Coming Out of Left Field

Friday, May 19, 2017

Today's word ...

... is schadenfreude, which Merriam-Webster defines as "enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others".

Normally I try not to feel pleasure from things going badly for other people. However, when the other people are trying to carry out a harmful, bigoted, misogynist agenda that will benefit the rich and hurt the poor, women, Muslims, students, scientists, the planet, etc. ... then anything that gets in the way of that agenda, I'm good with -- and will certainly do my little bit for.

Speaking of which, writing a note to myself to pick up more postcard stamps. Between Texas trying to enact its own "bathroom" bill and a bill in Mass. to prohibit discrimination in state contracts, it's time to send out some more pro-equality messages.

Monday, May 15, 2017

In more news from the surreal world that is Trumpland

Trump apparently spilled some classified info to the Russians who visited the Oval Office last week. This, after him bashing Hillary over and over for having a private server for her e-mails.

You know, if I wanted to live in Tom Clancy's universe, I would've read the rest of his technothrillers instead of ditching them when the series jumped the shark. Just as well, though, given how long my reading queue is right now -- which became even bigger today with the arrival of two Rick Riordan titles (The Dark Prophecy, his second Apollo book, and Camp Half-Blood Confidential). The 11th edition of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary also came, which I will *not* be reading cover to cover. It'll be a useful reference both in general and to accompany Word by Word. I looked up the definition for "take" (after reading Kory Stamper's chapter on the issues with defining short words), and oy, is that entry long! I have a newfound respect for lexicographers ... and the conviction that, as much as I love words, there is no way I could do that for eight hours a day.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The joys of weeding, or how do I hate dandelions? Let me count the ways

The title of this post speaks for itself, so the less said about that the better. Ugh.

I did successfully distract myself for a while by thinking about the Pierre Pevel book I'm reading -- specifically, about how in his universe winged cats can magically absorb the contents of any printed matter they nap on. This could be a very useful ability, and I decided that if I had that power I would get a whole bunch of reference books to download into my brain. A dictionary for sure, and foreign language primers. Most certainly a basic cookbook (like Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"). Probably not an encyclopedia, as it would be too big to fit under my pillow and it wouldn't have enough depth for any given topic. An atlas, to correct my shaky knowledge of geography; travel guides for when we're planning vacations. Maybe even important but oh-so-long historical documents like the U.S. Constitution and the Federalist Papers.

Basically, I would use this power on anything that could be good to know, but that doesn't necessarily have a compelling story behind it (or is just too boring to slog through). All the more time for fun reading!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wait, whaaaa ....?

I was planning to write a post yesterday, but current events got in the way. I'm too young to remember Watergate, but Trump seems more and more like Nixon every day -- paranoid, thin-skinned, and all too willing to fire anyone who dares criticize him, oppose his policies or look into the problematic behavior of himself and his staff. It's so bad that the Twitter account for Nixon's presidential library posted that Nixon never fired *his* FBI director.

I'd like to hope that this news would be enough to put a stop to the GOP efforts on repealing the ACA, tax cuts for the 1%, etc. But of course McConnell and some other Republicans are rejecting calls for an independent investigation, and even the GOPers who are claiming to be troubled by this firing ... well, talk is cheap. So for the moment I'm pausing my "shame for the AHCA" project so I can use my daily free faxes to demand a special prosecutor from the Senate. (Less of a GOP majority there, so more chance of something actually working.)

No matter what happens, Trump has just (metaphorically) poured kerosene on a fire he was hoping to extinguish.

P.S. Am still enjoying "The Martian," though I can't help wondering if Mark Watney would want to come back to this planet...

Monday, May 08, 2017

Tick, tock ...

Today marks two milestones of sorts.

As of today, I have lived in the Boston area for half of my life. Though I've called myself a Bostonian ever since I moved here, I feel like now is the day I finally qualify to do so. I still have to work on the accent, though, and as we figured out at a family dinner the other day, the drink that is called "soda" in these parts I persist in calling "pop".

On a more somber note, if you define my age today as X, and my mother's age at the time of her death as Y, then X + 10 > Y.

I'm not going to go into great detail about this; being on social media doesn't mean one has to reveal everything, especially very private matters such as a parent's death. Also, it doesn't do me a lot of good to dwell on such math. Life is full of things I have little or no control over. All I can do is what *I* can do -- which includes reminding myself that I am so lucky and privileged in so many ways, and to not let that go to waste.

And things could be much worse. I could be stranded millions of miles away from all my loved ones, like the poor guy in Andy Weir's "The Martian," struggling to overcome one problem after another. And facing the prospect of nothing to eat but potatoes for days on end. And no chocolate! Oy, indeed ...

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Resistance quote of the day

Today's resistance-related quote comes courtesy of Diane Duane, whose Young Wizards series is a favorite of ours. In the book "Wizards at War," two of the senior wizards have just warned a group of younger wizards that a) something really dangerous is tearing the universe apart and b) the senior wizards themselves are losing their powers and won't be able to help. Then one of them, Tom, smiles grimly and gives them the good news:

"For the duration—for as long as there is a duration— as far as wizardry goes, the lid is off. Any wizardry you can build to fight what's happening, any wizardry you can figure out how to fuel, is fair game. Normally we all limit our workings carefully to keep them from damaging the universe, or the beings who share it with us. But now the system itself is on the chopping block, along with everything else. If we don't save that..."

For this universe and with us Muggles (and yes, I know it's mixing YA fantasy series), that translates into, for instance, attending marches and protests at times instead of going to services; as much as I appreciate Shabbat, spiritual connection and inner tranquility don't count for as much when the truth is under attack and so many marginalized communities are being threatened. Similarly, I'm willing to kill some trees (in the form of postcards and faxes) and increase carbon emissions (e-mails, petition signatures, etc.) if in the long run those help prevent greater harm to health, the planet, and so on.

Speaking of faxes, now I'm up to 48 representatives -- only 169 to go. And I want to send postcards to the senators who are reportedly working on their version of the ACA repeal, to let them we are watching.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Is rage-faxing a thing?

There are a few websites that let you send free faxes (limited to 2 or 5 a day). I've been taking advantage of them to contact the GOP representatives -- yes, all 217 of them -- who voted to repeal the ACA on Thursday. The message isn't complicated; it's basically a PDF with "SHAME!!!!!" in huge red letters all over the page.

I have no illusions that this will singlehandedly change any rep's mind about his or her vote. We've been doing other things too, like donating money and e-mailing/calling our own legislators, that probably will have more of an impact. But, fortunately, this is not something that takes loads of time. And with all of this, I've taken this quote from "What Calling Congress Achieves" (a New Yorker piece by Kathryn Schulz) to heart:

We all do plenty of things without knowing if or when or how or how much they will work: we say prayers, take multivitamins, give money to someone on Second Avenue who looks like she needs it. So, too, with calling and e-mailing and writing and showing up in congressional offices: it would be good to know that these actions will succeed, but it suffices to know that they could. And at this particular moment, when our First Amendment freedoms are existentially threatened—when the President himself has, among other things, sought to curb press access and to discredit dissent—we also act on them to insist that we can. The telephone might not be a superior medium for participatory democracy, but it is an excellent metaphor for it, and it reminds us of the rights we are promised as citizens. When we get disconnected, we can try to get through. When we get no answer, we can keep trying. When we have to, for as long as we need to, we can hold the line.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Currently reading

Starting up blogging here occasionally because I need an outlet other than rage-tweeting at the current administration. If the ad revenue ever adds up to enough to let me make an additional donation to the organizations fighting Trump, so much the better (though I'm not banking on it). In any case, writing has got to be better for my brain than Candy Crush.

My current reading pile:

  • the most recent three issues of The New Yorker. Ever since the election I find that with any given issue, I get through the event listings just fine, turn the page -- and hit a wall, in the form of a Comment about He-Who-Should-Not-Have-Been-Elected. Thus the backlog. I'm getting better at gritting my teeth and powering through ... one does, unfortunately, build up a tolerance for this &#@&
  • the most recent issue of Wired (barely started)
  • the "Gender Revolution" issue of National Geographic (thought-provoking)
  • "The Martian" by Andy Weir (the escapist fantasy I need right now)
  • "The Compass Rose" by Ursula K. Le Guin (strange and compelling)
  • "How to Bake π" by Eugenia Cheng (I still don't like math much, but Cheng is funny and illuminating)
  • "Le Paris Des Merveilles" by Pierre Pevel (barely started)
  • "Secret Water" by Arthur Ransome (from the Swallows and Amazons series my wife grew up reading)
  • "Word by Word" by Kory Stamper. This is a fascinating look at Merriam-Webster. It does make me realize that as much as I like words, I could never be a lexicographer, for the same reason I never got into math; I don't have the patience to be that precise.

Oh, and then there are my wife's alumnae bulletins ... oy. Time to stop blogging and start reading