Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More gotcha questions for Sarah Palin

Damn the librul news media with their patronizing gotcha questions like "What newspapers and magazines do you read?"



COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.

So... whattya think?

I changed the blog a little bit.

Three columns now -- stuff related to the blog is on the left, books, movies, music, and blogroll on the right, and posts in the middle. It's not too busy or distracting, I hope.

What do you think?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let's Ecology! 12: The Big Interview (part 2)

Takahashi began telling me about the Recycle Movement Citizens Association. He said that they were a citizens' group, and that their original main activity was indeed putting on flea markets, which they sponsored every month at Meiji Park in Tokyo and occasionally in other locations. About three years before, though, they had begun an organic food home delivery service, which they had named Turnip Boy, and it had become a huge money maker.

Takahashi talked a little about the bananas, which were being sold through Turnip Boy, and which continued to impress me with the organization's, and his, apparent sincerity. He also mentioned something about making a catalog of environmentally-friendly products, or "ecology goods" as they were called in Japan. I asked a few questions and quickly decided that I would very much like to work there.

Takahashi and Soga asked me some questions too. Looking at my résumé, they asked me about Waseda ("Wasn't the entrance exam hard?") and about the school I went to in the US ("Is that UCLA?") and what I had studied. They had me read something out loud in Japanese as a test, which I apparently passed.

They asked me about teaching English and why I wanted to change jobs. That was an easy one; it was all I'd thought about for the last year. "Because I majored in Japanese in school and put a lot of time and effort into studying the language and culture, I'd like a challenging job where I can use both Japanese and English in my daily work. Teaching English, my Japanese language ability and most of what I studied are wasted." That was my standard answer. It was all true, too, although it left out anything about teaching English in Japan being an awful job if you don't have a viable exit strategy.

They asked me if I was interested in the environment; I said I was, that I had read a lot about environmental problems and was interested in the subject but wasn't active in any groups or anything like that. That seemed to be a satisfactory answer.

Takahashi's next question, however, threw me a little. "You must really like Japan to spend so much time here. Why do you like Japan so much?" That wasn't so easy to answer truthfully. Like most gaijin who have spent more than a year or two in the country, I had gotten over my early "I love Japan" infatuation, and had very ambivalent feelings about the country. I tended then more towards actually disliking Japan as a country or culture than otherwise. The frustration of not being able to find a good job, added to the crowds, the long commutes, the generally miserable weather (I am from Southern California after all), the pollution, the gray drabness of the city, the lack of open space and greenery, and the hierarchism, insularity, intolerance and racism of Japanese society were weighing heavily on me at that time.

"What do I like about Japan?" and "Why am I here?" were the first thoughts that came to my mind when Takahashi and Soga asked why I like Japan, but one look at their smiling, expectant faces told me that this was no time for philosophizing, much less for an answer like "Actually, I don't particularly like living in Japan and I'd rather be in America but there doesn't seem to be much of a job market for ex-English teachers there."

"Uh… I guess… I like the people," was the best answer that came to mind. I thought this would be satisfactory, but Takahashi followed it up with another question. "What do you like about the people?" I was only one question deep; I wasn't prepared for a follow-up. I had just blurted out a safe and conventional answer without really thinking about it. The truth was that just like any other nationality I had come in contact with, I liked some Japanese people, I disliked some, and I was indifferent to some. But I had just committed myself to liking them generically, and now I was in trouble.

My rule of thumb when asked this kind of question by a Japanese person, however, was "When in doubt, use a cliché," so I frantically tried to recall some favorite Japanese self-stereotypes. "Well… they're friendly... and uh… polite... and helpful... uh… intelligent.... And... um... it's a very safe country."

Pretty lame, but that seemed to be the kind of thing they were expecting, in content if not in depth of exposition. They responded with the smiles and nods that universally recognized truths bring forth from anyone. I thought it was a good time to change the subject. "What exactly would my duties be here?" I asked.

Next week: The third and final part of the Big 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.

Beyond parody

Sara Palin is beyond parody. Half the lines in this Saturday Night Live sketch (Tina Fey as Sarah Palin) are Palin's own words.


(I'm not sure if that will play if your IP address is outside the US. Sorry if it doesn't.)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 6 & 7)

Recap:
Preface
Bella is gonna die. (Not really.)
Chapter 1
Bella complains and blushes. Edward has bronze hair. He hates Bella.
Chapter 2
Edward is absent from school. Then he comes back. He has golden eyes. He doesn't hate Bella anymore.
Chapter 3
Edward saves Bella's life with his Beautiful Vampire super powers. He won't explain how three times. He has golden eyes two times. Bella has a crush on Edward.
Chapter 4
Edward ignores Bella. Then he stops ignoring her. Three boys ask Bella to the Sadie Hawkins dance. Edward asks Bella to go to Seattle with him and his golden honey colored gloriously intense eyes and his smoldering voice. She says yes.
Chapter 5
Edward has a crooked smile and ocher-colored/golden eyes that that scorch/smolder/befuddle/burn. Edward ditches biology. Bella faints at the thought of blood. She is like so mature.

Here's my synopsis of Chapters 6 and 7 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 6. Scary Stories
Bella goes to school the next day (Friday). She's embarrassed because she fainted. Edward isn't in school. Bella is engulfed in unstoppable gloom (I'm not making that up. Direct quote: "I couldn't stop the gloom that engulfed me") because she doesn't know when she'll see Edward again (probably Monday).

Bella is going to go to the beach with her new friends. She decides it might not be completely miserable. All the other girls are jealous because one of the Beautiful Vampires likes Bella.

The beach is pretty. Some of the kids walk over to look at tide pools. Bella manages not to fall in, although she does fall down in the woods a few times on the way back.

Some Indian kids from the Rez join Bella and her friends. A boy named Jacob notices Bella. Bella's dad knows Jacob's dad and bought Bella's truck from him. They talk about the truck.

Of course, Jacob immediately has a thing for Mary Sue Bella. (That's the fifth boy in six chapters, if you're keeping track.) A girl is jealous, and Bella makes catty remarks about her in the narration but not in the dialog, which seems a little unfair since the girl can't answer back.

Bella tricks Jacob into telling her that the Beautiful Vampires aren't allowed on the Rez. Bella tries to allure him and smolder at him so he'll tell her more. It works. (Naturally.) Bella flirts with Jacob and leads him on to get information out of him, but it's OK because a) she's Bella and b) she kind of likes him as a friend.

Jacob tells her that Indians are werewolves and that the Beautiful Vampires are vampires but don't kill people. Bella and Jacob pretend that it's just a scary story (or is it?).

Chapter 7. Nightmare
Bella listens to a CD. She falls asleep and has a nightmare about Jacob the werewolf and Edward the Beautiful Vampire. Then she wakes up. Then she takes a shower. Then she eats cereal.

Bella looks up vampires on teh interwebs. None of the descriptions are exact matches to what Jacob told her and what she's seen.

Bella is annoyed. She goes for a walk alone in the woods, which no doubt is exactly what anyone would do if they suspected the area were crawling with werewolves and vampires. Bella sits down on a fallen tree to think. She's not sure if Edward and the Beautiful Vampires are actually vampires, but she's sure they're more than human.

Bella thinks about avoiding Edward, what with him probably being a vampire and all, but that idea grips her in a sudden agony of despair. (Yes, that's a direct quote: "I was gripped in a sudden agony of despair....") So she decides, in for a penny, in for a pound, because he has a voice, eyes, and a personality. All she wants is to be with Edward. Then she goes home and does her homework.

Monday is a sunny day. Bella goes to school. She talks with one of the five boys who has a thing for her and confuses him with big words. He asks her out. She blows him off by telling him that another girl likes him.

At lunch, none of the Beautiful Vampires are there. Bella is hit with crippling desolation. (Direct quote: "Desolation hit me with crippling strength.") She spirals downward in misery during the rest of lunch. After school, Bella goes home and mopes.

The next day, there are still no Beautiful Vampires in school, which painfully squashes the little sprouts of hope that keep budding in Bella's mind. After school, she leaves on a shopping trip with a couple of girls, which cheers her up exponentially.

(Seventeen more chapters to go. Pray for me.)

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's a tie?

A few thoughts on the debate...

It was more or less a tie. Obama and McCain both held their own; neither blew the other away; neither said anything egregiously stupid.

Since Obama is ahead, and since foreign policy is supposed to be McCain's strong suit, Obama probably wins by tying.

It remains to be seen whether undecideds/independents share my view that McCain often came across as an angry codger more intent on attacking Obama than answering questions, while Obama came across as calm, rational, and much more likable. If that's the case, then Obama "won."

The "winner" and "loser" ultimately come down to media spin (e.g., Gore blowing Bush away on substance in 2000, but "losing" in the media because he "sighed too much"), so who knows what the final perception will be.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's Ecology! 11: The Big Interview (part 1)

The interview was set up for Friday afternoon. I got off the subway at Kanda station, the one nearest to the Recycle Movement Citizens Association's office, and called for directions as instructed. They told me how to get there and said to come to the eighth floor. I found the building without any difficulty. But when I got there, the sign at the entrance on the first floor said the eighth floor was a company called Tamaki Network Corp., while the Recycle Movement Citizens Association was on the fifth floor.

Now I was thoroughly confused. Did they tell me the wrong floor, or did I misunderstand, which was more likely since the conversation was in Japanese? Or maybe they're the same organization? But then why are they separated by three floors? And why does one have a name that implies "civic group" while the other has a name that clearly says "business?" Should I go to the fifth floor? But I was sure I had heard "eighth floor." I was already nervous about the interview, and this confusion didn't help. Obviously, though, the only sensible thing to do was to go to the eighth floor and see what happened.

I was a few minutes early when I got out of the elevator and entered the Tamaki Network office. It was a typical Japanese office, one big open room with rows of desks facing each other, a couple of tables that could be used for meetings, and cabinets lining the walls. It was somewhat messier than many offices, however, with boxes of junk on top of the cabinets and with desks piled high with books and papers. The employees weren't dressed like people at an average Japanese company, though. Most of them were wearing jeans and T-shirts rather than the navy blue or gray suits that were de rigueur at Japan, Inc.

A relatively tall Japanese man of about my own age (28) greeted me. Still rather confused by the situation, I stammered out that I had a 3:00 appointment with Mr. Takahashi but I wasn't sure if I was in the right place. "Is this Recycle Movement Citizens Association?" He assured me that it was and that they were expecting me.

He escorted me to one of the meeting tables and after asking me to sit down and wait he gave me a big envelope stuffed full of pamphlets, a magazine, and copies of newspaper and magazine clippings. "This will explain something about our organization," he said. "Please take a look at it while you're waiting." I thanked him and started looking through the materials.

It seemed that their main line of business was putting on flea markets. Apparently, this was considered a kind of recycling in Japan, which explained the "Recycle" name. There were also some articles about an organic food business called "Turnip Boy," with which they also seemed to be somehow involved, and about importing bananas from the Philippines, buying directly from farmers' cooperatives and thus helping to raise the farmers' standard of living rather than exploiting their labor.

This Philippine banana business impressed me; it seemed so different from the typical Japanese, or American for that matter, way of doing business in the Third World. "This might be a pretty good place to work," I thought. In all this literature, however, the mysterious Tamaki Network Corp. did not appear.

At this point Yuichi Takahashi made his appearance. My first thought, recalling his wife's "short and bald" description, was "You left out 'fat'," because he was actually short, only slightly balding, and quite pudgy. He also seemed very warm, friendly and outgoing, and rather "boyish" looking for his age, which was mid-thirties. He was accompanied by another Japanese man in his late thirties, about the same height but more muscular than pudgy of build, and with a rather scraggly, thin mustache that together with his darker skin and picaresque grin reminded me of the pirates in the Jackie Chan movie Project A.

They promptly introduced themselves and presented me with meishi, business cards, which are ubiquitous in Japanese business. Being a mere English teacher, I had no meishi of my own, but since I was there representing only myself and not an organization that was not a breach of etiquette.

Their cards were interesting though. Mr. Takahashi's card had English written on the back, with the name of the organization translated as the "Recycle Movement Citizens Association," and the slogan "Alternative action now!" boldly printed across the top of it. His piratical friend's card, written only in Japanese, said his name was Masahiko Soga and that he was the General Affairs Department manager of Tamaki Network Corp.

At last, I thought, the mystery of Tamaki Network will be solved. Seeing that Soga's meishi only said Tamaki Network, Takahashi told me, rather vaguely I thought, that Tamaki Network is "one part of our organization." Then with a smile he said to Soga that he should do something about his card. At this, Soga only grinned piratically.

Next week: Part 2 of the Big 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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I haven't been posting this week...

...Mostly because I've been working on the blog's design. As you may have noticed if you ever look at the sidebar, I've converted the "Best of" links to drop-down menus and added drop-down links for the "Let's Ecology!" and "Twilight" posts.

I'm also converting to a three-column design. (You can see how far I've gotten here.) The problem is that I'm using a generic template, but I want it to look like my current design, which I've customized a bit, so it requires a lot of tweaking. But I'll get it done soon.

Anyway, I'll try to get up a "Let's Ecology!" post and a "Twilight" post on Thursday and Friday, plus I've got more on Photobucket censoring my cartoon (I had a little e-mail conversation with them), my oldest daughter starts college on Monday, and I've got a couple of other things I've been meaning to write about, not to mention "Good read/random cool sites."

So there's lots more to come. Thanks for bearing with me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Things I Wonder About #5: If you did see a mouse...?

titmouse2

If you did see a mouse with tits, what could you call it? "Titmouse" is already taken.
© 2008 kuri

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Photobucket censored my cartoon

I've been using Photobucket for all my internet image needs for over two years. I have almost 300 images stored on it, mostly for my blogs. Even though Flickr is better, I've stuck with Photobucket because that's what I used first. I'm used to it and I've never had any problems with it. Until now.

I started a web comic a little while ago, and naturally I've been using Photobucket to put up the images. Imagine my surprise yesterday when instead of my most recent comic, I saw this:
violation
Apparently, my cartoon is too obscene for Photobucket.

Here, you be the judge. This is the "offending" image:
titmouse1

I don't get what would be "obscene" about a pair of line-drawn, cartoon boobs anyway, but the black bar was part of the original image. I want to keep the web comic "PG," and I think it's actually funnier with the boobs blacked out.

I find it hard to believe that there's a human being prudish enough to ban that comic. If there is, what kind of wankers does Photobucket have working for it? If some sort of bot found it, well, what kind of wanker would program it so poorly?

Either way, Photobucket = a bunch of wankers.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things I Wonder About #4: Why is a titmouse...?

titmouse1

Why is a titmouse called a "titmouse"? It isn't a mouse, and it doesn't have tits.
© 2008 kuri

Arrrrr!

Today is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Be sure to annoy your friends and colleagues by talking like a pirate.

Or just watch a horse race.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/19/2008)

Some amazing photographs of hurricane Ike and its devastation.

A map of worldwide piracy attacks.

Foreigners have funny names. (Probably not safe for work -- at least, you might have some explaining to do.)

The wrong Palin is running:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/18/2008)

McCain acts scarily confused again.

Sarah Palin doesn't know what percentage of US energy Alaska produces.

How deregulation led to the current financial crisis.

A conservative makes a case for Obama.

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 4 & 5)

Recap:
Preface
Bella is gonna die. (Not really.)
Chapter 1
Bella complains and blushes. Edward has bronze hair. He hates Bella.
Chapter 2
Edward is absent from school. Then he comes back. He has golden eyes. He doesn't hate Bella anymore.
Chapter 3
Edward saves Bella's life with his Beautiful Vampire super powers. He won't explain how three times. He has golden eyes two times. Bella has a crush on Edward.

Here's my synopsis of Chapters 4 and 5 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 4
Bella tells about her dream about Edward after all. In the dream, she chases him but can't catch him. I suspect this is foreshadowing.

Bella is embarrassed because everyone is paying attention to her. Except Edward -- he ignores her, except to nod without looking at her whenever she says hello. Bella starts stalking him in school. His eyes get darker.

A boy asks Bella to a Sadie Hawkins dance. She shoots him down by making up a plan to go to Seattle, because she's too clumsy to dance. She decides to go to Seattle for reals.

Edward looks at Bella. Her hands shake. I guess she got tired of blushing. Then he talks to her. He says it's better if they aren't friends. Bella gets mad at him.

Bella plays basketball in gym. This makes her fall down a lot, especially when she thinks about Edward. I'm not making that up. This is a direct quote: "I fell down a lot."

Another boy asks Bella to the Sadie Hawkins dance. She shoots him down too. A third boy asks Mary Sue Bella to the Sadie Hawkins dance. She shoots him down also. She complains because so many boys like her.

Bella goes home. While she's cooking dinner, she starts "thinking." What did Edward mean, they shouldn't be friends? Doesn't he know she likes him? He must know she likes him. He must not like her at all. He's so awesome, and she's so dull. Etc. I feel a little guilty reading the passage, like I've stumbled across a 13-year-old girl's diary or something.

Bella goes to school again. Edward has golden honey colored eyes. He offers Bella a ride to Seattle on the day of the Sadie Hawkins dance. He says he's given up trying to stay away from her. A thrill goes through Bella when she says his name. Edward's eyes are gloriously intense and his voice smolders. Bella agrees to go to Seattle with him.

Chapter 5
Bella is late to English class because she is dazed from talking to Edward. She blushes (just like old times). At lunch, Edward doesn't sit at the Beautiful Vampire table. He sits by himself and waves Bella over to join him.

Edward likes her now. He has ocher-colored eyes and a breathtaking crooked smile. He talks like he's dangerous. His deep gold eyes befuddle Bella. Edward and Bella banter for awhile. Edward's eyes scorch and smolder. Bella finally gets that he actually is dangerous.

Bella goes to biology class, but Edward ditches. The class members are supposed to prick their fingers and type their blood. Bella faints. A boy starts to take her to the nurse, but Edward intercepts and carries her there.

A fainty boy comes in too. Edward rushes Bella out of the room. She says she could smell the boy's blood from his finger.

Edward shoves Bella into his car and drives her home. They both like Clair de Lune. Edward says Bella doesn't seem 17. I assume he's going to say, "Because you're so immature." Wrong! It's because she's so mature. I wonder how I could have failed to realize that constantly complaining, blushing, stumbling, fainting, getting tongue-tied around the opposite sex, being embarrassed about being seen with your parents, freaking out when people look at you, and obsessing over boys you hardly know because they have bronze hair and golden eyes are signs of maturity. I guess my inability to understand stuff like that is proof that I have Asperger's syndrome.

Edward looks at Bella with his burning golden eyes and teases her. She gets mad.

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/16/2008)

The Living Room Candidate is a museum of campaign ads. They're all there: LBJ's "Daisy" ad, "Willie Horton," "Swift Boat veterans." It's really fascinating stuff. (H/t: Savage Planet)

I am a Bibliophibian.

Nine Crimes White People Have Committed against Hip-Hop. Don't miss the Average Homeboy.

The New Yorker has an interesting profile of Alec Baldwin (believe it or not).

Jesus Is My Friend

Some musical acts simply defy description. Here's Sonseed with "Jesus Is My Friend."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/15/2008)

Just in case there was any possibility that you would buy the Republican talking point lie that "the Bush Doctrine" is some obscure term with disputed meaning and how could Sarah Palin possibly have known what it meant and she is ready to be vice president because you can see Russia from an island in Alaska to which she's never been herself, Glenn Greenwood points out that McCain, Obama, Ron Paul, George Will (who hypocritically claimed Sunday morning not to know what it is even though he wrote an article about it), and prominent neocons have all used the term with roughly the same meaning that Charlie Gibson did. It's not a term that's in dispute. Except, of course, when a prominent Republican embarrasses herself by not knowing what it is.

John McCain wants to tax employer health care benefits. That is a multi-trillion-dollar tax increase. It also increases the likelihood that you will lose your health insurance, since it will be more expensive for employers to provide. But never fear: McCain will give your family a $5,000 tax credit for the individual market (where insurance currently costs around $12,000 a year for a family). Good luck with that.

Here's a thoughtful essay on the good and bad of "small-town values."

John McCain: too mean-looking to be president. Some people are frakkin' silly.

Let's Ecology! 10: The Recycle Movement Citizens Association

It had been a year since I graduated from college. I'd spent that time looking for a Real Job while teaching English part-time at two English conversation schools. I'd been offered a job at an ad agency, but they withdrew the offer without explanation after I'd already given notice at one of my schools.

My spouse, H, was pregnant with our first child and would have to quit work soon. With just the one English-teaching gig, I wasn't making enough to support us on my own. If I didn't find a Real Job soon, I'd have to give up and teach English full time. But I'd failed so many job interviews that I was even losing confidence in my ability to find a good English-teaching job. I was starting to feel a little desperate.

Out of the blue one day, H told me that a Mrs. Takahashi at our church we attended had told her that her husband owned a company and wanted to hire "a foreigner." I didn't have the slightest idea who Mrs. Takahashi might be. I couldn't recall ever meeting her. The job sounded promising, though. Being a six-foot-six-inch, blue-eyed, blond American, I felt pretty qualified on the "foreigner" angle.

But what kind of company was it? What did they want a "foreigner" for? H didn't know, but at that point neither of us much cared. I was fine as long as it was a real Job, and H was fine as long as it was full-time.

Next Sunday at church, H and I talked to Mrs. Takahashi. It turned out that I actually never had met Mrs. Takahashi. She was younger than I expected from the wife of a company owner, in her mid-thirties probably, and rather attractive. She projected the gentle and refined image that most Japanese women her age at least tried to affect, no matter what they're really like on the inside. Mrs. Takahashi had a nice smile, though, which made me think she was the genuine article. Like many of these gentle Japanese women, she was also intelligent, strong, and determined, but I didn't learn about that until much later.

We didn't have much time to talk, so I didn't find out what kind of company her husband owned. I did confirm that he wanted to hire "a gaijin who can speak both Japanese and English," though. Apparently, this was for some sort of international business that the company was doing. Mrs. Takahashi said she'd talked to her husband about me, and that somebody from the company would call that week to set up an interview. She also said in that odd Japanese self-deprecating fashion that her husband was a chibippage, a "short and bald guy," but I shouldn't let that bother me. I didn't see why it would and made some polite meaningless response like, "I'm sure he isn't" (although I supposed that if she said so he probably was). With her nice smile, she repeated the chibippage bit and then rushed off to wherever she was going.

Later that week, while I was teaching in the morning, H took a call from somebody at Mrs. Takahashi's husband's company and set up an appointment for me. There was something strange about the "company," though. Apparently, it was some kind of civic group, not a company. At least that's what its name implied: the Recycle Movement Citizens Association. "Then they probably don't pay very well," H said. I didn't care. It was a Real Job, and if the pay was at all reasonable, it had to be more satisfying work than teaching English. And I kind of liked the idea of working for a non-profit.

Next week: the Big 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.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 2 & 3)

Recap:
Preface
Bella is gonna die. (Not really.)
Chapter 1
Bella complains and blushes. Edward has bronze hair. He hates Bella.

Here's my synopsis of chapters 2 and 3 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 2. Open Book
The next day Bella goes to school. She starts getting used to it. She complains about the wind. She's bad at volleyball, which -- you guessed it -- makes her blush. Edward is absent.

Bella goes to the grocery store. Her mother nags her by e-mail. Bella cooks dinner. She talks with her dad about Edward's family. Edward is absent the rest of the week. Bella goes to the library and complains about its small inventory.

On Monday, it snows. Bella complains about it. Edward is back at school. Bella stares at him and blushes, but only with her ears. Edward stares at her too, but not at the same time.

In biology, Edward talks to Bella and is nice to her. Now he has golden eyes instead of black eyes. Bella and Edward are good at biology. They talk a lot. After school, Bella almost crashes into a Toyota with her truck because Edward is staring at her. She doesn't say so, but I bet she blushes.

Chapter 3. Phenomenon
Overnight, there's an ice storm. Bella complains about it. On the way to school, Bella complains because two boys like her. In the school parking lot, a van slides on the ice and is about to crush Bella, but Edward uses his super Beautiful Vampire speed and strength to save her.

Edward refuses to explain to Bella how he saved her. He has golden eyes. He refuses again, and he still has golden eyes. Bella goes to the hospital. She's embarrassed by the EMTs, by the neck brace they put on her, and by the ambulance ride, although she doesn't mention whether she blushes. Maybe she's as tired of talking about blushing as I am of reading about it.

Bella gets to the hospital. The boy who almost killed Bella with his van keeps apologizing, and Bella can't get him to STFU about it. Edward shows up. He still refuses to explain what he did, even though Bella knows he moved super fast and lifted up a van. That makes Bella mad, and not just because it's the third time within 10 pages that they've had the same conversation.

In the hospital waiting room, everybody looks at Bella. (I forgot to mention that Bella has a thing about people looking at her. In Chapter 1, everybody looked at her because she's the new girl. In Chapter 2, not so much. In Chapter 3, they all look at her again because she almost died.)

Bella goes home. All she can think about is Edward. That night she dreams about him for the first time, but she doesn't say what the dream is. Is this foreshadowing, or is Bella just a tease? Beats me.

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Song of my father

Father's Day in the LDS Church is usually simply a celebration of fatherhood. Generally, all the talks (sermons) that Sunday in church are about how great it is to be a father and/or how great the speaker's father is.

One Father's Day, though, was quite different for me. I was 23 or 24, not married, still in school. The first speaker in church said something like, "Don't ever do A, B, and C to your kids. It will mess them up permanently." The second speaker said, "Don't do X, Y, and Z to your kids. It will scar them for life." "The third speaker said, "They're right. And don't ever do D, E, and F either, because they're just as bad."

You get the picture. That day, unlike every other Father's Day I've experienced in the Church, the theme seemed to be "What not to do as a father." And the thing was, every one of those things that ruin a child's life, from A to Z, was how my father treated me growing up. My home had been dysfunctional and emotionally abusive.

I already had "self-esteem issues." The talks that day were too much for me. They simply confirmed what I already thought I knew: I'm broken, I'm scarred, I'm messed up. Permanently. I'll never be whole. I'll never be well. I went straight home after that meeting, without staying for the rest of the services. That was the first time I'd ever done that. In fact, it remains the only time I've ever had to flee church because I was hurt by what was preached there.

But I didn't need to be hurt. What I didn't realize then, and what those speakers in their well-meaning ignorance didn't know either, was that all of us were wrong. Human beings are more resilient than any of us understood. I was already well on my way toward healing. Was I -- am I -- scarred? Yeah, a little. But broken? Messed up? No. Not permanently. I've actually turned out all right.

Your father is broken
But you’re not
Dented and bent
And maybe not in one piece
But somewhere underneath it all
You are strangely okay
Almost unscathed
Under everything that hurts

Those are translated lyrics from a song called "Kaputt" by the German band Wir Sind Helden. It's one of those works of art that tells my life better than I can. Because that's me: dented and bent, and maybe not all in one piece, but underneath it all, strangely OK.

So much is broken
But so much isn't
Each of the shards
Reflects the light
There's so much broken
But among the flames
Among ashes and rubble
Something was good

You found it
And you've got to carry it
For yourself and for everyone
Who asks about it

I've found that something good, and I'm going to carry it.

(H/t: Main Street Plaza)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

John McCain, in his own words

[God] will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn. -- Psalms 64:8

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to

I know that you, my readers, are a literate and intelligent bunch. Thus, most of you have avoided reading the Twilight series by Stephenie [sic] Meyer. But it's a big pop-culture phenomenon that everyone talks about, so you'd probably like to know more about it without having to actually read it. Otherwise, when you try to join in a conversation about it, you might end up sounding like Sarah Palin trying to talk about foreign policy. Or the economy.

So I've decided to help you out. I'm going to read Twilight, so you don't have to. I'll provide a complete synopsis -- not a review, although I may editorialize now and then -- right here in my blog, a couple chapters at a time, as fast as I can stomach it do it.

Here's a synopsis of the Preface and Chapter 1 of Twilight by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Preface
Bella's gonna die, but that's OK because she's in love or something. Except she's not really gonna die, because she's telling the story in the first person past tense, which she couldn't do if she were dead. And there are three sequels anyway. But I'll pretend I don't know that, so it'll be suspenseful.

Chapter 1. First Sight
Bella complains about not being able to live with her mom anymore. She complains about moving to a small town. She complains about the weather. She complains about not fitting in. She complains about how she looks. She complains about the weather some more. She complains about having to live with her dad. She complains because her truck is so noisy. She complains about the way her new high school looks. I begin to sense a pattern.

Bella goes to school. She complains because a nerdy boy is nice to her. A teacher makes her blush. Another teacher makes her blush. She starts to make friends at school. She sees some Beautiful Vampires, but she doesn't know what they are yet. I do, though, since I know this is a book about Beautiful Vampires. I have a hard time deciding if this qualifies as dramatic irony, because although I know something Bella doesn't, the knowledge is not supplied by the text. One of the Beautiful Vampires looks at Bella and makes her blush. His name is Edward. He has bronze-colored hair.

Bella has to sit by Edward in biology because the only empty seat is next to him. He looks like he's mad at her. Bella blushes again. I begin to wonder whether she's easily embarrassed or prematurely menopausal. Edward has black eyes. Not like punched-in-the-face black eyes, black irises. And bronze hair. He acts like he hates Bella.

A not-nerdy boy talks to Bella. She doesn't complain about that. She does complain because she has to take PE.

Edward has bronze hair, and he hates Bella.

(Check the pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for more Twilight chapters.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sarah Palin doesn't know what the "Bush Doctrine" is

Don't know much about the economy
Don't know much foreign policy
But I do know how to gut a moose
So if you decide to vote for me
What a wonderful world this could be



Of course, Charlie Gibson doesn't articulate the Bush Doctrine very well. A preemptive strike against an imminent attack is legitimate self-defense. The Bush Doctrine radically extends the justification for preemption from an imminent attack to the mere capability to attack at some unspecified future time. But then, A) Gibson isn't running for Vice President and B) he's at least in the ballpark.

Obama on Letterman





Transcript.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Large Hadron Collider

Has the Large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?

Change

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/9/2008)

George Friedman offers a coherent and compelling account of why the Russians struck in Georgia.
...the central reality of this situation: the Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia, and the United States and Europe could not meaningfully respond. They did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no force to counter them. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well—indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans need the Russians more than the Russians need the Americans. Moscow's calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, and they struck.

Sarah Palin doesn't know what Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac do.
Speaking before voters in Colorado Springs, the Republican vice presidential nominee claimed that lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had "gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers." The companies, as McClatchy reported, "aren't taxpayer funded but operate as private companies. The takeover may result in a taxpayer bailout during reorganization."
...
"You would like to think that someone who is going to be vice president and conceivable [sic] president would know what Fannie and Freddie do," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "These are huge institutions and they are absolutely central to our country's mortgage debt. To not have a clue what they do doesn't speak well for her, I'd say."

Bad Astronomy has 10 Things you don't know about the Earth. Bonus: This very cool Map Tunneling Tool enables you find out where you'd end up if you could tunnel to the other side of the planet.

Why don't people write songs about cars anymore? J. Freedom du Lac investigates.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

John McCain: Reformed Maverick



Oh, and here's a little bonus also from The Daily Show.

Residual self-image

Have you ever noticed that many pictures in newspaper obituary columns show the dead people when they were not just years but decades younger than their ages at death? Apparently, this is something that bothers some people.

After a reader wrote in to "Dear Abby" to complain about the practice, a number of readers responded with their own theories for why they're used. I think the best explanation was this one:

DEAR ABBY: The reader who objected to people using old photos instead of recent ones in obituaries is obviously still young. When she looks at me, she sees the white hair, the sagging skin and other signs of aging, but my image of myself is still youthful, dark-haired and fit. I would like to use a younger picture for my obituary – it's who I am.
– Sometimes Shocked At The Mirror

In other words, a youthful picture would fit her "residual self-image." According to Wikipedia, "Residual self image is the concept that individuals tend to think of themselves as projecting a certain appearance." It's the way people look to themselves on the inside when they're not thinking about it. This idea was popularized in The Matrix, when Neo asked Morpheus why he looked different inside the Matrix than out of it, and Morpheus explained that it was because of Neo's residual self-image.

In my residual self-image, I'm not the old, fat, ugly dude that I am in real life. I'm 20 years younger, 50 pounds lighter, still good-looking. In my mind, I'm forever 27 years old.

In fact, not long ago, I had a funny experience (both funny/strange and funny/ha-ha) that pointed up the difference between my residual self-image and reality. I went to meet a couple of my internet friends. I've known them for years online, but this was the first time I'd ever met them in person. And the moment I saw them in real life, my first thought was, "Wait, that can't be them. They're too old. They're only around my age. ... Oh." Then I remembered, of course, how old I really am.

I think groups can have residual self-images as well. Back around 2000, I started participating heavily in several LDS-themed internet forums. I posted a lot in them. I had in the neighborhood of 10,000 posts in a couple of them, and a few thousand in a couple others.

Back in the day, those forums were freewheeling places, with all sorts of people, liberal, conservative, libertarian, pragmatic, idealistic, religious, atheist, agnostic, certain, questing, etc. The peak of this diversity and of the forums' activity was probably around 2002. Over time, though, forums closed, were taken over by people I didn't like, slowly drifted into inactivity, etc.

Finally, I was down to just one forum where I actively posted. Over time, most of the diversity disappeared from that forum, and it eventually evolved into a group of like-minded friends who agree on almost everything. Anyway, earlier this year I stopped posting in that one too, for reasons I won't go into in this post. Since I care about almost all the regulars there, though, I still lurk quite often to see what's going on in their lives.

Recently a newcomer showed up in the forum and, most unusually, was not immediately driven away by the regulars. That in itself was a bit of a surprise, but the big surprise was the way some regulars described the forum to her. They said things like, "Some of us are conservative, some are liberal..." and "We are a diverse bunch..." and "The LDS folk who visit here are varied...."

I don't think any of those things are true anymore. I was probably the last liberal* regular there when I left, and probably the last one before me was driven out around six months before that. There's really not much diversity or variation in thought there any longer. (And there's nothing at all wrong with that. I'm being descriptive, not prescriptive.)

And that's how I realized that groups can have residual self-images too. Just like the old lady who wrote to Dear Abby and I sometimes still envision ourselves the way we used to be rather than the way we are, members of that forum sometimes still think of it as it used to be and not as it is now. It's an interesting extension of a psychological phenomenon.

*By liberal, of course, I mean by American standards. Like Barack Obama, our "most liberal" senator, in much of Europe, say, or Australia, etc., I'd be considered centrist, or even center-right.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Why I won't vote for Republicans

I'm tired of writing about politics, and you're probably even more tired of reading about it here, but DarkSyde articulates better than anyone I've seen why I won't be voting for Republicans anytime soon.

The whole thing is worth reading -- it's only a few paragraphs long anyway -- but here's the conclusion:

I guess that's what confuses a lot of voters: Conservatives are worried that Democrats might do the same astonishingly lousy job Republicans have done for the last eight years. To avoid even the possibility that that might happen, conservatives prescribe electing more members from the same crew who wrecked the country, in what is clearly to any lucid external observer the ridiculous and desperate hope that the same party will fix it all by continuing, uninterrupted, the same policies that produced the damage in the first place. In the alternate reality fabricated by the seamlessly integrated conservative PR apparatus, this extension of the failed status quo is called change, in the rest of the world it's one of the better known definitions of insanity.

Eight years of incompetacracy is enough.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/6/2008)

Our world can be divided into Ptolemaic countries and Copernican countries. France is a Ptolemaic country.

"Come, walk with me."

"President Abraham Lincoln was buttbuttinated by an armed buttailant after a life devoted to the reform of the US consbreastution." When obscenity filters go wrong and more clbuttic idiocy.

This can't possibly be true, can it? Did Cindy McCain really wear an outfit worth $300,000 to the Republican National Convention? No wonder McCain doesn't know how many houses he owns, if his wife walks around with the price of one hanging from her ears.

Friday, September 05, 2008

YouTube favorites (September 2008)

Time for more YouTube Favorites:

Ray Bradbury forecasts life in the year 2001 in a prune commercial, the big Bourne Ultimatum fight scene in Lego animation, Don't kite surf in a hurricane!, Barack Obama Rickroll the world!, There's a rainbow in my sprinkler! It's a conspiracy! (Your public school education dollars at work), the Sneezing Panda, and people make all kinds of dumbass comments to people with Middle eastern backgrounds.

Ray Bradbury, future prune salesman


The best Lego-animation fight scene ever

(Here's the original, if it's been awhile since you've seen The Bourne Ultimatum.)

A little life advice for my readers: DON'T KITE SURF IN A HURRICANE! IT'S DANGEROUS!


Barack Obama Rickroll the world!


Your public school education dollars at work.


The Sneezing Panda


Some Middle-Eastern-American comedians and their friends made a video of the weird things people say to them. (My kids get this kind of thing all the time, except they're Asian, not Middle Eastern. I'm trying to get them to make a video too.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Signs of Hope and Change

Getting back to what the campaign is about.

The Omnivore's 100

Yesterday, my son asked me, "If you were going to die tomorrow and you could eat anything you want, what would it be?" Since he's only 13, I didn't tell him the real answer, which is "Jessica Alba." I just said, "Ice cream."

Anyway, I happened to be thinking a little about food, and today two bloggers on my blogroll, Ezra Klein and Cosmic Variance, posted the Omnivore's 100, 100 foods you should eat before you die.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile (Alligator, actually. It tasted like chicken. Seriously.)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (In Japan, this is considered an improbably exotic combination.)
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns (My spouse can make these from scratch.)
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (Fugu is poisonous if prepared wrongly. In Japan, a special license is required to sell it. I kind of got turned off trying it because the only fugu chef I knew was an alcoholic.)
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (Tremendously overrated.)
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips (Like chocolate chips, only not as good-tasting!)
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Isn't this a food additive?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake (I don't know how much they cost now, but churros used to be 10 for a dollar on the street in Tijuana. Good times.)
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini (I've had caviar and I've had blintzes, but not together.)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (Why not a Twinkie?)
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (I might actually want this with my last meal. Pocky and ice cream. And Jessica Alba.)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano (I've had mole, but not mole poblano.)
96. Bagel and lox (Never had lox.)
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta (I've had cornmeal mush and grits, but never polenta.)
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/4/2008)

Don't run hop on one foot while carrying a pencil. Warning: shocking photos.

Filmmaker Richard Dutcher has left the Mormon Church. Who knows, maybe he wouldn't have if he'd read this excellent article on How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith.

I so want one of these.

Hawt female chess players. Man, I dig them brainy chicks! Wait -- sorry, was that sexist?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chrome-plated internet

Usually I use Firefox, but I've been trying Google's new browser, Chrome. Here's a review.

Chrome works well. During installation, it loaded my Firefox bookmarks seamlessly. They're in the right order and all. It took a little getting used to having them over on the right instead of on the left like Firefox,

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but that's not a problem. It also added the "Sub with Bloglines" widget that I use with Firefox.

The interface is a little different. Chrome has a really clean look, with nothing above the address bar. There's just two little buttons, a picture of a document image and a picture of a wrench, at the end of the bar and above the bookmarks. Most of the stuff you might need to do is in those two pull-down menus.

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It looks nice. By comparison, Firefox looks really cluttered.

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OTOH, I think the Firefox interface is a little easier to use. All the stuff is right there, and clearly labeled.

Supposedly, Chrome is able to load pages faster than other browsers, but to be honest, I can't tell the difference. Maybe it will matter in the future, but it doesn't seem to now. Chrome apparently uses less memory -- Firefox is a big memory hog -- but I've never had any problems with that on my machine.

One nifty feature I like is that when you manually open a new window or tab, it shows pages you visit often, with a list of recent bookmarks next to it.

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But new windows don't open in full screen, even though that's what I'm browsing in. With Firefox, new windows open in the same mode you started in.

It also has a strange bug. I was looking at a series of pictures on Facebook, when suddenly Chrome started looping. It would start to load the next picture, but then it would jump back to the last one I was looking at. It was impossible to look at another picture. Weird.

Anyway, my overall assessment is that, except for that one bug, Chrome works fine, but I see no reason to switch from Firefox. I would switch over from Internet Explorer in a second if those were the only two alternatives, but fortunately they're not. For now, I'll stick with Firefox.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How McCain chose his VP candidate (dramatization)

Language is not safe for work/children/prudes.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (9/2/2008)

Here's a summary of Obama's and McCain's tax policies. Basically, Obama's plan will cut your taxes more if you make less than $111,000, while McCain's plan will cut your taxes more if you make at least $160,000.
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The US economy grows faster under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones (since 1948). Just sayin'.

A fellow Vietnam War POW explains why he's not voting for John McCain. (Link fixed)

And, speaking of American heroes, Pruning Shears writes about some people who stood up and tried to stop the Bush Administration's torture and kangaroo courts.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Let's Ecology! 9: The ugliest woman I met in Japan

While I was working at Ginza English Conversation School (GECS), any number of teachers passed through. One of them was a beautiful Australian woman named Stephanie. She was absolutely gorgeous, in a way that really stood out in Japan -- tall, with long blond hair, big blue eyes, a lovely friendly smile, a shapely athletic figure. She was the most beautiful white woman I ever saw in Japan (and I could count the better-looking Asian women I saw on one hand).

As soon as I saw Stephanie, I was pretty sure that she wouldn't last long at GECS. Her attractiveness premium was just too high. In fact, she was only there for about three weeks before she left for a better job. But while she was there, she made quite an impression on everyone.

Because somehow one of us teachers' five-minute in-between-class group conversations happened to get onto the subject of Australian Aborigines. And then Stephanie was off. They're lazy. They're ignorant. They don't want to work. They don't want to go to school. All they want to do is collect welfare. And on and on. But she didn't say "they." She said "the boongs." "The boongs are this. The boongs are that." And "boong," for those of you unfamiliar with Australian slang, is equivalent to "nigger," but used to refer to Aborigines.

One of the teachers got up and left the room. The rest of us just stared at her with our mouths agape. I don't think any of us had ever seen an open -- no, not just open -- a flaming racist like that before. I know I hadn't. Sure, I'd heard similar ideas before, but usually they were put a little more subtly. I'd never seen anyone in the middle of a group of college-educated people express them openly, almost proudly, as if they were common sense, and combine them with racial slurs. I never have since, either.

For a moment, I literally couldn't believe my ears. "Wait -- is she saying what I think she's saying? Oh. My. Freakin'. Gourd." But that moment was all it took for Stephanie to go from one of the most attractive people I'd ever met to one of the least. In fact, she was the ugliest woman I met in Japan.

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.

Things I Wonder About #3: If Necrophiliacs...?

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If necrophiliacs have sex with corpses, do Cadillacs have sex with golf caddies?
© 2008 kuri