Saturday, June 17, 2017

Entry 384: My School Parking Dilemma

I have a minor dilemma on my hands at the moment.  It has to do with school parking, which is an underrated source of consternation in many parents' lives.  My oldest son starts summer camp on Monday at an expensive private school a few neighborhoods away from us.  They have curbside drop-off, so parents don't have to get out of their car, which is especially nice for parents who have other little kids with them, but I prefer not to use it.  I always drop Lil' S2 off at his daycare first, and the school's roundabout drop-off zone always turns into a massive clusterfuck, which I do my best to avoid, so I like to park on the street and walk the few dozen yards to the school.  Some other parents like to do this too.

But this year in the back-to-school packet it says explicitly that we are not supposed to park on the street anymore due to an "agreement" between the school and the homeowners in the area, who are undoubtedly annoyed by the added congestion in the neighborhood caused by street parking.  This request, to not park in the street, has been reiterated in several subsequent emails.

My dilemma: Do I continue to park on the street this summer?  At first blush, the answer is no, because it's now against the rules.  But here's the thing: The street doesn't belong to either the school nor the homeowners.  It belongs to they city.  Anybody is allowed to park there within the confines of DC law.  The school and the homeowners have no legal right to make an agreement among themselves governing city parking.  Of course the agreement could be that the school will ask parents not to park there as an act of goodwill (which I think is the case), but unless they made some sort of agreement with the city as well (which I don't think is the case) then it doesn't hold any water beyond an expression of courtesy.

And so there is a big part of me that says "fuck it," if it's legal to park on the street, I'm going to park on the street if I damn well please.  After all, that's how it works everywhere else in the city.  I live within a mile radius of at least 20 churches (not an exaggeration), on Sunday afternoon there is never street parking on my block.  We just have to deal with it.  A prominent Jewish school is three doors down from me, and when the bus drops off kids in the morning it blocks an entire lane of traffic; sometimes I have to drive a little bit out of the way to avoid the congestion.  But that's part of living in society, especially in a big city.  Everybody in every neighborhood has to deal with a business or a school or any other establishment that attracts crowds.  Having to put up with a little extra congestion for -- what? --  a hour half?  45 minutes? twice a day is hardly an exceptional burden.

The whole thing smacks of entitlement and privilege to me -- which I hate.  The school is in a very wealthy part of town, and I strongly suspect this would not be an issue if it wasn't.  It's really rich people who are annoyed because it takes them an extra three minutes to get out of their neighborhood during their morning commutes, and they pay a lot in property taxes, dammit!  Meanwhile, I assure you, when they go somewhere else in the city and have to park on the street, they don't give a second thought as to how it affects people in that community.  It's total, hypocritical BS.

With that said, sometimes it's better to just go along and get along, even if you're getting the short end of the stick.  It doesn't behoove me in any way to get on the bad side of the people who are responsible for the well-being of my son for eight hours a day for the next six weeks.  If they ask me not to park on the street, then isn't it best to just not park on the street?  Therein lies my dilemma.

Well, I have to go now, but I'm sure you are all on the edge of your seats waiting to see how this all resolves, so I will keep you posted.  But for now, I must bid you adieu.

Until next time...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Entry 383: More of the Same

The big news this week is that James Comey testified before Congress.  I don't have much to say about it, because it was more of the same.  We all already know that Russia interfered with the election; we all already know that James Comey was investigating this; we all already know that Donald Trump didn't want him to, because (a) the interference helped him (he publicly encouraged it), (b) he or his associates have been in cahoots with the Russians, (c) he has deep financial ties to Russia that he doesn't want detailed in public; we all already know Trump fired Comey specifically because of this investigation; we all already know that this is grounds for an obstruction of justice case; we all already know that congressional Republicans already know this and they don't care; and we all already know that Donald Trump lies constantly, so it's not even worth considering what he says in his own defense.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Comey testified.  I'm glad all this stuff is on record.  I just don't think it changes anything.  I didn't understand the hype.  Congressional Republicans have made it clear that there is no transgression too egregious and no embarrassment too great for them to turn against Trump in any meaningful way.  As long as they have a president willing to sign into law tax cuts for the rich, they will put up with literally anything.  If you told Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell that Donald Trump signed over the country to Putin to pay off his debts, their first move would be to Google "What's the marginal tax rate in Russia?"


The unfortunate reality is that we are very likely stuck with Donald Trump for the foreseeable future.  We have to vote him out (and vote out his party in the midterms for being complicit).  It's our best hope.  And even that might not work.  Because Trump is shady as hell and will do everything he can to tilt any election in his favor, legal or otherwise, and even if things are on the up-and-up, he's still very popular with a sizable portion of the country.  He's certainly more popular than Congressional Republicans, which is another reason why they put up with everything he does.  They recognize that if Republican voters are forced to choose between them and Trump, it's not going to go well for them.  The only incentive they have to oppose Trump is one of dignity and patriotism, and if you think those are important qualities to Republican leaders, you haven't been pay attention for the past 25 years.

And Trump's base doesn't mind his lying and undermining of democratic norms.  They like it even.  Because they see it as pushing back against "the deep state" whatever the hell that means.  That's one thing that his election has made abundantly clear.  A lot of people aren't all that interested in things like honesty and constitutional democracy.  They have different values -- or value, rather  They're one issue voters: white supremacy.  That's it.  That's their issue.  It always comes back to this, doesn't it?

Yes, I know not everybody who voted for Trump is a white supremacist.  But I do think this is the strongest through line of his base.  A data scientist name Seth Stephens Davidowitz just put out a new book in which he analyzes behavior based on Google trends, and he argued pretty convincingly (in an interview, I just started his book, so I haven't gotten to the good part yet) that racism was the main driver of Trump's election.  Van Jones got it right when he called it "white lash."  A decent hunk of the population feels like demographic changes are being shoved down their throats (because things really are changing), and they don't like it.  So they respond to somebody like Donald Trump who says openly the things that other Republicans are only willing to convey via dog whistle.  It doesn't matter if these things are true or not.  The content isn't important; it's all about the context.  And the context is pretty clear: Let's keep America a white-dominated country for a little bit longer.

Now, the good news is that most people don't think this way.  The bad news is that "most" is only like 55%, not 95%, where it should be.  And of this 55%, a lot of them don't vote (when they do, we get Obama; when they don't, we get Trump), and of those who do vote, too many of them are congregated in the same ten or so cities, which makes winning majorities district-by-district and state-by-state an uphill battle.  So I genuinely don't know how this ends.  I think ten years from now, we'll be in a better place, thinking to ourselves, "God, I'm glad that shit is over."  But I don't think it's a sure thing by any means.

Alright, I think I have to wrap it up here.  S is out of the country for a while, so I'm on extra dad duty.  Her parents came up to help out, which I'm always extremely grateful for, but they can only do so much, because the boys will only let them do so much.  Most of it is on me, which is okay, but it means free time for blogging is even more limited than it usually is.

[S posted this on FaceBook.  An undisclosed location in Ghana, where she was stationed for the week.  Good for her.  She works hard at her job and at home.  Any amenities she gets are well-earned.] 

Until next time...

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Entry 382: Weekend Review

I didn't have a chance to sit down this weekend and crank out an entry, so I'll do it now, on my lunch break.  This post might have to serve double-duty, as I've got a lot on my plate this coming weekend as well.  The big Indie 500 crossword puzzle tournament is on Saturday, so that knocks out an entire day for me -- in a very enjoyable manner.  I'm not going to finish among the contenders -- there will be some ridiculously fast solvers in attendance, and I'm more into constructing than solving -- but still, it's a lot of fun to hobnob with my fellow cruciverbalists.  I'm looking forward to it.

Last Saturday, we took the kids to Sesame Place, a relatively small Sesame Street themed amusement park outside of Philadelphia.  It was fun day, but it was a long day.  We woke up early with the intent of getting to the park when it opened at 10 a.m. (it's about a two and a half hour drive), but we got there closer to 11.  The delay was mostly caused by me, but S compounded the problem.  One thing about her that drives me crazy is when she's making us run late, she flips out if I try to so much as gentle nudge her along, but when I'm running late, she has no patience whatsoever, and she does things that are actively counterproductive just because... well, I don't really know why -- to prove a point?  Because she gets antsy?  I'm not sure.

The reason I was running late is because I forgot to move some clothes from the washing machine into the dryer the night before.  Then as I was walking out the door, I remembered, and I didn't want the clothes to get that mildewy smell they get if you leave them in the wash for a long time, so I moved them into the dryer before we left.  S was already on the way to the car with the kids when I had to double back, so she was annoyed, which I understand, but instead of waiting for a few minutes, she left to get gas.  This made no sense as there is a gas station on the way to the highway we were taking, like, right on the way, like, no turns or parking lots, like, you could not have something more on the way than this -- you can pull in, fill up, and pull out, all in about two minutes, literally.  Yet instead of doing this, S got gas, and I waited for them for at least five minutes.  So we actually lost time.  But of course it wasn't really about our time; it was about S being annoyed and not wanting to wait for me.

So the drive up was a bit icy initially, but things thawed as they always do, and we had a nice day at the park.  We went on a roller coaster first, because Lil' S1 wanted to try it out.  It was his first roller coaster.  I'm not sure if he liked it or not.  He said it was fun, but he also said it was scary, and he didn't ask to go on it again.  In general, he didn't seem that into the rides, which was fine by me, as I hate amusement park rides.  At best they make me feel only mildly nauseous.  Lil' S1 was much more interested in the water-park section.

But before we did that we went to this special lunch at which you are served terrible, terrible food in the presence of a bunch of poor schmoes in oversize Sesame Street costumes.  It was pretty fun though.  The kids seemed to like it, and we got some decent pics out of it.  You can take a picture with your phone with any of the characters except Elmo.  For Elmo, you have to wait in a special line in a roped off area, where they have an in-house photographer who takes all the pics.  Then if you want one, you have to buy it.  That's how they get you -- or try to get you, anyway.  We didn't fall for it.  Cookie Monster was good enough for us.


After lunch (if you could call it that) we met up with two other families, one we were planning on meeting, the other one, some friends from school, we just chanced upon.  (I'd say it's a small world, but that's a different theme park... get it?)  We spent most the day at the water park.  The water was super cold, for some reason, and it was quite overcast, so it was kinda chilly, but it was also nice because there were no crowds anywhere.  You could go right up to all the water slides without waiting in line.  I'd trade that for beautiful weather every time.  The water there is never deeper than a few feet, but it still makes me really nervous because Lil' S1 can't swim yet.  (He's taking lessons this fall.)  We had him in a life jacket initially, but then he wasn't allowed to go down any of the slides, so we took it off, and just kept a close eye on him.  He was fine.

The demographics at Sesame Place obviously skew toward young parents, and in the water park people are obviously scantly clad, so it was tattoo central.  I usually hate it when older people rag on younger generations (don't even get me started will all the people my age and older who have never accomplished anything of not, but think today's youth is being ruined by "participation trophies"), but I have to say -- what the fuck is up with all the tats now?

When I was in high school the older brother of a friend of mine got a small tattoo on his ankle, and I thought it was a big deal.  Then the great tattoo arms race began.  People in my generation started getting tattoos, usually in inconspicuous places, like the back or the shoulder, maybe the chest or the foot, and then it moved to the bicep and then all the way down the arm (sleeves), and now it's just a total free-for-all.  You see white dudes with Ed Hardy-esque designs covering their entire legs; black dudes with cursive writing all over their bodies that you can't quite make out (is that scripture or the names of ex-girlfriends?); chicks of all colors with stars running up the napes of their necks.  And it's not just one or two or even four or five.  It's quite common to see people -- normal parents with small kids -- covered from head to toe in tats.

I'm not trying to be a hater, but I just don't get it.  Why do you want to imprint something you were feeling at 23 onto your body for the rest of your life?  The best you could reasonable hope for in that situation is that you look at it at age 38 and aren't completely embarrassed by it.  Does anybody look at their tattoos fifteen years down the line and think, "Man, this is so bad ass!  I'm so glad I got it!  23-year-old me really knew what they were doing!"  And then there is the irony of branding yourself with a symbol of individuality... just like everybody else your age.  As Lisa Simpson once said, "how rebellious. In a conformist sort of way."

Well, not me.  I'm not getting a tattoo, and therefore I'm the real rebel, right?  (At least until they go out of fashion, which is bound to happen sometime soon.)  Oh, and by the way, if you are reading this and you have a tattoo, like, say, maybe you are my wife, I'm not talking about you, of course.  I love your tattoo.  It's everybody else, not you.

[My "favorite" tattoo from this article of terrible NBA tattoos -- a guy blowing his brains out under the banner "ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE".  That's what I want on my forearm forever!]

You know who I feel sorry for, though?  The first person who got a tattoo band around their bicep.  They just thought they were getting a cool looking bit of body art.  Little did they know, through no fault of their own, they were soon going to become a walking cliché of douchebaggery.  It's similar to how I feel about parents who give their kid the new cool, trendy name just before it becomes the new cool, trendy name.  They just thought it was a nice, interesting name, and then a few years later they realize every third kid at their child's school is named the same thing.  Because it's not like you can do much about it.  It's not like you can tell people, "Hi, this is our son Max, and we thought of it first!"

Anyway...

The rest of the park was fun.  We lost two kids, but they were found rather quickly.  Our friends' daughter ran ahead a little too quickly and got separated from the pack.  She's a little bit older than our kids (7, I think), and so she had enough sense to find a helpful-looking woman and ask her to call her mom (she also knows her mom's phone number which is good).  But her mom knew where she was running off to, so she caught up to her as she was receiving the call.

Then, in a scarier moment, Lil' S1 took off to try to buy candy when S and I had our backs turned.  He specifically waited until we weren't looking, ran to the candy shop, and asked them for candy.  When they told him he needed money, he started asking random patrons if they would give him money.  Quickly somebody realized his parents weren't around, so they had an employee take him to Lost Children, where S was waiting in tears.  He was missing for probably about ten minutes, which, when it comes to a lost kid, feels like an eon.

I was definitely concerned, but I never got to the point of full-fledged panic.  (This is when my robotic nature is a good thing.)  I went straight to the exits.  I figured if he was in the park, he was very likely to be found by S before too long (which is what happened), as the park isn't that big, so I just needed to make sure he didn't slip out, either through his own volition, or, in the nightmare scenario, through somebody else's.  In the latter case, I was ready to put my Krav Maga skills to an early test.

But thankfully there was no need.  I laid into him pretty good about running away (after giving him an initial hug and kiss of relief, of course).  I was trying to put the fear of god into him.  I'm not in favor of physical punishment, but if I was, this would have been a good time for it.  The thing is he still doesn't totally get it.  In retrospect, I think he realized what he did was wrong, but I don't think he thought it was wrong at the time.  He wanted candy, and we told him no, so he figured eluding us and begging strangers for money was a reasonable option.  It would be funny, if it wasn't real life.

He's starting to get sneakier in general, like, he'll lie to me, and then when I call him on it, he'll say, "Ha!  Tricked you!" or "Just joking!" and act as if it was all a prefabricate gag, which it clearly wasn't.  Fortunately, he's so transparent in his antics -- "Daddy, put a chair under the place where the fruit snacks are, and then leave and don't come back until I say so, okay?" -- that he can't get away with much, but it's only a matter of time until he gets savvier.  And then what?  I guess that's a question every parent has to grapple with in due time.

And speaking of time, I'm out of it.

Until next time...

Friday, May 19, 2017

Entry 381: Taking My Own Advice

Back in the day, when I used to teach college math, one of the things that most annoyed me was when a student would come in to my office and ask for help with a problem (usually the night before an exam) without even having tried the problem on their own first.  The conversation would go something like this:

Student: Hey, uh, like, I need some help with these problems.
Me: Okay, which one?
Student: Like, any of them.
Me: Okay, well, that's pretty broad.  Which one in our latest assignment first gave you trouble?
[Wait a few minutes while student locates materials in backpack.  Student points to first problem in the assignment.]
Student: This one.
Me: Alright. What part is giving you trouble?
Student: Like, all of it.  I don't even know where to start.
Me: Okay.  This problem is a lot like the examples we went through in class yesterday.  Did you understand what was going on then?
Student: Uh... not really.  I thought I did, but not really.
Me: Okay, that's fine.  What about the examples like this at the end of the chapter in book.  Did you understand those?
Student: [Blink, blink... blank stare]
Me: You did read this chapter, right? [Feigning surprise, even though I know damn well they haven't read a word of their textbook all semester.]
Student: Uh...
Me: [Going into "win one for the Gipper," pep talk mode] Listen, the only way you're going to learn is if you try.  The main learning has to come from you.  You have to sit down with the material and struggle through it.  I'm only here to provide guidance and fill in the gaps.  I can't learn for you.  So, here's what to do.  Go to the library, sit down and read the chapter.  Follow the examples and then try the problems.  I bet if you do that you will genuinely understand most it.  It's not really that hard.  People psyche themselves out with math.  But if you actually sit down and look at it, it all makes sense.  And if it doesn't -- if you are still stuck -- then you can come see me.  Sound good?
Student: Yeah, okay.

And then 15 minutes later I would get an email notification telling me that the student had dropped my class.  Oh well.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon.  I was working from home; it was S's birthday, and she wanted me to set up this internet booster for her.  What happened is she created a little office area in a nook in our bedroom for her to work in.  She cleaned it out, rearranged the furniture, and ordered a special desk that's small enough to fit in it, only to realize that it's perfectly in a dead zone for our Wi-Fi.  She was pretty bummed about it, but she ordered this booster, which is supposed to strengthen the signal.

The booster came, and I volunteered to set it up -- mainly because I knew S really didn't want to do it, and it was her birthday.  I didn't want to do it either.  In part because I hate doing stuff like that, and in part because our cable set up is a fucking mess.  It's a byzantine mesh of cables going every direction.  Everything was wired for the previous woman who live here, and then when we got internet (and for a while DirecTV; we're still connected to two dead satellites), apparently the cable guy just ran new cable in a bunch of places without getting rid of the old cables.  So, it's just turned into a web of wires.  I had no idea what to went to what and how.  Also, I'm not exactly what you would call "handy," so I tend not to mess with any of that stuff.  I just let the professionals install everything and hope I never have to touch it.

But now I had to set up this booster, which is basically just a second modem.  So I took it into the basement and set it up right next to our modem, and it didn't work.  Well, it worked, it was emitting a second Wi-Fi signal, but it still didn't provide service to the nook in our bedroom -- which makes sense because it was basically in the exact same place as our modem, which also couldn't reach that nook.  So I shrugged my shoulders and figured S would have to call Verizon and figure something else out.  Maybe we would have run even more wire around our house.

I went to work (at my actual job) and finished up some odd tasks.  But the booster was still gnawing at me.  I noticed there was a coaxial cable outlet in the room I was in, so I plugged the booster into it, just because I wanted to see what would happen.  I didn't think it would work, and I was right.  It didn't.  There was no internet signal.  But it did make me wonder why, so I followed where it was in the wall and figured that the cable must run somewhere in our crawl space.  I looked in there (literally the first time I opened it since we bought the house five years ago), and it was obvious which cable it was, and it wasn't connected to anything on the other end, which explains why it didn't work when I plugged the booster in.  I looked at some of the other cables in there, and I could see where they went, and then I had a mini epiphany.  Maybe the wiring was actually easy to figure out, and I had just never tried.  Maybe I was the annoying student!

So I decided to figure it all out, and within a half hour or so I had everything down pat.  I simultaneously felt smart (because I figured it out) and stupid (for not realizing a long time ago how easy it would be to figure it out).  I noticed there was a coaxial outlet in our room that was connected at the side of our house to a jack for a defunct DirecTV satellite.  So I disconnected it from that and connected it to an unused cable that runs around the back of our house.  Then I connected that cable to one in the crawlspace that goes through a little hole into our basement by the modem.  I then split our internet signal so that it goes to our modem and to this other wire.  Then I connected the booster to the coaxial outlet in our room -- and bingo!  It had an internet signal, and since it is in our room, right next to the nook, it provides great service.  I did it!  S was so happy!  It was the best birthday gift I could give her (and much better than nothing, which was my second choice).

Now, if you are technically savvy, and you are reading this, you might be thinking, "Uh... D, you just set up an internet booster.  You didn't design a flying car.  It's not that impressive.  In fact, it's not impressive at all."  And you are right, but you're also missing the point.  The moral of the story isn't that I did something difficult.  It's that I did something easy, because I actually tried to do it.  That's the takeaway: Don't just dismiss things reflexively as too hard.  You should always try, or, at the very least, try to try.


[I couldn't find the clip in which Bart promises Lisa that he will "try to try."  This is what came up instead.  It turns out Homer and I do not share similar life philosophies.]

Anyway...

A lot of other stuff happened this week too.  But I don't need to go into that.  I'm sure you are already well aware of it.  As somebody on social media said, "It feels like Netflix bought the news and released it all at once."  Too true.  Too true.

Oh, also, I now have a niece.  On Tuesday, my sister-in-law M gave birth to Lil' Ax  (same b-day as S).  She looks cute in pics, and I can't wait to see her in person when we visit this summer.  It's the first girl grandchild (of six) for my parents, so everybody is really excited about it.

Well, I guess, that's all for this post.  Until next time...

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Entry 380: Another Week Closer To... Something

It's weird living in the U.S. right now for a multitude of reasons.  One of them is that with each passing week we come closer to... something.  But I don't know what that something is or even if it's good or bad.  On the one hand, we could be slowly, painfully inching closer to that joyous moment when Donald Trump no longer has any control in our government.  On the other hand, we could be moving rapidly toward our nation's precipitous demise in some manner -- civil war, World War III, economic collapse, a dictatorial coup d'état, or something else awful that nobody can even imagine right now.  We just don't know.

The worst part about it is the utter unwillingness by Republicans in congress to "break from their party" (i.e., go against the guy they all hated and were calling a dangerous conman a year ago) and actually start protecting the important institutions we all rely upon for peace and prosperity.  I would say it's amazing how blasé Reps have been about the Comey firing, but it's been pretty obvious since the end of "Never Trump" (which was also the beginning of it) that this was the track they were going to take.  I honestly think that if Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell found out that Trump had somehow sold America to the Russians, their first question would be, "Will this drop the marginal tax rate for people making over $250,000 a year?"

And by the way, before I get off this subject let me just one thing in response to the Republicans who try to deflect the issue back on Democrats by saying that they were critical of Comey a few months ago, so they're being hypocritical now.  First, there is the obvious point that for whatever faults Comey might have he's still better than anybody Trump will appoint.  It's not hypocritical to select the better of two bad choices (right, Bernie Bros?).  Second, yes, many Dems didn't and probably still don't like James Comey.  After all there is good evidence that his idiotic eleventh hour letter swayed the election against Hillary.  He's a big reason why we are in this mess in the first place.  I doubt many Democrats would have been sad to see him go in a vacuum.  But the firing wasn't done in a vacuum.  It was done in the midst of an investigation headed by Comey that could possibly implicate the very man who fired him in a major scandal and maybe even a major crime.  That's what Democrats have a problem with.  And of course the Republicans know this.  They just don't care.  They view treason like they view racism.  They don't really like it, but it's certainly not a deal breaker, and, let's be honest, sometimes it's downright helpful.

Anyway...



I was listening to Bill Maher today, and he had a segment on how Silicon Valley is the new Big Tobacco and our smartphones are the cigarettes.  Everything is designed, not to act as a tool at our disposal, but as an addictive substance that keeps us coming back for more and more -- checking our likes on Facebook, checking our Twitter feed, looking at Instagram, find the newest products at Amazon.  If you logoff for three minutes you'll fall behind!  You gotta keep up!  You gotta look now!  Now!  Don't ever put your phone down!

I think Maher overstated the case a bit, but there is definitely some truth to it.  I look at my phone way too much.  It's terrible, and it's setting a terrible example for my kids.  It's a bit of a catch-22, however, because having kids is largely why I look at my phone so much.  It's one of the few things I can do during "down time" with my kids.  If we go to the park or to a museum or to a friend's house, it's very easy for me to put my phone away and not look at it, and that's all fine and good.  But there are also those long stretches of time -- most the time, really -- when you are just sitting around keeping an eye on them and doing nothing.  Like, they're playing 70% by themselves, but you have to be on hand to help them with the other 30%.  During this time, I find looking at my phone is one of the few things I have the capacity to do.  I can't do anything that involves a large brain-power commitment like working or writing or even crossword puzzle making.  But I can half-mindlessly scroll through Twitter or Facebook.

Back in the day, I probably would have had a newspaper or a magazine or an easy-read book to fill in the dead time, but now all those things are -- where? -- on my phone of course!  (Or some equivalent device.)  So I'd just be looking at my phone anyway.  And this raises an interesting question: If I'm doing the same basic activity with my phone as I would be doing without my phone, is it really any worse?  My answer is, yes, I think it is.  And it gets back to the addictive quality Maher was talking about.  I feel a compulsion to constantly look at my phone that I wouldn't feel with a dead-leaf newspaper or book.  And maybe that's the solution.  Maybe I just need to go old-school when I'm with my kids.

Whatever the case, I'm making a pledge to put down my phone more.  I'm no longer going to use it as my time-filling crutch when I'm watching the kids.  Actually, this is a good time to start because S told me that for Mother's Day tomorrow she wants to do a "family day," and I need to actually be "tuned in" to her and the kids during it.  Now, she's hardly one to talk -- I swear she has a TV show playing on her phone 75% of her waking hours -- but it could be a good catalyst for me nonetheless.

So, here's to less phone.  It starts tomorrow.

Until next time...

Friday, May 5, 2017

Entry 379: Beating Life

On Friday, I usually get to "sleep in."  S works extended days Monday through Thursday and has Friday off.  So on Friday she gets the kids to school in the morning, and then I'm responsible for night duty.  Night duty is typically worse than morning duty because it's harder to get the kids into bed than out of bed (especially Lil' S1), but it's so nice to have at least one day a week when I can turn off my alarm and wake up around 9:00 a.m. to an empty house.  I'm good at sleeping in the morning too.  Usually I don't even hear the kids running around downstairs, or I hear them but only it some sort of delightful dream-state.  They usually don't wake me up (save the times, of course, when Lil' S1 jumps on me and slaps my face expressly to wake me up).  S can't do this.  Even when it's her turn to "sleep in," she's usually up shortly after the kids get up, because she just can't sleep when they're awake -- every little whimper or bang makes her snap up like something is wrong.  The flip side of this though is that if she's tired at night, she can go to bed at 8:15 p.m. and be fast asleep by 8:18 p.m., whereas even when I'm dog tired, I'll be laying in bed awake at 12:15 a.m. trying to figure out who the third outfielder with Griffey and Ichiro would be if I was making an all-time Mariners lineup (either Mike Cameron or Nelson Cruz, BTW).

[On one hand, you've got Mike Cameron whose combination of speed, power, and slick defense makes him one of the more underrated players in Mariners history.]


[On the other hand, you've got Nelson Cruz who's probably the fourth best hitting Mariner ever, behind just Griffey, Edgar, and A-Rod... such a tough choice.]

So this morning I woke up about nine, nobody was home, and it was pouring outside.  But since I work from home on Friday and the kids were already gone, I thought I wouldn't have to deal with the rain.  It was one of those small "beating life" moments, where all the other suckers had to wake up early and deal with this torrential downpour, but I could roll out of bed, throw on some sweats, make a pot of coffee, turn on my work computer, and start my day without even leaving the house.  That's what I set out to do.  But when I got down the steps into the living room, I noticed that Lil' S1's lunchbox was on the floor, not in his backpack at school, where it should be.  I immediately hung my head in sorrow, because I knew where this was going: I was going to end up bringing it to him.

I could, of course, pretend like I didn't see it and just go on with my day.  School lunch is actually provided for the kids, so Lil' S1 probably wouldn't starve.  We pack snacks for him, because he frequently doesn't eat much (any) lunch and then gets hungry/cranky during aftercare.  Also, we give him semi-healthy things we know he likes; I've seen the school food before, and it looks like, well, like school food.  And then there's the main reason, which is that S is totally obsessed with our kids' calorie intake -- she always thinks they aren't eating enough -- and sending Lil' S1 to school with snacks helps put her mind at ease.

So I sent S a text asking if she meant to leave his lunchbox at home, already knowing what the answer was.  Predictably she sent me back a harried text asking if I could take it to him.  I could have said no, under the (very reasonable) justification that he could eat the school food and would be fine without snacks for one day, but I knew that this would cause S to immediate stop whatever errand she was running, drive home, and drop it off herself.  Then I would have to watch her do all this (and possibly deal with a resentful wife) knowing that it was all because I didn't want to put on real pants and go outside in the rain for a few minutes.  That wasn't going fly.  I brought him the lunchbox.

It wasn't a big deal.  It literally took me less than ten minutes (his school is only a few blocks away), and we own umbrellas.  But there was a certain inelegance about it that really bothered me.  I didn't beat life today.  I got my feet wet just like all the other sorry saps out there.

Anyway... In other news, real news, healthcare is the watchword of the day.  The House Republicans finally passed their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.  By all accounts it's a very shitty bill, but any bill the Reps put out was bound to be shitty because they have a fundamental view of healthcare that is irreconcilable with what most voters -- even most Republican voters -- actually want.  What most voters want is decent health insurance, and if they can't afford it, they want somebody to subsidize it for them.  They aren't that interested in the who-or-how logistics.  What Republican lawmakers want is a mostly free insurance market, in which the federal government doesn't get involved.  In other words, there are two fundamental options: (a) Have the federal government provide a mechanism by which healthy and affluent people subsidize the health insurance costs of the sick and poor; (b) don't do this.  Most voters seem to want (a); Republican politicians want (b).  And so here we are, with a bill nobody really likes, even people who voted for it, and which experts never had a chance to properly analyze and the public never had a chance to weigh in on.  This is how you have to do it when you've been lying about healthcare for the last seven years.  (As usual, I find Vox.com has the best coverage, if you want more info on the subject.  I also like their podcast The Weeds.  Despite not even knowing what Sarah Kliff looks like, I have a small nerd crush on her.  And she lives in DC!  But, alas, she recently got married... and I'm also married.)

Of course this bad bill isn't law yet.  It has to pass the Senate, which is no sure thing.  There were a handful of House Reps who voted "no" on the bill, and Reps can only afford two such defections in the Senate.  But I certainly wouldn't bet the farm on it failing in the Senate.  On the contrary, I think we should expect some form of this bill to become law.  I also wouldn't bet the farm on this being the sure-fire political winner for Democrats that their House members seem to think it is.  (They were taunting Reps during the vote by singing Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Good Bye," which despite my skepticism, I actually think is kinda funny.)  Yes, this bill is terribly unpopular, and it will hurt many of their voters, but there have been so many times that Reps have done unpopular things that hurt many of their voters, and I've thought to myself, "There's no way they're going to let this slide."  They always let it slide.


[Apparently this song has other lyrics than "na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey, kiss him goodbye".]

With that said, I do think it's smart strategy for Democrats to rally around this.  Even if they can't change the vast majority of people's minds, they don't necessarily need to.  In many congressional races, they just need to slice off a sliver of the electorate to tip the scales in their favor.  And most importantly, they need to engage new voters.  This is how I think this can be a boon for Dems.  As I heard Nancy Pelosi say, most Americans don't even know who their representatives in Congress are, let alone turn up at the polls consistently.  This vote can help change that.  (I've already seen lists going around social media with Reps who are vulnerable in 2018.)  It's on liberals now to be sure everybody knows names like Darrell Issa and Erik Paulsen and Carlos Curbelo.  These are three of the 14 House members from districts won by Clinton who voted for the bill.  Liberals need to try to get people excited to vote against the avaricious assholes who took away people's health insurance to give tax cuts to the super rich.  It might not work -- Democrats have an uncanny knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- but, at this point, it seems like the best strategy.  So, if you live in a district represented by one these people, vote against them; if you don't, consider donating time or money.  We've got to try to turn the tables, and put our country back on the track most people want it on.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Entry 378: Blog By Bulletpoint

It's 10:00 p.m. Sunday evening.  I had every intention of putting up a real post this weekend, but, you know, kids and whatnot.  I don't have the brain capacity at the moment to put together coherent, cohesive prose of any length, so I'm just going to put up some thoughts I've been kicking around of late and call it a post.  It's better than nothing... probably.


  • You know what's a weird impulse that pretty much everybody I know has?  The overwhelming desire to tell something to somebody they don't need to hear and don't want to hear.  Today I was picking up dinner for us and some friends and it took a really long time because the restaurant messed up.  I was so annoyed that I vented to (more like at) S all the way to our friends' place, and then, not getting the response I wanted from her, I then vented to one of our friends once we got to their place.  I did this knowing full well that she could give a shit (nobody was in a hurry to eat).  In fact, as I was talking I could see the "I couldn't care less what this person is saying, so I'm just going to nod my head and wait this one out" expression come over her face, but I still kept going with it anyway.  Why?  Why did I do that?  Why do people do that?
  • S and I, like, I presume, most couples, have the same two or three arguments over and over again just in different form.  One of our classics is the "nitpicking versus trying to clarify" argument.  In S's version, she will say something, and I'll call it into question on a minor detail, and she will get annoyed that I'm being so pedantically focused on minutia when she's trying to make a larger point. In my version, S says something that sounds wrong to me, and I will ask her about, because if I don't I won't understand her larger point.

    For example, today S and I had the following conversation.

    Her: Hey, you know how I'm going to get a new desktop computer?  I found a desk for it I want to order.
    Me: Wait... desktop... what?
    Her: My new computer -- I need a new desk for it.  Remember, you said there wouldn't be enough room for a desktop and your laptop on our current desk?  So we need another desk.
    Me: [Searching my brain for this conversation] I don't remember you saying that you wanted a desktop.
    Her: [Now annoyed] We went over this already.  I told you that I wanted the big screen.
    Me: I just don't remember you saying that you wanted to get a desktop.
    Her: We had this conversation, just like a week ago!  Remember I told you I needed a new computer -- my old one is about to die -- and I wanted one with a big screen for work?
    Me: Yeah, but I don't remember you saying you were getting a desktop.  Do they even make those anymore?  I mean, you travel all the time.  Why don't you get a laptop and buy a big monitor with a nice docking station?
    Her: Yeah, that's what I'm going to do.  That's what I mean by a desktop.
    Me: That's not a desktop!

    I'm claiming "victory" in this one.  A laptop with a docking station -- which we did discuss a few days ago (and which I should have remembered) -- is not a desktop.  S, to her credit, agreed with me -- in this instance.  There are others, I'm sure, in which I'm not the clear-cut winner.  But you probably won't read about those because I'm the only one of the two of us with the blog.
  • I tried to take Lil' S1 to soccer again yesterday.  It didn't go well, at all.  He played for about five minutes, but only with me, not with any other kids, and then he dug holes in the dirt with a stick, and then after I took his stick away, he stood still on the field and pouted until snack time.  I'm not going to take him again.  I don't see the point.  He just doesn't like it.  He said, "Soccer's so boring.  You just kick a ball somewhere."  When I asked him what activity he wanted to do instead, S offered swimming, and he said, "No, baseball."  There's still hope!
  • Two new podcasts I've started listening to: S-Town and Nancy.  Both excellent so far.  The latter is all about LBGT issues.  I learned all about the "other" Brandon Lee (very NSFW; the pic above is the cleanest one you will find if you Google him) and about the Log Cabin Republicans.  I have to say, being gay and being Republican doesn't really strike me as the massive hypocrisy I once thought it was and that liberals sometimes make it out to be.  Yes, gay Republicans belong to a party that isn't very welcoming to them, but they believe strongly in other tenets of the party, and they are actively trying to gain acceptance within the system.  People have to make these types of compromises and fight these internal fights all the time (amirite, ladies?).  And let's not forget, pretty much every major Democratic politician was opposed to many major LGBT rights and protections also until, like, five years ago.  So I'm not at all bothered by somebody being gay and Republican.  Well, I am, but it's just the Republican part.  Given the current state of the GOP, I don't see how a right-thinking, decent person could claim to be a part of it.  Who they want to screw doesn't even enter into the picture.
Alright, I'm out.  Until next time...