Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aaargh. I hate this stupid gra/vel pit issue. (Yes, it's controversial enough in the area, and I'm gunshy enough, that I want to Google-proof it.) This one ongoing story is easily my least favorite part of the job. It began years before I got here, and I believe it has been awaiting a court date for almost a year, and even when that trial happens it won't be the end of things.

On one side of the issue, we have someone who has at least somewhat rational reasons for disliking the business where I work, but the guy is generally an asshole. He's only spoken to me once despite literally a dozen calls I have made and that one time was to harangue me and offer me his pet nickname for the paper ("the Addison Idiot"). Apparently it runs in the family, because his brother tried to bribe me by offering to buy advertising from the paper (immoral and stupid — even if I were inclined to take a bribe, from someone I barely know over the phone while sitting in the office, what benefit do I get from him buying advertising?)

On the other side of the issue there's a guy who used to work here, so he knows people pretty well and stuff, but he won't shut up. I mean, he literally cannot be made to be quiet. He invited me to have a beer after a meeting one time, and we were at the bar for about an hour, and my side of the conversation was limited entirely to "uh huh," and "well, I'm obviously no expert," and stuff like that. That was it. At a recent public hearing, members of the public were given three minutes each to speak about the issue. I timed him: he spent 80 seconds complaining that they weren't given more time.

And the issue itself? As far as the general welfare of the town goes, the talkative guy is almost certainly on the right side, although I get the feeling that he overstates his case in a thousand little ways. But on the legal and technical side of things, I was becoming more and more convinced that the asshole was right. The whole four-years-and-counting saga revolves around two parts in the town's regulations which are inconsistent and unclear. When I read it, I have to really strain to see how the talkative guys' interpretation of the regulation makes sense, but it's not hard at all to get the asshole's interpretation out of it. As much as people might not like this, and as much as that might be justified, it sure looks legal to me.

I say I was becoming more and more convinced, that is, because two months ago he went and did something that seemed underhanded and dumb and arrogant. He proposes a change which might (or might not) fix some of the problems, and very probably has a couple problems of its own, and in return he asks to roughly double another problem? The talkative guy's lawyer also argues that this proposal legally cannot be made to the friendly regulatory body he made it to, and this time, I don't have any problems understanding the interpretation.

Because of all this, I can't write about it to save my life. The story I just finished was better than the one I did a week ago, but even so, was missing some pretty important details, as the editor pointed out to me. (After talking to the talkative guy.) I'll have to write another story or two in a month. How to do it? Hmmm, maybe if I choose one particular detail to focus and really hammer on, I can get away with glossing over the rest.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

My ex-girlfriend is a very distant relative of the president, I'm told. 11th cousins once removed or something. The relationship is through her mother, whose maiden name is Pierce (or maybe her grandmother's maiden name?), and that's also Barbara Bush's maiden name.

She never liked it even though she didn't follow politics as much as I did, and I occasionally gave her a hard time about it. But as I just read at Andrew Sullivan's blog, she can take comfort in one thing: it could be worse. I mean, at least she's not running for president.

Also, my pessimism in the previous post may have been premature.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

OK, here's another mistake that I can wallow in self-pity and beat myself up over: if there's a girl at work I'm attracted to and have a fair amount in common with, and one day she's all depressed because her boyfriend left her, and after 10 that night she calls me to say thanks for cheering her up earlier and she's feeling much better now and she's confident she'll find someone else eventually, and we get to talking and it turns out that hey, she kinda had a minor crush on me too, and whaddaya know, I'm single, and she asks if she can come over... If all that happens, I should say yes.

This is not what I did. Instead, I said I wanted to get a good night's sleep, but we could definitely get together later in the week.

All that was Monday. By the time I spoke to her Tuesday night, she had got back together with her boyfriend. I reacted by telling myself that this is what happens when I let myself get optimistic, and by drinking the last of the beer in my apartment. (Which was only two bottles. Don't worry too much.) This morning, though, I figured out that, ya know, maybe there's something I should have done a little differently Monday night. Hell, the absolute worst-case scenario would have been we spend hours talking until one of us learns something repulsive about the other or she decides she was meant for him after all. But some kind of better result would have been much more likely, and as for the best-case scenario, who knows?

So why didn't I invite her over? Looking back, there were three reasons: partly because I genuinely did want to get a good night's sleep, partly because I was afraid she would think less of me because of the mess of my apartment, and partly because I didn't want to rush things, either in appearance or in actual fact.

Yes, I realize there's no end to the list of reasons those concerns are very, very stupid.

It's things like this that sometimes make me think I really do have no chance at all of a happy relationship. It took me more than a day to figure out where I screwed up and exactly how bad the reasons for it were. Why should I expect to be any quicker on the uptake next time? Hell, this is at most the second time something like this has happened in my life, so what makes me think there will be a next time?

And yeah, I know this is an unhealthy attitude. Blah blah selfish manipulative arguably sexist blah. But given that it is my attitude, I should at least learn the rules of it and how to function socially with it, and I can't even manage that.
A while back, I remember reading a facetious list of jargon definitions. It's one of those things that seemed, to me at least, to make up most of the content of the Internet in the 1990s; jokes. What I'm thinking of was basically an ironic or parodic version of this. What I remember was about academic jargon you'd hear from a college professor. This isn't an exact entry, but it's the general idea:

What the professor saysWhat the professor means
"It's controversial""I disagree with what 90 percent of the experts in this field have said."

Well, a while ago I was working on a story about an artist whose work would be on display in the area. The story came out pretty well, actually, but when I reread it after it was published I noticed that a phrase I had used to describe something she said about patterns of light didn't actually mean much. I thought what I wrote was funny, and reminded me of one of those "what he says"/"what he means" lists. So if there's any such list out there for newspaper articles, I hope it has an entry for this phrase, or maybe I should just start a list of my own.

What the writer saysWhat the writer means
"subtle interaction""I didn't understand it, but it seemed important"

While I'm at it, I couldn't figure out how to find an example of the kind of list I was talking about, and finally gave up. (I started writing this way back in August and forgot about it and decided to post it now.) Googling stuff like academic translation humor gave me lots of stuff about the difficulty of translating humor between languages. Similar searches gave me stuff that might have been helpful, but I didn't want to check at work.

So I tried to remember an exact phrase from one particular entry, arriving at the example I used for "It's controversial" I used above. I tried Googling that last exact phrase, but found nothing, literally zero matches found. I kept on paring it down, removing words one at a time or putting some of it outside the quotes.

When I finally got matches, it was for things like "most of the experts" disagree or "half of the experts" disagree, but almost all the hits were for pages about America's foreign policy, in Iraq or Kazakstan or an NPR poll on the war on terror. And for good measure, there was a global warming page or two in there. I don't know if I should be amused or cynical or depressed that there's so much disagreement about those things, but I thought it was interesting. (And, on reflection, it's not that surprising. Of course there is more disagreement, especially more publically disseminated disagreement, about politically controversial topics than about scientific research or something. And there were some non-political topics among the top 10 hits for these searches as well.)