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I don’t know what the answer is

(Phone post, sorry) So today i had lunch with a friend who grew up in the former Czechoslovakia and we started talking about religion. He mentioned how he was baptised in secret, had to hide to go to church and all that. It made me quite sad.

One of the few things I liked about the second Bush administration is that he expanded the “American” version of freedom of religion. While his motivations were definitely Christian, his policies applied to all religions, and even today it is easier, for example, to be a practicing Muslim in the US than it is in any European country except England.

I, like a lot of other people, have problems with some of the tea party actions in this election season regarding religion. I don’t like what Bobby Jindal has done with schools and vouchers in Louisiana. I feel like what were inclusive Bush-era policies are being turned and twisted into Christian-only policies. Yet at the same time i can understand and respect when a Christian says that certain things are deal breakers because of their religion. I have my deal breakers too and people shouldn’t have to justify it, and it makes me sad to see my Christian friends defensive over their right to freedom of religion.

Which is where my problem is. How can people truly have freedom of religion in a society while at the same time protecting non believers and including all religions? We have established that the French model is absolute bullshit, but the American model needs to be tweaked now too (thank you Personhood etc).I don’t know where the middle ground is. What scares me is living in a place like France, or living in a place like the ex-communist countries, where religion is de facto (france) or de jure (ex communist countries) illegal. That is a very real fear of mine. And while the Murdochs and Akins of this world did take things way too far this election season, I’m worried about a backlash against Christians, because what affects one religion affects us all. And i don’t know what the right answer is, but for now i still believe an inclusive freedom of religion is the answer.


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What I have learned about the menz

Well last night’s post didn’t go as planned due to staying later at work than intended, rushing to french class etc…so here is one today with another one in the evening.

The past few years I have learned a lot about people and how nasty they can be. It is strange to me how someone can function in society apparently normally, but below the surface be royally screwed up.  Although I play my cat lady schtick, I’ve learned a lot about men in the past few years. Here are some bullet points:

1. If someone cannot have a normal conversation with you about a casual topic, they may not be that into you.  Beyond formal niceties like the weather, and logistics info like house cleaning or bill paying, if the person cannot -and doesn’t want to- just shoot the shit with you for a half hour or so, it is because they have nothing to say to you.  Likely because they are saving that kind of conversation for someone else. Be wary of people who do not ENJOY talking to you about anything and everything- it is because they ENJOY talking to someone else.  Bad moods and silence are huge red flags.

2. Which leads me to my next point: we only have a limited amount of emotional capital. With work and hobbies and friends, you only have so much left at the end of the day to give to your partner. If you are giving this to someone other than the person you should be giving this capital to, it shows. Relationships only thrive when you invest in them, and if you invest in a relationship with someone outside your main relationship, then your main relationship will wither. No surprise then, that affairs tend to be strong emotional connections- because you are investing the only capital you have  in your affair rather than your “relationship.”  So if you want a good relationship, don’t cheat.  You can’t handle it. In other words, you don’t cheat because you have a bad relationship, your relationship is bad because you cheat or are open to cheating. Fix your relationship rather than running away to someone who flatters your ego.

3. Just because someone is right for you on paper doesn’t mean they are “right for you.” When you are with the right person, you know it. It feels right. Fighting, power struggles and drama do not happen weekly or monthly in normal relationships, they happen rarely.  If you keep wondering why you don’t get a second date, or stressing on why dude isn’t calling back, it is because it isn’t the right place or time or person and someone better is out there. The right guy, regardless of his “stats”, is not going to have problems with your hair, or the way you hold silverware, or getting an SMS from you. The chase gets very old, and if you feel like you are chasing someone, it is time to stop- they might not be that into you.

4. What has love got to do with anything? I don’t believe in soul mates any more.  What I do believe in are responsible, mature adults who choose to own up to their relationships, nurture these relationships, and put effort into making them work with phone calls, date nights, and shared activities.  I know what it is like to think I love someone who frankly isn’t treating me respectfully, and what I realized when I walked away is that love is a choice. I can choose to be in pain because I “love” someone, or I can choose to put the few positive feelings I have on the back burner and find someone who does not cause me pain or see me as a backup plan.  If someone doesn’t like you (as shown by the points above), they can’t love you.

5. You are ok just the way you are. Everyone flips out early in relationships about looking good and doing and saying the right things, but if every day is a new criticism about your clothes, your weight, how you choose to spend your time, your opinions, then you aren’t with the right person and both of you need to be free to find people with whom you are more compatible.  So-called love isn’t worth changing fundamental parts of who you are, and someone who wants you to change to fit their vision doesn’t love you, they love themselves.

6. It is ABSOLUTELY OK TO BE SINGLE.  I feel like in our societies the single, and especially those without children (another topic for another post) get looked down on like something is fundamentally wrong with them as people. This is unfair. There are a lot of reasons for staying single. Some people stay single a long time to heal after an abusive relationship; some people stay single because they want to; some are just single because, and that is ok.  I can tell you that being alone is way better than being in a shitty relationship.


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Computer literacy

One office where I worked had a strict policy regarding computer literacy.  It was a law firm and it went a little like this: support staff (accountants, secretaries, paralegals) were given a basic computer literacy test during the hire process. If they failed the test, they weren’t hired. If they did poorly on the test, it made the difference in shortlist time. Lawyers, who are often hired for network/money reasons, were given the same test on their first day, and either given new training or extra support staff (if big money was involved) if their skills weren’t up to snuff.  The sad thing is that the test was nothing special: opening, using (including typing test for secretaries) Microsoft Word, doing a basic presentation using a template in Power Point, a couple basic calculations in Excel (like what you would do for an expense report), an overview of the company’s legal document database (in dev version for interviewees).   And yet, it was unbelievable how many young secretaries (either digital natives or digital immigrants of my generation) failed the test. Seriously, these days how do people get through college without using Word and having a minimal proficiency?

The strange thing is, now that I work in IT, I find the most savvy software users in my admittedly limited sample are not necessarily the under-25s but, strangely enough, people of my parents’ generation, who are 55+. I have quantitatively had the most problems with people on the high end of Generation X, the ones who were on the tail end of having to use a computer in college. Meanwhile 65 year old dudes who used to have to use abaci and slide rulers are downloading stuff from torrents. But that, as usual, is another story for another post.  What continues to blow my mind is how anyone who wants to have any kind of an office job today thinks they can get away with not having basic skills in Microsoft programs (which are still the industry standard, sorry) and, most importantly, not want to learn these skills.  I think having a certain ease with word processing programs, for example, means you can write something yourself rather than dictate it to a secretary and proof her work (lawyers excepted for longer documents). I also find it absolutely criminal that a career secretary (not someone who came in from another profession like retail) need to be taught several years out how to do a mail merge. That for me is something you learn at your first job. Some people say that if you hire a CFO then he is hired to crunch numbers, not use a computer, but if a CFO can’t use SAP or Excel and, more importantly, doesn’t want to learn, I think that says a lot about that person’s initiative, drive and professionalism. Computer literacy is professional development on the same level, for me, as staying current with industry trends. I don’t understand people who refuse to learn.


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Requisite election day musings

I’m happy to have had a busy day in Amsterdam so far…work has slowed down but I have some French homework to do before my plane. The more I think about this election, the more sad I am. The election being over won’t change anything because people have gotten so nasty. I’m grateful to live in Switzerland and to have travelled enough in my youth to know that there are different and better ways to live than some of the shtick Mittens tried to sell us during the election in the US (note to naysayers: why yes, I will stay in Switzerland since it is so awesome, you can stay in your third world America, not my problem).  An Obama win doesn’t make me happy either, with all the drones and monitoring and all that.  Either way, the United States is a broken, messed up place, and the election outcome isn’t going to change that regardless of who wins. As I have said before, the only thing that scares me about a Romney win is that women will lose most of the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought for, as Mitt Romney and especially Paul Ryan simply hate women unless they are pregnant white married Donna Reed types. You say now “oh it is just abortion” but it isn’t- the War on Women is only just beginning. I don’t think Roe v Wade would survive a Romney presidency’s Supreme Court justice picks. And if Obama wins he is only pushing off the inevitable for a few years until teabaggers have full (instead of the current partial) control over national policy. But in other matters of policy the two mainstream candidates are essentially the same in my book.

 

I have a lot of work to do tomorrow at my first day back in the “real” office in a week and I am afraid I will wind up staying up tonight (last time the results were called around 4am), or not being able to sleep even though it really doesn’t matter who wins.  I guess I care because this is the last election that “means something” to me. Why? In 2016, I don’t even have to be American any more if I don’t want to. News flash: I DON’T, the tax burden is too high as I get older and no one elected anywhere wants to change our tax code meant to stick it to the middle class and until the United States stops being one of only three countries in the world- effing Eritrea and North Korea being the other two- who tax its expatriates, having an American passport will only bring me trouble when I retire because I can’t afford the accountants rich ppl like Mitt Romney have. People ask me why I don’t like being American? Well we fight wars I don’t want to fight, take rights away from women, forget about our old people, and tax expatriates. I don’t understand all the people I know who are proud of their countries. I don’t know what to be proud of. I had a professor in college from Benin, and he was like “yes but you had public services (like schooling) growing up I didn’t have etc” (I’m summarizing) but what he didn’t realize is that the American dream doesn’t exist any more and people are pretending that is does. I come from a middle class family and it took a lot of people hustling during the relatively prosperous 90s to get me through college, and what was spent on me meant less money for my cousins to go. I am the only one in my extended family with no school debt and I was one of the first of my cousins to actually complete a degree because of all the people helping me out. And I still worked 3 jobs. And. So if it was that hard for me, how hard is it now, in the recession, for someone from the lower classes to rise up? Practically impossible. Yet another thing this election won’t change: at the end of the day, our ruling classes, Democrats and Republicans combined, are all about keeping people in their caste, poor people staying poor, middle class people always struggling to stay there, and the rich getting richer off of everyone else’s backs. I’ve said it since college, it is all about the class struggle. Pick a social issue and I can bring it back to the class struggle.

 

I’m calling it for posterity: I think Obama would win a free, fair election but we don’t have those in America any more (see Bush v Gore), so I’m calling it for Romney, who will take Ohio and Florida due to voter fraud, vote tampering and other forms of disenfranchisement.   My intuition tells me there will be some court challenges- I don’t think this election is over tonight.


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I hate smokers under bus shelters

If there is one thing that makes me go absolutely screaming crazy cat lady, it is smokers under bus shelters in the damn rain.

The sad part here is that I am one of the few people I know who is pro-cigarette. I used to work for a tobacco company and worked for the lead counsel of another tobacco company. I am all about “responsible use” and think that if you haven’t figured out cigarettes cause a myriad of health problems, it isn’t up to the tobacco companies to clue you in. I have no moral problem with cigarettes despite having all four grandparents die from smoking-related health issues. I think some of the restrictive marketing legislation against cigarettes should also be provided to alcohol but hey. Another topic for another post.

But the one group of jackasses making my pro-cigarette convictions wane quickly.  The jackasses who smoke under bus shelters in the rain.  Why does it make me go Eleanor Abernathy on people like I just did to one woman?

Because it is a selfish dick move. When you smoke at the bus shelter  in the rain you ensure that people like me can neither sit down nor stand anywhere but IN THE EFFING RAIN to get away from the cold cigarette stench and associated breathing problems. Because yes, I have to use an inhaler if I am around cigarettes too long. Because yes, you may enjoy smelling like a cold ashtray but I don’t.  Because I have no choice but to breathe your air.

Evidently the smoking initiative that just failed in Switzerland would have curbed cigarette use in places like this.  What I don’t understand is that I grew up in a family of smokers. My dad smokes a pack a day. Doesn’t smell like an ashtray, in fact, he actually smells darn good. Why? Because he smokes outside in a ventilated place.  And in my experience it seems that the assholes who smoke under bus shelters are also those who smoke inside, have stinky clothes, and wind up sitting next to you on a crowded bus, forcing you to breathe the residual smoke. How people kiss people like that is also another topic for another post, but seriously y’all? Why force people to breathe smoke? Why is this something that has to be spelled out to some people?


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Carmex Emergency!

Like many lip balm addicts, we all have a story about our tipping point: the event that turned us from casual balm users into full-blown addicts. For me, several painful events at university whereby I got cold sores if my lips got too dry made me associate the lack of lip balm with nasty cold sores. Further experience showed me that lack of carmex, specifically, was responsible for at least one cold sore episode. I won’t get into the details but years of use has meant i usually use carmex twice a day, keep a pot in my purse, and use other balms or lipstick during the day. (Here i could talk about why i don’t like carmex in a stick but that is another topic for another post, also the fruit of years of personal research).

Travel has meant that my purse contents have changed a bit and today I found myself in the middle of a foreign city with no less than seven lip products in my purse… but no carmex nor its backup tube of zovirax (full disclosure, but what is nice is that it was bought in Algeria so Arabic lettering on the tube means less shame IRL). Panic. I have not been without carmex since exactly September 2003, when I made an ill fated trip to Colette in Paris, 45 minutes from Melun, to spend 7€ on a pot of Carmex (which costs 93 cents at wal mart). What made me realize the error of my ways today was sitting in the sun and feeling my lips tingle. Not the good tingle of carmex but the bad tingle of “impending cold sore meaning weeks of crusty burning pain and throwing out all my wand lipgloss.” I assessed my surroundings. No stores or pharmacies nearby. I briefly considered blistex but then decided the peppermint lip balm i had in my purse would have to do until i could find a pharmacy. I suffered through the three hours my afternoon activities were separating me from the hotel hotel, where my trusty pot of carmex was waiting on me but it seems i may have gotten out of this episode unscathed. And that first hit of carmex felt real good and am sure on some cosmic level prevented a cold sore.

Moral of the story 1: if i ever get stuck in an elevator, i am not having a panic attack because i have to pee or think i am going to die, but because i don’t have carmex.
Moral of the story 2: today i didn’t but i can and will cancel plans and spend ridiculous amounts of money to ensure a steady source of carmex.
Moral of the story 3: it has been over nine years since i was last without carmex for more than a few hours.


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Unbelievable how dependent we are on technology. This is my first WiFi of the day. I must say it is restful to disconnect. I don’t know how i feel about people taking technology “breaks” but i like the idea of spending several hours disconnected at a time. I still checked my work email, but only once at 8am and once again just now.

At the same time, some of the things i did today wouldn’t have been possible without twitter- a chance meeting with an online friend, a restaurant recommendation- but i have so far enjoyed my mini technology break. As i am on the slowest wifi of the world, i will leave you with one picture of Pablito, taken by the lovely Swiss Twist, who is also taking part in the back2blog challenge.

image


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Pablito, or when you only need one cat to become a crazy cat lady

If you haven’t been living under a rock or something, most of my lovely readers know that I have an unhealthy relationship with m cat Pablito, the star of the internet  (no really he was on tv), and as I prepare for a business trip  (robbers: crazy cat ladies have in-house cat sitters, fyi), it is time for my separation anxiety to hit the roof.

In my defense, Pablito is a pretty awesome cat. He is this big, black, shiny creature, he feels like a fur stole and is rather impressive to look at. He is generally chill and happy, and most people get sat on, plus purrs and headbutts (except for men, he hates men, kind of like me, the world has made me this way). Most people who come to my house agree he is up there on the coolest cats they have ever met scale, even cat haters.  So he isn’t just one of those cats who hides under stuff and poos everywhere (well he does that too). He interacts a lot, he is quite vocal (very deep manly meow) and generally hangs out with whatever human is in the house.

I think I like Pablito more than he likes me.  He’s a cat, he probably has zero effs to give if I am gone for a week as long as he has food and a clean litter box and his Katzenbaum. Pablito also has zero effs to give about anyone, really. The neighbor’s cat keeps trying to make a connection but Pablito has a rigid daily schedule, and if you meow at the Katzenbaum at 8am that just won’t work, because between 7 and 9 Pablito is on the couch in the other room. Every day.  But for me, Pablito is my primary relationship- my favorite thing in the world is to come home from work and listen to him purr (granted he is only purring to make sure I give him food but I will take it) and feel his fat tummy.

I miss him when I am gone way too much. I love to travel, I love to see new things, but for this upcoming trip I actually have angst. I don’t want to not have my nightly couch and tv news time where Pablito sits on me and purrs. (He purrs ALL THE TIME).  It has been like this since I got him a few years ago- leaving him is always a difficult process involving lots of tears. I will probably cry this afternoon. Again, he is a cat and has zero effs to give, but I am the crazy cat lady. Even when I go to work, my heart twinges a little bit. Especially in the snow, I think “do I want to go to work where people are unhappy about keyboards, or do I want to sit on the couch with my big black water bottle?”

One thing I will do differently in the next stage of pet ownership is get two cats when Pablito crosses the rainbow bridge IN FORTY YEARS (keep thinking it). In his case, he was raised as a single cat with his former owners, and I didn’t think it fair for him to have to adjust to a new home and new owner and also have to play cat hierarchy games. Some think the benefits of cat companionship outweigh the stress of the Top Cat process, but knowing Pablito’s personality in his case it would have been bad (It is worth it to note that in Switzerland, shelters will not generally adopt out single cats or cats who will stay inside exclusively. But that cultural difference is another topic for another post). I think having two cats next time (IN FORTY YEARS when Pablito is in the Guinness Book) will help in two ways: First, I will have less travel angst because I will think “hey they have each other.”  Secondly, I think having two will help me not to have this unhealthy, symbiotic relationship with them that I do with Pablito.

 

I am phone-only for the rest of my #back2blog posts and did not have time to pre-write and schedule, so the rest will be written from my phone, with the usual caveats about formatting etc.


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Whatever happened to empathy

When people ask why I vote Democrat or why I lean to the left (which is a joke, because in every other country I have lived in but America I am considered center-right, but in Mississippi if you aren’t teabagging, you’re a socialist), I always explain two things:

First, I reject the notion that poor people are poor because they did something to deserve it, which is the tacit undercurrent in the thinking of a lot of Republicans.  I don’t understand why people who have money find it so difficult to part with theirs as members of society.  What happened to human kindness?  This type of thinking is rampant when you talk about universal health care. People are always like “I don’t want to pay for other people’s cancer” or something.  God forbid you foot the bill for something that helps society. Let’s stop paying for roads too. Or even better-why pay for public schools?  I will never have kids but I have no problems morally or philosophically for something that helps the people around me grow up less stupid.  The worst is that the biggest opponents to universal healthcare are these middle class people making between 80 and 200 a year who, whether they like it or not, Obamacare or not, are one cancer diagnosis away from medical bankruptcy.  When people troll me I wish them well and hope they never, ever get so sick that they have to choose between medical care or paying the mortgage.

Secondly, the Republican party’s war on women is real. Whether or not it is legal, whether or not Roe v Wade still stands on paper, it is impossible to get an abortion in states like Mississippi. Morality aside, birth control, reproductive healthcare and yes, abortion benefit the poor.  Again, it is these middle class white women soccer moms who think it can’t happen to them voting for people who want to vote Roe away.  I have nothing but rage for these so-called Christians, mainly women, who forget that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could have a shitty life. Guess what ladies? Not all of us get to have good husbands. Not all of us get to be soccer moms. Some women are the sole breadwinners in their families and when you make the Pill expensive, when you make abortion impossible, there are that many more children growing up poor.  That many more women you can call welfare queens. That many more women who will never make it out.  No one should be forced to be a mother, but the Republican Party has no answers for women who are not in the soccer mom demographic.  And the sad part is that some of these middle-class Republican women are only one divorce away from joining the ranks of the very group of women they so disdain.

I don’t understand the dream world people live in where we get to decide what we want to do with our tax dollars, where we labor under the delusion that people who are poor  or who don’t have nuclear two-parent families are somehow degenerate and unworthy of our kindness. It makes me quite sad. I find it arrogant that people who think they have something have only themselves to thank. When I look around at family and friends, I see all of us have worked hard. Just some of us-like me- had more chances along the way. You can call it luck, but that is what I mean by the grace of God- sometimes I was just in the right place in the right time, and someone who worked just as hard as I did to get to that point got passed over. I never forget how lucky I am, and I find people arrogant who get all Donald Trump about how their riches are all from them.

I know these posts are supposed to be light, but these thoughts have been weighing on my mind every time someone asks me about the election and I hold my tongue.  I don’t know what happened to my country. It is true what they say- you can never go home.


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Getting to know Packing Cubes

This post is part of Stephanie Booth‘s 10 day blogging challenge.  You can read about the details and join in here , and check the hashtag #back2blog for the others who are doing the same.  While I blog regularly at Muslimah Media Watch, I should do more here. So here is post 1 out of 10, enjoy!

The past year, having done many trips back and forth Zurich-Lausanne, trips to France and Italy and Spain (if you stretch the definition of year) and regular work trips to Amsterdam and London, I have been trying to resist my natural urge to overpack and become a more zen traveller with less ballast.  Two criteria have helped me whittle down: I refuse to check luggage so I must limit my toiletries to the 3-1-1 bag (a makeup lover’s nightmare); and, if whatever I want doesn’t fit into my Patagonia MLC, it doesn’t go (nb: the MLC is too large generally for three or four day trips, but I find it holds my work laptop and assorted textbooks as well as my clothing, thus reducing the need for a book bag or a tote).

So once I found the perfect bag and the “as good as it is going to get without checking the bag” toiletries situation, I started wondering how I could streamline further, and chats with Stephanie as well as journeys to the ends of the internet led me to packing cubes, the little rectangular things that help you sort your clothes even further. I’m usually skeptical of the little accessories of a capitalist, consumer society, and I feel like some sort of poseur  flashpacker (halfway there with the Patagonia bag anyway). However, that balances out against the “digging through my luggage in a hotel room at 8am when I am late for work in Amsterdam” and have gotten cubes in the hopes of just having the peace of mind of knowing where my crap is without dumping the compartment-less MLC upside down on the bed.

My trip to Amsterdam in the coming days will be my first trip with the cubes. I have two smaller cubes (socks), two medium size cubes (t-shirts) and one big cube for dirty clothes as they get dirty (trick I learned online, somewhere at the ends of the internet). I’ve already packed everything but shoes and trousers. My first assessments are:

-cubes are definitely a “nice to have” item rather than a necessity.  For the usually-under-four day trips I do, they might be overkill, and to be honest, I could easily pack the MLC without them. I’m not in love yet. I feel like this is another one of those things, like armpit bleaching deodorant, that capitalism tries to tell us we need or something, but no.  I think I would only start getting my money’s worth out of cubes at the day 7 or 8 mark but for 4 days I’m still in “gadget” territory. But like a good sport, I’m giving them a try for this short trip.

-In my case, since i pack reasonably light, the cubes add bulk for shorter trips. The ones I have are no-name brand but pretty light but the MLC has soft sides and the cubes make it pooch a bit.  However, the bulk is offset by everything being there color-coded by cube (underwear in one, socks in one…), and the organizational aspect is currently worth a few more centimeters to me. (For MLC fans- if the MLC is stuffed it will not fit into some of the smaller European jet overheads. Best bet Europe intramuros is to keep it only 3/4 full so as to smush it).

So I’m not sold on the cubes yet, but am excited to try. I’ve gotten to the point professionally and personally where I need to think as little about packing as possible (I probably spent an inordinate amount of time agonizing over buying the cubes, then the birthday GC helped stop that) and I am hoping that the milliseconds I save each trip not looking for underwear will somehow add up.