Long Time No See

July 21, 2009 at 8:35 am (Uncategorized)

I don’t think I want to even look up when my last post was, but let’s just say it’s been awhile.

The past few weeks have been both really busy, and exactly like business as usual (depending upon which weeks you’re talking about, really).  I haven’t really done all that much out of the ordinary, except that what I have done is really out of the ordinary.

At the end of June, my whole family took a trip to Asia.  We visited Hong Kong, Xi’an, Beijing, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Singapore over the course of our 2 week trip.  It was very busy, with lots of flying, and definitely really, really awesome.

And about a week after I got back from that trip, I got engaged.  The fiance bought a ring while he was in the Philippines, and asked me to marry him a few days after he got back.  I’m very, very excited about that.  So excited, in fact, that my mom is sick of hearing about it all.

Otherwise, it’s just been work as usual.  I’ve spent my weekends trying to relax and catch up on sleep, because I think I’m still just the slightest bit jet-lagged.

It always amuses me just how easy it is to slip back into your daily life after leaving it for awhile.

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Readying for a trip

June 15, 2009 at 10:28 am (Travel) (, , , )

So I leave for Asia a week from today.  My dad will be coming to Eugene on Saturday, because he is going to fly with me (so I’m not on my own on the way to Tokyo).

I haven’t had a whole lot to say just recently, because my mental energy has mostly been devoted to getting ready for this trip.  I’m getting down to the wire here, but I think I’m doing okay as far as packing goes.  I dragged my suitcase out this weekend, and will start tossing anything I don’t need to use into it.  I’ve got a list for my suitcase and another for my carry on (and it’s a third again as long as the one for the suitcase, too).  I’m going to make sure that I can live out of my carry on for at least 48 hours, if I have to.

I need to go to JC Penney (for the third flipping time) tonight.  The swimsuit I own fits okay, but it’s not very comfortable, so I need to look for a new one.  I think I’m going to try to squeeze in one more Target trip, too.

I’m going to have to spend a week by myself when I get back, too.  The boyfriend is also going to (a different part of) Asia, but he won’t be home until a week after me.  I haven’t spent this long apart from him since I moved to Oregon, and I am not relishing the thought of having to do it now.

I’ve realized that I like the opportunity to travel.  I can actually put up with quite a lot.  But darn it, getting ready to go is really very stressful.  I end up trying to plan for every eventuality, and of course I can’t actually do that.  I get the feeling I’d be less stressed right now if I wasn’t going to be separated from the boyfriend while I’m there, though.  That just adds another layer of worry about him, aside from just plain missing him.

Even so, once I get on that plane, I’ll be able to relax…if only because there won’t be anything I can do about stuff I’ve forgotten (except deal with not having it for a couple of weeks or figure out where to buy it).  So here’s hoping Northwest makes it as easy as possible for us to sleep on the flight from Seattle to Tokyo, and that they don’t lose our luggage.  I’d really like to have my suitcase when I get to Hong Kong.

(And isn’t it funny that, in this day of overcrowded overstretched airline travel, I consider it a minor miracle when my checked luggage shows up at my destination at the same time I do.  I think the last time that happened was 2 years ago.)

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Losing our freedoms, eh?

June 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm (Politics) (, , , , )

You know something that is kind of funny (in a horribly sad way) is that the Republican party is really concerned about our freedoms these days.  It’s a word they’ve always been big on using, but now they’re really just all concerned that our freedoms are being taken away from us.

The beautiful irony in that statement, of course, is that what they are referring to is the government doing things like taking over failing business that we can’t afford to let fail (which was started by a Republican administration, by the way).  Or the government raising taxes.  Or the government mandating that health insurance companies sell everyone insurance, full stop.

Now, granted, some of these things are not mentioned in the Constitution.  Certainly taking over GM never made it in there.  But honestly, this is not something the Constitution bars the federal government from doing, and it’s not something that either the states or “we the people” could possibly have managed, so it’s not like the federal government is taking rights away from other entities that are entitled to them.  And, of course, with things like taxation…well, that is specifically mentioned in the constitution.  Specifically, the federal government is allowed to do it.  Kind of however Congress decides to.  So they completely lose on that one.

It’s ironic, of course, because the previous administration took away quite a lot of our rights, and some of our most important ones, too.  We definitely had our freedom curtailed under the Bush administration, and it’s not some gray-area, not-actually-forbidden stuff like taking over failing companies when the economy is about to implode.  It’s stuff like…the right to reasonable search and seizure.  Habeus corpus.  In some sense, freedom of speech and religion.  You know, stuff that was kinda sorta mentioned very specifically in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  Not to mention the Declaration of Independence and, I’m sure, a variety of other documents.

Seriously, never underestimate the desire or power of some people to rewrite history.  I just hope that we as a country don’t let them get away with it.

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Pragmatism vs. Idealism

June 1, 2009 at 8:02 pm (Health Care, Politics) (, , , )

Last night, I amused myself before bed by watching a recent episode of Countdown with Keith Olbermann.  I haven’t watched that particular show in awhile (because we’re no longer in the midst of an election), but it was interesting.

I realize that Keith Olbermann is, in many ways, the liberal answer to Bill O’Reilly.  Except that, for one, Olbermann is a lot nicer to the people on his show, and for another, I think his distillation of various news stories is better.  And I can’t help the fact that I think O’Reilly is morally degenerate, but that’s my biases talking.

Anyway, Olbermann had Rachel Maddow on his show to discuss a revelation about waterboarding, and to talk about torture in general.  One of the people who was very vocal that waterboarding was useful and not torture (I wish I could remember the guy’s name, but I can’t) recently underwent the process himself.  He basically said at the end of it that it is absolutely torture, and he would have told anyone anything they wanted to hear to make it stop.

So Olbermann was saying that the best argument against torture is that it doesn’t even work, aside from being inhumane and cruel.  Maddow disagreed with him, and said that the primary argument against torture should be that we, as a society, don’t do it.  In other words, that torture is immoral and wrong, whether it works or not.

I think it’s an interesting question about how we debate certain topics, especially in politics.  I think it’s very easy to get caught up in pragmatic arguments, like the one Olbermann thinks is the most important, and lose sight of the moral arguments, like those Maddow thinks should have primacy.  I can think of at least two other issues that have similar pragmatic vs. idealistic arguments – the death penalty, and health care.  On the one hand, we could argue that abolishing the death penalty or instituting health care is more cost effective than our current system.  On the other hand, we could argue that it is morally wrong for the state to kill people, or that it is a moral imperative for the government to ensure that everyone has equal access to health care.

I think I personally would side with Maddow in this sort of argument.  Torture is wrong not because it is ineffective, but because we don’t do it.  It goes against our values and our belief system.  It’s not an issue of finding a method of torture that works (which is what the pragmatic argument would lead to); it’s an issue of not even looking for one, because it’s wrong.

Similarly, the death penalty is wrong because the government has no business playing God.  Sure, it’s cheaper to get rid of the death penalty (because you won’t need so many expensive trials), but that argument would lead to an attempt to make the death penalty cheaper to enforce.  Not more just, not more accurate – cheaper.  The point is that no matter how cheap it is, it’s wrong.

And finally, with health care, I think this debate is becoming one about whether or not people have the right to health care.  Is it a right like the freedom of speech, thus deserving of protection by the government, or is it a privilege?  I personally think it should be a right, and that anyone who agrees with me on that is weakening their case by arguing first about cost.  Cost is a consideration (and I really do think it would ultimately be cheaper if everyone had insurance, at least), but the first consideration is that people deserve to have health care simply because it is the right thing to do.

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Ready for summer

June 1, 2009 at 8:33 am (Uncategorized)

This morning, as I was getting ready for work, I had my lovely new living room fan on.  I used my new not-nearly-as-icky-as-it-could-be sunscreen on my face, neck, ears, and arms.  I put on my new waterproof mascara, because I noticed that my non-waterproof stuff was smudging a bit at the end of the day on Friday.

And wouldn’t you know it, today is cooler than it has been in two weeks and overcast.  I’m glad for it, but it’s kind of ironic.

I did some shopping over the weekend to try and get ready for my big trip to various parts of Asia.  I managed to get some of what I needed at Target, although I forgot to look for sunglasses there, and all of their hats were either stupid or made me look 40.  I was going to have to go to JC Penney anyway, so I’m hoping I can find at least sunglasses there.  I also need new shirts, another pair of pants (if I can find one), and I’m really hoping I can find a very lightweight longsleeved shirt (but I’m not holding out much hope for that).

It’s frustrating me a little that I have to very carefully plan all of my time between now and when I leave, just to make sure I get everything done that needs doing.  I won’t have much time to just relax, which is too bad, because I’ll have even less time when I’m actually on this vacation.

Also, the ceiling fan above my desk is really annoying.  It’s just the slightest bit unbalanced, so it makes a constant noise that I can’t quite tune out.

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May 26, 2009 at 3:56 pm (About Me) (, , , )

I ended up with a rather busier Memorial Day weekend than I might have wished for myself.  It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for spending on the computer (although some of that was just me avoiding the computer because I wanted a technology break).

I ended up spending a lot of time reading, which was nice.  I poked a bit around my little garden, since more of my plants are blooming now.  I also spent some time just thinking.

I’m pretty sure a lot of people think I’m rigid.  Call it that, or stubborness, or any old thing – it all amounts to about the same thing.  My family especially likes to point this particular trait out to me, usually because they think I’m too rigid (or stubborn or whatever).

The older I get (and I realize I’m still not that old), the more impatient I get with being dismissed that way.  Because in so many ways, it is completely a dismissal.  People think, oh, we don’t need to listen to Mary, because she’s just being stubborn.  She’s not able to be flexible, so she isn’t seeing the world as it really is.  Maybe that viewpoint is sometimes true, but I don’t think it is nearly as often as I’m made to feel it is.

The fact is, the world exists because of rules.  I happen to find those rules pretty fascinating, perhaps because of my interest in history, or perhaps just because.  Every society has their own set of rules, and some societies even codify them.  The most fascinating thing about those rules, really, is the fact that even when people say that they’re outdated and ridiculous, most people still follow a large chunk of them.

So the fact that I know many of these rules (call them etiquette, call them manners, call them society, or anything else) and recognize both their value and their hold on people does not make me rigid.  Wanting to follow them myself does not make me stubborn.  Wanting to preserve a standard that is based on the ideal of a smoothly-operating society does not mean that I will apply that standard rigidly in every case I see.  But when I do apply it rigidly, that doesn’t mean I’m blowing things all out of proportion.

It might very well look as though I take offense at things that I would not have been offended by several years ago (before I actually learned these rules).  But I think what’s really happening is that now I know what I have a right to be offended over, and what I don’t.  So instead of a vague feeling of discomfort a lot of the time, I’m able to brush off things that shouldn’t offend me, and focus my energy on dealing with those things that do.  Ultimately, those rules of society apply just as much to myself as they do to anyone else, if not more so.  They help me figure out what the best course of action is in sticky situations, and come out the other side without pissing off everyone around me or burning any undeserving bridges.

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May 21, 2009 at 8:24 am (Uncategorized)

You know what’s awful?  Being really and truly suited for a society that dictates that all skin but the face be covered before leaving the house (and dictates that everyone wears hats outside), but living in a society that thinks the more tan you are, the better.

It’s really obnoxious to have to cover up all of my skin before spending much time in the sun (or deal with the ickiness that is every sunscreen I’ve ever tried).  Do you have any idea how hard it is to find anything long sleeved in the spring or summer?

It’s just too bad that having pale skin is no longer really in vogue. 🙂

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Google and Anti-Trust Laws

May 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm (Politics) (, , , )

I just finished reading this article in the New York Times, about the Obama Administration announcing that they intend to toughen anti-trust laws that were a lot more relaxed under the Bush Administration.

According to the article, Google is the company that is being most closely watched for anti-trust violations and other corporate misconduct.  That makes perfect sense, of course, because Google has more or less cornered the search engine market, and they offer a variety of other services that really do tie together.

What I find interesting, though, is comparing Google to Microsoft.  Microsoft did have to face legal action because of its corporate practices, but so far, Google has done nothing to warrant that.  The interesting part is that Microsoft was not challenged legally for being large and successful.  They were being challenged for stifling competition.

So since Google has yet to actually stifle competition, they have so far faced only scrutiny.  I get the feeling that it helps Google’s case that nearly all of their services are free.

The whole article just had me thinking about Google in general.  It’s such a ubiquitious company these days that it’s even been turned into a verb.  How many times a day do you hear someone say, “let me google it”?  What that means, I think, is that Google has an enormous amount of power over our everyday lives, because it’s services are honestly extremely useful.

So it makes me wonder about the laws in place to protect us all from overly-powerful companies.  Maybe Google isn’t an anti-trust, but what about their terms of service and privacy policies?  I have to admit, I haven’t actually read either (like most Americans, I imagine, I hit the “agree” button without even skimming), but what if they contained clauses that were actually unfair?  What if they retained the right to certain information that really ought not to belong to them?

I get the feeling that if this ever became a problem (i.e. if anyone ever sued Google over unfair language in their TOS), Congress would probably enact new laws to guarantee that companies have fair contracts regulating the use of their products.

Ultimately, as long as Google does actually obey the law, and the law covers all the bases it needs to, I can’t help but think it’s actually a good thing to have one company offer a lot of interconnected and interrelated services.  Especially in the realm of technology, it’s the easiest way to make sure that the programs you use all work together without anyone actually cornering the whole technology market (a la Microsoft).

And aside from that, the article pointed out that Google is actually bucking Microsoft in much of what it does.  It’s interesting that Google can be large enough to make federal officials concerned about its corporate practices, but still a newcomer and innovative force in the technology industry.

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Socialism (and why I buy into it)

May 19, 2009 at 9:07 am (Economy, Health Care, Politics) (, , , , , )

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics (in a sort of vague and non-specific way) over the past few days.  One conclusion that I’ve come to as a result of all of this is that I unabashedly believe that government involvement is often the best thing for certain types of things in this country – at least as it exists today.  I wouldn’t call myself a statist, because I don’t believe that government should be huge and controlling for any reason at all.  What I am, ultimately, is a socialist.  I really believe that when it comes to protecting and promoting society’s interests, the government is our best bet.

I probably ought to explain this further (since that’s kind of a loaded statement these days), so here goes.  I have no illusions that the government in the United States is perfect – it’s not.  It makes mistakes, and it runs things badly at times.  But I think that someone would be hard pressed to find a large entity of any sort that isn’t like that.  Bureaucracies are run by humans, and humans are fallible – the goal is to make them as good as possible, but it is impossible to make them perfect.

So the question becomes not, do I want bureaucracy?  Rather, it becomes, which bureaucracy do I want to have control over the most important parts of my life?  It’s rather pointless to argue about whether or not we need bureaucracy in today’s world, because the fact that it’s impossible to go through even half a day without coming into contact with one speaks to the fact that it is necessary.  Our society is too large and too complex to survive without the rules and regulations that make up bureaucratic red tape.  It is frequently annoying, and sometimes unfair, but I don’t think any other system would be an improvement.

So what bureaucracy do I want to control things like the military, or health care, or my money?  Corporations of a size large enough to manage any of that have the same flaws as the government.  But on top of that, they also have profit as their primary motivation, and they are accountable to nobody but their shareholders.  The government, on the other hand, takes profit entirely out of the picture, and it is accountable to everyone who actually votes.

There are certainly government employees who are not elected or appointed, but most of those report directly or indirectly to somebody who is.  Again, it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a lot better than a corporation who doesn’t care what the rest of the world thinks as long as its major shareholders are happy and it continues to turn a profit.

One of the most common arguments against a government considered to be socialist is that it redistributes wealth.  Perhaps this may sound a bit flip, but I don’t really see why that’s a bad thing.  Sure, wealthy people earned their money (or someone up the family tree a ways did).  I don’t begrudge them that.  What I begrudge them is the disproportionate amount of power they have in our system.  If they are going to have that much power to influence policy and other things, they really ought to be paying a heck of a lot more into it.  On top of that, they are the ones who benefit most from things like public schools, or the military, or infrastructer.  It is only fair that they should pay a larger share of the cost, since they are getting a larger share of the benefits.

I also think that ultimately, the whole argument boils down to a distinction between what is fair and what is equal.  Those two words don’t mean anywhere close to the same thing.  An equal tax structure would have everyone paying the same percentage of their income; a fair one is graduated so that the people earning the most pay the highest percentage.  The reason why the latter is more fair than the former is that someone who is living paycheck to paycheck spends all or most of their income on necessities; someone who is wealthy doesn’t even spend their entire income.  So taxing everyone at, say, 20% means that the poorest won’t be able to afford all their necessities, and the wealthiest will simply have more money (that they don’t need) to save.

In addition, an equal society wouldn’t be good for other reasons.  In a fair society, everyone would get the same chance at a good education; in an equal society, everyone would need to get exactly the same education.  That basically means that the least capable and the most capable lose out, and everyone gets a sort of middling education.  When it comes to higher education, it is fair to say that everyone who meets certain standards can go if they want (regardless of considerations like class or race); equal would mean they have to accept anyone who applies, even if they fall short of the standards that would allow them to succeed.

Aside from all of that, cutting the poorest (and even the middle class) a break is good for our economy and our society as a whole.  Putting most of the burden of taxation on the non-wealthy means they have less ability to consume (which is necessary for the health of the economy), and it makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to actually have upward mobility.  I don’t think that it fits in very well with our ideology as a country to have solid, stratified classes that have little to no movement between them.  And I also don’t think that even the most opulent spending by the wealthiest Americans could possibly make up for the lack of normal spending by everyone else.

So basically, I am all in favor of a little bit of wealth distribution, and I fully support the idea that the US government should take control of those institutions which are most important to all of us.  I know it may seem easy for me to say I’m in favor of wealth distribution now (when I earn relatively little), but I don’t object to paying taxes.  As long as I have enough money left for me, and the government is being responsible with the money I handed over, I think taxes are a good thing (so phooey on everyone who criticized Joe Biden for saying that paying taxes is patriotic – it is).

And since I can’t figure out how to make this post shorter, congratulations to anyone who actually reads the whole thing!

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May 18, 2009 at 8:30 am (About Me, Cooking) (, , )

I made enchiladas yesterday for dinner.  Here is a list of all the things I probably should have done differently:

  1. Start enchiladas sometime before 5 pm if you want to eat before 8.
  2. Use less chili powder (2 tablespoons is OMGWAYTOOMUCH).
  3. Use less oil to saute onions and chili powder.
  4. Let sauce cool before trying to do anything else.
  5. Use fresh tortillas, not some that have been sitting in your freezer for 3 months, that you have to pry apart and let dry on a dish towel on your counter.
  6. Don’t use an enchilada-sauce-covered utensil to retrieve tortillas from the hot oil.  Enchilada sauce will fry, and that is not at all delicious.
  7. Get a flipping cheese wire, or at least find a better way of slicing the Monterey Jack into pieces.
  8. Don’t expect your enchiladas to actually be discrete pieces after they’re cooked – better to treat it like the casserole that it probably is at that point.
  9. Use meat of some kind for the filling if you don’t want your boyfriend to complain about the fact that there’s no meat in your meal (although I was perfectly happy with the cheese).

The end result was cheese enchiladas that were actually pretty good, aside from the fact that they were so spicy they made my tongue hurt all night.  Dumping a whole lot of cheese on top (instead of just a sprinkling) and eating them with sour cream helped, but they were still spicier than I’d like.  My mom told me I’ve just lived outside of Texas for too long, but I’m convinced that she burned her taste buds off years ago with all the spicy food she eats.

And, God help me, I’ve got these enchiladas in my lunch today.  Should be fun. 🙂

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