Wednesday, July 29, 2009
2. Work is stressful because things are coming to a head and especially because of continuing schedule uncertainty. That's all I'll say about it - except that by next Friday the stress should taper considerably...really it has to, since I am leaving early the following week.
3. Had dinner last week with an old grad school friend who took his master's and went to law school, became a patent attorney, worked for many years in several different law firms, and was recently laid-off and is now basically moving back in with his parents. I'm not close enough to the guy to pry into exactly what his financial circumstances are. But while we were talking I was thinking about the time, about 4 1/2 years ago, when he was doing awesome and I was miserable (as a postdoc). Now things have reversed. Luck plays a huge role in the way these things go.
4. I have gotten extraordinarily paranoid about my teeth lately and finally went ahead and made a dental appointment for late next week. I've been thinking about it almost constantly - I am so irrationally afraid of the dentist. Over the past week I've had dreams of my teeth falling out, woken up worried something's wrong with my mouth, etc. Now I play out all kinds of scenarios of how it will go, how they will treat me, what they will say I need, what I should say and not say. Plus I have google to help me obsess over fruitless (and borderline hypochondriac) attempts at self-diagnosis. A little sore caused by biting my cheek is: oral cancer (no way) -- an abscess (even though it doesn't hurt and is in a place where there are no roots) -- pericoronitis (even though I'm too old and my third molars have fully erupted through the gum) -- an infection that will require antibiotics. Is it going to block my breathing passages? Lock my jaw? Is that headache I'm feeling because of it? Yikes! I've been looking at my teeth lately wondering if every dark spot down in my molars is a cavity that will need filling...or maybe even a root canal. Will my wisdom teeth need to be extracted? Is my enamel dissolved from all the acidic beverages (i.e., soda) I drink? How would I know? I struggle to decipher the grainy photos on some dentist's website and find I can't see anything. Are whiter spots areas of demineralization or are they left from older sealants I got, and should I ask about getting new sealants? Why doesn't my dentist list "sealants" on her website - does she not do them? That I'm in this position I know is virtually entirely my fault, though I also find myself wanting to blame the "OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!" style of my childhood (i.e. only two states in the world: everything fine and fucking catastrophe, with interactions with doctors/dentists definitely falling along that dichotomy), and past dentists (and orthodontists) who made me feel humiliated and dirty even as my teeth remained healthy. I need to develop some zen about this, and quickly. And I need to stay away from google. Meanwhile, I'm gargling salt water for my sore, brushing like five times a day (even brought my toothbrush into work today), flossing religiously so my gums won't bleed when I go, and using two different kinds of mouthwash. Kiss me, I'm a dental-phobe!
5. Our apartment needs some serious cleaning. There's been some major plumbing work going on in the building, and they've been in our apartment twice. The first time they took stuff out of our kitchen cabinets, pulled our stove away from the wall, broke the drywall behind the stove to get at the pipes, and then the water didn't come back on until 10 that night and they told us not to drink it for two days. Nice. Yesterday they said they needed us to clean out our hallway closet so they could acccess to the pipes - so we did and I'm not sure if they went in there but they also went into our spare bedroom, moved things around, and knocked another huge hole in the drywall. The communication on this from the condo office has been quite subpar, especially since the problem is actually two floors below us, and we're letting them work in our apartment out of courtesy. So add all this to the fact that both my fiancee and I spent at least some time traveling and there are wedding-related materials everywhere and the place needs some cleaning this weekend. If we could leave a nice clean apartment when we go I think we'll appreciate it when we return.
6. July is usually a total wash for me with respect to going to the gym, but - even though I haven't done stupendously this month - for July I've done pretty well. In addition, my fiancee and I have been doing some walking on the weekends, which is a great way to get some air, some moderate exercise, and some relaxation.
7. Finally, probably related to stress (but maybe just to water retention, or changes in temperature, or sunspots - who the hell knows), I've apparently lost about 5 or 6 pounds in the past week, dipping consistently below 200 pounds (as low as 197.5) when I weigh myself. I guess that's alright since I haven't lost any strength. Things are a bit unsettled now but within a couple of weeks these issues will have to work themselves out.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
I liked some of the links in the Slate article, which point to the history of BMI as a concept, to research indicating it doesn't mean much of anything with regard to individuals, and especially to lists of celebrities and athletes who would be overweight or obese under the BMI standard.
When I graduated from college and weighed 140 pounds, I was well within the "normal" BMI range, and I deliberately worked for many years not to be such a little shrimp. (We all know tiny little people who seem to run marathons every weekend and who will probably live to 110, but they frequently have no strength and this was never a body type I aspired to, especially since I grew up in a culture that really encouraged bodybuilding.) According to the BMI standard, any man of my height who weighs 170 pounds or more is overweight. I mean, that's just plain crazy. It's all about activity levels and fitness (and abdominal fat levels, evidently). Meanwhile, some important health statistics (like cholesterol levels) can be totally uncorrelated with weight (though I bet in the aggregate they are).
But BMI is downright misleading, was never intended to apply to individuals, and I can't believe we can't do better than this to try to help people understand their health and make good choices.
Look, normally there's nothing I hate more than having to stand on the escalator because people aren't moving or are blocking the way. And there was no squeezing past your wheelchair - I didn't even try. (Others behind me considered it and then also realized the futility.)
But you sir, you have earned my respect. I didn't mind waiting behind you. All those fat ladies running (!) for the elevator every day and you, though you can't walk, you take the escalator.
(The homeless lady waiting at the top of the escalator, who didn't bat an eyelid at your accomplishment but immediately proceeded to ask you and then me for money, was a nice finishing touch.)
God forbid I ever find myself in a wheelchair, but if I do, I hope I can take the same attitude you do.
Monday, July 20, 2009
This blog post comes to you from a location in the
It’s like having flown into a different season here. It has been mild enough in D.C., but it’s like late September here. Of course this is a place that has real winters – winters I got to know very well during the years I lived here. I never mind them all too much, though D.C. is still a nicer place to live 8 or 9 months a year. But right now I am just loving the weather here.
We went for our tasting today. I had never visited the wedding venue before and was favorably impressed. The food, also, was excellent. Every single thing we tried was good. I think our dollars are going a lot further here than they would in D.C., and since our crowd is going to be a bit smaller than we’d first thought (we’re going to wind up with about 80 attendees), we can go ahead and be a little bit more upscale about the food and drink, if we want.
The one problem with the venue appears to be the banquet manager, who has been quite a handful so far. She wasn’t there today, and the person who hosted us – while nice enough – couldn’t answer nearly all of our questions. So we’re going to have to have a big conference call with the banquet manager at some point soon after we get back to D.C., and then work to make sure we get everything in writing.
I’ve been a little stressed out at work lately, and that will continue for the next couple of weeks because it is crunch time on the project I am working on. This short trip has been good so far, though – just nice to have a change of scenery for a couple of days. I can’t believe we head home tomorrow already (just got here yesterday afternoon), but at least now I am facing only a four-day workweek.
I like it here at my fiancee’s parents because it is so peaceful. There are no traffic sounds and the houses are far apart – you hear virtually nothing from the neighbors (I’m watching a couple of kids jumping on a trampoline but they’re so far away I can barely hear them – besides that, it’s quiet). It’s green and there’s a big yard and her parents are so easy-going. They just kind of let us do our own thing, and even if we hang around they don’t let us disturb their daily behavior. Her dad just walks off to go watch TV whenever he wants to. I like that. The big house next to theirs is on sale for just over $300,000. There’s a detached garage, a nice big piece of property, the house is new and looks really well-constructed, and the schools here are good (though my fiancée would probably say that they are not particularly enlightened, or certainly weren’t when she attended them, and I’m not really in a position to disagree). I don’t particularly think I would want to move back to this part of the country, but when you compare what you get here to what you get in D.C. for the same money (2-bedroom apartments in our building go for $300,000, even in this depressed market) it makes me want to smack my head on the ground. On the other hand, there are still a lot of good things about being a renter, especially if you find a good deal – and we’ve got a good deal.
I had a couple of hours to kill at the airport both before and after my flight yesterday, and I read Intuition by Allegra Goodman. I definitely want to post a review of that book on this blog – I’ve done such a lousy job reviewing books this year, even though it ought to be a big area of focus.
I watched little bits and pieces of the Sotomayor confirmation hearings this past week when I was able to. It was amazing to me that they managed to take so much time to hit on so few points. Of course, politics decrees that every Senator use up their questioning time – it’s a chance to get on TV in front of a lot of people. Still, the Republicans had only a few points to raise, so three days seemed pretty excessive.
I’m no great fan of race-based affirmative action myself, but this woman is obviously brilliant. And the “wise
I found it especially interesting because there’s an analogy to science. Scientists try to be objective, try to let facts and data alone drive their interpretations and conclusions, but I think most of us know how difficult it is to remove our own biases and predispositions from the process. These factor in not only in the interpretation of specific data, but in our becoming scientists in the first place (and what scientific field we choose). Certainly a person who chooses to go forestry school and a person who chooses to get a PhD in conservation biology are probably seeing things from disparate perspectives right from the get-go. And the fields themselves have built-in philosophical bents (and sometimes values).
It is true, in my opinion, that scientists don’t take this part of things nearly as seriously as they should. My guess is there is similar for judges. (Lawyers, too: a criminal defense attorney and corporate tax lawyer probably choose their respective fields for a bevy of personal reasons.) The fact that we have “liberal” and “conservative” judges is enough to indicate that something besides straightforward interpretation of the law must come into play. (People want judges to articulate a “judicial philosophy” – even in science, no one asks scientists for their “scientific philosophy”.) One of the points Sotomayor seemed to be trying to make during one portion of the hearings I watched was that judges needed to be aware of their own biases, dispositions, and empathies in order to move past them and let them affect their rulings as little as possible. The Senators didn’t seem to want to hear any of that. But I think this is a big weakness of science and scientists too. No one teaches scientists to be self-aware, and you need that self-awareness to move past your internal biases. I never appreciated that until I left basic research and moved to working on the science-policy interface, where I came face-to-face with my own predispositions.
Anyway, I know hearings are political theatre but I was just thinking to myself that if I were a junior Republican Senator, maybe the fifth or sixth to question her, and I had to bring up the “wise Latina” thing yet again and pretend there was absolutely no nuance in the discussion, I think I’d want to jump off a cliff. Maybe the challenge for me would be in trying to find a way to ask something to box her into a corner, in a way my colleagues had failed to do. I guess there can be some satisfaction in being good at gaming the system like that, but I can’t believe it’s anything more than superficial. Still, I can’t exactly skip my question time, can I? What will the people at home think? And if I don’t ask about Ricci and the wise
Yet sometimes I really wonder why it has to be this way – just who is so dumb that they can’t see degrees in things…or, more precisely, whether it’s the media or the public who deserve more of the blame. Honestly, I tend to think it’s the media. Ultimately, they are selling a product and they know that challenging people’s preconceptions isn’t the way to do that – reinforcing them is. And yet they also have a responsibility. Of course, the government can’t subsidize the media (that would be terrible for democracy, though maybe there are ways to do it like if it was funded like an entitlement), but it’s funny how the market always seems to work towards the lowest common denominator.
I guess just one more thought on Sotomayor. A lot of people said she was the “American dream”. I both agree and disagree. On one hand, yes it is nice that she could rise from the housing projects in the
Monday, July 13, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
My fiancee is traveling for business this whole week so I have got the place to myself. She left very early Saturday morning and we will meet up next weekend in the place where we are getting married to take care of a few wedding-related chores before returning home together on Monday. We really are getting close to the wedding – it’s just about a month from now. She says we’re in good shape so I believe we’re in good shape. There are still a few important pieces of business pending, but overall we’ve been knocking out the tasks pretty efficiently.
Yesterday was a pretty lazy day for me, though I did get to the gym and go do grocery shopping for the week. Today I was a bit more efficient: cleaning up the place and going out for an hour-long walk in the morning (Flying Spaghetti Monster be praised for the continuing mild weather – July 12 and I have yet to switch on the AC! In DC!!!). I really feel like having a nice chunk of time off in the near future would be helpful for me. Since I started my current position (in September) the longest chunk of time I’ve been away from work is five days. The wedding will actually break that record, keeping me away for a whopping six. I find it is true that it takes a while to unwind from work, though, and that is even more true when you have your blackberry with you all the time. Every Sunday I keep thinking how great it would be if I just had another day or two. My fiancee and I have really just started batting around honeymoon ideas, but a nice week hiking out west in the fall could certainly tide us over until we can make a solid plan.
I’ve been working a little bit on some short stories and vague ideas for a next novel have been forming in my head, but I’m not even really at the point where I’m ready to sit down and start sketching out them (though I might be pretty close, and a few days to get my head together would be helpful). Meanwhile, there’s little to do with my completed novel. One of my fiancee’s relatively literary friends (and I don’t say “relatively” in a disparaging way, but relative to our other friends) has agreed to read and critique the manuscript. It’s taking a while, though, and while I am definitely hugely grateful that she agreed to do this, I’m also antsy to move the process along. (Also, I wonder why it’s taking so long – she says she is busy but I think to myself: I want my book to be impossible to put down. But evidently she is quite capable of putting it down. So what’s the problem? I realize this is a little over-the-top, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking along these lines to some degree.) I’ve been messing with query letters and I need to keep working on finding agents and publishers who seem like they would be good candidates for the query. I’m making slow progress, but feel like I haven’t been the best about using my own time, either.
Writing this reminds me that I keep seeing, on agent blogs, admonishments that authors themselves blog and gather up a blog audience so as to facilitate the eventual selling of their books. And then I think about this blog and I wince. This blog is decent, and 85% of it is just fine and could have my name next to it with no repercussions. But then there is the other 15%: mostly family stuff (and not just how I feel about family members but how they feel about each other and in a few cases information that I’m sure they wouldn’t want public), but also some instances where I’ve called people out for this or that – not by name, but if people knew who I was, they might be able to figure out who those other people are. I could always start a new blog and eliminate the 15% - or rather, if I stopped being anonymous, I could replace it with other subjects that I’m afraid right now would give me away (such as posts about my area of scientific expertise and some posts about policy issues as well). I could lock up the problematic posts so only invited readers could get at them…um, I think I could at least. I could delete them but nothing ever really gets deleted. I don’t know – part of me does want to go ahead and start developing publicity for this blog – even if just as a practice run for an eventual myname.com blog that can be used as a platform for my literary work. I’ve almost been too good at keeping this blog secret, and it affects my motivation to write here, especially when I’m in between projects.
I might or might not go ahead and publicize this blog, but I think what I’ll do is if I go ahead and query and wind up getting bites, I will start a new blog where I am not anonymous and where I draw in some readership. The time it takes to sell and publish a novel (even from the time of getting agent representation) is so great that this should be plenty of time for me to develop a readership if I work at it. And if my attempt to publish this work fails, I won’t have wasted the effort. I mean, it’s not exactly wasted – it would be fun and interesting to do this. But let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day and I need to devote some of them to fiction. The blog would almost always have to take a back seat to that. Plus, this blog was set up the way it was for some very significant reasons, and for now I want to stay true to that original vision.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
The first is that evidently the only worthwhile reason not to spend all your time at work is to spend some of it with your kids. So if you don't have kids why wouldn't you want to just live at work? Why spend time with a significant other or with friends or on hobbies or education or reading or just catching up on sleep and watching bad movies? Even fitness - despite the fitness rhetoric of this White House (and the last one too) do you think they give a shit if their aides have time to work out? I worked for a time on Capitol Hill for a senior and wealthy member of Congress, and sometimes I felt that this person existed in an alternate reality. Sure, it would be a lot easier for me to work even more if I had others to clean my house, do my shopping and laundry, cook my food, and run all the other little errands that ensure your whole life outside of work doesn't quickly go to hell in a hand-basket. Sometimes I wondered if my boss realized that the staff didn't have people to do all that stuff for them.
That being said, my second reaction is somewhat contrary. There are many jobs in D.C., and nationwide, where you can work yourself to death for no particular reason (or because you see no alternative). These are White House jobs, for goodness sake. Am I really supposed to be concerned that Rahm Emanuel or Peter Orszag don't get to spend enough time with their kids? No one on the White House staff, from the lowliest secretary to the Chief of Staff, is there because goshdarnit they just can't find anything else and if they quit they won't be able to make the mortgage payments and put food on the table. Indeed, virtually none of them are there for the money because the money sucks (relatively). They're there because they want to be for other reasons: they love power, they want a place in history, they want to make a difference, they want bragging rights, they think it will pave the way to greater things, and so on and so on. Some of these are selfish reasons and some are noble, and for most of the White House staff it's no doubt a complex mix.
You don't take a White House job and then complain because you have to miss little Johnny's t-ball games. It comes with the territory: if you work in the White House, workaholic tendencies help. If you're not a workaholic, then it may not be for you. (The same goes for working on the Hill, but who pays attention to that?)
Being cognizant of my anonymity, I can still say that: a) I know a few political appointees and that b) I myself was under at least a little bit of consideration for a position in EOP that, while not exactly Emperor of the Universe, was a respectable staff position and would certainly be something to be maximized in terms of getting things done, and something my parents and fiancee could brag about. It occurred to me that I would need to get into the right place, mentally, were an offer to come along (it did not, and I'm not entirely sorry). I would have to put the job first. Before writing, before relaxing, before fitness, even before time with my fiancee - to a large degree, at least. And if I wasn't willing to do that, was going to wonder every night why I was still at work at 8 and 9 o'clock and hate my life for it, then I shouldn't take the job.
All this is to say that if you take a position like that, you know what you're getting into and you are making a trade-off. If the cost-benefit doesn't work out, don't take the job.
And finally, let me say that of course the White House culture is friendlier to the first family than to aides. The President has a public image to convey, and an example to set, far beyond how many hours he spends working. The whole Obama family has to think about image and examples - just consider the scrutiny on Michelle Obama. Things are quite different even for the highest-ranking aides like Emanuel and Orszag - does anyone care whether they grow a vegetable garden or all have Sunday dinner together? They're not prisoners (Emanuel at least is a millionaire who probably never has to work again). Despite the tone of the article, people like that - and the junior people, both with and without kids - know exactly what they signed up for.
Want to spend more time with your family? Find another job. I can guarantee most of the people in Obama's White House are professionals who knew what they were getting into and wouldn't trade it for the world. And all around D.C. you'll find others who didn't want to make those sacrifices and turned those jobs down.
Let's worry about how family-friendly (and life-friendly, even for the single people!) the workplace is for regular people just trying to make ends meet, and forget the White House.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The Madoff story has gotten so much press, I am convinced, because he's exactly the sort of schmoe people wanted to blame when the economy tanked (though he had nothing to do with it tanking, and in fact it was the terrible performance of the economy that led to his downfall - too many people were asking for their money back and he couldn't keep up with the demand). Though he robbed from a wide variety of people, many were quite wealthy, and that didn't hurt, either. Not to mention that his worst crime, really, was the huge breach of trust. The government fails to provide people with a safety net, and he came across as a financial wizard, so people trusted him.
The transcript from his sentencing hearing was posted. Some of the victims got to speak at the hearing.
Now, I understand this crime was unprecedented in its scope, though the 150 year sentence seems kind of...well, silly. Madoff is 71 years old and far less would have been adequate to ensure he died behind bars. Even had he been 20 or 30 years younger, he would be facing life in prison. Even as a symbol and as a deterrent, 150 years is dumb.
I also understand that his crimes devastated people. He robbed from charities, heros like Elie Wiesel, the rich, the poor, the disabled, everyone. Imagine sacrificing all your life, working hard and saving your money, only to have this asshole living high on the hog on your money and you left with nothing. It is pretty clear from the victim statements that many are also very frustrated with the government's response (or lack thereof).
And I understand that it's not "just" money. It is freedom, security, education for the young, proper care for the old. It's hope for the future. This crime will probably take years off the lives of many, and leave others still with a much lower quality of life.
At the same time, with all that being said, some of the victim testimony was WAY over the top. One described the scheme as an "indescribably heinous crime." Well, it's not indescribably heinous. It's quite easy to describe, in fact: theft and fraud. Theft of money, of trust, and of dreams. But not shooting babies or murder or torture or mutilation. Had there been a trial, no one would have been wincing or crying at the presentation of the evidence.
Another alluded to Dante's Inferno, indicating that Madoff belonged right up (well, down) there with Brutus, Cassius, and Judas, and voiced the hope that Satan would grow a fourth mouth to hold Madoff. What? While Hitler, Stalin, and Mao (and all of their ilk and their underlings) frolic through a meadow somewhere?In all of human history Bernie Madoff is one of the four most evil people? Can we get a sense of perspective, maybe?
A third called him "that terror, that monster, that horror, that beast" who "walks among us," "dresses like us," "drives and eats and drinks and speaks". Had Madoff brutally murdered this woman's husband, would she be able to find any stronger language? Or is there no distinction?
I don't want to say anything trite about money and happiness, or downplay the pain Madoff caused, or implicitly claim I would be the model of calmness and forgiveness had someone stolen everything from me. But some proportionality, please! No one is dead, no one had their eyes yanked out of their skull, no one was injected with HIV. Everyone is whole and can watch the sunrise and play with their kids. Send Madoff away for sure. The real punishment for him will be having to sleep in a small cell and eat bad food and not enjoy yachts and lobster tails and tailored suits. The human part of the sentence? I doubt he'll notice. The victims have more humanity. Even without their money, they can move on, enjoy what really matters. And I wish them the best.
As one commenter on the NY Times article put it: "ain’t it a shame so many of us are worth more dead than alive?"