August 25th, 2006

In Soviet America, Flag Flies You

So apparently it’s state law in Colorado that “any person who displays any flag other than the flag of the United States of America or the state of Colorado or any of its subdivisions, agencies or institutions upon any state, county, municipal or other public building or adjacent grounds within this state commits a class 1 petty offense.” And because of this, a geography teacher showing the Mexican, Chinese and UN flags in class and refused to remove them has been put on leave.

In other news, evolution has mysteriously disappeared from a list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students. They say it was just a “clerical error”, but in the current climate of intelligent design and flag-banning, that seems unlikely to me.

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July 29th, 2006

Angry With Israel

Last night, I rode my bike down to the International District to join some friends for dinner. I crossed paths with Critical Mass, a bike ride comprised of hundreds of cyclists, all spinning up Jackson. It was a beautiful site and I was happy to be out with my own two wheeled friend. At the restaurant, we ate excellent Vietnamese food, had cake, talked about languages, and celebrated our mutual friend’s birthday. It was getting a bit dark and I’d forgotten my lights, so I took off, rolling home under a fading summer sky.

While all that was happening, about a mile away, a man walked in to the Jewish Federation of Seattle and shot six women, killing one. He shot them because he was “angry with Israel.” A man walked in to a building and shot six women because they were – are – Jewish.

I’m angry with Israel too. I’m angry about a lot of things.

I’m angry that people can’t make the distinction between Jews and Israelis.

I’m angry that people can’t make the distinction between governments and individuals.

I’m angry that the US government can’t make the distinction between Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’m angry that Osama bin Laden has somehow managed, though one awful blow, to devolve American society into a culture of fear.

I’m angry that the US government exploits that fear.

I’m angry that the the US government is so embroiled in an endless war that they can’t spare the resources to dedicate to a cease fire.

I’m angry that the rhetoric Israel is using is almost exactly the same that the US adminstration is using. Olmert probably doesn’t even write his own speeches, I’ll bet he just recycles Bush texts, changing Al Qaeda to Hezbollah.

I’m angry that Tony Blair continues to act like George’s lap dog.

I’m angry that Al Gore conceded. Still.

I’m angry that people get all hopped up when oil companies post profits. They’re not state run, people. Get a grip.

I’m angry that we can’t make the connection between oil and war in the Middle East.

I’m angry that people like Dick Cheney have power.

I’m angry that something I was born to – being Jewish, like the color of my eyes or the shape of my feet – is something that someone could use to justify shooting me.

I’m angry that we don’t have gun control.

I’m angry that there are casualties in the Israel-Hezbollah war in my city, half a world away.

“Angry about Israel.”

I’m out of words to describe how angry I am that while I was eating dinner, a man walked in to the Jewish Federation of Seattle and shot six women, killing one.

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May 11th, 2006

Who put this list together?

Harold Bloom?

The New York Times is set to release it list of the best books of American fiction published in the last 25 years. And although they rated Toni Morrison’s Beloved as number 1 (with which I heartily disagree), of the remaining 24 runners up, there is only one woman (Marilynne Robinson for Housekeeping, which I haven’t read and can’t comment on). Further, the rest of the list reads like the white pages of northeastern Connecticut, with multiple entries for Philip Roth (with 7 of the 24), John Updike (4 entries) and Don Delillo (3), supported by individual nominations for Richard Ford, Mark Helprin, and Raymond Carver. In a nod to the west, Cormac McCarthy got 4 nominations as well.

Uhm, does anyone else see a pattern. This list looks like the modern American version of everyone’s favorite misogynist Harold Bloom’s irritatingly white male Western Canon. Now I’ll go with Underworld as the first runner up. In fact, I’ll say that probably should have been the winner. But having about half of those books, some of them very good, I can’t agree that they are that much better than everything else written since 1980. A few examples:

  • I would recommend Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season over A Confederacy of Dunces any day.
  • Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, which I’m reading now. Sure, it’s short stories, but it beats the socks off anything Mark Helprin ever wrote.
  • The Shipping News, anyone? Charming Billy? The Color Purple?
  • Susan Sontag? Ever hear of Marget Atwood? Carol Shields? Ann Tyler? Joan Didion?
  • And on the male writer front, I would have expected to see maybe some William Styron, Larry McMurtry, maybe an entry from a younger writer like Jonathan Lethem or Jonathan Franzen.
  • I definitely would have put Leif Enger’s Peace Like A River on that list. Like at the number 2 spot after Underword.

Sure. The list is subjective, but it is so undiverse, so full of the same names of white men of about similar ages and narrative outlooks, and is surprising considering the very wide range of writers who voted, so many of them people who desserve to be on the list themselves.




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January 1st, 2006

What a year it was

Especially the wayHarper’s writes it.

Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s make this one count!

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November 16th, 2005

Time to Mainline the Mainstream

No one is surprised by the GAO report about the FDA’s rejection of “Plan B,” least of all me. Nor am I surprised that Alito is anti-abortion. It is also no shock that the political hack installed at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting abused his position to serve his political masters. And none of this should surprise you either, if you have been paying attention for the last 5 years, let alone the last 5 weeks.

The Republicans, who used to be a pretty savvy group of guys, have had their party stolen by “true believers.” Instead of compromise and coalition, we now have neo-cons and the Religious Right. And they are really screwing the pooch for the mainstream Republicans who happen to believe in things like privacy and fiscal responsibility. I feel sorry for the regular guy Rep because his party has been turned into a mega-church with rape rooms.

Read the rest of this entry »

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August 8th, 2005

Kill the space pinto

No kid was more Space-Shuttle-Crazy than I was. My family pulled strings to get me private tours of the Johnson Space Center with a real-live Astronaut, and only the oil bust kept me from being at the front of the line for Sapce Camp. I was devastated by the Challenger disaster. But you know what? This guy is saying what I’ve been saying for months, only with actual evidence and knowledge and stuff: kill the damn shuttle. Before it kills again!

Put us all out its misery, spend the money on inventing the next thing, and ask the ESA and the Russians to help us figure out the mess that the Internation Space Station has become. Seriously… watching the space walk to regrout the heat tiles was just embarrassing. I am sure the astronauts would rather get dropped off a few miles from the space station and spacewalk the rest of the way, letting the orbital hoopty lurch away unnoticed.

Seriously… if a satellite so much as taps the rear end of that thing, KABOOM!

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July 26th, 2005

Like a steel trap

I’ll be honest. I don’t know enough about the Federalist Society to know if I should care whether or not Mr. Nice Guy, the Supreme Court nominee, was a member. What I do know is this: If one of the supposed finest legal minds in the country, a guy who’s supposed to be able to digest and analyze critical pieces of information over time, can’t REMEMBER whether he was or was not a member, and if so, in what capacity, well, maybe he’s not all that sharp. I’m just sayin.

I can’t remember all kinds of shit, but that’s probably because I smoked too much pot as a teenager, plus, the civil rights of all Americans don’t hinge on whether or not I can recall what happened in the past. Like, you know, stuff that laws were passed about and shit. I mean, come ON!

Thank you. I feel nominally better now.

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April 29th, 2005

Management Training, Anyone?

I’ve been looking for work since March. It’s the oddest market I’ve ever looked for work in, though perhaps I have to take some responsibility for that because I have become very, very picky. I won’t take Microsoft contracts where the manager really wants a full time employee but couldn’t get the head count because those just lead to frustration. I won’t take long term projects (more than six months) for the same reason. I try to avoid the tobacco and napalm sector because while I can’t really afford to dedicate my income to doing good work, I can avoid being actively evil. (Luckily, that’s not too big of a problem in my market, but with the recent civil rights fiasco coming out of Redmond, one can’t help but wonder where to draw the line.)

At any rate, I’m still unemployed, though don’t cry for me Argentina, this is the lot I’ve chosen by committing to work as a freelancer, plus, it’s not like I’ve run out of leads. My phone continues to ring, emails come in… something is bound to turn up. The stress of being out of work for longer than I’d planned is difficult, but I do believe it will pass.

But that is not what I started out to write about. What I wanted to say was this: I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing lately. And I have been shocked, no really, shocked speechless by the things people have said to me in interviews over the past two months. I’ve been tracking to see if they can get any worse, and lo and behold, to my stunned surprise, they CAN.

Before I get into the finger-pointing, I should remark that I have been replaying these interviews in my mind to see if I too, perhaps, couldn’t use some pointers. I’ve decided that I should probably stop saying that “I suck at bidding entire jobs, I prefer to bill hourly because I have no idea how long your project is going to take, plus if I bid the entire job, you are going to waste my time.” I should probably amend that to “I like to work with the client to figure out how long things are going to take and then settle on a not-to-exceed amount with revisions if needed.” That sounds better, no? I’ve been pondering a way to address my philosophy around working at home. It’s not that I’m a slacker; I am a very hard working person who has a reputation delivering good work on time. It’s just that I think people waste so much time in offices and meetings and that most work could be done in a good 30% less if we could just be left alone to do it. This is tougher to figure out how to talk about because most corporate identities think that “working at home” = “playing hooky.” I’d rather bill less hours and have the 30% extra to, oh, hone my baking skills or go skating at Alki or, well, anything else. I’m pondering how to talk about that. I’m thinking that I should have handy the answer to those generic interview questions that people ask – “Tell me about a time…” or “Tell me about yourself…” because they inevitably come up. I’m fishing around in my experiences over the last two months to see if I can come up with anything else I could change about my side of the process.

So. That said, let me tell you about a handful of things that people have said to me in recent interviews that have left me, well, wondering what I am doing there.

  1. I can’t promise I won’t micromanage you.
    This will send me running for the door every single time. There is no worse manager (for me) than a micromanager and it won’t end well, no sir. Just ask that one guy. Man.
  2. I like to do spot checks on my employee’s work to see what they’re up to.
    What is this, second grade? Are there pop quizzes too? Why don’t you just ask me? You apparently do not trust me to do my job.

  3. I never meet my deadlines; I’m always scrambling at the last minute to get stuff done.
    As a person who meets deadlines religiously, it’s probably a bad idea for me to work with someone who can’t. Also, if that person is my superior in the chain of command, we’re going to have real issues around R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
  4. We never deliver our anything on time.
    See above.
  5. We hate these offices.
    There is nothing that makes a prospective employee feel less like joining in when you know that the folks that are there hate where they have to be all day.

But wait, there’s more. The rest, are here in the form of requests. Please, please, please don’t compare yourself to a remarkable figure in history. I beg you not to do this; it’s going to kill your credibility dead beyond recognition. Don’t ask me probing questions about my personal life – they’re seldom relevant and often, they’re not legal. If I’m not the right person for your job, please tell me so right away, you will not hurt my feelings and I only want to be successful at what I do, so save us both the time, okay?

After all these bad interviews, I wonder if I am ignoring my own advice. I should be putting a stop to these things right away, as soon as it becomes clear that I am not, in a million years, going to take this project, not for love or money. I should have thanked the micromanager at that very moment and said that I didn’t think we’d be a good match. I should have put a stop to the inappropriate questioning immediately instead of fishing around in my head for neutral responses. I should just put the brakes on that stuff and head for the door. Currently I’m regretting that I didn’t respond the way I really felt in a number of those situations. I try not to kill my job prospects by saying “That is the most stupid and outrageous thing I’ve ever heard in an interview.” Thing is, I have learned over the last two months that it’s probably NOT the most outrageous and stupid thing I’ve ever heard. There is probably more to come.

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March 18th, 2005

Perspective…or something

In the time it takes me to write this post, 20 children in Africa, all under the age of 5, will have died of malaria.

I have to admit, I don’t really think about malaria much, except maybe as something to worry about if I were to travel to South Asia. It’s not on my radar of diseases running rampant in the world the way tuberculosis and AIDS are. I don’t regularly hear staggering numbers associated with malaria the way I do about those other diseases. And yet, the numbers are incredibly staggering.

Twenty percent of childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease. There are 300 million to 500 million cases of malaria every year, and over a million deaths.

If every person in that part of the world slept under mosquito netting, those numbers could be reduced by 20-50%. But the nets are out of reach of many people, where the cost of one can easily represent several weeks of pay for a struggling family. Which brings up another sobering number. Those nets cost, oh, about $4 to $6US. What is 4 bucks to me? How often do I plunk down three times that for a CD from a band I know one song by? Or a Frappaccino?

The thing is that I know these kind of figures exist all over the place. I know that the price of a cup of coffee a day can save a life from all those Sally Struthers commercials. But being confronted with specific causes, with the numbers, with all of it, is heartrending.

This was the topic on Weekday on KUOW this morning, and the reason I’m so preoccupied with these numbers today. I had to do some further research after crying when the regional director for African programs from PATH talked about how the unprofitability of developing a vaccine that would be consumed mainly by the poorest people on the planet has been a big part of the reason why there isn’t one already (though the Gates Foundation is working with PATH to fund research and clinical trials into several potential ones now).

And it all makes me want to do something, because, in fact, it’s been more like 15 minutes since I started this post, which means that 30 children have died since I wrote this headline. There are too many things wrong in the world to take them all to heart, unfortunately. It’s unreasonable to say I was inspired by the story this morning and have decided to quit my job and run off to Africa to try to provide health education. It is not, however, unreasonable, to make a donation to the United Nations Foundation to purchase some of those mosquito nets. I’d encourage you all to as well.

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March 17th, 2005

Made in America

For the past couple of months, I’ve been working on an article about how a sporting goods manufacturer is moving their production to China. I’ve tried to stay really open minded about it. I don’t, just in principal, object to offshoring – hell, I’ve worked in software! – and I’m still developing my conclusions around this issue.

But as a byproduct of my research, I’ve been paying really close attention to where the stuff I buy is made and trying to select American made goods. You know what? It is really hard to do. REALLY hard. You should try it. No, really, you should. I’m not saying you have to get all hardline and buy only American made goods. What I’m saying is that I dare you to pay attention to where the stuff you’re buying already comes from.

For me, it’s really driven home the death of US manufacturing. (Okay, I got it when I saw Roger and Me. I’m not a total ninny.) But STILL. Think about the jobs. Think about what’s making the US economy go. We’re not making stuff that people can use even if we are selling it to them at cut prices out of box stores. Also, what are we doing for a living? We can’t all be “knowledge workers.”

I can’t stop thinking about or start shutting up about this. The thing that bugs me most of all is that I don’t know what an educated consumer is supposed to do when they need new underwear.

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