Friday, October 31, 2008

The two best things about Halloween

Best thing about Halloween:
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Cute kids in costumes

Second best thing about Halloween:
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DAD CANDY! w00t! That's my haul for the night. Next year, when you're giving out candy, remember the dads.

Happy Halloween!

In honor of Halloween, Christopher Walken reads "The Raven," the scariest music ever written, and dropping giant pumpkins on a car.

Christopher Walken reads "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe.


The scariest music ever written: "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 Stringed Instruments" by Krzysztof Penderecki. I used a selection in my movie, you may recall. Turn out the lights and turn it up loud. If you dare.


And for a slight change of pace, nothing says "Halloween" like using a crane to drop a pair of giant pumpkins on a car.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Liddy Dole makes vile ad, gets pwned for her trouble

Senator Elizabeth (Liddy) Dole, wife of former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, is locked in a tough reelection battle in North Carolina. I don't know much about her, but she seemed an amiable enough person, despite being a Republican. (I voted for her husband in 1996, BTW.) But a couple days ago, she released an ad that will go down in American political history as one of the sleaziest ever.

It seems that her opponent, Kay Hagan, once attended a run-of-the-mill Democratic fundraiser where one of the dozens of co-hosts also happened to be a leader of an athiest lobbying group called the "Godless Americans PAC." Dole got ahold of this vague connection and put out the following commercial.



Now, the truth is, Hagan has no relationship with the group, it had no organizational relationship to the fundraiser, and there was nothing secret about the meeting. It was perfectly ordinary fundraiser, where one of the Democrats listed as a sponsor happened to be an atheist. The money was no more "godless" than at any other fundraiser. (Of course, in Christian theology all money is "godless" anyway. "Render unto Caesar" and all that.)

The secret-camera-looking footage used in the ad has nothing to do with that fundraiser, nor do the people in the footage have anything to do with the Godelss Americans PAC. It was taken elsewhere and manipulated to look ominous. And then, bizarrely, in total WTF territory, that voice at the end saying "There is no God!"? That was a voice actor hired by the Dole campaign to impersonate Hagan. Unbefrakkinlievable.

It shouldn't matter if somebody is an atheist, but of course it still does matter politically, and as it happens, Kay Hagan is a Christian, active in her church, and a former Sunday School teacher. So the ad is completely dishonest from start to finish, vilely, disgustingly so.

And Hagan was not about to stand for that. Watch her in her own ad calling out Dole for "bearing false witness against a fellow Christian."



Pwned. And if there's any justice in the universe, Dole will lose, and lose big.

Food, part 1

PhotobucketLike a lot of people with Asperger's syndrome, I was a picky eater as a child. Actually, that's an understatement. I basically lived on meat, potatoes (mashed or French fries), white bread, and milk until I was in my 20s.

The only leafy vegetable I would eat was lettuce, and I would only eat it with oil-and-vinegar dressing. Put any other kind of dressing on a salad, and I would refuse to eat it. I absolutely loathed cucumbers. Usually my mother would make my salad separately, but once she tried to save time by making a big salad with cucumbers and just plucked out some of the lettuce for my portion. I couldn't eat it. "This is gross, it tastes like cucumbers!" I said. My dish had no cucumber slices in it, and I didn't see her mixing the salad, but the whole thing had that repulsive cucumber aroma. It was contaminated.

I would eat raw carrots once in a while, but not cooked carrots -- too mushy, or even worse, mushy on the outside and firm but not crunchy on the inside. Disgusting. I wouldn't eat peas or any kind of beans. I would eat corn, but only on the cob. No creamed corn or canned corn. No broccoli, no Brussels sprouts, no turnips, no radishes, no cauliflower, no tomatoes. I'd eat celery now and then, but only raw stalks, never cooked and never cut up in a salad or something.

I liked potatoes, but I preferred them mashed (instant mashed, actually, because I didn't like the lumps in real mashed potatoes) or French fried. I could tolerate boiled or baked potatoes.

The only fruits I'd eat were apples (if they were peeled and sliced; I never ate whole or unpeeled apples), grapes (green and seedless only), strawberries, and occasionally an orange. I never ate bananas, pears, peaches, or plums. I ate blueberries once when I was five and liked them, but I had no desire to ever eat them again.

For desert, I would eat cookies, cakes, pudding, Jell-o, and ice cream. But I wouldn't eat a cake with coconut on it (or any cake but chocolate, if I had a choice), any kind of pudding except chocolate, or any kind of ice cream but chocolate and vanilla. I wouldn't eat pie, unless it was a chocolate pie. I ate most kinds of candy, but not black licorice. But I did I like potato chips, Fritos, and pretzels.

I liked all kinds of meat, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, as long as nothing too exotic was done to it. It had to recognizable as meat. I wouldn't eat salami, for example, because it was spicy and salty at the same time. I also wouldn't eat cheese. And I wouldn't eat meat that had any kind of sauce on it. Gravy was OK, but not other sauces.

I didn't like foods to be mixed together. I never ate a slice of pizza or a taco, for example, until I was in high school. The only kind of sandwich I would eat was grape jam on white bread. I would eat hamburgers and hot dogs, but only if they had nothing on them but ketchup. Once some family friends took me to the zoo or somewhere, and for lunch they got me a regular hamburger, not "ketchup only." I literally gagged when I bit into it and there was a pickle inside. (I also refused to finish my French fries after a fly landed on them.)

That was the state of my diet until I was about 13 or 14. Things began to change then, and eventually, in my 20s, I became a "normal" eater. Next time, I'll explain how that happened.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 9)

Our Story So Far:
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.
Chapter 6
Bella is engulfed in unstoppable gloom because she won't see Edward for three days. She meets an Indian boy named Jacob who (of course) immediately has a thing for her. Bella uses her feminine wiles to get Jacob to tell her that Indians are werewolves and the Beautiful Vampires are vampires who aren't allowed on the Rez.
Chapter 7
Bella decides she wants to be with Edward even if he's a vampire. Edward is absent from school again, so Bella is hit with crippling desolation and spirals downward in misery. He's absent again the next day, which painfully squashes the little sprouts of hope that keep budding in Bella's mind. She leaves on a shopping trip with some girlfriends, which cheers her up exponentially.
Chapter 8
Bella goes shopping with her friends the yokels. She gets lost while looking for a bookstore and wrestling with despair. Four Rapists try to rape her, but Edward rescues her just in the nick of time with his Silver Volvo, because he's been stalking her. But there's nothing creepy about him stalking Bella, because he only does it for her own good.

Here's my synopsis of Chapter 9 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 9. Theory
Edward and Bella drive back towards Forks in Edward's Silver Volvo. Edward says he can follow Bella's smell. He's the only one in his Beautiful Vampire family who can read minds. Bella worries that there's something wrong with her mind because Edward can't read it.

(OK, I know this is supposed to be a synopsis not a review, but I need a little "meta" digression now and then if I'm ever going to get through this. Bella is apparently supposed to be a little low on self-esteem. Except that's not how she's written. As written, her self-regard is immense. She looks down on just about everyone who isn't a Beautiful Vampire.

This is part of a continuing pattern. Bella's mom is supposed to be her best friend -- except that in all Bella's interactions with her, so far, she finds her annoying. Bella is supposed to be so very mature for her age -- except that her actual behavior is consistently melodramatic and childish.

Of course, there are some books where there's a disparity between what the first-person narrator thinks of himself and what the reader is supposed to think of him. In
American Psycho, for example, it becomes an open question for the reader whether the narrator is the evil serial killer he claims to be, or just a dweeb with a rich but twisted fantasy life. Towards the end of the book, even the narrator begins to wonder.

Until now, though, I've only encountered this as a dramatic device. But with Twilight, that's not the author's intention. Stephenie [sic] Meyer actually seems to believe she's telling a story about an intelligent, grounded, and mature girl whose mom is her best friend and whose self-esteem is a bit low, not a girl who is strikingly immature, melodramatic, shallow, and narcissistic, and who can't stand her mom. I don't think I've ever read another book where the author is just as clueless as the narrator about this kind of disparity. It's kind of bizarre, and pretty damn annoying.

Anyway, back to our story.)


Edward drives the Silver Volvo really fast. But it's perfectly safe, because he has Beautiful Vampire reflexes and he can read cop minds before they can pick him up on radar.

Bella tells Edward that Jacob the Indian said Edward and his family are vampires. She says she doesn't care if Edward's a vampire. Edward says he's been 17 for a long time. He says the sun doesn't burn him, and he can't ever sleep. He wishes he could sleep. He distracts Bella with his golden eyes.

Bella says Jacob the Indian told her that Edward and his Beautiful Vampire family only drink animal blood, not human. Edward says that's true, but he and his family are dangerous anyway. He says being alone with Bella is a mistake.

This sends Bella into full-on sad mode again. She is hideously afraid that she won't have another chance to be with him. She recoils from the idea their relationship will end. She can't waste one minute she has with him. Her voice becomes tinged with desperation as she fights against the grief that tries to overpower her.

Edward says he'd rather drink human blood, but he drinks animal blood because he doesn't want to be a monster. When he was gone for the weekend, he was off drinking animal blood. He felt very anxious because he wasn't able to stalk watch over Bella for three whole days.

Bella says me too. Edward says that makes him feel bad because it's not right to make Bella feel bad. That makes Bella feel even worser. She cries. Edward changes the subject.

They get to Bella's house. Edward tells Bella not to go into the woods alone, cause there's other dangerous things around. Bella promises. Edward looks at her with his glorious face just inches from hers and breathes in her face. Bella is dazed by his dreamy-smelling breath. (Hmm. I'd have thought it would smell like animal blood, since that's his only food. But I forgot that he's a Beautiful Vampire.)

Bella goes inside, blows off her dad when he asks if she had a good time, blows off the yokel her friend who phones her, takes a shower, and goes to bed. Before she falls asleep, she reaches three conclusions: Edward is a Beautiful Vampire. Edward wants to drink Bella's blood sometimes. Bella is unconditionally and irrevocably in love with Edward. (I think Cher has some good advice for her.)

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

Thursday, October 23, 2008

We all love America

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/23/2008)

I <3 Bjork! She opens the back of her TV and finds a little city. And "You shouldn't let poets lie to you." Good advice.

It's Robocop on a unicorn!

Here's a statistical comparison of the four "Rambo" movies.

Back in 1978 or '79, psychedelic/prog rock band Gong's frontman Daevid Allen met Sherman Hemsley of "The Jeffersons" fame. Read what happened in "Weezy, Pass Me the LSD."
(Bonus: Gong produced the "weirdest album cover of all time." [Not for the faint of heart. It's disturbing.)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Deserves its own post

Brahnamin linked to this in the "Twilight" comments, but it deserves its own post, because its teh awesomest Twilight comic evar!!!111

(Check out the "I'm reading 'Twilight,' so you don't have to" pull-down menu under "Ongoing Series" in the left side-blog for a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Twilight.)

In heart I am a Moslem; in heart I am an American

The video of Colin Powell in a post below included part of what he said about being a Muslim in America, but I wanted to say more about that specifically. Here's more of what Powell said:

I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?
...
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards -- Purple Heart, Bronze Star -- showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life.

I had a lot more to say when I started this post, but this is enough. Here's the picture Powell was talking about. Look at it. Take a long look. Who is a better American than Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan? Who is a better American mother than Elsheba Khan?

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Let's Ecology! 15: Getting to work

My first assignment was to work on the Ecology Goods Catalog. The only woman working on the project was named Sachiko Murphy. She was Japanese, married to an American, Charles Murphy, who would later begin working at the Citizens' Recycle Movement of Japan as well. Just trying to make conversation, I asked her how long she'd been working at Recycle. "About a month," she answered.

I was surprised. "But the catalog is supposed to be ready to go to the printers at the end of next month."

"That's right. But except for Okayama-san, everybody on the team was hired about a month ago."

"Oh, well, then you must all be experts at making catalogs."

"No, none of us has done this kind of work before. My last job was teaching Japanese to foreigners."

I thought about that for a moment. "So without any relevant experience, this team was given about two and a half months to prepare a catalog, and not just any catalog, but a type that has never been done in Japan before and not all that many times anywhere else."

"That's right."

"O… K…." I didn't know anything about making a catalog either, but it seemed to me that a year was a more reasonable amount of time for a project like that, although I supposed maybe it could be rushed through in about six months if necessary. But less than three months? It sounded impossible. "Does it look like we'll meet the schedule?" I asked.

"A lot of people think that the deadline is too tight, and some think we won't be able to make a catalog at all. If this was the second edition or something, we'd have a base of products built up and could just add and drop a few items, but we're starting from scratch. Everybody is telling Mr. Takahashi that it's not enough time with the people we have, but he doesn't pay any attention."

Takahashi, I was to find, often seemed to have no idea of how long it would take how many people to do what kind of work. He gave me an assignment too: find "foreign ecology goods" for the catalog. In those pre-internet days, the only way to get sample catalogs or magazines was to have them sent by mail from the States. Recycle had a few environmental catalogs from different companies and groups in the States, including 100 copies of a catalog from a company in New England, which they had special-ordered to the great befuddlement of the operator who took the order.

All the products in the catalogs seemed to be things either readily available in Japan or completely irrelevant to Japanese lifestyles. I thought it would probably take a month just to find some usable items. After that, of course, it would be necessary to order samples and then to negotiate with manufacturers over conditions for putting the products in our catalog. Plus, there would be international shipping and customs to deal with.

It was obviously impossible to include foreign products by the deadline unless they were already being sold in Japan. After I spent a few days dutifully searching through catalogs and magazines for ideas, this opinion became general, and I was told to start looking for Japanese products instead. It seemed I was coming back to Soga's idea of doing the same work as the rest of the team after all.

But I was also being given more and more translation work to do, most of it English to Japanese rather than Japanese to English. This wasn't my specialty. I was much better translating into my native language. This is commonplace among professional translators, especially when the languages in question are as different as English and Japanese. Nobody at Recycle seemed to know anything about this, however, and the volume of work I was given steadily increased. I started spending more and more time translating, and less and less on the catalog. Finally, after only a couple of weeks, I was given a translation job that took virtually all my working hours for about four weeks and effectively knocked me off of the Ecology Goods Catalog team.

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.

Beat kuri's quiz score: the Eyeballing Game

It's actually a game, not a quiz, but this is really fun. See how well you can tell a right angle, the point where three lines converge, and stuff like that just by looking at it.

kuri's quiz score: 4.06

Common sense

Colin Powell:

Look really carefully...

Look really carefully and you can see Russia in the background.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The last debate

McCain started out strong. His "Joe the Plumber" bit seemed to make a couple of his points pretty effectively, although he overused it to the point where it will certainly become a joke. But McCain was overly aggressive. He kept throwing out largely irrelevant shots at Obama. This may have been effective at first, but eventually it turned into an "everything and the kitchen sink" attack that I suspect ended up turning people off. The character attack crap that used to work -- the BS assault that Bush used so devastatingly against Gore, Kerry, and yes, McCain in the past -- just doesn't fly anymore. In this economy, people (other than the Republican base) care about real issues.

Obama was on the defensive at first, but as always he kept his cool and made his points. I think he was very effective on health care and education. On health care especially, when McCain would attack his plan, Obama just kept addressing the camera and saying, "Look, I just told you what my plan is," making it clear that McCain was just distorting. Very effective.

Visually, the contrast was pretty strong, I think. Obama, young, smart, and cool vs. McCain, old and often -- when he "emoted," smirking and even rolling his eyes -- a little creepy-looking.

I thought Obama's closing statement was much better as well. McCain's was about McCain; Obama's was about us, the American people.

And overall, I thought this was the best debate. They talked mostly about policies, about what they want to do and why they want to do it, they were able to respond to each other, and they had enough time to give at least basic answers. Bob Schieffer also did a good job. He asked solid questions, gave them a chance to talk, and then moved along.

Snap polls:
CBS poll of uncommitted voters:
53% Obama
22% McCain
25% Draw

CNN:
58% Obama
31% McCain

And here's why these polls are important: they democratize the results. As kos says, they render pundits obsolete. They take away the ability of pundits to say what happened and instead put it in the hands of the American people. David Gregory can say all he wants that McCain's "I'm not Bush" was the "Line of the Night" (and it was a good line, but that's all it was -- one good line), but there's no way the media can take that and run with it the way they did with Gore's "sighs," for example. The verdict is already in; Obama "won" in the eyes of the American people. Who cares what the pundits think?

Beat kuri's quiz score: Murderous Monarchs

"History... has revealed several rulers to be more monster than majesty. The egomaniacs in this quiz made real life for their people more horrifying than any ghost story."

kuri's score: 8/10

My sexy snack

My spouse went to the Japanese grocery store in Portland the other day, and she brought me back a tasty snack: Lotte's Pepero Nude. I immediately took off all my clothes so I could eat it.

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Just kidding. Pepero is actually a knockoff of Pocky, the Ultimate Snack Food. I guess this flavor is called "nude" because the chocolate is on the inside rather than the outside. Which doesn't really make sense, because if a person's clothes were on the inside rather than the outside, you wouldn't call that "nude," you'd call it "a medical emergency."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (ch. 8)

Since things are actually starting to happen in the book (I mean, things other than blushing, complaining, and moping, although there's still plenty of that), I'll be posting a chapter at a time now.

Our story so far:
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.
Chapter 6
Bella is engulfed in unstoppable gloom because she won't see Edward for three days. She meets an Indian boy named Jacob who (of course) immediately has a thing for her. Bella uses her feminine wiles to get Jacob to tell her that Indians are werewolves and the Beautiful Vampires are vampires who aren't allowed on the Rez.
Chapter 7
Bella decides she wants to be with Edward even if he's a vampire. Edward is absent from school again, so Bella is hit with crippling desolation and spirals downward in misery. He's absent again the next day, which painfully squashes the little sprouts of hope that keep budding in Bella's mind. She leaves on a shopping trip with some girlfriends, which cheers her up exponentially.

Here's my synopsis of Chapter 8 of Twilight, by Stephenie [sic] Meyer.

Chapter 8. Port Angeles
Bella is in a good mood for once as she goes shopping with two girlfriends. She tells them she never had a boyfriend back in Phoenix. They tell her that one of The Many Annoying Boys Who Like Bella claims he's going to take her to the prom. Buzz kill! The gloom starts moving back in.

As her girlfriends shop for dresses for the Sadie Hawkins dance, Bella disses Port Angeles for only having one department store. Luckily, Bella the Phoenix sophisticate knows all about what colors go with whose eyes and hair and gives the yokels her friends some good fashion advice.

Bella skips out on her friends for an hour so she can go to a bookstore by herself. She finds a bookstore, but there's some middle-aged hippie-looking lady behind the counter, so of course Bella doesn't want to go in. She wanders off in search of a bookstore that doesn't have hippie-looking ladies in it, but she gets lost because she's too busy wrestling with despair to pay attention to where she's going.

She ends up in a warehouse district where she passes four Rapists, who try to talk to her. (Of course, Bella doesn't call them "Rapists" yet, but it's pretty obvious what they are, because they're wearing dirty clothes.)

Two of the Rapists start following Bella. They "herd" her towards the other two, who cut off her route back to the safe part of town. Bella stops and thinks about screaming, but her throat is too dry. She thinks about how to break noses and gouge eyes. She tries to swallow so she can build up a decent scream.

Edward comes flying around the corner in his silver Volvo and orders Bella to get in. He's really mad, so he asks Bella to distract him with innocuous prattle until he calms down so he doesn't murder the four Rapists with his Beautiful Vampire powers. She does a creditable job. (In fact, she could write a book.)

Bella and Edward meet up with Bella's friends. They lose the yokels friends and go have dinner, although Edward doesn't have anything because he's a Beautiful Vampire. Edward lends Bella his jacket and compliments her on how she looks in it, so she blushes (just like old times). The jacket smells nice. Edward's eyes are golden butterscotch colored.

Edward reveals he's been stalking Bella, but it's OK because it's for her own good. His Beautiful Vampire mind-reading powers don't work on Mary Sue Bella, so he generally stalks her by reading her friends' minds. But that's all perfectly fine and not the least bit creepy, because Bella is so accident-prone that she'd die without a Beautiful Vampire around to stalk her and keep her out of trouble.

They leave the restaurant and get into Edward's car to drive home.

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

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/14/2008)

Malcolm Gladwell on "Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?"

Grace is a wonderful writer. This piece on a dog's false pregnancy and women who yearn -- or don't yearn -- for babies is typically brilliant.

Track & field FAIL

Nostrabamus knows what the other guys will do before they do it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Let's Ecology! 14: Neither Fish Nor Fowl

I started work the next week. I was introduced to the tall Japanese guy who had greeted me when I showed up for the interview. His name was Hiro Okayama. He was a shitsucho, or "section chief," and he was to be my supervisor. Okayama was very friendly, with an eager-to-please, puppy-doggish manner. He told me that I would be working on the Ecology Goods Catalog. It seemed that Soga had won the argument after all, and I would be part of a project team. But then Okayama told me that I would also be doing special work for Takahashi and other people as necessary. Apparently, the argument about where to use me had ended in a tie. I was going to be doing the jobs that both Takahashi and Soga wanted. I thought that this must be an example of the well-known Japanese ideals of compromise and consensus.

I spent my first couple of days learning more about the organization. Apparently, the Recycle Movement Citizens Association, or just "Recycle" as everybody called it, was 12 or 13 years old. Takahashi had begun the group as a student club, putting on flea markets in parks and department store parking lots. Eventually he had dropped out of school to run it full time. This had gone on with little change for about 10 years.

Since he and his wife had trouble finding organic food in stores, Takahashi had gotten the idea of having it delivered directly to his home. Maybe other people had the same desire for organic food and the same difficulty finding it, he thought, so why not start a business? That was the origin of Turnip Boy, which had begun only three years before and had already grown astronomically. It was on track to gross about $30 million dollars that year.

There had been one structural problem, though. Recycle, like most Japanese environmental groups back then, had been an unincorporated organization. This caused a lot of problems when doing business. Not only had Takahashi been personally liable for everything the organization did, companies were reluctant to sign contracts with an unincorporated organization. It had also caused problems for employees, who had problems getting credit and so on without a properly organized employer.

The obvious step, in America, would have been to incorporate as a nonprofit environmental group. That was a problem in Japan, though. Back then, incorporating as a nonprofit foundation required a large capital outlay and, more importantly, it meant ceding a significant amount of autonomy to the government. Every nonprofit was under the jurisdiction of one government agency or another, which would place some of its employees on the board of directors as a matter of course. Takahashi wanted to avoid that kind of government supervision.

His solution was to form a for-profit corporation. This was the origin of Tamaki Network Corp., which had so mystified me during the interview. Tamaki Network signed all the contracts and employed all the people, including me, even though most of the business was done in Recycle's name. Although I didn't know it yet, this hybrid, neither fish nor fowl, simultaneously for-profit and nonprofit nature would eventually cause some problems.

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.

Obama, McCain campaign at local Wal-mart

Clinton also makes appearance

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Hillary's a lot shorter in person than she looks on TV.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/13/2008)

1) OK, this is just bizarre. The "Troopergate" report on whether Sarah Palin abused her authority in trying to get her ex-brother-in-law fired and so on just came out. Its "Finding Number One" is that "Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act." Now, people can -- and the McCain-Palin people do, unsurprisingly -- dispute that finding, but the report itself is completely straightforward and unambiguous in its claim: Sarah Palin broke an ethics law.

But in a conference call with Alaska reporters just after the release, Palin had this to say: "I’m very very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing … any hint of any kind of unethical activity there." That's right. She says the report cleared her, even though it did exactly the opposite. Then she repeated it three times: "Very pleased to be cleared of any of that. ...and again very pleased to be cleared of any legal wrongdoing. ...very much appreciating being cleared of any legal wrongdoing or unethical activity at all."

I just don't get how somebody can say, in public, that a report says exactly the opposite of what it says. Somebody please explain to me why she would say that. She doesn't know how to read? She didn't bother to read the report once she got her talking points? She's a moron? She's a pathological liar? All of the above?

2) If you watched the debate last week, you may recall Oliver Clark, the African-American guy who asked a question about the economy. Turns out, he was a little miffed at McCain for saying, "You probably never heard of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac before this," since he has a bachelor's in Political Science, a master's in Legal Studies, and is pursuing a second master's in Public Administration. But his description of some of the behind-the-scenes action, how he got picked to attend the debate and so on, is more much interesting than plain McCain bashing.

3) Sad Guys on Trading Floors is probably the world's most relevant photo blog right now.

4) Simmons proves he can still bring it with a nice piece on Elgin Baylor, who was recently fired by the LA Clippers.

5) And in a meta note, I'll be putting up a "Let's Ecology!" tonight and an "I'm reading Twilight" tomorrow.

Paul Krugman wins Nobel Prize

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in economics today. I'm not a fan of economics in general, but if the Royal Swedish Academy of Science is going to insist on awarding a Nobel Prize for it, Krugman's is well-deserved.

Of course, Krugman is probably best-known now as a New York Times columnist. I first heard of him around 1990, when he was weighing in on debate over trade policy with Japan. His views were nearly the opposite of my own, and as it turned out, he was right and I was wrong. This got my respect, and I've been paying attention to him ever since. Today, I read his column and his blog religiously.

I think this profile aptly sums up what I like most about his "punditry."

But after 9/11, and especially after the war began in Iraq, Krugman judged that his comparative advantage had shifted from being an economist to being a political commentator. He was willing to see things differently because he was not an insider infected by groupthink or the "contagion of mutual imitation" (as the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore put it). The typical insider ("the commentariat") needs "sources" to get information, becomes compromised, and hence is less prone to ruffling feathers. Krugman, by contrast, had the comparative advantage of distance from Washington, D.C., and a full-time job that gave him the independence to be "unrestrained by deference," he explains. He could also do the "budget arithmetic" on his own. So, to him, the normal journalistic ethic of balance and moderation, which he disparagingly dubs "he-said-she-said journalism," was less a virtue than an intellectual shortcoming—an unwillingness or inability to process information independently and come to considered conclusions.

In short, unlike most political commentators today, he isn't a hack for either side. Yes, he's an unabashed "liberal" (for an American), and yes, he prefers to go after right-wing ideas, but he doesn't defend dumbass ideas from the left just because they come from people on his "side."

Plus, also unlike most political commentators, he's right an awful lot of the time. He was right about Iraq (just like yours truly, if I do say so myself) and right about the housing bubble (hilarious link), to cite two recent examples when he bucked the conventional wisdom. After 9/11, when I would look at the world and think, "Am I the only one who sees this?" I could read Krugman and know that there was at least one smart person who was seeing the same things. He was a voice in the wilderness for me.

Krugman also makes economics very clear and easy to understand for laypeople. His blogging about the current financial crisis has been some of the most lucid writing on the subject around. He's a must-read, in my opinion, and any time you say, "What Krugman said," you're unlikely to go far wrong.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The World's Creepiest Toy

My spouse, H, bought a Japanese toy called "Hidamari no Tami" ("Sunshine People"). It's solar powered and rocks its head back and forth when you put it in the sun. H thinks its really cute. I think it's one of the creepiest things I've ever seen, the way it just rocks its grotesquely oversized head back and forth with a fixed, vacant grin on its face. Ugh. And what's up with the little white baby one -- is it sleeping, or dead?

Anyway, I decided to make a movie about it. Here it is, The World's Creepiest Toy.



I used the movie function on a Nikon Coolpix still camera, Windows Movie Maker, and Audacity to make this. The music is "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for 52 Stringed Instruments" by Krzysztof Penderecki.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

100 days

As of today, the criminal and incompetent Bush Administration has only 100 days left in office. Thank God. (Or, it still has 100 days left in office. God help us.)

(This counter can always be seen at the bottom of the right sidebar, BTW.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Oh snap!

Snap polls:

CBS poll of uncommitted voters:

Who won?

McCain (R) 27
Obama (D) 39
Draw 35

Will Obama will make the right decisions on the economy?

Before debate: 54
After debate: 68

Will McCain will make the right decisions on the economy?

Before debate: 41
After debate: 49


CNN poll of debate watchers:

Who did the best job in the debate?

McCain (R) 30
Obama (D) 54

Opinion of Barack Obama (before debate)

Favorable: 64 (60)
Unfavorable: 34 (38)

Opinion of John McCain (before debate)

Favorable: 51 (51)
Unfavorable: 46 (46)


Obama won.

Emerging narratives

Making the rounds of the punditry, these are some of the themes that are emerging.

1) Not really a town hall. The format indeed was terrible. A question. One minute for "discussion." No candidate to candidate follow up and no questioner follow up questions allowed.

2) Brokaw was terrible. The "Yes or No" question on Russia was his nadir, but he did a poor job all night.

3) McCain let his contempt for Obama slip through by calling him "that one."

4) The physical contrast between the two men was strikingly in Obama's favor. He's taller, handsomer, younger, and far more vigorous. God bless McCain for how his body got that way, but physically he's kind of a wreck. This could be Kennedy-Nixon all over again.

Those are what the gasbags are talking about. I don't know if 3) and 4) will get any traction. Maybe the American people aren't that shallow anymore. They certainly weren't fooled by Palin's performance in the last debate, after all.

Obama wins?

I'm kind of afraid to jinx him, because I've been wrong twice so far (thought the first one was a tie and Palin got the VP debate), but I think Obama did an excellent job. McCain did okay, but Obama's so calm and reassuring and sensible.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/6/2008)

Paul Krugman explains what McCain's health care plan would do. You should read this if you get health insurance from your employer. Seriously.

Socotra Island is "the most alien-looking place on Earth."

Some of us want an elite president.

BootsnAll shows the original locations of 15 mega-chains.

Let's Ecology! 13: The Big Interview (conclusion)

I thought it was a good time to change the subject. "What exactly would my duties be here?" I asked.

This time they had trouble answering. "Well," said Takahashi expansively, "we're not really sure yet. We've started to get pretty big, and I think we need to internationalize, to make contact with foreign countries and get out into the world. We had another foreigner here for a while, a Dane who was an environmentalist in his home country, but he couldn't speak Japanese, so things didn't really work out."

"I think we should have him work on the catalog," Soga broke in.

"I think he should work on some special projects to help us to expand overseas," Takahashi answered.

"Well, you know, he's from a completely different background, brought up in a completely different environment from everyone else here. If he was on a team with regular employees doing the same regular work as everyone else, he would bring a completely different perspective to the work, and that could be valuable." Takahashi didn't seem very receptive, so Soga quickly followed up with, "But you're the one who's going to decide."

"No, no, no, not at all."

"Well, it's your decision. You're the boss."

"No, no, no, this isn't that kind of organization."

"Well, you are the boss."

"No, no, no..."

This all took place while I was sitting across the table from them. I had been to several job interviews, both in the U.S. and in Japan, but this was the first time I'd ever seen the interviewers argue over where to use me. I supposed it was a lot better than if they were saying "You take him. No, you take him." I was also curious to see who would win. I thought that the "special projects," whatever they were, sounded more interesting than doing the same work as everyone else.

"Well," Takahashi said, to me this time, "we're not sure exactly what the best place for you is. Maybe you'll be working on the catalog, or maybe we'll have some special projects for you to work on."

"It's your decision," Soga broke in again.

"No, no, really.... Anyway, we would like you to work for us. We had that one foreigner work for us before, and it was kind of a bitter experience, so what I'd like to do is hire you to work for us part-time for about a month, and then if everything works out okay we can hire you on as a permanent employee. How does that sound?"

This was not an unusual arrangement in Japan, at least with gaijin. I accepted. "Fine. Thank you."

"Okay. Soga's in charge of personnel and payroll and such, so you can work out the details with him. I look forward to working with you."

At this Takahashi left, and in very Japanese fashion, having already agreed that I would work there, Soga and I began to talk about salary, work hours, and so on. We agreed on my work hours: 10:00 to 4:00, Monday through Friday. This would allow me to keep my job teaching English at night until I became a full-time employee, assuming I eventually did.

Pay was a problem, though. They were only willing to pay about half of what I was getting for teaching English. The total, including my night job, however, was enough to get by on, since it would only be for a month if things worked out okay. I decided to take the chance. I desperately wanted a Real Job, and this seemed like a really interesting place to work. I agreed to start working on a trial basis.

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.

My web comic

I've started a web comic.
It's called "What I Wonder About."
For now, it comes out every Wednesday, and sometimes more often if I'm on a roll.
Check it out.
A link will always be in the sidebar where it says "Comics."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tina Fey is a national treasure


(Probably won't play overseas, sorry.)

Picture of the day

Wrong sport for Kimbo

I've been a Kimbo Slice fan since back in 2003 or 2004, before there was a YouTube, when somebody pointed me to his first fight on video -- the one where he smashed a guy's eye socket -- which was on a mostly-porn site at the time. I thought he was a fascinating spectacle, and I wondered what kind of career he could make out of his ability to hit people really hard.

There was initially a lot of talk about Kimbo becoming a boxer, since he had at least rudimentary boxing skills, although his age worked against that. I was a little surprised when he went into mixed-martial arts instead, since that requires a broader skill set, one he'd never had to demonstrate.

But Kimbo was training with the renowned Bas Rutten, and he did well in his first three fights, finishing them all inside two minutes of the first round. And I was glad. In interviews, it turned out that the fearsome Kimbo Slice is actually an intelligent and thoughtful man. I wanted him to succeed.

But his fight against James Thompson was a disaster. Thompson was supposed to be a tomato can, a guy with a week chin, somebody Kimbo would take out in seconds. But Thompson took Kimbo to the ground, and Kimbo was helpless. Only the ineptitude of Thompson's ground and pound -- it was more like ground and pattycake -- saved Kimbo from a quick TKO. Eventually, the referee handed the fight to Kimbo on a dubious TKO, even though Thompson was still on his feet and protecting himself.

But the danger signs were there, and last night fully exposed Kimbo. He got knocked down -- maybe he was stunned a little, but he certainly wasn't out -- and once he hit the floor, he was helpless again. And last-minute substitute Seth Petruzelli had no trouble pounding him into a TKO. The ref had no choice but to stop the fight. Kimbo wasn't defending himself.

I don't know if it's panic or what, but once Kimbo goes down, he simply freezes. He doesn't fight back, he doesn't cover up effectively, he doesn't escape (and there are good MMA techniques for all of those things, no matter how bad your position looks). He just lays there. Again, I don't know if he hasn't trained properly for that kind of situation or if he just panics and forgets everything he's learned, but last night he did it again.

Kimbo might have been better off going into boxing instead. There, at least if you get knocked down you can take an eight-count and clear your head before you have to fight again.

Or better yet, he should have gone into pro wrestling, where the hype of his fearsome appearance and his ferocious knockouts on YouTube would have stood him in good stead. I give Kimbo kudos for wanting to fight for real instead of for show, but it looks like he just isn't cut out for mixed martial arts.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Bailout Bill passes! Comedy ensues.

And John McCain has two talking points: 1. "I got this great bill passed (Neener-neener Obama!)" and 2. "This bill sucks." Unfortunately for him, he tried to use both talking points in the same interview. (Some politicians are for things before they're against them. John McCain is for things at the same time he's against them.) Fortunately for us, this resulted in one of the funniest Daily Show segments ever (1:50 - 3:20).

Vote

(Includes some not safe for work/children/prudes language.)


Today is the last day you can register in some states. Besides the website in the video, you can register to vote here. You can also check there to make sure you are still properly registered -- thousands of voters are wrongly "purged" every year -- and find out where your polling place will be.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/3/2008)

No more Palin posts for awhile, I promise, but there is one non-political Palin link today.

I'm among the many people who have wondered about Palin's accent, which sounds Fargo-ish (meaning northern Minnesotan) to me. As Jesse Sheidlower explains, it's actually "an Alaskan accent, one from the Matnuska and Susitna Valley region, where Palin's hometown, Wasilla, is located." (h/t: Language Log)

I can haz Book of Mormon?

Rolling Stone has an ungenerous and unfair but not untruthful profile of John McCain.

US prisons operate on a mackerel economy.

Shows how much I know

Snap polls have Biden winning:

CBS has Biden winning 46% to 21% among undecided voters.
CNN has Biden winning 51% to 36% among all debate watchers.

And Palin didn't change many people's minds.
CNN:

Is Palin qualified to serve as president?

Yes
Before debate: 42
After debate: 46

No
Before debate: 54
After debate: 53

I guess people are smarter than I give them credit for. It seems that most viewers saw through the perkiness to the lack of substance in her answers.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin wins?

Man, that was boring. I would have turned it off if I hadn't decided to blog about it.

Anyway, Palin held her own. There were no deer-in-the-headlight moments, not that I thought there would be. Like I said, the format's a good one for her.

She did very well on the domestic part, then Biden was on a roll on foreign policy, but he stumbled over the war a little, then he came back, and they were pretty even the rest of the way.

But overall I'd give it to Palin, mainly because she probably un-scared a lot of people who were wondering if she was retarded or something. Her favorable rating should get a big boost.

I think the main result of this will be that she'll be a non-issue from now on instead of the negative that she was turning into for McCain.

But again, I'm a committed and high-information voter. It's the uncommitteds whose opinions matter at this point.

What to expect at the debate tonight

Here's what Palin will try to do when she doesn't know the answer to a question (which is likely to be quite often.).

1) repeat back some of the words in the question to establish that they're "answering" it;
2) parry by steering the frame of their answers toward a talking point that bears some relation to the subect of the question;
3) spray some transitional buzzwords that help them segue from what they were asked to what they have prepared to say, and;
4) deliver the focus group-tested answer they originally planned, even if it's kind of a non-sequitur.

Here's an example in the Couric interviews, numbered for your convenience.

Well, let's see. [1]There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, [2]that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. [3]And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, [4]where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there.* So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but --

[1]Well, I could think of … any again, [4]that could be best dealt with on a more local level. [2]Maybe I would take issue with. [3]But, you know, as a mayor, and then as a governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, [4]wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.**

It's a good technique, but there were two problems in the Gibson and Palin interviews. First, Palin isn't all that good with the technique yet, but more importantly, she has so little experience and so little basic knowledge to fall back on that she simply can't handle probing follow up questions if her interviewer won't accept those non-answers.

Look for her to go to this technique early and often in the debate. It will be much more effective in the debate format, which is 90-second answers with no candidate-to-candidate questioning. The moderator probably won't try to badger her into actually answering questions, so she's likely to get away with it a lot.

And it might work for her. Biden, after all, will be armed mainly with facts (some of which he usually gets wrong) and talking points, while Palin is armed with extremely low expectations (she's done so badly in interviews that she'll get bonus points simply for not running sobbing off the stage) and a good deal of personal charm, plus her talking points.

So she might actually "win" the debate. Not in terms of substance -- she's not ready to hang with Biden there -- but in terms of perception, which is the only thing that really counts.

*Talking point: Roe v. Wade short-circuited the process by which Americans were seeking consensus on abortion and wrongly settled the issue by judicial fiat.
**Talking point: I won't necessarily immediately try to overturn Roe v. Wade.

YouTube Favorites (October 2008)

The audience obliges when a pro wrestler asks the audience to lend him a chair, Charles Barkley insults himself, a guy scares his aunt, society discriminates against people who wear nylon stockings over their faces, slime molds and mushrooms, the Bible in One Minute, the Cock Masters play badminton, and William Shatner covers "Common People."

A pro wrestler asks the audience to lend him a chair. The audience obliges.


Charles Barkley insults himself.


Some guy scares his aunt.


Society discriminates against people who wear nylon stockings over their faces.


Slime molds and mushrooms.


The Bible in One Minute


The Cock Masters


William Shatner (feat. Joe Jackson) covers "Common People."


(Bonus: Here's the original.)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

zomg teh Palin, continued

More with Katie Couric: Palin says she disagrees with Roe v. Wade. OK so far. Then she says she believes in a constitutional right to privacy. Oopsie. Not to get all wonky here, but the argument over the implicit constitutional right to privacy is the basis for the legal argument over Roe v. Wade.

If there is indeed a constitutional right to privacy, then Roe v. Wade was a good legal decision. If the right to privacy is just something that a liberal Supreme Court pulled out of its butt -- as a lot of conservatives argue -- then Roe v. Wade was a bad legal decision. But Palin obviously doesn't know that.

Of course, the interview gets even worse better:

Couric: What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with?

Palin: Well, let's see. There's, of course in the great history of America there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are those issues, again, like Roe v. Wade, where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know, going through the history of America, there would be others but …

Couric: Can you think of any?

Palin: Well, I could think of … any again, that could be best dealt with on a more local level. Maybe I would take issue with. But, you know, as a mayor, and then as a governor and even as a vice president, if I'm so privileged to serve, wouldn't be in a position of changing those things but in supporting the law of the land as it reads today.



Bonus: Go here to compare how Biden answers the same questions. Watch the video and compare them. Draw your own conclusions, but for me, Palin's officially moved into more-sad-than-funny territory.

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (10/1/2008)

A bike blogger goes for a ride with John Kerry. He has to work to keep up with the 65-year-old Senator.

Nicholas Carr argues that the internet is making us stupid, because we're losing the capacity to read long works. (At least, I think that's his point, because I didn't actually make it to the end of the article. Much too long.)

God doesn't like it when people deny evolution. (h/t: PTET)

The Playmobil Security Checkpoint is an awesome toy. The only thing awesomer is the customer reviews.

Things I Wonder About #6: If two gay guys...?

Photobucket
If two gay guys get in a fight and go outside to exchange blows, are they escalating the conflict or making up?
© 2008 kuri