Friday, December 28, 2007
It is late and almost completely dark in this room. I feel like I should try to be funny, but I'd rather pity myself. No audience wants to read self-pity, so I'll try to spare you, but I might not.
So, comment readers. Do you ever feel like you should disappear? Do you ever want to fade into quiet obscurity? Pack your personality away like a carnie folding his tent? Do you ever fear that no one will ever love you honestly? That whatever success and acceptance you've achieved is an elaborate illusion that defies falsification? That a group can accept you but that a single person never could--as if acceptance was the result of some kind of herd mentality or as if your contribution to the sociality of a group is so peripheral that you would never form part of a couple, but could only make sense within the context of a huge group?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you're not alone! At least one other person has answered yes to at least one of these questions.
I think part of it is that I found a niche of sorts within the social structure of the Jerusalem Center and now that niche is gone. My role within my family is becoming increasingly murky as I age and my social status during this next semester is also quite unclear. I'm sure I'll find something, but maybe that something is aloofness.
I sometimes imagine being entirely withdrawn. I love to think that whatever I would think in my solitude would be of such immense importance that interaction with other humans would be a burden worth avoiding. I love to think that I would have the emotional strength to alienate a lot of people and still be happy.
I don't believe this to be true, but everyone else had relationships to write about and I've only got prospects! Aloofness is a sure shot, dating someone depends on a lot of things that are mysterious to me. D*g!
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Discovering one's talents is like looking for gold coins in a sewer—if you find some it's well worth the effort, but once you've got the gold, you don't really tend to emphasize how you found it. Our fall starts, our early failures and the effort and time it takes to develop real talents often go unmentioned. This essay is dedicated to the notion that sometimes the process of discovering talents can be interesting, even compelling. So, with the following true stories from my life, I'd like to explain a couple of talents that I won't be performing tonight.
Like any soccer team comprised entirely of seven-year-olds, my soccer team followed the ball around the field like a school of fish. My style of play was the exact antithesis of this. At the start of each half, I would trot out to my spot and stand there for the entire half. I alone was a pillar of enlightened soccer playing: the only child on the whole team to take the coaches' admonition to stay in your position so literally, so precisely, so narrowly that even the near proximity of the ball could not entice me to leave my spot.
One time, the ball was coming straight to me and I decided to produce some tension by spreading my legs apart only to close them at the last minute. Thus, I thought to stop the ball both stylishly and effectively. Seized by a vague, but inexplicable desire to imitate an evil cartoon butler, I planned to say something like “where do you think you're going?” or “Not so fast!” or “I have you now!” or “you’ll never get away from me!” The ball rolled between my legs several seconds before I got around to closing them. I was no soccer prodigy.
After winning a spelling bee in 2nd grade, my career in competitive spelling looked promising. That is until, in a fifth grade spelling bee, I misspelled the word “monkeys.” Incidentally, that same day, I also discovered that I did not have a knack for losing graciously. I started to walk away as if I were about to leave school grounds. With tears streaming down my face, I muttered an angry diatribe against everything that came to mind. My plan was to elicit the sympathies of my mother and my teacher who would catch up with me and console me before I got too far. I would then resist but let them take me back; maybe they'd even give me a treat or something. They didn't. My mother saw right through my shenanigans and waited back at the school. I turned around and threw my arms into the air, desperately hoping to persuade someone to pursue me. I neared the sidewalk, realizing that I'd soon have to actually leave school property or bring the whole episode to a humiliating close. The gate that I neared was not just between the playground and the sidewalk. It stood between mere petulance and insubordination, between the safety of the school grounds and the danger of the streets, between a silly stunt and an inexcusable violation of school rules. I turned around. With no more tears and no more muttering, I walked back ashamed. I haven't spelled competitively since.
Sometimes we discover our deficiencies later in life. For example, bargaining is a skill I discovered I don't have just this semester. The now-well-known purchase of my ud in Egypt illustrates. The ud is an Eastern instrument that is the ancestor of the lute. After watching a merchant’s underwhelming demonstration of ud capabilities, I waited for the merchant to retrieve another ud from his stock. I needed to leave and I really didn’t want to buy a ud, but I was deathly afraid of doing anything that would bring my honor into question. So, upon the merchant’s return I hoped to end the negotiations like a man by politely asserting that I did not want to buy an ud. I wavered. I decided to end the negotiations using the slightly-less-manly method of saying that I didn’t have enough cash to make a good offer. He said he accepted Visa. Under duress, I settled for the even less manly technique of making a semi-reasonable offer that I thought he’d never accept. We left, thinking we were done, but as we walked away, he shouted to us that he accepted my offer. To my chagrin, I was now honor-bound to purchase the product—the imminent departure of our bus notwithstanding.
I soon discovered that “accepting Visa” in Egypt means that the merchant is willing to run with you to an ATM 3 blocks away. I dropped my things and ran on my recently-injured ankle with only the merchant whom I had never before met to accompany me. I retrieved the cash and ran back holding the money in plain view in my right hand. I was much slower than the merchant. My Visa card broke in half.
Now the proud owner of an ud, I looked at it closely for the first time. It was missing three strings and there was black gunk on the back of it. The decorative inlays were already falling out. I wondered if I could use such an ugly instrument. Using the ud never actually came up though. You see, just two days later at the Taba border crossing, my aspirations of learning the ud met an unceremonious end.
Things were going badly after the ud fell from the x-ray machine on the Egyptian side, which knocked loose more of the decorative inlays and cracked the back of it. My ud fared still worse at the Israeli bag-inspection station. I looked and the tuning pegs seemed to be less symmetrical than I had remembered. I looked again at the ud and realized that one of the tuning pegs had broken off. I attended to my other bags as they were inspected by Israeli border officers. I looked again at the ud and noticed that the entire pegbox of the ud was mounted at a suspiciously shallow angle—almost as if it were about to break. I looked for a fourth time at the ud. You take a look: maybe you'll notice the same thing I did. [hold up hopelessly dilapidated ud here]
If I ever become an accomplished ud player, it will not be with this ud. If I ever become an accomplished negotiator, this incident will not be on my resume.
But a failure to demonstrate natural ability early in life is hardly definitive. I recall an occasion when the State of Florida made elementary school kids submit a writing sample to be scored by some testing agency. My essay was about Christmas. It started with an inspiring and well-crafted paragraph on the importance of receiving gifts. The materialism of this first paragraph made me feel a little guilty, so I dutifully discussed the birth of Jesus in my second paragraph. Having assuaged my guilt and exhausted all of my ideas on the subject of the nativity, I unwittingly completed the chiastic pattern by further elaborating on the importance of receiving lots of gifts in my third paragraph. It was personal. It was sincere. It was both secular and spiritual. I thought it was good.
The reader who scored my essay, however, did not agree. Mine was one of the lowest scores in the class. I was deficient. I was a shame to school administrators and state governors. I was evidence that American schools were failing to educate their children. I was practically illiterate! I thought perhaps my fervent explanation of the religious aspects of Christmas had provoked some kind of religious discrimination from the grader. It hadn't. A cursory reading of the paper, however, readily reveals that what I thought was witty and articulate was a mash of mostly incoherent ramblings organized into three ugly, overlapping paragraphs, none of which served to support the vague assertions I made in my conclusion. Many sentence fragments.
The story does not end there. If you came today to watch me play soccer or spell or purchase a quality good at a reasonable price, I'm sorry to disappoint. But if you wanted to hear the reading of an original essay by a kid who only recently felt sufficiently confident to write for pleasure and share his work, well, you just saw it.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
I've come up with a great term for the phenomenon whereby something isn't marketed by traditional means, but relies on its own illegal distribution to generate buzz: black marketing.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
I have no idea why the attorney firing is interesting to anyone. I did think, however, that I should weigh in based on my own examination of the original documents.
This is what I concluded: former Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson misspelled the word "indefinitely" (he wrote "indefinately") on the fourth line of the second paragraph of his 9 January 2006 email.
Don't believe me? See for yourself.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
During that period of my life someone told me about a group of environmentalist extremists that had implanted spikes into trees so that if a logger were to attempt to cut them down, his chainsaw blade would ricochet and kill him. It didn't take long for me to synthesize these two facts: we had been the victims of enviro-terrorists! I was mortified. It took only seconds to form a gruesome mental image of someone trying to cut the tree right down the middle of that nook and being killed by his own chainsaw.
It seemed so wrong, so cruel that some group of tree-huggers would be willing to inflict harm so indiscriminately in their attempt to preserve this single specimen of a non-native, not-timber-producing tree that wasn't a habitat to any sort of animal in our already-developed suburban neighborhood.
Years passed. Every time I would climb that tree, I would be extra careful not to get my clothes caught on that nail and think that perhaps this, too, figured into the plans of those wicked environmentalists. The nefarious motives of the people who put it there turned that little nail into a symbol of the perverse valuation of vegetation over human life.
Even after my mother disabused me of that idea by explaining that the previous residents of our house probably used the nail for a clothes line, the image of environmentalist wackos continued to be deeply embedded in my mind.
. . .
There was something in me that liked the notion of contradicting the liberal environmentalist orthodoxy no matter what it said. It gave me a sense of power to think that I alone among children was free of the paradigms with which adult institutions tried to imbue children. Mine was a world where Captain Planet was dismissed as leftist propaganda. I was most skeptical of what was taught in school or on public service announcements on TV. After a few years, I thought my propaganda-sense was getting pretty good.
So, naturally on the day Nickelodeon played a public service announcement endorsing water conservation via turning off the faucet when one brushes his teeth, I sensed that this ad might be some sort of environmentalist propaganda designed to prey upon weak-minded children. Now, I had always turned off the water while brushing my teeth because it had never occurred to me to leave the water on. Concluding that I should do the opposite of whatever it recommended, I resolved leave the water running the next time I brushed my teeth. I knew that I was only one child, but I hoped that in some small degree I could offset the conservation of my peers. Little did I know that one such peer lived in my very house.
. . .
As I brushed, my younger brother came in and turned off the water. I was peeved that my brother would side with the infomercial, but I turned the water back on soon enough. After he turned it off again, a confrontation was inevitable. Hoping to stand up for my new-found ideas, I opted for the ad hominem attack. I searched for the most pejorative, the most despicable and offensive thing I could say.
"Erik, you're an environmentalist!" I ejaculated.
He was stunned. My verbal dagger had found its tender target. In a flash his lower lip protruded; his eyes filled with tears. There emerged the hysterical cry of a deeply upset child. His cry was so loud that it obliterated any hope that there might have been of resolving the issue without our parents' assistance. He ran out of the bathroom to look for mother.
I had asserted my independence from the vapid group-think shoved down the throats of millions of children.
The next few seconds were eerily peaceful. In the distance, the sounds of his crying and looking for mother propagated clumsily through the walls of house and into the bathroom where it was just me, my running faucet and the ominous, almost palpable realization that a parental rebuke was now inevitable.
The door opened; the accusations had been made: I had called him an environmentalist.
What had I become? Had I been a victim of my own mindless contrarianism? Had my unyielding pride caused irreparable damage to my younger brother's environmentally conscious heart? By giving him the same label I gave to the people I thought had tried to kill us by putting that nail in our tree, had I inadvertently driven a far more pernicious wedge between my brother and I?
. . .
I don't remember exactly what happened after that. I am certain that it involved a forced apology.
The author now lives in Provo, UT and writes occasional blog entries. His relationship with his brother has mended since that time and his views are more sophisticated.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Do you want to know what can really compensate for a rejection letter? Winning two lotteries! I did win, the emails came that same week. Why would I even need to get funding for my research when I can get money for nothing? I didn't even know I was eligible for the UK National Lottery, but that didn't stop me from winning. Ditto for the Netherlands-based STAATS LOTERIJ. Right there with my rejection letter were two acceptance letters. I don't need to spend hours writing about my work for a pittance, I can win much larger sums of money just by someone getting a hold of my email address. I am pretty sure that I am not obligated to use the prize money on just research, either.
So to everyone who's ever rejected a grant request, take a lesson from the UK National Lottery and the STAATS LOTERIJ. Their grammar and spelling may be inexplicably atrocious, but they sure know how to make a guy's day.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
It would have been understandable (though ego-shattering) if they had responded that there was no contest and that Gorbachev was clearly better-looking. Failing to note that Mr. Gorbachev and I share the same rare skin condition was also something that could be expected. Even though my choice of persons to whom to compare myself probably seemed a little bit non-sequitur to a person unfamiliar with port wine stains, I concede that port wine stains are uncommon and do not pose any serious threat to one's health and thus can't be expected to occupy much of a place within one's cognizance of problems in the world. Even if they couldn't really remember what Mr. Gorbachev looked like, I suppose it would have been alright.
But it wasn't this. You see, they didn't even know who Mr. Gorbachev was.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
So, if you hear me humming Float On by Modest Mouse, know that I am probably thinking a cuss word and wincing inside.
The worst part of it all is that even when I was mad, I thought about how mad I was at their stupid brand. Unfortunately, because time in a person's head is like press (it's all good), there was no way to win. It's like a Chinese finger trap: the more you want to escape, the tighter it holds on to you. There is no way to get the time back. They beat me and, with every word I type, they win a little bit more. Curse you, beer company whose name I will not mention! May your marketing team launch a terrible ad campaign next time!
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Never follow the crowd without asking them where they're headed.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
'Til Birth Do Us Part
Though I hate to be cynical or critical of my own suggestion for a title, I think it appropriate to comment that perhaps 'Til Conception Do Us Part might be a more accurate description of Mr. Bond's disposition when it comes to relationships with women.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
The following takes place between 12:30 pm and 1:30 pm:
So, we open with Jack Bauer realizing that the car he borrowed from his grandparents is too dirty to return and that he only has a few more hours before it has to be back. We cut to him driving to a car wash. At the Chevron station, the automatic car wash is closed because of weather. We show the side-story of his grandparents at the airport preparing to board their plane--Jack has to return the car before they come back. He goes to another car wash and, upon positioning the car to be washed, he realizes that he only has one dollar in his wallet. He jumps into the car and floors it around the block to go to the ATM at the 7-11 across the street. Cut to Jack's roommate who's waiting to follow Jack to his grandparents' house and then drive him back. His roommate is watching TV. We slow up the pace a bit, as Jack buys a donut with his recently acquired 20 dollar bill and begins to consume it (the donut, not the bill). Cut to the clock.
Jack jumps back in the car and--using those unstable camera shots to show commotion--he jumps out and runs to the change machine. He starts with the pink foamer and it looks like things are going to be alright, but wait! It's too cold. It looks like Jack's efforts may have amounted to little more than scrubbing the layer of ice outside the car, rather than clearing dirt and ice from the car itself. What's more the pink soap foam is freezing! Now Jack has a car that's not only dirty, but now has a layer of frozen pink soap on top of its layer of ice. Just when it looks like things aren't going to work, the timer starts beeping and there's only a minute left before the foam stops. Even worse, Jack forgot to put on his mittens and his hands are looking like they're going to get frostbite! Jack puts the foamer on the ground and the foamer starts making a mess all over his shoes, but he doesn't care. He has to get those mittens on. Just as he starts to insert his hand into the mitten, he sees that his hands are covered in pink foam. We show a quick shot of the door handle he had just foamed before opening the car door to get his mittens. After wiping them on his pants, he covers his hands, but the timer runs out and he has to shell out another $1.50. Jack's grandparents are now on the plane and settling in for a long ride. Jack sets the car wash to rinse mode this time and again the timer starts to look like it's running out. Jack's roommate changes the channel. Jack puts in more quarters, but there's still frozen, pink foam on the car. This time he's out of quarters. Fumbling with his mittens and the hose, we leave Jack and cut to the clock.
We come back and, after a quick trip to the change machine, Jack has to put another $1.50 in the machine to start it. It's looking like things are almost done when Jack notices that there's less than a minute left and that there's a big pocket of frozen pink foam that he hadn't rinsed. The tension builds as the ice that Jack is trying to remove from the car is replaced by the ice that he is creating by spraying the car with water in sub-freezing temperatures. Finally, Jack sees that he's out of time and goes to the vacuum. After a stranger accosts him and inquires as to Jack's estimation of the futility of his efforts, Jack inserts his $0.75 and starts to vacuum--but the vacuum isn't working. The possibility of losing his $0.75 motivates the added urgency with which Jack checks the hose for obstructions. He grabs the nearest object--a little pocket-tool-- and starts to jam it desperately into the opening of the vacuum hose. It looks like the hose is clogged with slush and mud--possibly the same thing that Jack was trying to vacuum up when the vacuum stopped working. Jack weakly attempts to remove the nozzle, but he's not strong enough. Realizing that he's about to lose his money, Jack vacuums up what he still can with the partially obstructed hose. The floor of the car is still dirty. Cut to the clock.
Finally, the car looks alright and Jack has to make it back. He almost gets killed in traffic by an oncoming truck while trying to change lanes because he had deposited a thick film of ice on his rear-view mirrors. He looks for a parking space and finds one. He runs in and can't find his thank-you notes. The episode ends with Jack searching desperately for his thank-you notes while his roommate puts laundry in a basket. His grandparents are getting beverage service on the plane.
Monday, January 8, 2007
To be sure, there are individuals we could blame for the many painful and disturbing things that happened throughout the years. From mobsters to terrorist cells, it often seems that the history of egregious crimes reads like the biographies of infamous and terrible men. From Osama bin Laden to Al Capone, from James J. "Whitey" Bulger to Warren Jeffs, it seems that 80% of the crimes are committed by 20% of criminals.
But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about crime syndicates or criminal masterminds. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of copyright violations that are YouTube and those elusive file-sharing programs. It's about the increasing prevalence of identity theft. It's about phishing and scams that originate from all over the world. It's about the sexual predators and stalkers that pervade social networking sites. It's about the many wresting power from the few and harming one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes.
And we weren't just victims, we also committed crimes. Like crazy. We scammed people on eBay and made up false and poorly-punctuated stories about Nigerians with inordinate amounts of money who inexplicably need a total stranger to transfer it to his account and retain an unusually large commission. We camcordered movies before their release dates and built tools to distribute unlicensed versions of software.
Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and attempt to acquire personal information about people by telling them they've won a British Lottery? I'm going to mash up someone's reputation with libelous, anonymous comments? I'm going to illegally redistribute pirated copies of software or movies or songs? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?
The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global criminal opportunities, for founding and framing the new digital crime structure, for beating the pros at their own game, the FBI's Most Wanted Person of the Year for 2006 is you.
One consumer reports being delighted to find that the flight attendants gave him extra generous portions during the in-flight snack and beverage services. He reportedly received an entire can of cranapple juice without his even asking. "The guy next to me asked for the can and they must have thought it was me, so I guess that's why they did it," he says.
He was also "tickled pink" that during the second in-flight snack service his inquiry regarding the shortbread cookies followed by his request for peanuts resulted in his receiving not only peanuts, but also the shortbread cookie. "I didn't even want the cookie," he says, "but I was impressed that they gave it to me anyway just for my asking what it was. They also gave me three bags of peanuts, while I was expecting only one."
According to the consumer, he was so pleased with their service that he nearly went to Delta's website to leave positive feedback for that particular flight. "I was about to click on the 'contact us' link when I got distracted doing something else."
When asked if he planned to fly Delta airlines again, he admitted that he didn't have any concrete plans right now, but did indicate that he would ". . .definitely do it again. . ." if given the chance.
What about those calls that technically aren't dropped, but during which the two participants aren't really communicating with one another?
caller 1: (hears that there's no more static) You still there? Hello? (Walks around, mutters a bit, continues in a louder voice) HELLO? (more frantically) HELLO? (looks at his phone).
caller 2: (at the same time) What was that? I can't hear you. Is it you or me?(walks around, looks at his phone, says things so that strangers who are eavesdropping won't think he's crazy, but will know that he is getting bad reception).
If dropping a call were likened to the death of a phone call, I think these calls are in the equivalent of a permanent vegetative state. They are no longer connecting people in any meaningful way and are being forcibly supported against the course of nature.
Is it humane to maintain these calls the way they do or (to use a euphemism) should they be put to sleep? It seems cruel to let a call languish like that just to keep the call mortality rate down. Hopefully together we can minimize the pain that these calls entail for everyone involved.
Throw away the stupid Prego jar if this ever happens.
I checked to see if we had a garbage disposal. We have a switch and I flipped it to see if it ran.
That one of the switches near the sink doesn't turn on a light is not alone sufficient to conclude that you have a garbage disposal. Make sure to listen for a whirring or humming noise and check your drain for anything that remotely resembles a garbage disposal. If you are about to clog the drain with a jar of meat and beans, don't think you can skip these steps just because your penury of thought regarding the possible consequences of dumping the jar's contents into the sink without a garbage disposal has led you to conclude that it wouldn't matter much anyway. Do this process before you start to dump the jar, not after the meat and beans are already falling.
Once the former foodstuffs had found their way to the sink I tried to rinse it down. A reasonable observer will not be surprised to find that the drain was clogged.
Use that little strainer thing before you clog the sink and have to use a pitcher to scoop the water out.
When I realized it was hopeless, I decided to go to the grocery store to get some Drano.
All this over a Prego jar? If you're plan includes making a special trip to the grocery store and buying a bottle of Drano after clogging the sink, you should just buy a new bottle of Prego and dump it out. It is, after all, less expensive and less noxious than Drano.
The Drano wasn't working super well, but I did notice that the other sink did drain. Unfortunately, I couldn't get enough water to flow to be sure that the Drano was working. Seeing that the entire clog must have been in the first part of the drain, I took heart and started to poke at it with a knife.
If your knife is skinny enough to fall down the drain and you think "hey, wouldn't that be terrible if this knife fell out of my hands and down the drain," don't loosen your grip on the knife.
Once the knife was in the drain, I knew that what had been a minor problem (spoiled food in a disposable jar) had now escalated into a much larger (and more time-consuming problem (a knife, a bunch of drano and rancid food in a very inaccessible section of pipe).
I had earlier noticed that some of the pipe fittings were loose enough to be moved by hand. Oddly, after having fiddled with them before I had managed to tighten them to the point that they no longer felt like they were able to be loosened or tightened by hand.
I undid one and then the other and then redid the one so as not to make a huge mess.
Put something in place to catch the water/Drano mix that is going to spurt from the pipe as soon as you loosen it.
Don't splash Drano all over your new shirt.
I found a plastic bag and put it beneath the pipe.
The following are not very good for catching fluid while plumbing:
empty can of Drano (the opening is too small), grocery bag (they are leaky), Prego jar that you're trying to save (the opening is small and so is the carrying capacity).
Finally I was able to remove the knife and then, with quick bursts of water get the meat and beans to flow through the pipe and mostly into the Prego jar.
If you are using a Prego jar to catch the fluid from a drain and the jar gets full of water with chunks of meat and beans, don't think you can empty the jar into the sink you're working on or any other sink whose drain feeds into that same pipe. The toilet works well, but make sure to flush to destroy the evidence (although, what do we put in the toilet besides food after being chewed up and processed with chemicals?)
I then proceeded to rinse out the u-shaped piece of pipe I had removed.
When rinsing out a u-shaped pipe, be advised that the water might flow through the pipe and around the sink rather than into the sink, thereby making a huge, watery mess on your kitchen counter.
If you are making a huge, watery mess with your pipe, rationalize it by noting that the drain in the sink you are using is not properly attached and that the water that goes down the drain would just drench some Prego jar whose mouth isn't really big enough to catch all of the water, so it is probably better to get the water all over the counter top and microwave instead.
Finally I put it all together and I was done.
If you are going to go to heroic lengths to save a Prego jar, pack it carefully so you don't drop it on your way down the stairs.
To all my friends, if you ever need help with plumbing, you know on whom you can call: a plumber. Please, never try these things yourself, they'll ruin your day.