“How can I help” is a stupid question

This post was inspired by the comic “You should have asked” which addresses division of labor in the household. The problem isn’t unwillingness to help: it’s not even noticing that things need to be done.

Now, saying “what can I do?” is is absolutely acceptable in the workplace when you’ve finished all your assignments. Or, it should be, because the person you pose that question to is your boss. And your boss gets paid more than you do to think about what you should be doing and when. Asking this of a spouse or significant other implies it’s their job to know all the household tasks and their priorities. Do they get paid more than you for housework? No. No one except the outside help gets paid for that. So it’s equally your responsibility to not only do the work, but to figure out what needs to be done, and when. Funny thing is, it seems that often, people who are blind to basic household details like “the compost needs to be taken out” are actually quite good about being proactive at work.

Anecdote time! I knew a guy who constantly checked his phone for alerts from work. He even did this when out at dinner with his girlfriend. His girlfriend asked him whether he would be constantly checking his phone for texts from her if he were out to dinner with his boss or CEO. He said “no.” She told him “Then don’t do that when you’re out with me.” His response? “Do you pay me?”

Maybe that’s the solution to this problem of “emotional labor” that often falls more on the woman’s shoulders. It seems that men are usually good about being proactive at work. Because they spend time thinking about what needs to be done. They spend time figuring out what is important to keep track of. They notice changes and they know what should be done in response to those changes. They should treat their home life as a job. No, not because their wives or girlfriends pay them, but because it is as much their responsibility as anyone else’s to clean the toilet or pack sunblock and swimsuits for a beach day.

Here’s an example: menu planning. It may seem that the spouse who says “I’m cool with whatever, I won’t complain about whatever you make, I’ll eat anything” is already great. However, think about the person who says that in a planning meeting at work. “I don’t care what I work on. I have no ideas. I’ll do whatever.” Is that acceptable? As I said, it should be more acceptable at work because there is someone at a higher pay grade whose job it is to think about tasks and delegation. But at home, that’s not the case. Most of those who shrug off this responsibility at home would say that you can’t go into a work meeting and give a response like that because it shows you don’t care about your job and you’re slacking. Or worse — that you are a weak team member who doesn’t even understand what your job entails.

The fundamental issue at play is that many men still do not consider their home life as being as critical or important as their work life. So they ignore it and dedicate very little time to thinking about what needs to be done to keep the home running smoothly. This may be fine, if the division of labor is agreed to and accepted by both parties. But if there’s tension or stress at home, a good starting point can be to think of domestic duties as a second job that’s just as important.

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Tale of two rides

SF Muni

Yesterday I took the bus downtown. At first, there weren’t many other passengers. A teenaged white girl sat with her feet on the seat next to her, facing the back of the bus where I was sitting and had a phone conversation that I could hear every word of. A family of French tourists boarded. They also didn’t stop chatting.

Then a young black man got on with a grey pit bull: an muscular, overgrown puppy who he could barely control. This dog hadn’t been fixed, and was trying to mount the laps of other passengers or root around under their legs. To get the dog under control, the man yanked the leash and raised his hand suddenly, making a warning sound. The dog flinched and behaved for a few minutes. Then started trying to mount passengers again. The man whipped the dog with his leash to get control. This replayed throughout the ride. The man also started talking on his phone, recounting his adventures in shoplifting. He was annoyed that a sales clerk at a clothing store kept checking on him and asking him how things fit when all he wanted was to be left in peace so he could pop the security tags off the clothes. He also said “I got a watch and an iPhone 8 from the Apple store yesterday. It was so easy, like, someone just left them lying around. I’m about to go back to there.” Ironically, he also said he finally got called back to interview for a security guard job at Stonestown. While talking on the phone, he played tug-of-war with the dog and its leash. When the dog got overly enthusiastic and pulled to hard, the man would hit the dog on his nose. The French family looked on in horror. To exit the bus, I had to step over the dog and avoid its curious nose.

Total duration: ~1hr

Uber ride

N and I walked 1 block and waited a few minutes for our Uber Express pool. Inside, there was already another passenger, but he had considerately taken the front seat. He and the driver were debating the Trump tax cuts, and the driver was insisting he just heard that middle class married couples would be paying thousands more. The man in the front said “I doubt that, I’ll look it up.” He and I ended up reading the same Fox news article saying the New York Times had to print an embarrassing retraction on their tax cut analysis. We laughed about that. He told us he was on his lunch break that day when a homeless man shouted “Faggot!” at him. His response? “10 points for accuracy!” We also laughed about this. Our ride was done in no time. The driver declared “5 stars for you!” as we got out.

Total duration ~ 25 minutes

For 2 riders, the two rides cost about the same. The latter took half the time and is much less likely to force me to be in close proximity with the sort of person who considers shoplifting to be his god-given right (or at least something that makes him feel proud enough to brag about). Not to mention the animal abuse. I actually don’t mind the extra time or walking that public transit takes. What makes Uber worthwhile for me is the people I can exclude from my commute. If SF Muni wants to be competitive, they can rescind the all door boarding policy and make sure everyone pays. After all, Mr. Animal Abuser/iPhone Thief probably wouldn’t bother with the bus if he weren’t stealing service.

Disability as a status symbol

Moving towards a model where the only people who can afford to have profoundly disabled children are the ultra-rich would benefit society in general. This post was inspired by the Twitter dramatics involving Sophia Weaver and her mother. Though not the most eloquent, the Twitter troll did have an interesting point: that it would benefit society to force parents to pay out-of-pocket for any medical resulting from refusing to abort a fetus known to have medical problems. Here are some advantages of such a policy:

Decreased burden on the health care system

According to the article, the Sophia Weaver has had 22 surgeries, a feeding tube, colostomy bag, seizures and choking spells and will never be able to speak or live a normal life. She requires 24/7 nursing care. The argument goes that the life of someone with a disability is not worth less than the life of someone without. But is their life worth 10x more? 100x more? Then why should the health care system spend 100x+ more on them?

More respect for the disabled

If the only people who can afford disabled children are the ultra-rich, then people born with disabilities will become increasingly rare. And because their parents will be, say, the Kardashians, they’ll also become prized status symbols. Being a status symbol might get disabled people more respect. Knowing that all their medical expenses are being paid for by their family, and not by the government will also help.

Better quality of life for more families

People may feel guilty if they decide to abort a less than perfect fetus. But if it were clear all medical expenses would be paid out of pocket, they wouldn’t have to feel badly about it: policy is forcing them to do so. The quality of life for the family would be much better without the disabled child: less worry, less stress, more disposable income and freedom.

Discourages selfishness

I would not want my worst enemy to live the life Sophia Weaver has been forced into. While I’m sure her family is doing everything they can for her, the initial choice to make her live like this was cruel. Her parents didn’t want to give up their child, so a lifetime of feeding tubes, seizures, colostomy bags, choking spells and an inability to ever develop language is what she has to look forward to. It should not be possible for anyone to choose such a life for another person.

Unwilling taxpayers don’t have to be complicit

Federal money can’t be spent on abortions because some taxpayers have religious beliefs against abortion. Similarly, those taxpayers who have moral or philosophical objections to forcing a disabled child to live will not have to be complicit if medical expenses have to be paid out of pocket. Those who support the decisions of parents like the Weavers can start their own insurance fund, and any form of public insurance can exclude abnormalities detected in-utero as “pre-existing”.

Tangentially related note: the tweet that Natalie Weaver had removed is a perfect example of how “hate speech” is often nothing more than speech we disagree with — it read

“It is okay to think that every child matters however a lot of them do not. Hence the amnio test…should be a mandatory test and if it proves negative and the woman does not want to abort then all bills accrued after that is on her and the father.”

It’s an opinion about policy. It doesn’t come close to Twitter’s definition of hate speech, which involves promoting violence or making direct attacks or threats.

Why I don’t read sci fi*

I know, what a snob. It seems strange that I don’t, given that science fiction is probably one of the favorite genres of those in my social group. But I have reasons!

Bad writing. People are quick to make fun of the writing abilities of authors of romance novels like 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight and bodice-rippers. But somehow the same formulaic overuse of adverbs and descriptions of things no one cares about is fine in sci-fi.

Unnecessary terminology. I get it. It’s often set on a different planet, in a different universe, where people look different, etc. But it doesn’t matter. The distracting new terminology is never necessary. Remember Dune? I tried to read that book, and the author made up so many new terms for mundane things that there was a glossary. I wish I were joking. No, somehow it was necessary to call a poisoned needle on a thimble a “gom jabbar”.

Endless descriptions. Again, people make fun of Jane Austen novels for going on and on about curtains or clouds. In sci-fi books, the author should describe the scenes to an illustrator and or leave them mostly to the imagination. Long descriptions + bad writing make it hard for this reader to continue.

Lack of compelling characters. The characters are not written in such a way that we can imagine them well or start to care about their struggles. It’s as if after all the effort spent on making up new terms and describing a different world, the author doesn’t have the energy to describe the main characters or give the reader an idea about their motivations or personalities.

Lack of generality. One oft-cited feature of good literature is that there is a timeless portrait of the human condition. It gives us a way to understand ourselves or others better, or see society more clearly or through a different lens. In contrast, science fiction is more of a “what if”. Because it’s speculation on a “what if” situation by a single author, it doesn’t usually give insight beyond what that one person thinks will happen in the event the setting is real. Which makes it less like literature and more like a conspiracy theory.

In the end, reading sci-fi feels to me like a slog through a technical paper written by a crackpot. Maybe amusing for a page or two, but depressing and unreadable after that.

* Asimov is an exception. His work (I, Robot at least) reads more like moral philosophy edge cases illustrated in allegory and he didn’t do anything too frilly with descriptions and terminology.

Ten thoughts on a Monday [4]

1

I’ve been playing HQ trivia. I actually won ~$6 one time. Finally, I can put all of my useless knowledge to use!

2

There are words that should never be used. No, I’m not talking about racial epithets. I mean words like vibes (its singular form is no less offensive). Any co-opting of a term from physics or mathematics for use predominantly in social media posts is offensive. Impactful is also terrible. Full of … impact? It would be okay to describe an impacted wisdom tooth this way, if you really wanted to. But anything else? Unacceptable. Any word that could go on this list or a future one like it is untouchable. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if Richard Dawkins would sound ridiculous using the term, then no one should use it. Higher standards: let’s at least attempt to have them.

3

It’s common in blogs with many followers to hedge any statement that may sound like a complaint with acknowledgements of privilege. This is absurd. (And this, folks, is why those blogs are popular and this one is not). Think of the full range of any individual’s experience as something that can be mapped onto anyone else’s full range. The worst thing that’s ever happened goes on one end, the best thing on the other end, and the in-between, in between. Now, do the conversion yourself. A rich person complaining about an outdated bathroom may sound petty, but if you perform the mapping properly, it may be the 184th worst thing that’s ever happened to them. Which may equate to your cat dying when you were seven. There. Now maybe you won’t need to deride them for having too easy a life. Think of it this way: the pain they experience from those passé sink fixtures is like what you felt when your mother told you that Fluffy got run over by the mailman.

4

My friend asked rhetorically “Why can’t we just live in a city where no one steals anything?” What a brilliant idea. Discussions in San Francisco about housing seem to have the default premise that it is a bad thing if people are priced out of the housing market. But is it so bad?* Here’s something I’m pretty sure of: if someone has the income to pay $3500 a month to rent a luxury condominium, they won’t be interested in stealing my bike or mugging me. Here’s something else I think is true: people who commit crime usually do not commute to do so — they target others in their own neighborhood or close by. That’s not to say that everyone who is too poor to afford market rate rent in SF is likely to commit quality of life crimes: just that those who can afford it are unlikely to.

5

This NYT recipe for black bean soup is perfect for coldish weather. N says he never expected beans to be that delicious. I would share a picture, but it looks like poo.

6

Food blogs with recipes are making a mistake. This is how each post should look. First, one attractive picture of the finished product. Then, the list of ingredients. Then, the instructions. After those, then and only then, should there be any long-winded stories about grandma or how much you love beans. Or any of the dozen unnecessary but beautifully lit pictures of your stand mixer at work. I’ve stopped bothering with food blogs because they put the fluff first and I have to scroll to see the ingredients list and directions. Scroll for a really really really long time.

7

I read an article about lonely death in Japan and it made me wonder what Japan will look like in 50 years. 100 years. Besides the minor issue with population decline, gender imbalance problems, and the Japanese government’s refusal to recognize and atone for past atrocities, Japan is pretty much the ideal society. Unfortunately, it seems that countries our president would call shitholes are the ones with higher birth rates. Not sure what that word encompasses for President Trump, but I imagine it’s some combination of corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and a general inability of most of its citizens to find a decent living. It’s a sad fact that countries like that are the ones with the highest birth rates. It’s almost like foreign aid and charity are preventing evolution from doing its work. Bonus word of the day for lonely death: kodokushi.

8

The best response is no response. I mean, if you’re a famous person and there’s some scandal. Apologies, denials, acknowledgements: they all seem to backfire. There’s no response that sounds good or makes a person look good. If there’s no response, well, maybe the person is too busy and the rumors are too petty.

9

Microgoals are interesting and maybe worth trying. Anything to trick myself into being more productive! I have found that just having a to-do list helps with my own productivity. And that getting started on something (even something unrelated to the larger goal) gives me momentum that makes work on the goal more likely. I feel a little silly, but I have to start somewhere. Motivation has always been a problem for me.

10

When a single day of market fluctuations makes a bigger difference in your net worth than what you earn at your job in a month how do you stay motivated to work at all? Asking for a friend. 😉

* We would have to make sure the homeless aren’t allowed within city limits as well.

Los Angeles

We went to LA because 3 day weekend. That picture is saying goodbye to our house from the plane. Why LA? N has lived here in California for several years and people were shocked when he admitted he had never been to LA. To be fair, it’s not much of an N place. However, there are plenty of Asians and therefore, restaurants worth visiting. So we went.

We ate at both Tsujita and Tsujita Annex on our first night. Can you tell which one the pic is from? If you look closely at the broth, you can see globules or bits of something. At first, I thought it was garlic. But it’s not. It’s fat. Delectable globules of pork fat.

The car rental agent asked “Would you like a free upgrade to something larger?” N said “No, small is great!” A good thing, too. Because our small car was this beetle. From Texas. Imagine driving up and down highway 1 in this car to visit postcard-perfect beaches. Like this one:

In LA there are some parking… issues. Permit only, paid public lots everywhere, traffic jams to get in and out of these lots… But driving further north or south gets you to nearly empty beaches. After beaching and reading Call Me by Your Name, lunch the second day was at Galbi House.

All you can eat Korean bbq. Don’t be scared by reviews saying the quality of meat is better elsewhere. You won’t be able to taste the difference. You will be grilling the bejeezus out of the meat and all you will taste is charred umami plus marinades and/or dipping sauces. Which were perfect.

The next day we went to Greystone Mansion, and the drive through Beverly Hills was the grand tour of McMansions. I was surprised: I thought the inhabitants would be rich enough to hire real architects. The land use at Greystone followed the pattern of wealthy people everywhere: inefficient, but private.

See that? It’s the private driveway — land that’s otherwise unused. We saw a 5 year old girl (not pictured) in what appeared to be a wedding dress, having a photoshoot on the grounds. Must be an LA thing.

Speaking of McMansions, here is one we found walking along the pedestrian path at Manhattan Beach:

The phrase that went through my head when I saw this was “Italianate horror.” The distressing/splotchiness of the paint was done this way on purpose to make it look old. Also love how it’s built out to within a foot of its property line and has stubby decorative columns everywhere. I have to thank Kate Wagner for the existence of McMansion Hell, which has introduced to me one of the premiere pleasures of life: gawping at McMansions and saying “What the hell…”

This next house I thought looked sweet, but I wanted to ask if it was lost. Recall, this isn’t in San Francisco. It’s beachfront property:

3 roofs, 2 balcony railings, 4 types of windows, stick-on flower details. But still adorable.

Lunch that day was at a Persian restaurant. Apparently, there is a sizable Persian community in Los Angeles dating back to the 1979 revolution. They call it Tehrangeles? We’re big fans of Persian food, and this was better than anything we’ve had in the bay area.

On our last day, we finally did something touristy and went to see the walk of fame. Neither of us recognized very many names, but we did find Ben and Jerry’s carnival promoting a new product:

That plus donut for breakfast made me feel ill. That’s about all for this trip report. I’ll leave you with a nice beach photo that reminds me of that old show “The OC” (which I used to love):

Urgency vs importance

A cruel fact of life is that our most urgent tasks are seldom the most important or meaningful. Some things that need to be done right away (or at least this week) are the dishes, the laundry, the grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, and you know, work.

But those things aren’t important in the final measure of someone’s life. They just have the clearest deadlines and the most obvious consequences when neglected.

On the other hand, suppose that someone aspires to be a writer. An average person with a day job and all the ordinary tasks of life to attend to. What consequence is there if they don’t get around to reading today? If they don’t write a single sentence this month? None. They can go on their entire lives going to work, coming home, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, zoning out on Candy Crush, going to bed, repeating the process.

There is more and more evidence that creativity is born of boredom. That we need time with zero obligations to cultivate our own ability to think and observe, rather than just absorb the internet and its cat memes.

The only way I can think of to mitigate the fallout of this inverse relationship between important and urgent tasks is the following:

  1. Figure out your most productive time of day
  2. Use at least an hour of that window every day for something important to you

This is how I passed my quals.

Now. If you have trouble even identifying things that are important, that’s a bigger issue. But still use that hour a day to be bored. Eventually it will point you in the right direction.