You’re Not as Insightful as You Think You Are

I can find a lot of problems with the world around me, and those who know me understand that I can easily go on some long-winded rants about them. (Your prayers for those closest to me are appreciated.) But it’s not a one-way street from my perspective; I’m often interested in hearing people discuss catching similar tendencies of people around us, or having humorous-but-truthful complaints about the modern world, or some other related observation, be it serious or funny, in general.

But since “it takes one to know one,” and because I spend way too much time in my own head mulling over these kinds of things, I also get really, really bugged by generic, poorly-thought-out, boring, and often flat-out incorrect observations that are brought up time and time again by people who think they’re being clever or insightful. They’re not. They’re the intellectual equivalent of tourists at the Tower of Pisa.

Fair warning: this is going to get a little mean. But I’ve been called out for being stupid and unoriginal plenty of times in my life and I know it’s for the best in the end . . . and I also know it’s much easier to take such criticism to heart when you can quietly evaluate yourself while doing something private like reading a blog post, instead of having to tuck your tail between your legs in front of people whose opinions of you matter to you. So if you get offended here because I’m nailing you perfectly, consider it a favor and join me on the endless journey of constant self-evaluation. Now, without further ado:

YOU ARE NOWHERE NEAR AS INSIGHTFUL OR CLEVER AS YOU THINK YOU ARE WHEN YOU . . .

. . . go grammar-nazi on people “misusing” the word “literally.” Because I’ve never understood how so many people are so sure about the only proper usage of “literally” but have never learned the word “hyperbole.” Perhaps its hyperbolic use became so prevalent not too long ago that many people, only hearing it in that context, assumed it meant “figuratively,” and were shocked to learn the opposite.  When I was a kid, I recall thinking the word “barely” meant “not quite” instead of “only just.” Somehow I must have misunderstood its use in a sentence I heard and carried that with me for a while. Then I then learned what it really meant through the course of a conversation and haven’t forgotten. It happens. But the thing is, if someone were to somehow use the word “barely” in a hyperbolic or facetious statement, I’d get their meaning. I wouldn’t write them off as an idiot because they didn’t strictly adhere to its definition.

This example is first because it very clearly demonstrates the Lake Wobegon Effect among two-cent intellectuals that grates on my brain like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s actually a common theme with these: people thinking they’ve taken one step ahead of the crowd and want to show it off, when in fact they’re completely wrong. I’ve spoken before about how hard it is for me to be in a conversation with someone when I know that the information they’re sharing is incorrect; this is that except magnified a few thousand times because so many people do it.

I’d have liked to take the time to further expand on why using “literally” as hyperbole is perfectly acceptable English, but I’d really only end up quoting this video anyway because they’ve done far more research than I have, and are a much more credible source.

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. . . talk about how stupid fat people are when they drink diet soda. Because that tells me that you just don’t know anything about diet soda drinkers. Sure, the word “diet” is in the name and that implies weight loss, but at the end of the day the people that are sticking to diet soda are people that prefer diet soda over regular sodas; their reasoning is not “I need to lose a few pounds,” but instead, “regular soda is just too sweet for me.” I’m serious. Ask around. I’ve known dozens of strict diet soda drinkers (most commonly Diet Coke®) and none of them ever popped open a can saying something akin to “gotta lose five pounds,” nor are they all or even mostly overweight. Is that to say that no one ever drank diet soda with the uninformed intention of dieting? Of course not. But I would suggest that reasoning is so uncommon that it does not warrant discussion unless you’re speaking to a person who has just admitted to thinking that way.

Okay, I admit that’s pretty anecdotal. But I hold that the person rolling their eyes at a heavy woman drinking a diet soda has less real information and far more conjecture to back up their view than I do mine.

While we’re on the topic, let me also call out all the liars who talk about seeing that “fat person,” usually a woman, in line in front of them at McDonald’s who orders half the menu (with everything Super-Sized) and then add on a Diet Coke® and justify it by explaining, “I’m watching my weight.”  That didn’t happen.  It didn’t happen when you were standing in line; it didn’t happen when you were working there; it didn’t happen that one time someone else told you about it.  Some stand-up comedian at some point in time made that up and it got repeated so much that some people began to think they witnessed it.  Sure, fat people at McDonald’s have ordered diet sodas with their meals, but they didn’t throw in the “I’m on a diet” line; refer to my previous paragraphs as their likely reasoning. (There’s also a tangent I’ll only mention in passing about how easily so many people assume that this is true because they believe fat people are stupid enough to think they can lose weight by drinking something labeled “diet” while eating a 1500-calorie meal.)

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. . . rant about how Christopher Columbus was a really bad dude and/or did not actually “discover” the Americas.

“Chris Columbus killed thousands of natives!”

“Chris Columbus was the first serial killer!”

“Chris Columbus didn’t think the world was round when the rest of the world thought it was flat!”

“You can’t discover a place where people already live!”

“And so on!”

We all know already, okay? Most of us under the age of 35 or 40 learned this in high school or earlier; most of those older than that have definitely heard about it at some point in the last 20 years. “And yet we still ‘celebrate’ Columbus Day!” you protest. Except I would argue that if it’s so hard to get people to actually memorialize anything on Memorial Day or thank a veteran on Veteran’s Day, no one is celebrating Chris Columbus on Columbus Day. It’s an excuse to have a day off from work and find some great deals on carpets. If you want to lead the charge to eliminate it or change the reason for the holiday, be my guest, but I’m tired of the internet–especially my inbox and newsfeed–filling up every October with white-guilt-laden lectures about “what you don’t know about Columbus.”

Let’s also not forget how ridiculous it is to judge people who lived hundreds of years ago based on modern morals and attitudes. Calling Columbus a “serial killer,” especially within the context of the era he lived, is an egregious misuse of the term. In another 500 years, many (or likely most) of our mainstream philosophies may likely be viewed as comical or tragically misguided at best, so let’s be rational when we read our history books.

But I get it. At some point, many people figured out how ridiculous it is that we’re “celebrating” an Italian man who sailed under the employ of Spain, landed in some islands that aren’t even part of our country, was directly responsible for the deaths of thousands and indirectly responsible for millions more, and his voyages only distantly (and also only indirectly) lead to the founding of our nation; thus he should be just a footnote in our history books and not an American hero. It’s just that we’d all be better off if we assumed everyone knows all of that (and more) instead of acting like we’re interrupting everyone’s regularly-scheduled programing to bring them some breaking news. (And you know what actually might be interesting? Learning why America turned Columbus into an American folk hero in the first place; far less cynical, wouldn’t you agree?)

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. . . say something intended for kids is terrible for kids.

The past couple decades we have increased the amounts by which we shelter and coddle our children to keep them from anything that would challenge them, (mildly) disturb them, or cause them to mature a little earlier than we’d hoped.  I’m sorry that this will end up sounding like another “kids these days!” rant, but it’s not really debated that phenomena like entitlement and helicopter parenting have been on the rise since the mid-1980’s.  Very few people consider these things to be good, but the problems continue to persist.  Why?  How can we all be speaking against something we see happening all around us, yet it shows no signs of slowing?  I think it starts by paying lip-service to the condemnation of things like helicopter parenting, and then actively condemning a “kid’s movie” for having intense scenes in them that might expect something of the kids (or, alternatively, watching a movie we saw as children and questioning our parents for letting us see it).  You know what? The Neverending Story and The Dark Crystal were really scary when I was a kid, but seeing them did not turn myself nor anyone I know into a disturbed sociopath or paranoid outcast. Yet I have truthfully heard many people question their upbringing because their parents had no problem with them watching Watership Down.

Your arrogance as an adult has caused you to underestimate what kids can handle, as well as made you into a hypocrite. That doesn’t sound insightful to me.

A great example is when someone tries to shock everyone at how terrible nursery rhymes are by explaining that “Ring Around the Rosie” is really about the black plague.  Because, first of all, that’s completely wrong, and secondly: what does it matter anyway?

I feel that anyone who brings this up as fact is not likely bringing it up just to impress their friends with some interesting trivia. No, instead the conversation always involves, “isn’t it terrible that we teach this to kids? Preschoolers sing this!” I guess I’m weird for not being concerned that kids may be singing a song at recess that has a deep, hidden meaning about a centuries-old tragedy that they’d never figure out, especially if they have never heard of the Black Death.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an era of especially dark children’s entertainment, but when someone objects to themes in a piece of children’s programming being too intense (be it hidden or obvious), I feel that person should immediately be written off as to having anything valuable to say about anything. (Cough)

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. . . when you commit the logical fallacy tu quoque. Because it’s one of the lesser-cited logical fallacies, but one of the most common (if not *the* most common) today–certainly on the internet–and it’s a complete non-statement in response to anything it’s a rebuttal to.

Let’s say that in the course of an argument in a comment section, Person A makes a case for why the Oxford comma is entirely unnecessary by saying, “u dont even needs the coma its juts bad grammer lol.”

In response, Person B, an Oxford comma apologist, retorts, “Why should anyone think you’re right about something like the Oxford comma when you don’t even know how to construct a proper English sentence?”

My tendency is to agree with Person B on his support of the Oxford comma, and I also agree with the sentiment that Person A has no ground to talk about grammar when they obviously don’t understand grammar in the first place.  However, Person B has made no case whatsoever as to why the Oxford comma IS necessary.  They have simply observed the hypocrisy of Person A.  Nothing was added to this debate or topic as a result.

Here’s a recent real-world example.  Not long before writing this, one of the stars of the popular reality show Duck Dynasty, Phil Robertson, was suspended by the network A&E for stating his beliefs about homosexuality in an interview.  Naturally the internet erupted in a firestorm over “freedom of speech” vs. “tolerance.” At least one person in my Facebook newsfeed responded to the outrage by posting an old image of the Dixie Chicks protesting the war in Iraq, with the following text: “The same people who censored and protested the Dixie Chicks right to free speech opposing the war 10 years ago . . . are the SAME people fighting for the Right of FREE SPEECH today. Ironic.” This is an example of tu quoque.

The tricky thing about tu quoque is that any given instance of it almost always sounds like it’s a great point.  “Hmm, you know, it is mostly conservatives upset over the suspension of that Duck guy, and it WAS conservatives who boycotted the Dixie Chicks back in the George W days . . . interesting.”  Except what is the point?  Let’s take the time to break down what this actually says.

So people upset over the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s suspension are, according to this assessment (which we will presume true for the sake of argument), guilty of hypocrisy because years ago they spoke out *against* the right to free speech of some once-beloved musical artists. What does this tell us? It tells us exactly that, and only that.  These people are hypocritical.  Fine.  Except the issue at hand is not whether or not these people were consistent with their positions on inalienable rights, but instead the issue is whether or not Phil Robertson had the right to say what he did vs. if A&E was right to suspend him for it.  The person who posted that thing about the Dixie Chicks gets to walk away thinking that they’re bright and profound for calling out the hypocritical conservatives, but they neglected to actually discuss the issue at all.

This was my thought process in reaction to the Dixie Chicks post, and it essentially is my thought process every time I see this logical fallacy: “Do they think that free speech is WRONG?  Well, I doubt it, but that’s certainly the implication. If they believe free speech is a good thing, why are they condemning people for supporting it?  Shouldn’t they be glad that these peole finally came around? Wait . . . are they saying that because conservatives didn’t respect free speech 10 years ago that now no one has the right to stand up for free speech?  This is very confusing.”

And so on.  I could write on this error for days if I let myself, though I would stop covering new ground pretty quickly; so we’ll leave it at that.

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BONUS ENTRY!

Here’s one more that doesn’t exactly fit this theme but is definitely related.

It’s about when someone makes an error or is a “two-cent intellectual” in a mass-distributed form of media and is called out for it. Instead of taking a step back and partaking in my beloved activity of self-evaluation, they justify their clear errors or poor judgment by saying, “It’s just entertainment.

People do this to defend the poor science behind the cited-as-health-gospel documentary Super-Size Me.  “Spurlock set out to make an entertaining documentary and he succeeded.”

People do this when they make a Youtube video filled with generic and/or incorrect “interesting facts” and their commenters hold them accountable for it. “So I’ve seen a bunch of comments on this video from people over-analyzing some of these facts. . . . Stop over-thinking everything and just have fun. . . . It’s meant to be entertainment. Treat it that way.”

People do this when The Onion makes a joke that’s considerably tasteless and people complain.  “It’s The Onion! It’s not meant to be taken seriously!”

However, the logic is as poorly thought out as the content.  You have presented some kind of media to the world–be it a Youtube video or a documentary or a humorous article; be it your original creation or something you’re sharing with others.  Except the information does not pass close scrutiny.  Now you’re in trouble.  You’ve been revealed to be someone who just takes things at face value because they are either easy or support your biases, or to be an outright liar, and it’s kind of embarrassing.  So what’s the response?  “Hey! This is not meant to be some kind of academic journal entry or anything! It’s meant to be fun!”

There are two problems with this, and both demonstrate how you thought out your defense about as much as you thought out the information in question.

First, the entertainment value of something presented in the spirit of, “ZOMG! YOU’RE NOT GOING TO BELIEVE THIS THING I’M GOING TO SHOW YOU!” is heavily influenced by how true it really is. (I wanted to say they “the entertainment value of factual content is directly proportional with how true the facts are,” but I’ve seen too many factually-sound PBS documentaries to try to support that claim). If you give me ten facts about H.G. Wells that are supposed to blow my mind, and it turns out every single one of them are made up, I’m not entertained by what you’ve presented. At best I’m apathetic, but if it’s actually ME we’re talking about, I’m irrationally bugged for weeks. Regardless, I am not entertained, Maximus.

Second, if the content of said media is truly “just entertainment,” then nothing you’ve presented has any bearing on anything and is as worthless as burnt paper. If you lecture me for eating McDonald’s because you saw a movie about a guy who ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and his health fell apart, and then I could easily demonstrate to you how every conclusion he came to in that movie was exaggerated or fabricated, and then you retorted, “None of that matters–it was an entertaining movie!” . . . doesn’t that seem silly to you? The reason that information was provided in the movie was to tell people that eating fast food is far worse for them than they thought–so when people who understand the concept of too many variables can show that the information is wrong, its entire existence is suddenly unjustified.  It has no value anymore except as a reference piece in a class on how to be a snake oil salesman. How does, “well, it entertained me!” justify that?

I’m not sure, and I unfortunately know that this post isn’t going to have any effect on these things re-occuring in the future, to me or otherwise. But I guess as long as they do, I’ll always have something to complain about. And that’s something in and of itself.

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The Incredibly Long and Sometimes Awkward Story of the Day My Daughter Was Born

The second time I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a dream; this had happened the previous night, too, at about the same time.  My eight-months-pregnant wife called to me from the bathroom in a panicked tone right when my body had just started to really fall asleep. Last night she noticed some bleeding; I had stayed calm and told her to call our midwife to ask for advice.  The midwife said that it was nothing to worry about and that she would see us at our already-scheduled appointment the next night.  Well, here we were several hours after said appointment and we’re at it again.  But why?  More bleeding? The midwife was confident that everything was okay, so why am I being woke again?

“I think my water broke.”

The movies do this a lot.  A pregnant woman’s water breaks at an inopportune time and then it’s a quick edit to stock footage of an ambulance and then a “new” baby (played by a 4-month old) lying in the hospital nursery being admired by extended family through a window.  That was movie fiction. Women’s water actually breaking isn’t actually a thing, is it? At least, not common enough that this could possibly be what happened . . . right?  We called the midwife again and this time she told us to go straight to her office so we could check.  On the way we rang Abigail, our close friend and doula, who met us there to confirm that, yes, Dona’s water had broke.  We also confirmed that since she was 36 weeks along–days short of “full term”–that our plans for the birthing center were out the window.  We were off to UW Medical Center.

We called the grandparents, went back to our place to pack while Abigail picked up some provisions, and then very unceremoniously bid farewell to our two-person-plus-cat family.

Dona was checked in and Abigail and I waited with her in a very small room with lots of scary hospital stuff everywhere.  She was tended to by a very friendly nurse that couldn’t have been older than 16 who did some initial checks to verify the status of the baby and prepped Dona for a sonogram to “make sure the baby was head-down.”

Well that was easy.  Of course Clara was head-down.  Every time the midwives checked Dona since the baby was big enough to feel, we were told that she was head-down.  Just hours prior our midwife had confirmed it again.  But looking at the sonogram, the nurse wasn’t so sure.  She went to find a doctor to confirm what she was seeing, and what she was seeing–it turns out–was that Clara was head-up.  I believe “breeched” is not the proper term for it, but I say it anyway.  The doctor very casually said that we needed to prepare for a c-section as quickly as possible.

My mind was racing a million miles an hour. We had heard all of the horror stories of doctors forcing c-sections on uneducated mothers because it’s easier and quicker for the hospitals; we had also been told that our best defense is knowing our options.  I needed to object, and fast, but what could be done?  The baby was head-up, and I knew that a breech birth wasn’t going to happen (nor did I want it to).  I’d heard about turning the baby in the womb.  Yes! That’s it! I’ll tell the doctor that we want to try to turn the baby.

As if she was reading my mind in the 0.4 seconds it took to process all of that, the doctor continued, “Turning the baby is not an option; since her butt is down, her head did not seal the cervix and nearly all of the amniotic fluid has come out; there’s nothing in there now but the baby.”

I was speechless. I didn’t believe that the hospital preferred by our midwife, precisely because they were so good at handling transfer cases from birthing centers, would lie to us. It all certainly sounded logical. So internally I accepted where we were.

The doctor seemed to be better at picking up non-verbal cues from my wife than I was, because she concluded with, “I’ll give you a few minutes,” and left the room.  My logic-based evaluation and acceptance of our situation did not take into account the emotional impact this was having on Dona.  As the doctor left the room, Abigail went straight to Dona to comfort her; seeing that caused me to snap into action, too.  In my quick processing of our situation, I had forgotten about the emotional impact that ending up at the polar opposite of our birth plans would have on my wife; she was about to be cut open, too.  That didn’t help. She cried and we prayed and then did our best to accept where we were, and to even focus on getting to meet our daughter earlier than expected.

Actually that part of it was hard to get excited about.  You see, we were planning on moving in just under two weeks.  We had the apartment packed up (with baby stuff buried, as it was packed first) and plans to spend at least our first week in the new place getting it ready for the baby.  Now we had no idea what we were going to do. But there we were regardless. Also, I had been unemployed for the previous four months and had just accepted another temporary contract with Amazon that afternoon.  I was relieved to be going into this situation knowing I’d have work when Dona couldn’t, and the miracle-like timing was not lost on me (or Dona), but it was far from ideal and I’d been turned down for some very good permanent jobs that previous summer, and now Dona going into labor was punctuating the frustration and helplessness of my ongoing job situation.

Quite a bit of the next few hours is a blur.  I know that at some point, Dona was put on a bed and wheeled off somewhere, and Abigail and I got some mad scrubs.579538_10152154034710184_386241894_n 2012-10-16 04.32.00Lots of different doctors came to visit Dona and go over various aspects of the surgery.  A pediatrician came to talk to us for a few minutes–a young guy, probably about our age–and at the end of his speech he asked if we had any questions.  Abigail said, “Yeah, I do–are you from St. Louis?”  It turns out they were in plays together back in the day and he had been good friends with one of her brothers.  That was a fun moment to relieve some of the mile-high stress we’d been under.  Eventually they wheeled Dona away to the operating room and Abigail and I soon followed.

The room looked much like I expected it to.  Cold, technical, full of strange smart people with face masks on.  Dona was lying on a table with her arms stretched straight out and everything from her chest down behind a curtain.  I sat next to her and kept my face next to hers as the surgery seemed to start almost immediately.  She was working overtime to keep herself from having a panic attack, and I tried my best to keep her focused on getting to meet Clara early.  At her request I told a silly little story I’d made up the night before (and told to Clara in utero) about the hedgehog-holding-a-strawberry toy we’d bought at IKEA months prior, to keep her distracted.

My memory tells me now that the surgery went very quickly, but I also remember at the time it seemed to take hours.  Finally, the surgeons told Abigail and I that we could stand up and look over the curtain–I wasn’t aware that we weren’t allowed to beforehand.  It was hard to decipher what was what, with all the blood and iodine and surgical cloths, but for a moment I was sure that Dona’s intestines were hanging out and put to the side.  I’m certain now it was the umbilical cord.

They started to pull Clara out of her mother, feet first, and somehow managed to get her head stuck.  Every possible bad outcome flashed through my mind during that struggle; I wanted to run around and do it for them because it seemed like they were seriously over complicating it.  But they did get her all the way out and I quickly glanced at the clock, and it said 5:11 a.m.  All of her documentation says 5:10 a.m., but darnit I know better.

I caught glimpse of her face as they carried her to the warming table.  Dona and I had many discussions about what she would look like.  Dona was afraid she’d be ugly; I assured her that no matter what, she’d be beautiful to her mother.  That never seemed to comfort her too much.  My first thought when I saw her face was that she looked like Dona’s family far more than she did mine.

The night we found out Dona was pregnant, we called all the grandparents-to-be to tell them the exciting news, and my mother-in-law said, paraphrased, “I knew you were pregnant; I had a vision of a little girl with a full head of dark hair.”  Well, it was a few months before this surgery that we’d learned that she was right about it being a girl; as they carried her to the warming table I saw that she was also right about the hair.

“Oh no, Dona.  She has a full head of dark hair.”

Dona knew immediately what I was talking about, “Oh great.”

Another good moment to relieve some tension.

I remember silence from the baby while she was on the warming table and what seemed like 30 doctors surrounding her.  I felt each millisecond that went by that she didn’t cry, but no doctors or assistants seemed to be anything but calm.  Finally, she started crying and the look that crossed Dona’s face was one I wasn’t prepared for.  All of the stress and panic was gone in an instant.  “Oh my gosh,” I think she said in a tone full of wonder. I don’t know why that reaction from her surprised me so much–maybe because I was so caught up in how I was reacting to it that it was shocking to be reminded that Dona and I often do things very differently.  Or maybe it was because I was seeing her as a mother for the first time.

I was invited over to the warming table to cut the umbilical cord.  Clara was still crying; I approached her and let her hold my finger and started talking to her the same way I’d been talking to her nearly every night for weeks as Dona and I would go to bed.  She calmed down instantly.  They had the cord crimped and handed me the scissors and I started to cut it, and she started crying again.  They’re not supposed to be able to feel that!  Great, first thing I do to my daughter is calm her down right before hurting her.DCIM100SPORT

They weighed her and swaddled her and I carried her to Dona.  Again, I’m not sure why Dona’s reaction surprised me so much, but it did.  DCIM100SPORTWe only got a few short moments to take some photos, and then Clara had to be wheeled off to the NICU.  Thankfully I got to go with her.

I have video of this journey.  I won’t be sharing it here, though, as it’s mostly my feet on screen and the dialogue is me rambling on in post-panic fashion to the nurses about how my foot had to be put in a cast when I was born.

In the NICU they checked her vitals and noted that her body temperature was low.  Since she was a preemie she didn’t have enough fat stored up to insulate her properly.  They were getting ready to put her under a heating lamp, but all of the time we’d spent preparing for NOT having a birth in a hospital paid off here.  I asked if I could instead do skin-to-skin time with her.  The nurses looked at each other in surprise that a new dad would think to ask that, but they were enthusiastic about it. So that’s what we did.  I held Clara to my chest for at least a half hour, called my dad, tried to return some texts with one hand, and talked with the nursing staff.  This time much calmer.  DCIM100SPORTThe skin-to-skin time worked and Clara’s temperature was raised to an acceptable level.  She was swaddled again and we took her to the recovery room to Dona to try to nurse for the first time.

I know that Dona was completely exhausted, feeling a lot of worry over her recovery from the surgery, and keeping herself from getting to upset over how things turned out with the birthing process.  But the memory I have of her when I walked into the room with Clara was none of that–instead it was of a strong, beautiful woman far more ready to begin motherhood than I was to begin fatherhood.  She’d probably have disagreed.

We were eventually checked into our room, which became our home for the next few days.  They took Clara back to the NICU to allow us time to sleep.  It was probably around 9 a.m. at this point.  After some rest we finally updated Facebook, made a couple more phone calls, and I got my start date for the job moved back a week.  At this point my mother-in-law was already on her way to Seattle from Illinois and we had all the arrangements made to get her to us.  I felt guilty at the time, but I was relieved to have the nursing staff watching Clara for so much of the time those first couple days.  I didn’t have any idea what to do and having some professionals pace me into parenthood was a blessing.  Also the room service was nice.  What wasn’t nice was our second evening there, I was holding Clara and my back decided to go out on me.  Bad.  I’d been sleeping on a hard bench for two nights and walking around on hard tiled floors with no shoes for nearly 48 hours at that point, so my back was done celebrating, I guess.

Dona had checked into the hospital in the early morning of October 16.  We checked out and went home in the evening of October 19.  It wasn’t very long before I missed the nursing staff at UW Med.

Clara was on a strict 2-hour feeding cycle since she was premature, and apparently premature babies (far more than full term babies) are capable of sleeping through being hungry.  Which is bad for babies.  It would be a good thing for a bachelor, as this former long-time bachelor could tell you.  But babies?  You want to avoid that.  Let me assure any and all child-free advocates out there who have the audacity to compare their all-nighters to the sleepless nights of parenting–you’ve never experienced tired like caring for a preemie on a two-hour feeding schedule.  Especially a preemie that’s just not that interested in eating and would rather sleep.  You know what, little girl?  I’d rather sleep, too.  But more than that I’d rather you not die.  Thankfully despite being a month early, Clara was very good at gaining weight and was on to on-demand feeding within the week.

Looking back I’m not entirely sure how we made it through that, our move a week later, or the three months I spent working 50-60 hour weeks while Dona cared for an infant almost entirely on her own.  That’s a pretty cliche refrain, too.  “I don’t know how we did it, but we did.”  But we have so far.  To me, and to friends and extended family, this last year has flown by.  The first five months or so dragged like the first five months of third grade, but then things started to speed up.  I feel like I barely was able to blink.  Dona, on the other hand, has said that this year has NOT flown by for her; she’s felt every second of it.  Between the first two-and-a-half months of having to supplement nursing with formula, to the unpredictable sleep patterns Clara has gone in and out of, to needing to come off of her maternity leave a few weeks early to start working from home part time, I can’t say that I’m surprised it hasn’t flown by for her.

So what lessons have been learned? Well, I’ve learned that you should be ready for the baby by at least week 35.  I’ve learned that you should hold your birthing plans loosely.  I’ve learned that to a modern parent, Google is the best companion ever.  I’ve learned that hospitals are stupidly expensive and they’ll throw bills at you even nearly a year later.  I’ve learned that compliments on your baby’s best features can get pretty tiring coming from every stranger in the grocery store.  I’ve learned that having a kid gets more and more fun the older they get.  I’ve learned that while wanting to have “life in order” before having a kid is not necessarily a bad idea, taking a leap and just going for it works just fine.

So a big Happy Birthday to my little Clara Marie.  Despite me being unemployed yet again, I’m more confident about our next year than I was about our first and just as excited.

Abigail, our doula

Abigail, our doula

Grandma Charlotte

Grandma Charlotte

Grandpa Don

Grandpa Don

Grandma Marcia

Grandma Marcia

Grandpa Milton

Grandpa Milton

OneYear-8OneYear-11OneYear-9OneYear-121386001_10100760113738147_1137878039_n

On Being an Extrovert in an Introverts-are-Victims World

I’ve recently come across a blog written by a Kentucky-based talk radio host named Matt Walsh.  He’s young, opinionated, Christian, and fairly conservative or libertarian or something.  Whatever it is, reading his stuff is often like reading a much smarter, more articulate version of myself.  (What an interesting mix of surprise and not-surprise-at-all when I learned that he was a fan of Ron Paul).  I was planning on doing a blog post about how so many people, especially people without children, seem to consciously refuse to understand how children are and what parents can do to “control” them.  It was going to be based on some ignorant comments I got in an ill-advised, YouTube-based argument I had a few weeks ago, but I’m not going to write it now because Matt Walsh nailed it better than I could have.  So read that.  Then come back and we’ll proceed.

So he wrote a post that dealt with three different topics.  The first was homeschooling vs. public schools, then there was our society’s faux “diversity,” and lastly there was a discussion on his introversion and how it is to live in what he perceives to be an extroverts’ world.  This, as was the case several times before, was something that I’d meant to get around to writing about.  Except this time I landed on the opposite side of where he was coming from.  I’m a very extroverted person, and over the last year or so I’ve learned more about what “extrovert” really means other than just being a person who feels energized by socialization.  The more I’ve learned, the more irritated I’ve become at the audacity that so many “introverts” seem to have about how poorly treated they are by society, and how “extroverts just don’t get them.”  In a broad sense, I compare this to how Feminists have written the rules for accepted gender interaction in our culture over the last several decades, but will still blame everything on “patriarchy” and don’t stop to consider what kinds of issues men face.  Though please understand that’s an extreme comparison and I get considerably less angry by the introvert/extrovert thing.

Since Walsh so perfectly set up the kinds of points I was intending to react against, I left a lengthy comment discussing and defending extroverts such as myself.  It’s gotten a surprising amount of praise from both self-described introverts and extroverts, and I like it enough that I’m going to share the meat of it here.  What follows is a mildly-expanded version of the numbered points of my comment.

This is addressed to any introverts who think that extroverts don’t understand them, drain them, and/or confuse them:

1. In social situations I have a nearly-uncontrollable desire to be liked.

Not to be the center of attention–that person hogging all the attention is not demonstrating their extroversion but instead their insecurity. No, I just need to not feel like the other people around would prefer I leave. To the point that if, at the end of a given interaction, it seems that I’m not thought of well, it can haunt me for days and in some very real cases, years. As an introvert your reaction to this is likely dismissive, saying, “you shouldn’t care what other people think!” Save it. I’ve heard that since middle school and spent nearly two decades of my life feeling bad because other people’s impressions of me is something that I can’t help caring about. A lot. I can’t let go of that any more than you can just suck it up and learn to love meaningless small talk.

2. Extrovert is not synonymous with party animal.

When it’s said that extroverts need to be around people to feel energized, many introverts imagine someone like me needing to hop into a massive party and dance the night away to techno music while downing Jaegerbombs and filling the gaps with huge, steaming piles of useless, surface interactions. That could not be farther from the truth.  I can’t speak for all extroverts but I can say that large gatherings are worse than being alone to this extrovert. Recently my wife and daughter took a trip away for a week while I stayed home. I got sick right before they left and as a result spent several miserable days at home alone with next to zero interaction with anyone. By the end of it I felt some considerable depression settling in. Thankfully a cookout had been planned by a small group of friends and I was able to attend. I got re-energized in the best way possible by spending quality time with a handful of people I like, and we simply ate and talked. We talked about politics, pop culture, nerd culture, and personal stories and shared memories. If that gathering instead had been a large number of people interacting on only a superficial level, I would have been worse off than if I’d stayed home. I need interaction and socialization to feel energized, but it has to be real and meaningful.

3. Do you get exhausted by your extroverted friends? Guess what. . . .

I wish I had known more about all this introversion/extroversion stuff when I was in college because in those days my closest friends were at least in part introverted, in the proper sense. If I had my way, we’d have spent every possible second hanging out and talking and laughing both in large and small groups. Instead I was regularly made to feel awkward by these friends (and somewhat shameful, though not intentionally on their parts) because they would get “peopled out” and need to spend a weekend in or something. That’s fine for them but I always felt drained and abandoned at the sheer mention of this. We extroverts don’t always have a couple spare sets of extrovert friends waiting in the wings to spend time with us when the introverts need some alone time.  As an adult now I understand that this is just the nature of things when introverts and extroverts are friends and compromises need to be made for everyone. But the point is that if you feel drained by extroverts, understand that it goes both ways. (And which do you think is easier?  To insist on more alone time?  Or to insist that your friends spend more time with you?)

4. Extroversion is not synonymous with confidence.

I’ve been a socially averse and shy person my whole life. Not a great combination with extroversion, let me assure you. I’ve had plenty of people that I’m comfortable around make the incorrect assumption that I can walk into any social situation and own it, because that’s how I am around them. I’ve also been annoyed by people I don’t know who observe how quiet I am around them and assume that I “must be introverted and needs to be left alone.” This is currently a problem area for me because my church is one that is huge on being outward-focused, so a lot of emphasis is placed on meeting new people on Sunday mornings and not just chatting with your friends before and after service. But my shyness (and fear of not being liked or coming across as awkward–see #1) regularly prevents me from doing this. I’m still riling over a handful of terrible examples of such interactions that took place about ten years ago, too (see #1), so that’s another hurdle.

5. Extroverts often need to process externally.

Do you find that, in order to finish your creative or critical ideas, you need some quiet time alone? Well I have found that I can only ever get so far with a story idea, or a song idea, or with mapping out my thoughts on a social, theological, or political issue, by working on it by myself. I have to discuss it with someone else, or tell someone about it, and as I walk through it to them the ideas fall into place, I work out kinks in the logic, and I can begin to find some structure. I have a LOTR-style fantasy story I’ve slowly developed since I was 12, and the times I’ve filled in the biggest gaps and ironed out the biggest plot holes were the times I convinced a friend to let me tell them about it. The bands I had in the past–the best songs I wrote we’re ones that came about by interacting musically with my band mates. I’ve not been in a band for 9 years, now, and I’ve only finally been able to write again in the last two months. It took that long to figure out how to do it 100% alone. I’ve known songwriters who can write whole albums by locking themselves in a room for a weekend–take a guess if they were introverted or extroverted. So maybe that extrovert isn’t wasting your time, but is trying to work and process through something. That said I don’t defend people needlessly talking to strangers. That annoys me. Don’t get me started on strangers at work asking me about my lunch.

In conclusion, before you go off about how the world thinks that all introverts are creepy loners, take time to see if  you’re doing what so many others do and viewing extroverts as inch-deep blabber mouths who can’t get through the day without going energy-vampire on some poor, innocent introvert at the coffee shop.  Half of being understood is understanding those around you better.

What Superman and Jesus *Really* Have in Common

I’ve made no secret among people I know that I was severely disappointed with this summer’s Man of Steel.  Among very long lists of reasons why, a major one has been the over-the-top force-feeding of the idea that Superman is a representation of Jesus.  On a normal day I’d assert that they are barely alike and that anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  I remember no parts of the Gospels that tell of Jesus saving Mary Magdalene from the bald and maniacal Roman governor, Lex Luthicus.  Nor do I remember scenes in Man of Steel where Kal-El spoke against the hypocritical politicians of Metropolis or sacrificing himself to execution as propitiation to Jor-El for the sins of Earth. (Take note: Jor-El did not send Kal-El to save the people of Earth; Jor-El sent Kal-El to Earth to save Kal-El and the Kryptonian race.  Where is that Jesus parallel again?)

But this evening I had something of an epiphany.  The two characters *are* alike.  Not necessarily in parallels within their stories, but in how their stories have been handled and treated.  In fact, they are so similar in this regard that I can explain it by describing only one, yet the description works perfectly for both:

The story is of a man of humble roots but a fantastic origin.  He grows up and gives his life to saving those who cannot save themselves.  His story has been told over many generations, and those who hear it and *understand* it have celebrated and been moved by its beauty. Over the course of many years, this story helped shape cultures and entire groups of people knew it as they knew their alphabet.

But as it became more commonplace, as the idea became engrained into the popular consciousness, many people claimed to know it but actually only knew the name and the images they had been shown throughout their lives.  They had never actually picked up a book about this man to learn what the real story was.  They knew the bullet points and little else.  They still claimed to like the story; they still claimed to like that incredible man, but as they allowed it to be about culture and not about the actual story–to not be something that they tried to really understand and to be moved by it–they lost touch with what the message was in the first place.

As culture and societies changed, people began to mock the story.  They said that we were too advanced or sophisticated or evolved to accept such nonsense.  They would point out aspects of it that they interpret to be childish, or remnants of a long-gone era.  The more holes they believed they found, the more the culture at large embraced those perceived holes as truth.

Throughout all of this, there always remained a steady stream of people who did read the story and who did understand the themes and ideas, and really did understand why it was so appealing.  They would find themselves unapologetically drawn to it, and they hoped and yearned for a day when the world would see the beauty in it again.

So they would tell the story again and again.  They would put it into modern contexts but keep the message the same; keep the characters exactly who they were all along while applying contemporary concerns and addressing current issues.  Sometimes through this, new people would find the truth about the story, and they would join the ranks of those who showed it to them and attempt to tell more.

So then what happens when someone comes along and wants to re-tell this story on a large scale, but their motives seem to be less about the story and more about their personal gain?  They update the story but remove and reverse all that made it what it was.  They render the original concept utterly meaningless by all the alterations they make.  All the world takes notice and celebrates the new interpretation because it is recognizable but flashier, is easy to swallow, and appeals to their senses; but those who have understood the story all along cry foul.  They try to tell everyone that THIS story is not THAT story, but their protests are ignored and ridiculed.

“It has to be updated for modern society!” the new audiences say.  “Surely you cannot expect us to go along with those outdated concepts.  You’re only upset because you think you own this story and you only want it told YOUR way!”

“But those concepts are exactly the ones that we need in this modern age!” the others reply back.  “The problem all along hasn’t been that the story is irrelevant, but that so many have missed what the story is really about!  Contextualizing it to today can work but this has betrayed what this character actually stood for, and has undermined the entire meaning and message of the original story.”

Yet it feels as if it will be to little avail.  How difficult it is to try to show others the quality of something when something that looks the same but is easier (yet emptier) is being offered to them by someone else.

And it is at this point that the two stories stop being similar.  I can live my life without people “getting” the actual story of Superman, but my heart aches over those who would take an easier, false Gospel and think that they know Christ.  So if we’re going to compare the two stories, let’s make sure we’re comparing what they really have in common.

A Quick Analogy

I love bears.  I really do.  I love their faces and noses and ears and paws and stubby tails.  I love  how they make me feel cozy and safe when I go to bed, or when I watch TV, or when I’m just being alone in my room.  I still love shows and things from my childhood like The Care Bears or the Gummi Bears.  They take me back to simpler times when this adult life gets to be too much to handle.  I find nothing brings me peace quite the same as my bears do.

But I’ve noticed a trend in recent years, and saying that “it offends me” is putting it very lightly.  I’ve been witness to countless people in the media, entertainment, and even in my personal life (of all places!) that assert that bears are dangerous or deadly.  I’ve heard news reports talk about chasing “bears” out of urban areas.  There was a movie called Grizzly Man that is one of the most hateful pieces of propaganda I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’ve seen nature documentaries where they try to propagate these ideas by hiding and avoiding “bears” in the wild.

I put “bears” in quotes there because what they’re showing isn’t really bears at all.  They’re trying to put the idea in our minds that this animal is a bear:


grizzly-bear-harry-bosen-dpc

That’s so wrong it makes me red with anger.  THIS is a bear, and if you think otherwise you need to really do some self-searching as to why you desire such savagery and viciousness:

Bear

Why would anyone push ideas about a bear that was anything else?  Why would  you WANT bears to be anything else?

I ask you: who are they to try to tell the rest of us what bears are, what bears do, or how “dangerous” they can be?!  How dare they!  No bear that *I* know would ever attack or eat a human.

Bears are not scary.

Bears do not eat people.

Bears do not harm anyone or anything.  They love them and comfort them and bring joy.

If you want to keep pushing hateful ideas like some have about bears, I guess I can’t stop you, but I want you to know that those are only opinions and MY bears would never do any of those things.

bear-invading-tent

Your hate is not welcome here.

My Peculiar Pet Peeves

I’ve got a long list of pet peeves like I’m sure many do, but I’ve noticed a few in myself that seem to go beyond noisy soup eaters and people who take too long to go when the light turns green.  Here’s some exposition on them.

1: Calling something a “Pet Peeve” when it is bigger than just a minor annoyance.

I believe that a genuine “pet peeve” should be something that, in the end, doesn’t really matter.  It’s something that bugs you but not necessarily anyone else, and if that pet peeve never happened again, the world would not necessarily be a better (or even worse) place.  A great example in my own experience: I get very passionately upset when discussing the dismissive and arrogant attitude Chicagoans have with the-rest-of-Illinoisans.  But I don’t call that a pet peeve because on some level (however small in the scheme of things) it matters.  I can argue a point as to why Chicagoans shouldn’t be that way; and I know of many Chicagoans who could and would argue back.  So when someone mentions that a person driving too slow in the left lane on the freeway is a “pet peeve,” I get peeved, because that’s actually a bit of a safety concern (not to mention a legal one).  But note that my annoyance at this ultimately doesn’t matter. Hence it being the first in my list.

2: Traffic reports on the radio made in the second person.

Have you ever noticed this?  I didn’t live in a place that even needed traffic reports until about seven years ago.  Then, when I started paying attention, I noticed that some days I had the information given to me and went about my day.  Other times I would listen and notice myself getting uncomfortable with what was being said to me.  Why?  There are a few traffic reporters here in the Seattle area that do their traffic reports in the 2nd person.

“And here’s Kimmie with traffic.”

“Well it looks like you’re having a really tough commute this evening.  You’re stuck in a three-mile backup on northbound I-5, and you’re slowing down on southbound, as well, as you’re distracted by that accident across the divider.  I-90 doesn’t look great as you’re coming off of Mercer Island, and you’re backed up pretty bad heading south on 405.”

Ugh.  It even made me cringe to write that.  It bugs me because in an attempt to make the traffic report *more* relatable by giving it in the second person, it has become *less* relatable.  Why? Because, no, I am not stuck in a three-mile backup on I-5 North.  I’m very likely somewhere else.  And if I AM in a three-mile backup on I-5 North, then your traffic report doesn’t help me very much, does it?  I already know I’m stuck and now your poorly-thought-out narrative style makes it sound like you’re mocking me.  I need a traffic report to tell me what things are like in places where I will *be*, not how they are where I *am*.  Do I get the same info either way? Absolutely.  But we’re not talking about logic here.

3: “Baby” instead of “The Baby” or “Your Baby” or “Our Baby,” etc.

I first took notice of this years ago when I spent a lot more time watching television, and there would be a commercial for some baby product. The commercial narrator would say something like, “. . . so that it doesn’t irritate baby’s skin,” or “. . . and its gentle formula makes it easier for baby to digest.”

Well, round about 13 months ago I got caught in the “all-babies-all-the-time hurricane,” myself, and this issue only compounded itself.  It’s as if all the having-babies and raising-babies industries and community forgot about articles and adjectives.

“You just need to do what’s best for baby.”

“. . . and that will give you more time to spend with baby.”

“Do some research on what things you prefer to have in toys for baby.”

People, I implore you.  What is so wrong with saying, “the baby,” “a baby,” and ESPECIALLY “your baby.”  “Baby” is not my child’s name.  “Baby” is what she is.  We don’t do this for other things . . .

“This will be the perfect gift for man.”

“Life can be a little rough when dealing with teenager.”

“. . . and it’s gentle formula makes it easier for guinea pig to digest.”

. . . so why “baby?”  I don’t understand and it’s annoying.

4: People I don’t know talking to me about my food.

In a broader sense, I just don’t like it when people I don’t know talk to me, period.  But I concede that in most situations it’s good for me to step out of my comfort zone and be forced to interact with people.  I think that’s good for all of us.  What would things look like if we weren’t so cold to strangers every day?

That said, I cannot stand it when strangers start small talk about my food that I’m eating or heating up.

“Oh, that looks pretty good.  Whatcha got there? Is that chicken in that?”

What the heck? Who are you and why do you think I’m okay with you putting your nasty vision all over my food?  I’m standing by the microwave to heat this up so I can eat it and continue working and go home.  There’s no reason for us to have any interaction about my LUNCH.

Useless small talk is always bad, but when it centers around a very private thing like my nasty-looking, cold, chicken curry and rice in a Ziploc container, it’s infinitely worse.  What response are they expecting?  Do they want a bite?  Because they can’t have one.  Do they want me to discuss how I made it?  Should I bring up the stores where I got the ingredients?  Or maybe my inspiration?  I’m very certain they’re not asking so they can make it themselves.  Am I now obligated to return compliments on THEIR food?  Should I bring up that I’m not sure which pepper slice is the one I dropped on my dirty kitchen floor, but it’s in there somewhere?

The worst example of this happening was years ago as I was heating up some KFC (freaking KFC!  Does day-old fried chicken and gluey mashed potatoes warrant a conversation?).  A guy started blasting me with questions about it–“Is that regular or extra crispy?” was one of many inquiries–and then worked his way into asking if I’ve ever been to Cleveland, Ohio.  When I said no, he proceeded to give me a specific location (as in street name and neighborhood) of a “great fried chicken place” that I should check out if I’m ever in the area.  And then he left.  To this day I wonder if he recalls that conversation as one of those cringe-inducing embarrassing memories.  I honestly kind of hope so.

As a quick disclaimer–if I know you, I don’t care if you comment on or ask questions about my food.  Seriously.  Don’t be afraid.  Chat away.  You see, to speak to another person about their food, I believe there should be an established relationship.   It is not small talk material.  Make a comment about my funny shirt, complain about the smelly work fridge, ask if I know where the extra salt is kept.  I don’t care.  Anything that works in a passing manner, but if you’re going to talk about what I’m eating or about to eat, we’d better be working toward some meaningful interactions sometime in the future.  Otherwise it’s like striking up a conversation with a stranger at a urinal.

5: People who can’t or refuse to make eye contact with you during a casual conversation.

This is the weird thing . . . I’ve never been able to find anyone else that notices this the way I do, but I can think of three people at least–none of whom have any connection to each other other than knowing me at some point in time–who, when getting really into the point they’re making in a conversation, look off far to the side and hold their vision there.  It’s hard to describe in words.

This is a normal conversation:

NormalEyeContact

And this is what the conversation looks like when I’m talking with the people that do this:

NoEyeContact

I *know* this has to be something  of a common thing.  Someone reading this will know what I’m talking about, or start noticing it.

6: When trivial pieces of information, which I know to be untrue, are brought into a conversation and I have to decide to be a jerk and correct them or to lie and pretend I don’t know they’re wrong.

Did you know if you soak a steak in Coca Cola for a week it’ll dissolve?

Did you know that Johnny Depp finished scenes as the Joker for The Dark Knight after Heath Ledger died?

Did you know that Washington State Unemployment determines how much you make on unemployment by picking a paycheck from the previous year at random and giving you a percentage of that?

Isn’t it crazy how fast the Die Hard movies have come out?  I mean, the first one came out in the late 90’s!

None of those statements are factual, and all of them I’ve found myself in conversations with people that either required me to kill said conversation by informing the other person of their error which inevitably and awkwardly brings the larger interaction to a halt, or to proceed with that conversation feeling like a complete and utter fraud because I’m pretending to be impressed by information that I know to be false.  This is the sad side to being someone so fascinated by such useless, trivial things.  I learn about them, I read more about them, and then I learn what’s true and what’s not.  As a next step, I then become fascinated not by useless and trivial things, but by misconceptions about useless and trivial things, which increases the probability that this happens to me.

But there’s a different side to this.  Sure, me immersing myself in knowledge of common misconceptions about a variety of trivia topics puts me in a self-imposed position to get annoyed by people who don’t know as much as I know about something.  But sometimes, it’s the other person.  Sometimes the other person either makes something up, listens to something that is made up, or doesn’t know how to be properly skeptical about things they read in email forwards, and then spit it out as fact.  And then the conversation gets *really* awkward because I now know that I will not believe anything they say for the remainder of the time I know them.

And then sometimes I don’t know WHERE they get their information.  Like that thing about Die Hard.  I’m not exaggerating that quote.  It’s paraphrased, yes, but not stretched at all.  I met a guy who expressed his wonder at “how fast Hollywood put out all the Die Hard movies” as he discussed that summer’s release of Live Free or Die Hard, and when I asked him to clarify what he defined as “fast,” he pointed out that the first movie was released in the late 90’s.  1996 at the earliest,  he was sure.  And he refused to listen to me when I told  him I remember very clearly watching the first Die Hard on TV in the early 1990’s.  (It came out in 1988, for the record; I’ll never forget that fact, now).

I actually spent a whole day talking to that guy and  he was this pet peeve incarnate.

7: The phrase “Wow! Small world!”

Because it’s not.   Spend some time on Google Maps and really take in how small your house or apartment is next to the nearest body of water you can find.  Then scroll out and take in how much space there is on Planet Earth and really ponder on how NOT small this world is.  When an amazing coincidence comes up, it’s okay to really marvel at how crazy that kind of connection is.  Because there are a lot of people.  And there are far more ways that coincidence could have NOT happened, as billions and billions do daily, than for it to have  happened.  Let’s be amazed.

Rental Scammer Revenge: Zhang Shanrong

It started on Craigslist.  I was very discouraged by the current rental prices I saw as I looked for a new home for my expanding family, but found two or three that were plenty big, in great neighborhoods, and had unbelievable rates.  “Unbelievable” is, of course, the keyword.  “There are no such things as rental scams, are there?” I naively thought.  Oh, there are.  After getting responses from all of those places, I noticed they had several things in common: misspelled words, a story about how they had to leave the area before securing the status of their home (usually going from selling the place to deciding to rent), and often about how they are a “God-fearing” family.  First, I got mad.  Then, after about two days of sending out inquiries on listings from a couple other sites (mostly Zillow), and getting all the same kinds of responses, I decided to enjoy myself a little.  Now I’m sharing it with you.

This is a narrative through my conversation with Zhang Shanrong. Zhang was one of the first scammers that emailed me that I finally started to grasp what I wanted to do in retaliation.  All of the responses I got from Craigslist had this story about doing missionary work with US-AID in Nigeria, and how they were looking for a God-fearing family to take care of their home.  In my frustration I never responded and deleted the first few.  Well, then Zhang responded with the exact same story.  A few details were altered, but all the major points, like what US-AID does and work in Nigeria, were there.  Here is the email I got from Zhang:

From: Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com>
To: Braden Bost
Sent: Monday, September 3, 2012 4:42 PM
Subject: Re: Duplex for rent

Thanks for your response and interest in our house.

The house is very much available and it is a large 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathroom house. Which was formally occupied by me and my family before we left for Nigeria for a pastoral duty with the US-AID, we left for a volunteer mission together with other missionaries for a development program with the aim of developing the people of West Africa physically and spiritually as God as directed us. We wanted to sale the house initially but we later changed our mind after we discovered that we wouldn’t be spending more than 5 years here in Africa.

Presently my lovely wife and i are on the missionary field with US-AID. US-AID as u know works in agriculture, democracy & governance, economic growth, the environment,education, health, global partnerships, and humanitarian assistance in more than 100 countries to provide a better future for all..

US-AID still faces an uncertain future. In many developing countries, HIV/AIDS and health issues are having a dramatic impact on social cohesiveness and economic strength, blocking the very development goals we seek. Virtually all the new democracies in the world today are fragile; others are democracies more in name than substance.. Nearly a quarter of the people living in developing countries, or about one billion people, live in absolute poverty.. There are a host of other threats – ranging from terrorism to infectious disease and violent conflict – that challenge us and the developing nations we seek to help. Here is US-AID Web address:-http://www.usaid.gov

US-AID efforts to foster world-wide economic growth and increased trade,and tackling cross-border issues such as the spread of HIV/AIDS and trafficking in persons.To safe the live of peoples from primitive death that claims the souls of younger ages as a result of casual sex gave us transfer to West Africa and we will be away for 5 years and this is why we are actually renting out house,so if you are interested and will take good care of our house then we will be ready to accept you as our future tenant and family friend.. If you really impress me by taking good care of our house then you will be allowed to stay as long as you wish.

This is the Address of the Single family house: 15061 Southeast 54th Place, Bellevue WA

So get back to me on how you could take care of our house or perhaps experience you have in renting home. Hope you are okay with the price of US$1000/month and $700 for security deposit with water, heat laundry facilities, air condition and so on. PETS ARE WELCOME!

I am looking forward to hear from you ASAP so that i can forward you an application to fill out and discuss on how to get the house , also are you ready to rent it now or when? Await your reply.

Best Regards

You can call me anytime at: (0112347026282089 or +2347026282089)

Note: the Rent is $1000 and security deposit is $700

Total Move In Cost:$1,700

Thanks and God bless you

 

Pastor Mr Zhang Shanrong

I could not get over the ridiculousness of multiple scammers using the same story in the same housing market.  So I decided to call him out on it–but be careful! You don’t want to chase him off just yet.

From: Braden Bost
To: Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com>
Sent: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 8:06 PM
Subject: Re: Duplex for rent

 

Hi!  I like the place and would be very happy to work with you.   Let me know what I need to do.

Also, there seem to be a LOT of people from the Seattle area that moved to Nigeria to assist in missionary work for US-AID.  I’ve sent inquiries on three other houses besides this one that turned out to be owned by people in this program.  Do you all know each other?  How come none of you secured renters before you left?  Did you get called out in a hurry?  Do you also provide religious services, since you call it “missionary work?” 

Just curious.

Zhang’s upcoming response made my heart sink at first.  It’s one thing to mess with a real scumbag on the other end of the ether, but it’s quite another to find out you’re dealing with a bot that responds to positive inquiries.  That’s what I thought I had–but note the PS, which he put in bold and a different font in his response and I almost missed.

On Sep 6, 2012, at 3:28 AM, Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com> wrote:

The Peace and blessing of the lord be with your household.Thanks for the mail, It is good to hear from you with this detail.I want you to know that my house is ready for you to move in and i will need you to promise me that you will take good care of the house for us if you happen to move in as my tenant.The month rent is $1000 and the security deposit is $700,The Utilities are all included.

P.S: As for your questions,yes we know each other and we couldn’t secure renter cause our calling was very hurry OK.

[The standard-looking (but text-only) rental application was here; I’ve removed it to conserve space]

Looking forward to hear from you with all this details so that i can have it in my file in case of issuing the receipt for you and contacting you.Await your urgent reply so that we can discuss on how to get the keys to you,please I am giving you all this base on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words,you know that we do not see yet and only putting everything into Gods hand,so please do not let me down in this property and God bless you more as you do this. You can move in with your pet.

Best Regards

Pastor Mr Zhang Shanrong

Maybe I’m a bit ridiculous for feeling this way, but seeing that post script was very exciting to me.  So I responded appropriately.

From: Braden Bost
To: Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com>
Sent: Thursday, September 6, 2012 10:04 AM
Subject: Re: I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENT APPLICATIONS FORM BELOW

 

You do know them! That’s so neat! Well I hope you’re all doing well.

 Here’s the deal: you tell me their names and I’ll fill this out. Heck, if you do that, I’ll even throw in a $500 donation to your cause, directly to you, as it certainly seems worthy of it.It’s not that I don’t trust you–I mean, you’re *obviously* Christians–but I like to play little games like this sometimes.

 Looking forward to hearing back from you. Have a blessed day!

I have several other stories that I will post later, and that fact sadly means that there’s a reason this one’s first.  As many scammers do, Zhang did not want to respond to my inquiry.  So I had to prod.

On Sep 7, 2012, at 7:08 AM, Braden Bost wrote:

 

Zhang,

I was hoping to have an email this morning.   I know we’re working in very different time zones, what with you being in “Africa” and everything. 

So what do you say?  Ask your friends who also got an email from my email address, tell me their names, and if you’re right, I’ll know you’re legit and not using something like missionary aid to cover up a rental scam, and we’ll move forward.  And, as promised, I’ll even make a donation to US-AID in addition to sending you the fees for the rental.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

. . . and prod . . .

On Sep 8, 2012, at 6:55 AM, Braden Bost wrote:

I don’t want to push too hard. I mean, if you need a day or two to ask around and have your cohorts get back to you, just let me know. I’m not unreasonable–it’s not like I think you’ve been lying to me about owning the property and traveling to Africa and so forth.  That would be a terrible, horrible thing for anyone to do. Wouldn’t you agree, Zhang?

 

Sent from my iPad

. . . and prod . . .

On Sep 8, 2012, at 6:14 PM, Braden Bost wrote:

Hey Zhang. Still waiting.  Looking forward to hearing your response . . . I’m sure it’ll be a great read. Everything so far has been.

 

Sent from my iPad

. . . but Zhang didn’t want to play.  What I had noticed, though, through other conversations I had going on with other scammers simultaneously, is their odd tendency to “forget” the fact that I’m trying to call them out on their lies the moment I show some kind of interest in the property again.  I decided (mid-writing of the email, as you’ll see) to see where this strategy would get me with Zhang.

On Sep 9, 2012, at 7:11 AM, Braden Bost wrote:

Hey Zhang! How’s Africa? Since you seem to be unable to name those people, you will not be getting money or donations from me. Sounds harsh but those were our terms. 

 Let’s play another game. I’m going to pretend to still believe you’re not lying, thieving, bottom feeding pond scum and act interested in this home you don’t own. . . .

 So what is the next step? Can I tour the place first?

 

Sent from my iPad

Sadly, I still got no reply from Zhang.  But maybe he was busy.  Maybe he had more pressing things to tend to.  Maybe me indirectly calling him “lying, thieving, bottom feeding pond scum” made him feel uncomfortable with replying right away.  So I tried again.

From: Braden Bost
To: Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com>
Sent: Monday, September 10, 2012 5:32 PM
Subject: Re: I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENT APPLICATIONS FORM BELOW

 

Hi! How do we proceed?

Well . . . Zhang got that one:

On Sep 11, 2012, at 3:15 AM, Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com> wrote:

FUCK YOU

I can honestly say that’s the most satisfying f-bomb I’ve ever had thrown my way.  So the next question is, what do I do next?  Well, all things must end, sadly, so I decided to send off the final word in our largely one-sided conversation.

From: Braden Bost
To: Zhang Shanrong <zshanrong@yahoo.com>
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:13 AM
Subject: Re: I WILL WANT YOU TO FILL THE RENT APPLICATIONS FORM BELOW

 

And thank you, you worthless trash.

Too harsh?  Hmm.  Debatable.  I’ll post more of these narratives as they end.  I’ve got four or five more, and I’m looking forward to sharing them.