgent, so I called back right away.

A.: What??
Mom: I got this bill from RCN...
A.: [Sigh.]
Mom: They accused me of not returning the equipment, but I did. I have the receipt! We have to write letters!

To make a long story short, I listened, and told her to call them tomorrow and we'd go from there. I tried to make clear my stance: I will help her rid herself of the unfair bill. We will take the path of least resistance to that end. We will NOT turn this into a cause, and write letters for the sake of writing letters. I mean, she can, but I won't.

I was feeling guilty last week about how impatient I can be with my parents. The feeling was intensified after I volunteered with a family that invests considerably less in the education of the children than my parents did in mine. Both of my parents spent a lot of time teaching me things, and I especially remember how, when I had trouble with math, my dad would come home from work, Barron's book in hand, and explain stuff until it made sense. And now I snap at him because he's not as quick to figure out his GPS system (mind you, my snapping isn't because he's not quick to figure it out, but because he doesn't listen when I try to help). But that's still no excuse to snap.

Similarly, it's not that I don't want to help my mother with her phone company issues. As I've said a gazillion times, it's not the helping--it's that she doesn't meet me half-way. She doesn't help me help her. And we're not going on a crusade for consumer justice; we're just disputing her bill.

Sunday morning roundup

My head may explode. SP does not make "an interesting point." Feminists are not telling young women that they're incapable of doing a lot with their lives; anti-choicers are telling them they're incapable of making life decisions for themselves. Did I miss something? When did choice become about convincing women that working motherhood is too difficult? Isn't it about maintaining control over their, our reproductive choices?

Al Kamen makes an argument for a shorter election cycle. Milbank on tea in Maine.

Jonathan Alter's "Year One" gets a glowing review from the Post; apparently, it's nuanced and offers unique insights into the contradictions inherent in governing.

For the first time in the history of parent/non-parent culture clash stories, I agree with some of these parents. No one's child should be attacked by a dog; parents shouldn't have to keep their kids enclosed in designated spaces. The parents who think they're entitled to block every passageway, everywhere with their stroller, however, need to get over themselves. Some even think we need more mothers on the Supreme Court. Oh, and, by the way, baby names are getting more pretentious.

Speaking of culture wars and people who need to get over themselves, don't get me started on bike-hating drivers. Get. over. it. One of these--a friend of mine--can't stand it when cyclists don't wait at red lights. Well, here's why it doesn't matter.

Frank Rich on the rentboy saga and more. An excerpt:
His only mistake, he told the magazine Christianity Today, was to hire a “travel assistant” without proper vetting. Their travels were not in vain. The good minister expressed gratitude that his rent boy “did let me share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him with many Scriptures in three extended conversations.”
Maureen Dowd on the inane discourse on Elena Kagan's sexuality:
She went to Harvard, not Smith. It’s Elena, not Ellen. She barely drives, much less a Subaru. She’s never been spotted at Home Depot or the Meow Mix bar. And she doesn’t have Ani DiFranco on her iPod.
Elena dated some of Eliot Spitzer’s friends at Princeton because her real ambition was to be “The Good Wife.” But now she’s ready to settle for being The Supreme Justice.

Elena is anything but a history-making, barrier-breaking, proud, strong, happy gay woman. She’s a garden-variety, sad, scary, single, childless career woman who can’t get a man because she’s too smart, works too much and refuses to settle.

These "Googlenopes" in response to last week's Style invitational are hilarious. Also: more funny signs abroad.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Saturday morning roundup

Women who ask for a raise are perceived as "significantly less attractive."

The point is, Ms. Palin and Ms. Palin, you chose to continue your pregnancies. All we're saying is, don't take that choice away from the rest of us.

Charles Blow encourages politics watchers to take the long view. Fair enough, but do we really need more of what's happening in Virginia? Even Gail Collins, who starts out with 'fair enough, let those wacky Southerners do their own thing, points out that we're all interconnected (or, in her words, sooner or later everyone has to fly through the Atlanta airport). On a lighter political note, see this Sheneman cartoon.

Allen didn't know it at the time, but he may have the answer to Hello Kitty's woes: cleavers and condom dispensers. Only in Japan--and it makes so much sense for Japan--would you have Anpanman, a character based on a jam-filled pastry.

Meanwhile, China is seeing, encouraging a sort of Confucionist revival.

I'm constantly amazed at people's wishful and simplistic nutritional thinking.

Is your furball normal?

The Liar was awesome. A joy to watch. Go see it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday morning roundup

There really are smarter and stupider ways of eliminating your enemy.

India is dragging its "perpetually decrepit" urban infrastructure into the 21st century, with the Delhi Metro system leading the way. Your move, WMATA.

The Post is down, but I'm going to recommend two or three articles from the print edition, all about Elena Kagan. The first is about how her White House experience is invaluable because of the understanding it gives her of how government--particularly the Executive Branch--works (and doesn't work). Then, see the Ruth Marcus's column about how the assumption that single women are necessarily lesbians is unfortunate. If you'd like, see the article in the Style section about how it's only normal to wonder about sexual orientation, and if Ms. Kagan is a lesbian, it's not like there's anything wrong with that. But that's not the point; the issue is society's perception of single women.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Mangy scavengers...

I traveled to Colorado for work a week and a half after returning from Japan. People in Colorado were really friendly, and even though I'm not generally not one for small talk, it's just fine in some situations. In two such situations, I had to make a conscious effort to respond with airy pleasantries, because Japan was on my mind, but there was no need to talk about it.

I think I told you that the first night there, we ended up going out for Japanese. I ended up ordering green tea ice cream. The waiter thought it was very brave of me, said that it took him a while to get used to it but now he loved it. It struck me as odd, because at that point, green tea ice cream was more normal to me than vanilla.

Then, the morning I left, I had some time in the airport, so I shopped around. In one store, I came upon chocolate-covered peanuts packaged as "deer poop," so I absolutely had to get them for Jason. The woman at the counter said, "those are so good!"

Now, some of you think I have no internal filter, but if that were the case, instead of saying, "oh, that's great!" I'd have said:

"Actually, I don't really care that they're good. I mean, I suppose they may as well be, because Jay's going to eat them anyway--so yes, I'm glad they're good. But that's not why I'm getting them. See, there's this place called Nara Park, with mangy deer--Jay even wrote a haiku about them--they kick/bite/butt/knock down, and poop all over the place..."

Thursday evening roundup

Hawaii's state health department has had enough.

Oh, WashPo! I subscribe to the print edition, and you reward me by putting this image on your front page? Do you think I want to wash my eyes out with soap?

Hopefully this will lead to universal eki-ben, too.

Speidi is usually under my radar, but I can't resist blogging something this slimy.

I love Lewis Black:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Responses to comment and ramble

I think the 'whoever invites, pays' system is a good, logical one. I always feel awkward, like I did over the past week, initiating events where people will inevitably end up buying me drinks. This was my post-birthday/post-parental-visit pick me up gathering, which a friend suggested after she asked what I was doing for my birthday and I said I'd probably be listening to how fat and overbearing I am. Actually, my birthday was fine, apart from the lamp obsession, although my mother did wait--I'd talked to her that morning several times before they left--until dinner, when my father reminded her, to wish me a happy birthday. Which would be less than newsworthy, had she not, first thing Saturday morning, demanded when I was going to wish her a happy Mother's Day. (I replied, 'tomorrow. on Mother's Day.') But I digress.

So, yes, Eastern Europeans do their own birthdays. I usually do--i.e. invite people over, cook, etc. I didn't have time to do that this year, so drinks out it was, and I have to say that it was great to be able to catch up with my friends without having to do any work. My mother kept asking me this get-together as if it were the strangest thing; her questioning matched the tone of her questions about the future metro stop at Potomac Yard, i.e., these were not questions that needed to be asked; they were questions to which one might arrive at the answer with a few seconds of deductive reasoning. E.g., Why? Why would you celebrate your birthday after your birthday? (Answer: to get together with my friends). I dwell on this because this is one of those circumstances under which I end up inevitably snapping at mom: I snap when she interrupts mid-sentence, and I snap when she asks a question or series of questions to which she could deduce the answers with straightforward logic. Who would metro to Potomac Yard? People who shop there. Especially those who don't have cars. For my mother, it may be an extrovert thing that she'd rather just think out loud.

Back to the original issue, though: I think when feasible, Miss Manners' advice holds. That's why the first letter still riles many: people need to stop thinking of hosting as a fundraising opportunity, even for an expensive event like a wedding. If you can't afford a wedding, have a smaller wedding. Don't try to extort from your guests.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wednesday morning roundup

New York City may soon be even better represented on the Supreme Court. Protestants won't be represented at all.

The Post summarizes three new books on organics. I appreciate the role of that first company, but if you want to do even better, put down the jarred baby food and make some yourself.

Although it was the headline--which concerned an engaged couple's "fundraiser" party--that drew my attention, it was the second letter that inspired me to post Miss Manner's column. Really, people? You're going to bring up dishwashing gloves in couples' counseling? I really don't know what to say to you.

While we're on advice columns (and bizarre control issues), see this older one from Carolyn Hax. I'm so glad she's addressing the vegetarian guest of honor issue, this being a discussion I've had many a time with my parents (who, by the way, were just fine without meat or chicken this weekend).

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cultural superiority complexes

In "The Fourth Hand" (John Irving), one way in which a character tries to woo another is by reading a book she liked and sending her passages that resonated with him. When it turns out, passage after passage, that the ones he chooses aren't those she'd have chosen, he realizes that it's not only okay for them to drawn by different parts of the same book, but that it's only normal. There's no reason any two people, no matter how compatible, have to be drawn to the same aspect of a story, or work of art. That's one of the defining features of art: it's personal. It's visceral.

On a more general level, though, being drawn to the same types of art does correlate with compatibility, and not just out of pragmatism. I'd use a food analogy, but I'm the wrong person to present food preferences and their consequences as all practical and not indicative of one's overall personality. You can connecting with people over theater, painting, sculpture, books, music, film, TV, comics, etc. on a much deeper level than you would just verbally exchanging thoughts. I remember sending someone who is now a good friend of mine a short story, after reading a book that she sent me, which her father wrote, that spoke to me--and when she read the story, she knew I got it.

So I'm in no way saying that your choices of 'art' (see play of the same name for a more intellectual discussion of this issue) don't speak to who you are. But I agree with Carolyn on this one--you'd be remiss to judge people by their choices. Like one of the follow-on writers, I think Britney Spears and Kate Hudson are annoying and their music and films, respectively, are dumb. And I doubt I'd be compatible with someone for whom they were the intellectual nourishment. But I, and many people I know, assert our right to our brain candy and only want to tell you to f* off when you have something to say.

Readers of this blog will know that my mom does it--if I'm watching whatever movie is on TV (because how much Fox News or Animal Planet--which are the default channels in my parents' house--need one watch?), she'll start commenting every few minutes on how stupid it is. She'll ask, 'Do you really think this is interesting, thought provoking?' Yes, mom: I watch "Dude, Where's My Car" for intellectual stimulation. Now that I've admitted it, you can stop asking.

I think I've also told you, but I once had a roommate that would come in to see me and the other two roommates watching Soul Food, and would not once pass up the opportunity to make a snide comment, such as, "I'd never guess how smart you guys are based on the crap you watch." It won't surprise you that the three of us are still friends with each other, but not with her.

The point is, people like different things for different reasons. Even if someone does find nourishment for the soul in Britney Spear's "music," that's not an indicator of cultural vacuity. Now, if someone only ever orders burgers and fries, then you can go ahead and judge them. Just kidding.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Turn of phrase of the decade

Rebranding communism.

Monday morning

This morning, as I was trying to get everything together (breakfast and coffee for all, snacks for the road for them/lunch for me) and making sure they got everything in the car. Which, by the way, they did not. Funny story: mom somehow managed to dumpster-dive a dehumidifier from half a block away. She tossed it into my backyard, and it's still there. And she won't let me throw it out. I have to hold on to this thing. Who knows what's in there?? Where am I going to put it? I don't want it in the house (nor in the backyard). But I digress. This morning:

Gracie: Meeoooowwww
Mom: A.! She wants something.
A.: I know, mom.
Gracie: Meeoooowwww! Meeeowwwww! Me. Ow.
A.: Don't make me beat you.
Gracie: Meeoooowwww
Mom: A.! Gracie needs you.
Gracie: Meeoooowwww, Meeoooowwww, Meeoooowwww!
Mom: A.! Your cat is talking to you!
A.: Ya think?
Mom: A.! That poor thing.
Gracie: Meow.
Mom: A.! Why don't you feed the poor animal.
A.: Because it's not her breakfast time yet!
Mom: But she's hungry!
A.: She's always hungry.

Gracie: Meeeeooooooowwwwwwwwwww!
Mom: A.!
A.: Mom! I am in the middle of something and you're not helping!

Supersize me

You know how if you don't need something for one price, you don't need it for a lower price? Or free?

Like, if you only want a small cookie, getting more cookie for free does not actually add value. Because you don't need more cookie.

Or like how an outfit that does not work for you at full price isn't suddenly going to work for you just because it's on sale.

But we still gravitate toward more cookie and unflattering outfit, because we think we're getting more for less.

Just as I don't need more cookie, or more unflattering outfits, I do not need daily delivery of the Washington Post. When it's delivered, I feel compelled to read it, and it takes forever. It absolutely pays for itself, even when it costs more--and I'll be getting it practically for free. But I don't have time for daily delivery when it cost more. I don't suddenly have time for it even though it's free. What have I done?

Sunday, May 9, 2010


I'm taking out the trash when I hear:

Mom, picking up the Post: Is this paper very leftist?
Dad: Probably not.
Mom: Well, I think it's leftist. I'm not going to read it.
Dad: You may as well read it, for the news if not the opinions.
Mom: Who needs the news?

I was afraid I'd disappoint my readership with the news that, throughout the entire weekend, the word "fat" was only used in reference to Gracie. As it happened, at some point this evening, mom came through for you.

Mom: Have you gotten fatter?
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: I think you have.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: Well, that coat you bought over the winter should be plenty of motivation to lose weight.

I'm not sure why--perhaps because I've been better about meditation--but I've been better able to stop back and deconstruct the ridiculousness of much of the dialogue between my mother and me. I'm not yet at the point where I keep my patience indefinitely, but I'm closer than I ever have been.

It's not just that she chooses the most inopportune times to ask questions--and she kept doing it throughout the weekend. Dad would explain something about the gate, and at that moment she'd have to say something. I would have to ask her to wait until he was finished--I mean, you just can't listen to two people talk at the same time. Dad would as well, although he was nicer about it. He would say, "which of these topics is more time-sensitive?"

It's also that we speak different "languages," which I've always known, but I see better now. I've seen it before when I've made the mistake of telling a joke in front of my mother (or watching TV with her). She fixates on things that don't matter, asks too many questions about them, and doesn't draw logical conclusions that could help her figure out what's going on. But it's not limited to jokes.

A.: They're going to build a metro stop here.
Mom: But there's one nearby.
A.: There's BR, which is the one near my house. It's a good hour's walk from the mall. There's nothing between the airport and BR.
Mom: The metro's where those big condo complexes are, right?
A.: Yeah. That's a hike from here.
Mom: But who needs to metro here?
A.: People who shop at Target?
Mom: So you'd metro here?
A.: Occasionally.

It's not that I'm impatient, that it bothers me that this conversation could have been a third of its length. It bothers me that my mother loves to ask questions so much that she doesn't bother to think things through. Or recall when she last asked the question. She gets very sensitive when I call her on that, because she might be under the impression that it's age-related, but I'm not worried, because she's always been like that--always asked the same questions, day after day, especially when she didn't like the response last time around. That's not how age-related memory loss manifests itself. Below is a sampling of the questions my mom's asked me at least once a day since Friday. By today, I just said 'what do you think?' and let dad answer. Because he actually pays attention when I answered the first time.

Mom: You don't eat soup, huh?
Mom: How many people fit in your house when you have parties?
Mom: Do you have friends at work?
Mom: Do you park out back every day?
Mom: Why is Gracie so fat?
Mom: What kind of internet do you have?

I get annoyed because some of those questions are her way of communicating judgment in question form; and because I get sick of having the same conversation repeatedly.

Speaking of how many people fit in the house at parties...

A.: I'm sorry mom. I appreciate that you wrapped it and lugged it down here, but it just doesn't work for me. It's not my style.
Mom: Well, hold onto it until it is your style.
A.: I don't have room for it.
Mom: It'll come in handy when you have big sit-down dinners some day.
A.: It still don't like it.
Mom: But it's so practical.
A.: I. Don't. Like. It.
Mom: Fine, I guess we'll take it back.

Except we had to have the conversation many more times.

It's been an enjoyable visit overall, and very productive, although I'd hoped for more 'fun.' Part of why I paid someone to install a fence/gate was so that my father wouldn't feel like he had to deal with it next time he visited. But the post-snowmageddon winds blew the gate off its posts, and dad insisted on fixing it. He seemed to enjoy working on it, too. If he's happy, I'm fine with it.

Sunday morning roundup

Guyana weighs some possible ways forward.

Intellectual anti-semitism in Britain.

Frank Rich on media.

You may have hardly thought this possible, but Northern Virginia traffic is actually likely to get worse.

Robin Givhan looks at how the Costume Institute tries or doesn't try to define the American woman through fashion.

The dating scene has always been fraught.

Saturday afternoon

Mom: You haven't wished me a happy mother's day yet! When is mother's day?
A.: Tomorrow.
Mom: Oh.

We'd just managed to turn into what was supposed to be a quick run to Trader Joe's into a field trip. Mom really, really likes to stop and look around. At everything. My reason for wanting to make it quick was that I realized I was out of coconut milk, and wanted to have enough time for stuff to marinate. It was so bad that when I realized how long my parents were taking just to get ready, I rubbed the various stuff with Thai curry paste, without the milk, just to give it a chance. Good thing, too. So finally, when we got the milk, I wanted to get it into the marinade soonest. But I didn't even unpack the groceries when mom asked for toothpicks (I heard 'toothbrush.')

Mom: Do you have toothpicks?
A.: This minute?
Mom: Is it a problem?
A.: No... What's that noise?

I run upstairs. Someone had left the faucet running.

A.: Good thing you saved all that water by not using that cloth napkin.
Mom: You always have to be right about everything--even the slightest thing. It's an inferiority complex of yours. You should learn to deal with it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday morning

If you think mom has let anyone forget about the lamp, you don't know my mother.

I hadn't slept well; it was a noisy Friday night, and a couple of people decided to have a middle-of-the-night conversation right outside my house. It's quieter on the alley side, where the guestrooms are, so my parents slept through the night. Anyway, I would have slept later but Gracie decided to be especially vocal around 6am.

I got up, fed her, read the paper. My dad came down, talked for a bit, went back upstairs. Mom still wasn't up. I decided to do yoga.

Not long into it:

Mom: Ask A. where the towels are!
Dad: A., where are the towels?
A.: I gave you two towels last night. They're in the white thing next the closet in your room.

Five minutes later

Dad: I still can't find them.
A.: Just a minute!

Dad: Oh, you did tell me they were here.
A.: I told you both they were there, but whatever. You'd had a long day.

I get back to yoga. I hear bickering.

Dad: It's her house!
Mom: So? I'm entitled to my opinion!
Dad: She's entitled to her decor!
Mom: I just can't believe it! Look at all of these inadequate lamps!
Dad: Next time, don't ask. Just bring it.
Mom: That's a good idea.

I'm still doing yoga.

Mom: A.! Do you have a comb!
A.: Just a minute.

Mom: And not a nightgown! Do you need a nightgown?
A.: No.
Mom: Dad's right: the way to go is to just bring stuff without asking permission.
A.: Mom, I sleep in t-shirts and boxers and always will. I have no use for "nightgowns."

Mom: It's just so dark everywhere!
A.: It is?
Mom: I mean, it's not now, but it will be at night! That's why you need a lamp.
A.: There are overhead lamps in all these rooms, plus table lamps.
Mom: That lamp could go so many places.
A.: I really don't want to hear about this lamp all weekend.
Mom: I don't care what you want!

A.: What do you all want for breakfast?
Dad: Whatever you usually have for breakfast.
A.: I usually have oatmeal, which you don't abide.
Dad: I'll have eggs then.
A.: Okay.

I get our respective breakfasts ready. Mom keeps asking unrelated questions.

A.: How many eggs do you want?
Mom, from the other room: The cat's rubbing up against me. What does that mean?
A.: I don't know, mom. You've had cats longer than I have.
Dad: Two, please.
A.: Non-stick or cast iron?
Dad: Whatever you normally use.
A.: It doesn't matter: just tell me and I'll get whichever.
Mom: Do you believe in high power?
A.: What?
Mom: Do you believe in high power?
A.: I don't understand the question.
Mom: She's rubbing up against me again. What does that mean?
A.: I don't know, mom.
Mom: Like, spirituality. Do you believe in higher meaning and stuff?

[Clattering noise from near the pot rack in the kitchen]

A.: What are you doing??
Dad: You said to just take whichever skillet I wanted.
A.: No, I said tell me and I'd get it for you.
Dad: Where's the salt?
Mom: Or do you just believe in what's physically visible?
A.: Right here.
Mom: She's rubbing up against me again. What does that mean?

Mom asked for tea before breakfast, and something sweet to go with it.

Mom: You don't have dried fruit?
A.: No. I've plenty of fresh fruit.
Mom: I'll have chocolate, then. What about nuts?
A.: That we can do.
Mom: Walnuts are the best. Edgar Casey says almonds, too.
A.: Various nuts are good for you in various ways. You don't have to stick with one.
Mom: Generally, walnuts are the best.

Dad found the chocolate they'd brought for the road. Mom had a good candy-bar-sized chunk. We had breakfast.

Mom: I can't finish this oatmeal! I can't believe you can eat all that oatmeal! I just don't eat that much.

We were going to go for a walk after breakfast, but mom crashed so dad started working on the fence. Later, when mom and I were planting stuff, he called me out to help him. He started explaining what to do.

Mom: You have so much clay in your soil!
A., Dad: Just a minute, mom!
Mom: I can help! What can I do?

She comes over. Dad continues to explain. Mom continues to talk.

Mom: What about this?
Dad: Just wait a second.

It's like over the holidays, when I was undoing whatever clusterf* she'd gotten into on her new laptop. She thought it was helpful to look over my shoulder and suggest things, even though she had no idea what was going on.

Mom: You'll definitely need wheels.
A.: Mom!
Dad: T.!

At some point in the morning, dad walked by one of my coffee tables, which still bore evidence of my pathetic and short-lived effort to learn Katakana.

Dad: Did you actually try to learn a few words in Japanese?
A.: I learned more than a few words. I learned lots of words. Just hardly any that were useful.

Dad asked about it. I demoed the program.

RS: [Sentence in Japanese]
Mom, simultaneously: What is he saying?
A.: Mom!

Repeat. And repeat again. RS is hard enough without someone talking over it.

Dad said he wouldn't need us for a bit, so I suggested to mom that we walk down to the Russian store, just for her to see it. He said to look at smoked fish. I warned mom it was lame and overpriced. Nonetheless, she walked in, looked at a few things, and stormed out.

A.: What is wrong with you?
Mom: I've seen enough! This is pathetic.
A.: Of course it is.

She then launched into a lecture about how much less things cost at the Russian stores in Boston.

A.: I know that mom. I thought you might be curious. And dad said to look at smoked fish.
Mom: I knew just from looking at the frozen stuff--we need nothing from there!
A.: Did you not want to take another thirty seconds to walk through?
Mom: No! I've seen enough!
A.: Okay.

And then there's the just-not-listening

Last night

A.: Let me show you how to turn off the alarm in case you want to go outside in the morning before I'm up.
Dad: That's alright, I won't.
A.: Are you sure.
Dad: Yes.
A.: Okay, but remember not to open the door without disarming it.

I didn't disarm it when I came downstairs because my parents were still asleep. Mom still is. Dad came down looking for something or other. He went for the door.

A.: Dad!
Dad: What??
A.: What did I tell you about not opening the door unless you've turned off the alarm?!
Dad: I forgot.

I disarmed it, showed him how to use it. But the point is, would it hurt to listen? I don't say these things for my health. It wouldn't have been the end of the world if the alarm went off--I'd have turned it off. It would have woken mom, but it's not that early anymore. But if I'd been in the shower, for example, we'd have had problems.

Saturday morning roundup

Note to Tea Partiers: just because you chase away the fringiest of your element, doesn't mean racism isn't a big part of your platform.

I thought that rites and celebrations like weddings were about sharing important times in your life with the people you love; apparently, some people think it's more about having wedding pictures unmarred by overweight friends.

Gail Collins reminds us how nice it is to have avoided the era of the weasel testicles.

Responses to comments

(1) Thanks for the birthday wishes!

(2) ETC, your husband's spot on--"your problem is our problem" is what any relationship is about. That's why, for example, back in the day before I knew better than not to travel with my mother, I was horrified that she would say things like, "well, I'm pulling over at McDonald's because I like it." Mind you, in her case, it was all about making that statement, but it also reflected a missing of the point: we're in this together; it's worth finding something that works for everyone (including when there's something right next door).

napkin refusal

There was another fun part about dinner I forgot to tell you about. Keep in mind that my mom had botched oral surgery, so when she eats, she gets food all over the outside of her mouth. She needs napkins.

Mom: Could I have a napkin?
A.: They're in that vase.
Mom: Where?
A.: There.
Mom: Oh, no!
A.: What?
Mom: I can't do that.
A.: Why not.
Mom: Then you'd have to wash it. It would be wasteful.
A.: I'd throw it in the wash with all my other laundry. It wouldn't change anything.
Mom: Otherwise you'd throw in something else.
A.: No, I wouldn't.
Mom: It's a waste of water!
A.: Well, paper napkins are a waste of paper, and you just throw them out afterward.
Mom: I don't. I reuse them. I use them to clean the floor.
A.: I reiterate that washing these cloth napkins will change nothing in terms of water consumption. And I add that that kind of water consumption is a drop in the bucket compared to that involved in (1) the manufacturing of plastic water bottles and (2) the meat industry. If you're concerned about water, stop eating cows.
Mom: Then what are you going to do with all the cows?
A.: Stop raising them!
Mom: I know. I know about the methane...
Dad: All of that stuff has been debunked.
A.: It absolutely has not. It's just science.
Mom: I know it's bad, but what are you going to do?
A.: Stop eating cows! And have a cloth napkin.
Mom: No!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday night dinner

I can't complain so far. I mean, on one hand, Mom has just now stopped complaining about the lamp that I convinced her not to bring. And she's only stopped because she's gone to bed. But I've not heard anything about the size of my butt, or my detrimental-to-the-soul decor. I have fielded many questions and comments about the size of my cat, but that's to be expected. Mom even asked me why I fed her so little if she's going to be fat anyway. She's a cat, she said; may as well let her enjoy her life.

But the lamp talk started the second she walked in the door.

Mom: That's the lamp you have in here?! That lamp? The lamp we have is so much better.
A.: [Shrug]
Dad: You're tired. Just sit for a minute without feeling like you need to say anything.

Every few minutes, as I was getting dinner together, I heard something like this:

Mom: I don't understand. Now how am I going to get you that lamp.

And just before she went to bed, she went on about how the lamp would work in that guestroom, too.

And every time I brought something out in the kitchen--including flatware--she said, "you didn't buy that, did you? you know we have plenty of that."

And--I'd forgotten to tell you guys about the shoe discussion over the phone, in which she threatened to bring me sandals and I begged her not to. Well, she brought them anyway, and they're butt-ugly. Mom often has good taste in shoes, but--and this is saying a lot--I have enough shoes in my life.

A.: I'm not taking these, mom.
Mom: Why not?
A.: Because I don't need any more shoes.
Mom: You never know.
A.: Fine. Also because they're hideous.
Mom: They're great.
A.: No.

For five minutes, while dad and I were unloading the car, she would alternate lamp talk with, "look at where that plant is! plants need light." I pointed out that the plant was right in front of the glass door, and that normally the curtain was drawn. She let it go.

Mom calmed down once she sat down, had a snack or too (dad has a point: it's not surprising she was in a mood). Dinner went well; I threw some stuff on the stove and in the oven, made a salad and fruit salad, put out some appetizers they'd brought from the Russian store in Boston. I'll take them to the one here tomorrow just for fun; I've warned them it's pretty lame. They also brought a nice wine; it was good to have a glass. I don't usually open bottles, since I don't go through them before they go off, so it was a rare treat.

Oh, there was drama over the shrimp. Dad asked if he could help, so I told him he could make salad or peel the shrimp I'd just boiled. He opted for the latter, said it came out well. I told him it was just a drop of vinegar and Old Bay. Mom saw it.

Mom: Do you have cocktail sauce?
A.: No, but even if I did, I'd recommend against it. It's pretty good plain.
Mom: Hah!
Dad: Really, it is.

Coming from him, that means a lot.

Mom: I'm old and set in my ways. You can't tell me what to do!
A.: Well, you don't have to have any.
Mom: I'm hungry, so I'll have some. But you can't tell me what to do. I've gone this far having cocktail sauce. You can't stop me.
A.: I just don't have any. I didn't, like, spill it all out before you got here just to spite you.
Mom: But you're telling me not to have any in my house.
A.: I am?
Mom: Aren't you?
Dad: I didn't hear anything about that.
Mom: Well, I don't want to hear any lectures about what's healthy.
A.: [Shrug]


Mom: These are really good tomatoes.
A.: They're the heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe's; they're the best non-organic tomatoes around. I served them at AV day and people loved them.
Mom: Organics are a bunch of hippie crap!
A.: [Sigh].

And so it went. But it was very peaceful, as dinners with my family go. Very low on criticism, too.

I'll keep you guys posted.

Friday evening roundup

I loved traveling in Japan, but I can't disagree with the following:
"...until now, the tourism market has been geared almost exclusively to domestic travelers, which means that much of the tourist infrastructure does not meet the expectations of foreign tourists."
"The pace of destruction gathered speed in the 1990s, when more than 40,000 old wooden homes disappeared from central Kyoto, according to the International Society to Save Kyoto.

Though the city still has ancient temples and gardens, they are overwhelmed by a sprawling mass of gray buildings and neon signs — the product of ineffective zoning policies in the city, Mr. Kerr said."
And I care for the Paris cupcake trend even less than I do for the one in DC.

In case you're wondering, my parents are still on the road. I was a bit stressed because I couldn't leave work as early as I'd wanted, but I needn't have fussed. Although I guess I should take this opportunity to mop...