Thursday, March 30th 2006

How useful are graduate degrees?
posted @ 8:52 am in [ - ]

Ah, the very question that underlies every snyde remark about the amount of schooling to which I have subjected myself. Take, for example, my master’s degree with a dual focus in world religion and conflict resolution. Am I really getting anything out of that? Am I ever! Top 5 things it’s good for:

  1. Dream interpretation. One definitely gets a feel for the symbology of the human psyche.

  2. The world has changed to make my degree more timely and in-demand than it was when I actually got it. Thanks, world!

  3. Extra protection from the advances of tedious, insecure, and possibly mouth-breathing men. When the wedding band doesn’t do it, the ring from The Big H almost always makes them scatter.

  4. Debunking misconceptions about Islam at parties.

  5. Scaring off Jehovah’s Witnesses by attempting to convert them to one of the world’s dozens of non-Christian religions, or worse, Catholocism.

Wednesday, March 29th 2006

Something about UPS rocks!
posted @ 2:46 pm in [ - ]

Lisa and I have been observing this week what fun package tracking is. Lisa is sending me a groovy package by UPS (thanks again, mama!), and we’re both watching its progress by tracking number. Now, I am the first to admit that I am extremely easily amused, but this tracking business is a piece of genius.

First of all, it keeps tens of thousands of freaked out, impatient people from clogging the UPS customer service phone lines on a daily basis, because they don’t have to be put on hold or anything–they can just go online and see exactly what’s going on with their packages. Better than that, though, it is ridiculously entertaining to track your little package’s adventure. My package, for example, spent a little time in Kentucky, Land of Stately Trees, quite possibly within earshot of some fine, fine, superfine bluegrass. Maybe not, though, because its destination was the flippin’ airport. Then, this morning, it landed in Commerce City (industrial hub of Denver), and is at this very moment riding around in a UPS truck on its way to my house. As excited as I am to actually get the package in question, it’s so much fun to watch its travels, we both almost wish it took a little longer, or that it was being delivered by donkey.

The only thing I can think of that would make me like this feature more would be if the tracking feature had an Indiana Jones-style map with a red line showing where a little box was going as a sort of graphical representation. As it is, I kind of hear that Warner Brothers cartoon factory soundtrack in my head, but with the map, I might hear that Indiana Jones theme, and it might also make the little package seem really brave.

Monday, March 27th 2006

Feelin’ the love…
posted @ 7:56 am in [ ]

I just wanted to say thanks to all those folks who let me know my blog was having “issues” over the weekend. Everything is groovy again, thanks to the badass server goons who kicked the SQL in the keester and got everything humming again. Shout out to Evan & Lisa!

The really nice thing, though, was that, since I’m not getting quite as many comments as I did a couple of months ago, I had started to wonder whether folks were still reading this as much, or whether y’all just didn’t have all that much to say lately. Mystery solved: I got a TON of notifications that something was wrong with the blog from you nice folks out there. Thanks for letting me know, and thanks for knowing.

Saturday, March 25th 2006

Parental ineptitude goes prime time
posted @ 9:35 am in [ ]

Have you seen Nanny 911? It’s a bizarrely compelling little show where families have out-of-control kids and they call in a real live British nanny, complete with little red cape and hat, for a week to help them implement some rules and stuff. The odd part is that the kids, however monstrous they are, are usually not the problem. It’s usually one or both of the parents that don’t set limits or rules, are passive and inconsistent when dealing with the kids, and then wonder why the 5-year-old punches the mailman in the groin.

Top 10 parenting tips I learned from Nanny 911:

  1. If kids’ actions don’t have consequences, there’s no reason for them not to put lima beans in the drier or shout profanities at the bus driver.

  2. You really can’t parent exclusively from the sofa. You actually have to get up and interact with your children from time to time.

  3. The same kinds of training apply to puppies and children: attention, consistency, honesty, clear rules with clear consequences, lots of cuddles.

  4. Giving a child a cookie to shut her up is easy today, but it’s going to make the next 12 years a living hell.

  5. Most of the time, other people don’t see the “mummy’s little pumpkin pie” in your kids.

  6. Kids don’t know they’re good, or smart, or special, unless you tell them. So if all you do is tell them they’re bad, they’ll believe it, and they’ll work to fulfill their role in life to be bad.

  7. I think it’s a good reality check to ask yourself from time to time whether wolves might not do a better job raising your kids than you’re doing.

  8. Those little red capes and hats aren’t flattering on everybody.

  9. There is a big difference between actual crying and manipulative crying. Good parents take the former seriously and not the latter. Lame parents do the opposite.

  10. Everybody thinks they’re good parents just like everyone thinks they’re good drivers.

Friday, March 24th 2006

I am not a human doing…
posted @ 9:32 am in [ - ]

Yeah, the postings are a little light this week. I have a lot of workstuff going on. Workstuff I don’t talk about here anymore. But I will say this: it’s just deadliney and time-consuming — it’s relatively happy stuff. Plus, it’s nice to have workstuff at all in this day and age of epidemic firings of teachers for thinking and having opinions (not to mention honking for peace). Who wants our kids to learn to do THAT?! Better they be homeschooled by badgers. Well, provided those badgers don’t have opinions, of course.

But enough editorializing. For now.

The above title is not actually about my busy week. It’s about something else. You longtime readers and those who have been through the archives are aware that I had previously been a passionate distance cyclist, that I also dance, and that I’ve had a string of various injuries and impediments over the last few years that have prevented me from maintaining my former cycling regimen as I would like. Well, I’m finally pretty well healed up. That is, I am no longer concerned that I will be 20 miles from home with no transportation save my bike, and my hamstring will begin to feel as if I am being stabbed there by the Mordor blade of a ring wraith. I’m also too squishy for my own liking.

So I started up a new training regimen a couple of weeks ago. So far, it’s working well. Like most nutrition/exercise programs, though, it requires me to drink really a LOT of water. These days, I am not a human doing. I am a human peeing.


Tuesday, March 21st 2006

Chopsticks vs. forks smackdown
posted @ 1:15 pm in [ - ]

So a couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying one of my favorite cheap meals: a Splash Bowl from Kokoro. Kokoro is a small Denver-area chain of Japanese-esque restaurants, and the Splash Bowl is a large bowl of noodles and vegetable broth will all sorts of nice treats in it: tofu triangles, fish cake, seaweed, green onions, a hard-boiled egg, and the most fantastic, flavorful mushrooms ever. It’s tasty, light, filling and cheap: in other words, perfect.

Now, I confess I haven’t really gotten the hang of eating things like rice and noodles with chopsticks. I’m okay with chunks, but granules and slippery tubes, not so much. It’s sort of a topological issue. So as a former mechanic and a lifelong putterer, I’m all about having the right tool for the job. I looked down and realized I was using three different utensils to attack my meal: a spoon for the broth, a fork for the noodles, and chopsticks for the souptreats. I would switch off between the utensils–it was sort of like a culinary floor show.

It made me think about one of my favorite things about America: people come here from all over the world, bring their cool stuff, and the larger culture here says, “Hey, that’s pretty cool,” and adopts it. Sure, sometimes that stuff gets changed during assimilation, but its innate coolness remains unchanged. For example: the pizza. The pizza you get in the U.S. is not generally like the pizza you would get in Italy. We don’t care about authenticity, though, we care about coolness. The coolness is certainly preserved: a round crust baked with sauce, cheese, and other stuff, that you eat with your hands. Since its transplant, you can also get it with a bunch of stuff it wouldn’t have had in its place of origin, like ham and pineapple. Okay, I think that’s an abomination, but some people like it, and they can get it here. Also, because it’s America, not only can you eat a huge ham and pineapple pizza, you can eat it with a milkshake, or a mojito, or bubble tea. Total fusion is totally allowed.

So I sat there thinking about cultural fusion and the fact that it made the Splash Bowl that much more entertaining to eat it with a scoop, a shovel and a grabber, and it made me think more about how forks are little shovels. Chopsticks are more precise and elegant, which is probably why it actually takes some skill to use them. It seemed to fit my impression of the different cultures. America is pretty much the kind of nation you would think might eat using bite-sized shovels.

It also made me think about a good friend of mine who studied in Beijing. He went to the student cafeteria, and had been told to bring his own bowl and utensils, which he did: a bowl and chopsticks. When he got there, though, his fellow classmates laughed at him and gave him a hard time about the chopsticks. Apparently, chopsticks weren’t being widely used anymore because of deforestation. I guess when you have 1.3 billion people, producing chopsticks for them for 2-3 meals a day involves killing a LOT of trees. The other students had forks. My friend succumbed to peer pressure and went along with the fork mandate from there on out.

In relaying this story to another friend, she said one of her favorite bosses had been from China, and whenever they sent out for Chinese food at the office, he would say that his homeland had tried out forks centuries ago, but gave them up on account of their being barbaric. I like that mental image, too: Genghis Khan, fork in hand, burning, raiding, pillaging, and stabbing at hunks of meat with his barbaric little foodshovel.

Friday, March 17th 2006

Oh, sorry, am I too political?
posted @ 11:01 am in [ ]

In light of recent events, what with teachers getting canned left and right for being people and having opinions, a few folks have asked me if I’m worried I’m being too political. Only one thing really comes to mind for me: Aristotle’s Politics (1253a2 - 1253a17).

“…[M]an is by nauture a political animal. He who is without a city, by reason of his nature and not by some accident, is either a poor sort of being, or a being higher than man: he is like the man of whom Homer wrote in denunciation: ‘Clanless and lawless and hearthless is he.’ The man who is such by nature at once plunges into a passion of war; he is in the position of a solitary advanced piece in a game of draughts.

“It is thus clear that man is a political animal, in a higher degree than bees or other gregarious animals. …[I]t is the peculiarity of man, in comparison with other animals, that he alone possesses a perception of good and evil, of the just and unjust, and other similar qualities; and it is association in these things which makes a family and a city.”

Despite the fact that I am generally annoyed with Aristotle on some levels, I think he nails this one. People are by nature social and complex. Sociability makes us need socieites; complexity makes us need politics to run them. So do I think I’m too political? Certainly not. I’m just all too human.

Thursday, March 16th 2006

Political Q & A
posted @ 10:48 am in [ ]

In response to my posting below about Americans getting cheesed off at the government in a more public way, a number of folks emailed me to ask me about it. Since I got a lot of the same questions, here’s a little FAQ for Y-O-U.

Q: It seems like you are getting more annoyed with the government. What’s going on? A: Yes, that’s true. Previously, I thought what was happening was almost as scary as it was contemptible, and now my general cheesed-off-edness has far outrun any scariness. The most dramatic change has come in recent weeks as I’ve become aware of just how much the Bush administration has abandoned the people of the Gulf Coast; how contemptuous they are of the Free Press, which after all guarantees all our other liberties; and how their total failure to consult or discuss anything substantive they’re doing with us, their bosses, The People has come home to roost with the failure of the Dubay Ports deal, and they’re still not learning anything. Yes, my friends, I am seriously peeved.

Q: Why do you hate government? A: I don’t hate government. I just think we have a really crappy executive right now–one that’s doing a lot more harm than good. I’m not sure if it’s just because it’s being run by rich, fearful, and in some cases, corrupt guys, or if it’s that when you elect a proudly C student, you get somebody who doesn’t understand when he’s seriously damaging the Republic.

Q: What do you think is going to happen? A: I think I have a lot more faith in the American people than the current administration does. I think people are getting fed up and are getting less interested in cooperating with it. I hope that becomes more and more apparent, and people become more vocal about it. I hope Bush gets censured for his illegal wiretapping. I hope the American people get righteously worried about their rights being yanked away and start to do something about it in droves. I think it’s more likely, though, that Bush will do some more damage in his remaining time in office, he’ll leave peacefully, and we’ll have to set about repairing our country.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish? A: I’m trying to squeeze all the juice out of my First Amendment rights and enjoy them while I still have them. Please join me.

Q: Do you think it will ever get better? A: Sure. This country has been through worse and gone on to have better days. I think it’ll be hard, because a lot of the things we’ve had in place for a long time have been dismantled, and we’ll either have to rebuild them or do something else, but I think it can be done.

Q: Do you think government ever serves the people anymore? A: Absolutely. You see, I live in Colorado now, but I’m from Massachusetts: the cradle of the American Revolution, where politics is still a spectator sport. Once I even had the opportunity to vote for three Kennedies at once (instead of just voting for the same one three times [insert rimshot here]). I think when a lot of people compete for legislative jobs, you get some good folks who really try to stay there and serve the public. When you have a deep political system in which everyone is interested, I think that’s especially true.

Where I’m from, politics is also personal. You have a personal relationship with your elected officials. People write to their elected officials a lot there, and the elected officials always respond in a relatively timely fashion. If it’s about a bill, you get a position letter about the bill on official congressional stationery and a thanks for writing. If it’s about something specific, you get a specific response signed by the legislator and a thanks for writing. If you call their offices, somebody calls you back with an answer. Here, nothing like that happens. If you get a response at all, it’s months late, lukewarm, and irrelevant.

I think we would be better off as a nation if we were all more passionate about politics. When The People are passionate about their politics, everything about the system is held in higher regard, works better, is monitored closely, and The People participate incessantly in their government. Politics as a profession then has the power to attract high-quality folks in whom The People are interested and who often do their jobs well. Folks who get elected never stop working for it, because The People are paying attention, and will replace them swiftly if they don’t.

Let me give you a for-instance: Many years ago, I moved to the D.C. area from Massachusetts. For some stupid reason, my mail was not getting forwarded. I called both post offices, and got lame responses. Clearly, nobody really gave a rat’s ass about my mail. So I called my local congressional office back home, which just happened to belong to Joe Kennedy. I told the nice, sympathetic staffer who answered the phone what the deal was, and said that I hoped to move back to the district once I finished my educational program in D.C., but it would be mighty difficult to buy a house or even get a good lease there if my credit got destroyed because I wasn’t getting any of my bills or mail. The following morning, I received an apology phone call from the post office, and that afternoon, a giant bin full of my M.I.A. mail. Moments later, I got a follow-up call from Mr. Kennedy’s office.

Other folks have called their congressional offices when they couldn’t find jobs or parking spaces, and the congressional staff really will try to help. They know that if they can help a constituent get a job, or get their mail, or get the snow plows down their street to make some more parking spaces there, they have a vote for life. Legislators make time for The People’s little personal stuff, because they understand that their careers depend upon the people’s perception that their public officials really are helping them out. Furthermore, you can build up millions of votes for life just by helping out one constituent at a time with their little personal stuff. It takes the staff, maybe, half an hour ot an hour or so to deal with this stuff, but it gives them jobs for as long as they want them — one lifelong vote at a time. Do you think I would ever vote for Joe Kennedy’s opponent, should I have the opportunity? It would take some extraordinary circumstances. In places where The People are passionate about politics, and where politics are local and personal, democracy is functional and vibrant.

Q: If you hate the government so much, what do you think would be better? A: A fine question. I think a monkey that flings its crap at the American people would be better, because there’s no hidden agenda there. I think a ham sandwich would be better, because it couldn’t do much damage, and then the second it started to stink, it would be thrown out without a second thought. Shall I go on? Seriously, I’d settle for any government that remembered its duties to ALL the American people and showed some sort of competence. That would be great.

Wednesday, March 15th 2006

Anti-spam measures
posted @ 8:23 am in [ ]

I have been getting a ridiculous amount of comment spam. Those of you clogging my moderation panel: NOT ONE of your insipid pleas for me or anybody else to buy cialis, viagra, some other prescription, or online gambling will appear here. You’re just wasting your time, and mine, and you’re pissing me off. Everybody else: please be aware that if you discuss spammy products in any of your comments (not that you would), the comments may get nuked.

Tuesday, March 14th 2006

Garanimals for men
posted @ 3:06 pm in [ ]

I have a number of male friends who are perfectly lovely human beings, but can’t seem to figure out how to market that to women. I have observed a few patterns, however, so I thought I should share my observations.

First, some of my very appealing guy friends, for some reason, seem unable to convey their interest in women. Shyness is part of it — I know several very smart, funny, attractive men who have impressive careers and sexy brains, yet seem unable to get women, even with a cast and a puppy. Their key feature, though, is that they don’t flirt. Consequently, women don’t know they’re interested, and figure they’re either not interested or gay. It doesn’t help that one of them dresses well and has an encyclopedic knowledge of showtunes that would astound Liza Minelli. Gentlemen, you don’t have to say, “nice bazongas,” but you should at least chat in an interested way and make a lot of eye contact, so women know you are potentially interested in their bazongas.

Second, because I have so very many guy friends, I’ve also seen kind of an opposite thing. I work with a guy, or know him in a guylike context, and he’s cool. I agree to introduce him to someone, or bring him to a party, and he becomes an unrecognizeable whackadoo that I wouldn’t agree to take anywhere or introduce to anybody. Hell, I might even send him out to get sky hooks or high-speed spoke nipples. He falls all over himself being some sort of love jester. What the hell happened? It’s like he got taken over by his, if not evil, then certainly sappy, twin. I don’t know any remedy for this except to smack him in the head. It’s the primary reason why I don’t set my friends up: the perfectly cool guy might morph into some sort of sappy alien being.

Finally, a vast number straight American men cannot dress themselves. Certainly, there are exceptions to this observation, and fun women don’t generally get too hung up on a guy’s clothes. However, I have a number of friends who would like to attract a certain kind of woman who really does care about such things — a lot. For that eventuality, and for any time a straight American guy really wants to look good but has no idea how to put an outfit together, I propose a new line of products: Garanimals for men.

Remember Garanimals? They were kids’ clothes that used a little animal logo on the tag to show kids which clothes matched. So you could pick out a shirt, and maybe it had a giraffe logo, and any other clothing with a giraffe logo would match the shirt. A fine plan! I think there should be lines of men’s clothing that do exactly the same thing. Maybe not with little cartoony animals, but with cars, maybe. Everything with a Ford Edsel on the tag goes with everything else that has a Ford Edsel on the tag, and maybe even has a kind of classic styling to it. Everything with a Porsche 944 on the tag goes with everything else with a Porsche 944, and is a little more flashy. That way, guys could also pick out a few styles of clothing they liked. They could go to a men’s store, pick out an article of clothing with the car on it that they already know they like, in their size, and be done with it. I bet it would work great, and men would be really thankful that they could dress themselves for such situations where they wanted to look really put together but had no idea how to get there.

See? I’m looking out for you in my own way.

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