Thursday, January 12, 2017

Entry 363: Leaving Town Again (Short Entry)

I'm a man on the move -- these past few weeks, at least.  I'm going of out town again.  It's my cousin's wedding in San Diego, so I'm taking a four-day weekend and making the trip sans wife and kids.  I'm not looking forward to the travel -- so much so that I thought about not going.  I mean, it's not a great time, all things consider.  We just got back from a long vacation, and it's a long flight (and I have a stupid layover in LA), and it's also a bad time to leave S alone with the kids (winter weekends are the worst and school is out Monday for MLK Day), and I just don't like being away from my boys in general.  I worry about them constantly.  Oh, you can also toss in the fact that I haven't been feeling great lately (although sleeping in a place where nobody will wake me up at four in the morning will probably help that).  But, I really like my cousin, and I really like weddings, so I'm going.  Also it's a chance to see family I don't see very often -- aunts, uncles, other cousins, etc.  Who knows when the next time I'll be able to see them is?  Actually, a different cousin is getting married in the summer, so I do know when, but you get my point.

Anyway, gotta hit it.

[Incidentally, the Chargers' just announced they are leaving San Diego after 56 years to move to Los Angeles.  A referendum in San Diego to build a new stadium using a hotel tax failed, so the owner has "no choice" but to leave.  I mean, what do you expect him to do, use him own money to build a place for his $1.5-billion football team to play?]

Until next time...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Entry 362: Trying to Talk Myself into 2017

We got back from South Carolina New Year's Day.  We woke up early, like 5:30 a.m. early, and drove the seven hours (nine since we have kids) to DC.  There wasn't much traffic (unsurprisingly not many people were out and about the morning of January 1), and since it was Sunday, we still got that vacation "buffer day" for the observed holiday on Monday.  It worked out quite nicely -- quite nicely indeed.  Y'know, other than the fact we spent half our waking hours Sunday in a car.  When are teleporters going to become real things?

Lil' S1 put up a bit of a struggle when it was time to go.  We woke him up from a deep sleep, and he went to bed late the night before (he had trouble falling asleep because of the "lightning," i.e, New Year's Eve fireworks), and he got it in his head somehow that we were getting a puppy before going home.  So our conversation when I woke him up went something like this:

Me [gently shaking him awake]: Hey buddy, time to wake up.  We're going home!
Him: What?!  In the night time?!
Me: It's not night.  It's the morning.  The sun just hasn't come up yet.
Him: Did you get my puppy?
Me: No, we aren't getting one.
Him [in tears]: I want a puppy!!!
Me: If you hurry up and get ready, you can watch Rescue Bots on the iPad in the car.
Him [immediately stops crying]: Okay, Daddy.  Can I watch the one where Dr. Morocco has a shark submarine?
Me: Uh... sure

And that was the end of that potential tantrum.

[We watched the ball drop in the EdVenture Museum in Columbia, South Carolina.  It fell at noon and the kids toasted juice boxes.]

But it's been rough since we got back, truth be told.  Everybody is sick and both kids have been whining incessantly.  They got spoiled big time at S's parents' place, and it's been hard to get them back into their usual routines.  After being lavished with gifts and attention for two weeks, they are loath to wake up and go back to their non-holiday lives.  And we don't want to be too strict with them (S more so than me) because they are both sick.  It's probably just common colds, but S thinks Lil' S2 might have croup.   Either way they legitimately aren't feeling well, so we're trying to walk that impossible line of simultaneously being comforting and stern.


The trip was good -- way too much driving though.  All told we drove from DC to Florida and back.  S has a cousin in Jacksonville, so we all went to visit them for a few days after Christmas.  I did all but a few of the 25 or so total hours of driving, which is fine -- I'd typically rather be the driver than a passenger, if only because the driver usually gets a comfortable seat.  (The car was always jam-packed with people and car seats and luggage and God knows what else.)  While driving, I noticed a new type of annoying driver.  Everybody knows the left-lane-hugger -- the driver who gets in the fast lane and then drives ten mph slower than everybody else, so that a buildup of cars, to which said driver is utterly oblivious (or worse, just doesn't care about), quickly accumulates behind him or her.  But I came across the much rarer counterpart of this terrible person -- the right-lane-hugger.  I watched a man drive at least twenty miles, not particularly slowly, mind you, without moving from the right lane.

What made this so noteworthy is that traffic was very light, there were two other open lanes, and there were frequent mergers on the right.  So this guy would be cruising along, and then he would get to a spot where other cars had to merge into his lane, and instead of moving to the center lane, making life easier and safer on everybody (himself included), he made all the merging cars fit in around him.  I understand this in heavy traffic when it's difficult to change lanes, or if there are only two lanes, and you don't want to block the left lane, but that wasn't the case.  There was a wide-open center lane.  Why not use it, and let the other cars merge with ease?  At one point there was a police officer who was out of his car attending to somebody on the side of the road.  The shoulder was not very wide, so I thought to myself, "Surely, now he will move over." Nope; he didn't.  Instead of moving over to the completely empty area one lane to his left, he whizzed right by, 60 mph, leaving only about a five-foot gap between his 3,000-pound missile and an exposed police officer.  So dangerous, and so weird.  Not as weird as that car who drove across Maine with one tire on the shoulder of the road the entire time, but weird nonetheless.

[St. Augustine, Florida]


S's cousin's was good.  The accommodations were a bit cramped, though.  There were 11 people staying in a one-story house with two beds.  I got one of them, but it was a little kid's twin bed (with princess sheets), and it was not comfortable at all.  It felt like a spring was poking my kidney all night.  I never got a good night's sleep while I was there.  But, I gotta say, I like tropical Christmas.  You can have your Norman Rockwell, rustic, white Christmas, if you want it; I'll take the warm weather.  I would much rather be able to go outside in a t-shirt and shorts than be able to curl up by the fire with hot cocoa.  I don't even like cocoa.  It's too sweet.

While in Jacksonville we went to St. Augustine, the self-proclaimed oldest city in the U.S., and it was really cool.  There are all sorts of shops offering various forms of gimcrackery, but I just liked the vibe.  The city was lit up with a light festival, everybody was happy, and the kids could just run wild with their toy light-sabers S's cousin bought them from a street vendor at the beginning of our visit.  (He and his wife have two daughters -- ages 11 and 7 or thereabouts.)  Also, we ate at a really good pizzeria.  It was just fun all around.

Getting there, however, was not fun -- not at all.  It was SO crowded.  I was not prepared for the onslaught of traffic and crowds that came with our trip.  S's cousin and his family (and S's sister) all went in one car, and I drove S, her parents, and our boys in another car, and I don't know if S's cousin didn't know how crowded it would be, or if he just didn't communicate it S, or if she didn't properly relay it to me.  But I was expecting a leisurely trip to a city with ample parking and space, and that is not what I got.  Our instructions were to park at the fort in the middle of the city.  But unfortunately S put the wrong fort into the GPS, and we went several miles in the wrong direction before noticing our error.  Then when we turned around and got close to where we were supposed to go, we got slammed with traffic -- both cars and pedestrians.  It was like the traffic at a stadium after a major sporting event ends.

To make matters much worse, we still didn't know exactly where we were going.  We didn't have a precise location of the fort, and it was the type of thing where if you make a wrong turn you lose 15 minutes, because that's how long it's going to take you to navigate back to the right path.  Eventually, we found parking somewhere else, but we were over a mile from where we needed to be, and we didn't have a stroller, and S's mom has bad knees.  So we had to get back in the car, get back in the traffic, and find that damn fort.

Finally, I told S to tell somebody in her cousin's party to send us a pin-drop of the fort's location, which she did, and so we got an actual (correct) location we could put into the GPS.  It was less than a mile away, but it took us over a half hour to get there and park and meet up with everybody else.  The thing is, I thought of the idea for them to send us a pin-drop when we first realized how bad the traffic was, but I didn't say anything, because S absolutely hates it when she ends up as the middle-person in a conversation between me and her family, and everybody was already extremely irritated, and I didn't want to inflame things, so I just kept my mouth shut.  I told S this later, and she responded, "What?!  I wish you would have said that!  You could have saved us all a lot of headache!"  Oops.  Oh well, like I said, it was awesome once we got there, so... all's well that end's well, I suppose.

Speaking of ending, it's about time to wrap up this post.  I wanted to talk about Rogue One, because I saw it over the holiday and quite liked it, but I think it will have to wait until another time (or more likely I just won't ever write about it all).  I'll just say one thing about it (warning: contains a veiled spoiler).  Given the events of the final twenty minutes of the movie, I completely understand why Darth Vader didn't believe Princess Leia at the beginning of A New Hope when she told him her spaceship was on a diplomatic mission.

Until next time...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Entry 361: Winter Break -- Woo!

Likely no entries for a few weeks.  We are headed out for the rest of 2016, going south for a much needed vacation.  I got a book loaded on my Kindle -- The Man Who Knew Infinity -- and I'm looking forward to finishing it.  It's about the mathematician S. Ramanujan.  There is a movie by the same name coming out in April, and I would feel like a fraud if I saw the movie without reading the book first.  Although the book is not as good as I was hoping thus far.  It's not bad, by any means; I'm enjoying it, but it's slow, and there isn't nearly enough math in it.  The "problem" with it is that it is written for a general audience, and I want something more technical and math nerdy.  Less culture, more conjectures!  Oh well.

It's a shame the movie isn't out already, as S and I might actually get a chance to go to the theater by ourselves.  We usually do about once a year.  Last year we saw Force Awakens, so this year maybe we will see Rogue One.  Although, honestly, I'm not that into the new Star Wars movies.  I could take them or leave them.  They would be great to watch with my kids, but they are still too young (and I've heard Rogue One is 133 minutes of war and violence).  But, hey, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon than watching a new Star Wars film -- like, say, being forced to watch Office Christmas Party.

Okay, gotta go -- a long drive awaits.  Until next time...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Entry 360: A Little Taste of Single Parenthood

It's still just me and Lil' S1 for another week.  Well, not quite a week; S gets back Friday evening, so this is the last weekend day we are alone together.  That's key.  The weekdays are relative easy/boring.  It's an hour or so in the morning mostly getting him ready for the day, and a few hours in the evening mostly getting him ready for bed.  I'm in a time pinch when I have to go into the office because of my commute, but other than that it's not bad.

But the weekends are a whole 'nother ball or wax.  Yesterday was long.  I took him to get a haircut in the morning.  Then we went to the Starbucks next door just to kill some time.  Then we got back home, the clock showed 11:00 a.m., and I thought to myself, "Great, so what do we do for the next nine hours?"  Usually we would go to the park, but it's too cold here right now.  There are indoor play areas around and things of that nature, but I'm never sure whether he's going to take to them.  If he's with a group of kids -- no problem.  But if it's just him, sometimes he just doesn't want to play, and then you're in the weird position of trying to coerce your kid into an activity that's supposed to be fun for them, because you drove all the way there and paid the $15 to get in.  You're like, "Enjoy yourself, goddammit!  Jump into that big foam pit or I'll throw you in myself!"  Actually, Lil' S1 would love it if I threw him in.  That's the other thing that happens sometimes: If there are no other kids around his age, he wants me to play with him.  This is problematic because I often physically cannot do the things he does (last time I tried to jump on a trampoline I damn near threw my back out), and because a big reason for us going is because I wanted a break.  We can play together in our basement anytime.

These interstices of single parenthood really make me appreciate full-time single parents.  It must be rough.  I mean, if I was a single parent, I would structure my life differently to help relieve some of the burden.  For example, I would move closer to my family, and I would become more involved with parent groups and play groups and things of that nature.  A big part of the reason it's hard on us when S's goes away is because we are so accustomed to having her here.  But still, I imagine there are many things that are just more difficult as a single parent, no matter how inured you get to them.

Today is nice because Lil' S1 went to some friends' house.  When our friend A found out it was just he and I for a few weeks, she offered to take for him for a day, and I said "yes" without thinking twice.  She has three young kids, and they play together nicely, so it all works out.  I'm not exactly sure what "the day" means -- she said she will just text me when she wants me to come get him -- but I'm hoping it's closer to dinner time than lunch time.  We shall see.

Anyway, I should probably go now -- I want to take advantage of this opportunity and get some stuff done around the house -- but before I do, I wanted to link to a post by Paul Krugman about an article by Matt Yglesias.  They're about Trump's brand of populism, and how a big part of it is contrasting oneself with those snooty, lefty elitists.  It doesn't matter that Trump is, at his core, a spoiled rich kid, who was born into the aristocracy, who has never had to do any "real" work in his life, and who opposes things like unions and minimum wage increases and government regulations that would actually benefit the proletariat.  All that matters is that he says he likes fast food and guns and fossil fuels and speaking English ("this is America!") and factory jobs and even Christianity (the Bible is his favorite book, after all) -- unlike those effete coastal liberals who think they are too good for all this stuff.

It really is brilliant marketing, and while I think much of the "liberals should have seen this coming!" analysis about the election is 20-20 hindsight to the nth degree (Remember: millions more people voted for Hillary!  We weren't that wrong.), I will say that people like myself probably underestimated the appeal of Trump to some extent, because we thought: Not that many people are stupid enough to fall for this, right?

And therein lies the rub.  In many ways, the white working class is right about people like me: We do think we're better -- not that our lives are any more valuable or that our experiences are any more meaningful.  We don't think we are more deserving of existence.  But we do think that we're smarter, or at least that we have more knowledge, and we can leverage this knowledge into a better country for everybody, if we could somehow get through to people.  We have good reasons for being the way we are.  We don't like fast food, because it cause health problems; we like gun control, because the data show unfettered access to guns makes it easier to commit mass murders (especially in big, dense cities, where most of us live); we don't like fossil fuel, because we believe in the science of anthropogenic global warming; we like multiculturalism because we live in places where it works (for the most part) and because we believe the economists who tell us immigration is not the job killer it's made out to be; we like factory jobs, but we recognize that technology is moving the economy in a new direction, and we need to adapt; we're fine with Christianity, until it is used to justify discrimination or teaching pseudoscience like creationism in public schools.  We feel this way not because we're on "Team Liberal," or because we have an innate disdain for working class whites, but because we, not you, have put in the time and the energy to study these issues from an objective, scientifically-minded vantage, and these are our conclusions.

Could we be wrong about things?  Of course.  Are there things we still don't understand?  Yes, many.  But that doesn't negate everything we have to say, just like a doctor's advice about how to cure a disease isn't useless, just because we haven't completely eradicated sickness.   We are constantly walking a tightrope between being confident enough to put our ideas forward, and being humble enough to question our assumptions and conclusions.  (And this humbleness often works to our disadvantage.)

Whenever I hear about elitism, I'm reminded of my favorite Isaac Asimov quote:
“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
If being an elitist means thinking highly of the acquisition of knowledge so that you can make the best decisions possible, then I am a proud elitist.  And I only want elitists running the country.  My question is, why doesn't everybody?  It always comes back to this: Why can't everybody think like me?

Until next time...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Entry 359: On Chess


It is a pretty good time for fans of Seattle sportsball.  The Seahawks are comfortably in first place; the Sounders improbably made it to the MLS finals; and the University of Washington even more improbably qualified for the college football playoffs.  But don't worry, I'm not going to talk about these things in depth.  Of the five people whom I know read this blog regularly not a one of them is interested in Seattle sports.  I am however going to talk about a different sport -- kinda: chess.

Magnus Carlsen, a 26-year-old Norwegian chess wunderkind, retained his title of "Greatest Chess Player Alive" (probably "ever," honestly), by defeating Russian challenger Sergey Karjakin in the World Chess Championship on Wednesday.  The match was incredibly close, which was not expected, but Carlsen, the heavy favorite, ultimately pulled it out in "overtime."  This event likely would have come and gone without my notice had I not heard it discussed on a podcast.  I don't follow chess regularly, but it's a great subject to do a deep dive on, so every now and then I will go down the chess rabbit hole, and this match gave me a great opportunity to do so.

[The baby-faced kid who runs the dining hall in your dorm?  No!  The greatest chess player ever.]

I've tried on several occasions to take up playing chess, but it has never really stuck.  I never felt like I was making much progress as a player.  I would read annotated games and have little idea why one move was better than another, even after it was explained.  When I would play (usually against a computer) my entire strategy was to set up a very focused, multi-move siege on one of my opponent's major pieces.  And then as I was carrying it out, my opponent would either (a) move the piece to safety; (b) take one of my major pieces that I had left unprotected because I was too focused on my attack.  Then I would lose.

Also, chess is a game with an extremely steep "entry fee," meaning in order to be good you have to do a lot of tedious memorization.  With the aid of computers, people have mapped out thousands upon thousands of different opening sequences, and if you don't learn them, you simply can't compete with somebody who has.  It's like Scabble in that if you don't have the dictionary more or less completely memorized, you will never be a top player no matter how good you are at actually playing Scrabble.

But chess is very different from Scrabble in that there is no randomness to it.  It never comes down to the luck of the draw.  This is both good and bad.  It's good in that it's pretty much as "fair" a game as you can possibly have -- our wits against your opponent's.  It's bad in that this can make games boring to follow.  When both players of a chess match are really good, ties are overwhelmingly likely (in the 12 regulation games, Carlsen and Karjakin drew 10 of them), and games often turn on a single misstep.  You rarely see amazing comebacks and swings in win-expectancy like you do in Scrabble or poker or a game in which luck is an integral part.  Now, there are variations of chess that are more exciting, and you can induce action by making players move more quickly (this is how they break ties in official matches -- they continually decrease the amount of time on the players' clocks until somebody wins outright), but I think a lot of "true" chess aficionados view this as a bastardization of the game -- like how many soccer fans don't like penalty kicks as a tie-breaker.

Another reason I'm interested in chess is the a.i. aspect.  It's the perfect human-vs.-machine game -- or at least it was.  It's not much of a competition anymore.  The decision is in: Machines won.  There is a good documentary Game Over about the (in)famous 1997 match in which IBM's Deep Blue beat grandmaster Garry Kasparov in disputed (by Kasparov, at least) fashion.  (Apparently you can watch the entire movie on YouTube.)  But the whole thing seems quite quaint now, given that I could probably download a free chess app on my phone that could defeat Magnus Carlsen with ease.

But don't despair, fellow human, Skynet isn't taking over just yet.  Although the best chess algorithm can defeat the best human, a decent chess player with the aid of a computer can defeat the best computer by itself.  There is a whole new variant of chess called centaur chess (or advanced chess) in which humans compete against each other, but the use of computers is completely legal.  The best players are those who can effectively manipulate computers to look for good moves, but not rely completely on the output from a single program.

In general, this is the way humans "stay ahead" of computers.  We use them to make ourselves smarter (and if you believe futurist Ray Kurzweil, we are not that far away from cyborg brains).  Computers can do amazing things like, say, solve difficult math problems or fill in crossword puzzle grids (y'know, for people who are into math and crossword puzzles), but the best work is still done by a human using a computer as a tool.  People aren't obsolete yet.  Also, when it comes to Terminator 2 style takeovers, there is another thing we have to consider: We can still turn computers off.  They aren't sentient beings.  That's a pretty big thing.  Imbuing a previously inanimate object with a sense of self is not exactly a trivial accomplishment.

When it comes to chess a.i. specifically, I have some personal connections.  When I was about ten I set out to "solve" chess.  That is, I was going to write down every possible combination of moves, so that when I played, I could just follow along in my master book of moves and never lose!  This, of course, is beyond naive.  The total number of possible combinations of chess moves is something literally unimaginable -- like if a billion people were able to write a billion moves per second for a billion days, you still wouldn't be anywhere near it.  (Note: I don't know if this is technically true or not; I'm just saying it to make a point.)  But, hey, at least I recognized that chess could, in theory, be solved by brute force enumeration.  That's not bad for a preteen.  I was just too ambitious.  If I had gone with tic-tac-toe, I probably could have pulled it off.

I remember I told my dad about my plan to solve chess, and he was like, "yeah... you're not going to do that."  And I insisted that I was, and he was like, "no you aren't."  And I again insisted that I was, and he again told me that I wasn't.  And the conversation finally ended with him telling me to go ahead and try.  (It's funny how the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  I can't tell you how many conversations I have with Lil' S1 in which he insists something is true when it is clearly false.  The other day he drew a '3', and said it was an 'A'.  When I told him he was wrong, he ran into his room crying and got under his covers.  Oh well, he needed a nap anyway.)  I didn't even get past white's first move.  After I did a few pawns, I realized that perhaps my dad knew what he was talking about, and started playing Nintendo or something.

[Fisher vs. Spassky in 1972.  One of the most interesting chess matches in modern history.]

So I never did solve chess, but as a junior in high school I did program my own chess engine in computer science class: Ski-Bot the chess playing machine.  I consider it my greatest academic achievement.  I'm not being facetious.  I actually think it was a bigger accomplishment than my Ph.D. dissertation.  As a seventeen-year-old with about three months worth of programming classes, I wrote a computer algorithm that could actually play chess against the user.  Ski-Bot was by no means a great chess player, but it could whoop up on beginners, and it would always catch a mistake, so it impressed a lot of people.  I still have it on floppy disk somewhere, but I don't have an old Mac to run it on, and there is a decent chance that the magnetic tape of the disk has eroded anyway.  It's more than 20 years old after all.  So Ski-Bot might be gone forever.  But that's okay.  I'll just tell people I retired it after it beat Nat Nguyen, the best chess player in my class, much like IBM retired Deep Blue after it beat Kasparov.

Alright, I think you are probably tired chess by now (if you've even stuck it out this far), so I will call it a post.

Until next time...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Entry 358: The Turkey's a Little Dry... THE TURKEY'S A LITTLE DRY!!!

I made my first ever Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.  It came out pretty well, given it was all planned in the eleventh hour.  On Tuesday during work, S and I were texting about what we should do for the holiday.  We didn't have any firm plans.  Our friends informally invited us over, but they live on the other side of the city, and with nap schedules and all that, it sounded like too much of a hassle.  (Yes, that's where we are at right now: We didn't go to our friends' house because they live in a different section of the city.  They are still in D.C., but they live in the southeast quadrant, and we just can't be bothered to leave the northwest.)  So we decided to just stay home, and then I had a brilliantly bold idea: I could cook Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't really know how to do this, but it couldn't be that hard -- right?

Turns out, that is in fact right.  If you were expecting a Mr. Mom-style comedy of errors, in which I try to stuff the turkey with a loaf of bread and then cook it in the toaster, you are out of luck (and you should update your movie collection).  I made a perfectly acceptable, decent-tasting turkey dinner.  I overcooked the Turkey a tad bit because I was so scared of undercooking it and killing my family with salmonella.  But I eat my turkey mixed with potatoes and stuffing and dosed in gravy anyway, so I hardly notice if it's a tad bit dry.  And in my defense, I didn't have a meat thermometer.  They were all out of proper meat thermometers at the supermarket, so I bought a soup thermometer and tried to sorta jabbed it in to a hole I cut with a knife.  I think it actually worked, but I didn't completely trust the reading, so even though it said it was done, I left it in for an extra 15 minutes, which I think dried it out a little bit.  But, like I said, no biggie.  S liked it; Lil' S1 "liked" it (i.e., he choked down a piece we made him eat before he could watch iPad); Lil' S2 didn't really like it, but turkey is one of the few foods he doesn't like in general -- he ate everything else I made.  I bought the smallest turkey I could find, and I'm still going to get five meals out of it and then likely throw some of it away.

The rest of the courses were fine as well.  The mashed potatoes were lumpy because I mashed them with a wooden spoon (in addition to a meat thermometer, we apparently could use a potato masher).  But I actually prefer my potatoes lumpy, so that's fine with me.  Then I also made some green beans (gotta have something green), some stuffing, some bread rolls, and of course a pot of gravy.  Good eatin'!

If I do this again next year, I'm going to try to snazz it up a bit.  I went very conservative, because it was my first time, and because I bought everything in one supermarket trip two days before Thanksgiving.  Some people like it simple, and I do too, but all things equal, I prefer it not simple.  I'm the food asshole who ruins it for everybody.  I'm the reason if you order a hamburger in D.C. it might come topped with saffron orange aioli, or if you get coleslaw it might have dried cranberries in it, or a club sandwich might come on focaccia bread.  I'm the guy who loves all that fancy shit.  So next year, I might try to do it up.  We shall see.

As for the ritual of Thanksgiving, Lil' S1 went around the table and asked us all what we are thankfully for -- it was cute; he must have learned it at school -- but I'm not feeling too thankful this year.  Yeah, sure, I have my family and my health and all that, but I would still have that if we didn't elect a crazy man to be our next president.  A bunch of my friends on Facebook put up posts giving thanks to God, and, in light of our recent election, I was so tempted to reply with something snarky (they're all Trump haters), but I bit my tongue (held my fingers?).  I hate arguing on Facebook, and I hate arguing about religion, so I probably made the right choice in not arguing on Facebook about religion.

Bill Maher said something I found funny (because it's true) on his last show about religion [paraphrase]: "It's hard to have a rational discussion about religion, because it's such bullshit."  I'm nicer and less vocal about religion than Maher -- mostly because I'm not a comedian who makes a very nice living, in part, off of ridiculing religion -- but I agree with his broad assessment of it.  It's all such nonsense.  It's fairy tales.  I've noticed I've become a much more staunch atheist as I've gotten older.  This doesn't mean I've become more closed-minded or less accepting of people who think differently -- it's the exact opposite, in fact (live and let live is my motto).  What it means is that, on a personal level, I don't hedge my bets with religion anymore.  I admittedly have zero faith.

I was never a formally religious person, but when I was younger, I still believed in God.  I still had a fear of God.  I thought that if I disrespected him, even in my own head -- thought he didn't exist or thought his rules were bullshit -- that somehow he would punish me for it later.  I also used to pray to God frequently, and believed that it worked in some sort of long-term cosmic way.  Even though I didn't go to church or worship, I thought that I had a personal "understanding" with God, like you do with that old friend you haven't seen in a decade: You do your thing, and I'll do mine, but you know I love you, and if the chips are down, I always got your back.  God and I were tight.  He was just alright with me.

But something changed.  At some point I realized that I hadn't checked in with God in a very long time, and that my life was absolutely no different.  I realized nothing bad happens to you if you don't believe in God, and good things don't happen to you if do.  I realized that my reasons for believing in God all required a presumption of God to begin with.  It was circular logic.  And once I stepped outside the circle, I realized how silly it all really was.

After all, there have been thousands of "circles" that people have been caught in throughout history; there have been thousands of gods and religions we all dismiss as absurd now -- sun gods, harvest gods, rain gods (oh wait), war gods, etc. -- but now we are supposed to believe that we've finally figured it out?  It just so happens that we are living at a moment in human in history in which we've discovered the one real god and the one true religion?  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  Look, maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Christianity or Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or Taoism or Pastafariansim really is the one true religion.  Maybe.  We shall see -- or we won't.  My money is one the latter.

OK, I think I'll wrap it up here.  S took the kids out for a little while, but they are due back soon, and I'm getting hungry.  I'm not sure what I'll have for lunch -- probably turkey.

Until next time...

Friday, November 18, 2016

Entry 357: Things Are Just Going to Suck for a While... They'll Get Better... Then They'll Probably Suck Again

I don’t know the official stages of grief, but I’m pretty sure “acceptance” is one of them.  That’s where I’m at right now.  I’ve accepted that things are going to suck for a while, and there is not much I can do about it.  I accepted that there is going to be a black cloud hanging over me (and most the nation) for – who knows how long?  A month?  A year?  Two years?  Four years?  I don't know.  But I do know that every time I think a good thought, it’s quickly purged from my head by the same terrible thought.

“Yes! The Seahawks beat the Patriots! ... (But Trump is going to be president.)”

“Mmm, these nachos are pretty good… (But Trump is going to be president.)”

“Ha!  Lil’ S2 is so cute dancing to music… (But Trump is going to be president.)”

It’s like there is a little orange devil sitting on my shoulder, who pokes me in the brain with his trident as soon as I start to feel the slightest bit happy.  And he’s not going away anytime soon.  I can’t get rid of him.  I just have to wait for him to die on his own.  He will die.  I will feel better.  I was sad when George Bush won in 2004 (though not nearly at the same level), but it’s not like my life sucked the next four years.  Those were pretty fun times for me, truth be told.  So things will get better* – at least until Trump’s policies actually start to take hold…
I’ve been trying to walk the fine line between staying informed and staying sane.  One underrated, shitty aspect about Trump’s election is that it ruins news.  I've become a bit of a political news junkie.  I read a lot about politics online; I binge read The New Yorker every few weeks; and I listen to five or six political podcasts every week.  But I’ve had to cut back drastically.  I just can’t handle listening to another breakdown of why Hillary lost, of why we all should have seen it coming, of what Trump’s victory means or what terrible cabinet choice he is going to make.  It’s just... tortuous.  So I’m forcing myself to do the bare minimum to not succumb to the siren song of quietism.  But after I do that bare minimum, I’m putting on the Bill Barnwell Show and trying to distract myself with the weekly NFL matchups.

But I’ll be ready for the fight.  There is a good chance people who normally just sit on the sidelines and root (like myself) are going to have to take a more active role in the resistance.  What this means exactly, I don’t know.  Unfortunately, I’m bad at activism.  But when an opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.  One thing I know I can do is donate to worthy causes.  I’ll definitely step up my donation game.

Alright, that's enough about that -- fine line, remember? -- let's move on to a more pleasant topic: My kids.

Things are going pretty well with them.  They still aren’t letting me sleep enough, but that’s to be expected.  Every morning Lil’ S2 wakes up around 6:00 a.m., and I bring him into bed with me (S is usually gone by then) where he tosses and turns for a half hour, and then we both fall back asleep, just in time for his older brother to bust through the door and destroy our five minutes of peace.  It’s an "awesome" morning ritual.

We had parent-teacher conferences for each kid this week.  I went to the one for Lil’ S1.  It was fine.  He’s doing fine.  I don’t really know what to take away from these types of events to be honest.  All the kids in his class were “graded” on their pattern recognition and their regulation of their emotions.  Lil’ S1 was a 4 out of 7 in the former and a 5 out of 6 in the latter.  So this means he can “copy simple repeating patterns,”and he can “comfort himself by seeking out a special object,” but he can’t “extend and create simple patterns” or  “look at a situation differently.”  Okay… good to know, I guess.  Although I think they got those grades reversed.  He can make simple patterns (the other day he made a “light saver” with connecting blocks that alternated exactly three dark blue and two light blue), but he really struggles to comfort himself and calm down once he gets revved up.  I mean, more so than most kids his age.  The other thing to keep in mind is that he turned four three months, while other kids in his class are already five.  Those nine months matter immensely at that age.

Lil’ S2 is doing well too.  He’s getting really good at understanding what we tell him, and he’s quite mobile for his age, but he still can’t talk at all.  This is a bit strange.  Most kids can say a few words around a year or so.  He’s already 15 months and there’s not even so much as a “no” or a “mine” or a “mama” or “dada” out of him.  S and I aren’t particularly worried because he doesn’t appear to be behind in other areas – like I said, he clearly understands things (for example, every time we put socks on him, he will go and grab his shoes, and he does the same thing for his brother, and he knows whose shoes are whose) – but it would be nice to hear him say a few words soon.

He’s actually going to go to his grandparents’ in South Carolina for about a month soon.  S has to take another trip to Africa for a few weeks in early December, so to make things easier on me, she’s going to take him to her parents’ place (I can handle one by myself, no problem), and then everybody will be going down there for the holidays.  So maybe he will start talking while he’s there.  Maybe my mother-in-law with teach him some Kannada.

Well, I’m writing this on my lunch break, and it is now over, so I will have to call it a post.

Until next time…

*Note: I'm only speaking for myself -- my privileged, white, heterosexual, cisgendered, upper-middle class self.