Monday, March 19, 2012

TED Gets a Day Off

Sunday, to be precise. I don't mean an extra day off, not at this time of year. At my office, a common Monday conversation goes something like this:

"How was your weekend?"

"My Sunday was fine."

The implication being, you understand, that there was no reason for me to ask about Saturday since we both spent the whole day in the office laying railway line working on tax returns.

It is not uncommon for tax accountants to roll our eyes when we hear complaints about how hard other people are working. This is especially the case in the DC area where we mostly hear government workers whinging about how terribly busy busy busy they are at their forty-hours-per-week jobs with all those holidays and all that vacation time.

Really, though, none of us work all that hard any more. As recently as the early twentieth century, a six-day workweek was standard for the working class, and each of those days could be twelve or more hours long, except some people got a half-day on Saturday, and, yes, that's more or less my current schedule, but only for six to eight weeks out of the year. Besides which, I'm sitting at a desk for all that time, I'm not digging ditches or shoveling coal or even working an assembly line in dangerous conditions without breaks. So I try not to whine about the few seventy-five hour weeks that I put in over the course of year.

The reason that a seventy-five, or even a forty-five, hour work week seems like an imposition has to do with something the economists (or somebody) call habit formation. Habit formation means that once you've gotten used to some benefit, giving it up puts you in a worse situation than if you never had it. In other words, if you're a bazillionaire, and you get used to a top marginal tax rate of 35% (or 15%, if your income is predominantly capital gains), and suddenly your top rate skyrockets to 39%, you perceive a greater loss than if your rate had never dropped below 40% in the first place.

Similarly, if you get used to a forty-hour work week and generous vacation and holiday benefits, having to work more hours or getting fewer days off pisses you off, and it's small or no comfort that your ancestors felt blessed to get a half-day on Saturdays.

Note, please, that I'm not advocating that people work more hours. There are plenty of conservative economists to do that. I happen to think that everyone should work ten percent fewer hours and that we should employ ten percent more workers to compensate (and, yes, I'm aware that it's not as simple as that). You combine that with ending the wars and taxing the rich, and you improve the vast majority of people's lives. And the uberrich who can no longer afford an eighth vacation home can just suck it up, frankly.

Anyway, on my day off/one-day weekend, I had to get up pretty early so that I could get YFU to church by 8:15. This was the week that the senior high class leads the service, and they still had some rehearsing to do. Then I headed back home, showered, woke EFU, and the two of us headed back for the 10 am service.

After church, the girls wanted to go thrifting, so I took an allergy pill (the thrift stores all make my eyes water, and I'm pretty sure it's not from joy over the low, low prices), and we headed towards Value Village.

I have this dream that some day, somewhere, I'm going to walk into a thrift store, and there's going to be a pristine pair of Doc Martens in my size.

But that's never going to happen, or at least it didn't happen this time, so while the girls checked out clothing, I went to housewares. I saw some cake pans. There are always cake pans. This time, there was a Power Ranger:

I never really experienced Power Rangers, so I don't know which one that was, or even if they were different, except for the colors. I also didn't have more than a passing awareness of the Ninja Turtles, but I'm guessing that this one:

is Michelangelo.

I used to collect food molds. I mean vessels meant to present a food in certain shapes, not molds that grow on foods, you understand. And if I didn't already have waaaaaay too many (i.e., > 1) fish molds in packing boxes in the basement, I might have been tempted by these salmon mousse molds in slightly different colors.

They could work as a school on the wall, I guess. But I forbore. I wasn't going to buy anything (I mean, aside from whatever clothes the girls wanted: they always find plenty, it seems), but I saw a perfectly fine set of six white Williams Sonoma cereal bowls, so I got that, and, among the much less interesting cake pans, I saw what you see at the head of this post. That's right, readers: Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup!

I really wasn't going to buy it, but I thought that if I put it in the shopping cart, walked around with it for a bit, showed it to the girls, and then put it back, I'd feel all virtuous, so I did that, except when I showed it to YFU and said that I could use it to make a cake for her party later this year, she thought it was a great idea. Powerpuff girls, ftw!

Anyway, we finished shopping, and everybody came away with something he or she wanted, so we trundled off to Chipotle for a late lunch, then home. My plan at this point was to take YFU back to her Mom's house, then get a nap, and then possibly head up to Baltimore for some HQT with a nice guy I'd been out with once before, but when we got back from the ex-wife's house, the weather was so nice that I went into the back yard with a pair of clippers and spent the better part of an hour freeing a couple of my ginormous maple trees from their attractive but unhealthy ivy infestation. It looks so nice, but it kills the trees, ultimately, and I don't want the trees falling onto my house, as much as I like maple.

I could still have gotten a nap at that point, but damn wasn't the weather awesome, so I asked EFU if she still wanted to head up to Rocky Gorge for a round of mini-golf, and she did. We were en route to the course when I got a text message from the aforementioned guy, but I was already exhausted, and I still had nineteen itty bitty holes of golf to play. I was pretty much going on fumes and fair weather at that point, so I begged off. In my experience, falling asleep on a guy (perhaps literally) on the second date is a bad move, anyway.

Beside, mini-golf is so much fun! It is wrong to take joy in beating your own child at any form of pseudo-sports competition, but, hey, she's twenty-three, and she always beats me at cards.

Sadly, there was no money at stake.

We went home, and she worked on lesson planning for the coming week, while I watched perhaps the least defensible movie ever made. I mostly watched it because I refuse to read the book, but whether or not you've read the book, you do not want to watch this movie. I expected the ham-handed political philosophy. What I didn't expect was the total snoozefest. I'd like those ninety minutes of my life back, please.

Ayn Rand notwithstanding, it was a pretty good Sunday. I even got to bed early. And I get another day off next Sunday. Woot!

Monday, March 12, 2012

And Here's to You, Mrs. Robinson


Brace yourself, readers. You're about to see a really big picture of a dog.


Yeah, that's Luna in her graduation cap. She didn't get a gown, but then she's black, so she looks like she's wearing one all the time, anyway.

Part of the deal you make when you adopt a greyhound is that you'll enroll her in obedience classes, so we signed up for the beginner training at the PetSmart between my home and office. The final exam was Saturday, and, frankly, I was a little nervous because while Luna had fully mastered sitting on command (easy for most breeds, but very difficult for a greyhound), she was totally uninterested in my tips on how to answer multiple choice questions. But she pretty much aced the final, and now she can start applying to grad schools.

Still no luck getting her to yell "Elaine!" but we'll keep at it.


I was reading this Instructable about how to walk across America. As with many Instructables, it's fun to read even if it's something you have no desire to do yourself. Actually, I would have thought that how to walk across America would pretty much be "look west, put one foot in front of the other, stop when you get to the Pacific Ocean," but it turns out to be somewhat more complicated than that.

I'm not trying to mock this guy or his Instructable (though it could maybe use some editing). I think it's pretty cool when someone decides to walk across the country, though I myself would not attempt it, unless maybe the country in question was Liechtenstein, and even then, I'd look for the shortest possible route, and probably hop a bus halfway through.*

What got me was that he says that the most important part of preparing for the walk is determining why you're walking. And as part of making this determination, he suggests this site, which purports to tell you how to discover your life's purpose in half an hour or less. Wow. I mean, I always knew that all that time I spent in Sunday School and church services as a kid was wasted, but I had no idea just how wasted it was. Two hours every Sunday for eighteen years of my life, and all I needed was a half-hour and a blank sheet of paper. Well, and a pen, I guess.

See, that's how you determine your life's purpose. You sit down with a blank sheet of paper, you write something -- anything -- down, and then you keep trying out different variations of your personal mission statement until you cry. Because once you've written something that makes you cry, you're done: that is your life's purpose.

So I'm reading this, and I'm thinking, "Damn, Skippy, that just sounds a little bit too easy to me, what life's purpose did you come up with out of that?" And then I read a little farther, and he told me:
Here was my final answer: to live consciously and courageously, to resonate with love and compassion, to awaken the great spirits within others, and to leave this world in peace.

Well, I'll give him one thing: if I'd been working for half an hour, and that's what I'd managed to come up with, I'd probably cry, too. Vague much? Also, if I had to think about that purpose on a daily basis, I'd probably want to gnaw out my own intestines. I mean, if I'm at the McDonald's drive-thru, do I have to attempt to awaken the great spirits within the person taking my order? Do I have to worry about how the fries are going to help me resonate with love and compassion?

As it happens, I don't believe that anyone's life has an inherent purpose. You can choose a purpose, but it seems like a lot of work. It probably makes more sense to establish a few simple principles. Things like having more fun and being good to the people you care about. You get the distinction, right? "Don't be a dick" is a perfectly good rule to live by, and you can live by that rule whether or not your life has a purpose. I wish the organized religion folks would understand that.

*Gmap-pedometer says that a walk across Liechtenstein is about 3.5 miles, so maybe I'd even do the whole thing. Unless I got distracted by a pub, which seems likely.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Things I Like (Partial List)

Do you ever have one of those days when the absurdity of modern life is bringing you down down down? I was sort of having a week like that, and it was capped off yesterday when Luna (She's the only member of my family whose real name gets used on the blog, and it's only her real name because we decided it; her birthname/racing name was something involving "Nassau," and we never asked any sort of judicial authority to change it; still, the local dog licensing authorities were happy to issue her a license under her new identity, without even doing a background check! How do they know she isn't wanted in another state?) who has gotten more curious as she's gotten more comfortable, pulled a Costo-sized box of Oreos off of the dining table, scattered most of the sleeves of Oreos, brought (at least) two sleeves back to her crate, and ate (at least) one.

And, hey, you know, there really isn't enough chocolate in Oreos to cause much concern, but sugar makes dogs hyperactive, too, apparently because even though she ate the Oreos in the morning, at midnight last night, she insisted on going on a third walk for the day, where, in the course of a trip around what passes for our block (1/2 mile total, but it was cold), she excreted what was left of the Oreos in a rather liquid defecation that was not so easy to pick up into the newspaper bag that I'd brought along for the purpose. An extra walk, even at midnight, is not such a big deal, but I kept thinking, "Damn. I left my Fitbit in its docking station, and I AM NOT getting credit for this." First world problems, yo.

I thought maybe that had settled matters, but an hour later I heard rather a large crash, and I went downstairs to find that she had somehow also managed to work a full case of seltzer water off the dining table. Nothing was broken, but a lot of stuff was scattered, so I swept up and shut her in her crate for the night. When I got up in the morning, she had returned to her normal, near-comatose state.


So, you've heard that personal blogging is dead, right? People use Facebook and Tumblr now (I'm not going to get started on the execrable Internet practice of the missing e: Grindr, Flickr, Tumblr, etc. [or tc., if I wanted to be a wag, I suppose]), so there's no longer a point in having a blog unless you're doing it professionally. I reckon the assumption there is that anyone who blogs needs attention so much that they love showing the world all their business on Facebook. Sadly, Facebook gives me hives. Happily, there's a long tradition of outmoded technologies' fading and then becoming cool again. Sort of like recording classical music on period instruments, or owning physical books rather than just reading everything on your Kindle, or, I don't know, weaving your own fabric. And I figure that the speed with which things go in and out of style these days means that personal blogging will experience an hour of coolness every three months before it returns to being passé.

Besides, keeping up with trends is just too much work. And my guess is that if there are a billion people on the Internet, only a few tens of thousands of them are on the edge of the blade of what's happening this very minute. I mean (and only by way of example, you understand) Passive Aggressive Notes is kind of a one trick pony, and it had its big moment in the sun a while ago, but it's still there going strong, and it's still funny if you visit it once in a blue moon. I guess that like a lot of sites, it's built its own community, and they probably don't care that the spotlight has moved on.

I am not going anywhere with this, so if you were looking for wisdom and/or a conclusion, well, sorry.

Anyway, back to our main topic, sort of. I had this feeling lately that I might be entering one of those dark nights of the soul and that it might have something to do with being in my fifties, but then I remembered some true dark nights of the soul, and I realized that what I had going on was more of a cloudy afternoon of the soul.

Full disclosure: the above pic was actually taken on a cloudy morning. I know that you are (rightfully) shocked at my audacity and mendacity, but by noontime, the weather had cleared. That is not a metaphor.

Anyway, while I'm all for tears and mourning when something truly awful happens, I don't believe in whinging when I'm just tired because I'm working a lot and/or I refuse to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, so I prefer to put myself in a better mood by thinking about things I like.

[It occurs to me here that you could just cue up your mental Youtube of Julie Andrews singing "My Favorite Things" because I am just not going to the effort of finding it and embedding it here. I mean, I have nothing against anyone who is that gay -- indeed, I admire people who are that gay -- but I am not that gay myself.]

So herewith a short list.

Speaking of Tumblr, this is my favorite Tumblr blog right now. This guy is great. Also, if you want to know what I'm like, think of the person as unlike this guy as possible (while still being gay), and you have me. I would love to buy this guy a drink sometime, but I think I'd probably bore him terribly, and I'm almost certain that it would be like hanging out with someone who speaks a different language. Besides, he lives in NYC, and who can afford to buy drinks there?

Speaking of things that have their moment and then fade, I think this blog is no longer posting new material, but you can always enjoy the archives. So much more fun than guys with iPhones, innit?

And if you want something that still updates regularly, there's this one, but a) you probably know about it already, and b) the guys on there have on way too much clothing. Still good for a smile, though, and at least there's some diversity among the men on display.

For the opposite of way too much clothing, go to Flickr and find the photostream of paulmorristim. You can thank me later. Oh, and don't do that while you're at work. That guy has the best job in the world, and he knows it and is appropriately grateful.

Speaking of guys who love their work, if you have Netflix streaming, you should check out Bill Cunningham New York. It is perhaps not the most insightful documentary in the world, but the subject matter is very compelling, and it will make you happy.

Back to work. Alas.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Good Day for Maryland

So, yeah, the Maryland legislative and executive branches did the gays a solid this week, and same-gender marriage is legal, at least for now, in the state of Maryland. This is good news.

I don't generally get into the whole gay marriage issue/debate/brouhaha for at least two reasons:

1. Debate? What's to debate? Of course we should have the same marriage rights as anyone else. It's clear to anyone with an ounce of sense that all of the arguments against gay marriage really boil down to: ewwww, we don't like homos, so let's not give them rights. And, hey, if that's your position, fine, but own it.

2. Marriage is something I've done (albeit with a woman), and I sort of feel like it's one of those things where you get one bite at the apple. I don't mean that second marriages should be legally discouraged or that they're morally wrong, but I just feel kind of been-there-done-that. Mind you, my feelings on that issue could change if I met Mr. Right, but in this case, Mr. Right is probably someone who's loaded and doesn't have any heirs, rather than someone with a six-pack and unlimited endurance. And, here again, I want to be clear. I certainly value love and intimacy, but you don't need to be married or even partnered for that. The only part of being single that really bothers me is the economic inefficiency. If I had someone companionable to share bills, housework, and travel with, I wouldn't necessarily require any great romantic fervor or sexual fidelity. And I wouldn't need a marriage. You'll just have to trust me when I tell you that my position here is pragmatic rather than cynical: I still find it very touching when any two people tie the knot. Just like I still find it very touching when people have children, but, as much as I love my own, I don't want any more.

But my own personal disinterest in being married aside, I still think it's pretty cool that the legislature here managed to pass a bill giving me and people like me some of the rights that we deserve. I haven't read the bill, but I understand that there are exclusions so that churches who view same-gender unions as an abomination aren't forced to perform marriages. I suppose that's a good thing, but I really wonder about the necessity. Are there really gay couples who are so driven by political rather than emotional agenda that they'd insist on being married in a church that disapproves of them? Maybe there are, but that seems pretty moronic to me.

For a long while, I've felt that church and state should be entirely separated when it comes to marriage. There are certain important legal protections, and to get those protections, you should have a civil marriage. Line up at a government office, sign some documents, and -- shazam! -- you're legal partners. And then if it's important to you to profess your relationship in front of your community, then, fine, go find a church and do that. The thing is, for a long while now, there have been churches willing and eager to stop doing commitment ceremonies and start doing marriages for gay couples. My own church and minister, for example, would be thrilled (thrilled!) to give their imprimatur to a gay wedding, and if such is still allowed as of next year, I imagine there'll be a few. (There's a lesbian couple of long duration in the choir, and I have no idea whether they've already married somewhere else, but one presumes that if they're not, they might get married at the church. They're both lovely people, but one of them is a soprano, and the other is an alto, so God only knows how they manage to make it work. That would be like me marrying a tenor, and, well: ewwww! Talk about unnatural.)

Speaking of churches, one of the reasons that legalizing same-gender marriage was relatively difficult in Maryland was because of the opposition of Black churches and Black Democrats. I find this very disappointing. When I was dating That Guy (who, really, was not all that religious, but liked to go to church on occasion because, let's face it, the Black churches have all the best speakers; also, really great music) he would tell me about what a wonderful experience he'd had listening to this preacher or that, and I'd ask him what that preacher's position on gay marriage was, and then there'd be an argument. And, well, I'm just going to go there: a lot of the opposition -- and, especially, the fervor of the opposition -- to gay marriage among Black ministers has less to do with Biblical commandments than it does to the fact that so many ministers like some man-on-man action on the DL. I guess that's where they find common ground with Republicans. Oh, the hypocrisy.


I sort of felt like there really wasn't anywhere near the media coverage of the Maryland law as there has been in other states. I mean, sure, there were a few reports, when the House of Delegates finally passed the bill, and when the Governor signed it. You had the usual clip from a lesbian couple with two children who are -- justifiably -- happy that they now have official recognition, and you had a bit of the hand wringing of the usual suspects about how Western civilization just lost another cornerstone blah blah blah will no one think of the children blah blah blah. But overall, the coverage was kind of low key, and maybe that's a good thing: it's just not such big news any more when one more state gives us the rights that everyone else has.

Or at least that we might have next January 1, if the likely referendum doesn't take them away from us. You'd like to think that a state as reliably liberal and Democratic as Maryland wouldn't vote to take us backwards, but, well, the Black churches will certainly be turning their members out. I have not so much as lifted my iPhone in the movement towards marriage equality, but I reckon that if someone's going to try to take a right -- even one that I don't intend to exercise -- away from me, then I'm going to have to do something. "Doing something" may just be writing a check, but I suppose I might finally be persuaded to do more than that.

By the way, I would be remiss to not mention how this is yet another example of how Maryland rules and Virginia drools. The Virginia gays who ignore the land of equality and instead choose to support a state that amended its constitution to deny them rights and wants to require invasive ultrasounds for women getting an abortion so that they could pay a few percent less in taxes must be SO PROUD (or maybe GOProud) right now. Y'all can bite me.