Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Review: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed about covering all of the time I've missed in this spot, so I'm just going to skip the "where I've been" post for now.  Let's talk about books instead.

I like to read.  I like the escape of a good story, learning something new, and even just the way certain words combined together make me feel.

Like from one of my favorite books, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman:  "I was trying to align myself along some sort of grain in the world I could barely feel..."  mmm, YES

The most recent book I've finished is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi, a non-fiction book about the difference in the way we punish huge crimes on Wall Street (we don't) and how we punish minorities (often more violently than necessary for the crime- if there even was one).  It seemed a really relevant piece to read with the grand jury decision in Ferguson this week.

The book description gives a good summary:
Poverty goes up.  Crime goes down.  The prison population doubles. 
Fraud by the rich wipes out 40 percent of the world's wealth.  The rich get massively richer.  No one goes to jail.

I found myself enraged after just a few pages.  And scared.  Taibbi compares the US today to Russia under Stalin because of how we live by two sets of laws: the recorded laws, and the actually enforced laws.  For example, Taibbi tells multiple stories about black men being thrown in the back of vans for crimes that white people in higher income neighborhoods would never dream of being arrested for (like blocking pedestrian traffic).

One example that I found especially poignant was the contrast between a story about two black men in a low-income community and one of the richest hedge fund managers on Wall Street.  The two black men were pulled over and arrested for driving a car that seemed too nice- the cops were suspicious that the owner could afford such a nice car in that neighborhood, so it was automatically assumed that he had stolen it (when in reality, he had not).  On the other hand, the Wall Street manager made significantly more money than all of his peers for 14 years running, and no one assumed he was doing anything wrong (when in reality, he was).

Reasons to read it:
To learn what the really, really rich can get away with
To learn what the really poor have to put up with
Because Matt Taibbi makes non-fiction easy to read

Lindsey's complaint:
Even though it was non-fiction, the author clearly adds in a lot of his opinions.  While I think this makes it easier and more enjoyable to read, it made me question the information he was providing, since he was clearly biased.  It does make for some pretty funny descriptions.  For example, Taibbi describes one of the Wall Street managers as, "A lipless, pale-faced Irish Catholic from Concord, Massachusetts, who wears Coke-bottle glasses and appears in public wearing the pinched, joyless manner of a constipated nun..." Tell us how you really feel, Matt.

Difficulty: medium.  It's still non-fiction, but he includes lots of interesting stories.

Have you read the book?  What did you think?

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Misery of Online Dating Today

Recently, I went on a horrible date.  I've never talked about dating here because I have always tried to respect the people I've gone out with and not put them on blast if it didn't work out.  Even the super weirdos.  Because generally the guys are really nice and genuine and it just isn't a match between us.  Don't get me wrong, I have LOTS of entertaining dating stories.  But they are entertaining not because the guy was a loser, but because we did not mesh well.  So when I share these stories with my friends, we all have a good chuckle about how wrong the person was for me- not that the person was wrong.  I also respect the fact that all of these men probably have similar stories about me.  It's not that I'm an un-dateable weirdo, it's just that I wasn't right for them (and sometimes this results in a terrific story).  At least this is how I try to be grown up and handle the dating world.

But this horrible date changed things for me and made me feel like I have to speak out.  I emailed "Gerald" initially and asked what he had been up to that weekend. We emailed a few times and decided to get coffee on a Saturday afternoon. Yet "Gerald" emailed me the name of a bar.  Whatever- I've got nothing against a beer on a Saturday afternoon. Just strange he made that decision without me.  When I arrived, I peeked my head inside and saw three or four tables full of men who looked to be regulars.  I decided to stand outside to wait.  After a bit, I texted my date to let him know I was there, and he responded that he was inside.  He was already working on a beer.  I sat for a moment on the sticky bar booth seat, then decided I was going to need a beer as well.

He was cute- nice blue eyes, clean-cut blond hair.  We talked about his hobbies for a while (for a long while) and he told me about a lot of things I didn't know. I always enjoy learning new things, so I was enjoying myself.  I was a little off-put by how little he seemed to want to know about me, but sometimes people get nervous, so I excused it.  After a pause in the conversation, he asked about my experience online dating (the first and only question he asked about me during the date).  He told me about how he had been on hundreds of dates this year.  He mentioned how awkward it was when one of his dates asked what he had done that weekend or what he was planning to do, "because you can't just say, well I went on five dates." (Note from above, that's exactly what I had asked him in our first emails.) He then proceeded to tell me story after story of all the "crazy" women he had met online.  Every story he told was totally unfair to the woman he had dated. I would try to toss out a possible excuse, and he would shoot the idea down.  Not once did he take any responsibility for his role in the events. It wasn't him- the woman was clearly crazy.  I thought about heading for the bathroom and not coming back.

However, I did what I always do: I decided to wait it out, out of respect for him. I wouldn't want someone to ditch out on a date with me, so I stuck it out. (Looking back, I'm not sure he deserved this.)  I mentioned some of the outrageous messages I've received and how I didn't understand why guys thought it was okay to start a conversation with their sexual desires (and how I could fit into their wants and needs). He tried to reason with me and excuse the guys by saying that they probably weren't getting much attention, and this was the only way to get my attention.  My thoughts on that:
    1. These messages are totally disrespectful to me.  I am more than just my body.
    2. My messages are often ignored, and I have never sent a crude message to get a guy's attention.
    3. This isn't a successful method- I've never responded to a message like this, nor has any other women I know. 
Again, whatever response I gave him, he totally disregarded.  The guys were normal.  He wasn't at all horrified by their actions.  I was the weird one for calling them out.

I left the date feeling really sad. I left feeling insecure, wondering if the men I've dated have told stories like Gerald was telling me, which leave me 100% at fault for the failed date.  I left that bar, drove the 30 minutes home, and felt really angry. I felt angry and hopeless.  Later that night, I shared the story with some of my friends and conveyed my rage.  But they didn't feel the same outrage that I did.  They humored me as I let the story spill out like a broken dam, but they didn't seem that mad.  I think they just accepted that this is what dating looks like.  I think I used to do that too, but I don't think I can anymore.    

I've been struggling to capture my feelings in words.  That night at dinner, I don't think I had the right words.  I still don't, but fortunately, I watch TV and there are a lot of good writers out there that nail it.  I flew through 3 seasons of the TV show, Scandal, recently, and the writer, Shonda Rimes (of Grey's Anatomy fame) has written this inspiring female character, Olivia Pope.  Olivia is the President's mistress (as well as the head of a successful firm that "fixes" political scandals) and she goes back and forth between trying to be with the President as the other woman, and letting him go because she gets no respect in that role.  In one of their fights, she yells at him,
"I am NOT a toy you can play with when you're bored or lonely or horny.  I am NOT the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie.  I am NOT a fantasy.  If you want me, EARN ME."
YES! That's exactly what I've been trying to say to these men! I just want to knock on their heads and say, "excuse me, I'm a human being too, and I will not let you treat me like that."  I hope we, as women, can all channel our inner Olivia Pope and not allow ourselves to be treated as toys. This article nails the issue as well.

On our trip to Ireland, my sister declared, "love isn't real." This sparked my anger again.  She's dated some bad guys, and as a result, she's quit (at least for now).  While I stopped believing in fairytales in high school and have my cynical days on occasion, I still genuinely believe that things will work out. For me, for my sister, and for my friends, who are good people and deserve to find someone to spend their lives with.  But the guys and girls out there need to shape up and remember this world of dating is not just about you- men need to respect women, and women need to stand up and demand to be respected. 

Now to lighten things up, I thought I'd share some of the hilarious and horrifying messages I have received in just the last few months, and the snarky replies I wish I had sent.  

Dear Mr. Panties-Strapon Man,

Usually I wait until the second date to tell people about my desire to wear their clothes and to sleep with them.  But ya know what? I love how you're so open. Way to get out there and go straight for what you want.  Unfortunately, I have some desires too.  For example, I'd love for a guy to show me that he has good conversations skills before he tries to get in my pants.  I'd like to meet a guy and spend some time with him in public before I determine that he's not a serial killer or planning to sell me into a prostitute chain. (One sketchy email is probably not going to cut it.)  I'd like to be in a relationship where I am valued for who I am (what I do, what I think, and how I act) before I am valued for my body. So, Mr. Panties-Strapon Man, I just don't think it's going to work out.  And don't worry, it's not me, it's you.

But thanks for your message!

If your user name is supposed to be your first impression of a person, and your picture your second (or visa versa), I'm gonna go ahead and guess this isn't going to work out (yes, that's a side butt).

This is my favorite for SO many reasons.

You no longer have this account? yes!!!

Dear Mr. Strapon Man #2,

You're right.  Walking up to a woman in a coffee shop and asking her to wear a strapon so you can be her "B_tch" is probably not a good idea.  However, I think emailing a stranger is sort of like doing the same thing, but more cowardly.  If this is your secret desire, who am I to judge? (I'm judging) But as a tip, maybe try getting to know someone first and then suggesting your ideas.  Perhaps the problem is that your number one requirement in a woman is that she would be open to this, in which case, maybe your method isn't so bad.  But then maybe you should read my response to Mr. Strapon Man #1 about me wanting to be valued for who I am, not what I am.


P.S. I am pretty open minded, but RESPECT, man.

Uh, heelsofmagic, if you're just looking for someone to sleep with, then a prostitute seems like exactly the type of women you should be talking to.  Or do you just want it for free, is that it?  Ugh.

This is the current status of the dating world.  It's sad and pathetic, but if I'm still hanging in there, I have hope that other great people are still hanging in as well.  If you want to read some more on this topic, check out this article and enjoy this.

To the ladies out there, has this been your experience as well? Men, does this seem typical, or are you shocked?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Ireland, Part III: The Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula, Galway, and the Aran Islands

I'm going to try and finish up the last of our trip to Ireland in this post.  In case you missed it, you can read about Belfast and Dublin here and Waterford and Cork here.

After the farm outside of Cork, we headed to Killarney to drive the famous Ring of Kerry.  The views were spectacular, but I didn't think it was particularly better than driving through the Glens of Antrim, or up the coast to Belfast.

We stopped at a couple of historic ring forts that were pretty impressive (Cahergal and Leacanabuaile).  It's amazing that these were made in 2000 to 500 B.C.  I could have spent a much longer time crawling around the rocks and admiring the views.


Our guidebook told us to stop at a couple of different places for the views.  This stop showed crazy steep, green cliffs dropping into the blue of the ocean- beautiful.  The color contrast always got me.

This is looking back away from the ocean.

Love clouds

Right towards the end of the ring, there was one last pull-out for magnificent views (total tourist trap).  But we jumped into the trap, both feet ahead, and held baby sheep!


After we had finished most of the ring, we programmed our GPS to get us to the next peninsula over- Dingle.  The GPS decided to take us directly across the peninsula, instead of around it on the main roads, so we had quite the adventure.  The roads were narrow and wound through the mountains, called the Macguillacutty Reeks.  Many times we had to stop for sheep on the side of the road, and more rarely, for another passing car.  The topography was magnificent.  Huge mountains towered on either side of us, layered with boulders and interspersed with grass and sheep. 

Did I mention they spray-paint their sheep/goats?!

Eventually we made it to Dingle, which was where I had been most excited to stay.  This was almost completely due to name Dingle itself, as I knew only the minimum about this fishing town.  Sadly, we were taken advantage of by our host that evening, so I have a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from the experience.  (I plan to do a review of Airbnb, which we used for our entire trip, but in case you don't read that, just know that Airbnb took care of us in the end.)

Annnnnyway, we did do my favorite hike of the trip, while we were in Dingle.  It was the morning after being together for a bit too long, and it was nice to hike along in silence and spend some time alone.  We saw the area's famous resident, Fungie the dolphin, from up above, and watched as the boats filled with tourists chased him around.  I made a bouquet of mini flowers for my mom, which will hopefully become inspiration for one of her quilts. 

We ended up cutting our stay short in Dingle and heading to the Limerick/Shannon area a day early.  We stayed at a bed and breakfast, which use to be a nunnery, with our favorite host, Dolores

After two nights, we headed off to Galway, the Cliffs of Moher, and Kylemore Abbey.  I was fairly convinced I was going to fall off the cliffs.  I mean, there is seriously nothing but a roll down a grassy knoll between you and your death.  It was a bit scary.

Kylemore Abbey was magnificent.

Nerd Alert:  We also stopped at a bog! We pulled over to the side of the road (actually we kind of just stopped in the middle of the road, until my mom yelled that this was unacceptable and we re-parked) and my dad and I got out to play in the bog.  Mandy and mom chased sheep (this was Mandy's favorite pastime). 

Some hungry hydrologist background: a bog is a type of wetland that is common in Ireland, England, and Scotland. Because of all the rain these countries get, the water increases acidity on the bog, reduces oxygen levels, creates waterlogged conditions, and leaches nutrients and minerals out of the soil.  As a result, there is way less microbial activity, so plant matter doesn't get broken down very quickly.  This makes for a different type of soil: peat.  Peat holds a lot of moisture and the ground becomes springy as a result.  So when my dad and I went out into the bog, we jumped around like lunatics because you could feel the other person jumping from about 10 ft away as the waterlogged ground vibrates.  It. Was. So. Cool.

The Irish (and others) use the peat as fuel.  They come out with an elongated shovel and scoop bricks of the peat out of the ground.  They lay it out to dry and then stack it into little teepees to further dry the material.  Then when it's ready, they take it home and burn the carbon-dense material.  This is happening less and less in an effort to protect the bog habitat, but it is still allowed in some places.    

In the top of this picture, you can see the ledge where the bog is being cut into.  Peat bricks are out drying on top.

Bog cotton, blowing in the wind

We got an early start from Galway, and took off for the Aran Islands.  We took a ferry over and had to leave our beloved Peguot behind.  When we arrived, we headed to where we thought we were staying and made some phone calls to coordinate our arrival.  While we waited to be let in, we enjoyed some coffee at a little shop along the water.  I've been dreaming of that latte ever since.

We took a minibus tour around the island and requested that we go to the "worm hole", which had been recommended by our host the night before.  Our guide dropped us off, vaguely pointed off to the horizon, and said "Head that way. I'll pick you up in 3 hours at the fort."  It was quite a hike.  We climbed over rocks and grass, the terrain as rugged as the rest of the island.  But when we made it to the worm hole, we were rewarded with the sight of an impressive rock formation that resembled a standard swimming pool. (And the set up for a major diving competition coming up in the next few weeks- check out the video below.)  We continued our hike to the fort on the top of the hill and saw PUFFINS on the way there.  I had really wanted to see puffins the whole trip, so this was REALLY exciting.  Sadly, all my pictures show two little black dots in a green field, so they're not really worth sharing.

See those houses (white dots) in the distance?  We hiked from there...

The worm hole!

Set up for the future diving competition.
Mexico's Jonathan Paredes dives to third place at Red Bull Cliff Diving Ireland 2014 at the Serpent's Lair, Inis Mor.

The fort was very cool too- up on top of a cliff, about half of the circular fort has eroded into the ocean.  It was terrifyingly high, and I was amazed by the lack of fencing along the edge.  One could literally walk off a cliff with nothing to stop you.  Still makes me a little ill just writing about it...

The fam, chatting with a tour guide.  To the left of Mandy, the cliff drops about 50 m to the water...
The next day, we returned to the main land, grabbed the Peugot and headed off to our last stop: the Tullamore Dew Distillery!  We drank some whiskey then headed back to Dublin to stay the night before our flight.

Phew!  If you made it this far, you deserve an award!  Thanks for joining me!