Saturday, March 31, 2007

Ravens advance!

In other news:
Being in California meant I missed the last hockey game. But my team, who I just got done dissing on this blog, gutted out a heroic 2nd-round playoff win against the #1 seed to put us in the semi-finals.
Apparently we only had 10 skaters, but they skated their ankles off and our goalie (a grouchy, profane, likeable aussie named Donna) had 42 saves. The game ended in a shootout (one-on-nones against the goalies), and my guys pulled it off.
Since it's a double-elimination finals tournament, we have two shots at getting into the finals and/or winning the whole thing.
Yeeah, baby!

sometimes i like my job

Conference this wk in Monterey -- I try to attend this one at least once a year to keep in touch with the people who form the bulk of my clientele.
My presentation went fine, met some new people, saw old friends, ate really well.
Anyway, some pics...

The hotel was very nice -- beachfront, good food, beautiful rooms.

But I dislike the fact that higher-end hotels like this one -- where the discounted rate is $185/night -- stick you for *everything* ($9/day for internet, even in the business center; $.38/pg for copies/printouts; $12/day for workout room; $18/day for parking; etc).

Mid-range hotels (Crowne Plaza, most Hilton properties, etc) typically provide most of that for free.

I guess the more expensive places do it because their clientele can afford it, but to me it feels like gouging.

There were animals.

Blew off the last couple of hours of the conference and David and I went to Carmel-by-the-Sea. I chose this pic because it makes my shoulders appear wider than my hips...

I thought this was interesting; the honey bucket and the stuff for temporary power hookup are a single unit. I wonder if this is just an invention of this construction company, or if that's a common way to do it. Kinda makes sense, since most construction jobs will need both...

My eldest nephew -- prom night, and at his first rollerhockey game of this season. We were late, so he didn't get on the ice (floor) until midway thru the first period, but he still scored a hat trick. I like to pretend it's his uncle's influence that drives his success... ;-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Personal Digital Assistance

Looking to get a new PDA.
Recommendations welcome.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Prima facie

The director of the Smithsonian resigned over the weekend.

On the face of it, it seems only sensible -- over the last 7 yrs he's been making between $400K and $1M a year, but also saw fit to charge the Smithsonian for $90K in unauthorized expenses (jet trips, gifts) and over a $1M for use of his house.

Understandably, some people thought that was excessive.

On the other hand:

I'm guessing one of this guy's main functions is to bring in money to the Smithsonian. Some people, by virtue of their talent, their charisma, their connections, or whatever are really good at that. And it appears that this guy was -- during his tenure, he apparently brought in a record one billion dollars (ie, hundreds of times more than they paid him).

Maybe it's just understood that in order to snag one of the guys that can bring in this kind of cash, you have to pay them a lot, and you're happy to pay for his housecleaning and his personal assistant and his pool boy and whatever else it takes so he can keep entertaining his rich friends at his house and organizing fundraising activities managing the endowment and raking in the green.

IOW, maybe he's not such a scoundrel -- maybe he's just taking advantage of a widely understood arrangement. Or maybe I'm totally wrong, I don't know.

And speaking of prima facie, i'm reminded of this quote:
Like a ski resort full of girls looking for husbands and husbands looking for girls, the situation is not as symmetric as it might seem.

ravens win!

My current hockey team hasn't had much success this year, but there is one team whose number we seem to have -- they're ranked higher than we are, but counting last night we've beaten them 4 times in a row.

Our first goal was scored by yours truly, and a thing of beauty it was (well, the puck went in the net, anyway). That was a shorthanded breakaway goal; then our next line came out and they scored *another* shortie goal on the same penalty*.

We went on to win 5-2. Now we face the #1 seed, who will clean our clock and send us to the losers bracket, where we're more at home... :-)

*Explanation, for anyone who cares:
We commited a foul, so one of our guys was in the penalty box, and we were skating shorthanded. In that situation, the other team is on a "power play", and we're doing a "penalty kill". On the power play, it would be good to score roughly 25-30% of the time. In other words, *they* were supposed to score, and we'd have been happy just to survive w/o getting scored on. But not only did we kill the penalty, we scored against them. And not only once, but twice in the same penalty. That almost never happens; for the other team, it's the equivalent of winning the Ineptitude Championship. It's like entering an Ugly Contest, and being told "Sorry, no professionals." It's like... well, you get the idea.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

not sure who i feel more sorry for...

The guests who are insulted, or the talk show host who can't stop laughing.

Link is here.

This was a live show, and the guests were victims of botched surgeries.

For some reason, this time the host hadn't had a chance to meet the guests beforehand (he says there a conspiracy to get rid of him).

Anyway, the paralyzed woman he was fine with, but he was unprepared for the voice of the throat surgery guy.

His first huge outburst is when the high-voiced guy says that regarding sex, it's not just the physical part but that the ability to speak sweetly is also important. Then when the second throat guy starts in, he's done for.

I know it was completely inappropriate, but I kind of feel bad for the host -- I can imagine something like this happening to anyone. Well, to me anyway...

Saturday, March 24, 2007

more about objectivity

Since I'm overwhelmed with work, I naturally decided to take the time to read an interesting article about a test given to Japanese students, and Eastern/Western styles of thought.

I found this part fascinating:

One of the questions was
When I write a report, it is important to state my opinion clearly, even if the topic is controversial.

By Western standards, traditional Japanese rhetorical styles do not come across “clearly”. (See these brief descriptions of Japanese rhetorical styles.) They often shy away from stating their conclusions clearly, leaving the readers to draw their own. I do agree that their desire to maintain harmony, not to rock the boat, partially motivates them to employ these styles, but more importantly, it is necessitated by their fundamental belief in the multiplicity of truth. Any logical arguments that leave no room for multiple interpretations are often called “Herikutsu” which means something to the effect of “twisted logic” or “convenient logic,” implying that they are naive. (As I grew up in Japan, I had always hated this word since the adults would use it against me repeatedly to dismiss my logical arguments. Now that I am older, I have a better appreciation of this word.)
In the West, what constitutes a good “report” is clearly defined, and not many would argue. In Japan, this assumption cannot be made. An Eastern equivalent of this question would be something like this:
When I write a report, it is important that I do not rely solely on logic to deduce a simplistic answer.

... ...

[Relating to appropriateness, etc:]
At a funeral for your co-worker who has passed in a car accident, it is important to clearly state my opinion about the deceased’s negative personality, even if it is controversial.

... ...

Here is another question:
When I write a report, it is important to agree with the teacher.
Again, the answer Stapleton seeks is obvious. The majority responded with ‘4’ to this. Let’s recontextualize this one as well:
On my first day of a class to learn a new computer program, it is important to agree with the teacher.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting...

Friday, March 23, 2007

me and my PMS

I think I'm a pretty easy-going guy. I don't get angry easily or often. Most things other people get angry about seem not worth the trouble to me.


In the last 5 days I:

- got angry with a supervisor at Southwest Airlines. didn't raise my voice, wasn't rude, didn't swear, but did make it clear i was very frustrated and annoyed.

- got angry with my girlfriend. Twice. I think it was a reasonable response both times, but then one always does, doesn't one? I think I'd only been mad at her twice total before that.

- gave someone the finger in traffic for the first time in my entire life. My lane was closing due to construction, the two lanes were merging together (one for you, one for me, one for you, etc). when it was "my turn" i started to move over and the woman beside me moved up to close the gap so i couldn't merge. twice. the second time i gave her the horn and the frigid digit and cut her off. never did that before.

- am frustrated with my kids. It feels like they're making little effort to speak peacefully to each other, they try to argue their way out of doing what i ask them to do, they make minimum effort when doing chores, they express little appreciation for favors, priveleges, etc. David is touchy and Sam is shrill and demanding. Several times a day I start out patient and even-tempered, but after a few minutes of their recalcitrance and absurd excuses, I end up raising my voice, which prompts them to say I'm just cranky.

I know I'm overwhelmed with work, taxes, etc. I haven't gotten a lot of sleep the last few days. I'm frustrated because I dont' have time to run or work out. But still. I haven't been this much of a crab in a long time. If ever.

I know what is best for everyone

A book I’m reading touches on the idea of two types of knowing: the authors refer to the concept of “separate knowing” and “connected knowing”.

Separate Knowers attempt to be distance themselves from emotion; they are methodical; they highly value logic, empirical proof, and direct experience.
Connected Knowers are more empathetic, look for common ground, avoid direct contradiction, seek connection in order to understand.
For more, see here.

Needless to say, CKers and SKers often approach life and relationships differently. Sometimes they have trouble communicating with each other, or seeing the other’s POV.

In my mind the dichotomy is related to the question of objectivity vs subjectivity.
A subjective approach includes context and the condition/perspective of the observer as part of the evaluation process.
The objective approach strives to isolate & identify facts/attributes of the subject of study that are independent of the observer and the context. In practice, since nothing exists in a vaccuum, we have to settle for identifying and controlling (or controlling for) as many contextual influences as possible.

To a Separate Knower (that would be me), our way of knowing seems infinitely superior (ie, more useful). Connected knowing is (to a Separate Knower) unreliable, inconsistent, inherently biased and untrustworthy. To SKers, connected knowing seems the best way to be wrong; connected knowing looks like evaluating things based on how they make us feel (ie, the way a toddler evaluates); connected knowing seems like a good way to get killed. Separate knowing is a skill; it takes practice to perfect; and it’s tremendously useful in almost every scientific or technical endeavour. As far as we (SKers) are concerned, feelings or opinions we bring to a situation should be discounted in favor of a limited set of confirmable and unchanging facts.

On the other hand, I surmise that Connected Knowers find separate knowing to be an interesting approach, nice for scientists perhaps, but not terribly useful in real life. To a CKer, I imagine the objective approach feels sterile, limited, a gray-on-gray picture of the world – a thru-a-glass-darkly snapshot of an ever-changing and infinitely complex reality.

And they’re both right, in a way. Each approach has its uses.

It’s not always the case of course, but statistically (and in my experience), men are more likely to be SKers, women to be CKers. I attribute this to the following, inherited from our cavepeople ancestors:

In traditionally male activities – hunting, fighting, building, etc – an objective approach is far and away the more useful. How you feel about things doesn’t matter – in fact, it tends to hinder you from doing what you need to do: kill things, carry things, build things.
The practical matters of survival – of paramount concern to a protector/provider – respond best to a non-emotional, objective approach. Things *do* have characteristics and attributes that have nothing to do with how we feel about them; and cavemen who don’t learn what those attributes are don’t live to procreate. (Just ask Thag Simmons*.)

OTOH, in traditionally female endeavors – childcare, village/community activities, influencing males who are physically stronger than you, etc – the ticket is emotional intelligence, sensitivity to – and connection with – other human beings.

And the SK/CK gap is hard to bridge sometimes.

A SKer wants to have his/her words understood in their most specific, accepted meanings; he/she wants others to use their words in the same way. The SKer thinks there are things that should be declarable and accepted with equanimity, simply because they are true.
To a CKer, context and feeling is everything; he/she says: My mood (the context in which you are operating) is more relevant than whether what you just said is truly something a reasonable person should be angry about most of the time.
This drives the SKer crazy, but the reality is that there are times when someone's highly subjective manner of feeling (a panic attack, PMS, a heart attack, grief, depression), will be far more relevant to them than other topics. To expect to have an emotionless, completely objective discussion in this context is not terribly realistic, and the objective approach not particularly useful. It would be a SKer who asked “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

For more on objectivity, see here. Some have gone so far as to attack objectivity in no limited way, calling it non-existent or flawed or even a false construct employed to discredit female/feminist research methods.

To an objectivist like myself, it feels like a lame strategy to elevate (note male-centric value presumption) anecdotal evidence to the level of traditionally accepted scientific research (eg, a “study” in which the researcher and the subject spent two hours in tearful commiseration about how they feel would carry the same weight of fact as a double-blind study of a large cross-section of individuals.)

In actual fact, the anti-objectivity position is more sensible than that: it’s an effort to acknowledge inherent bias, to make use of the observer’s involvement rather than denying it – in a way, it’s a way of embracing and co-opting the Heisenberg principle.

My feeling is that outright worship of objectivism is indeed a waste of time; it almost never truly exists, since everything tends to exist within a context.

But on the other hand, we wouldn’t even be here (let alone have a civilization) without the ability to objectify – to separate ourselves from our feelings and preconceived notions about an issue and focus as much as possible on inherent characteristics of things. You can’t build bridges, or machines, or even make a pencil, without relying on thousands of pieces of objective knowledge.

And even tho there’s no such thing as complete detachment, or a view from nowhere, that in no way diminishes the usefulness of the objectivity tool. As long as you don’t seek it as an end in itself, it’s exactly like calculus: X may never be 0, but our ability to approximate the Limit of Y as X approaches 0 (ie, our ability to shoot for objectivity) is why we have skyscrapers and space shuttles and microscopes and TV and telephones and best of all, Jessica Alba in her swimsuit on a 30-foot movie screen.

An example that came up in a discussion about objectivity:
If a lion is attacking you, you need to flee; in this situation, both a subjective approach and objective analysis is likely to yield the same conclusion: run away.

But it’s objective analysis that identifies the big sharp teeth, carnivorous tendencies, and superior strength of the lion -- and recommends action to avoid being eaten. In this respect, objectivity works every single time.

The subjective approach only gets you there *most* of the time (ie, as long as you’re properly scared to death). If you're tripping on acid and think he's actually a big lollipop, or if you've been raised in a herd of toothless, declawed, pet lions, or if you feel no ill will toward him and really dig his lion-ness, he still has those big teeth. Those teeth are independent attributes of the object, observable from just about every point up to the fictitious "view from nowhere". As X approaches 0, the value of Y is "Big effing teeth – run away."

In fact, I believe that in many cases, the more the observer brings to an analysis, the worse the analysis is. The subjective approach has a good chance of leading you completely astray (in the worst case, into being dead.)
OTOH, communicating effectively about relationships is almost always better accomplished by being sensitive to context, to the history and mindset one brings to the discussion.

So why is this a feminist issue?

- men find it easier than women to compartmentalize, to subjugate emotion. this is part of the reason male-dominated science has worshipped objectivity. we like what we're good at.
- similarly, a female predisposition toward an emotional outlook* and tendency to embrace a gestalt view are part of the reason feminists like the No Objectivity model. (it's noteworthy how closely the methods of analysis in the article referenced above parallel traditionally feminine approaches to life).
*if you accept its existence

I do think relationships are more successful when each partner learns to employ a little of both the traditionally feminine (ie, connected) and the traditionally masculine (separate) approaches.

Feminist or cro-magnon, one needs to learn empathy. In fact, I think it’s critical to a healthy relationship. It’s one of the things my Ex and I did very poorly at. Knowing that your feelings and your needs are understood – and more importantly, that your partner is motivated to try to understand them – is essential to making us want to be in the relationship.
But as well, relationships benefit greatly from a healthy dose of objectivity. If both partners let their feelings completely dictate their actions/reactions, the result would often be disastrous. The more physically powerful partner *must* hold to an objective, absolute value of not smacking the other partner around, no matter how much he/she deserves it (and deserve it they would, if we allowed truth to be defined by letting feelings trump objectivity). The concept of sexual harassment virtually disappears if the harrasser’s feelings on the subject are allowed to influence our interpretation of his actions.

So anyway, there you have that. It’s long-winded, but at least it adds nothing whatsoever new to the sum of knowledge in the earth…

*10 points to anyone who recognizes the Thag Simmons reference

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Now, that's interesting...

Exerpt from a recent post on the Dilbert Blog by Scott Adams:

One of the most potent forms of persuasion has to do with
people’s innate need to be consistent. Studies show that people will ignore
logic and information to be consistent...

According to the research, humans are hardwired for
consistency over reason. You already knew that: People don’t switch political
parties or religions easily. What you didn’t know is how quickly and easily a
manipulator can lock someone into a position.

For example, researchers asked people to write essays in
support of a random point of view they did not hold. Months later, when
surveyed, the majority held the opinion they wrote about, regardless of the
topic. Once a person commits an opinion to writing – even an opinion he does not
hold – it soon becomes his actual opinion. Not every time, but MOST of the time.
The people in these experiments weren’t exposed to new information before
writing their contrived opinions. All they did was sit down and write an opinion
they didn’t actually have, and months later it became their actual opinion. The
experiment worked whether the volunteers were writing the pro or the con
position on the random topic.

Most of the truly stupid things done in this world have to
do with this consistency principle. For example, once you define yourself as a
loyal citizen of Elbonia, you do whatever the King of Elbonia tells you to do,
no matter how stupid that is. And your mind invents reasons as to why dying is a
perfectly good life strategy

I find this extremely interesting; I believe it has implications for every type of human interaction, from relations between nation-states to business dealings to family relationships, and everything in between...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

more missiles on your knee

Back safely. Started Saturday at 7am, got to our destination yesterday around 4:30pm.
Los Angeles -> Phoenix -> Albuquerque -> El Paso -> Austin.

We are exhausted.

Camila appears not to have been fired. But after three days of getting up at 4am to get to the airport, she had to get up at 5 this morning to be at work at 6…

Albuquerque seemed the friendliest city I’ve been in in a long time. Also, on Sunday nights downtown people cruise in their lowriders and motorcycles and restored 70’s Chevys with gas shocks they use to bounce the car up and down…

Quote of the day (from Camila’s daughter, 5): “I wish I was a Sailor Moon cheerleader.”

Had Salvadorean food for the first time last week. Much like Mexican, but different also. The tortillas they served were very thick – they would be called gorditas in Mexico. A lot of the food was encebollada, which you could translate as onion-ified. Aren't you happy to know that…

And a little late, but shoe-horned in nonetheless:
As has been previously pointed out, Valentines Day is mostly a holiday for women -- a time for men to show their love (or die trying) in a way that women appreciate. There's little in V-day to speak to men's basic needs.
I'm not sure how this imbalance came about, but happily, it can be rectified. If you're over 18 and not easily offended, you could google March 14th and steak... (thx to Crystal)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

You are now free to sit in the airport forever...

Bad (ie, completely, utterly, wrong) directions from offsite car rental place delayed us almost an hour.

We still arrived in time to make our flight, except that:
1) weather in the Northeast was messing up flight schedules
2) it's Spring Break
3) some kind of strike on another airline
resulted in lines out the door and down the sidewalk at LAX (one for check-in, one to drop bags with TSA, one for security).

So we missed our flight from LA to Austin.

But they sent us to Pheonix, where we spent most of Saturday trying to get on a flight -- any flight -- to anywhere in the state of Texas.

Finally we were advised to return early in the morning.

We both have family in Phoenix, but we knew we wouldn't be able to see both sides, so we flipped a coin and called some of Camila's family, who picked us up, took us to dinner, took us to see other family, took us to the pharmacy to buy toiletries (which, in a sneaky move, they managed to pay for), gave us their bed, loaned us clothes, and took us back to the airport at 4:30am the next morning.

Then we started the whole process over. All the gate agents were friendly, but unable to do anything to help us.

I made arrangements to fly to Oklahoma City and drive (6 hrs) to Austin, but then they called us for a flight to Houston. We actually made it onto the aircraft, but -- oops, sorry -- they had miscounted and they were short one seat, so we had to get off again.

Then they put us on a flight to Dallas with stops in Albuquerque and El Paso. But when we got to Albuquerque, they pulled us off and made us standby again in favor of passengers who hadn't made the fatal mistake of not arriving 3 hrs before flight time. In Phoenix they had made us "priority standby" (which was how we got on the aborted Houston flight), but Albuquerque refused to give us standby priority over people already on the list

Southwest Airlines is very encapsulated. They do not share routes or flights with anyone. They will not send you to another airline, and no other airline will take their tickets. I was unable to find tickets on any other airline that stops in Phoenix.

So we're in a hotel in Albuquerque; we have a 6:30am flight to El Paso (be at the airport at 4:30am), eventually arriving in Austin around 2:30pm.

We were both scheduled to work Sunday and Monday. I will lose two days of consulting revenue; there's a decent chance Camila will lose her job. We have no cell phones because our chargers are in our checked baggage, which we hope is in Austin, but may be in Edmonton for all we know.

Anyway, Happy St. Paddy's day, a little late. May the luck of the Irish be with you -- there's bound to be some floating around, since I didn't have much* yesterday at the airport...

*Yeah, I know, nobody shot me or stole my laptop, we got to stay with family in Phoenix, and there are travelers with much worse stories. But that's not a very punchy way to end a blog post...

Monday, March 12, 2007

On a lighter note, then..

Since love and people dying clearly resonated strongly with the regular readers of this blog (both of you), how about something a little less serious.

Information from Bryan About Toilets and Bathrooms

- it's disappointing that a society that produced the space shuttle can't provide
a) a public toilet where the force necessary to dispense paper is less than the force needed to tear the paper
b) toilet seat covers that tear properly

- fact: some women will leave work and go home to use the bathroom if:
a) the bathroom at work isn't clean enough, or
b) they have serious business to do that might result in detectible sound/odor

- in the US, most people call the public toilet a "restroom", and the one in the home a "bathroom"; in Canada most say "washroom" for both. yes, there are many exceptions. move along.

- studies suggest that people wash their hands after using the bathroom a lot more when there are people watching than when they think they're alone

- if a public bathroom seems really clean, sometimes i don't use a toilet seat cover

- fact: the toilet in the Safeway where I shop is almost always filthy

- there are unstated-but-widely-understood rules for using the urinals in the men's room
(eg, leave an empty urinal between you and the next man; never get caught checking out another guy's hammer; if you talk, do not make eye contact; etc)

- some people seem to have a Pavlovian associative reaction to specific locations (the bookstore, the bank, the library, whatever) that make them have to use the bathroom

- a lot of newer urinals have a little target-like design; apparently men aim better when they have somethign to shoot for

- women have impressed upon men for ages the idea that the toilet seat must be left down, or no one in the household will go to heaven. (i'm pretty sure the day the toilet was invented, the inventor's wife came into the lab and said "that's nice, honey, but you left the seat up.") i'm not sure how it is that women get to be the boss of this. for men, about four fifths of the time the needed position for the seat is UP -- not down -- so to us, up seems normal and right.

- and speaking of that, here's a question: knowing that a fair number of barbarian men are going to pee all over the seat in a unisex public restroom, is it actually more considerate to leave it UP, so that when a woman uses it she has a slightly better chance of it not being covered in droplets? i'm happy to let women make the call on this one, just let us know what you'd like...

- and still speaking of that, when the first woman deems the seat too far gone to be used even with a paper cover, she will do the crouching/hovering thing so she doesn't have to touch the seat at all. not that i blame her, but it seems the lack of precision aiming devices in this case often results in the seat being spattered worse than when men do it.
not that we philistines notice or care, mind you -- i'm just saying.

- in spanish, one way to describe the hovering technique translates to "going pee like eagles"

- a story of lameness:
one time after some sporting or entertainment event, we all had to go -- the boys in the group just went behind a big truck, but the girls wanted to wait until we could find an actual bathroom. the cutest of the girls said, pouting, "it's not fair, boys have handy gadgets..."
i remember being happy due to the mere fact that she had, however indirectly, acknowledged the existence of my gadget.
when you're a young guy, you make do with what you're given...

Bonus Section (yay!)
Russian toilet facts
- for some reason, the bowl is often not bowl-shaped on the inside; it has a shelf-like arrangement (to save water?) that has the effect of keeping deposits in close proximity to the user. the first time you use one of these toilets, the experience of reaching under yourself with the paper in your hand is apt to be surprising and disappointing
- as in many other countries, sometimes it's not a bowl at all; it may be porcelain, but it's essentially a fancy hole in the floor.
- in most places it costs money to use the public toilet
- it's a few kopecks more if you want paper
- they are often very stingy with the paper
- the paper is very rough; i think it is made from steel wool & asbestos; it may leave you bleeding, but on the other hand it will address even the most stubborn situation

There you go, then. (You're welcome -- don't mention it.)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

R.I.P., and What about love?

The cancergiggles guy died last month.

He had blogged for the last several years about his ongoing treatment for terminal cancer.
Sometimes when you read someone's blog, you feel like you know them a bit, you know? I got tears in my eyes when I read that he had died, even tho I'd never met him, and he didn't know I exist.

Which brings me to this:
We sometimes think love has to do with the qualities of the object of our affection -- and partly, that's true -- but mostly it's an internal process having to do with what we get out of the situation emotionally.
The degree to which we know or love someone -- and the hole they leave when they're gone -- is mostly about us. We create or allow that bond. Whether deliberately or unconsciously, we make the space for them in our lives and our hearts, and determine how much of our happiness and joy are connected to their existence.

Which means that:

a) It's subjective. The grief a child feels when they lose a teddybear could be as real and painful as our grief in losing an actual person.
Likewise someone losing a pet.
Likewise the foolish souls who stood weeping in a candlelight vigil after Kurt Cobain shot himself.

b) There are guidelines, but no rules. Love for another person may be based on an entirely different set of factors than it would be for us. It's as varied as our individual personalities and needs. A person who stays with someone who manipulates or abuses them may actually love the abuser deeply. Just because we can see no way a person could be lovable doesn't mean someone else hasn't created an important place for them in their psyche.

c) The situation is more under our control than we may realize. We have more power than we may have thought to "love the one we're with" -- we don't have to wait for them to magically change into what we'd like them to be -- we can create love within ourselves for whom we want.
Likewise a relationship we know isn't healthy for us. People who have affairs sometimes tell themselves they were powerless to resist the attraction of the other person; but if we realize the attraction has 90% to do with us and our needs, we might be able to see how we can take more control of our actions. Or an abusive relationship as mentioned above -- we don't have to be victims to an imaginary powerlessness ("I can't help it, I just love him...") if we're willing to
1. explore what we're getting out of the relationship and
2. either decide we don't need it or begin to seek it in more healthy ways.

This isn't necessarily a very satisfying idea to have about love. It's more fun to believe we're in the grip of powerful supernatural forces, that God or Cupid or Fate or The Ministry of Soulmateness is responsible for our love life, but the above makes a lot more sense to me than other ideas I've heard.

And of course love is a lot more complex than a 200-word blog post. But I think we do ourselves a disservice by propagating ideas of Love that were invented by the writers of Harlequin Romance novels...

Saturday, March 10, 2007


There's the thousand-hand dance.

Plus the fact that my client farted in my cubicle the other day. I like him very much, but I thought that was uncalled for. Perhaps most because it reminded me of the time a few yrs ago when I let loose a deadly blast in my office exactly 3 seconds before my boss walked in. She pretended not to notice anything, but if *my* eyes were watering, how must she have been feeling?

And while we're embarrassing ourselves:
Today I was driving to work with the CD player going, and caught myself imagining I was the star of a movie and this was the montage complete with soundtrack. As I looked out in various directions, I made appropriate facial gestures to convey that I was sexy, yet deep.

In conclusion, a quote from Sam:
Bulimia -- twice the taste, none of the calories...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

taste test

Over on Doctormama's blog, she posted about taking a cruise, and mentioned not liking the art (they always sell art on cruises, i assume because people on a cruise either have $ to burn, or get caught up in the moment and splurge on all kinds of things).

Anyway, DM didn't like the artwork:

Which is fair enough -- I don't think I'd buy it either. But what I found interesting was the universal and emphatic condemnation of it in the comments section. People talked about eyeballs melting, or poking their own eyes out. They're joking of course, but their position is unambiguous WRT this painting.

So my question is this:
What's so bad about it? It's not to everyone's taste, I admit. But nothing is, not even the Mona Lisa. Art is mostly about resonance for a particular person; no one has a monopoly on taste.

What I expect to hear is that it's "tacky". says tacky means:

1. not tasteful or fashionable; dowdy.
2. shabby in appearance; shoddy:
3. crass; cheaply vulgar; tasteless; crude.
4. gaudy; flashy; showy.

In the painting above, the colors are pleasing; the human form is nicely rendered; the theme has been a common one for serious artists throughout the ages; it's not obscene; it conveys some sensuality, but mostly affection. IOW, the only meaning of "tacky" that applies is #1, "not tasteful" -- and I contend that taste is mostly a matter of, well, taste. If this is "bad art", then a fair amt of what I saw in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was utter and complete crap.

So, you wanna know what I think is going on? Well too bad, here it is anyway:

#1: Criticizing -- especially art -- is fun; it's a challenge to come up with a clever way to exaggerate how much we hate something.

#2: We like absolutes. We like certainty. We like belonging. And we like to feel superior.

So as soon as a person -- especially someone we admire -- suggests that something doesn't measure up to certain standards of class, we fall all over ourselves trying to put distance between us and the taint of bad taste. We're terrified of being the person who puts up something in their house that everyone else would laugh at. This fear is so strong -- we're so attuned to what we're supposed to like -- that half the time we don't even know what we care for and what we don't.

Now, I have no problem with savaging a piece of art in the comments section of a blog -- that can be fun. But what about this: we'll go to someone's house, and later on we'll criticize their taste in furnishings, in artwork, whatever. Who the hell do we think we are? It's their bleeding house. Not ours. We don't live there. They've chosen something they like, and somehow we think it's useful to venture an opinion about the rightness or wrongness of what they've chosen.

"I don't care for [x]" seems about the absolute maximum useful statement to make about someone else's art choice -- and even that is mostly irrelevant, unless we're actually having a conversation about art, or the person we're talking to is actively trying to learn what our tastes are.
But we go far beyone that -- we're downright snide: "Did you see that hideous [x] they put in the living room?"

AFAIC, the rules should be:
#1: Put whatever the hell you like to look at up in your own house.
#2: When it comes to something decorative that other people have chosen, keep your mouth shut.

Your mileage may vary; your opinion is welcome.

Monday, March 05, 2007


Thanks to my friend Sooze for this...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

This is interesting

It is to me, anyway. I think there's some physics involved or something.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

it doesn't get any better than this

Business lunch with a colleague; sitting at an outside table, enjoying the sun.

An attempt is made* to flick a piece of semi-hardened bird poop off the table using my pen, but a misjudgment is made with regard to vigor.

There is a man sitting 10 feet away reading the paper, drinking coffee; the poop shoots directly at him, apparently striking him somewhere amidships; he steadfastly maintains radio silence and does not change his expression.

We should be sorry; we are both professionals, in our 40's/50's. But the whole situation, and the thought that it may have even landed in his coffee, fills us with horror and schadenfreude, and we laugh silently until tears stream down our faces.

Life is good, I tell you.

*by me

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A story as it was told to me...

“You’ll get pregnant walking around in skirts that short.”

When it came to advice, my sisters didn’t mince words. They took their roles as surrogate mothers very seriously.

“You’ll come to bad end, going out dancing late at night.”

But I was a teenager, no one was going to tell me what to do. Just because they never had any fun didn’t mean I wasn’t going to.

Of course, the reason their young years had been so boring – why they were so serious, the reason they had no sympathy for my desire to go out, to have fun – was that the responsibility of taking care of all of us had fallen on them when my mother left. But when you’re a rebellious and self-centered young person, you don’t think about that. All you think about is how boring and controlling they are, and how unfair it was to come home and find the house locked at midnight.

We were poor – nine kids and no mom, and dad not always working. We didn’t have a dirt floor or anything, but I remember rain coming in the holes in the roof, and suppers of tortillas with nothing inside.

But I worked hard and saved my money. At 19 I scandalized my sisters by leaving home for modeling school. “A single girl living alone – it’s not right.” I wasn’t living alone, I lived with one of the modeling instructors, but it was all the same to my sisters. Girls should live with their families until they got married. Who knows what these Modeling People get up to with all their fancy clothes and fancy doings, fancy men.

But I really enjoyed the school. It was more than just modeling. It was called School of Modeling and Personality – somewhere between a modeling school and a finishing school – and I loved it.
They taught us how to walk, how to eat at a formal dinner, how to order at a fancy restaurant, how to dress for different occasions. Where the line is between looking sexy and looking trashy. How to walk up stairs in a short skirt without putting everything on display. They taught us runway modeling, traditional dances, various ways to do our makeup, how to pose for photograph sessions.

I’d only been there a few months when they announced the Miss Leon competition – an annual beauty pageant sponsored by the agency, the city of Leon, and local businesses. The modeling students were invited to participate, as well as young women – mostly society girls – from the city. We practiced the dances and songs and poses we were to present at the pageant. It was fun, a great experience.

The day of the pageant came. My sister loaned me the dress she had worn to her high school graduation. From one of the modeling teachers came a pair of earrings. My sister’s brother-in-law was my escort.

We took a taxi to the pageant, and got out among the fancy cars and limos bringing the other contestants and the high society of Leon.

I watched all the other girls getting out of the cars, entering the building, preparing for the pageant, each one with her mother at her side, carrying dresses and purses, smiling and proud. I wondered where my mother was at that moment, if she was happy. I sat alone at the mirror, put on my makeup, did my hair, and tried not to cry.

And then the pageant. And I won – out of all the beautiful debutantes and other models, they chose me. At first I didn’t even realize it; they were announcing the winners – Miss Congeniality, Miss So-and-So – when they announced the big winner, Miss Leon, my date said “They’re talking about you” and I started to cry for real this time. I cried because I was happy, and I cried because my mother wasn’t there. I thanked my sister’s-husband’s-little-brother for being there with me. And the mayor put the crown on my head, and everyone applauded.

And then several wealthy mothers cornered me in the bathroom, and told me I needed to renounce the title. For the good of the pageant, they said. They said I just didn’t have the resources or the experience to be Miss Leon. Their daughters had been training their whole lives for this, they said; I should step down, and each of their daughters would move up a step in the scoring. They offered me a lot of money. They crowded around me and I stood there trembling, a little girl from the barrio, with my hand-me-down dress and borrowed earrings, surrounded by old money, generations of wealth, the power and influence of Leon society.

I was shaking, but I pointed at my tiara and said “Do you see this crown? This means I won.” And I swept out of the bathroom. And burst into tears.

I told my friends and teachers from the modeling agency what had happened; they were indignant and very supportive. I felt better knowing they were on my side.

After that, I danced with my escort and ate at the banquet and had a good time. That night, I went back to my sisters’ house for the night. Everyone was already asleep, so I put my tiara on the table and went to bed. In the morning, my sisters were shaking me awake, “What does this mean? Where did you get this? Did you borrow this from someone?”

I won,” I said. At first they didn’t believe me, but eventually they did. I could hardly believe it myself. I felt sad that none of my family had come to the pageant, but I felt they were genuinely happy for me when I won.

And that year, they rallied around to help me fulfill the obligations of being Miss Leon. When I had to be present at a function, where the society girls’ parents would have bought them a new dress, they helped me find sponsors (usually designers or clothing stores) who would loan me a dress for the event.
At one festival, they helped me set up an antro de dia (an outdoor restaurant or bar), and found a band to play for free in exchange for the publicity.

It was a magical year. I continued at the modeling school; I was the queen of Leon; and most importantly, I became a little closer to my family.

Today, some of my older sisters have mellowed a little. We still don’t always see eye to eye, and they still give advice freely, but I no longer resent it like I did as a teenager. I know that they sacrificed a tremendous amount for us younger children; I know they have others’ best interests at heart.

I have a daughter now. I’m grateful for every minute I have with her. I don’t resent or blame my mother for leaving – I can only guess what her life was like, what she went through that brought her to that decision. But I intend to be there for my daughter; when I pray for things for myself, what I ask for is that I might be able to see her grow up, to be there in the important moments of her life.

And my sisters have daughters of their own as well. Some of them are teenagers now. Guess who wears skirts even shorter than I did at their age?