Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve roundup

Treating workers like humans is good for business.

Philosophers of religion share their own beliefs.

Riese at Autostraddle articulates what I meant to say about whitewashing a location vs. addressing its history as it was. I hear the other but I maintain my earlier points about open debate vs. internet $hitstorm. And yet, I don't think it's time to demonize or dismiss Ani. What's hit me is how few commentors have touched on the class implications of the now-canceled retreat. Wasn't it Ani who once sang, "if you don't live what you sing about/your mirror is going to find out"?

Response to comment

Thank you for the kind thoughts, and I'm sorry you both had to go through it.

She did it again all through dinner and afterward. I found myself not minding the repeated stories so much unless/until the negativity and judgment came in: I (almost) didn't mind hearing for the gazillionth time about her business trip to Vladivostock however many decades ago, but I bristled whenever it came time to declare someone a complete incompetent, even if it were true. I hope that I don't remember, fifty years from now, who was being incompetent at work now. This is actually a good reminder for me not to dwell on such things, lest I continue to dwell on them out of habit once they're even more irrelevant.

But repetition did play a part in my frustration--not repetition of the whole story, again, but repetition within the story. She told me about the incompetent manager at least six times, consecutively. I guess that's Alzheimer's, but it's not that different from how she was beforehand. Maybe, ten years ago, she would have mentioned the incompetent manager two or three times.

Mom has always had a frustrating storytelling style. That's petty, perhaps, but it adds to the current frustration and to my struggle with being patient because now it's driven by her illness. I feel like if she'd never done it before, it would be easier to ascribe entirely to the illness and to be that much more patient. I know it shouldn't matter: this is the way she is now and the only way to be with her is patient. But it comes down to my having spent the last fifteen years of my life essentially putting down boundaries and reducing her influence over me, so it's that much more of an adjustment--a paradigm shift--to let it go and let her be her because is the right thing to do, under changed circumstances.

Dad's on a (humor) roll

I grabbed my phone to take with me--I hadn't looked at it all day--only to see that the battery was almost sapped. I can be pretty bad at keeping my phone charged, but this was beyond the usual sad state of affairs; the battery-sucking app that checks my work e-mail had somehow turned itself on and proceeded to suck the battery. I had to turn on the app to turn it off, and then got sucked into checking work e-mail (just since yesterday, when I'd last checked it intentionally) and reading a long message from the attorney on my project. Which in and of itself reduced the battery from 11 to 6 percent. We were in the car at that point.

A.: I hate not having a phone.
Dad, glibly: I can give you mine or mom's.
A.: Ha ha ha ha ha.
Mom: What? My phone works.
A.: But it doesn't do anything.
Dad: Her phone is a phone last. Your phone may as well be a doorstop, as far as she's concerned.
Mom: Then why did you offer yours?
Dad: I was being facetious.

We went to visit my grandmother's gravestone, then to see some family friends, and then to my cousin's bustling international food store. At the friends' house, mom got off on one of her vicarious soap operas: the friend's daughter who doesn't want babies because she'd rather pursue a singing career, even though she doesn't have a great voice. I can't speak for the friends, but I didn't want to hear it (again).

The cousin and I barely recognized each other. She and my mom had some epic falling-out when I was younger, and only dad kept in touch with her (she's his niece). It--the falling-out--was the source of one of those epiphanies I had in recent years, about mom's being an unreliable narrator (for lack of a better term). I wonder whom else she smeared over the years, when I didn't know better than take her word for it. But the cousin seems to have moved on, as I suppose you do when it's family and you know she can't help herself because that's just who she is.

Dad tells a joke as mom puts on her coat

Dad: What's feathered on the outside and medicinal on the inside?
A.: What?
Dad: A chicken running around a pharmacy.

Soap operas again

Mom is going on, for the fourth time in twenty minutes, and for the dozenth time in the last week, about her friend's daughter who has a thing for marrying losers. And she's going on about it with considerable passion, and she's throwing in suggestions that the friend's daughter see a psychic to ascertain why she's trapped in this pattern.

She started the morning with an angry, repeated political rant that I tried to stomach for as long as I could until I snapped, said 'enough.' She was offended. Dad pointed out to me that she was ill so I should be more patient with her, but then ended up responding to another of her rants in the same way that I did. Neither of us can really take it.

Actually, I just left the room and came back to hear mom repeating the same spiel to dad.

I want to say, "how many times do you need to rehash the same story?" and maybe I have. She would be rehashing these things regardless of her condition; it's not that she's forgotten that she's told them. It's that she likes to dwell and she believes in the power of repetition. I believe in the power of letting go and leaving other people's interpersonal dramas to them.

Apologies and non-apologies

In the spirit of 'everybody f*s up' and 'everybody says $hit that offends," see MHP's ever-so-rare genuine, disclaimer-free apology (you can compare it to Dean Obeidallah's subsequent, douchy non-apology).

In non-apologies, see Beyonce's clueless statement about the Challenger clip.

Tuesday morning roundup

Urban refugees pose a whole different set of challenges, even though the camps are no picnic.

Pollution in China is threatening its food supply.

Entrepreneurs seek out India's islands of excellence.

Do Orwellian law names distort the legislation itself?

Carolyn on helping friends through tough times (key: concrete activities and/or favors).

Frank Bruni on thinking before you tweet, and maybe taking a break from talking to read/listen more. He's not alone, but his point is better argued. (Actually, by the top of the third page of that second link, I thought the writer really should embrace 'less is more' as a writing concept.)

Slate appears to be obsessed with mayonnaise (and vegenaise).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Targeted junk mail

I remember a joke (or at least an entry) on Russian Girl Problems along the lines of, "your grandfather sorts through junk mail saying, chto onyi ot myenya khotyat? [What do they want from me?] To give you an idea of just how Russian this is, it's essentially what mom is doing now: going through junk mail, which has gotten very elaborate ("gifts" from charities) and wondering aloud about why they send it to her. Must be because they have a big enough mailbox to fit all that stuff, so the mail carriers, not knowing what to do with it, leave it with her.

I really wish mom weren't losing her mind.

Monday evening roundup

Ten women in science we lost this year.

Massachusetts, the District, and Virginia are your best bet for decent broadband in the U.S.

Quick Monday afternoon roundup

What he said:
The New Yorker's selections for its year in photojournalism are poignant and powerful (and not for the weak). 

On the topic of evil industries not to support: cocaine. "There’s no such thing as cruelty-free cocaine."

Monday morning ramble, continued

I'll be working (volunteering) backstage again in January after a much-needed three-month hiatus. Burnout was one reason I needed the break, but (offstage) drama was the other. I'd alluded to it in the RM Redux post, and it's not the main point here, either, but it was part of my need to stay the hell away from something that had become a source of joy, fun, and community.

If you're wondering where the continuity is with the previous ramble: the thread is selective outrage and offense. I looked for, unsuccessfully, Tina Fey's quote about how you can barely do comedy right without offending someone. Jezebel has articulated the key to socially-astute comedy: mock the right party. Or at least make light of things in a way that make people think, not in a way that reinforce oppressive social structures. "Avenue Q" did that brilliantly (see, for example, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist.")

Monday morning roundup and first ramble

It's a slow news morning; all I have for you link-wise is this column on efficient dishwashing. You may also check out Andrew Weiss's piece on Russia's still-powerful oligarchy.

With that, I wanted to articulate some more detailed thoughts about Nottowaygate. The bottom line is that absolutely it was a bad "idea," but it wasn't an idea; it was a confluence of circumstances that grew into a bad situation that gobbled up in an internet smear campaign. At stake, together with the much more minor Kevin Smith kerfuffle, is whether we can preserve any part of the internet for intelligent debate about things without immediately reducing the discourse to ad-hominem attacks. So here are my thoughts, in bullets:
  • Yes, much of the South, like much of the country and much of the world, is built on slavery. In other words, I agree with this:
 i believe that one cannot draw a line around the nottoway plantation and say "racism reached it's depths of wrongness here" and then point to the other side of that line and say "but not here".
But the issue with the location is not solely its history; it is the way the plantation's current management whitewashes its history. There's a guy who goes around traveling to historical slave dwellings for the real, brutal history. That's the opposite of how Nottoway paints its history.
  • It is also true that may any of us whose daily behaviors in no way contribute to exploitation, cast the first stone. This does not invalidate the statement above--that Nottoway is not a business to support--but this does compel the stone-casters to think about their own purchasing decisions. I respect the following statement:
it is a very imperfect world we live in and i, like everyone else, am just trying to do my best to negotiate it.
And would have to point out that my standards for negotiating it fall short of Ani's, since I would only deem two of the corporations she mentioned as evil. Which comes back to the key point: we all pick our battles and set our own lines in terms of whom we let profit from our work (as well as our purchases). 
  • Yeah she and her people could have, should have vetted better, but they didn't, and--again with this--I'm sure we've all been there. So her question--should hatred be spit at her for this mistake--is the key issue here. And it comes down to two issues, one of which is irrelevant (does she "deserve" it) and the second of which is the only one that matters: is it constructive? Also not constructive is the tone of Buddy Wakefield's message, but there is truth in it:
I think it'd be most productive for y'all to continue assuming the absolute worst, don't you dare ask thoughtful questions as to how this really went down, venomously insult Ani and her years of efforts, then write as many demolishing statements and articles as possible in an effort to eternally shackle her to this oversight. If forgiveness is off the menu, consider compassion and the possibility of extenuating circumstances before discounting 20+ years of sincere activism. I think it's pretty safe to say all the artists involved are amply bummed about the situation, and that your hateful approaches/vitriolic statements/narrow understanding of how things transpired have safely arrived to our inboxes. I happen to know that given all the facts I/we were otherwise not privy to, Ani is cancelling. You can all go feed on someone else's mistakes very soon.
It doesn't serve us--us being the community who cares about things (social justice, for example) to cannibalize each other over mistakes, or to hurl insults in 140 characters instead of actually discussing the issues. Just sayin'.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Response to comments

You guys think it's funny but do you know what it feels like to eat so much cabbage all the time?

Just kidding. I think it's funny, too.

But seriously: keep in mind that I belong to a farm share, and there was plenty of cabbage to dispatch from that, too. It's a wonder that no one's asked me when I'm due.

Quantum mechanics continues to ruin my life

Mom is going on and on and on and on about a late family friend. She's going on repetitively, too, the same way she goes on about our late cat ("she was such a good cat, and I'll never forgive myself for feeding her canned food. She wouldn't let me leave her side when she was dying. I had to go to the bathroom, and she just screamed. Someone rang the doorbell to try to sell us compact fluorescents, and I was so worried that I couldn't get rid of her to be with the cat.") And so on. She probably goes through this every day.

I know that learning patience--special mom patience, special mom-Alzheimer's patience--is changing the way I listen to her. You'll recall that I've had good reason over the years to tune out my mother (and to tell her that she's already told me something), and I've become very good at it. But I have to listen in the 'because she's talking' sense, which means moving away from the 'I already have this information and I don't need you to repeat it' model. The issue is when they overlap in the realm of, "I wouldn't mind your repeating this except I don't think it's good for you anyway."

Anyway, I was reading my xmas present (dad gave this to me on xmas because he has taken to teaching me about electricity):
My Xmas present
I've been taking it one section at a time, just got to magnetism. Dad disclaimed when he gave me the book that it was 'primitive' but still helpful. I've been remarking, as I go along, that I'm pretty sure some of it is quite wrong (but the book is admittedly helpful nonetheless).


Ani's mediocre response (defensive but she raises legitimate questions) and Buddy Wakefield's lesser one, which nonetheless makes a few legitimate points (about the internet $hitstorms we've been discussing over the last week, largely in response to Justine Sacco). In this case, I was disappointed to see Lizz Winstead jump on the bandwagon (again, not over content).

What about my butt?

Mom: Why is your belly protruding?
A.: Cabbage.
Mom: What about your butt?
A.: [Shrug.]

Not becoming my mother (on bitterness)

For all the trouble that mom has remembering what was said or decided within the last twenty seconds, she has an excellent memory for epic, soap-operatic stories. And one of the hardest things about retraining myself to be patient with her because Alzheimer's is that I don't want to hear any of these epic dramas once, much less listen to them over and over and over again. I don't mind having six conversations in three minutes about where we got the bread, but I can't stand to let her go on about how I.'s daughter has picked a string of losers.

And that's a recent story; she's carried the baggage of some stories for as long as I can remember--I remember, even as a child, overhearing her as she gossiped on the phone or in person and thinking, "doesn't she have anything better to talk about than other people's personal drama?" Mom has always loved to take sides and to invest a lot of emotional energy in her chosen side (and against the unchosen one), and I've only recently noticed just how much it must weigh her down and how absurd (and Manichean) her side-taking is in the first place. This is partly because she's turned against so many family friends (and also, me). She has a perceived enemy of the month. Each of Nina's parents has held the honor, as have both of dad's closest childhood friends. There's always some story about how someone wronged someone in an unforgivable way. She's tried to get me interested in the neighbors' family soap opera, and I don't particularly care, but I also don't mind that much because it's not a story that brings out rancor in her.

Tom Nichols (and Jan Rooth) on expertise

Rather than take on Tom Nichols' post in its entirety I'll point you to Jan Rooth's comment (and ensuing string). There's much that I, too, agree with, and some that I disagree with. With regard to this,
If done properly, a PhD certifies that you are capable of conducting research to particular standards in your field, that you have contributed new knowledge to your field, and that you have an independent ability to frame questions and conduct serious, long-term analytical projects to answer them. That is a non-trivial set of skills, and to dismiss that level of intellectual training when arguing with a PhD is just plain hubris, and an unwise strategy for debate.
All I can say is, meh. Excepting the physical sciences, and other fields where PhDs make more sense, I just don't see it (and I haven't seen it in my professional experience). I've worked with PhDs who could barely move sentences around, much less frame questions.

Update: a different random quote came up when I clicked on the article a second time, and it was this one:
Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the universe.— Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday afternoon roundup

Neil Gaiman writes women by writing people and Kevin Smith won't stand for misogynists. Actually, it's worth reading his entire post.

There are constructive and thoughtful ways to write about the Nottoway Plantation clusterf*, and they're not on Twitter.

For the gazillionth time, feminism isn't a full-time, all-consuming exercise in ideological purity and commitment. I'm not even going to link to my earlier posts on the topic because there have been so many, so recently.

I had a full blog post on this recently and then I deleted it because I felt bad, but now I'm sick of the whiners. Look, I'm sorry that you ladies can't fit into your seats and that some people judge you for it. I'm not judging you, but as one of you pointed out,
if people pay for a service, it's the seller's obligation to accommodate those people and provide the service they paid for.
Well, I've paid for a full seat, so you'll forgive me if I'm less than thrilled that you'll be taking up some of it? It's not about you; it's about your infringing upon my space. If you need two seats, buy two seats; don't just take some of mine.

The least f*ed up conversations we had over breakfast

Mom: We have to get on Skype, now!
A.: This minute?
Mom: Olga loves squirrels.
A.: Are there no squirrels in Russia?
Mom: Not really; they'd be hunted for fur. What a savage concept!
A.: If it's such a savage concept, why do you wear fur?
Mom: Should I throw away Natasha's coat?
A.: No, but if you're gonna wear fur, don't be surprised that people hunt squirrels.
Mom: I'm not surprised.
Dad: These are unrelated concepts. Fur is an ancient tradition.
A.: Huh?
Mom: All those potatoes are going to make you fat.
A.: No they're not.
Mom: You have a belly.
A.: That's because we've been eating four servings of cabbage a day, in its various forms.
Mom: Cabbage is good for you.
Dad: If Russia didn't have cabbage, the whole country would be malnourished.
A.: I'm not knocking cabbage; just saying, it's why my gut is out to the moon. It's not because of potatoes.
Mom: If potatoes don't make you fat, what does?
A.: The half-pint of cream you put in your oatmeal.
Mom: Cream is good for you!
A.: [Sigh.]

Sunday morning roundup

Civilians caught in the South Sudanese crossfire don't particularly know or care what the conflict is supposed to be about.

Russia's getting more business-friendly (which is something but not much).

Meet Seattle's elected socialist.

How do you represent your demons?
One way to think about demons (if you happen not to believe in supernatural evil) is that they are a way of representing human hatred, rage and failure — the stuff we all set out to exorcize in our New Year’s resolutions. The anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere, who grew up in Sri Lanka, got a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and, eventually, a job at Princeton, once remarked that all humans deal with demons. (He was quoting Dostoyevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” — “In every man, of course, a demon lies hidden.”) The only question, he said, was whether the demons were located in the mind, where Freud placed them, or in the world. It is possible that identifying your envy as external and alien makes it easier to quell.
Even life-coaches themselves admit that they pretty much advise the obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be pointed out. And they really can reconcile science with spirituality:
Ms. Beck interjected that the biggest mistake you can make is to accept your beliefs without challenging them, without applying the scientific method to see if they are, in fact, true. And many of the men, she said, were assuming that they had to do things a certain way: ignore passion in favor of safer bets, act stoic amid inner turmoil, run on an upward trajectory of success and money acquisition at any emotional cost. But these are not rules. These are just theories that haven’t been tested. And, because the way we do anything is the way we do everything, there’s no way she was going to ignore the metaphor from this pile of feces.
“You have to poke the poop,” Ms. Beck told the men. “You can’t just make assumptions about it. There’s no substitute for poking the poop.”
Timothy Egan's words to leave behind.

Cracked rounds up some super-sarcastic Amazon reviews for you.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday evening roundup

India is a crazy-dangerous place for women.

DC has gotten richer, more expensive.

Archbishop Tutu wants you to be kinder and more just to animals.

Could someone explain to me why anybody bothers to interview Camille Paglia?

Facebook has outgrown teenagers.

Saturday morning roundup

India's issues with its own diaspora are apparently a big driver of the latest diplomatic kerfuffle.

Russia's crackdown on homosexuality is a crackdown on its own identity crisis.

Could the various renewables please quit cannibalizing each other?

Online vigilantism doesn't serve us.

Friday, December 27, 2013

You always have to do everything right

A.: I killed another moth today.
Mom: What's your point?
A.: My point is you should eat the food you have before stockpiling more food.
Mom: What, you don't have moths?
A.: No. I don't leave anything out for them to eat. My flours are in the freezer and fridge and I go through my grains before buying more.
Mom: You always have to do things so right, and that's not right.
A.: I just don't want moths eating my food.
Mom: So what! Moths! Whatever.

This is why I should watch TV

Mom: What about the cat?
A.: Cats are supposed to be carnivores; we don't really have a choice on that one.
Mom: What does she like?
A.: I get her seafood for food, and her toothpaste is poultry-flavored. There's no actual poultry in it, though.
Dad: Like that turtle soup you wouldn't have!
A.: Turtle... tortilla!
Dad: What's "tortilla?"

I explain tortillas.

Dad: The point is, there's no chicken in that, either.
A.: Chicken broth is the first ingredient.
Dad: So? We tried it; it tastes like bathwater. I doubt there's real chicken in there.
A.: If it tastes like bath water, why were you trying to get me to try it?
Dad: [Shrug.]
Mom: Who cares if there's chicken?
A.: I do.
Mom: This is what it's come to.
A.: Weren't you looking at good-looking, live chickens today?  Why would you eat those?
Dad: That's their purpose in life.
Mom: Who's going to raise them if not to eat? When did you fill your head with these ideas?
A.: Over twenty years ago.
Mom: Did you know that your president is conspiring to be president for life?
A.: This has what to do with chicken broth?
Mom: He's letting in hordes of illegal immigrants so that they'll vote for him, forever. They reported it late at night.
A.: Vote for him for what? He's not running for anything again.
Mom: He'll change the rules. He's fixing it so that he'll be president for life. I can't believe you haven't heard about this. This is what happens when you don't watch TV.
A.: Are you serious?
Mom: Watch the news!
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: He has it all figured out. But if he does it, they'll impeach him. That's why we have to have the TV on all the time: I want to know when he'll be impeached.
A.: You're serious.
Mom: He has it all planned out.

How attractive is your laugh?

Mom: You're less beautiful than you once were. You've lost beauty. Are you listening? Are you laughing or crying?
A.: Laughing.
Mom: You have a horribly unattractive laugh.

How attractive is your laugh? Find out by reading about what people stuck into their orifices this year.

Blah, blah, blah...

Mom and dad are back. As soon as they left, I did a sweep and threw out any crap I could tell was extraneous, but I told dad that there was some stuff I left alone and it was up to him to decide its fate. Then I made a salad. I didn't go with them specifically so I could (1) throw out crap and (2) hear myself think. There's not a minute of peace or quiet with mom around. Which is what we're back to.

Mom: You were so good as a child. You're losing any beauty you had, you know. And it could still serve you. If your mother doesn't say it to you, nobody will.

I missed some of it since I started typing, so here's what I got:

Mom: Staring at the computer again blah blah blah wasting your genes blah blah blah hurts my soul to see you blah blah blah how did you turn out this way blah blah blah.

I'm lazy, too

Mom: You're just like your father: you're lazy. All you do is stare at that machine. And you're a slob! We tidied up before you got here, and you've already made a mess. Why can't you take that book upstairs?
A.: Because I'm reading it.
Mom: You're reading it now?
A.: I read it all the time.
Mom: Unbelievable! I don't know whom you take after. I mean, your father's lazy but he has redeeming qualities.


Mom: Unbelievable! Instead of going outside, she's going to stare at that machine. It's just not healthy. Unbelievable.

Mom rambles as I read

Mom: Nobody else will tell you the truth about yourself. You exude no warmth. Only cold. You see nothing that's important. You can consider that you didn't hear me, but you will get it; it will register. Sooner or later you will remember what I said and know that I'm right. You're all brains, with no room left for anything human. No warmth, nothing.

Mom: How is your friend?
A.: Huh?
Mom: She, thank goodness, got married and had a baby. You know whom I'm talking about.
A.: You could be referring to a number of my friends.
Mom: You know who!
A.: I don't. I need more information.
Mom: You know whom I'm talking about!

Mom is now going on and on and on about how women shouldn't work full time and I'm the only one with that problem. Meanwhile, I'm wasting her good genes.

Mom: Your dad has okay genes, but I have excellent ones. And they're going to waste! You're wasting them!

Dad comes in, takes as much as he can.

Dad: What are you on about??
Mom: I can see it. I speak the truth. I can't get through to her because her heart is enveloped in coldness. If I don't say it, no one will. She is pure coldness.


Mom: Such genes, going to waste!

Clown pants

Mom: You exude the coldness of a know-it-all. [Pause.] Come visit more often.

This proceeded a fight over a pair of size-8 jeans that mom dug up and deemed to be "unique" and valuable.

A.: No.
Mom: Try them on.
A.: I can tell by looking at them that they're too big.
Mom: Try them on!

I got up, tried the jeans on over my pants. Mom thought they looked great.

A.: Hell no.
Mom: They fit.
A.: They're huge. They look like clown pants.
Dad: That they do.
Mom: Lose weight so you can wear them, because they're great pants.
A.: Losing weight is not going to help me with these.
Mom: Yes it will. I am holding on to these in case you change your mind.
A.: I won't change my mind.
Mom: Yes you will. They're unique.
A.: That they are not.
Mom: You have terrible taste.
A.: Weren't we going somewhere?

Mom: You're cold. [Pause.] You should read "The Little Prince." We raised such a monster. Maybe you'll understand when you get older.

Reflections on vacuum cleaners

The following conversations have taken place over the last five days.

A.: This vacuum cleaner doesn't do anything.
Dad: That's not true; it makes a lot of noise.

A.: It's ridiculously weak. Can I please buy you a new vacuum cleaner for New Year's?
Dad: We have a dozen vacuum cleaners.
A.: But none of them work.
Dad: This is true.

A.: I feel bad. I just got an excellent vacuum cleaner but it's almost wasted at my house; I don't produce or accumulate nearly as much dirt. And I have a cat.
Dad: [Shrug.]

I am not OCD. It's true that (1) owning my home and (2) spending a lot of money on replacing things--and ending up with brand-new things (like floors) has inspired me to take better care of things, which includes keeping them clean, but I've never been a cleanliness-is-near-godliness person. Except maybe with food messes, and that's more because I don't need bugs cleaning up my mess for me.

But I could never, ever, ever let dust get to the point it is here at my parents' house, where the dust bunnies look like they're about to unionize. I vacuum once a week--and toward the end of that week is when I start to see dust starting to accumulate, and I can barely take it. I don't know how they coexist with all these dust bunnies.

Friday almost-noon roundup

Voyager I's transmitter has the power of a refrigerator light bulb. Also: eight-track data recorders.

Richard Kim's take on DuckDynastyGate is the smartest I've seen.

National stereotypes are pretty inaccurate.

Leaf-blowers are bad for the environment.

Still cold (like my coffee, apparently)

Dad: Do you like cold coffee?
A.: I am drinking my coffee, dammit!
Mom: What is wrong with you? He asked you calmly.
A.: Why do I have to answer for the pace at which I sip my coffee?
Mom: You've gotten cold, and that's not right. You do everything so cerebrally, so logically. You pick your food cerebrally.
A.: I wonder what Gracie's up to. Probably snuggling up to her minder.
Mom: Because you don't fulfill her emotional needs; you're too cold. She senses that. Cats need love. You exude a coldness. That of a know-it-all. Don't think you know everything.
A.: Okay.

I (still) exude coldness

"You exude coldness."

Mom managed to get that out not once, but twice, in the course of my yoga routine. Which I started before she'd gotten out of bed, but it's like she has a sixth sense for these things. So she came down and proceeded to talk to me the whole time.

Mom: You lucked out with your parents; don't think for a second that the credit for your brains, is yours. You exude coldness. I think I've told you that before. You exude the coldness of a know-it-all. You have to do everything right, which isn't right. You may not respond but I know I'm getting through to you; I know something is registering. It's not right to be all brain and no heart. The heart is the most important thing we have. Only the heart can really see. I know you can hear me.

There were a few minutes of quiet only random observations ("that painting doesn't look right over there;" "look at how low the sun is;" etc.) and then she picked up again on the coldness.

"You exude coldness."

I exude, among other things, the signals of an introvert who would prefer not to be spoken to at the moment, or maybe just the mindset of someone doing yoga, which is to want to do yoga in peace and quiet. Given mom's health, I've chosen to merely ignore her rather than call her out. But perhaps you would like to review the history of her commenting on my coldness:

Cold, unfeeling;
It's my problem;
Something happened;
I'm very serious;
I'd choke someone if given the opportunity.
I emit no warmth.

Also: the story of another woman whose mother branded her 'cold'.

Friday morning roundup

The Turkish government turns on its judiciary.

There may not be a plethora of employment opportunities in Bulgaria, but it's not like much of Western Europe is brimming with hot jobs right now.

Ununoctium's sordid history.

David Brooks suggests we revisit the Pinker-Wieseltier debates on science and scientism. He also points to Caitrin Nicol's essay on the souls of elephants.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Quick Thursday afternoon roundup

All sides of this are so stupid. The column is stupid, the comments are stupid. The imagined white-feminist fear of Beyonce is stupid, but we need more intelligent discourse about these issues than any social media platform has thus far provided.

I'd like to see more on the science of vegan baking.

This worm is a dickhead.

Eat your oatmeal

Mom: You emit a coldness. [Pause.] You emit the coldness of a know-it-all. This makes things difficult for you. I think I've told you that before.

That was preceded by this:

Mom: A.!
A.: Just a minute.
Mom: A.!
A.: I'm coming.
Mom: A.!
A.: What?
Mom: Did you turn off the radio?
A.: You'd left.
Mom: I can't believe you turned off the radio. Russian Radio is much better than what you listen to.
A.: There was nobody in the room.
Mom: I just went to take a shower!
A.: Right. So I turned off the radio,
Mom: How could you turn off the radio?
A.: There was no one here. Are you ready for breakfast now? Do you want oatmeal.
Mom: I love oatmeal. Your father never makes oatmeal.

On the way downstairs, mom continued to complain about how obnoxious of me it was to have turned off the radio. I turned off the radio (again), followed her downstairs, and made oatmeal. She always pours kefir over her oatmeal, which makes it cold, and then complains about how it's cold. The key is to get her to eat the oatmeal right away so that it's at least lukewarm, but she often gets distracted. So the latter comment--about my cold disposition--came after I asked her to eat her still-hot oatmeal before picking at everything else that was around.

Thursday morning roundup

There definitely has to be a better system, than the default to emergency rooms, for mental health treatment.

I'm sick of bok choy and find it to be a pretty useless vegetable. Then again, 'pretty useless' is how I've always found Barbara Damrosch's columns (remember 'got an unannounced vegan? go pick some veggies from your garden!'?).

Speaking of useless writers, here's Gawker's list of 2013's least important writers. I appreciate most of the designations (though, as I always say about Friedman, he's good when he writes about what he knows: the Middle East; otherwise, he really is just regurgitating the same column), to the extent that I've heard of them. Occasionally Kathleen Parker comes out with something coherent, but most of the time--including her latest--I just think, what on earth was the point of that? Don't get me started on Elizabeth Wurtzel (or Richard Cohen). I had not heard of Stephen Marche, but holy crap. And he may not be the worst at Esquire.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Of children's books and triplet states

Mom: I'm jealous that [Nina's family] has so many grandchildren. We have none.

I did not say, "I'm jealous that their mother doesn't say shitty things to them all the time."

Mom: I did a great job picking your father. Only he would put up with you.

At some point between those statements, she got another political rant in. The whole time, I bounced a salt-and-pepper shaker stand to which I tied a rubber band.

Mom: We read to you all the time when you were little. Don't think it's of your own devices that you're so smart. It's thanks to us.
A.: Do you know how smart I am? I work on things for which I struggle to understand the underlying technologies. This has sort of bothered me; because it's there, I want to understand it. I don't feel inferior for not understanding; I just wish I understood.

Just bouncing this salt shaker thing off this rubber band reminds me that I never got the mathematics behind springs. And that bothers me. Except, as I'm bouncing this now, I realize that part of me doesn't give a $hit. No puppies will ever be harmed because I don't understand how springs work.

You know what else? When I was last backstage, I started wondering about glow strips: why do they glow, and why does flashing a light on them, refresh them? So I looked up phosphorescence, and thought about closing the page as soon as I came across the phrase, "quantum mechanics," because that $hit just makes my head hurts, but I thought, 'no, I want to see how much of this I can understand.' Or at least how much I can read without wanting to slam my head against the wall. Which turned out to be the term, "triplet state." That was the sign that it was time to close the page. I accept my intellectual limitations, and they are way short of triplet states.

[For those of you who care: here's another interesting but not-understood-by-me reference to multiplets.]

Mom blames the Jews

We set out to [Nina's parents' place].

Mom: We'll stop at Ocean State Job Lot (OSJL) on the way back.
A.: It's closed.
Mom: It's always open.
A.: Everything's closed today.
Mom: Look at this! The roads are empty. Where is everyone?
A.: It's Christmas.
Mom: Everything really is closed, huh. That's a tragedy.
Dad: Especially OSJL.
A.: Now, now. The tragedy is that Jesus had to die for our sins.
Mom: He was Jewish, right?
Dad: On his mother's side, at the very least.

At [Nina's parents' place], Nina's mother (Natasha) asked me to help her bring down a fur coat. There was some confusion as to whom she was trying to give it to. She tried to clarify that she wouldn't even think of offering it to me, but mom insisted that I try it on so that she wouldn't have to try it on. I refused.

Natasha: When Nina was little, she came home from school one day and told me that if she ever saw me in a fur coat, she'd kill me.
Mom: Idiocy! That's what we get in Obama's America.
Nina's dad: That was definitely the issue when Nina was in second grade.
Mom: Just try it on!
A.: I don't want to!
Mom: If you don't try it on, it will have died for nothing.
A.: It's already dead.
Mom: That's my point. I have a headache.
A.: Because you're yelling.
Mom: No, I'm choking on the poisoned air of Obama's America. [To Natasha] I'll never forgive you for voting for him.
Natasha: Okay.

Natasha, to me: Your hair looks great up. You should always wear it up.
A.: Thank you. [To mom] Did you hear that?
Mom: What?
A.: My hair looks great up.
Mom: No it doesn't.

Nina's brother (Paul) put on an apron and started making something. His son, Ben, came downstairs (he was in the shower when we came in). Mom asked him who he was, and started lecturing me about how they had it right and it was time for me, too, to have children. Natasha told her that I was an adult who could manage my own life, and she and mom started arguing.

At some point, all hell broke loose. There were three sets of conversations going on at once, and I couldn't follow any of them. There was a lot of absurdity flying around, and I felt the need to take notes. Everyone must have seen me grab a pen and then get up in search of paper, but nobody bothered to notice, or dared to ask, about my taking notes.

Mom, to Nina's dad: We've known each other forever. You used to say that I was charming.
Nina's dad: You were charming, then. You had your own self to focus on, with the skydiving and motorcycling. I never knew what you were going to do next. Now you're focusing on someone else.
Mom: We need a smarter next generation! We need the next generation to vote against Obama.

Everyone bursts out laughing.

Mom: Seriously. I blame the Jews. [To me.] You think you're so smart on your own? We gave you smart genes. It's because you're a quarter Russian. The Jews voted for Obama. You can't trust them with anything. They betrayed Christ.

Everyone bursts out laughing again.

Mom: Your father wanted a boy. He was wrong. I was right.
Dad: You realize she's three-quarters Jewish?
Mom: So? She's a quarter Russian.

I didn't expect to find these

A.: WTF??

Dad: What are those?

A.: "hemorrhoidal suppositories" that expired in 1987.

Mom: Oh, I think I got those as a sample at one point.

A.: Can we throw them out please?

Dad: Let's.

Mom was a mathlete who could never really write

After a bout of slamming doors and ruing the day she birthed me, mom calmed down and sat down for coffee. Dad makes coffee with one of those Italian things, so he can only make so much at a time. He was debating whether to make more coffee.

Dad: Are you satisfied in terms of coffee?
A.: I am. How do you spell "satisfied"?

"Satisfied" (удовлетворенный) is a big, consonant-heavy word in Russian (transliteration: udovletvorennyy). (That's the male form; udovletvorennya is the female).

Dad spelled it, talked about how when they were in school, it was on the grading scale.

Dad: I always had excellent grades in everything except handwriting, because I was a slob. Not for my handwriting, but for getting the ink all over the place.
Mom: I was always really good at math--I was in all kinds of math competitions. And I was always terrible at writing.
Dad: Always. It's like you refused to try.
Mom: S. [her first manager in the U.S.] asked me if I ever actually learned to write in English, but I told him I didn't write much better in Russian.
Dad: Irina [a family friend], who, as you know, used to teach language arts, once saw one of your mother's letters and was horrified. I think she used the word "ashamed."

Mom's in a mood

Mom: Did you hear what I wanted to say?
A.: What you wanted to say?
Mom: I said it.
A.: Then I heard it.
Mom: What did you hear?
A.: Nothing worth repeating.
Mom: I've had it with your backtalk. We did everything right, and all we got was you!

Mom: Don't visit anymore!
A.: Fine.
Mom: I won't visit you either!
A.: Okay.
Mom: If you're going to have a superiority complex, sit there on your own and stew in it.
A.: Okay.

Here are some things I could say to mom in response to her thoughts on my having children:

  • You had a kid. How'd that work out for you?
  • But I already have a cat on whom I can heap emotional abuse, which is what, according to your logic, mothers are for.
  • You do realize that if I do have children, you're not coming near them?


It's been a rough season for retailers, and I can't help but at least partly attribute that to the end of stuff.

[I interrupt this post to let you know that mom is lecturing me (from two rooms away) about failing the family in neglecting to have reproduced. This may be the [second] year that I decide it's time to stop visiting my parents. She is continuing to rant: "it's just disrespectful to your parents; I'll disinherit you." (Hasn't she already? I was sort of counting on that). "Yelena is pursuing her singing career instead of having kids, and she can't even sing!"]

The interruption and the original post came from the same source--our friends (Nina's parents), whose grandchildren, incidentally, are arriving tonight, are packing up to move (locally) and have invited us over to pick at stuff that they don't want. My parents are all over it. All I can think is, "don't you have enough crap?"

Earlier this morning, mom tried to foist upon me a bunch of unopened, untouched linens. She kept telling me about how she'd bought them when a high-end store was going out of business. She thinks she got a great deal, but from my perspective, she just wasted money, since she never used them. Mom has always been one to set value externally, i.e., based on how something is supposedly priced. I set value based on what something will add (or take away) from my life. If you don't need something, you're not going to need it at a lower price.

It's kind of funny--I mean, it's always been absurd--that mom likes to say that I care too much about what other people think. It's always been absurd because I don't, but it's even more absurd because she does. She's the same way with clothes--"try this, it's very trendy"--and I always say, "but it's not me. I don't want it." It's like she doesn't understand the concept of not wanting something that "everyone else" supposedly values (or so say the marketers).

Oh, here she goes again:

Mom: I'll disinherit you!
A.: Please do!
Mom: Don't you know that you have to respect your parents? This is our fault. We spoiled you.
Dad: Then why are you taking it out on her now?
Mom: It was one thing when she was little. She's an adult now.

Xmas morning roundup

Wyoming's abandoned natural gas wells.

Jatropha seeds for jet fuel and more?

Addiction is something to help people overcome, not to judge them over. (Like I said, I only judge when there's hypocrisy).

Aww, Gary Shteyngart drops all the right memories of a secular Russian-Jewish Xmas: the non-denominational holiday tree, that cabbage soup smell, caramel cow candy.., and more. But especially, the disconnect between the recent immigrants--for whom poverty is a reality and not a cutesy pretense, and for whom profound Judaism is as foreign as Christianity--and those who'd immigrated generations ago:
We can’t do Christmas because we’re Jewish, and we never really get the full gist of Hanukkah beyond the candle lighting and the spiel about Jews conquering Greeks. New Year’s remains our holiday. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

What does this have to do with Christmas Eve?

Mom: Your Aunt Sonya--she married mom's brother, and was very proud of him, even bragged about how he'd never met a whore he could pass up. Mom liked her... she didn't like his first wife; she was of that nationality mom didn't care for... the anti-Semites...
Dad: Poles.
Mom: Right. But Aunt Sonya was family. She was a large woman--tall, with a big, solid rear-end--from Odessa. Everyone at Kuznechny Market knew her. The first time she and my uncle "spent the night" together, she wasn't impressed and she let him know. He said he was just constrained by the fact that her sister was asleep right next to them on the other side of the bed. That's the way it was those days--everyone shared a one-bedroom apartment with the rest of the family. Anyway--why am I telling you this?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: I mean, what does this have to do with Christmas Eve?
A.: I have no idea.
Mom: It was too bad, when they divorced, we didn't get to see her anymore. He also remarried, and they ended up in the same apartment building as the other couple. What does this have to do with Christmas Eve?
Dad: [Shrug.]
Mom: He never did meet a whore he didn't like. But I don't know what any of this has to do with Christmas Eve.

Mom just called me useless by virtue of being childless

Mom: To not eat vegetables because there's mayonnaise on them!
A.: I've never actually liked mayonnaise.
Mom: But it's so good.
A. [Shrug.]
Mom: I don't understand how we raised someone to be so dogmatic. We're both so open-minded.

That conversation repeated itself several times throughout the course of dinner. It proceeded a rant about how I wouldn't go to the Russian store with them and how unbelievable it was that I could live in a place without one. I actually had to fight (earlier) to not go. Dad and I had already gone to pick up mom's prescription, and then to pick up his dentures. So we'd been out and about and I'd had it (and I hate the Russian store).

Mom: Why not?
A.: Because I don't feel like it.
Mom: Sit at home later.
A.: I want to sit at home now.
Mom: I don't understand.
A.: I'm not going.
Mom: Why not?
A.: Because. I. Don't. Feel. Like. It.

But I digress. Over dinner, she started talking about a friend who always sends her a holiday card, in which he lists his kids and grandkids.

Mom: Where are our grandkids? You're pretty useless.
A.: [Shrug.]

I do leave you with some thoughts from Carolyn.

Mom and dad blog

Just now

Mom: I don't get it. Apart from political correctness, can you explain to me why you won't have kefir? You were raised on it. In [the countryside outside of St. Petersburg where my parents went on weekends] when you were little, there was one cow for the whole village. And a goat.
A.: The kefir you're having now isn't from a cow in a village. It's probably from a factory farm...
Mom [continues to go on for about half an hour about cows in villages.]

She breaks to complain about the president and how she can't believe that her friend who voted for him could be such an idiot. Then she asks me whether my political correctness would permit me to have coffee.

When I was merely a vegetarian, either parent occasionally threw in a dig, and certainly some of their friends would engage me in spirited argument over how it was pointless or misguided--and occasionally tried to "tempt" me with a non-vegetarian food--but my parents pretty much accepted it as the state of affairs. There were, of course, conversations like the one that happened last night, where they would argue with me over whether something was vegetarian:

Dad: We have this soup [in a carton].
A.: It has chicken broth in it.
Dad: Nah, it doesn't taste like chicken broth.
A.: And yet, chicken broth is first in the list of ingredients.
Dad: Shrug.

It's gotten worse, though; being vegan, I have to renegotiate every single food.

Dad: We got these mushroom pelmyenyi [turnovers, actually] at Trader Joe's.
A.: They have cream in them.
Dad: Can't be a lot of cream.
A.: They also have gelatin, so they're not even vegetarian.

Mom: You must try this.
A.: I don't eat that.
Mom: You won't at least try it? It's heavenly.
A.: I've had tzatzike before.
Mom: Where?
A.: I don't know. In Greece and Turkey, for example? At every Mediterranean restaurant before I stopped eating dairy.
Mom: It's so good.
A.: [Shrug.]

I noticed a small bag of shitake mushrooms on the counter.

A.: Why did you buy shitake mushrooms? You wouldn't stop complaining about them when I made (miso) soup with them instead of the mushrooms you gave me.
Mom: Please! What an absurd thing to complain about.

Mom: That hairstyle ages you.
A.: It's not a hairstyle.
Mom: Then what is it?
A.: It's a way of keeping my hair out of my face.

Oh, the Fox News.

Mom did try really hard, cleaned up before I got here. The guestroom was passable (unlike last time). Mom was really glad I noticed how nice and neat everything was.

Dad again tried to explain electricity to me. I sort-of started it:

Dad: What did you do earlier today?
A.: Everything. Cleaned thoroughly. Called my gas company to reject a lock-in rate for natural gas.
Mom: Why?
A.: Because natural gas prices are going nowhere but down for the foreseeable future.
Mom: Isn't that a good thing?
A.: That's complicated, but in terms of residential pricing, the point is, why lock in a higher rate?
Mom: How do you know prices will only go down?
A.: I work on energy-related issues.
Dad: That article you sent me--has that generator been produced yet?
A.: I'm not sure, it's just something I came across at work. [Yes, that's the kind of thing I come across at work now. Dad loves it.] I don't entirely understand it.

So dad starts telling me about generators and potential and stuff. I listened, understood what I could... which wasn't much.

Tuesday morning roundup

The sectarian aspect of Central African Republic's conflict is a manufactured one, but it's real now.

North Korea's in-the-family execution was largely over shellfish.

David Cameron wouldn't pardon Alan Turing??

Is Santa the problem?

I'm disappointed in Suey Park (and in Jamie Kilstein for retweeting uncritically):
It's not about feeling bad for Justine Sacco; it's about death and rape threats being not okay for anyone, ever, no matter how inane their tweets. It's about public discourse, not about whether JS "deserves" to be ridiculed.

In other Twitter controversies: Steve Martin's in-depth explanation/apology.

All this to say, let (s)he who's never spoken or tweeted carelessly cast the first stone.

Robin Givhan on 2013 in fashion.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday roundup

Immigration policy cannot be driven by filling a set number of beds in detention centers.

Unsustainable ag is killing dolphins.
Khordokovsky speaks. Well.

Bill Keller on inequality (and immobility).

Shyness has costs and consequences (but let's be clear that it's distinct from introversion).

What the mob response to Justine Sacco says about the rest of us.

Sometimes it's good to be short (see: air travel).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The ramble (which also turned into a rant)

Since the earlier post turned into a rant, I thought I'd ramble on a new page. The rant and ramble aren't unrelated; picking up with the thing I sort-of closed on--people's need to call you out when you don't conform to the expectations they've created for you based on their own world views and limitations. This will not be the first time I've blogged about this (and my thoughts on the matter are far from original; here's a decent, recent take from Jezebel). I can also refer you to much of Ani DiFranco's early work (and maybe some later work).

I am not a celebrity, so few people care how I do things (eat, wear, groom), but it would behoove those few people to quit reading into it. This isn't actually about me: it would behoove everyone to quit reading into how women dress and groom.

Started as a ramble, turned into a rant

There were a bunch of things I wanted to ramble about over the course of the week, but I was too late/exhausted by the time I got home. Let me try to remember some of them:

(1) DIY as opt-out. I'd blogged earlier, in reference to Emily Matchar's book, about how cooking can be one manifestation of opting out, i.e., the market is not offering me what I want, or if it is, the price is ridiculous, so I'm going to make it myself. This kind of opt-out is my standard operating procedure; I cook well, easily, and doing so gives me more choices at a much lower price. And it frees up money for the things I don't do as well, such as home repair. I would absolutely DIY more around the house if I were more skilled, but I tend to outsource home repair (and improvement) because of the skills-needs mismatch. This is especially true (the preference to DIY, or more specifically, to opt-out) because my latest bouts of outsourced home repair and improvement created problems as they solved: the drywall repair guys scratched the new bathtub, among other things, and made messes of things. It also took too much reminding on my part to get them to finish every part of the job. Then, the painters scratched the bathtub again, after I'd already had it fixed (they weren't supposed to be in there, so I hadn't warned them, but they ended up cleaning their brushes and rollers in the tub). They also painted over the outlet covers and vent. Really? The floor guys chipped the newly painted walls. And so on. Each of these jobs was necessary and overall worth it, i.e., I couldn't have done it myself, but it made me wary of the hassle of relying on people.

Sunday roundup

World-Cup goers are renting rooms in favelas. Soweto's still boycotting its electric bills.

American's openly gay imam.

Dear Washington Post: Can we once again discuss your aversion to fact-checking? You're so good at checking other people's facts; could you maybe apply some of that scrutiny to your own columnists? There was no "runaway reaction that occurred at Fukushima." That's not what happened there, and that matters (although not to George Will's overall point).

The Post's business section today is very historical, but it's interesting reading. Here's a history of the Federal Reserve and a history of the telephone industry.

As trendy (and trite) as it is to slam Washington, doing it probably means you're part of the problem. Most of the people who live and work here (yes, I know, I live just outside the city itself, but still) aren't part of that "This Town" circus; we're anything but monolithic, and most of us--even those of us with policy-related careers--are out of that status-oriented, superficial fray.

I overwhelmingly agree with Peter Singer's message but also leave room for some emotion-driven donations. I've told you in the past that I tend to not give to trendy causes, even if they are legit, because everyone else is, so my place is to keep giving to the places from which others are diverting their donations. I also won't generally give to homeless people on the street, in spite of Stephen Colbert's recent mockery of Bill O'Reilly's (poorly framed) arguments.

I love Carolyn's take on marital obligations (of which self-care is one):
Married people have obligations to each other. It’s the fundamental premise of marriage. If you want absolute personal autonomy, don’t get married. There are limits, of course: Marital obligations don’t eradicate autonomy, they only limit its extent. Tyranny isn’t allowed and self-abnegation isn’t required.

This resonates that much more now that I've been in a relationship where any concerns about the other's bad habits were met with a sometimes avoidant version of "that's just who I am, let me be me."

The first-world problems of overly crafty women who can't help but make xmas a self-imposed hell (I could barely get past the first paragraph but the link is there in case you identify more with that kind of thing and actually care about what they have to say).

Let's all have our laughs at Justine Sacco, but we needn't overdo it.

The mathematician writers could be why I never really got into "The Simpsons."

So many great words! I mean, ag-gag, the thing, is awful, but the fact that it's a word means that it's getting attention for the awful thing that it is. I was also happy to see "bitchy resting face" in there.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Open letter to comment spammers

Dear comment spammers:

The joke's on you guys: very few people read my blog, and almost no one reads older posts--the ones where you try to adapt your comment to the theme. I mean, this is priceless:
I loved this story. The characters were rich and had depth. I enjoyed the evolution of the grandfather and grand daughter's relationship. I also don't know much about the Balcans and it was great to read about that part of the world. I loved how she writes about what the villagers believe about the Tiger's Wife. I also enjoyed the Deathless Man. Great stories! i enjoy digging into this kind of book, cuddling up and reading it. Its a page turner. I read it quickly.
(The link was in the commenter's name; the comment has since been deleted from the post.)

I just got a slightly less wrought spam-comment about zucchini pancakes (let's see if I get it again just for using the term). If you're reading this, comment-spammers, I'll tell you right now that you're wasting your time: no one's going to see your comment--not least because I'll delete it as soon as I'm notified of it--and even if someone did see it, you're not fooling anyone. But you probably won't read this, so you're going to waste your time nonetheless.

Roundup for most of the week, including old tweets

Friedman on the peace process. Here, also, merely out of continuity, is David Brooks' incoherent column on the topic. Actually, it's more continuous with the Times' analytical piece on the POTUS: means well, but it's a bad situation.

By the way, I am truly not one for schadenfreude, but it's difference when there's hypocrisy. I'm not glad that Sarah and David Brooks are divorcing, but I can't help but be a little satisfied that someone who preached about the importance of marriage, gets humbled.

Really, the Times op-ed column to read (besides Friedman's) is Charles Blow's take on Duck Dynasty. He hits it out of the park, i.e., does what a columnist is actually supposed to do: bring out the essence in a complicated situation.

I very recently linked, again, to the 'stupid logic of poor people' piece, and here's another angle on the same theme. As a think white woman, I have to disagree at least from my own experience: I still don't think I can get away with being sloppy. And my first thought is, maybe if I were tall, I could. So I wonder whether we always look toward another factor. But what does resonate is that getting away with sloppiness is a privilege; maybe it is an incremental privilege.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lots of roundup

Lebanese housing for Syrian refugees is not great, nor is refugee life in Bulgaria.

India's gang-rape epidemic persists; woman who tried to be part of the solution was bullied into suicide, in part by her own husband.

Thailand's one-percenters don't care for democracy; Ukraine's pro-government protesters demand payment for their rallying.

Ireland's former upper-middle class is really hurting.

Friedman on Mandela, and POTUS's message to Africa.

Housing costs are out of control, including in DC.

Lots of us have toxic family members.

Don't try too hard to have fun at work. But do be concerned if Ikea is spying on you.
Miss Manners' balanced responses regarding seat usurpers and less than personal holiday cards.

This isn't a particularly interesting column, but the larger issue is compelling: is it good to do good in the name of a flawed organization?

I can't remember what possessed me to share this book review on the causes of World War I, but something did.

I do remember what possessed me to share this book review on Hamilton and Jefferson; it was this quote about the luxury of not keeping up appearances:
But unlike Jefferson, who was born a Virginia gentleman — a status that not even the burden of crushing debt could tarnish — Hamilton began his life in poverty, under a cloud of illegitimacy. Jefferson’s democratic gestures — walking to his inauguration, opening his own door, even greeting guests in his bedroom slippers — were marks of confidence in a man who owned a hilltop mansion, was waited on by slaves and enjoyed the delights of an expensive wine cellar. Hamilton’s elitism, his obsession with personal honor and his pride in his successes were the marks of a man of humble, indeed humiliating, beginnings.
That concept was echoed in Tressiemc's essay on "the stupid logic of poor people" and I recall it intuitively from my just-out-of-college days: this society girl in the office was so proud of how she loved her jogging clothes, and I thought, "must be nice; you can get away with it." And that's how I feel about all sorts of appearances (there are people in this world who can get away with sloppiness, illiteracy; the rest of us have to pay attention to that stuff).

Enjoy Duffel Blog's soldier's response to a first-grader's letter.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday morning ramble

What a pain, what a panic it was, the first time my laptop broke many years ago. I couldn't do anything: check e-mail, check the weather, pay bills. This time, it was anticlimactic (in a good way, I guess); there's not much you can't do on a tablet. Blogging, of course, is a pain--at least linking is. I can ramble all I want and it's only slightly more annoying to do so from an iPad keypad. But do you know what's awesome about the iPad keypad? The global keyboard. I used four different languages (alphabets, I should say) on it over the last week. But I digress. I'll need my laptop back (a new screen is in the mail; it's just a matter of my installing it without breaking anything else) before I make end-of-year donations, much less before I do my taxes. And I'd like to be able to access my music and my pictures and other files. But in terms of internet connectivity, I'm set.

Once the laptop is up and running, I'll compile and share most of the links I've tweeted (or retweeted). There was one especially thought-provoking one. Strike that; given that I've tweeted about factory farming and human rights issues, it would be flippant to describe a blog post on The Frisky about dating as especially thought provoking. But it's the one that's gotten me thinking differently (look, you guys know I think about food policy and human rights; there's not much at this point that makes me think differently about either).

Friday, December 13, 2013

Monday morning roundup

Okay everyone, my laptop is having issues so it's blogging from the iPad... We'll see how this goes...

Grief is an individual and often manageable thing.

How (and how not) to give.

Anne Applebaum calls out the ANC.

Ukraine on the brink.

States point fingers over coal pollution.

If the best case Jose Andres can make for immigration reform is himself, it's best he stick to restauranteuring. Seriously: his places are going downhill in quality.

Carolyn nails the boundaries thing as always.

Perihelion and why the day of the shortest sunset doesn't fall on the solstice.

Who knew: here's another blogosphere tempest in an teapot that was entirely off my radar until now, and I don't even have to pretend to have an opinion about it because, really, I just hate all xmas music (except Joni Mitchell's "River"). I'm going to play it (rather, the Indigo Girls' cover) right now. But here's perhaps the most quotable part of the post:
There are plenty of problematic things that I like -- and recognizing that other people's interpretations of things might also be valid is one of the first steps to liking problematic things without being a jerk about it.
But let's talk about the one aspect of the holidays that I actually like, in theory: holiday cards. When did they become uber-impersonal?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sunday morning roundup (probably Part I)

Dissent is cautiously popping up out in the open in Cuba.

The bible is not the law of the land, nor the basis thereof.

Britain embraces the behavioral science of nudging.

What is a clean house, anyway? The standard shifts as women opt not to pick up the slack.

The Atlantic on why we must look critically at popular science reporting (and how to do so). Which is not to say that we can't uncritically enjoy science photography.

Carolyn nails it in her response to judgy, greedy siblings.

Oh, remember that douche-canoe who wrote that click-baity piece for Slate about how vegetarians should get over themselves and have chicken broth? The thing with douche-canoes is that they're often not that bright or well-informed, and this one in particular scored 296 on Slate's news quiz this week. I can't remember a time where the guest comparison point of the week scored lower than average (this week, that was 326). I scored 442, so suck it, douche-canoe, and keep your chicken broth to yourself.

I'd thought about wading into the two--or two of?--this week's tempests in the blogosphere's teacup, but all I can say about either is 'meh.' When I was browsing Jezebel headlines, I browsed right past the piece on R. Kelly because I couldn't care less, and then noticed a Twitterstorm about Jezebel's epitomizing white, exclusionist feminism. So I went back and read the offending post and the offended comments, and wasn't sure which were dumber; the best comments were, "please tell me you guys are trolling," because the post was--I thought--obviously satire; but I also thought it was satire in bad taste. That said, the comments were just silly. What does "Jezebel only cares about white victims" accomplish? It's pretty obviously not true if you look at the site, which has become a punching bag. Which is interesting.

I read Jezebel. I don't agree with every opinion voiced on there, and I don't care enough about everything on there enough to read it all. I also don't think everything on there is well enough written to bother reading. It's a forum like any other. Sometimes a less-expressly-feminist site handles a given topic better (see The Frisky on R. Kelly, and on Rashida Jones, the second tempest). Although one of Jezebel's posts on the second matter made some excellent points. I'm not the site's defender--I have no stake in its reputation or credibility--but I find some of the critiques overwrought at best and off the mark at worst.

I guess my overall point is, there are certainly conversations to be had about feminism and race, and what Jezebel means in the nexus of the two, but whatever conversations are popping up in the commentsphere are getting us nowhere.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday morning roundup

Behind the scenes in Central African Republic is horrific.

Behind the scenes in Sochi is not pretty (for straight locals, too).

It's hard to pick the most meaningful tributes to the memory of Nelson Mandela. Charles Blow's is worth it for the Zora Neale Hurston quote and his analysis thereof:
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.” The person consumed by discrimination morally subjugates himself or herself, as a matter of principle, to the person free of it, leaving the person free of it with the moral high ground.

Zakes Mda's is also worth reading, as is this piece on the next--less traumatized, more hopeful, but also more frustrated--generation.

Egypt, too, lost a great dissident this week.

Have you been wondering how The Pivot has been going?

If I were SAIS, I would ask Max Fisher to drop its name from his columns; his sloppy, sloppy journalism--how does one manage two significant factual errors in a single sentence--threaten the credibility of SAIS as well as that of the Post (seriously, guys: have you heard of fact-checking?) I would like to think that no SFSer would be sloppy enough to conflate radioactive source materials with "nuclear" materials, whatever that means ("fissile," "fissionable," and "fertile" all mean something to me, as does "special nuclear," but what the f* is "nuclear"?). And this is part of the reason that SFS always comes out ahead in the rankings. If this is the Post's point person for explaining nuclear issues, they might want to send him back for some additional schooling on the subject matter.

Update: I'm aware that others--including those who really know what they're talking about--use "nuclear materials" as a descriptive catch-all, but they are still careful to distinguish between the two in the content.

Also, here's another piece slamming the generally sloppy journalism about the Mexican cobalt-60 truck.

In other media-mangling-things news, the whole young-women-binge-drinking thing is not as reported.

Appearance is a not insignificant component of identity (see also Nora Ephron's thoughts on the matter, which made me think about privilege: you don't dwell on what you don't lack, and it can surprise you when others want for it). But it's also true (back to the first link) that we manipulate our appearance in many ways (some of us more than others), so the question of where you draw the line--where enhancement becomes false advertising--is an interesting one.

This is a long, rambling post about body image that essentially ends in the writer's being able to accept herself because her bf's approval. For no less social-interest value but much more entertainment value per word, read this instead.

Check out Dr. Bellati's tweets on phytic acid (so you can better tell the paleos in your life that they're full of shit):