Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page

Why Corporations Fight for Marriage Equality

In Specific Facts on July 31, 2012 at 3:53 pm

More and more major corporations are coming out on the side of marriage equality, either expressing their support of same-sex marriage or promoting LBGT-friendly products and marketing strategies.

Target has started selling t-shirt for Pride Month. JC Penney adopted Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson and has run ads featuring families with two mothers and two fathers.  Starbucks has publicly endorsed the adoption of same-sex marriage in the United States and abroad.

There are many reasons why fighting for marriage equality benefits these and other corporations, no matter what their ideological proclivities may be.

Consumer Perceptions

More and more Americans are expressing their support of same-sex marriage. A Washington Post poll in May found that 53 percent of people think that same-sex marriage should be legal, and 51 percent approved of President Obama’s recent announcement that he supports same-sex marriage.

Companies who come out against same-sex marriage risk alienating the majority of their customers, thereby losing their business. Depending on their demographic, some companies could stand to lose a lot of profits by taking a position against same-sex marriage.

Competitive Edge

Companies that do business in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage, or that have laws prohibiting recognition of same-sex unions, are at a competitive disadvantage for attracting and retaining the most qualified candidates.

LGBT employees are more likely to move to states that offer same-sex marriage benefits, and companies that do business in those states are better positioned to attract the widest range of candidates. It benefits businesses to petition for same-sex marriage benefits in the states in which they reside, if not the whole country.

Overhead Costs

Companies that do business in states that offer same-sex benefits don’t have to manage two separate systems of employee benefits, reducing overhead costs. Enacting marriage equality across the country will help companies to save money by streamlining these systems.

Company Culture

As long as marriage is not an equal right for all citizens, there will be a division in the way that LGBT citizens are treated and the way heterosexual citizens are treated. Such division promotes unequal treatment of LGBT workers, which can contribute to an uncomfortable or hostile environment.

By promoting marriage equality, companies encourage a more welcoming and accepting environment, minimizing absenteeism and encouraging greater productivity, both of which affects the company’s bottom line.

While some companies may feel it is their ideological duty to fight for marriage equality, others stand to gain economic benefits. If marriage equality becomes a reality across the country, companies can attract a wide range of qualified applicants, minimize overhead costs, and encourage a working environment accepting of all. By coming out in favor of marriage equality now, companies also align themselves with the growing majority of Americans who are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.

<Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at, where recently she’s been researching low income scholarships and military scholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing and hogging her boyfriend’s PlayStation 3. To keep her sanity she enjoys practicing martial arts and bringing home abandoned animals.>


Overcoming Writer’s Block Without the B.S.

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Writer’s block.

There are thousands of articles online covering the topic: how to prevent it, how to get over it, and how to understand why it happens. If you’ve ever actually dealt with writer’s block though you know that even reading some of the advice in the typical quick-fix articles can be maddening. I don’t know why it happens any more than I know a reliable way to prevent or fix it. This article however is a personal attempt to disseminate what has worked for me and what I think almost never works for anyone.

In my experience, the first key to dealing with writer’s block is not to stress about it. There is no reason to dig too deeply into the root causes of your writer’s block. It will also benefit no one to become anxious about not being able to write. The only problem here is the fact that, when you can’t write, that’s all you can think about. And if you write for a living you are running the risk of damaging your career. What’s more stressful than that?

It’s definitely a catch-22: trying not to stress about not stressing about your writer’s block. But here are a few things I have done that have actually worked for me:

Do something totally new.

Preferably this should be something that has nothing to do with you or your work. Step out of your comfort zone, and do something fun. Once I went bungee jumping during a period of especially low creativity. It was something I had thought I would never do. But it definitely startled me back to life.

Ask someone for advice.

As obvious as this sounds, it can often be the last thing writers seek out. Writing can be such a solitary activity, and when you’re suffering from a block sometimes you feel like you need to get through it alone. Instead, just tell another writer or editor what’s going on and see if they can help you think of different angles or ideas. Even something as simple as that can actually help.


This is one of the best ways to get creative juices flowing again. Sit down, and make yourself read something. Whatever you’re attracted to is a good place to start whether it’s a novel, newspaper or magazine.

Have un-productive rest.

Don’t use downtime as a constant opportunity for brainstorming. You may be suffering from writer’s block, but you still deserve some time off. Go see a friend and chat about nothing. 

Just start writing.

Especially if you write for work, it can really help to stop thinking. You may be surprised by how much writing you can fit onto a page when you just start doing it. And you will be even more surprised by how well you can write, even on autopilot. Stop caring about how it will all go together, and just write. You can piece together the good and the bad later.

There are also some things that have never worked for me and I doubt will work well for anyone else:

Lying to yourself about your own deadline

If you are a procrastinator and sometimes like to pretend that your deadline is earlier than it actually is so you finish in a timely manner, stop fooling yourself. You know that you know your real deadline, and you will only start writing as soon as you absolutely have to until you work to actually change the habit of procrastination.

Beating yourself down

Don’t let writers’ block spiral you into a depression. Even if you can’t figure out a way to get past it, it doesn’t mean you should think of yourself negatively.


Angelita Williams writes about a variety of topics pertaining to education. Angelita has a particular interest in online education, as she covers many stories on online courses and the distance learning lifestyle. Her email is

To Procreate or Not to Procreate? It’s Not Even a Question

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 4:15 am

When I first set out to write this essay, I intended to give ethical arguments for and against having and raising one’s own biological children, which, we’ve been told, is an act and process that is an integral part of this crazy thing we call life. Notwithstanding, if we view having our own children from a purely ethical perspective, the answer is simple—there are no good reasons.

Before anyone begins throwing a fit about me making some sort of claim that no one should have children, I’m certainly not. You are someone’s child, and, more than likely, I’m sure you’ll say now that you don’t necessarily regret being born. If you have any children currently, I’m sure they’re great, and I’m sure they’re cute. They’ll be a great boon to society one day. But if you don’t have any children, and you’re thinking about it, think hard. Think about the fact that:

The world population is growing at a rate that the planet cannot support.

All of us already know that the world population growth is, simply put, unsustainable at its current rate.

By some accounts, world population could reach 10 billion in the year 2050, while the Earth’s carrying capacity is said to be between 4 billion and 11 billion. According to some experts, we may have already transcended the Earth’s carrying capacity. Considering that developed countries, especially America, produce some of the greatest amounts of waste per person in the world, deciding not to have children will do more to reduce your carbon footprint than any of the small steps you may currently take, like walking to work.

The “but my future child will be happy” argument doesn’t hold water.

In Peter Singer’s relatively recent New York Times op-ed, “Should this be the Last Generation?”, Singer cites one of philosopher David Benatar’s arguments about having children:

“To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.”

Essentially what Singer is trying to say is that non-existent persons, being infinitely many, cannot “know” what they are missing out on.

There’s nothing necessarily “natural” about having and raising kids.

One argument often invoked in the name of having children is the idea that it’s a “natural” part of the lifecycle, or it’s an experience that is part and parcel of our instincts and biology. Firstly, there are various “instincts” that, as human civilization has developed, we’ve suppressed. One could easily argue that it’s instinctual to hunt and gather our food, but modern technology has enabled us to slough off this part of our biology. In the same way, the facts of modern life have given us the opportunity to live a full life without having children. The advent of birth control has completely separated reproduction from our instinctual sex drive that often results in reproduction. As such, just with many parts that were once an

Having children won’t necessarily make you happier either.

Now we can always go the hedonistic route, and argue that raising children will bring us pleasure, and that, ergo, having children is the right thing to do. There are, again, a few problems with this argument. For one, it’s not even necessarily the case that having children will bring us pleasure, as noted in a recent New Yorker article, “The Case Against Kids.” A study conducted in 2006 showed that mothers cited having a more enjoyable time during activities like exercising, talking on the phone, and watching TV, as compared to spending time with their children. Spending time with children ranked only above doing housework in terms of enjoyment.

At the end of the day however, having children isn’t something we necessarily submit to reasoned analysis. Perhaps the nearly universal appeal is something akin to what Guardian columnist Charlie Booker noticed after having his first child:

“But only a cardboard man could fail to acknowledge that some things simply leave you feeling deeply, deeply happy. Call me dense or cold or both, but I wasn’t anticipating the wave of euphoria I’ve been experiencing. It’ll wear off, I’m sure, and these pages aren’t the place for it anyway, but yes: I understand why people have kids. Right now, at the moment, I ‘get’ babies.”


Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: How Statistics Frame Presidential Campaigns

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2012 at 5:30 am

The bidding process for the 2012 US Presidency has gone on for at least ten years.

At least that’s how it seems to many people fatigued by incessant news coverage of the topic. In reality the race has extended well over a year, with the vast majority of media attention going to the contenders for the Republican Presidential nominee. In the time various candidates have vied for the (still ongoing) Republican nomination, they’ve utilized a wide suite of statistics and figures on domestic policy issues to either bolster their own argument or decry their opponents. Most of these figures pertain to joblessness rates, economic growth, consumer buying trends, and so on, as the US economy has become more or less the central issue of this election cycle.

What’s interesting is that multiple candidates cite the same statistics, and each one seems to find a way to frame that statistic to his benefit. The relativity with which these candidates approach the same statistic is remarkable in this election cycle, and it warrants a closer look.

Hard numbers in 2011

2011 was arguably a great year to be a candidate for the Republican nomination. Daunting statistics popped up every month – numbers which made many analysts fret over the economic direction of the country. Tepid jobs reports, high unemployment rates, hedged forecasts of long-term economic growth, and low Presidential approval ratings gave Republican candidates plenty to talk about. Less than a year ago, in July 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.2%; it was a time when many Americans questioned whether or not the economy would ever recover from the housing market meltdown that occurred several years ago.

The data was unavoidable, and it seriously improved the prospects of many candidates running for the Presidency. People were looking for someone who could bring the economy back around, and many politicians answered that call. Several candidates enjoyed moments in the sun, where their popularity rose with each promise to fix the economic mess. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachman were just a few of the candidates to enjoy such popularity.

Putting a negative spin on encouraging statistics

However, the U.S. economy has shown improvement over the past few months. The national average unemployment rate still hovers around 8%, but recent studies have shown that that rate could decline further in coming months. More companies are hiring, and more consumers are spending; it seems like things are starting to change for the better in the country.

Of course you wouldn’t know that the economy was recovering if you listened to the remaining candidates for the Republican nomination. They’ve interpreted the growth of the US economy as insufficient for the standards of the country, and they blame President Obama for mishandling the recovery effort. They rarely touch upon the fact that the economic disaster unfolded long before President Obama’s term; they only stick to statistics that could be spun to disparage his leadership. Positive economic numbers aren’t necessarily a success story for President Obama as much as they are a reason for his opponents to say that he hasn’t done enough. It’s all a matter of framing.

The elasticity of statistics in US politics

As you’ve probably heard, a statistic is only a number. What matters about statistics is the context in which they are mentioned. In the political sphere, the same statistic can hinder and support the same person depending on who’s doing the talking. Never has that been clearer than in this election cycle, with political pundits, economic analysts, and the media scrutinizing every number released concerning the US economy.

Take the most recent job numbers report for example. While the numbers were nothing to write home about, they still showed that the country is hiring people. Democrats will definitely jump on the small number as a sign that the economy is further down the road to recovery, while Republicans—and presidential contenders in particular—will use the figures as a clarion call for new leadership. Again, it’s all about the perspective from which you view the numbers.

The presidential race is still too far away to call, and with candidates still vying for the Republican nomination, there are still many more debates over economic statistics. The important thing is that Americans inform themselves about vital economic data before they listen to the spin from politicians.

Author Bio:

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, online degrees etc. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Some Underwhelming Reflections on “3/11″

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that killed 20,000 people, and I feel I kind of owe it to myself and others to share my thoughts. I haven’t really gleaned any kind of wisdom in the one year since Japan’s disaster – it could be I’m still a little bit shocked, or still picking up the pieces of my life, or just doing what I have to do – so there hasn’t been any sort of a-ha! moment. I imagine that from the standpoint of the impartial reader, what follows will seem trite and hackneyed. But here it is anyways:

The big one-year anniversary had actually slipped my mind up until Sunday, and I was folding napkins during some downtime at my brunch shift when suddenly I realized what day it was and felt a sudden urge to go home and be with my family. In retrospect, it was probably good that I was engaged in such a mindless task as folding napkins, because there was nothing to be distracted from and no one to talk to.

I decided to let my mind wander freely, since menial tasks often encourage such, and one of the first places my mind went was towards the topic of God. I realized that in any just universe I would be obligated to hate a God that would allow such a thing as the tsunami to happen, if an omnipotent God were not such an absurd proposition to begin with. As embarrassing it is to admit this, I actually became very angry with the idea of God and religion and people continuing to believe and worship indifferently, as I continued folding napkins.  It was a pure, visceral hatred that burned through me, which I do not regret, even if I feel it is not representative of my overall religious views.

I thought of all the children I knew in Soma, where I had worked for a year and a half of my life, and wondered if they were okay, and how I might find such a thing out. I thought of our good friend, Kentaro, who disappeared without a trace last March and no one has seen since. To our knowledge, he was nowhere near the water when everything happened, so why would he be missing? Maybe we’re just out of the loop now. Or maybe he is. Or maybe he’s just depressed and doesn’t want to talk to anyone and has been keeping a low profile for the last year.

I thought of my wife’s next-door neighbor whose family had lived next door for generations and generations; this was an elderly man whom I’d heard lots of funny stories about. Right after the quake, his wife made rice balls for our family using a gas stove, and she brought them over for us to have for dinner in the dark and cold. Her husband was a roofer by trade and semi-retired. A few months ago he was repairing a roof that had been damaged by the earthquake, fell off, and died. At the time I heard it, this was one of the saddest stories I had ever heard.

I let my mind wander to the idea of land in Japan and in the old world being an extension of self, like a limb. Generations and generations had lived and died on the same land, flattening the valleys with their industry. My wife’s parent’s land had once been a great farm, but, with the Twentieth-Century economy and the jobs it brought, there was no one willing to tend to all that land, and my wife’s grandparents and parents gradually subdivided, rented, sold, or dismantled much of it for various purposes: parking lots, subsistence or hobby farms, roads, advertisements, etc. Now that land is poisoned, whether actually or effectively, a great tragedy indeed. But someday it will be alright again, and, if you’re someone with a sixth-generation ethic like many of the Japanese living around Fukushima Daiichi, then this someday is soon enough.

The reports I’ve been hearing from Fukushima City are that all the children are gone: families with young children have fled the radiation, joining the 400,000 displaced, and only the elderly remain. Some of the displaced families commute from nearby cities over the western mountains; some of them have moved off to faraway cities, where they attend brand new schools as untouchables, or to faraway countries, where they must learn a new language and a new way of life, like my stepson. I’m sure this is somewhat of an exaggeration, because I still know a few foreigners working in the city, and some of them are teaching kids. The people I talk to talk a lot of settlement money from Tokyo Electric: how much, when it’s coming, how to get it, where to get it, etc. People have stopped talking about radiation hot spots and the next big aftershock.


(PICTURED: top – Fukushima City from Mt. Shinobu; above – the peak of Mt. Azuma)



After work on Sunday I went home and read Evan Osnos’s “Japan’s 3/11” post. Like most of the literature coming out of the disaster, this piece too has an angle, which is that, on top of the first disaster of the earthquake, the second disaster of the tsunami, and the third disaster of the nuclear meltdown, there was a fourth disaster, which is the destruction of the people’s trust in the very government that engineered the “Japanese miracle” to begin with. (I find the notion of a “Japanese miracle” to be fairly offensive – as if the Twentieth-Century growth of the Japanese economy wasn’t the inevitable result of a high level of intellectual capital; a hard-working, industrious, and community-oriented society; and an infrastructure that desperately needed to be rebuilt after suffering one of the worst bombings in the history of the world.) Anyways, from Osnos:

“The moment that Japan remembers as 3/11 was not one disaster but three—an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown. And then there was the repercussion that nobody expected in the rush of stoicism and sacrifice that so impressed the world. As evidence piled up of government failures—cover-ups, bureaucratic paralysis, an industry that disguised honest assessments of the risks—Japan’s confidence in the political establishment that has created its modern miracle collapsed: the “fourth disaster” of March 11,” as one commentator puts it.”

The frame of the Osnos piece – like literally everything ever written about Japan – is the ceremony and ritual surrounding the commemoration of solemn events, and this aggravates me, but Osnos’s warning of ripples to come seems refreshingly apt:

One of the more amazing numbers involved is zero. That’s how many people have died so far of radiation, and that’s not because it’s not dangerous. It’s because of luck and sacrifice. People were more afraid than they needed to be, but they can be forgiven for that because the engineers were more cavalier than they should have been. A year later, the effects of radiation are most readily measurable in mental health. Scientists still don’t know whether the increased radiation received by hundreds of thousands of citizens will cause more cancer (though, even if it does, it will be virtually undetectable, lost in the cancers that forty per cent of us will contract in our lifetimes anyway). But the psychological effects are vast and obvious —an “anguished uncertainty” in the words of physicist and historian Spencer Weart. The combined effects of stigma, dislocation, and fear of the unknown are “a recipe for social isolation, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic medical problems, reckless behavior, even suicide.” As of today, three hundred and forty thousand people still live as refugees inside their own borders, either in chilly temporary housing (“huts,” as one local official calls them) or in hotels or with relatives. Forty per cent of them lost their jobs or sources of income. In the twelve-mile radius around the plant, scientists are still trying to figure out how to decontaminate the land, but one number they’ve settled on is this: It will take forty years to decommission the Fukushima operation…

…The Fukushima meltdowns shattered trust in nuclear power in Japan and elsewhere, and it’s not clear how much of that will recover. For the moment, there is an unsettling dynamic in the making: As public opinion turns against nuclear energy, the only places left to develop it are places that are less sensitive to public opinion—exactly the kinds of political systems that are least equipped to respond to technical and public-health crises. Nuclear becomes the pride of governments ill-equipped to handle it. After the Fukushima meltdowns, China was one of the first countries to freeze its nuclear program and order a comprehensive review. It has taken a year, and very little information has come out. But according to a new Global Nuclear Materials Security Index, China still ranks twenty-ninth among a group of thirty-two nuclear nations in terms of security and transparency. Senior energy and nuclear-industry officials are undeterred. In recent weeks, several financial newspapers have reported that the ban on the approval of new nuclear reactors could be lifted as soon as next month.

This is a pretty serious dynamic, and Osnos is right that the Japanese government deserves credit for managing the hell out of an awful situation. I mentioned in the comments to Mike Dwyer’s post on Prepping for Emergencies a couple months ago:

The reason people didn’t die of starvation in Japan was because supermarkets rationed supplies; Japanese cities are planned specifically to minimize the damage of earthquakes – i.e. there are backup generators and alternate emergency sources of power supplies, independent, emergency supplies of fresh water, stocked non-perishables, etc.; the Japanese government quarantined entire cities between supply centers and the disaster zone so it could use the world’s most comprehensive highway system to quickly and effectively deliver essential supplies; the U.S. military, Chinese, and Russian governments especially plus many other countries delivered food and other aid by sea to the disaster zone; and finally, the population remained calm and orderly throughout the whole affair.

In short, planning is why 20,000 people died in Japan and 300,000 died in Haiti.

This stands, and I think the Japanese people – at least the people I know – appreciate the way the authorities handled the catastrophe, especially at the local level: the people properly blame Tokyo Electric, even if Osnos’s sources – the last I checked a few yuppies in Tokyo who got to go on being yuppies in Tokyo and an Alex Jones-type character – suggest otherwise. That the people turn away from nuclear power, even though we’ll need it or its equivalent to supply our energy in the future, seems an unfortunate but inevitable consequence, part of the bonfire of the vanities that blazes after any tragedy.

But still I wish that, following great tragedies, our immediate recourse would not always be towards public policy: times of great emotional upheaval are not times to be legislating. The real story of every disaster shouldn’t be who to blame or what extreme position we should orient our new public policy towards; the real story of every disaster is the guy who’s missing, or the farmer who can no longer farm, or the roofer who fell to the ground and died while committing a completely mundane, yet completely selfless act of heroism. The real story in every disaster – whether wrought of human hands or an act of God – is the lives, the individuals, the universes we sacrifice.

Featured Find: Madness: The Afghan Massacre is History’s Dial Tone

In Specific Facts on March 14, 2012 at 3:56 am

Gawker’s “Mobutu Sese Seko” has a piece up about how the massacre in Afghanistan should not be seen as an anomaly but as par for the course. (I have argued similarly in my posts on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and in one of my Hobbes posts at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen.) To wit:

Racism, at least, would have been a kind of excuse, evidence of a critically planned process. It’s almost comforting: Even the most saintly among us has harbored or inspired some racial resentment. Racism is a universal form of bullshit—a lower-social-order attitude, but at least an indicator of some ordered thinking.

Instead, the shooter, allegedly an 11-year veteran, with three tours in Iraq, was probably crazy. Which basically means we’re fucked.

Through the power of euphemism, we’ve come to think of madness as some regrettable and essentially random byproduct of combat instead of an intrinsic part of it. InWartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War, Marine veteran Paul Fussell documents how we’ve officially added syllables to this condition to transform it almost into a logistical inconvenience.

In the First World War, it was “shell shock.” In the Second, “Combat Fatigue” or “Battle Fatigue.” We jumped from two self-evident syllables to four sublime inanities that make it sound as if soldiers only want for more naptime. And, of course, in the present day, we obfuscate via the king-hell syllabic nightmare of “post-traumatic stress disorder.” It not only relies on the anodyne stress (“I have a party to plan and am running late! I am so stressed! I’m a Cathy cartoon! Ack, ack, ack!”) but the post-trauma modifier, which makes it seem as if the horror has passed and needs only to be endured in a series of diminishing aftershocks.

History maintains a stronger grasp on the matter. Both the Bible and Herodotus chronicle bloodlust and mass rape in wartime. Old Norse sagas speak both of fey warriors already seemingly ethereal and dead, as well as berserkers so consumed by bloodshed that they lose awareness of the world around them in their mad violence. In With the Old Breed, Marine Eugene B. Sledge not only describes his formerly perfectly normal comrades cutting gold teeth out of the mouths of still-living enemies but also watches as someone urinates into the mouth of a dead Japanese soldier.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because a similar story emerged a few weeks ago, about four Marineswho urinated on three Taliban corpses while laughing and telling jokes. And the latter, dehumanizing comedy, echoes Philip Caputo’s memoir A Rumor of War, in which his men joke, “Oh, excuse me, Mister Charlie,” after kicking the corpse of a teen whom they knew was not Viet Cong but shot anyway, for swiping a tree branch at them and running away.

As Fussell notes, conduct similar to the above deserves words more honest than euphemism—words like insane. This is what killing and the fear of being killed fosters. Wanting to preserve the dignity of soldiers (or “heroes,” if you will) does them no favor if it requires dishonesty about their condition, especially if such dishonesty allows it to metastasize into the methodical slaughter of women and children.

Even without the alleged shooter’s three tours in Iraq (which, conservatively, would amount to more combat time than American soldiers saw in Europe in the Second World War) and a possible nervous breakdown, it’s easy to see how service in Afghanistan could drive anyone mad. Outside of the Forward Operating Base, it’s difficult to distinguish friends from enemies. The people of Afghanistan increasingly loathe our ability to piss on bodies, burn Qurans and rain bombs on weddings from a great height. The line between resentment and violent malice is a fine one for soldiers to read when they have no objective for striking back, no uniformed enemy, no certain position to attack, clear and defend.

What Gives

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I have a long post up at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen about the changes in my search for work since August and the implications of this. Here is an excerpt:

I hesistate to say I am on the edge of a new transformation now, in February 2012, but it just feels that way, even though rationality points to my situation continuing like this for the foreseeable future. Some of the optimism I lost over the summer has come back: my translation workload is increasing, I’m doing well at what I can do well at, and tonight, right before my grateful eyes, my wife and children sleep peacefully. Psychology is important in these things, and my psychological state has moved from a need for present security to a need for future security. Time stands still now; every week is the same. My children become more-and-more enraptured with American culture and more-and-more obsessed with our ubiquitous and inescapable kid’s entertainment culture. There is no backyard for them to play in here, but there are Backyardigans. My older daughter speaks no more Japanese in the house. My stepson wants an earring. I grow fatter by the week. During the summer, when I was unemployed, I managed to find outlets for limited exercise. Since August, I’ve gained fifteen to twenty pounds – despite my best efforts to eat healthy, I have no time for exercise. I seem powerless to stop the creep of apple fat around my midsection that reduces my life expectancy by the minute, but my weight gain still remains pretty far down my list of problems to solve. Exercise is just one of those luxuries that gives way when the threat of an endless and inescapable cycle of late fees and penalties dangles like a tantalizing, decadent bizarro carrot in front of me. One of the few medium-term “dreams” I have is to be able to afford a kayak, so I can paddle around the Boston Harbor Islands each morning.

Please make your way over to the League of Ordinary Gentlemen to read and comment. 

Your Final Chance to Understand These Men (and me)

In General Principles on February 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I was late tuning into the debate tonight because (a) I was busy reading Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors to my kid for his pretend-to-go-to-bedtime story, and (b) I forgot all about it. I’ve got a lot on my plate these days, and unless one of these presidential hopefuls stands up and says he’s ready to sign seal and deliver my wife’s green card before the weekend they have nothing I care to hear.

The digital clock on my laptop from Japan read 10:20, which meant it was 8:20 here when CNN’s live feed finally came stuttering onto my screen. Romney was talking – no surprise – and in the first 45 seconds covered balancing the budget, cutting taxes, English immersion schools, life begins at conception, an embryo farming veto, balancing the Salt Lake City Olympic budget and, as a successful businessman, understanding the crucial importance of fiscal conservatism. Nothing, nada, zilch about speeding up the green card process for pregnant wives of US citizens. Strike One Mitt. You are out of touch with my needs.

Moderator John King, who I mistook at first for Anderson Cooper after an extended Valentine’s Day chocolate binge, asked Newt Gingrich a question with more modified phrases than Arizona’s border has snipers. Newt looked as bored as I feel when Sam Harris is trying to make another one of his non-points, but he took advantage of the probability that no one else in America knew what the question was either and proceeded with what would become the theme for the night: support what the last guy said, but then add a caveat of booger-flicking. ‘I agree with Mitt,’ an oddly fresh-looking Newt said, not detailing which of the fifteen points Mitt just raised he agreed with. ‘But a $200,000 capital gains tax cut-off is lower than Obama’s limit by $50K and I don’t like class warfare.’

Yes, Newt, we know what you like. Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking: If you take a good look into Callista Gingrich’s eyes, does the word ‘predatory’ come to mind?

All of a sudden Newt is on the subject of a border fence. I guess that could have been part of John King’s question. I don’t know if Newt realizes it, but he basically just outlined how far one would have to walk into the desert to get around the wall he said he helped build along the California border. The only thing Newt didn’t do is say it in Spanish.

Next up, a slap-fight between Mitt and Rick about earmarks. Mitt: I’m going to call for a ban on all earmarks. Rick: But you asked Congress for X million dollars to help fund the Salt Lake Olympics. Mitt: Well you supported it. Rick: Because you asked for it, and I only supported half of what you wanted. Mitt: You supported the Bridge to Nowhere. Rick: Yes because you can’t veto an earmark, you can only veto the bill it’s tacked onto. So let me say that as President I’ll vote for a line-item veto. And anyway (he says after Mitt gets him with a wet willy), Ron over there is the biggest earmarker…

Newt jumps in with two slick remarks: ‘With Obama you need a Republican House imposing certain things on the President’ followed by ‘I wanted money for Salt Lake (schmoozing Romney again) but then to run an ad against someone doing the same thing?’ (Newt has interesting boogers.)

Ron Paul finally gets a scrap of time, which he uses to throw up his hands in histrionic disgust. ‘The problem is Congress doesn’t know what they’re doing.’ I can’t decide if such vague, over-reaching statements are more or less convincing coming from Ron Paul. He then makes the point about money being taken from the highway fund going to fund our wars, then when it’s time to fix our roads we have to scrape up money from somewhere. Okay, excellent point. So why isn’t Mr. Paul leading in all the polls with statements like this? Because deep down, Americans, I believe, would rather see news of troops in the desert than tar spreaders in the Midwest.

A question from the gallery about bailouts. Santorum is in principal opposed to government intervening and manipulating the market, and (note the set-up here) opposed the Wall Street bailout. Rick asserts that the government redirecting how an industry works is destructive, and oh by the way Mitt voted bailout for Wall Street but not for the auto industry. Mitt: ‘After 3 auto industry CEOs flew their private jets to Washington to ask for $50B I wrote an op-ed calling for a managed bankruptcy, then if they need help out of bankruptcy I said okay then maybe we could help them.’

Okay, sounds fair I suppose, but how many in that Arizona audience of hundreds of people – and my cyber-audience of four – has any idea what Multi-Million Mitt might mean by ‘okay let’s help them’?

Regarding the Wall Street bailout, Mitt explains, ‘I don’t want to save any Wall Street bank, but I didn’t want all the banks to fail.’ Why not? Now that would be a news segment the entire country could enjoy. Minus the banks of course but who cares about them? … Oh yeah. The guys in charge of the country – including the news.

Newt, refreshingly short and sweet tonight, notes that BMW, Mercedes, Honda and Toyota are all doing fine running their American factories, so why should we enable our own car companies when they refuse to change? Seriously, the guy makes sense more often than I care to admit.

Ron Paul throws his hands up again. ‘Free market in defense of liberty, that’s what we need!’ Then he flashes a grin like Grandma just cut the apple pie into too few slices for everyone at the table.

I think Obama’s got Detroit pretty much wrapped up.

A commercial break, during which my laptop screen displays tweets by three people CNN thinks are worth paying attention to, plus Piers Morgan to draw in the American Idol crowd.

A question from the audience about birth control. Why is this a federal issue? Washington has much more pressing concerns – like getting my pregnant wife her green card.

Newt: Obama voted to allow doctors to kill babies who survive abortions. (This is simply not funny.)

Mitt: Obama said the government should be able to tell the church who their leaders should be and was shot down by the Supreme Court 9-0. (This, Obama claims, was payback for his 9-0 win over the Supreme Court in a recent free throw contest.)

Rick: My opinion regarding the dangers of contraception are based on a problem in our culture; teens getting pregnant, children raising children, children born out of wedlock…

While I can agree these are problems in our culture, I’m a bit lost as to why, at least in the short term, contraception is a danger and not, call this wild speculation, a possible remedy. Then he adds something about drug use, leaving us to figure out why.

Ron Paul, left again to bring up the rear, seems exasperated that the government hasn’t extracted itself from these issues already. ‘Like gun control,’ he says. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Which is to say pills don’t make people have sex, people make people have sex? Alcohol, on the other hand, might be a significant culprit but we already tried putting the lid on that one.

After some proselytizing by Mitt and Newt, Ron Paul (I don’t know why, I have a hard time calling him just Ron) says Planned Parenthood should get no funding whatsoever.  Now this…this is a guy who truly stands by his beliefs. Because regardless of your personal position, with stances like this it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine Ron Paul and Susan Komen in the near future commiserating on a park bench somewhere drinking bottom shelf booze out of brown paper bags.

Next Rick and Mitt start kicking each other under the table as they squabble about RomneyCare and ObamaCare and Arlen Specter. Meanwhile Newt is staring at the floor to his left, avoiding Callista’s stare in all likelihood.

A man from Kingman, Arizona stands up and asks: ‘What will you do to secure our border?’

Ron Paul gets a rare first shot at an issue. He says we need to forget about the Afghan-Pakistan border and take care of ours. Helping illegals is only hurting our schools, our hospitals…  You know, after ten years in Japan my credit report here in the US is blank and now I can’t even get a Target card, how do these people get to go to school?

Mr. Paul winds up his minute by asserting that by subsidizing something you only get more of it. (Living here at Mom’s I would tend to agree.) Thus his call for ending benefits and welfare for illegals. Fortunately the others are itching to speak and Ron Paul doesn’t have to suggest what to do with all those illegals on the streets. Maybe he’d round them up with the money saved from ending all foreign wars and put them on the work crews rebuilding the highways. Alternatively, we could send them to the Middle East to fight for us.

Now Newt is telling anyone who cares that they can sneak into California easily enough using two 35-foot ladders. Again he stops short of saying this in Spanish but CNN runs a translation on the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

On the question of whether to seek out and arrest illegals, Mitt endorses the practice of using E-Verify, which, he points out, has helped Arizona reduce the number of working illegals by 14% – whereas the national average is 7%. Hey, can anyone out there verify these numbers?

By the way, did you read the first line on the E-Verify page? ‘U.S. law requires companies to employ only individuals who may legally work in the U.S.’ So Mitt is endorsing following the law. He adds companies should have to pay fines if they hire illegals. I said this years ago, in an email to my family. I’m sure they all deleted it by now, likely without having read it. And without my family’s support how can I ever hope to get into one of these debates?

Rick Santorum gets into the issue of homeowners who have illegals working for them, but suddenly my wife comes down and sits at the table and immediately I can’t concentrate. A pregnant woman has this sort of power. She doesn’t even have to say anything. In fact, it’s worse when she doesn’t and just sits there. Staring. As I try to pretend I’m doing something important.

Imagine Callista pregnant. Newt would probably forget he was President.

No commentary on my chat with the wife.

Back to Mesa, Arizona, and Mitt is commenting on education in America. (I think I heard something about the No Child Left Behind Act a moment ago.) Mitt argues that in America, kids don’t learn, they simply learn how to learn, so they have self-esteem, even if they can’t read ‘self-esteem’.

I agree with the part I understand.

Our moderator is winding up this last debate before Super Tuesday by asking each of our four contestants what they think is America’s biggest misconception about them.

Ron Paul says the biggest misconception Americans have about him is the idea – perpetuated by the media – that he can’t win. In Iowa, he notes, he did the best out of everyone when pitted against Obama in a voting poll. He’s also currently in second place in terms of delegates won. Maybe he should let this myth continue until Mitt and Rick slap and kick each other to death.

Newt says the American people are seeking someone who can solve problems, and wishes the American people knew how much work it took to accomplish what “we” did. So what is the misconception, Newt? That you got a lot done over the course of your career?

Mitt says we need to restore the American dream and we thus need big change in DC. John King interrupts and asks Mitt to stick to the misconception idea. Mitt fires back by saying ‘You can ask what you want, I can give any answer I want.’ Wow. In other words, ‘Stick your question where the sun don’t shine so I can beat my dying horse.’

Santorum: ‘Obama has the media behind him and lots of money he doesn’t have to spend campaigning. But we have vision, we have principles, the people are looking for someone running a campaign on a shoestring and doing a lot with a little.’ These guys don’t have a lot of money. I don’t think this is a widely-permeating misconception.

And with this ends the GOP Debate season. I hope my fellow Americans have been paying attention.

Particularly to me. This election, and the future of our country, are hanging in the imbalance.

Going For Brokered

In General Principles on February 18, 2012 at 5:56 am

JournalistBack on January 15th I groaned in vague disappointment at the news that Jon Huntsman was leaving the race for the GOP presidential nomination. I say disappointment because after extensive research consisting of skimming a BBC News summary of the then-remaining hopefuls and my own analysis of the New Hampshire debate a week earlier, I had come to the conclusion that the former US Ambassador to China was by far our best hope for a sane and at least moderately-reliable President.

I say vague because something told me he would be back.

Well now, today, that very possibility seems to be materializing.

Mr. Huntsman is not actually mentioned in this article by Steve Holland, Journalist, but the mere specter of a brokered convention this August gives me hope that the door is still open for him to step up and lead our great country. (I understand that history does not paint a rosy picture for me here but I’m not one to base my political insights on things like reason and considered thought.)

The piece began with the helpful (for me) note that a brokered convention ‘could result in Republicans ditching their current crop of candidates and turning to someone else who they feel would have a better chance of defeating Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.’ Immediately I thought of this Bugs Bunny cartoon.

A month ago Romney seemed to be cruising above the rest of the field, his fellow combatants either dropping out (too little support, too much ass-grabbing) or simply rising and falling too easily with the demographic tides. Now, almost inexplicably, the staunchly staunch conservative who couldn’t even get re-elected in the Amish State has suddenly become the fly in Romney’s snake ointment, leading the Equitymeister in his own home state of Michigan. But, as the article states, ‘many senior Republicans do not think Santorum has a chance to beat Obama if he wins the party’s presidential nomination.

This is where Steve Holland, Journalist should start peppering the conversation with names like Jon, Huntsman, and Jon Huntsman. Instead (sigh) he brings up ‘two popular governors, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey’ – as if Steve Holland, Journalist knows something just because he ‘has worked for Reuters in Washington for 20 years, and spent 16 of those years at the White House covering Presidents Bush, Clinton and Bush. He covered the 2008 presidential campaign.’ (Source: Reuters) Furthering his anti-credentials, he then goes on to mention Jeb Bush. Seriously? Are things really that bad around the GOP campfire? Honestly, I don’t know a thing about Jeb except for the fact that his last name is Bush – which is enough for me to hope they keep looking. Congressman Paul Ryan’s name comes up next; I hear he spends as much time in the gym as Obama spends on the links, which may be a good campaigning point for both sides.

From here Steve Holland, Word Counter slips in two quick paragraphs headed by three words sure to start the Dems trembling in their PETA-approved wingtips: Palin Offers Help. On Fox Pravda, Steve Holland, Regurgitator reports, Palin said that if it comes down to a brokered convention she will do whatever she can to help fix it.

Finally we are offered an explanation as to how, since candidates win delegates based on the number of votes they receive in each state, the delegate count could be split among the candidates to the point where no one reaches the ‘magic number of 1,144’ needed to clinch the party nomination. What is not explained is why they don’t just count up the votes.

Steve Holland, Political Genius, then posits the advantages of an outsider winning a brokered convention nomination. This guy’s rundown of the brokered convention of 1880, however, might be a tad more useful for a guy like Chris Christie.

Summing up the situation, Steve Holland, Seer, says this: ‘A staggered Romney could trigger a move to find a fresh face to run in a way that would avoid a brokered convention. There is still time for a candidate to get his or her name on the ballot for nominating contests in big states like California, New York and New Jersey.

Mr. Huntsman?

“If you see Romney lose Michigan, I think there is just going to be a cry for another candidate who is not Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum,” said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst at the non-partisan Cook Political Report.

Mr. Huntsman!!

Convenience, Coffee & How We Use Our Time

In General Principles on February 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm

My New Year’s Resolution – the one about time-management – is slowly taking hold. (Thank you, I know, it’s a tough one.) After washing today’s lunch dishes in record time (only one thing broken) I jumped onto the pc, leaving the wife to play zookeeper with the boys since that is her job. Then I started plowing through a dozen critical, mindless tasks: checking my e-mail for that inevitable offer of employment (if they want me bad enough then yes, they will contact me on a Saturday); promoting the Staten Island Film Festival on facebook (if Broccoli can get 16,000 fans, this shouldn’t be that hard); and shamelessly throwing my work at the latest ‘Look at what a great writer I am!’ website, among other things.

My powers of concentration, or maybe denial, are strong enough to get all this done even as the boys are shoving plastic train tracks in each others’ ear canals. When the bigger one sticks his thumbs in his little brother’s eye sockets, however, it’s time for me to take a break from my assault on the world and give my wife a break from the world’s assault on her.

She came back an hour later, the blood vessels in her forehead having receded. I told her to relax for a while longer, setting the stage for my permissioned escape to Dunkin Donuts.

Honestly, I was going to go to the library. I did go; rolled right up to the front door. But by now it was 3:30, and the laminated sheet on the door with their hours told me I’d have barely enough time to get settled at one of the desks, warm up my laptop and arrange my pile of notebooks (yes the paper kind) before I’d have to pack it all up again. Waste of time, that would be, so without hesitation or a trace of compunction I headed up the street to the only other place nearby where I knew I could sit down and plug in and work on my next novel.

Dunkin Donuts, bless their accommodating souls, is the subtle epitome of excess and waste. To wit: a few weeks ago I went out for doughnuts donuts with a bunch of family, and, one by one, everyone ordered – and everyone got his or her own donut in his or her own private brown paper bag. (This, perhaps, the result of an old woman who sued Dunkin Donuts for $15 million for allowing some of her husband’s Boston crème to get on her toasted coconut?) So we pushed two tables together and sat down and ate and ended up tossing eleven virtually unused brown paper bags in the trash. Or we would have if my wife hadn’t rescued most of them from the landfills of Rutherford so she could use them for snacks or hand puppets later on.

I hate waste. Whenever I go to the supermarket I try to remember to bring used plastic bags with me. Of course then they end up at the bottom of the cart under $113.45 worth of groceries, and by the time I’ve dug them out the cashier has rung up and bagged the first $80. But I try. At Dunkin Donuts their manic efficiency trumps my intentions, and barely before I’m done giving the 6’4” teenage man-boy my order a 5’4” teenage girl has appeared out of nowhere and is already slipping my custard-filled friend into a brown paper bag. Then I get my 20 oz. coffee – which I am going to drink right there in the same room – in a sturdy paper cup with a plastic lid that I swear was designed by NASA. Seriously, if an astronaut dropped this coffee it would likely make it through re-entry. Think I’m exaggerating? Maybe, but this plastic lid has a patent pending. It even says so – it’s molded right into the underside, beneath the cap’s removable accessory, which I will get to in a moment.

Ingenuity and invention made this country great; I am not knocking the power of creativity. And the features of this hyperbaric coffee cup top are undeniably handy. The flexible plastic arm is molded just right to snap into and out of the tiny oval through which your caffeine jolt flows. Not ready for a sip? Not to worry, not a drop of coffee nor a molecule of steam shall escape until your seatbelt is fastened and you are backing out of your parking space with one hand and one eye, your other eye and hand making sure your coffee is safe in its holder. For the less than plastic lid savvy, the word LIFT is molded into the tab at the end of this little plastic arm, form-fitting and snug to the contours of the lid so no one cuts a lip on any stray corners or edges and sues for $15 million.

Flip this arm up to drink your coffee and it totally gets in the way; you have to push it away with your nose (one hand is on the wheel, remember?) while trying to purse your lips over that tiny oval so you don’t spill on yourself, and if you hit a bump that arm can shoot right up a nostril ($10 million, easy). NASA’s coffee lid division has this covered though – you simply bend the arm back and snap the end onto the perfectly-shaped and sized convex knob at the far edge of the lid. You can find it in between the two molded arrows flanked by the molded, easy-to-follow instructions: ‘LOCK’.

I can hear the physics nerds grumbling. If that lid is on so tight, how do you account for the problem of air pressure-liquid displacement (or whatever the terms) when you drink? Good question, geeks, but your geeky compadres at NASA have it covered (that was a pun you geeks). Check the picture up there, you’ll notice that flexible arm has an extension, a larger interlocking modification to the original, simple round and flat coffee cup lid of yore. I couldn’t understand why that flexible arm had to be attached to the mother ship by this huge subliminally Batman-shaped clamp that takes up most of the lid space between the twin LOCK warnings and the all-American requisite ‘Caution Hot’ disclaimer (and a mysterious ‘16RCL’ – an alien-landing reference code maybe). Then I saw them: two microscopic chevron-shaped cuts in the plastic, one to let air into the core of the bat chamber, the other – located clear across on the opposite wing – to allow for air flow into the cup itself. If you ignore the ‘Caution Hot’ and suck your coffee down too fast the speed of the air entering and exiting the bat cave will create a whistling sound, eerily similar to the sound of a faraway police siren, which very effectively encourages you to find a place for your coffee other than in front of your eyes. And if you’re spooked enough to chuck your coffee onto the floor, no worries. That lid will hold long after you’ve gotten your license and registration back. (This assuming NASA has received the appropriate funding to develop a nano-gyroscope that will alert that robotic arm to snap itself shut.)

What a wonderful resume of technological achievement and lawsuit prevention we have.

To top it all off (another play on words you humorless geeks) Dunkin Donuts coffee cups sport a list of all the things that the efficient, tree-slaughtering folks behind the counter can put in that cup for you – sweeteners, among other things. Next to each possibility is an oval, to be filled in with a number two pencil so Joe’s coffee with Splenda doesn’t get mixed up with the coffee with Equal John asked for, or the coffee with Sweet ‘n Low Jane ordered. Fortunately none of them will end up with Jean’s coffee with sugar, those extra calories are killer.

It is 11pm, February 11. I am renewing my resolve to manage my time better. Tomorrow I am going to intervene in the basement before my wife starts screaming for an exorcist. Next trip to the Food King I’m going to throw my plastic bags at the cashier before she puts that first box of cereal through that beeping scanner thing. And on Monday, or whenever I can escape and get back to my novel, I’m going to intercept that stealthy little girl behind the counter before she wastes another brown paper bag or smartlid on me.

Or maybe I should really go nuts with the discipline and get to the library earlier.