Wednesday, January 29, 2014


High School | TX, USA

(Student #1 (a boy) has just asked Student #2 (a girl) to help him figure out why his girlfriend is mad at him.)
Student #1: “[Girlfriend] was in a bad mood the whole time we were at youth group last night.”
Student #2: “Was there anything different from normal?”
Student #1: “Um… I gave [Other Girl] a ride to youth group. [Girlfriend] was kind of rude to her, too.”
Student #2: “You gave a ride to [Other Girl], the cheerleader that you had a crush on for, like, two years, and you can’t figure out why [Girlfriend] is mad?”
Student #1: “Well, yeah. I mean, I asked [Girlfriend] if it was okay, and she said it was fine.”
(Every girl in class winces.)
Student #2: “Did she say it was fine or fine?”
Student #1: “Is there a difference?”
(Every girl in class winces again.)
Student #1: “What? She said I could do whatever I wanted, so I did.”
(More wincing.)
Teacher: “[Student #1], I am going to teach you the most important lesson you will learn in this room. Whenever a girl says ‘fine,’ ‘do what you want,’ ‘I don’t care,’ or ‘it doesn’t matter,’ she is lying. What she really means is that you should know that what you asked is a really bad idea and you need to figure out what she wants and pretend it’s your idea to do it that way.”
Student #1: “Really?”
All Girls: “Yes!”

Found here

Remembering.....or not

I used to read a blog by a woman who was a cancer nurse, and a cancer survivor.  Thyroid cancer, as I recall.  Last night I thought I wonder what happened to that blog?  And for the life of me, I can't remember the name..... though I think her cat's name was zoloft?


Found it.  Haiku of the Id.  Last updated.... a while ago.  [sigh]


Since I have been an adult, I have never lived paycheck-to-paycheck.  When I was a kid, I think our family did; I remember once when my family was on the verge of being evicted from subsidized housing because my parents could not afford to pay the rent.  As the saying goes, we never felt poor, but I think, now, that perhaps we were.  Since then, as a result of both I and my wife having professional jobs which paid well, and both having the tendency to be reluctant to spend (her family was also of the not exactly poor, but persuasion), we've done okay.  As we put it, when marvelling at the amount of money that we have now, when measured in comparison to what we read about the average assets of others, we're comfortably off. We're not rich, but we're at a point where we can buy things that are expensive without much thinking about it.  Not frequently, but we can do it.

It's a nice feeling, but, oddly, its also an uneasy one.  I find myself worrying on occasion that we're spending too much.  Since I retired, our annual spending has gone up about eight percent.  We've gone to France a couple of times.  We're paying for our daughter's college education. We've replaced some of the furniture.  Just yesterday we replaced a generic toaster oven whose heating element was beginning to fail with a new  top-of-the-line one -- a toaster oven so capable, we could probably do the bulk of our baking on it.  We're talking about replacing our leased minivan with a new one -- and finding that the top-of-the-line Honda Odyssey, with all the bells and whistles, is the one that catches our eye.

It worries me. Not because I think we'll run out of money, but because it doesn't feel right.  Last night, I dreamed that we were having some kind of minor but significant change made to the house -- I don't recall, something like replacement of the front door -- and when we went out and then came back, we found that somehow our front lawn had been replaced by a water garden. How nice, I thought, then realized that there were frogs in it. Large frogs.  And a burly guy telling me yeah, you're going to need to keep after them, else they're gonna take over the property.  They breed like anything. Just as I was envisioning myself in hip boots trying to scoop them up with a net, he added Course, you could pay us to take care of that for you. And I was actually considering it.

This summer, my daughter is doing a study-abroad program in Paris.  This amazes me.  As I say to my wife, I grew up thinking that a trip to Chicago would be an amazing adventure, and this kid's been to Paris twice! She's a little nervous about negotiating the transfer from the airport to her school cum hotel, so we're thinking that I might accompany her. How long should I stay? I asked my wife. Well, she said, she'll be there for a month, but you probably don't need to be there the whole time. Say, just a week.  Later, it occurred to me: Am I turning into the kind of person who can say Yeah, I went to Paris, but it was only for a week?

I'll keep an eye on it. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Oh, goody.  The library has switched to a completely new computer system. Among other things, it asterisks-out when you type in the 14 digit library card number.  Good luck with typos. And, oh yeah, unlike the old one, it doesn't save it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


This is the kind of thing that simultaneously irritates and fascinates me.

I am listening to a video on the BBC Languages web site. (The site is marked as 'not updated recently', so it could depart at any time!)

In the video, a man is giving directions to a driver. He says Vous tournez au feu à gauche, which means 'turn left at the traffic light'.  What makes it weird is that first, the word order is not what you'd expect -- a literal translation would be You turn at the light to the left, and second, the word for 'traffic light' is feu, which is literally fire.  There are other ways to say it, ways that use words like lamp and such, so, guys.... fire? 

Now I know the French arrange their language just to mess with my mind!


I still don't like what he did, but I like what the NSA is doing even less.

Found at This is Historic Times, here. .

Saturday, January 25, 2014

That guy

This isn't the only reason that I dislike this guy, but it's one of them.  Not that it seems to matter!

Battle Star

It's a quote from a fictional character on Battlestar: Galactica, and probably reflects the thoughts of a liberal screenwriter.  Still, I like it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I wish I had a tenth of her motivation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Found at Jesue and Mo, here.

The thing is, it's not the Muslim population's problem if terrorists say they're doing their evil in the name of that religion.  Real muslims aren't like that, any more than real forensic scientists are like Abby on NCIS.  Most of them are doing it because it makes them feel powerful in a world where they have very little power.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Going to church

this church
this congregation of strangers
huddled over altars
carefully reading scriptures
they and I come together
to celebrate the sacrament
the sacrament of coffee
the scriptures of poetry
the altar of solitude
the communion of lonliness
Found at 1130 miles, here


Two years ago, we were surprised to find that we needed to get a new van, quickly, because our daughter had totalled our existing one.  (Which always sounds like the van is a heap of steaming junk wrapped around a telephone phone; it wasn't -- but it was damaged moderately when she sideswiped a car.)  So the plan was that we would lease the replacement -- a Toyota Venza, as it turns out -- for two years, then pay it off and keep it.

Well, that's still kind of the plan, but since then we've come to the conclusion that as long as we'll still going to be in the business of occasionally moving lots of people or lots of stuff, a minivan is better than the sub-mini that is a Venza.  Don't get me wrong, the Venza is nice enough, it's just not big enough.  So this morning we went to Honda to see their Odyssey, which has gotten pretty good reviews, and then to Toyota to see their Sienna, which has also gotten pretty good reviews. We expected to like both, but to want to get the Toyota.

Oh, my.

I know that a lot of the difference is the difference in cost -- as equipped on the showroom floor, the Sienna was $33k and the Odyssey was $40K.  For seven thousand dollars, I expect to be wowed, and I was.  The Odyssey is a very nice vehicle.  I went through my checklist of things I like/don't like about the Venza, including things I wish it had, and in almost every category, the Odyssey was excellent.  In categories where I had nothing listed, such as ergonomic 'feel' of the console area, it was excellent.  The price makes my jaw drop, but it certainly had the chops to show for it.

Still, we like the Venza enough -- not completely, but enough -- that we assumed we'd like the Sienna, too.  The reviews are good, its made by the company that made the Venza - yeah, we're going to like it.  Maybe not as much as the Odyssey, but enough.

No.  Not enough. Even given that we expected it to be less impressive than the more expensive vehicle, we were surprised.  For example - when you reach for the hidden handle to raise the rear hatch door, you have a chance of touching the bulb instead (and if it's hot? Surprise!)  The cup holders in the front, on the center console, are good -- but they added two more, taking a space that could have been storage.  The rear-view screen is small and subject to glare.  The design of the dashboard array just felt clunky.  Knobs are not intuitively obvious.  Controls don't make sense.  The interior felt old, badly designed, as if they'd taken one from five years ago, slapped some trim on it, and called it done.  Not to say that the Honda just made sense -- I had to search to find out what the button marked LDW meant - but it seemed more intuitive, to both of us. I don't know if Toyota fired the design team that made the Venza, or what, but the design of the Sienna just isn't as clean.  The vehicle does the job - it just doesn't do it well.

Even the pricing seems off.  Toyota says zero percent financing for five years. Honda says one point nine percent financing for five years. Advantage Toyota, right? Except that in the small print, Toyota notes that if you're financing it, the total price for the van is about a thousand dollars more (even though the local finance person assured me that the price doesn't change if you're financing it). Now, they've got to make money, and if they're agreeing to wait to be paid, maybe that's part of how they do it.  And  maybe Honda does that bump too - but it struck me as being just a little bit sly.  It wasn't the price -- it was the price IF.... with an asterisk after it. 

So, we'll see.  This isn't to say we'll get the Honda -- price does matter.  But it makes it more likely that we'll decide not to buy at all -- just pay off the lease on the Venza and keep it for a while.  See what happens.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Names They Gave Me

Found on The Toast, here

The Names They Gave Me

“Your name is Tasbeeh. Don’t let them call you by anything else.”
My mother speaks to me in Arabic; the command sounds more forceful in her mother tongue, a Libyan dialect that is all sharp edges and hard, guttural sounds. I am seven years old and it has never occurred to me to disobey my mother. Until twelve years old, I would believe God gave her the supernatural ability to tell when I’m lying.
“Don’t let them give you an English nickname,” my mother insists once again, “I didn’t raise amreekan.”
My mother spits out this last word with venom. Amreekan. Americans. It sounds like a curse coming out of her mouth. Eight years in this country and she’s still not convinced she lives here. She wears her headscarf tightly around her neck, wades across the school lawn in long, floor-skimming skirts. Eight years in this country and her tongue refuses to bend and soften for the English language. It embarrasses me, her heavy Arab tongue, wrapping itself so forcefully around the clumsy syllables of English, strangling them out of their meaning.
But she is fierce and fearless. I have never heard her apologize to anyone. She will hold up long grocery lines checking and double-checking the receipt in case they’re trying to cheat us. My humiliation is heavy enough for the both of us. My English is not. Sometimes I step away, so people don’t know we’re together but my dark hair and skin betray me as a member of her tribe.
On my first day of school, my mother presses a kiss to my cheek.
“Your name is Tasbeeh,” she says again, like I’ve forgotten. “Tasbeeh.”
Roll call is the worst part of my day. After a long list of Brittanys, Jonathans, Ashleys, and Yen-but-call-me-Jens, the teacher rests on my name in silence. She squints. She has never seen this combination of letters strung together in this order before. They are incomprehensible. What is this h doing at the end? Maybe it is a typo.
“Tasbeeh,” I mutter, with my hand half up in the air. “Tasbeeh.”
A pause.
“Do you go by anything else?”
“No,” I say. “Just Tasbeeh. Tas-beeh.”
“Tazbee. All right. Alex?”
She moves on before I can correct her. She said it wrong. She said it so wrong. I have never heard my name said so ugly before, like it’s a burden. Her entire face contorts as she says it, like she is expelling a distasteful thing from her mouth. She avoids saying it for the rest of the day, but she has already baptized me with this new name. It is the name everyone knows me by, now, for the next six years I am in elementary school. “Tazbee,” a name with no grace, no meaning, no history; it belongs in no language.
“Tazbee,” says one of the students on the playground, later. “Like Tazmanian Devil?” Everyone laughs. I laugh too. It is funny, if you think about it.
I do not correct anyone for years. One day, in third grade, a plane flies above our school.
“Your dad up there, Bin Laden?” The voice comes from behind. It is dripping in derision.
“My name is Tazbee,” I say. I said it in this heavy English accent, so he may know who I am. I am American. But when I turn around they are gone.
I go to middle school far, far away. It is a 30-minute drive from our house. It’s a beautiful set of buildings located a few blocks off the beach. I have never in my life seen so many blond people, so many colored irises. This is a school full of Ashtons and Penelopes, Patricks and Sophias. Beautiful names that belong to beautiful faces. The kind of names that promise a lifetime of social triumph.
I am one of two headscarved girls at this new school. We are assigned the same gym class. We are the only ones in sweatpants and long-sleeved undershirts. We are both dreading roll call. When the gym teacher pauses at my name, I am already red with humiliation.
“How do I say your name?” she asks.
“Tazbee,” I say.
“Can I just call you Tess?”
I want to say yes. Call me Tess. But my mother will know, somehow. She will see it written in my eyes. God will whisper it in her ear. Her disappointment will overwhelm me.
“No,” I say, “Please call me Tazbee.”
I don’t hear her say it for the rest of the year.
My history teacher calls me Tashbah for the entire year. It does not matter how often I correct her, she reverts to that misshapen sneeze of a word. It is the ugliest conglomeration of sounds I have ever heard.
When my mother comes to parents’ night, she corrects her angrily, “Tasbeeh. Her name is Tasbeeh.” My history teacher grimaces. I want the world to swallow me up.
My college professors don’t even bother. I will only know them for a few months of the year. They smother my name in their mouths. It is a hindrance for their tongues. They hand me papers silently. One of them mumbles it unintelligibly whenever he calls on my hand. Another just calls me “T.”
My name is a burden. My name is a burden. My name is a burden. I am a burden.
On the radio I hear a story about a tribe in some remote, rural place that has no name for the color blue. They do not know what the color blue is. It has no name so it does not exist. It does not exist because it has no name.
At the start of a new semester, I walk into a math class. My teacher is blond and blue-eyed. I don’t remember his name. When he comes to mine on the roll call, he takes the requisite pause. I hold my breath.
“How do I pronounce your name?” he asks.
I say, “Just call me Tess.”
“Is that how it’s pronounced?”
I say, “No one’s ever been able to pronounce it.”
“That’s probably because they didn’t want to try,” he said. “What is your name?”
When I say my name, it feels like redemption. I have never said it this way before. Tasbeeh. He repeats it back to me several times until he’s got it. It is difficult for his American tongue. His has none of the strength, none of the force of my mother’s. But he gets it, eventually, and it sounds beautiful. I have never heard it sound so beautiful. I have never felt so deserving of a name. My name feels like a crown.
“Thank you for my name, mama.”
When the barista asks me my name, sharpie poised above the coffee cup, I tell him: “My name is Tasbeeh. It’s a tough t clinging to a soft a, which melts into a silky ssss, which loosely hugs the b, and the rest of my name is a hard whisper — eeh. Tasbeeh. My name is Tasbeeh. Hold it in your mouth until it becomes a prayer. My name is a valuable undertaking. My name requires your rapt attention. Say my name in one swift note – Tasbeeeeeeeh – sand let the h heat your throat like cinnamon. Tasbeeh. My name is an endeavor. My name is a song. Tasbeeh. It means giving glory to God. Tasbeeh. Wrap your tongue around my name, unravel it with the music of your voice, and give God what he is due.”

Growing Up

Look at that smile!

Kelly Thomas

Apparently, it's not excessive if a cop does it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dark Night

Handling Change

As I write this, my cat is staring at me.  I would say reproachfully (because I won’t let her climb on my laptop)  but in addition to being indefensible -- why should I assign a human emotion to a cat? - is also implausible, because it implies that the cat can have opinions about me and what I do.  Cats, at least this cat, simply exist at the feed me/clean my litter box level. They don't have thoughts as much as reactions.   They're great fun, and I do very much enjoy having one, but as for being emotionally connected in any way, they're more like furry Pet Rocks. I like to say that cats have swappable intelligences – the animus that exists in my cat right this minute may be in the furry head of a cat in Singapore ten minutes from now.  When a cat goes away, getting into a zen-like state, it’s actually lost it’s propelling mind and is now running purely on instinct.  When the cat goes awake again, an intelligence has arrived – possibly the same one from moments ago, possibly one that was up to that moment in another cat.  It’s my explanation of why a cat can bolt into a room in a tearing fury and abruptly stop and begin to lick itself.  The old intelligence set the run like a bat out of hell switch, and then departed; the new one has flicked off the switch and now wants to explore the new environment, starting with itself.

But that's not what I wanted to write about.

I don’t like relying on other people, but what I suspect is that I don’t like relying on people whose behavior I cannot affect.  Romney said during his campaign that he likes being able to fire people, which he intended to mean that he likes making sure they’re doing their job, keeping the good ones and dumping the bad (unfortunately for him, it came out as another oblivious rich guy comment).  I feel the same way about the organizations that have encroached our lives like ivy, worming their way into the cracks of our lives, taking advantage of our inattention to establish a foothold.  For example -  I don’t really believe, but it’s helpful to act as if I do, that the organizations that go by names like pharmacy benefits managers should actually be called drug use reducers, because for me their effect is that they reduce the ease with which I can get drugs that I need.  Used to be, I’d get a prescription for insulin (and why should one need a prescription for insulin?  Do people think that it can be whipped into some sexy new mood alterer?), go to the drug store, come home with it.  Now the drugs are mailed out by a pharmacy benefits manager, which likes to operate under its own rules.  Every year or so, something significant about them changes – they get bought out by a different organization, they change  their name, they alter the way their web site works, they establish new requirements for their passwords – and you get to adapt to it.  There’s no benefit to you for doing this, but if you want what they control, you’ve got to do it.  This is why elderly people seem so flummoxed so often.  They lived their entire lives, each change being handled as they came along, but now the speed of change is increasing during a period that their ability to handle each change is decreasing.  They’re not stupid; they’re just overwhelmed.

So I’d like to fire these guys and just say here’s my money, give me the drugs. At one time, I could do that.  Now I can’t, and I dislike it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Mes Nouveaux Vêtements...

I'm thinking that when I go up to Canada next month, I should be appropriately dressed.

Found here.


Expensive day.

Haircut (always feel like thats about 40% too much).

New battery for my daughter's watch.

Reservations for a major league baseball game (apparently the seats are made of gold), plus two nights at a hotel for us and our guests.

And now, my daughter just broke her glasses. I was just swinging it around like this -- grabs my glasses and demonstrates - and suddenly it broke.  


Fire Firefox

Firefox has been crashing on me daily, sometimes two and three times a day.  I'm starting to think I'd be better off with browsers that I like less because they're less customizable.  At least - presumably - they'd stay up.

Playing Ball

It's been a long time since I bought tickets to a baseball game, and, based on what I just paid for four club level seats to an Orioles/Yankees game in August, it'll be a long time till I do it again....

Then again, no one forced me to do it.  And I do want these visitors to be pleased. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Saturday, January 11, 2014


It's a ways from being a thing, but apparently our daughter has met someone at school whom she really likes.  As in text for an hour or two non-stop likes.  She even let my wife say hi while she was Skyping with the guy, this evening.  Which brings me to the eternal question:

Its not "If he visits, where's he going to sleep?"  I know that one. 

It's "where will I get the noisemakers and tackstrips to put on the floor between his bedroom and hers?"


Wednesday, January 08, 2014


Got to say, having a coffee maker that you can set to start at a given time in the morning, and some frozen chocolate croissants that will be warmed up, risen, and ready to bake at the same time, so that we can have coffee and croissantss for breakfast..... is not at all bad.


Takes about 15 seconds to see.....

NSA Nastiness

Regardless of what certain judges have stated, the scope of what the NSA has done to peek, pry, and poke into private communications scares the hell out of me -- and reading this article didn't help.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014


I don't make New Year's Resolutions, for several reasons.  This year, I didn't, either.  But I've been thinking for a while that I want to try to cook more.  Not wildly different things -- I'm still the prefers peanut butter and jelly to lobster person -- but, a little.  So, for example, I picked up a copy of Fine Cooking while we were at one airport, because it has some recipes for chili.  And there are some French (more accurately, French-like) dishes that I want to try.  And I have a bunch of recipes that I've found and thought huh, that looks interesting that I want to try, too.

Plus, I want to read more.  I feel like I spend a lot of time on the net, and as a result, I have at least a dozen books that have been waiting to be read for quite some time now.  I'm sure that I won't read all of them; some will disappoint.  But still, I want to read more, and, hey, it takes time.  I'm not a speedy reader any more. It doesn't help that when I'm looking for 'comfort reading', I tend to reread books I've already read and liked, even if they really aren't all that good.

And of course, there's French, where if I do what I want to do, I'll spend about three hours evey day on it.  That's a lot!  Nous verrons.

Plus, there's exercise.  Hup, two, hup, two, hup....gasps.....looks for a comfortable chair...

None of these are resolutions.  Because I'm not actually much of a resolute guy....


I love this picture.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Well, Yeah...

I like where I live, generally, which is in a band of mild weather between the DC area and the Philadelphia area; not sure why, but it can be snowing in those two places, and all we usually get is rain.  It has to snow pretty hard in other places for us to get any.  You know, like the storm that blew through here a few days ago, which is still lingering in the form of rain. . Which made our drive to pick up a pizza, about two hours ago, look like not necessarily the brightest thing we've ever done - icy road and rain?  Incipient black-ice accumulation on the driveway? Yeah....

But we figured hey, we have to go retrieve the cat from the kennel (she didn't seem particularly delighted to see us, or to get back to our house), so how much harder could this be?  Um, several miles harder? Oh.

Nothing bad happened.  This time.

Makin Music

Want to direct your own musical group?   Try this.

Thursday, January 02, 2014


Outside the window, it's 76 degrees and the air conditioner just kicked on.

Tomorrow, we fly into an airport that's on the bottom edge of a fierce snowstorm. 

I'll be the one in shorts.