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Paris trip Wed, Oct 11, 2017
The wife and I just spent 6 days in Paris.  First time in France.  We did a bunch of sightseeing and touristy things.  It was largely good. 
Day 1 - Arrived in the early morning after an overnight flight where we didn't really sleep.  Walked around in a mild sleep-deprived daze.  Checked out the Eiffel Tower, which has the names of famous French mathematicians and scientists inscribed near the top, several of which I recognized.  Got acquainted with the subway system, which is actually quite good once you understand how it works (there's a very simple map of the line you're on, both in the station and inside the train). 

Day 2 - Walked around the Orsay Museum, which has a bunch of impressionist stuff.  Headed to Montmartre, the hilly section of town where the "adult" stores are located for some reason.  Climbed to the top of the Sacred Heart Church, which in French has a bunch of accents and weird symbols so I'm English-izing it. 

Day 3 - Checked out the Louvre, which had some famous art and a bunch of pushy tourists.  Toured Les Caves du Louvre, a local wine cellar/seller.  Headed to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top for excellent views of the Champs-Élysées.  Throughout the day we did one of those hop-on/hop-off bus tours and saw a whole bunch of sights.  Finished the day with a boat ride down the Seine River, which really wasn't that great, or it was too much to fit into one day. 

Day 4 - Took a train to Normandy and went on a guided tour of several D-Day beaches.  Stopped at the Normandy Cemetery

Day 5 - Casually strolled around Paris and stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Sorbonne, and the Pantheon.  Looked for a wine store near our hotel and accidentally found the Porte Saint-Denis, an arc similar to the Arc de Triomphe. 

Day 6 - Flew home. 
The Eiffel Tower was big and cool, but I couldn't help but think that it's simply a big metal structure built for the sole purpose of proving that humans can build stuff like that.  And that's literally what it is.  It doesn't serve a purpose, like housing or office space.  It doesn't store anything.  It's a skeleton structure.  That's a little weird. 

I'm really not into art, but there were a few paintings in the Orsay Museum that I literally couldn't tell weren't photographs.  And the Louvre's art was cool and all, but honestly I was way more impressed by the opulence of the building itself.  It was a former palace, and it shows. 

Normandy gave me an intense feeling of American pride, even more so than living in America does.  The ideas of "the greatest generation" and "their finest hour" were very prevalent everywhere we looked and went.  The cemetery was full of intense symbolism and memorials, and it was interesting to learn that the American government pays for its continued upkeep. 

I found the language barrier to be pretty difficult.  I don't know French, and I found it to be pretty difficult to learn.  Italian, on the other hand, seemed to follow a pretty straightforward pronunciation system, with the addition of rolled R's.  French has a lot of symbols and accents and silent letters, plus nasally sounds that just don't exist in English.  It was interesting to be in a place where you didn't know the language being spoken around you, and you couldn't read the signs or menus or anything.  It was very alienating, and it was still a Romantic language so it shouldn't have been that difficult for me. 

That said, French people were very accommodating.  I didn't interact with a single French person that didn't also speak fluent English.  But I like to at least make an attempt at speaking the language of the country I'm in.  Also on the topic of French people, they were awesome.  Literally every single French person I spoke to was kind, friendly, and helpful.  I can't even fathom how they got a bad reputation. 

Tipping is complicated.  Or it's not.  It depends who you ask.  I really don't care what the policy is, I just wish it was more uniform.  And let me put it on the check at a restaurant.  Why is that not a thing? 

The food was so-so.  I'm admittedly not a foodie, but honestly I've had better croissants in America, and French bread was bland and hard and flaky.  The wine was good, and we found a few varieties that will be added to our rotation. 

The streets were very narrow and circuitous, and the sidewalks more so.  That meant we had a lot of "interactions" with fellow pedestrians.  This might be where French people get a reputation, because I can't even count the number of people who literally tried to walk right through me.  I found it best not to make eye contact, so then other people got out of my way.  Side note:  Most of the people walking around Paris are probably tourists.  So tourists are the real assholes people encounter in Paris. 

All in all a good trip.  "Six days in Paris" was actually more like "four days in Paris, a day in Normandy, and travel days".  Trying to fit all that touristy stuff in that amount of time was pretty exhausting, but I can't imagine doing it a different way.  There's just too much to see and experience, and not enough time.  Easily the highlight of the trip was sitting leisurely at a streetside cafe, sipping coffee and eating a croissant, watching the people walk by, with the Notre Dame Cathedral in the backdrop.  Magnifique! #travel

Tipping part 2 Tue, Oct 10, 2017
I wrote about tipping a while ago (ok that was 12 years ago, whatever), but some things have changed.  I'm somewhat ok with tipping.  It took me a while to accept, but I've come around to the idea.  Well, not exactly.  I see tipping as just a mandatory tax.  I tip 20% at restaurants regardless of the level of service I receive.  I found that it's easier to just accept it and move on.  And that's exactly where I'm at. 

However, on a recent trip overseas where the tipping rules are different and sometimes nonexistent, I was having some trouble.  A tourist guide book recommended a whole bunch of different things depending on the type of restaurant and whether or not there was a little abbreviation on the check indicating that the tip was included.  This coupled with the language barrier just made things confusing.  And I came to the conclusion that, quite honestly, I don't care what I'm supposed to tip.  JUST TELL ME.  Don't make me have to figure out your weird customs and intricate symbology.  Just tell me what to do.  I'll pay; I really don't care.  Worrying about a tip detracts from the experience at a restaurant. #business

On the Vegas shooting Tue, Oct 10, 2017
Some guy shot a bunch of people in Las Vegas recently.  Here are a few of my thoughts on the situation: 
  • Are we not calling this a terrorist attack?  If the shooter had been even slightly Middle Eastern, CNN's headline would be "Terrorists Hit the U.S.".
  • Saying this had something to do with mental health is an insult to people with actual mental health issues.  It takes a certain amount of mental acuity to plan out an attack of this magnitude, and saying the guy was "crazy" is a total misrepresentation of the word and the idea.
  • This brings up the issue of motive:  Was he angry at those people?  Was he getting revenge for something?  Did he just want to make a name for himself?  This is the most troubling thing for me; if we can't identify something to fear, we're left fearing everything.  Hence, terrorism.
  • Personally I'm in favor of extremely strict gun laws, background checks, magazine size restrictions, the whole gamut.  Guns are tools that have the potential to be dangerous, and they should be regulated as such.  That said, none of the proposed gun law changes would've had any effect on the outcome of this situation.  Banning assault weapons means he would've used a hunting rifle or several.  Restricting magazine size means he would've had to swap out magazines, which isn't difficult.  Background checks would've found nothing because he was fairly normal.
  • The idea that the second amendment allows the populace to bear arms to support an armed insurrection against a tyrannical government has always seemed laughably naive to me.  The government has tanks and fighter jets.  End of story.
At this point in time, it seems like this was just a guy who wanted to murder a bunch of people, like a terrorist.  Apparently there was nothing we could've done to prevent it.  Even if there were no guns, this guy would've found a way to carry out this attack.  And that sucks.

On insurance Fri, Sep 22, 2017
This Twitter saga about a young conservative who didn't want to be forced to pay for insurance under Obamacare but then got in a car accident and needed insurance, is a good illustration of two important points: 
  1. Insurance exists because of this.  It's a redistribution of wealth, or a collectivization of the cost of care for health or injury or accident or other large unpredictable expense.  The young pay for it, the old pay for it.  That's how it works.  All young people feel like they shouldn't be paying for it; all old people are thankful for the young people who do.  We need this.  So suck it up and get over it.
  2. Many ideas and issues only become relevant when they happen to you.  Like that conservative politician who changed his tune on gay marriage after his son came out as gay.  Or the people who are anti-abortion until they unexpectedly get pregnant.  Or the people who say all drug users should be imprisoned until one of their family members gets hooked on painkillers and goes to rehab.  It's fascinating to me how entrenched people can become in their beliefs, only to quickly and drastically change their minds when faced with the proper experience.
#psychology

Heritable tribalism Wed, Sep 20, 2017
Tribalism, or the tendency for humans to break off into groups to which they're extremely loyal, makes sense and has been shown to be evolutionarily beneficial.  Tribalism tends to lead to pride in one's tribe.  I think it's weird when the tribe you're a part of was an accident of your birth, like race or ethnicity.  White pride?  Why are you proud of something you literally had no control over?  Proud to be an American?  Why, when you had no choice in the matter?  You haven't done anything to be proud of, aside from being born to parents of a certain race and in a specific location.  That's just genetics and geography. 

I think this matter extends a little further to religion.  Religious affiliation is largely dependent on the religious affiliation of your parents and/or your community.  Claiming pride in one's religion, or espousing its virtues above other religions, is ignoring the coincidental nature of essentially being assigned a religion at birth. 

Finally there's the topic of sports fandom.  This is almost entirely dependent on geography, and it's even memorialized in a song with the words "Root, root, root for the home team".  It's morbidly fascinating to watch people get into physical fights because they believe the team from their geographical area is superior to a team from a different geographical area. #sociology

Legalize all drugs Tue, Sep 12, 2017
I think all drugs should be legal.  I'm kind of surprised people are opposed to this idea.  I mean I get that drugs are sometimes dangerous and addictive and tend to ruin people's lives.  But here's the deal: 
  1. Making something illegal doesn't reduce consumption or usage.  The fact that our country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic proves that people use drugs regardless of their legality.
  2. Legalizing drugs wouldn't cause everyone to use them.  If heroin was legal, would you use it?  If you haven't already, you probably wouldn't start.  Drugs can maintain their level of dangerousness regardless of their legality.
  3. The war on drugs is widely regarded as a failure, both in terms of usage reduction and crime prevention.  It has cost an inordinate amount of money and imprisoned countless people needlessly with mandatory minimum sentencing.  America has the largest prison population per capita in the world, and taxpayers pay for that, both economically and sociologically.
  4. We already have legal drugs:  caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.  Smoking cigarettes is a near-certain death sentence, and alcohol causes all kinds of health and societal problems.  Drawing the legal line after these drugs is arbitrary at best, racist at worst.
  5. Drugs can be dangerous, and we should treat them the same way we treat alcohol:  use it responsibly, don't drink and drive.  The same guidelines can and should apply to all drugs.
  6. Illegalizing a product that people desire creates a de facto black market.  Removing those restrictions should essentially remove the black market.
  7. Black markets thrive on secrecy, secrecy breeds misinformation, and misinformation is harmful, especially when it involves putting foreign substances into one's body.  A legal open market would provide consumers with information necessary to make an informed decision.  Plus the federally regulated sale of drugs would ensure ingredient purity and dosage.  These things are all sorely lacking on the black market.
  8. Drugs could cause an economic boom.  There's money to be made in farming, chemical manufacturing, taxing, and shipping.
Maybe we could change the name of the Drug Enforcement Agency to the Drug Enjoyment Agency. #health

Male expectations Thu, Aug 31, 2017
An extended family member was complaining about her husband and how he doesn't have a steady job, doesn't cook or clean up after himself, doesn't show up to family functions, and has a history of infidelity.  Just by doing something as simple as having a job or cooking a meal, I'm already way ahead of the competition.  It occurred to me that expectations for males in general are quite low. #sociology

Conversational pivot Thu, Aug 31, 2017
Standard political discussion these days: 
Interviewer:  What are your thoughts on the health care debate? 
Politician:  Health care would be more affordable if we stopped spending money on unnecessary wars.
This is an example of a conversational pivot, which is a device commonly used by politicians to either dodge an issue completely or change the emphasis from one aspect of an issue to another.  It's not simply changing the subject, or transitioning into something else.  It's an abrupt evasion, used intentionally.  It's effective in debates when the question doesn't fit the politician's narrative.  Political talking heads also use the tactic constantly.  And it seems to have carried over into "friendly" political discussions among us common folk. 

I find it to be a really shallow way of avoiding a topic.  Can we not just talk about a single thing?  It seems to be getting worse lately, possibly as a result of the political regime change, where people will constantly pivot to something about Obama or Hillary.  Obama is done, and Hillary lost the election.  Literally no one cares about a birth certificate or some goddamn emails.  Let's address an issue, talk about it, then move on. #politics

Confederate monuments Wed, Aug 30, 2017
To further expand on one of my points about Charlottesville, I believe all Confederate monuments should be torn down.  Not the war memorials to dead soldiers, but specifically statues of Confederate generals and commanders. 

These statues should've never been put up in the first place.  Many of them were erected in the early 20th century, decades after the Civil War ended.  Many more were erected during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.  Historians have suggested this was to promote Jim Crow laws, enforce racial segregation, and promote white supremacy.  I heard an interview of a black southern citizen who said something along the lines of, "When you walked by the confederate monument in the center of town, you knew who was in charge." 

The Confederacy lost the Civil War.  I could be wrong, but it's probably uncommon to revere a general who lost the war.  A Confederate statue is a participation trophy for showing up to the Civil War.  Oddly enough, the political party that wants to keep these statues is the same party that's outspoken in their criticism of "special snowflakes" and our "everyone gets a trophy" society. 

Not only did the Confederacy lose, but I believe they were guilty of treason or some other crime against the country.  There's a special kind of hatred reserved for people who want to destroy a union.  It's like cancer.  You can't just hate it like a virus that grows inside you; it's literally a part of you.  We don't make monuments to cancer.  A country shouldn't make monuments to people or causes that literally fought against their own country. 

I think it's fairly widely agreed-upon that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of history.  They held views that we no longer find acceptable.  Sort of like Hitler.  Germany, as far as I know, doesn't have statues of Hitler.  If you fought for the losing side, whether or not you held those values, you don't deserve to be memorialized. 

Finally, there's the topic of erasing history, which is seriously a stupid argument.  Do people honestly think we'll forget about the Civil War, and who the generals were, and what battles were fought, and what the reasons were for fighting, and who won?  The history is already recorded, in books and movies and museums and our collective consciousness.  Move the statues to museums.  Keep the memorials of fallen soldiers.  This isn't complicated. #politics

Experiencing empathy Wed, Aug 30, 2017
From a HuffPost article titled, "I Don't Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People", the following sentences stood out to me: 
"I don't know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy."

"Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters."

"But if making sure your fellow citizens can afford to eat, get an education, and go to the doctor isn't enough of a reason to fund those things, I have nothing left to say to you."
I'm sure there are legitimate counterpoints to the arguments raised, but overall it presents the basis for perhaps the most major divide in politics and society these days. #politics

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