Friday, July 29, 2016

Entry 343: A Return From Cooperstown

This will be my last post for a few weeks.  The G & G family is headed to the southern shores of Puget Sound for a two-week vacation.  I’m really looking forward to it.  I got a little appetizer vacation with my Cooperstown weekend, but now it’s time for the main course.  The one big thing I don’t like about my life right now is that I live so far away from my family and my closest friends.  And unfortunately there is no easy or immediate solution to this problem, so I just have to make do with what I have, and vacations are what I have at the moment.

Cooperstown was terrific though.  My buddy RW flew in from Seattle Friday evening, and then we drove up Saturday morning together.  It’s a good six-plus hours, but it went by pretty quickly.  I have some friends with whom a long car ride would be quite difficult, but RW is not one of them.  He can come off sometimes as kind of terse or surly, but once you get going with him, he’s a pretty good conversationalist.  He was pretty worthless when it came to directions, however.  He’s like a borderline Luddite when it comes to technology.  He has an iPhone, but it’s so old that he can’t get most apps because it can only run an old version of the operating system that isn't compatible with the newer apps.  Our friend DK, who got to Cooperstown before us with his buddy K, sent us a pin-drop of a parking lot, and it was like a one-man Abbott & Costello routine listening to RW try to figure out how to place the pin on his maps app and get directions.  Once he started talking about Vashon Island – a location roughly 3,000 miles from where we needed to be – I pulled over and used my phone to get directions.

The actual city of Cooperstown is basically just one street with the Hall of Fame museum and a slew of eateries and memorabilia shops.  On Saturday night they had a parade featuring many of the living Hall of Famers; it was my favorite event of the weekend.  It was a blast seeing all the players from my childhood come out and wave to the masses.  I got a lot of good pics.  I also enjoyed the interaction with the crowd.  It was like a big street party.  I started yelling out things I thought would make the crowd chuckle (e.g., “You had a very respectable and underrated career.” to Bert Blyleven), with varying success.  Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, this year’s inductees, got the biggest rounds of applause, as expected, followed by Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez.  Johnson was a teammate of Griffey’s and Martinez of Piazza’s, so that makes sense.


[Randy Johnson]

After the parade, we went to this funplex that had batting cages and speed pitch and stuff like that.  It was like something out of an ‘80s teen/sports movie – the place where the protagonist would have some sort of preliminary showdown against his rivals.  Like  the main kid would go to this place mid-film with his love interest.  They would be having a great time until the love interest’s asshole ex-boyfriend arrived drunk with his posse.  (There would be a shot showing them surreptitiously taking nips from a flask to establish they're the bad kids.)  Somehow a mini-competition would be started in which the main kid and the ex-boyfriend each would go into the batting cages to see who was the better hitter.  There would be a montage of each of them hitting baseballs, while all the other patrons, who were suddenly interested in this petty competition for some reason, cheered.  The main kid would be winning and embarrassing the ex-boyfriend, so one of the ex-boyfriend’s cronies would rig up the pitching machine to fling a baseball that would hit the kid in the knee causing him to have to quit the showdown.  The ex-boyfriend would then claim victory and leave telling the main kid “you’ll stay out of the Tri-Cities World Series, if you know what’s good for you!”  The main kid would be downtrodden and considering quitting baseball until his unlikely mentor, an old Japanese recluse, who was a disgraced star from the Nippon Professional Baseball league, motivated him to rehab his knee and become an even better baseball player.  The main kid would then go on to hit the game-winning home run off the ex-boyfriend in the Tri-Cities World Series, and the movie would end with him kissing the girl he was trying to woo earlier, while his mentor smiled wryly.

What do you think of my film?  I call it The Baseball Boy.

Actually, at the Hall of Fame museum, there was a little section on baseball movies.  There are a lot of them.  My personal favorite is probably The Natural.  Bull Durham is great too, but Tim Robbins is so unbelievable as a star pitcher physically – it’s looks as if he’d never thrown a baseball in his life before getting the role – that it really bumped me.  I know it’s just a movie, but it’s difficult to ignore.  Also, Kevin Costner’s character is too sanctimonious about baseball for me.  His whole "what I believe in" speech didn't do it for me.  Actually the whole film is steeped in the old-school, “right way to play baseball” mindset that I absolutely despise.  Well, it’s still a better movie than The Kid From Left Field starring Gary Coleman, that’s for sure.

After our adventures in the funplex (let’s just say nobody is mistaking us for former big leaguers, after watching us in the batting cages), we hung around Cooperstown for a while, and then drove to our hotel in Utica, which is about an hour away.  It was the closest booking I could get.  Utica is not the nicest city in America, but the hotel worked well enough.  There was only one bed in the room I was sharing with RW, so he slept on a roll-away cot (he volunteered to sleep on it, and I did all the planning and paid for it, so I don’t feel guilty about taking the good bed).  He also snores like a mo-fo, but luckily I had earplugs in my backpack, so it was all good.  That’s one of those things you do that pays off later, and makes you feel so smart.  I remember, probably three years ago, putting earplugs in my backpack specifically for the moment I was traveling and sleeping in a noisy environment – forethought, see.

The problem with earplugs though is that you can sleep too deeply with them in.  We woke up quite late and didn’t have time for a proper breakfast.  We had to hit up Mickey D’s on the way out of town.  Although, I have to say, as far breakfasts-on-the-run go, you could do much worse than an Egg McMuffin and a McDonald’s iced coffee.

We got to the induction ceremony a bit on the late side, so the field at which it was being held was already quite full.  It’s the type of deal where you just rock up and throw down some lawn chairs, and the prime real estate was quickly dissipating by the time we arrived.  We got decent enough seats though.  At one point we got hassled by a security guard and a police officer who told us we were in an emergency exit area (apparently we missed a faint line in the grass that people were sitting on), but ultimately nothing came of it.  If 200 people refuse to move, there isn’t much two workers, who probably don’t actually care all that much, can do about it.  In general, the event was not properly managed and the seating areas were not clearly delineated.  There were 50,000 people there, about twice as much as the typical induction ceremony.

And the ceremony itself wasn’t that fun.  It was cool.  It was a good experience, but it wasn’t really enjoyable, if that makes sense.  For one thing, it was so hot, and we were just sitting there for hours among the throngs of people, before the speeches began.  It is like being at an outdoor music festival, but instead of hearing great live music, you hear John Fogerty’s Center Field over a loud speaker.  (Has anybody more cashed in on such a mediocre song?)  For another thing, athletes are typically lousy orators.  Piazza’s speech was okay, for a baseball player, but if you have to add “for a …” to qualify something, it probably means that something wasn’t all that great.  And Griffey’s speech was downright brutal.  It was a blubbering, blathering mess.  He began it totally choked up and never regained his composure.  His quips fell felt and his anecdotes meandered to nowhere.  Nevertheless, he totally transformed me into 12-year-old fanboy mode, we he ended his speech by putting on a Mariners cap backwards – his signature style

We spent much of the remainder of Sunday back in the museum looking at all the busts.  Our favorite one was of Cumberland Willis “Cum” Posey, Jr., of which DK, RW, and I each independently took a picture because, well, because it’s a funny nickname.  RW spotted Mariners’ play-by-play announcer Rick Rizzs walking around the museum and talked to him for a while.  I never would have identified him.  I only know his voice.

We stayed in Cooperstown pretty late.  We grabbed a few late-night slices at a local pizzeria, where we saw Jerry Hairston Jr., who was in town promoting his charity.  He was just chilling at a table with some family eating.  He’s not a big enough star to be hounded by fans.  We certainly didn’t bother him.  I was more concerned with my slice of Hawaiian pizza.  It had a single piece of pineapple on it – exactly one solitary, little chunk.  I thought about asking for another one, but really, why bother?  Life's too short to argue with the weird guy behind the counter about pineapple, right?

The worst part of the trip was the drive back the next day.  It was the exact opposite experience of the drive there.  It took us about an hour and a half longer than it did to get there due to some crazy spates of thunderstorms and road work.  At one point, I-81 went down to one lane, and it caused a backup that was like three miles long.  That alone added 45 minutes to our trip, easily.  But we did make it back… eventually.

When I walked through the door of my house the first thing I heard was, “Daddy did you buy me a toy?”  It was good to be home.

Until next time…

Friday, July 22, 2016

Entry 342: Cooperstown Bound

I'm leaving for Cooperstown, New York tomorrow morning with my buddy RW, who is getting into DC tonight.  We are meeting some other friends there.  I'm looking forward to the trip.  I'm a little bummed that it is the same weekend as my twenty-year high school reunion, but there is a decent chance I wouldn't be able to make it back for that anyway, so at least this way I get to do something fun.  And I do expect it to be fun.  It's a weekend of baseball and baseball history, what could be better than that?  Well, you could also throw in a Hall of Fame induction ceremony for my favorite player of all-time -- that would be nice.

Hey, what do you know?!

Ken Griffey Jr. was Seattle's first great baseball player and the first superstar in any sport who joined a Seattle team while I was a cognizant being, so he has a very special place in my fanboy heart.  I also have an anecdote involving a baseball card of his that I shall share now.  It's short, which is good, because I don't have much time.

Griffey's 1989 Upper Deck No. 1 baseball card was the card in my days of collecting.  It was a super hot commodity, worth around $100, which at that time was a boatload for a 12-year-old.  (It's probably worth less today than it was then, even without adjusting for inflation.  1989 was perhaps the peak of the baseball card bubble.)  I always wanted one, but couldn't muster the funds.

Then one day, this kid down the street had one that he said his dad bought for him in Mexico on a recent business trip (which totally doesn't sound made up, right?).  He wasn't the savviest kid in the world, so I offered him a trade: He could pick any team he wanted, and he would get all my cards of players on that team in exchange for his Griffey card.  However, as a condition of the trade, he couldn't see in advance what cards I had from what teams.  I would bring all my baseball cards out in a box, and then after he picked a team, we would go through it together and every time we came across a player from that team he would get it.

It was a brilliant negotiating strategy on my part.  By adding this extra condition -- one that was completely unfavorable to him, by the way -- it added an element of mystery and wonder.  As a straight up trade, I would never have gotten that Griffey card away from him -- he wasn't particularly bright, but he wasn't a total idiot either -- but by making a game out of it, by tantalizing him with the possibility of what could be, he agreed.

I went inside grabbed as many "good" cards as I could, as quickly as I could, and removed them from my baseball card box (a total weasel move, I admit) and brought it outside.  He selected the San Francisco Giants (my rookie Will Clark card was one I had removed, so I felt pretty good about my underhanded maneuver).  We then went through the box, and I gave him all my Giants cards -- Chili Davis, Jeffrey Leonard, Mike Krukow, Will Clark (non-rookie) and so on.  I got the Griffey card.

Years later, I was getting a ride home from a teammate after lacrosse practice, and when we neared my house he said, "Hey, does so-and-so live there?"  And he pointed to the kid's house with whom I made the trade.

"Yeah," I told him.
"I hate that little fuck!"
"I swear he stole my brother's Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card like five years ago!  He denied it, but he was the only one around when it disappeared.  I shoulda kicked his ass right then and taken it back when I had the chance.  Fuckin' little shit!"
"Hmm," was all I could muster.

I didn't tell him that I had that card.  It wasn't even because I would then be compelled to give it back, and I wanted to keep it.  At that point, it didn't mean all that much to me, and its monetary value had already dropped a lot.  I just didn't want to explain to him how I had gotten it.  I was weirdly embarrassed about it -- as if I had did something wrong.  It's not a very good reason.  I was in no way complicit in the theft.  Had I said -- "What?!  That's crazy!  I have that card.  You can have it back and give it to your brother." -- he probably would have greatly appreciated it.  But I didn't.  I just sat there silently as we pulled into my driveway.

I still have the card.  It's on my bookshelf right now.  I lost touch with the kid who gave me a ride home, but I randomly Googled him recently.  He works for some sort of advocacy group for cancer patients.  I thought about selling the card on eBay and donating the proceeds to a cancer prevention charity, but it's not in mint condition, and I doubt I could get more than $20 or $30 for it.  At that price, it's worth more to me to keep on my bookshelf, as a reminder of one of the many short and ultimately pointless anecdotes that make up my life.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Entry 341: Back to Normal... Or Not

Man, I thought after last week I was going to be able to get back to worrying about my own little banal problems here in my own little nook of the world in our own little nook of universe.  And then some terrorist asshole drives over a bunch of people in France, and Turkey might be experiencing a coup d'état, the ramifications of which are probably very profound.  (I can't say for sure because I don't know anything about Turkey.)  Now it feels a bit silly to stress out about things like trying to figure out childcare for Lil' S1 for two days in August, after his camp ends, before we go on vacation.  It doesn't seem like a "real" problem.  But it is my problem, and as I've said before, my problems have a trait very relevant to me: They're mine.  That matters quite a bit.

I've actually been thinking about this a lot lately -- about "having perspective."  I've come to the conclusion that it's mostly bullshit.  It's just something we tell ourselves or we tell others to try to assuage stress or sadness.  But it never really works, because "having perspective" is contrary to how human emotions work.  Emotions aren't governed by global, objective laws; they're very much personal and relative.  I think I've had a sense that this was the case for a long time, but it really got hammered home listening to last week's episode of the Invisibilia podcast.

The episode is titled "Frame of Reference," and in the show's final segment host Alix Spiegel talks to comedian Hasan Minhaj about growing up with a father who refuses to acknowledge his son's sadness or any other negative feeling.  Hasan's father grew up impoverished in India, and so his philosophy is that no matter what happens his son's life in America isn't that bad.  Hasan tells a heart-wrenching (but somehow still funny) story about some asshole kids calling him "Osama" after 9/11, and then breaking the windows of his family car, and his dad just kinda shrugging his shoulders and taping up the windows, like, "oh well."  Given his dad's background, a few punk kids and some busted windows weren't going to be the cause of some great despair.

As you might expect, this put Hasan in a constant state of internal conflict, because he didn't -- he couldn't -- feel the same way as his dad.  To him, being the target of ridicule and vandalism by racist punks really sucked (as it would for most people), and he couldn't help but have negative feelings about it.  But then he had his dad constantly telling him, basically, "your life is still good; get over it."  So he was essentially guilted into never feeling bad about anything.

It was a very interesting episode; I recommend listening to it (there are some other good segments as well).  And the big question comes at the end of it when the host asks -- who's right, whose way of looking at life is better, Hasan's or his dad?  Hasan sorta reluctantly comes to the conclusion that his dad's way is better, but I think that's the wrong answer.  The correct answer, in my opinion, is that they are both right.  Because it depends on one's frame of reference.  Relativity is not just a physical law; it's an emotional one as well.  So just as two people can precisely measure the duration of the same event and get different times, two people can each have radically different feelings about the same incident and both be valid.

There is a tendency for us to discount the feelings of people who have it "better" than we do.  For example, we all scoff when we hear about an athlete who feels "insulted" because he was only offered $10 million a year, instead of the $20 million he thinks he's "worth."  But is that right?  In his world that might actually be an insult.  Is it illegitimate for him to feel this way?  To you and, me he looks ridiculous, but to somebody like Hasan's father, you and I look ridiculous worrying about our stupid problems like charter schools and car seats and leaky faucets and undermining coworkers.  And to somebody with a terminal illness everybody's issues seem trivial.  So who actually has a right to feel insulted or sad or upset?  Nobody but the person in the worst situation in human history?  That clearly isn't right.  But then where do you draw the line?  Just above yourself?  I think it's better just to say everybody's feelings are equally valid.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying that society's responses to people's problems have to be (or should be) the same.  Obviously we should be more inclined to ensure the working poor get a living wage than we should be to ensure underpaid athletes get their additional $10 million a year.  Sometimes the correct response is a new policy, sometimes people just need to suck it up.  But this doesn't mean that the former's feelings are any more authentic than the latter's.  A human is a human is a human -- and all humans have the right to feel slighted or sad or stressed, no matter how silly it might seem to others.

In other news, the chaos at our house is rapidly increasing as Lil' S2 becomes more and more mobile.  He can't quite walk yet, but he can book it crawling and like his brother he's a good climber.  The other day I was in the kitchen making breakfast, and I turned my back on him for about thirty seconds, when I turned back, I found him like this:

It's a good thing the toaster wasn't on.

I fear that Lil' S1 is already becoming the bully older brother, and I'm not sure how to stop it.  He takes his little brother's pacifier from him; he tips him over when he's in the car seat; and he just generally treats him roughly.  We're constantly telling him to be nice and gentle, and he does, for about five minutes, and then he goes right back to tormenting him.  What can you do?  The compounding factor is that often they do coexist nicely together, and sometimes when Lil' S1 does something to Lil' S2, like tackles him, or something, Lil' S2 loves it and starts laughing.  That really undermines our pleas to be gentle.

"See! He likes it!" Lil' S1 tells us.

"Yeah, he does," I reply, "but he's not going to like it in 30 seconds when you take it too far."

But somehow that message doesn't really register.

Anyway, one thing they're good for is waking each other up.  If one of them is sleeping in too late, I'll take the other one and put him on the bed.  He'll wake up his brother, and they will start playing together.  It's actually really cute.  So they have their moments, you know, typical brothers, I suppose.

Well, that's about it.  Until next time...

Friday, July 8, 2016

Entry 340: The Week Sh*t Got F*cked

Jesus it was a bad news week.  It started out with Hillary Clinton being cleared by the FBI of all criminal charges relating to her private email server, but in the process being implicated in the misdeed of being sloppy with sensitive information.  Even Hillary supporters, if we are being honest, should view this as a massive lapse of judgment on her part.  But there is nothing we can really do about it.  I mean, is this worth the risk of a Donald Trump presidency?  C’mon, get real.  Not when Trump responds to this softball he’s been tossed by recirculating anti-Semitic memes and then praising Saddam Hussein (seriously) for his approach to terrorism.  That’s what American needs in a leader -- somebody who finally understands how effective brutal tyranny can be!  Trump didn’t swing and miss on this one; he stepped out of the batter’s box and repeatedly hit himself in the nuts with the bat.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we also saw black people being killed by police officers at point-blank range, under highly dubious circumstances, in consecutive days.  And then after that some nut with a gun upped the ante by taking out multiple police officers sniper-style at a Dallas B.L.M. protest.  As I “joked” on FaceBook, what’s next – the asteroid that wipes out humanity?

So, yeah, it was rough week for America.  And aside from Clinton’s email improprieties, the underlying issue of all the bad news is the same: racial strife.  We still haven’t fixed the problem of white supremacy in this country.  It all started when our forefathers made the brilliant decision to import human beings as cheap labor from Africa and treat them as if they were property.  Then it was Jim Crow, and then "separate but equal."  After that it was wink-wink, nudge-nudge discriminatory housing and hiring practices.  Today it is a little different -- people aren’t overtly racist, and they aren’t even racist on the sly.  I know a lot of white people, and the vast majority of us truly do not care what color somebody is.  On an individual level, we treat people as people, period.  But, the mistake many of us make is thinking that this is enough – thinking that being a good, non-racist person is all we need to do.  But it’s not.  This just maintains the status quo, and the status quo isn't working for a whole lot of people of color.  This is why "color-blindness" is such bullshit.  Color-blindness is cop-out for people who don't want to acknowledge that they live in a systemic racist country.

Also, we all have subconscious biases that we cannot address unless we admit we have them in the first place.  And this isn’t some overly p.c. claptrap.  This is backed up by studies that show people with black-sounding names are less likely to get job interviews than people with a white-sounding names, and that show that we are more likely to be scared of black people than white people.  The former has profound implications on black people competing economically; the latter has profound implications on black people being over-policed.  And I think the events of the past week are a better illustration of this fact than any study could be.  I find it very difficult to believe that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile would have been shot if they were white.  Not being viewed as potentially dangerous by law enforcement is perhaps the epitome of white privilege.

But, as you know, not everybody thinks the same way I do (regretfully).  There are many people who believe racism is over, or it’s overstated, or it’s balanced out by equal grievances against white people (reverse racism!).  I thought it would be fun to post the five most annoying arguments used by people like this to discount racism and police brutality against people of color.

The vast majority of violence against black people is perpetrated by other black people

Yes, gang violence, which is primarily what you are talking about, is a problem.  There are myriad causes of it, and myriad people trying to fix it, with varying degrees of success.  But what does this problem have to do with other problems like police brutality?  I mean, far more Americans kill Americans than foreign terrorists kill Americans -- does this mean we can't ever address terrorism?  One serious problem does not negate another serious problem, and we have to be able to work on multiple things at the same time.

Liberals just feel guilty about being white

I can't speak for all liberals, but I've never felt white guilt, because I didn't choose the color of my skin (I would have gone for something that doesn't burn quite as easily if I did), and because I didn't cause racism our society.  I was born into it like everybody else alive today.  With that said, I do feel privileged to be white -- because I am -- but that is a very different feeling than guilt.

Black Lives Matter supporters are such hypocrites -- they complain about the police and then as soon as shots were fired in Dallas they ran to the police for protection

Ugh... This is a particularly annoying charge.  The obvious rebuttal is that the BLM protesters are not anti-police; they're anti-police brutality.  That last word is very important.  Honestly, I can't figure out what's so hard about this differentiation.  It's a very simple concept.  Here's an analogy: If you speak out against child abuse, does that make you anti-parent?  Of course not.  It sounds absurd.  But that's basically what people are saying when they conflate being against police brutality with being against police.

Also, I would suspect that protesters were turning to police for protection, because its the police's job to protect them.  This brings me to the next topic...

It's not going to be worth it for police to protect people, if they are constantly being scrutinized and disparaged

Ahh... The so-called "Ferguson Effect."  How low is your standard for a police officer that you willingly accept that they won't do their job unless we only ever say nice things about them, even when they do something terrible.  I mean, call me crazy, but I think it is possible for police officers to be able to enforce the law without, say, shooting a black driver in the head because he rolls his car forward a few feet.  And I don't think it is wrong to say this.

If you don't do anything wrong, the police won't bother you

Yes, if everybody acted perfectly police brutality wouldn't be a problem.  We also wouldn't need police officers at all.  This notion that somehow people "get what they deserve," because they don't comply with everything an officer says is very troubling.  For one thing, when people are dealing with police officers they are usually stressed and aren't thinking straight, and sometimes, because they are humans who are stressed out and not thinking straight, they make mistakes.  Punishment for these mistakes should not be the death penalty.  Yes, we know Alton Sterling should not have been resisting arrested; yes, we know he add an extensive criminal record; yes, we know he was illegally carrying a gun -- nobody is saying otherwise.  What people are saying is that the cops did not have to shoot him at pointblank range, when they had already tackled and neutralized him.  I think I speak for most Americans we I say we want criminals to be apprehended and prosecuted through the justice system; we don't want police officers to play the part of judge, jury, and execution, without the first two.

OK, that's all I got.

Until next time...

Friday, July 1, 2016

Entry 339: Throats, Hands, Feet, Mouths, and Showers

Quite annoyed at the moment.  My throat felt normal almost this entire week, so I thought that maybe, possibly, hopefully it was completely better, and then literally threes minutes before I started writing this entry I ate some lunch and afterward it started bothering me again.  Why?!  Why?!   Why has my own esophagus turned against me?!  And to make matters worse another malady has entered the fray: hand, foot, and mouth disease.  I don't have it, but Lil' S2 does, which is worse.  It looks quite gross, but thankfully he doesn't seem too bothered by it.  Lil' S1 might have had it a few years ago.  It's pretty common in babies.  It typically runs its course in about a week and isn't that big a deal.  As I said before, however, it really needs a new name.  It sounds so much worse than it is.  It reminds me of mad cow disease (I think because there is something else called foot-and-mouth disease that affects cattle), and the two couldn't be more different.  With one your get little red bumps on your skin that clear up in a few days; with the other your brain degenerates into a spongy mess and you turn into a deranged lunatic before dying a horrible death.  There really should be some way to distinguish linguistically between the two.  I suggest the word disease only be reserved for things that are gravely serious, and for everything else we should use a term like illness or condition: Hand, foot, and mouth illness sounds much better -- it doesn't make you think your kid is dying when you first here it.

[I don't want to disgust you by posting photos of kids with hand, foot, and mouth disease, so I will put up a picture of former Colts defensive end Jon Hand instead.]

On a tangentially related note, I once knew a guy who had a genetic predisposition for Creutzfeld-Jakob disease (CJD), which is the human version of mad cow disease (formally known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy).  It's extremely rare, but some people in his family had it.  He said he watched his uncle die from it, and it made him very ambivalent about his own mortality.  He told me he often hoped he would die early (he was about 20 at the time) rather than risk contracting CJD later in life; it's that awful.  He was smoking a cigarette at the time, and I joked, "Well, if you keep that up, you might get your wish."  And he replied in the most matter-of-fact way possible, "Absolutely."

I've noticed that about kids who grow up with life-threatening disorders; they are very blasé about their own deaths.  I suppose you just learn how to cope without freaking out, like you learn any other survival skill.  I grew up with a kid who had something wrong with his internal organs -- I never really knew what -- and he always told people he was going to be dead by age 19.  I never paid it much attention because we were, like, 12 years old at the time, and at that age seven years might as well be 70 years, and also because he tended to be overly dramatic about other things.  But then he died in his early twenties, so yeah... he was actually pretty accurate on that one.

Okay... This entry got off on a more morbid note than I intended.  In happier news, FiveThirtyEight pegs Hillary Clinton as the very likely winner in November's election -- 80%, which is a bit higher than the 75% from the betting markets I cited last entry.  Now, the obvious counter to this is that FiveThirtyEight was totally wrong about Trump in the primary, and that's true, but the funny thing about that is that their poll-based modeling was actually right!  It consistently showed Trump being a very strong candidate in the primary.  The problem is that nobody actually believed it.  Everybody thought Trump was a joke (he is), and that being a joke precludes somebody from winning the Republican primary (it doesn't).  Even the people who run a data-journalism website fell into the trap of believing the narrative instead of the numbers.

It's like when I was in Missouri with my family for my cousin's wedding last year, and we put the wrong address in to the iPhone maps app, so the GPS took us the wrong way.  But then we changed it to the right address, but we were already going the wrong direction, so the GPS had to turn us around, and we ended up taking an absurdly circuitous route to travel a few blocks.  After that, my uncle refused to use the GPS for the rest of the trip, even though it was completely right.  The problem was the humans using it.

So Clinton is a heavy favorite at this point.  This is very good news.  Sure, the odds could change between now and November, and even if they don't, Trump could still win in an upset (20% ain't nothing).  But I would much, much, much rather have it be 80-20 Clinton at this point than the other way around.

In other news, we had to pay nearly $700 to fix a leak in our shower -- yay.  In a way, it should have been expected.  Before we moved in, we had the bathroom completely redone, and we kinda did it on the cheap.  S had a contractor she had used before, and he did the job for like a third of what other contractors were quoting a friend of ours who had her similar bathroom remodeled around the same time.  The job he did looks really good, so at first I was quite pleased, but then I started noticing evidence of shoddy work -- like the toilet paper nook is to shallow to hold a full roll of toilet paper, so we never actually use it, and also there is a small (nearly inaudible) leak in our sink faucet, and the handle on the shower would untwist and just pop off for seemingly no reason from time to time, and we would have to screw it back on.  But those were all small nuisances.  There was nothing majorly wrong -- until there was.  And that time was about a week ago.

There were three big problems, only one of which was fixed.  The first was the leak, which was caused by a piece in the hot water stem being slightly off-kilter.  There was no way to completely shut off the hot water.  The handle would just spin around and then turn the water back on again.  (It was the same handle that would pop off sometimes; I'm guessing this is not a coincidence.)  The second problem is that there is no valve for just that shower, so the plumber had to shut the water off in the entire house while he worked on it.  (And, as it would happen, I had to take a huge dump shortly after he arrived.  I knew that I would have one good flush from the water that was left in the tank, and I would have to use it wisely.  I did.)  The third is that he had a very hard time getting back at our pipes.  The aforementioned contractor installed our shower so that there is no way to get behind it (the other side is another shower in our other bathroom), and he didn't put in an access panel (and we didn't know enough to ask for one), so the only way to replace a major component would be to cut out a huge section of tile.  Initially that's what the plumber told me he was going to have to do, but he managed to get at the defective area by taking the handle out.  It's kinda jerry-rigged now, but it works, and the leak is gone, so, okay, I guess that's worth $700.

It's a lot of money, but we saved several thousand dollars going with a cheaper contractor, so if you look at it that way, we are still way ahead (for now).  I was saying this to S, but instead of taking it as a positive, which is how I meant it, she got defensive (probably because I was criticizing "her" contractor's work -- they have a good rapport, and he's a very nice guy).

She was like, "Well, how do you know it was something he did that caused the leak."

And I was like, "I don't know for sure, b-u-u-t... he installed it, and it's not like everything else is perfect.  Look at our toilet paper nook, and our sink, and remember when he came out to fix our bedroom door that wouldn't latch?  Well, it broke again like a week later.  And also he ran out of paint in our basement.  Oh, and don't forget..."

And she was like, "Okay.  Stop.  Whatever.  I don't care, anymore."

And I was like, "It's funny how you stop caring as soon as I start making good points."

And she was like, "Babe, I just got home.  I'm hungry and tired and we just spent $700 that I had earmarked for savings.  I'm really not in the mood to argue right now."

And I was like, "I think there's some leftover quiche in that blue Tupperware in the fridge, if you want to eat that."

On that note, until next time...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Entry 338: Oops... I Forgot to Post Something Last Week

I'm back after an unintentional one-week hiatus.  Earlier this week -- Tuesday, maybe -- I thought to myself, "Hey, I forgot to write a blog entry last weekend."  The problem is that I often write on Saturday, and last Saturday I was busy from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep.  We took the kids to an amusement park in Pennsylvania called Dutch Wonderland.  Then, when we got back, I hustled off to a friend's housewarming party.

Dutch Wonderland was pretty fun.  It's on the lower side of the amusement park scale (in every way except for the cost: $75 bucks a person -- oof!).  The rides are small and dingy and the attractions are kinda... meh.  But this is actually good when you have little kids, because it means they can do most the rides -- nothing does crazy loops or has huge drops or anything like that -- and it means the lines are manageable.  Plus little kids don't really care about shoddiness.  We went to an exhibit with big replicated dinosaurs, and Lil' S1 thought it was the greatest thing ever, even though the models looked kinda cheap.  Also they have a water park.  Lil' S1 went absolutely nuts in it.  I could barely keep up with him.

[I found this photo online.  Judging by the cars it must be at least 40 years old.]

The party was good also.  My friend A just bought a place in a neighborhood of D.C. called Eckington, which I had literally never heard of before Saturday.  She's a single, corporate attorney, with no kids, so you can imagine how different it was for me walking into her place from what I'm used to.  It was the first party I've been to that didn't have goody bags in, like... I don't even know how long.  In looking at how she lives, I thought to myself, "You know, I bet if I never had a family, I would still be pretty happy."  Don't get me wrong, nothing is more important to me than S and my boys, and I would be devastated if I lost them, but in an alternate reality, in which I decide not to go that route, I think I would still find my life rewarding and pleasurable -- just in a radically different way.

Is this a bad thing to think or to say out loud?  It feels taboo to write down such thoughts, but it's not a bad thing; it's a good thing.  I mean, look at the alternative.  What if, through bad luck, I just never met somebody I wanted to marry?  Or what if I did meet this person and she didn't want kids?  Or if I had defective sperm?  What if, for whatever reason, a family just never happened for me?  Should I just be miserable for my entire life?  That seems absolutely absurd.  So I'm standing by it: Going it alone would not (and was not) my first choice, but if it happened, I'd be just fine.  I'd be in better shape; I'd get more sleep; I'd go to the movies more; I'd play more Scrabble;and I'd travel more.  But, of course, I wouldn't have pictures like the ones below, so, you know...

[This is more the type of party I'm used to attending.  Lil' S1 is hanging back; he can't be too into it having previously declared that he hates princesses.]

And maybe it doesn't even matter anyway because the fate of everybody and everything in the universe was completely determined at the moment of the big bang.  Maybe we are all just bits of matter interacting in extremely complex ways.  But maybe it is a completely predictable system if there was someway to fully comprehend all the rules and all the input data.  Maybe I'm typing this right now, not because I'm making an active choice, but because all the particles in the universe have been interacting in a way that have led to this outcome and only this outcome.

It's something I've thinking about since I started reading A Brief History of Time. (I have since stopped reading it.  I can't hang with quantum theory.)  It might sound like "whoa, man, you're blowing my mind!" stoner blather, but I think there is actually something more profound there.  Think about it: If you, like me, believe that we are products of the physical universe, and not imbued with some sort of "otherworldliness" by a creator, then we should completely obey the laws of the physical universe.  This includes our minds.  So perhaps what we think of as free will is not actually free will, but particles in our brains interacting in a completely predetermine way to give us the illusion of free will (all our thoughts and actions would be completely predictable if we fully comprehended the totality of the universe).  I mean, if a "path" was started at the big bang -- why would humans have a special power that allows us to alter this path?  We don't think the sun can choose to alter its destiny.  A comet can't decide to streak in a different direction.  Why are humans different?  We certainly are self-aware in a way that a star or a comet (seemingly) is not, but that just means we understand the concept of free-will; it doesn't mean we have free will.  Human beings represent not even a speck in the known universe.  Isn't it the height of egoism to think that we have special agency in controlling the future that nothing else seems to have?

I don't know.  And it's difficult, because assuming we don't have free will has a whole raft of terrible implications.  For example, it means the holocaust was inevitable.  It also can be used to justify any terrible action by anybody.  If you think about it, a predetermined universe is the ultimate caste system: it means, in the most literal sense, that some people were born to be happy and some people were born to suffer, and there is nothing we can do about it.  This is highly unsatisfying, to say the least.

I guess this is one reason why people are religious.  Belief in a creator is a very convenient way to side-step this entire enigma: God created the universe and its laws; God created us; God gave us free will.  Bam!  Done.  But then if that's the case then who created God?  The Coast Guard?

[The famous "Pale Blue Dot" photograph of the Earth.]


In other news: Brexit!  That one really sneaked up on us, huh?  I listen to and read a lot of news, and I don't recall hearing much of anything about Brexit before this week.  Then it was like, "Oh, by the way, England is voting on Thursday about whether or not to leave the E.U., and it's, like, a huge fucking deal, so pay attention!"  I'm not going to pretend like I have any inkling about the ramifications this will have on us here in the U.S. (nobody really does), but I don't think it's a good thing.  It seems to have been driven largely by xenophobia and scapegoating "others," which is unfortunate.  A lot of people have made comparisons between the pro-Brexit movement and the rise of Donald Trump, and they seem apt to me.  In fact, Trump is in the U.K. right now, Tweeting about how great Brexit is.  Of course, he's in Scotland, which overwhelming voted to stay, but, hey, Trump has never been bother by major inconsistencies before -- why would he start now?

One thing I take solace in is that Trump is in a foreign country right now instead of running his presidential campaign here in the U.S.  As Jonathan Chait, has been continually pointing out, Trump's campaign has been a garbage fire thus far.  The bad news is that a garbage fire could still beat Hillary Clinton in a general election.  It is not likely, but it is not massively unlikely either.  The latest odds have Hillary at around 75%.  So if you take four pieces of paper and put them in a hat, one of them represents a Donald Trump presidency.  Scary thought, huh?

In other other news, my throat is still bothering me.  It doesn't even feel like it's getting better at all.  I went back to the ENT on Thursday, and he had another look inside, a longer look this time, and he just doesn't see anything out of the ordinary.  As I said before, this is both reassuring and troubling.  If it was a serious issue, presumably he would see signs of that, so in that way I'm glad everything looks good.  On the other hand something is wrong -- I'm experiencing the symptoms -- and it is very unsatisfying to be told, "sorry, I don't know what to do about it."  The newest "fix" is to take Prilosec for a month (acid reflux is a possible, though unlikely, cause) and hope it goes away.  That's it.  That's where I'm at: The Waiting Game.  And as everybody knows, The Waiting Game sucks.  It's much better to play Hungry, Hungry Hippos.

Until next time...

PS -- Can you find the two hidden The Simpsons references in this entry?  The answers can be found here and here.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Entry 337: AC Is Fixed, Throat Isn't

Our AC is fixed, but my throat is still bothering me, and I can't figure out why.  The most likely cause is that some food scratched my esophagus on the way down causing a minor infection (an un-chewed bit of cashew is my primary suspect).  But I'm not sure.  I went to the doctor, and it went down exactly like I said it would in my last entry:
So basically I’m going to sit in traffic for an hour for a doctor to examine me for two minutes to refer me to an ENT, so that I can burn another afternoon, so that he or she can tell me everything is fine and it will go away in a few days.
The good thing about going to see an ENT, however, is that he prescribed me an anti-inflammatory, which might help (but might not), and he looked at my throat with this thin probe that goes into your nose and down your esophagus (it's very uncomfortable; it made me gag several times).  But he didn't see anything out of the ordinary.  On the one hand, this is very good: He didn't see any "growths or lesions," so esophageal cancer is a very unlikely culprit.  On the other hand, it's not so good: It is difficult to fix something, when you don't know what that something is.  Like I said, he prescribed me an anti-inflammatory, but I think he did that primarily just to make me feel like he was doing something.  His real recommendation was to just wait for it to go away.  Okay.  That's what I'll do.

In other news, we are sleep training Lil' S2, and Night 1 did not go well.  The downside of having S's mom here for so long is that she took care of the little guy too well.  She pampered him.  She rocked him to sleep every evening, and if he made the slightest peep during the night, she immediately picked him up and coddled him.  Now he expects that kind of treatment from us, and we're like, "Sorry, little dude.  We gotta work in the morning, so you gotta learn how to sleep through the night on your own."

We're doing the Ferber method, in which we let him cry in increasingly long intervals, before attending to him briefly.  The idea is to get him comfortable with us not being around, but not make him feel like we have completely abandoned him.  It's a tough balance.  Since we're on a formal regimen, we use a stopwatch, so we know exactly how long he cries before he goes to sleep.  S predicted it was going to be two hours, but she's constantly overly pessimistic about such.  I said it would be about ten minutes, under the notion that people don't realize how long ten minutes of straight baby-bawling actually feels like.  We were both way off.  It took 45 minutes -- three-quarters of an hour of uninterrupted, red-faced, snot-nosed, ear-piercing crying.  That is so brutal.  Although 45 minutes is technically closer to ten minutes than it is to two hours, I think S was right in spirit.  And as if that wasn't bad enough, he woke up and did it again at 4:00 a.m.  Ugh... I know it's short-term pain/long-term gain, but that's not a very comforting maxim when you are currently in the pain period.

Other than that things have been going pretty well.  I've been rocking the crossword puzzle scene -- another NYT puzzle ran yesterday, along with news that three more have been accepted -- so that's cool.  Lil' S1 is almost finished with his first year of school, which is also cool, other than the fact we have to go to a bunch of bullshit "graduation" events.  I'm typically not one to grouse like an old fogy about today's namby-pamby, "participation throphy" kids, but there a few things along these lines that I do find highly annoying.  One of them is the insistence on making every transition in their lives a special moment.  My son is going from PK3 to PK4.  Many people don't even know those grades exist.  He is literally just moving from one side of the classroom to the other.  We don't need to commemorate it as if he just graduated from the Starfleet Academy (a nugget for all you sci-fi nerds).

Another thing I find irritating -- and this is relevant because today we are going to our fourth of seven birthday parties in a two month -- are goody bags.  Nowadays it is expected that, as host of a birthday party, you provide goody bags for all the other kids as leave.  I don't think I had even heard of goody bags as a kid.  It is at the point where Lil' S1 started crying at the last birthday party we went to because I told him they didn't have goody bags.  As it turns out they did, so he got one after all, but what the hell?  Pizza and cake and jumping in an inflatable bouncy house with your friends isn't enough?  You also need to have a lollipop and a Ninja Turtle pencil for the ride home?  It's ridiculous.  If we have a party for our boys this summer, which we might, I'm laying down the law: No goody bags!  That law will quickly get overturned by S, who will simply buy the goody bags on her own, knowing full well that, ultimately, I'm not going to care enough to stop her.  But still, it will be laid down nonetheless.

Alright a few bullets before I go:

  • I, like almost everybody else in the country, was completely shocked and dismayed by the leniency of the punishment for that Stanford swimmer/rapist Brock Turner.*  As many have pointed out, the judge basically said, "Because of his privileged life, prison would be especially difficult on him, therefore I'm going to go easy on him."
  • Sometimes I think back on myself at the age, and I think it is fortunate that I never did anything unforgivably stupid, because I never expressly thought about consent -- it wasn't something I remember explicitly considering.  But then I read the account of what Turner did -- dragging an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, disrobing her, and penetrating her with his finger, likely with worse to come if he hadn't have been caught -- and I think, "oh, right, but I'm not a rapist and never was."  And then I profusely apologize to my 20-year-old self for deigning to entertaining such a heinous notion, even in the most hypothetical sense.
  • But I do have a point about consent: I didn't explicitly think about it back then, because it wasn't in the forefront of our minds as a society back then.  Like most boys I knew what consent was and I abided by it, even if I never really actively thought about it.  But that's not good enough.  It needs to something we explicitly address with boys as part of sex education (and girls too, but mainly boys), and I think we are trending in that direction.  Consent will be the main topic of one of the many uncomfortable conversations I do not look forward to having with my sons.
  • On a completely different note, Elizabeth Warren endorsed Hillary Clinton today.  This might be a big deal.  A lot of left-wing Hillary haters love Elizabeth Warren, so this could persuade a few more people to "hold their noses" and vote for Hillary.  Warren is a big "get" for Clinton.
  • The biggest one, of course, is Bernie Sanders.  I think he will eventually get behind Clinton, but who really knows?  I really, really, really hope he does.  A Donald Trump presidency is absolutely terrifying.  It seems like every election, we exaggerate the negative consequences of the hypothetical presidency of the candidate we don't like.  But in this case such prognostications of doom-and-gloom might actually be warranted.  This is absolutely not the time to get principled.  The lesser of two evils is absolutely the way to go this election.  And this is coming from somebody who supported Ralph Nader... in 2008.
  • I picked up Stephen Hawkins' A Brief History of Time on a whim and started reading it.  It's really good.  It's a mind fuck.  Here are three things that most mess with brain if I think about them for too long, in reverse order: (3) Relativity of time, (2) Infinity, (1) Death. 
And on that note, until next time...

*To be completely accurate, Turner was not convicted of rape because of legal technicalities.  But I think most non-lawyers would classify what he did as rape.