Are you better off now?

by dichroic in daily updates, politics

An election-year question: Just out of curiosity, and I’m especially aiming this question to people living in the US: Would you say that you are better off than you were 8 years ago, or worse? Would you say that the US is better or worse than it was then? I’m not interested in assigning credit or blame either way, just curious as to the actual situation.

I’m curious, because the closest to a rational reason I’ve heard for supporting Trump is along the lines fo “yes, he’s awful – but the US is in terrible shape, falling apart, and if he can just fix that then we can put up with the rest of it.” I don’t thinl the ‘rest of it’ is forgiveable and I haven’t yet figured out why anyone would trust Trump to fix anything, but the weirdest thing is that it looks to me like that entire basic postulate is wrong. Far from being in a handbasket on the fast lane to Hell, it looks to me like the US is better than it was when Obama took office.

I myself am not better off for a complex set of reasons (see below), but I’m under the impression most people actually are – curious to see if others agree.

My own situation:
I’m not better off economically because 8 years ago I was an expat, pretty much protected from layoffs and with my housing, utility and fuel bills paid for. I had no debt at all, so pretty much my only non-discretionary expense was food – and saving to compensate for not putting money into Social Security in those years. But that’s a freaky and unusual (and temporary!) situation – I’d guess most people are more positively impacted by the improved economy.

I think we’ve come a very long way in a short time on civil rights. I’m not directly affected much because I’m a cis het white woman, so while it’s good for me to have e.g. three women on the Supreme Court, I was already able to marry who I wanted or use the correct restroom. I do not think the problem with violence against minorities by law enforcement has worsened, I think it’s that many more of us have realized how bad it actually is. At least we’re having the discussion, even if we’re too rarely able to make it a productive discussion. So since I’m white, that’s not a direct impact either. Nonetheless, all of those things impact me indirectly, because they make the US a better place in general and specifically for a lot of people I care about.

I have decent healthcare just at the moment, but as I plan ahead for retirement, it makes a huge difference to me if we have at least Obamacare and at best a single-payer system. If we lose what we have now, retirement will be further off just because of that one (massive) cost to plan for. So again, I’m not better off now, but many others are, and it will impact me directly someday – just not yet.

How about you?

I can’t crochet, but I can crotchet with the best of them

by dichroic in daily updates

In less than half a year now, I’ll be entering my sixth decade, and I have figured out what I want for a birthday gift. (Aside from world peach. I would always like world peace for a present, but it seems safe to assume that’s not happening this year.) I want people to never refer to me as “50 years young” – or 60, 70, 80, whatever it is at the time. I hope to continue feeling younger than our conception of fifty is (or 60, 70, 80 – just assume for the sake of brevity that I’m including all the future ages I hope to achieve) because I’m already feeling enough of the chill breeze of middle age to understand that the storms of old age are not for the fainthearted. On the other hand, I’ve earned my experience, every bit of it. Even just on a physical basis, I can do things right now that I couldn’t do at 20; I erged 30 km over this past weekend, I hardly ever get sick any more, and if the 5-gallon bottle on the water cooler needs replacing I can do it. I’m 49 and 7/12 years old, dammit, and I have no wish to diminish that or to subscribe to the assumption that only youth has value.

While I’m ranting, don’t include me in a group you refer to as “the lovely ladies”. I’m as susceptible to a (respectful) comment on my achievements, skills or even looks as the next person, but only if you’re really complimenting me for some quality that really exists. (Complimenting a group is fine too – when you know who’s in the group and are speaking of a shared achievement or specific quality common to the group.) When you just slap on the adjectives on the theory that all women love compliments no matter how empty, and that compliments on our looks trump any others, I just feel I’ve been slimed.

catch-up compendium

by dichroic in daily updates

Oops, yup, way too long since I’ve updated. What’s been happening? Let’s see, last week I spent a couple of days in Houston. Unfortuntely I was there for only two nights, sans car, on the wrong side of town, so I didn’t get to meet up with any friends from when I lived there. However, it was a very good conference – the American Productivity and Quality Council’s annual Process Conference. I already have an idea to submit, to see if I can be a speaker there next year. (Spoiler: I like to say that business processes rest on a three-legged stool: they need to be documented, deployed and then monitored. If you miss one of those, the whole thing falls down – and I heard lots about the first and third of those at the conference, but not the second leg.)

Also, I’ve concluded that Houston is the ideal place for services like Uber and Lyft – because you can’t walk anywhere (no sidewalks, and usually too hot anyway) and there’s no mass transit system. I’ve had the Uber app on my phone a while but never used it before, but I used it twice that trip, including to get back to my hotel from a restaurant that’s in a complex literally visible from the hotel but on the other side of the highway, with no safe way across on foot. (I got there on the hotel shuttle, but it was busy when I wanted to come back.) I also used Uber the next morning, when I wanted to get to my conference before User started running. It did work very well, both times.

I also realized, somewhere in the last several days, that I made a mistake in my workout plan. I’m doing a marathon training plan to get in shape for and complete the Concept 2 Holiday Challenge – I’ve done this for the last couple of years because it worked out so well – last year I was in about the 4th of 6 cycles during the Challenge, and got enough meters to let me finish early. However, this year I started too early, with the result that if I keep on it, I would finish the plan, all but the 2-week pre-race taper, right around Christmas. I just wanted to build up a little extra distance – I didn’t want to actually do a marathon! Those are no fun. That has me erging 80K the week before Christmas. And the worst part is, I did this to myself.

So the alternatives at this point are,
1) Slack off – stick with the rough idea of the plan but shorten the longest workouts. In particular, never do more than a half marathon (the plan calls for a couple of 25-30km workouts), or
2) Stay with it, suck it up, and then do an indoor marathon just for the hell of it – maybe do a couple weeks taper after Xmas, then do the marathon while watching the Superbowl. (May not work because I’m too slow; I don’t think the Superbowl stretches 4.5 hours.)

Conflicting bookery

by dichroic in books

Perhaps not the best combination: reading Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth while my workout audiobook is Connie Willis’s Blackput. Death and destruction in all directions 🙁

And I keep hearing the refrain, “For, Willie McBride, it all happened again, and again and again and again and again.”

high-tech sleeping

by dichroic in daily updates

Sleeping is getting way too high tech lately. Yesterday I had an especially hard workout – 11km, including a warm-up followed by 2 sets of 2km at aerobic threshold, then 3km at marathon pace. So I actually headed up to bed a little early, and slept until the alarm went off, unusually for me. (Usually if I have an alarm set, I’m beginning to wait up a quarter hour or so before it’s set to go off.

I’ve been playing with my electronics; here’s the current set-up: Bedtime is at 10, because we get up at 6 (actually a few minutes before, mostly because the old iPod was a little fast and by the time we realized it we were used to it). At 9:25, the bedside lamp comes on. At 9:30, my iPad dings a bedtime warning – the first few notes of a lullabye – and switches to a warmer shade of light. (I’m more likely to be mostly reading on the Kindle at that point, so I only notice when I go to check something on the iPad.) Somewhere between then and 10, I head upstairs and clean the litterbox, if it’s my turn.

Then it’s time for better living through chemistry: I brush my teeth with a toothpaste that makes them less sensitive, take a multivitamin and my one medication, wash my face, and brush my teeth again with a special prescription toothpaste that has lots of fluoride, and floss.

I get into bed and plug in my phone, Kindle and iPad. The light goes off at 9:55, so I have to turn it back on if I’m not in bed by then. I put a biteguard made of high-tech molded plastic in my mouth so I don’t wear down my teeth, because I tend to clench them in my sleep.

My fitness tracker keeps tabs on how well I sleep all night.

At about 5:55, my phone lights up and wakes me with a soft sound that gets louder untim I shut it off. I get up, check the fitness tracker app on my phone to see how well I slept because I’m curious, get up, take out my biteguard, and take off my fitness tracker, then shower and get ready for the day. (I could shower in the tracker but it seems like an unnecessary risk.)

It all seems like an awful lot of stuff to do just to sleep. So far, my main conclusions are:

1. I have been healthier since I started taking a multivitamin (Ted’s influence, back when we moved in, so that step is useful.
2. I know there are studies saying flossing doesn’t help, but my dentist seems happier when I go in if I’ve been doing it regularly – I mean, they like the condition of my teeth better – so that’s useful.
3. I don’t feel any better or worse when I take my thyroid meds, though the test numbers are better. Inconclusive.
4. I’ve just started having the light turn itself on and off, so I still haven’t decided if that’s helpful.
5. This morning, because of the heavy workout, I slept all the way until the alarm, and this soft one did indeed wake me more gently. Helpful.
6. Bedtime warning chime: I just started that too – it’s iOS10’s new Bedtime app, along with this soft alarm – but I think it will be good for getting to bed on time. That’s also what changes the iPad’s color; I’m not convinced it makes any difference.
7. The biteguard doesn’t keep me from clenching my teeth- so I can still wake up with a sore jaw, but at least it doesn’t harm my teeth.
8. When I track how well I sleep, it doesn’t really correlate at all with how well I think I’ve slept. Academically interesting, not terribly useful.

My Apple Watch arrived today; that means one more device to charge, but I probably won’t be wearing the fitness tracker any more, and likely won’t bother to put it on just to sleep. (I can’t wear the Watch to sleep, because it needs charging every night.) More on the Watch later, when I’ve had it longer than a couple of hours.

the time before fear – and a very modern annoyance

by dichroic in poetry

The notes app I’ve been using for years, since I got my first iPhone, Fliq Notes does not seem to be playing well with iOS 10 – and as far as I can tell, they’re not supporting it for iPhones any more at all. I can open notes, but I can’t edit or even copy the text in them. Fortunately, the whole reason I was using that app instead of Apple’s own Notes was the fact that Notes didn’t let you sort items into folders, and that capability seems to have been added now. I am managing to port notes from one app to the other by going into each note I want to save, clicking the email button, copying the text in the email that comes up and then deleting the draft, then pasting it into the Notes app. (This is stuff I really need, anything from gift ideas for next holiday season to meal plans for the week to details of health issues I was trying to pin down to my Dutch social security number in case I ever need it again.)

The only fun part is coming across things I’d forgotten were there, like a poem I wrote last month in the Galapagos:

When Was the Time Before Fear?

Yesterday a sea lion
rested her head on my foot –
a sweet surprise but a small one,
here in these islands
where fear was never conceived.

How far back, I wonder
would you have to go
for that to happen
in places less remote?

Before there were billions of us?
Before there were millions?
Before the first hunters learned
that, banded together,
they were more formidable
than those who hunted them?
Before spears?
Before fire?


by dichroic in daily updates

This latest thing with athletes kneeling during the US national anthem confuses the heck out of me. I support anyone’s right to protest peacefully, of course, as a form of free speech; it’s just that I’d have thought that kneeling was a deeper expression of respect than standing.

  • I grew up in a religion that stresses not kneeling to anyone but God (as have other religions including parts of CHristianity). Hebrew school included stories of martyrs who were executed for not kneeling to various kings.
  • I also grew up in a city that stresses US Revolutionary history because so much of it happened there. It was a big deal, establishing protocol in the infant US government, and they specifically rejected kneeling before his Majesty the President, because free men do not kneel.
  • But I’m not sure how much of all that these athletes know. Are they just trying to attract attention? Or are they saying symbolically that they’re still slaves?

And all that is even ignoring the more basic question of “How is the Star Spangled Banner” even suitable for a national anthem? Canadians pledge to “stand on guard” for their country; Brits express allegiance to their ruler. The French call themselves to action; others hail their homeland express hope for the future of their country. How does “Hey, the flag didn’t get shot down on one night of a battle 200 years ago” work as an anthem? (It’s too bad we can’t use America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) instead, because that DOES have an appropriate message, but the ENglish got to the tune first.)

On another topic, speaking of free speech reminds me of Jim Wright’s 9/11 post, that got pulled down from Facebook, which made me think of what I was saying the other day about math and mortality – only a different sort of math. Wright pointed out that 3000 people were killed on 9/11/01, and to avenge them we spent the lives of 8000 of our own and killed 300,000 or more in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Side note: it’s hard to see how anyone can claim the US is a Christian country while so thoroughly forgetting “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”.) It doesn’t seem like a very good deal in terms of pure numbers. Maybe it would have been worth it to make an important point, just as men volunteered for WWI in the hopes that it was a war to end all wars. Unfortunately, we seem to have succeeded about as well as they did.

mortality, again, and math

by dichroic in daily updates

That whole mortality thing yesterday had me thinking about math and time. My online friend’s husband did die yesterday, and she mentioned that they’d had 61 years together. My parents had 50, and one set of grandparents were just shy of that. Ted comes from a longer-lived family; his parents just hit 50 years (that was the reason for our Galapagos trip with them) and I’m hoping for many more; one set of his grandparents hit 60 years minus a few days, and the other made it to 65.

We’ve been together 26 years now, married 23 of them. That means that with luck we could have another 40 or more together – more time to look forward to than we’ve had already, which is kind of wonderful since we’ve already been together more than half our lives. The downside of that of that – and it does seem a little unfair – is that those will all be our over-50 years. I don’t think that age means you can’t have fun or do cool stuff – participating in a sport where it’s common to see people competing at 80 or even 90 would have cured me of that. Moreover, even the small added bits of graying and creakiness we’re seeing so far have convinced us that the best way to age is to age together; I think it would suck, in fact, to be a 60-year-old wedded to someone 30 or 40 years younger, though obviously that’s totally subjective. But there’s no denying that age means that more things hurt and though you might be able to do much of what you always could, you recover more slowly.(There is eventually a point where the body just says “nope!” though it comes at a different age for everyone. We saw that in Ted’s grandfather last weekend. He split wood by hand up into his 70s and still lives alone, so it’s been a good run, but you can tell his body is just noping out of a lot he’d like to do.)

Anyway, I find myself a little resentful of the inexorable math of humanity, that even if we’re lucky enough to have as much time together as humans can reasonably expect, we’ll spend two thirds of it being middle-aged and old. I would like our Lazarus Long-type treatments to be starting around now, kthxplz.

Oh, well. Nothing for it but to ride as long as you can, and enjoy as much of it as possible.

I’m right there with Robert Browning on “youth shows but half”, but not so convinced on “the best is yet to be” – guess I’ll have to wait and see. Maybe Kipling is more suitable:

It’s like a book, I think, this bloomin’ world,
Which you can read and care for just so long,
But presently you feel that you will die
Unless you get the page you’re readin’ done,
An’ turn another—likely not so good;
But what you’re after is to turn ’em all.

Gawd bless this world! Whatever she ’ath done—
Excep’ when awful long I’ve found it good.
So write, before I die, ‘’E liked it all!’

(One thing sure, however old I get I will never stop wanting to play with toys. Last night I did the lazy person’s version of camping out in front of the Apple Store. I set my iPad on the appropriate webpage before going to sleep, and when I woke up during the night, as I almost always do (an inevitable consequence of sleeping lightly and living with cats) I ordered one of the new Apple Watches. It’s supposed to arrive in three weeks.)

mean-spiritedness and mortality

by dichroic in daily updates

I had a slightly frustrating conversation today; someone told me in so many words that she doesn’t want people to be able to go to college for free because “well, we had to pay for ours!” taxes, but this didn’t even seem to be that. I think this person would be shocked if I called her mean-spirited, but that’s precisely what this sort of zero-sum thinking is: the fear that you are somehow losing out if someone else gets a benefit that you didn’t get. I can understand being envious when someone else gets something great; in a similar case, I’m still a little piqued myself that the free Birthright trips to Israel for young Jews didn’t start until I was too old for them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want other people to have the experience!

I can understand it better if someone doesn’t want to pay for other people’s tuition with an increase in their own taxes, because then it really does take (a tiny amount!) away from you – but isn’t that the cost we pay for living in a healthy society? No such thing as a free lunch; if I benefit from living in a civilized society it’s only reasonable to expect there to be costs as well. It can’t all me benefits for me-me-me or someone else is getting shafted. Personally, I’m happy to do pay for education because a) I don’t expect to notice a difference – fine, charge me an extra $1, I don’t care! and b) I expect to benefit more from living in a well-educated country than it will cost me.

I’m probably a little off-kilter today anyway – saddened to hear that a longtime online friend’s husband is in hospice care now. This is someone I’ve never met in person, but I’ve liked and admired her since probably the late 1990s. He’s 91 and has had health issues, so it’s not a surprise, but I don’t suppose that makes it easier for her. I’m feeling it a bit more because Ted’s parents came for a visit of the Labor Day long weekend, bringing his grandfather. The other grandfather has visited our lake house a few times, but this one hadn’t, and the in-laws really wanted him to see it. He’s 95 now; moving from the living room to the back deck is about as much distance as he can manage, everything hurts and he sleeps a lot. So it was good to see him and be able to have him visiting us, but a little sad too. I doubt he’ll be coming back. On the plus side he still lives alone, and has lots of people stopping by to visit every day – he spent as much time on his cellphone this trip as a teenager – so at least he still gets to enjoy his life!

Sorry, downer entry.

Sit by my side, come as close as the air…

by dichroic in daily updates

I. I’m always amazed at all the things people don’t know. I don’t mean trivia so much – I can understand not knowing bits of history or song lyrics or whatever because you’re just not interested. And I’m always amazed at how much people know (especially kids) about the things they are interested in. On the other hand, it’s surprising how much people don’t remember about their own lives – do many people not really remember what it was like to be 6 or 9 or 14? And if so, maybe that explains why I never outgrew reading kids and YA books, and many do. (I’m not referring to people who had traumatic childhoods and have good reason for forgetting the details.) But I know I’m not the only one who remembers, or there wouldn’t be adult authors of kids’ and YA books at all.

II. I’m always surprised at seeing just how much things have changed socially in my lifetime – I was expecting to see lots of technological change over the course of my life, but I think I just thought that the major battles for things like feminism and civil rights were over and we’d just see sort of a continuous progress toward wider and wider acceptance. I wasn’t expecting many of the new battlefronts we’ve seen and I wasn’t expecting the change in the …. I don’t know, general feeling of communities spawned by the intersections of technological and social change. Heinlein wrote something to the effect that the difference between youth and age is that older people know in their bones that change happens, but I was born into such a time of ferment that I always knew it, just didn’t expect what kinds of change, or in what corners of my life.

What spawned this was that I just happened to come across the latest newsletter from my mom’s synagogue online, while looking for something else. his is so different from anything I ever saw in a synagogue newsletter growing up – they included a sample page in there from 1960, and I don’t think it would have looked much different in 1980, the year I became Bat Mitzvah, or in 1988 when I graduated college and moved away (it’s not the same exact synagogue we belonged to, but is a larger one they merged into – I think they would have been much the same as the one I attended in the 1980s). I’m very glad my mom has a community like this. It’s avowedly feminist and progressive, discussing everything from why a female congregation member began wearing a kippah and tallit to ritual and meaning, to an open letter from the rabbi to her daughter, prompted by watching Hillary and Bernie at the DNC and realizing what that means in terms of the examples available to her as a Jewish girl.

I’m sure there were Jewish communities doing this kind of thing in the 1970s or 1980s, in downtown Boston or Philadelphia – but I don’t think it would have been as likely out in the ‘burbs where these people are, or in the Conservative tradition at all.

III. On the other hand, I sometimes wish things would happen a little faster in the short term! I’m in a doldrums period now, between the excitement of our Galapagos trip, and the wait for September, when a ton of small but exciting things are happening – mostly books coming out that I’ve been waiting for, but also (hopefully) the new Apple Watch. There were a few features missing in the original one that convinced me to wait for the second version, but in the meantime I’ve used various fitness trackers that all have one lack or another – like not having an actual watch function! So while this is just a ‘thing’ rather than an experience, it’s been a long time coming from my point of view.