Thursday, July 31, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/31/2008)

Photographer Phillip Toledano's father is 98 years old. Toledano documents their life together in the beautiful and moving "Days with My Father."

There are real, clear, and easy-to-understand differences between Obama and McCain on tax policy. Here's an analysis.

Have you ever noticed that there are no green stars? Bad Astronomy Blog explains why.

Finally, a baby was possessed by the ghost of a middle-aged transvestite who smoked a lot, and her father caught it on videotape. Or maybe somebody just slowed down a video of a laughing baby. Judge for yourself.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The world's butt-ugliest "ornamental" plant

A big, horrible-looking plant was growing in our garden.


"What is this?" I asked my spouse, H. "Is it a weed or a plant?"

"It's a hollyhock," she said.

"Do you want me to pull it out?"


"But it's so ugly."

"I know, but [our neighbor] R gave me the seeds."

"So what? It's hideous. Let me pull it out."

"But she might come over and see that it's gone, and then her feelings would be hurt."

"What about my feelings? It hurts my feelings just knowing there's something that ugly in our garden."

All I got in return for that last line was a roll of the eyes. The hollyhock stayed. It got even bigger. It didn't get any less ugly.

Then some flower buds started growing. I like flower buds. They're very pretty. They carry a promise of new life and beauty. Except these flower buds didn't look like flower buds. They looked like Brussels sprouts. Pale Brussels sprouts. Zombie Brussels sprouts.


I don't like Brussels sprouts. I like them even less when they look like they're going to rise from the dead and try to eat my brain.

"Well," H said, "the flowers must be really spectacular. Otherwise nobody would want such an ugly plant."

"They'd better be."

Eventually, one of the zombie Brussels sprouts bloomed.


"Um, are you sure you don't want me to pull it out?"

"I wish we could. I really wish we could."

In the end, the hollyhock managed to produce some decent-looking flowers, but the leaves stayed just as ugly.


I wish I could pull it out. Because hollyhocks are the world's fugliest "ornamental" plant. If somebody tries to give you some seeds, just say "No."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/29/2008)

Since I have a cold right now, I gave this a try, and it actually worked quite well. I have some doubts about its therapeutic practicality, though. It's difficult to use more than a couple of times a day, and it would be somewhat challenging to implement away from home, say at work or church.

I've mentioned Roger Ebert's blog before, but it's worth noting again. Whether you usually agree with his reviews or not, he's really an excellent writer, and lately he's been looking back over his career. This post on the end of his TV contract is especially good, as are many of the reader comments and the two videos of him and Gene Siskel bickering and joking back in the day.

In his "Wonderland" series, artist Yeondoo Jung recreated children's drawings with live models. The results are fascinating.

Some people wear their patriotism on their sleeves. Others wear it on their faces.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Let's Ecology! 8: A job interview (part 3 of 3)

(Here are part 1 and part 2.)

So I was feeling pretty darn good when I came out of the Shacho's office. As I passed through the crowd of fellow-applicants, one of them asked me how it went. Instead of just brushing her off with some vague platitude -- something the Japanese language specializes in -- I told her the truth. "Great," I blurted out without thinking. "He said he wants me to start out part-time and see how it goes." Of course, about two seconds after I said that, I realized that it could be taken as "I just got the job, you losers." Naturally, I didn't mean anything like that. She just asked me a question, so I answered it. When I'm talking to people I don't know, I tend to think either too much about what to say or too little. Often the results aren't too favorable.

So I went home. I told my wife I got the job. On Monday, I gave notice at my daytime English-teaching job. On Tuesday, when I got home from work, the company still hadn't called. On Wednesday, when I got home from work, there was a letter from them waiting for me.

"Thank you for your interest in working with us," it said. "Unfortunately, we found that you do not meet our needs at this time. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors." And that was that. So long Real/dream Job. Maybe in America I could have sued the Shacho for lying to me, but in Japan that idea was a non-starter.

When I tried to figure out what went wrong, I found myself growing suspicious. There had been something odd somehow about the group dynamic among those applicants. I'd noticed it then, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Looking back, though, I thought I came up with the reason. I'm pretty sure at least one of those applicants -- probably the one who asked me the question when I came out -- was a ringer. I think the company snuck an employee into the mix to observe how the applicants acted when they were left together. It sounds paranoid, I know, but I think it's true. And I think I lost the job because I didn't join in the group talk and because of what I said coming out of the interview. Neither one of those things made me look good.

But that actually made me feel better about losing the job. If I was right, my first instinct -- not wanting to work there -- had been dead on. Not only was the Shacho an abusive jerk, he was a sneaky jerk as well. Slipping a ringer into the group was borderline crazy. And, later, I found out that the coaches of the teams that the company brought to Tokyo uniformly complained about the way they were treated, namely, the quality of the venues, availability of practice facilities, and so on. As one coach put it, the company was interested in putting on events; it couldn't have cared less about ensuring the quality of the games or meeting the needs of the competitors. If I'd gotten the job, I would have been stuck right in the middle of that, taking all the heat from the coaches and athletic directors. Some "dream job" that would have been. So it clearly wasn't meant to be. It was meant not to be. That's what I told myself, anyway.

Meanwhile, though, I'd given notice at one of my jobs. My income was about to be cut in half.

More "Let's Ecology!" posts are here. "Let's Ecology!" is the story of my stint with a Japanese environmental group (or sort of an environmental group -- it's "complicated"). Look for new posts every Monday. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. Everything else really happened.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Double book review: Good Calories, Bad Calories and In Defense of Food

Recently I read two books in succession that share the same basic theme: the modern Western diet makes people sick.

Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease (****) offers two main assertions (along with several more secondary ones): 1) the hypothesis that dietary fat makes people obese and sick is false, and 2) carbohydrates make people obese and sick.

Surprisingly, considering how stridently the idea has been preached for the past 30 years and how deeply it has penetrated our conventional wisdom, Taubes succeeds in utterly demolishing the soundness of the dietary fat hypothesis. He demonstrates convincingly that the science underlying it has always been extremely shaky, based more on suppositions and assumptions than anything else, and promoted by people who habitually dismissed or misinterpreted contrary evidence. Indeed, Taubes deliberately refuses to call the people behind the hypothesis's popularity "scientists," because, he says,

It's... debatable, at best, whether what these individuals have practiced for the last fifty years, and whether the culture they have created as a result, can reasonably be described as science, as most working scientists or philosophers of science would typically characterize it.

Taubes is less successful at proving his second point, that carbs are the root of all dietary evil. He certainly demonstrates that the evidence is suggestive, but essentially he is guilty of what he justly criticizes the nutrition "scientists" for doing: he reaches conclusions on incomplete evidence and then asserts their truth without waiting for confirmation through proper research. Of his 15 "inescapable" conclusions, the only one that seems convincingly proved to me, at least as presented in the book, is the lack of support for the dietary fat hypothesis.

From a reader's perspective, Good Calories, Bad Calories is heavy going. It's not easy to read. It's rather long-winded, technical, and repetitive. But it's difficult to overstate how important this book is. It demonstrates convincingly that one of the most important things we thought we knew about food -- fat is bad for you -- might well be nonsense. And it compiles provocative evidence suggesting that many other things we think we know -- including even the basic idea that people gain or lose weight depending on their "caloric balance" -- may be equally wrong.

In contrast, Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (***), is less polemic, more balanced, and easier to read. Rather than a list of 15 bullet points, Pollan's advice can be summed up in three short phrases: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

"Eat food" means "Eat food that our ancestors would have recognized as such." Pollan contrasts "food" with the "edible foodlike substances" produced by nutrition science. Where our dietary advice has gone astray, he argues, is in the rise of "nutritionism," the idea that nutrients, not food, are what matters. Since we can't recognize nutrients on our own, a vast system of expert nutrition science and nutrient marketing has arisen, a "nutritional-industrial complex," if you will.

Unfortunately (as Taubes also argues), the "experts" often don't know what they're talking about. But unlike Taubes, Pollan argues that where they've gone astray is not in promoting the wrong nutrients (e.g., carbs over fat), but in reducing food to the sum of its nutrients in the first place. Our bodies evolved to consume food, Pollan argues, not nutrients, and failure to obtain food makes us fat and sick.

So Pollan describes the rise of nutritionism and the rise of the Western diet, and then tells us how to escape and change our diet. His advice is common sense: eat better food, eat less, and emphasize plants. The result, he argues, is that you will be healthier and enjoy your food more. It's hard to argue with that. The only real difficulty with his advice is that "food" tends to be significantly more expensive than "edible foodlike substances." But then, poor health is even more expensive.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


The only way to get rid of an earworm is to give it to someone else.

Glorified version of a
Pellet gun
Glorified version of a
Pellet gun
Glorified version of a
Pellet gun
Glorified version of a
Pellet gun
Sure hope it worked.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm worried about John McCain

Seriously. I don't know if it's his age or what, but I think his mind might be going. I actually started wondering about this last year, when he began changing his positions on a bunch of things. I don't necessarily have a problem with that in itself. I expect politicians to pander. (Although McCain's main appeal used to be that he didn't pander as much as everyone else -- but 2000 was a long time ago.) Sometimes, though, I got the feeling that he didn't remember that he used to have a different opinion.

But lately he seems to be having some real problems. He's said a lot of weird stuff. Just in the past week, besides more or less calling Obama a traitor, he criticized Obama for traveling overseas during the election campaign even though he himself went to South America this very month and has apparently visited 12 countries while he's been a candidate, criticized Obama for giving a speech in a foreign country even though he himself made a speech in Canada just last month, seemed to forgot the existence of the war in Afhganistan....

I don't know what's going on. I mean, did he actually forget that he'd just been to South America and Canada? Is he OK? Is nobody else wondering about this?

Because if he was my dad and acted like that, I'd be thinking about an intervention, getting him to see a doctor for a neurological workup or something. Seriously.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/24/2008)

Apparently, Hitler somehow trademarked the use of profile photos, bright colors, and words in German advertising. Either that, or one Dr. Melissa Clouthier has managed to come up with what may be the stupidest blog post in the history of the internet. Upon seeing this flyer advertising Obama's speech in Berlin:
she became "unnerved" by its supposed resemblance to this old Hitler poster:
And here you thought Jonah Goldberg was dumb.

She also has a post called "The five scariest things about Obama," which is so lame I'm not even going to link to it, because YouTube is worth a thousand words (one of which is not safe for work/children/prudes). I dare you to vote for Obama after watching this:

If I lived in Kansas, I'd vote for Sean Tevis, because he has teh best campaign literature evar!!!111one

If you're a sports fan of a certain age, all I need to say is "Willie Mays."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


The Wordle picture of this blog's feed (click for a bigger view):
h/t: Cosmic Variance

Monday, July 21, 2008

Let's Ecology! 7: A job interview (part 2 of 3)

(Part 1 is here.)

I went back up the stairs -- to the right floor this time -- and reported to the receptionist for the interview. She sent me into a small lounge-type room where five or six other people were waiting. They were all talking among themselves. We were left there for about 10 minutes.

Some of the conversation was actually interesting. One of the people told about his experiences going to school in North Carolina, and how curious people were about him, how they'd invite him somewhere because they'd never met a Japanese person before. I was a little surprised, because I thought people around a university, even in North Carolina, would be a little more sophisticated than that.

I saw that it gave me a conversational opening too. I could say, "That's a lot like what happens to me in Japan," or something like that. I didn't take the opening, though. I was too tense to talk easily with strangers -- something I almost never enjoy anyway -- so I just listened.

After 10 minutes, the receptionist came back and said we had to take a translation test. We were to translate one paragraph from English to Japanese and one from Japanese to English. That was potentially a problem, because very, very few people can translate at a professional level from their native language to a non-native language. But I needn't have worried. Both paragraphs were right in my wheelhouse -- one was about sports and one was about politics -- and I knocked them both out of the park. I understood the Japanese clearly and knew all the vocabulary, and had no problem translating them competently.

After the test, we went upstairs for interviews with the company president, the Shacho. We all sat down in the outer office to wait. I got called in first.

The Shacho was quite arrogant, very full of himself and his own importance, but that didn't really bother me. It's the norm in Japan for people in high positions to be stuck-up like that, just as it is in America. The difference is, Japanese people in positions of power don't bother pretending to be down-to-earth, "regular guys" the way many Americans in such positions do. Japanese bosses know they're the bosses, and Japanese workers know they're the workers, and nobody tries to pretend otherwise. But there's a difference between arrogance and abuse, and what I'd heard before was abuse, so I was wary.

The interview actually went pretty well. We talked about the usual stuff: what I was doing in Japan, my education, my experience, what kind of work I would be doing if I got hired, etc., and so on. After a few minutes, the receptionist brought in my graded translation test. The Shacho looked at the paper and then looked at me. "They tell me you did very well on this test."

"Thank you."

Then he got down to business. "If we hire you, how much money do you want?"

I said I'd need about $3,000 a month.

The Shacho sneered, like I'd said something distasteful. "Listen," he said, "$3,000 is nothing. If we hire you, you'll be making about $50,000 a year. That's our salary scale. What do you think of that?"

Apparently, this man was so arrogant that he took it as a point of pride to pay his employees well. That was a kind of arrogance I could live with. "Um, well, that would be very nice," I said.

"You bet it would," he said. It was time for the interview to end. "All right, listen," he said. "We don't know you, and you don't know us. What I'd like to do is have you come in and work part-time for awhile, and if we get along well, we'll take you on as a full-time salaried employee. How's that sound?"

That was a common way of doing things in Japan. "That sounds great."

"All right then. We'll be in touch with you next week."

"All right. Thank you."

It had been a pretty strange interview, but I'd changed my mind: I wanted to work there. What happened to "there's no way I'm gonna work for a jerk like that"? Well, for starters, $50,000 was almost twice what I was making from my two part-time English gigs, and I was sick of teaching English. Plus, this wasn't merely a Real Job, it was just possibly a dream job. Sports marketing in Tokyo? Including Division I football and basketball? What could be more exciting?

The boss was still a problem, but I figured, hey, I'm pretty easygoing, I can get along with 'most anyone. I don't make a great first impression, but I do tend to make a good long-term impression. People seem to like me. Even if I don't often make deep connections with them, our superficial connections are usually pleasant. So I figured I could probably get along even with this guy. I at least had to take the chance. I could always quit if he got out of hand. Besides, the way I'd left, come back, aced the translation test, and done okay in the interview -- maybe that was all because this was "meant to be." Maybe I was meant to get the job.

The third and final part of "A job interview" will appear next Monday morning.

More "Let's Ecology!" posts are here. "Let's Ecology!" is the story of my stint with a Japanese environmental group (or sort of an environmental group -- it's "complicated"). Look for new posts every Monday. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. Everything else really happened.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The staggering genius of Charles Schulz


Although Charles Schulz also had a lighter side (represented, for example, in Snoopy's joyous dancing), the above cartoon (found in The Complete Peanuts 1967–1968) illustrates his true genius. It's absolutely devastating. We're alone in a cold, cruel world, it says. Oh, and the people who tell you it's all going to be okay? They're lying. Schulz sums up all the pain, fear, and horror of aloneness in a simple four-panel comic strip, and he makes us laugh while he's doing it. The strip, and Schulz, are magnificent.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Rebutting anti–gay marriage "sound bites"

Focus on the Family has published a set of "Helpful, debate-tested sound bites for defenders of natural marriage and the family"
that Focus on the Family has learned work best in the many public debates we have done on the issue of the same-sex family. These sound bites have also been tested by focus groups and rated very strongly.

These arguments are showing up in blogs and articles all over the internet, sometimes in modified form and sometimes even verbatim.

I was of two minds regarding whether they actually need to be rebutted. On the one hand, these arguments are so weak -- so silly, even, in some cases -- that I find it hard to believe that they can resonate with (or be "rated very strongly" by) anyone who isn't already strongly opposed to gay marriage.

OTOH, I am often surprised by how often people believe things that seem self-evidently false to me (or don't believe things that seem self-evidently true), so maybe there are some open-minded people who don't see through these "sound bites." It's also a chance for me to explain what I meant the other day when I said I have "no rational basis for my prejudices." (Plus, it's always kind of fun to expose weak arguments for what they are by tearing them to shreds.)

So here goes.

Four Key Points
1. Same-sex families always deny children either their mother or father.
2. Same-sex family is a vast, untested social experiment with children.
3. Where does it stop? How do we say "no" to group marriage?
4. Schools will be forced to teach that the homosexual family is normal. Churches will be legally pressured to perform same-sex ceremonies.

1. No more so than heterosexual divorce does.
2. The numbers are hardly "vast."
3. There's no reason it should stop with anything but the marriage of one person to one other person.
4. Schools should mind their own business and not presume to call some students' families abnormal. There will probably be various social pressures on churches, but they can hold out if they believe in what they preach.

Marriage Is Always About the Next Generation

If that's true, then shouldn't only certifiably fertile couples be allowed to wed? And shouldn't married couples who fail to have children within a certain specified period be forced to divorce? But the claim is nonsense anyway. In our society, people get married because they love each other and want to stay together for life, not because they have determined in some way that they would be ideal parents for hypothetical children.

* A loving and compassionate society always comes to the aid of motherless and fatherless families.

Stipulated (although one can therefore question whether we actually live in a "loving and compassionate society").

* A loving and compassionate society never intentionally creates motherless or fatherless families, which is exactly what every same-sex home does.

As does every heterosexual divorce. This will be a recurring theme in these "sound bites": many of these arguments are at least as suited to ideas like banning divorce and criminalizing adultery and illegitimacy as they are to same-sex marriage. The problem is that those things, unlike same-sex couples rearing children, actually do occur in "vast" numbers. It's much easier to attack a small (and until recently, despised) minority than it is to attack a large part of mainstream society. (And please note that I am not attacking people who divorce. I'm merely pointing out where the logic of these arguments immediately leads.)

* The same-sex family is not driven by the needs of children, but rather by the radical wishes of a small group of adults.

Again, this paints a false picture of the degree and the ways heterosexual families are "driven by the needs of children." Any family with children is driven by the needs of the children within the context of the relationship between the adults, and all such families must work to balance the needs of children and adults.

* No child development theory says children need two parents of the same gender, but rather that children need their mothers and fathers.

So let's outlaw divorce.

A Vast Social Experiment Inflicted on Children
* No society, at any time, has ever raised a generation of children in same-sex families.
* Same-sex “marriage” will subject generations of children to the status of lab rats in (name of debate opponent’s) vast, untested social experiment.

This is sheer hyperbole. Somewhere around 2–7 percent of the population is homosexual. Only some of them would marry. Of those who do marry, only some would choose to raise children. So describing the phenomenon of gay couples raising children as a "vast experiment" and referring to "generations of children" are little better than lies. (And, again, compare this to the genuine "vastness" of heterosexual divorce.)

But we know how the experiment will turn out:
* America has raised millions of children in fatherless families for three decades and that experiment was a stunning failure by every measure! We know how damaging it is to raise children in intentionally fatherless families. Let’s not create more child-suffering to satisfy adult desire.
Thousands of published social science, psychological and medical studies show that children living in fatherless families, on average, suffer dramatically in every important measure of well-being. These children suffer from much higher levels of physical and mental illness, educational failure, poverty, substance abuse, criminal behavior, loneliness, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Children living apart from both biological parents are eight times more likely to die of maltreatment than children living with their mother and father.

It's hard not to laugh at an argument that seems to claim that families with two fathers are "fatherless families." But aside from that, we don't know "how the experiment will turn out." The phenomenon of same-sex couples raising children is new enough that we have little data on outcomes, and what we do have has obviously been influenced by the inferior social status of gay people, including their inability to marry. It's by no means clear in any way that married gay households would be more like single-parent households than two-parent households.

How Your Same-sex Family Will Harm My Family
* If this were just about your family, there would be no real danger. But same-sex “marriage” advocates are not seeking marriage for you alone, but rather demanding me — and all of us — to radically change our understanding of family. And that will do great damage.
* Your same-sex family will teach my little boys and girls that husband/wife and mother/father are merely optional for the family and therefore, meaningless.
* And I will never allow my (grand) children to be taught that their gender doesn’t matter for the family. Their masculinity and femininity matter far too much, as does everyone’s in this auditorium.

I think what this sort of argument demonstrates more than anything is the sheer meanness of these people. They're saying to gay people, "I get to decide what a family is, and your family is not a family." Of course, they're unable to articulate any real "damage" or "harm" that will be done that will be done to their families, except that their children will be exposed to ideas that differ from their own. (Oh, the horror!)

Full Acceptance Will Be Mandatory
* My civil rights to object to homosexuality as an idea will be gone.

Nonsense. Those who oppose equal rights for gay people will eventually be metaphorically exiled to the lunatic fringe of society, but they will still have the right to express their views.

* Same-sex relationships and homes are tolerated in society today. Our nation has no existing problem where same-sex couples are evicted from their neighborhoods because of how they live. Americans tolerate such relationships.
* But this is not about mere tolerance. Instead it is about forcing everyone to fully accept these unnatural families.

It's actually about forcing the government to accept gay marriage. Just as with interracial marriage, for example, people will retain the right to be against it on an individual basis.

* Only months after legalizing same-sex “marriage” in Canada, activists there successfully passed C-250, a bill criminalizing public statements against homosexuality, punishable by up to two years in prison! Say the wrong thing; go to jail. The same will happen here.

Wrong. Unlike Canadians, Americans have a constitutional guarantee of free speech. That doesn't mean people won't face consequences for saying hateful things, but those consequences will be social, not criminal.

* Every public school in the nation would be forced to teach that same-sex “marriage” and homosexuality are perfectly normal –- Heather has Two Mommies in K-12. Pictures in text books will be changed to show same-sex couples as normal.

Since when was it the place of schools to decide which families are "normal"? They should mind their own business anyway.

* Your church will be legally pressured to perform same-sex weddings. When courts — as happened in Massachusetts — find same-sex “marriage” to be a constitutional and fundamental human right, the ACLU will successfully argue that the government is underwriting discrimination by offering tax exemptions to churches and synagogues that only honor natural marriage.

Churches will come under various pressures not to discriminate -- as they do already in regards to race, for example -- but they will not lose the right to define the religious meaning of marriage.

* Gay and lesbian people have a right to form meaningful relationships. They don’t have a right to redefine marriage for all of us.

They have as much right as anyone, if they have better legal arguments and can persuade a majority of voters to agree with them. That's called "the rule of law" and "democracy."

So there you go. Those are, apparently, top-of-the-line arguments against gay marriage. Maybe somebody else knows some better arguments, because like I said, I see in them no rational basis for prejudice against gay rights.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/17/2008)

The best news headline since "Headless body in topless bar": "Hippo eats dwarf." (Unfortunately, the veracity of the story is dubious. But it's still a great headline.)

If today’s Congress presided during Watergate (h/t: Glenn Greenwald)

Twelve years ago, Tracy McGrady thrust himself onto the road to NBA stardom with a single play in a high school all-star game. That play also started James Felton down the road towards basketball oblivion and an untimely death.

Skytopia has a big collection of optical illusions (h/t: Bad Astronomy).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

YouTube favorites (July 2008)

Some guy named Matt does a goofy dance in 42 countries, the McGurk effect, Joe Cocker with subtitles, if cars were European soccer players, sometimes it's hard to pay attention to your children, Richard Dawson loses his cool on Family Feud, and "Help, help! I'm being repressed!"

A guy named Matt danced in 42 countries. Lots of people joined in.

The McGurk effect illustrates how we use visual cues to help us hear. Watch the video. What does the man say? Now replay the video, but look away or close your eyes. What does he say?

I'm a big fan of Joe Cocker, but sometimes he can be a little hard to understand. Fortunately somebody has subtitled his version of "With a Little Help from My Friends" at Woodstock.

If cars were European soccer players, this kind of thing would probably happen a lot. (But I think it should be an Italian car.)

Sometimes its hard to pay enough attention to your children.

The old "Family Feud" show was enjoyable lowbrow entertainment. One of the best things about it was the sheer silliness of the answers contestants would come up with. In this clip, even host Richard Dawson can't keep himself together.

"Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Let's Ecology! 6: A job interview (part 1 of 3)

After I finished college, I stayed on in Japan teaching English. While I was teaching, job interviews became a regular part of my life as I struggled to find a Real Job. This was a problem, because -- not surprisingly -- I interview horribly. Talking to people I don't know and making a good impression is something far, far outside my natural skill set. Of course, I worked at getting better, and I suppose I made some progress, but I never got good at interviewing. I'm still bad at it, although I'm happy to say that it's been years since I've needed to go on an interview.

Anyway, what usually happened in Japan is that I would apply for a job, my resume would be acceptable, and I'd ace any paper tests, but then my interview would be just enough "off" that I didn't get the job. This happened any number of times. Once, for example, I applied for a job at a small ad agency.

Since my wife and I were both working and we weren't hurting for money, my practice was to apply only for jobs that sounded really interesting. And this one was a doozy: the agency produced annual NCAA football and basketball games in Tokyo. So apparently, if I got the job, a big part of my duties would be working with coaches and athletic directors from Division I schools in the USA to coordinate the games and so on. It sounded very cool.

I sent in my resume, and got a call back setting up an appointment for an interview on the next Saturday morning. I got there a little early, and went up the stairs. But I went to the wrong floor, because when I came out from the stairs, there was nothing but an outer office and the company president's office. I suppose it was because it was a Saturday, but there was nobody in the outer office. There was just the president in his office, with the door open.

He was on the phone. I could hear every word he was saying, because he was shouting the Japanese equivalent of "YOU STUPID SONUVABITCH! I OUGHTTA FIRE YOU! CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING RIGHT, YOU IDIOT?!" And on and on he went -- he seemed to have quite a lot of stamina, because I realized I'd already heard him shouting while I was coming up the stairs.

He couldn't see me from where he was, so I stood there for a minute listening (probably with my mouth hanging open). And I thought, "The hell with this. I don't care how interesting the job is, there's no way I'm gonna work for a jerk like that." (I'd just quit anyway if he ever yelled at me like that, and maybe I'd break his jaw for him first besides.) I turned around and went back down the stairs.

But when I got out on the street, I thought, "Well, I might as well go ahead and do the interview. I came all the way down here anyway, and it'll be more practice for my interview skills, with no pressure since I don't want the job anyway." So I turned around and went back up the stairs.

Next week: Part 2 of my job interview

More "Let's Ecology!" posts are here. "Let's Ecology!" is the story of my stint with a Japanese environmental group (or sort of an environmental group -- it's "complicated"). Look for new posts every Monday. The names have been changed to protect me from lawsuits. Everything else really happened.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/11/2008)

1. Every day, the Village Voice runs clips from its archives on its website. I find most of them of little interest, but this one, from 1959, "Revolt of the Homosexual," I found fascinating. First, I had no idea that there already was such a thing as a gay activist in 1959. Second, the casually homophobic (but not unfriendly, if that makes sense) tone of "the Straight Guy's" questions is jarring.

But more than that, one line really crystallized something I've thought for a long time but never been able to articulate. "The Homosexual" said, "We live in a torn-open age where each minority is determined to proclaim itself as good as the self-appointed judges of a life which no longer provides a rational basis for their prejudices."

And that sums up why I'm unable to oppose gay rights: I no longer have a rational basis for my prejudices. I never did.

2. It's easy to find stories on the web about gay people being treated horribly by their straight Mormon relatives and "friends." But here's something completely different. I pray that this kind of story, not the other, becomes the norm in the LDS church. And everywhere else.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A buncha dead people

Several prominent people died while I wasn't up to posting, so here's a run down on Tim Russert, Cyd Charisse, George Carlin, and Jesse Helms.

Jon Swift pretty much expressed my own opinion on Russert, "one of the most important people who ever lived on Earth, if not the most important person." His spot-on obituary is here.

Cyd Charisse was simply beautiful. This is from Singing in the Rain.

George Carlin was one of my all-time favorite comedians. His Take-Offs and Put-Ons was the first comedy album I ever bought. And in 10th grade, when I had to write a "compare and contrast" essay, I plagiarized his "Baseball vs. Football" bit. (Shhh, don't tell Ms. Owens.) I got an A.

Finally, Jesse Helms. I just don't get why so many conservatives spoke of this man as some sort of icon when he died. As far as I can tell, he remained an unrepentant racist, homophobe, and xenophobe until the end of his all too long political career, a caricature of every negative stereotype of the American rightwing.

That's not just some sort of wild-eyed lefty view. Here's David Broder in 2001, when Helms retired (h/t: Ezra Klein):

What is unique about Helms -- and from my viewpoint, unforgivable -- is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans.

Many of the accounts of Helms's retirement linked him with another prospective retiree, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. ...But there is a great difference between them. Thurmond, who holds the record for the longest anti-civil rights filibuster, accepted change. For three decades he has treated African Americans and black institutions as respectfully as he treats all his other constituents.

To the best of my knowledge, Helms has never done what the late George Wallace did well before his death -- recant and apologize for his use of racial issues. And that use was blatant.

And Ross Douthat:
[Helms] simply was an awful bigot, and worse he was an awful bigot who never expressed a shred of remorse, so far as I know, for his toxic approach to issues ranging from civil rights to HIV to foreign affairs. Far from being the sort of politicians who conservatives ought to defend, out of a sense of issue-by-issue solidarity, he's the sort of politician conservatives ought to carefully distance themselves from, because his political style brought (and continues to bring) intellectual disrepute to almost every cause with which he was associated.

And in his own words and deeds. I don't get why conservatives aren't ashamed to be associated with him.

Monday, July 07, 2008


I can't remember the last time I was really sick. I mean, not just so sick that I didn't want to work, but so sick that I couldn't work. It's not like I have a physically demanding job; mentally, I need to concentrate intensely, but physically, all I do is sit at a desk. So I've always been able to work, if necessary, even if I was sick.

But not this time. I couldn't manage more than about half an hour in front of my computer before I had to go back to bed and sleep for two or three hours. I had to bail out on a job I'd already accepted. There was just no way I could put together 10 or 12 hours of concentrated work, so I told the client, "I'm sorry, you'll have to find someone else to do this one." That was the first time I've given back a job in my 17 years of freelancing.

And I was sick enough to go see a doctor for the first time since I lost my health insurance (in 1999 or 2000, I think). Fortunately, the medicine he gave me worked pretty much as expected, and I was much, much better after two or three days of the five-day course of antibiotics. I guess I'm more or less well now (although I do still have a bit of a cough, and I tire easily). If I had insurance -- or if I lived in a civilized country, i.e., one with universal health care -- I suppose I'd go back for a follow up, but I'm already out about $400 for the job I gave up, $150 for the doctor visit, and $35 for the meds, so I can't really afford another $150 to make sure I'm all right. I just have to guess that I probably am.

Anyway, a couple of observations:

American Psycho is not a good book to read while you're very sick. It gave me a nightmare. I dreamed I got in a knife fight with Judge Holden -- just me and him and a couple of big butcher knives. On second thought, though, it wasn't actually a nightmare per se. I won the fight, barely -- I killed the MF -- and it was very exhilarating. Despite my many wounds, I felt triumphant as hell when he finally went down, so in that sense it was actually a good dream (and maybe that says something about me), but physically I was in no condition for that kind of excitement. I woke up panting for breath, dehydrated, with a fever of 103.

Another thing is, Vicodin did weird things to my dreams. (Judge Holden was just a fever dream or something, because that one came before I was on the Vikes.) First, it made my dreams really vivid and real. That's happened to me a few times before, but never a bunch of times in a few days. I also had lucid dreams several times. But way stranger things kept happening too. Like, I'd be having a dream, and then I'd wake up and look around, and then I'd close my eyes and I'd be back in the same dream again. Or I'd have a dream and wake up, and then I'd close my eyes and I could see kind of afterimages from the dream in front of my eyes. It was actually pretty cool. I like Vikes! But fortunately (I guess), the doctor only gave me enough for five days, so there's no chance of me overindulging.