Friday, July 31, 2009

Doublethink and Its Role in Popular Opinion

While recently reading a biography of Che Guevara I came across a interesting passage. In it, a pro-United States friend of Guevara's was attempting to convince a young Che that that American foreign policy in regards to the whole of Latin America was primarily a product of incompetence, rather than deliberate malfeasance. The quote, which I have modified slightly to expand its original meaning is as follows:

United States policy in action is, more often than not, the bumbling creature of ignorance and error rather than the well-designed strategy of sinister intentions.

In contemplating this passage, I'm reminded of the kind of cognitive dissonance/doublethink that underpins both the way we view government and form our opinions as to the way it really works. Government, depending on the particular issue at hand, is either hopelessly incompetent or ruthlessly efficient. It cannot be both. To cite another example, we lament its inefficiency and dysfunction with one breath, while simultaneously holding a belief in its complicit role as part of some shadowy conspiracy perpetrated by shadowy people. Again, logically speaking, government cannot be either purely competent or purely incompetent---the two cannot coexist.

The Right and Left use different language, but the presentation is basically similar. At the moment, the Right is playing to populist fears by insisting that government bureaucrats (politicians) will force people who are happy with their health insurance coverage and happy with their doctor to switch to a government plan based on Washington, DC's, nefarious, meddling terms. However, they'll also be quick in the same breath to cite Reagan-era rhetoric implying strongly that the Federal Government is so massive and so useless that, taking their prior assertion into account, it couldn't possibly be capable of being competent enough to set terms for anyone, much less the American people as a whole.

We on the Left have at times been guilty of this very same thing, to some extent. We eagerly place our firmest certainty of the existence of the latest coordinated Republican effort towards evil, greed, and destruction when the latest batch of clear-cut evidence that reveals a party in a state of turmoil routinely becomes common knowledge. We discount and dismiss far-right fringe groups like The Birthers as a bunch of wishful thinking loonies, even though it must be said that several prominent Republican politicians have taken up that latest drumbeat of grasping at straws in recent weeks. Whether it was Hillary Clinton's claim that her husband's unfair treatment at the hands of the media and the GOP was a product of a vast right-wing conspiracy or, more recently, the conspiracy theory rumblings about the true political influence of The Family, the fact of the matter is that there must be something about humankind that likes to believe in the the idea of the man behind the curtain---the existence of modest sized groups of powerful people who are the ones secretly pulling the strings behind the scenes. Perception, as the saying goes, is 90% of reality. A corollary to that thought could be to never underestimate the power of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps also we like to hedge our bets. If, in fact, we might accept that we're giving government and our elected leaders too much credit in assuming their basic competence, we might also wish to prepare for the other extreme, just in case. In so doing, it would be easy to believe that government leaders really were as invasive into our personal lives and meddlesome in our own individual affairs as we had always feared they could be. The truth of the matter lies, as so much does, somewhere in between those two poles. But the fear of government and the fear of centrally concentrated power that disregards popular sentiment for its own selfish, exploitative purposes is an idea whose roots go well beyond the present day.

My Economic Stimulus Proposal

I believe that the best way to rid ourselves of this recession and get the economy going again is very simple. It is so simple that it can be summarized in one word and one word alone: pornography.

Just think about it. Who here has not been the target of some organization or individual trying to sell them pornography? Who here has not been asked to buy both pornography and to have their pen!s size increased dramatically in this process, even if they weren't born with that appendage? So, as you can see, the framework is already in place and now we must move to the implementation stage. This is where you can help. Increasing pornography's scope and scale is a monumental task facing us and we can't do it alone. Contact your Senator and Congressperson today to urge them to vote for the Pornography option.

The pornography lobby is powerful, but I know if we apply enough pressure, we will be on our way to a new tomorrow and a new American prosperity.

Regarding the Blue Dog Democrats

and the fact that the health care industry is paying them off, two quotes seem applicable.

1. “A greedy father has thieves for children”- Serbian proverb

2. “There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Organic Food Debate

A recently published medical study asserts that organic food is no healthier than conventional food. While that is technically true, what the article doesn't address is precisely what is NOT in organic food, focusing very narrowly instead of what is in it. Meant to be a direct shot across the bow of organic food advocates and those willing to pay up to twice as much for the privilege of purchasing it, the article does raise some interesting questions that go beyond the I-told-you-so smugness of the headline.

To qualify my position, I have no personal qualms against organic food. Indeed, there are certain organic products, cheese being one of them, where the difference in quality between organic products and conventional ones, particularly as regards superior taste, justifies the increase in cost. Though the study does take aim at nutritional content, what it does not take into account is the larger impact of sustainable farming, organic food's appeal to people with allergies to environmental toxins, and its attraction to those who hold an understandably noble desire to keep from continuing to pollute the earth with pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

What does concern me, however, is a kind of elitism that organic food fosters. While it is nurtured in good intentions and social justice, it often ends up manifesting itself instead in a particularly obnoxious kind of classism. Purchasing organic food requires a supple income, for starters. If it were economically feasible for working class citizens and those at the poverty line to purchase organic food, I know that they would, but as it stands now, only the privileged have the financial means. Organic food is marketed as a cure-all for a variety of societal ills, but apparently only those with substantial means have the ability to be cured.

To provide a personal anecdote, once I supervised a conference comprised primarily of young adults. Many of them had grown up with super crunchy parents and as such had been weaned on and accustomed to a diet of socially conscious, highly exotic food. I don't fault the motives of their parents, who wished to impress upon their children the importance of keeping the earth habitable for future generations and nourishing their bodies without taking in harmful chemicals. Yet, this selfless attitude is not what their children espoused when meal time arrived.

Many made ridiculous demands upon the volunteer kitchen staff, having the gall to claim that they only ate organic wild rice instead of organic white rice. Others demanded that a particular kind of soy milk be served with meals instead of a more readily available, cheaper, but nonetheless equally earth-friendly product. It is this kind of entitled attitude to which I take serious offense. It has no place in the debate and makes everyone who espouses social justice through food consumption look snobbish and hypocritical.

What concerns me more, however, is this.

My fear is that someday soon only the rich will be able to afford actual food and the rest of us will have to feast upon something along the lines of Soylent Green.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The German Way to Boil an Egg

1. Select an egg. The color can not be solid white or off white. It must be brown, but if there are any discolored places, it must be discarded immediately. If in doubt as to what color of egg is sufficient, flip to the back of the manual labeled, "Egg color pigment problems, Figure 14A75.9"

2. Place the egg into a shallow metallic pan with a ratio of tin to steel of 43:7. Draw exactly 219 mL of water into the pan, which must have an immediate temperature of no more than 13.4 degrees Celcius. The water must be from a spring in Eastern Hamburg, not Western or Central Hamburg, and certainly not Northern Hamburg. This last instruction is critical.

3. When placing the egg into the water, make sure that the temperature of the range top is turned to 99.6747 degrees Celsius and that one uses the Egg Dropping Protocol Technique discussed earlier in this manual.

4. The egg must be boiled at the above constant temperature for no less than 13 minutes and 12 seconds. If it is not, then one must either begin the entire process over again or file for a special hardship egg boiling accommodation form found in green, blue, and yellow carbon paper at the end of this book. Make sure to use no less than two of the three colors in doing so, and take care not to place the blue paper directly on top of the yellow while filling it out.

5. After the egg has been boiled according to standards, remove it by using tongs with approximately .23 mm of green plastic protective coating. The tongs themselves must be made of stainless steel, but only that of a particular plant in the Black Forest. If unable to find these particular tongs, look for paperwork entitled "Insufficient Tong Override Protocol", and make sure to use only black ink when filling it out.

6. Remove the shell with caution, and only after it has cooled to approximately 17 degree Celsius. The shell removal device given to you upon birth as a German is the proper utensil for this task. Remove to put the shell removal device into the special tool belt worn snugly around your middle, which was also given to you upon birth as a German.

7. Eat the egg, taking care to apply only a relatively gentle pressure of 17 newtons per square meter. Drink no less than 300 mL of a carbonated beverage, provided it is not colored blue or purple. Be thankful for a life dictated by reason as you wipe your mouth with a linen cloth only available for purchase at certain stores.

*Editor's Note:

I mean no disrespect to Germans, but in saying so I find their tendencies toward extreme precision nothing but both endearing and simultaneously perplexing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Employment is a Two Way Street

Like many people who are either out of work or underemployed due to the recession, I make a point to take as much advice as I can find regarding how to navigate the job market. The cable news networks routinely dispense their version of sagacity on the matter, as do those who are hired by corporations, business, and non-profits to sort through an increasingly massive pile of applicant data. What I have determined recently, however, somehow isn't covered by the media and isn't mentioned by any of the self-proclaimed experts. Namely, it's a troubling trend I've found among some employers.

Like many people who are either out of work or underemployed due to the recession, I make a point to take as much advice as I can find regarding how to navigate the job market. The cable news networks routinely dispense their version of sagacity on the matter, as do those who are hired by corporations, business, and non-profits to sort through an increasingly massive pile of applicant data. What I have determined recently, however, somehow isn't covered by the media and isn't mentioned by any of the self-proclaimed experts. Namely, it's a troubling trend I've found among some employers. I've posted these individually on here before, but I thought I'd compile them together to make a larger point.

In this so-called buyers market, where any employer should expect an overwhelming number of equally qualified applications for every posted position, companies are getting greedy. In the past, businesses, organizations, and non-profits had more positions to fill than applicants, so they often had to make modest compromises regarding who in particular they chose to hire. They were forced to temper their wish list slightly while still hiring highly qualified candidates. These days, businesses have the luxury of being able to sift through a pile of applicants and find their dream hire. They now can select the candidate they would like wrapped in gilt and placed underneath the company Christmas tree to be unwrapped with glee on Christmas morning. However, this means that aiming for the perfect hire, some are taking extreme liberties when setting out their hiring criteria---liberties so extreme that they cross the line into unethical territory and even border on illegal.

I really wish I could make up some of the crazy, irrational, disturbing, and otherwise unprofessional job postings that certain employers throw up online, particularly on Craigslist. Therein lies the problem with true democratic expression--it is a microcosm of the human experience, including its numerous flaws. Still, cases like these reveal the true thought process behind many companies, especially those who would never dare be bold enough to set out to the public their true hiring practices. Case in point---here's a listing that implies strongly that unless you went to an Ivy League school and got close to earning honors, you need not apply.


Apply ONLY if you meet these minimum requirements:

Recently earned bachelor’s degree from a highly competitive university
• Achieved a grade point average of 3.3 or higher
• Strong interest in business and government
• Effective speaking and writing skills

My bad. I thought that degrees from lofty universities were only a matter of life and death in academia and a few other specialized fields. And as for the people who didn't have the financial means, the well-off parents, the connections, or the willingness to take out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans, I guess you're just up a certain creek without a paddle.

This next one is probably the most extreme example, but the job is with PETA, so I shouldn't be surprised.


Minimum of two years of college coursework or equivalent experience required

One to three years of research experience required

Exceptional written and verbal communication skills

Ability to work independently and in a team environment

Efficient with regard to using computer programs such as Word, Excel, etc.

Ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines

Ability to interact and communicate with a variety of people in a a professional manner

Ability to represent the organization in a professional manner

Thorough knowledge of animal rights issues

Adherence to a vegetarian lifestyle

Commitment to the objectives of the organization

So, let me get this straight. You can be a well-qualified candidate, but if you aren't a vegetarian, then you don't quite fit the profile? Does this sound a bit unfair to you?


One of the most deviously clever euphemisms I have ever heard was an ad calling for a secretary. But, of course, instead of calling a spade a spade, the description instead used the phrase "Director of First Impressions". I'm not sure who they were trying to impress--the potential applicant or the boss of the company. For the long suffering job searcher with lots of experience and suffering from the products of a sour economy, perhaps they thought that the harsh reality of making half the money as a lower-level employee could be cushioned by an important-sounding but ultimately meaningless title.


These are only three examples I've run across of employer dirty tricks and creative liberties. I have no doubt that I'll run across more as I continue to apply for full-time employment.

Or, to Lay It On Thick

(Click to Embiggen)

She's A Poet and She Knows It. Hope She Don't Blow It

Monday, July 27, 2009

Film Review: Ace in the Hole

Two films, 1951's Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole and 1957's Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd savagely criticized the growing power and scope of the media. Both, upon their release, predictably drew heavily negative reviews from the press. Movie critics took personal affront to the bile and spleen directed their way and formulated their responses accordingly. In part due to such bad reviews, they ended up being commercial flops, though Ace in the Hole was a rousing success overseas, particularly in Europe. Part of the problem, too, was that cynicism that bleakly rendered into celluloid was simply repulsive to the Fifties attitude of renewed optimism particularly after having recently experienced the horror of The Great Depression and World War II. The American public would not be ready to entertain such subjects until the Seventies, and particularly not until after Watergate.

The film was based on two real-life stories, one of a man named Floyd Collins who, while spelunking found himself trapped by a landslide inside a Kentucky cave, and the other which involved a three-year-old California girl named Kathy Fiscus who fell into an abandoned well. Both incidents drew much media attention. In this fictional circumstance, a New Mexico man named Leo Minosa is trapped by a cave-in while seeking to remove ancient Native American pottery from inside a burial ground. Despite the fact that such an action technically counts as desecration of a grave site, he is eager to make fifty dollars, which is what the pottery would fetch to an interested party. An opportunistic and amoral journalist, Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) devises a scheme to heavily publicize what on the surface would seem to be a relatively limited story. By stretching the truth and adding a sensationalist human interest angle to what would otherwise be a straightforward matter, Tatum attracts the attention of thousands of interested people who arrive at the remote town of Escadero to gawk and be part of a literal Media Circus complete with carnival rides, vendors hawking food, and constant updates to a fascinated public by way of on-site radio broadcasts.

When the story catches fire, everyone who can use the event to their own financial advantage has no reservations in doing so. The most telling example of this kind of callous capitalism is the Ma and Pa America couple who are the first to arrive on the scene after the local papers print the story. Seemingly, one would think such people would be the bastions of morality and restraint. Before the throngs arrive, we, the audience are led to believe nothing to the contrary. However, after the literal Media Circus is established due to a combination of hype and deviously clever exaggeration, our prior assumptions are thrown aside. In horror, we view how this seemingly pious man emphasizes that he, not others claiming to the contrary was the first person to arrive on the scene, and then pivots neatly upon this claim by using his newly minted soapbox as a way to sell insurance to the assembled multitude. The circus swells and grows with every passing day, and with it arrive more and more people using the situation to make a buck, to increase their own power, or both.

Meanwhile, the Frankenstein monster which Tatum brought forth has become obsessed with monetary excess, at the expense, of course, of the man still trapped inside the cave. Tatum could have agreed that the man be rescued in a fraction of the time, even within a few hours. The original plan proposed by the engineer employed to aid in the rescue effort would have removed Minosa in a day, but Tatum insists that a more lengthy method be employed instead that will last nearly a week from start to finish. Obsessed with punching his ticket to a position at a larger paper back East, he is unwilling to waste a golden opportunity. Aware that building the tension of the story and infusing it with it a kind of desperate expectancy is the surest way to attract readership and build interest, Tatum's ambition and corresponding hubris are painful lessons for each of us. The hardest of hard truths in this film are that material gain and influence peddling can very easily supersede the facade of noble purpose, and that the potential demise of a human life can run a distant second place to selfish desires. In this day and age, such a message could not be more agonizingly topical and current.

Wilder enjoyed playing the role of contrarian. ''I don't like the audience to be aware of camera tricks,'' he told one interviewer. ''Why shoot a scene from a bird's-eye view, or a bug's? It's all done to astonish the bourgeois, to amaze the middle-class critic.'" Though he never took the same liberties with shot composition and camera technique as many directors, his screenplays pushed the envelope and during his most successful period, he found the coveted sweet spot that almost every director aims for---edgy enough for the critics and the intellectuals, commercial enough for the studios and the average moviegoer. His professed reluctance to be too experimental with the camera was due to his belief that using such tactics distracted the audience and broke the suspension of disbelief that he believed was critical to maintain throughout an entire film. More experimental directors resorted to their own creative liberties specifically in opposition this this idea. Their professed intent was to deliberately break the fourth wall and to make the audience aware that they were watching a film, not a facsimile of real life.

Ace in the Hole is a bit of an anomaly in Wilder's canon. It was his only major U.S. box office disappointment, and perhaps the only time that the director indulged his true artistic vision without much concern for making a solidly sellable product. Though it is arguably not his best work, it is probably his rawest and most personal one. Wilder's first batch of films (Sabrina, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment) are some of the best, most enduring works of their era, made even more impressive by how they managed to combine an edgy, frequently dark subject matter with a thoroughly commercial streak that achieved mass popular appeal and several Academy Awards as well. However, his later works were frequently underwhelming. Many great directors tend to become less concerned with grossing large sums of money in the twilight of their career, instead making high quality films precisely the way they'd like, finally freed from needing to bother with anyone's bottom line. Wilder, however, tarnished his reputation quite a bit by releasing several commercial and critical disasters in a row that were nowhere near up to his own high standards, ensuring that he would never be able to direct again.

In viewing Ace in the Hole today one recognizes that we have already arrived at an age where the media is a dangerous force in forming and fostering popular sentiment, and that unless its motives are examined closely, with this degree of power what can be created instead of an honest desire to unearth the truth is an orgy of cheap consumerism and amoral profiteering. These days the media seeks to justify its own existence by reacting indignantly to public criticism. Its constant refrain is that one ought not to shoot the messenger. That may be so, but if the messenger is the problem, then how can one not do so? Though the media might have been created to inform the public, it has taken significant liberties since then to interject itself and its own agenda to be indispensable for its own sake, not for the sake of the general public. In this New Media age, mainstream media criticism of the blogsophere which often scathingly condemns bloggers as being comprised of a rag-tag bunch of amateurs reacting irresponsibly to news events is little more than a fear of being usurped. One cannot stress overmuch how the mainstream media dips into blogs for news stories while also never feeling compelled to give credit or reimburse citizen journalists for the inspiration.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Quote of the Week

Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.- Marie Curie

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Plight of the Activist

Saturday Video II

A special treat.

Saturday Video

I Wish- Graham Coxon

I wish the music would play by itself,
Shredded fingers
no ideas

I wish this rainy day could be the last,
Could the world end?
What a Godsend

I wish I could stop
wishing you were here,

But I don't want to
coz' I'd still want you

I wish I didn't
feel so flippin' mad,

Don't wanna scare you
just wanna love you

I wish my life could
last a thousand years,

Then I'd be clever
and build a heaven

I wish I could bring
Nick Drake back to life,

He'd understand
hold my hand

I wish a constant
stream of happy shit,

Live forever
in world of leather

I wish the rain would
just leave me alone,

I can't wear that
stupid rain hat

I wish I was in California
Pernod perfume
in the Danube

I wish the thing of love
meant just one thing


Friday, July 24, 2009

Why Real Reform Takes Forever

It's hardly surprising that health care reform has taken much longer than expected and has been a contentious process to enact. Our country comprises hundreds of millions of residents, takes up a massive land area, and is home to so many different shades of political point of view that it amazes me at times that we can even agree on anything. In particular, the always-thorny tightrope act between regional concerns and greater national interest that we call Federalism complicates and typifies the American experience. This, first and foremost, has created a delay in the process of securing true universal health care coverage. The larger issues embedded along with the facts and proposals speak to both how we view our immediate neighbors to how we view our fellow Americans, regardless of where they might choose to call home. The short answer can be summarized in only one word: fear.

Fear guides the reservations of many who distrust any government program and automatically assume it will waste money and give rise to massive corruption. Fear guides the decision of each individual Representative or Senator when he/she wishes to have the particular views of his/her constituents incorporated into the proposed legislation while using strong-arm tactics to ensure of this. Fear provides ammunition to the insurance agencies who have thrown their collective weight behind defeating any kind of health care reform and/or public option. Fear encourages unfair stereotyping and hasty generalizing of people other than us who are found in other states, other regions, other economic classes, other ethnic backgrounds, and otherwise live lives we foolishly believe to be nothing like our own. Cynicism runs hand in hand with fear, which, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt eloquently noted in his First Inaugural Address, "paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

I have always found it deeply unfortunate how negativity and the most distressing of human emotions provide for the pretense of unified sentiment in ways that positivity and altruistic efforts to improve conditions for every living being do not. Naturally, this is nothing new. Religion acknowledges this directly, pointing out that the basic nature and inclination of every human is disproportionately selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. Yet, it also states that this is the tragic flaw of all humanity and until we find a way to curtail our me-centered attitudes, we will never be free.

We can, however, be coerced to unify our voices, but this only works with any frequency when we are either attacked by another country/enemy group or about to declare war on a hostile party. Look throughout history and one can find numerous examples of disparate religious, ethnic, and ideological elements thrown together under a single banner who eagerly banded together under a common flag for defense and out of fear of defeat. Of course, when the battles subside and the militaristic rhetoric dies down, so too does that cause of unity. What we are struggling with then is an ancient matter no less known to our distant ancestors than to ourselves at present. And until we find a means to extend the big tent to each of us by means of cooperation and mutual purpose, governments will continue to resort to tactics that propagate discord and hatred to manipulate popular sentiment in their own favor. Change is possible, but it will require us to have an honest conversation about the big picture, rather than getting bogged down in the pointless bickering over policy and triviality. We do have a choice.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Film Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

A Technicolor epic, 1943's The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp holds its own against any Hollywood offering from the same era. Though based on a popular comic strip, the filmmakers fleshed out the character and made a point to bring him to life in believable fashion. A well-intentioned, but slightly bumbling figure, Major General Wynne-Candy finds that his naive earnestness often comes at the expense of his pride or his ability to not have the wool pulled over his eyes by those far less motivated to strictly follow the rules. In its nearly three hour running time, the audience observes nearly a half century of his life, including military adventures, tragic romance, pervasive friendship, and shooting wars. Discerning a larger meaning beyond retelling the plot is no easy feat. Indeed, the film's meandering plot and lengthy running time makes reviewing rather difficult, but the film's back story is far more compelling.

Then Prime Minister Winston Churchill hated the film and tried desperately to stop the film from being screened. Though the Prime Minister could not prevent it from being shown to domestic audiences, he did manage to block its export to other countries, particularly the United States, whose movie theaters were not allowed to screen the film (albeit in a truncated fashion) before native audiences for two years, after which the War had ended. While Americans in particular have a tendency to deify Churchill as some sort of tour de force of noble purpose whose eloquent rhetoric and far-sighted foreign policy decisions saved the Free World from the demonic pestilence of Fascism, what they are less inclined to take into account is his unfortunate refusal to see the world in anything less than resolutely evil black or virtuously pure white. This regrettable tendency is in large part a reason why British voters threw Churchill and the Conservatives out mere months after the war had been won, substituting the old lion in favor of Clement Attlee and his Labour party.

From the distance of more than fifty years, one can hardly understand Sir Winston's extreme reservations. Though not specifically a propaganda film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp takes several swipes at German brutality, German hypocrisy, as well as one large salvo against what it believes to be the folly of Pacifism and the futility of maintaining dignified rules of conduct in a world that no longer follows the honor code. Though staunchly Pro-British, the film is mildly critical of conventional military tactics, believing that only the adoption of Total War can produce victory for the Allied cause. Churchill's reservations, in particular, rested upon a German character whose virtuousness and spirited opposition drove him to reject Nazism and as a result, flee his native land. Apparently, the Prime Minister believed that informing audiences that not every German was an unquestioning disciple of Der Fuhrer was a dangerous assertion and that he much preferred every Hun be reduced to a one-dimensional caricature of robotic inhumanity instead. The Anti-Nazi German, Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, is in many ways calmer, more collected, and more rational than Major-General Candy. Perhaps what got under Churchill's skin the most was that the main character seemed loosely based on him, particularly mirroring his start as a figure in the public eye by means of being a daring, headline grabbing fighter during the Boer War.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You Must Be Joking

While perusing jobs again, I was struck by one particular qualification. Pardon me if it seems a bit, well, unnecessarily exclusive in scope.



Minimum of two years of college coursework or equivalent experience required

One to three years of research experience required

Exceptional written and verbal communication skills

Ability to work independently and in a team environment

Efficient with regard to using computer programs such as Word, Excel, etc.

Ability to work well under pressure and meet deadlines

Ability to interact and communicate with a variety of people in a a professional manner

Ability to represent the organization in a professional manner

Thorough knowledge of animal rights issues

Adherence to a vegetarian lifestyle

Commitment to the objectives of the organization


So, let me get this straight. You can be a well-qualified candidate, but if you aren't a vegetarian, then you don't quite fit the profile? Does this sound a bit unfair to you? Is this even legal?

*The job in question is with PETA. I will say no more.

The GOP Response

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Lost My Health Insurance, and What You Need to Do to Keep from Losing Yours

In an irony that could not be more timely, I've now lost my Medicaid coverage. Due to a variety of circumstances too complex to repeat here, my coverage terminates at the end of the month. I am now in a rush to find a way to reinstate it, while knowing that even if I am put back on the program rolls it will be 90 to 120 days before my coverage resumes. Even if I file a request, there is absolutely no guarantee that I can even get it back. Even if I didn't have one of those dreaded pre-existing conditions/chronic illnesses requiring lifelong treatment, I would still be absolutely furious at what has transpired. My situation is neither unique, nor more timely, but it does illustrate how desperately we need real Health Care Reform and how dire is the need for millions of Americans. The reforms needed go beyond wonkery and require us to change our pre-set mentality regarding the nature of government-assistance and the too-often ephemeral reality of tax revenue.

In formulating a new system, we must use caution not to perpetuate the flaws and inequalities of the current system. What might be the most infuriating reality of many is that Medicaid, the only option now available for poor and/or low income residents adopts a sternly suspicious attitude that automatically treats everyone who uses its coverage as though they seek to cheat or otherwise misuse the system for their own selfish ends and, in doing so, waste taxpayer funds in the process. In many states, particularly red states, taxpayer dollars are allocated grudgingly at best so the system must be constantly careful not to run out of money. This creates ridiculous cost-cutting measures like eliminating basic dental care and only allowing visits to a psychologist for those under the age of twenty-one. The message, whether directly stated or implicit, is that children and teens can have good teeth and good emotional health, but adults cannot. When a particular state or district's Medicaid program advertises up front with a great degree of pride that it actually covers dentistry, one cannot be struck with how completely unfair and nonsensical are the rules and regulations that govern the system in every part of this country.

No military contractor, major banking conglomerate, large corporation, government agency, or recent receiver of bailout funds is, or has ever been monitored so closely or forced until quite recently to resort to draconian tactics in a desperate effort to keep from depleting its budget. We sit idly by while all of these dubiously necessary entities waste money by swelling to ridiculous, ungainly sizes, adding department upon department as well as important-sounding but ultimately meaningless management positions that cost thousands upon thousands of dollars each to maintain. They perpetuate their own existence by formulating field-specific jargon and loudly proclaim their supposedly essential role in the grand scheme of things but once bad decisions are made and enacted that threaten to topple not merely themselves, but every American, they are pronounced too big to fail and swiftly bailed out. I suppose I just don't understand.

At the other extreme is the manner by which we raise and allocate health care funds for those not nearly fortunate enough as ourselves. As the line of logic goes, if poor, underprivileged people need health insurance, we have no other choice but to use Gestapo style, Machiavellian tactics to make sure they're using the system the way it was intended. Medicaid and Social Security, two federal/state based agencies linked together in a spirit of common purpose, are actively encouraged to find every way they can to turn off Medicaid coverage and in doing so free up available resources. Since the focus is on acute care, not on maintaining long-term health, nor even on proactive measures which seek to prevent severe illnesses that often result in hospitalization, those who clearly have achieved some modicum of basic health are closely scrutinized. If, for any reason coverage can be terminated, it is swiftly done with a surgeon's precision. Applicants, not wishing to lose their coverage, are often forced to lie about the severity of their illness in order to maintain Medicaid.

The immediate assumption that lies underneath our current, highly inadequate government-run health care system is something to which I take most offense. The idea that those most needy and least blessed by the advantages we routinely take for granted need to be governed harshly by some kind of cruel overseer lest they take a mile when granted, at best, a half-inch raises my ire to unprecedented heights. I'd use a charge of racism or classism here if I wasn't aware that the real problem includes these societal ills but goes well beyond them. Implicit in the formulation of any kind of government assistance is as a mean-spirited attitude on our part and of those who drew up the legislation which callously asserts that fellow citizens must all, collectively, be in search of a free lunch and in so doing will use every means they can to manipulate the system to their own ends. One can never fairly paint a complex situation with such a cavalierly nonchalant brushstroke. Offenders can be found in every system, in every class, and in every race.

I think perhaps we might think that we ourselves are not big enough, nor powerfully enough to make an impact upon the massive corporation or the military-industrial complex but that we can somehow exert some degree of influence upon a few thousand ordinary human lives. And I suppose some ought to be satisfied that such a thing can be done, though I'd scarcely feel any reason to rejoice at the way it turns out in the end. As for right now with our current health care debate, whatever system we adopt must avoid this immediate, prejudicial attitude of suspicion and condescension. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we all are guilty of it in some way, shape, or fashion. Instead of expecting the worst, for once, I think it might not hurt us nearly as much as we might think to us to instead expect the best. The people now who desperately cry out for medical insurance and the ability to heal themselves have a genuine need and currently have few, if any substantive means to achieve it. If we do not act decisively now to assist those less fortunate than us, you might be the next to be told, by way of an maddeningly impersonal form letter, that it is your coverage that will be the next to go. We are the ones impeding change and we will be the ones that ensure its defeat unless we are honest with ourselves.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Warning: Personal Stuff Ahead

Pardon me for breaking my own rule, but I need to write a bit about personal matters right now. I suppose I'm mostly writing to process out some heaviness that's been weighing on my heart over the past several hours since I stepped off the plane. To put it plainly, I have to say I hate this recession for many reasons, but seeing my girlfriend bawl her eyes out at the airport when it comes time for goodbyes is probably number one. It never gets any easier. I feel just as helpless now as I felt the last two times we were forced to part ways---both instances identical to now where unfortunate circumstances required yet again we resume a long distance relationship. I feel as though I ought to know precisely what to do, but I don't. I just don't.

Men are biologically programmed to be fixers. Men like to find solutions for problems and then bask in the satisfaction of a job well done. In situations like these I recognize again, with no small frustration that I can't fix a thing. I can't fix a bad job market. I can't fix a rotten economy. I can't use my magical powers of charisma, earnestness, and articulacy to snake charm an employer into offering me a job. I can't flawlessly navigate a system that I barely understand myself. I can't fix the anguish she feels when we have to say goodbye for a little while longer. In time, of course, she calms down and I calm down, but I have come to dread goodbyes because I can clearly see the approach of the emotional roller coaster they produce headed directly towards me and I brace for impact, knowing a certain amount of pain is unavoidable.

If my story were unusual, that would be one thing, but I spoke with a friend of hers last week about this very thing. The friend is in the same situation I am. She majored in Anthropology and pursued a specialized track within that field, only to find that the jobs she was counting on after graduation had completely disappeared. Now she's left just as rudderless as I am, running into much the same existential confusion and angst. Nothing feels worse than a problem with no solution. Nothing produces more unfocused rage than knowing one's fate depends on forces beyond one's control and beyond one's comprehension, really. If there are rules to this world of not enough jobs and too many applicants, no one seems to know them. Instead we formulate our own personal philosophies to explain a poorly demarcated and incomprehensible system built on shadowy concepts and unknown variables which we are never privy to knowing.

To some extent, I understand why Obama's poll numbers have been slipping recently. It's hard to be patient when one is suffering. Still, a part of me knows that a financial crisis this dire cannot be solved overnight, either. But in between a selfish, me-centered, instant gratification mentality that grows dangerously closer to the status quo with every passing second is the equally real fact that times are tough all over for almost everyone. Sometimes we have to reconcile what our head says with what our heart says. In this situation, both make valid points and it is nothing short of foolish to try to forsake one without taking into account the other, and vice versa.

I often like to remind myself in times like these of the struggles of my dirt-poor Grandparents who grew up in the rural South during The Depression. My Grandfather Camp received two and only two presents for Christmas in those days: an apple and an orange. That was it. He was glad to have them, of course, because fresh fruit was quite expensive, but it underscores how good we have it. It underlines how much we take for granted, even when we have to tighten our belts a little bit. I suppose if you put it in those terms, I really don't have all that much to complain about, and yet part of me clings fast to my sense of righteous indignation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quote of the Week

Though this passage is phrased in Christocentric terms, I encourage even non-theists to contemplate the central message, which directly addresses the overall impact of the activism we espouse and the roots of the change we seek. This is not a means to admit defeat, but rather it is a way to acknowledge a realistic perspective and challenge our assumptions in the process.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.


---Attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero, but written by Bishop Ken Untener

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Saturday Video

La la la la
so nice to be in Magic America.

Friday, July 17, 2009

If at First You Don't Succeed....

I'm afraid I have some frustrating news to share. As you know, I interviewed for two jobs this week and regret to say that both positions were offered to other people. In situations like these, one often wishes to know what decision process that went into the matter, why one was deemed insufficient for the job, and what the hired candidate possessed that I did not. Naturally, I'll never have the benefit of a behind-the-scenes understanding, even though possessing it would put my mind at ease more than this nebulous resolution which is, of course, all that I was provided. "Highly qualified but not what we were looking for" has become one of the most maddening motifs I've ever encountered, and I get it so frequently these days that it creeps into my dreams.

The way that the economy is these days, one should scarcely be surprised. With a tremendous pool of potential applicants vying for almost every decent job, employers are overwhelmed with the sheer numbers and have the luxury of selecting their dream candidate. In the past, when jobs were more plentiful, employers had no choice but to hire those whose credentials weren't a perfect fit. What upsets me is how employers have modified the job description of many jobs, increasing the minimum number of years of related work and expanding the skill sets one must have to even be considered. Many of these positions pay about as much as the average entry-level position, but companies seek a candidate who should, in all fairness, command a much greater salary. Not only that, nonprofits in particular require work experience that could only have been attained by those who had the luxury of working unpaid internship jobs. Unpaid internship jobs are only a feasible option for those who come from affluent backgrounds where Mom and Dad covered their expenses. Most people who had to work for a living during college and graduate school to be able to stay afloat did not have this option available to them.

Employers continue to silently trim benefits. Some offer only health insurance these days, having eliminated 401K options, life insurance, and other perks previously offered in good times. One employer with whom I interview saved money by offering only the cheapest group plan for health insurance, which provided only baseline coverage and capped any service at a certain dollar amount per fiscal year. In other words, if one got critically sick, one could easily expect to exceed the minimum coverage amount and be expected to pay the rest out of pocket. Even with the threat of a public option for health care, private companies offer individual plans at a tremendous expense that only those with substantial means could afford, and none of these covers pre-existing conditions. Since I have a pre-existing condition, purchasing an individual plan, which was an expense I could barely afford as is, makes absolutely no sense.

Most of the problem is due to an over-saturated job market. In the worst job climate since the Great Depression, the odds are astronomical that one even gets an interview. 17 out of 20 applicants for any posting should expect nothing further. 3 out of 20 should expect an interview at all and, of course, only one of those will get the job. I have probably put out somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,100 to 1,200 job applications since the end of March and have gotten a grand total of 4 interviews. Frequently I receive e-mails from employers who praise my credentials in some detail, but quickly add that I was one of 800 other applicants for the position. The only thing one can do in this situation is just apply, apply, apply. I took two days to do my interviewing here and then began yesterday methodically sending out applications yet again. I don't really have much other choice, nor does anyone, really.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goodbye, Crocs

After a glut of hard news, one occasionally needs a break from the heaviness of it all. Do forgive me for steering deliberately towards popular culture this morning, though my intent might be to mock it severely. For those of you who know me well, this is hardly unusual behavior on my part. Today I'd like to vamp a bit on the topic of the shoes pictured at the top of this entry.

Let the record show that I have never owned even a single pair of the monstrosities known as Crocs. To me, they've always looked for all the world like something nurses and dental hygienists should wear on the job, but certainly never when out in public. The now-likely demise of the company that makes them would be celebrated by me in the identical way as I applauded the death of lots of bad ideas that should have never seen the light of day, like say, slap bracelets and chia pets. No one ever went broke by refusing to taking taste into account or with a burning desire to eliminate eyesores from the face of the earth. And, for a while, the pestilence of plug-ugly footwear graced the feet of what seemed like every other person I passed by while out in public. As I mentioned, since the company is now broke and likely headed for bankruptcy, I report with much satisfaction that I might be spared forever or at least for the most part.

In the beginning, Crocs were designed purely for boating and sports-wear purposes. They had been created and marketed by a small, tight-knit group of enterpreneurs who started a company based on a simple premise, hawking a product designed for a very specific purpose. For reasons unknown, however, their product struck a chord with the buying public, quickly swelling to epic proportions as a cheap, comfortable shoe for every occasion. No one ever knows when the Zeitgeist will arrive and in what form it will take and apparently Crocs were the living personification of the time of their creation. Of course, it should also be noted that they had their fair share of detractors and supporters all along, with those in favor often taking the role of apologist and those against it passionately contemptous of the damned things. By the end, Crocs were undone by a combination of over-expanding, a souring economy, and a product that, due to its disgustingly heavy-duty construction rarely wore out and as a result, seldomly needed to be replaced.

I do grant the makers of Crocs some degree of grudging respect for making a product that holds up well, but in that respect they seem to have bucked the unwritten rule of the system. Many companies would have designed a model that wore out within a year or so, forcing those who wished to seem fashionably trendy to purchase a new pair every so often in order to be up to par with the latest fad. That would have been the quickest way to cash in and make the largest profit margin possible. Ironically, had they done so, they might conceivably been able to weather the latest economic storm that will likely prove to be their undoing. Where business ethics is more and more an oxymoron, I do appreciate anyone who takes into account the customer base first, rather than the bottom line.

Yet, as the old saying goes, Crocs got too big for their britches. An unfortunate tendency in the Wild West World of American capitalism is to expand too quickly due to simple greed and to swell massively in size beyond the point of all reason. Borrowing money while aiming to significantly yield increased market share is a calculated risk that is tantamount to throwing caution and the odds to the wind while seated at the gambling table. The best, and longest lasting companies take modest risks, knowing full well that all fads and fashions are ephemeral and thus prone to a kind of fickle fate that always arrives without providing fair warning beforehand. The potential monetary gain is always substantial, but so is the possibility of failure. Yet, when times are good and the coffers are overflowing, the temptation for more, more, more often supersedes restraint or rational thought. It has been said that the best gamblers know when to quit and collect their winnings from the table, and this applies to every company in the private sector.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Enjoy the Music

Today is a busy day for me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In a Spirit of Fairness

Today, GOP senators will grill Judge Sonia Sotomayor in an effort to derail her ascent to a position on the Supreme Court of the United State. One of the most fervent challengers will be junior Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, whose full name, it must be mentioned, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III-- sounds like a Confederate general. The comparison is apt, particularly when one takes into account past statements he has made and contemplates his hometown of Selma, which was home to Black Belt plantations and slave labor during the Antebellum period.

In a spirit of fairness, I wanted to include a few eyebrow-raising quotes that Senator Sessions has said in his long career of public service.

  • I've seen it time and time again, people do not testify against innocent people, they, reluctantly, only testify against guilty people.

  • We don't pay judges to think; we pay judges to rule on the law.

  • Here, a lengthy passage quoted directly from The New Republic. By way of another source, the article in full is posted here.

  • It got worse. Another damaging witness--a black former assistant U.S. Attorney in Alabama named Thomas Figures--testified that, during a 1981 murder investigation involving the Ku Klux Klan, Sessions was heard by several colleagues commenting that he "used to think they were OK" until he found out some of them were "pot smokers." Sessions claimed the comment was clearly said in jest. Figures didn't see it that way. Sessions, he said, had called him "boy" and, after overhearing him chastise a secretary, warned him to "be careful what you say to white folks." Figures echoed Hebert's claims, saying he too had heard Sessions call various civil rights organizations, including the National Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "un-American." Sessions denied the accusations but again admitted to frequently joking in an off-color sort of way. In his defense, he said he was not a racist, pointing out that his children went to integrated schools and that he had shared a hotel room with a black attorney several times.

  • _______________________

    As a native Alabamian, I have watched Sessions' rise from self-aggrandizing and sanctimonious prosecuting attorney to the United States Senate with a great degree of horror. His appointment to a Federal judgeship in 1986 was shot down due to a history of racially insensitive statements and other offensive remarks attributed to him over the years. When the consummate Good Old Boy, Howell Heflin, retired as senator, Sessions narrowly rode the Republican Revolution wave to victory over another good old boy with a long history in Alabama politics. Yet, he is seen as overwhelmingly popular in Alabama, largely as a result of his reliance on working class whites who find something courageous about his grandstanding about the evils of liberal activism, illegal immigration, and anti-environmentalism.

    Taking into account the fact that Sessions rose to a position of authority as a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee within the Senate's GOP caucus, one realizes that the Republican party has truly become a gathering that includes only the conservative right and is increasingly based in the southern states alone. The region's still-considerable poverty make it difficult for more than one party to make serious inroads and from the time of The New Deal to 1994, the region was solidly Democratic, though, it must be noted, it was largely full of conservative Democrats. Breaking the GOP stranglehold over the south would require something massive like wealth redistribution, an influx of residents from other parts of the country, or a phenomenally successful educational program that granted people the ability to easily attain some sense of social mobility otherwise denied to them. The region has never truly known democracy. Even back in the times before the Civil War, the classes were strictly stratified based on income. A small planter elite, which much of the country assumes was the norm based on romantic notions advanced in literature and movies, owned large parcels of land, kept slaves, and racked in money. They also, I might add, made money from northern industrial companies, making them very complicit in the peculiar institution of slavery, but that's another ball of wax for another time. Most whites were poor subsistence farmers (of which I am descended on both sides of my family) who had nothing in the way of means and could barely afford to feed themselves, much less make a profit. At the bottom, of course, were black slaves, who were seen as livestock.

    I included this background information to try to explain Jeff Sessions and those who continue to vote for him, time after time. If it were a simple matter of ignorance, that would be one thing, but Sessions has learned that the way to stay in office is to play to the worst fears of his supporters and try to seem like some courageous crusader for a way of life presumed to be under attack from all sides. This motivates him from a political standpoint in his queries during deliberation today and in the days ahead. Though I can say I dislike Sessions strongly, I do at least understand where he is coming from, too.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    A Sign You're in for a Long Flight

    When you find yourself sitting next to a woman who is reading a book entitled

    and you can't believe, based on the title, why anyone could associate homosexuality in all seriousness with some defect of character. In that manner of "thinking", being gay is like an addiction or a vice that one can easily overcome. The book might just as easily be titled, You Don't Have to Gamble or You Don't Have to Overeat. Or even, You Don't Have to Be Afraid. Her justification for being a paid counselor in an ex-gay group is to save teh gays from the feelings of self-loathing and shame they experience by not being heterosexual and living a heterosexual lifestyle. "Nobody feels good about it," she kept repeating.

    It was a strange flight, made even stranger by the presence of a conservative Christian youth group headed to China for a mission trip. I arrived at the airport just in time to see them anointing every member of the pack in the red t-shirts specially made for the occasion-- by making the sign of the cross on their foreheads with oil. Not only that, the pilot of the flight was younger than me and making his first solo outing. Naturally, they didn't tell us that until we had landed safely.

    Sunday, July 12, 2009


    Today is going to be a lengthy travel day for me, so I figured I'd leave you all with a short story I've been working on. Unsurprisingly, it has been inspired by the exceptionally insipid job description cliches I've encountered during the job hunt.




    Allow me to introduce myself. I'm a self-starter and a straight shooter with upper level management potential written all over me. In my new job at The Society for the Preservation of Acronyms, or SPA, for short, I'm the Director of Earnest, but Ultimately Unqualified Entry-Level Workers. EUUELW is one of the company's less profitable departments and I was hired to clean house and purge the dead weight from payroll. I'm certainly glad to take the opportunity to undertake a new challenge and improve my skill set in the process. In today's challenging economy, I'm glad to be taking an active role in eliminating benefit packages and unnecessary perks like merit-based pay raises.

    Periodically I make conversation with those a few rungs down the food chain. It's always interesting to see what they think and take some suggestions for improving the process. The workers who have excellent attention to detail and strong time management skills are my favorites. They truly have a can-do spirit and strong ability to develop lasting and appropriate relationships with co-workers. This quality above all else I prize in my employees.

    James is the shining star of the department. He's a hard worker who never complains about the people who work alongside him who put out little to no effort at all and make twice what he does.
    I'm recommending him for a PINO (Promotion in Name Only) so that it'll be his responsibility, not mine to fire the people whose inaction sends us closer every quarter to bankruptcy. Here, we call that Redundancy Control Management or RCM. Though Pink Slip Dispersal Procol (PSDP) is a regrettable part of any modern workplace, it is a process that improves the strength of the entire company as a whole and allows us to be a greater player in Stock Option Risk Engagement (SORE).

    "James," I say, with a wry smile in my voice, "You know what I like about you? I particularly like your ability to work independently, exercise high levels of judgment, initiative, and resourcefulness and multi-task to ensure high quality products."

    He shyly replies, "Sir, I appreciate it. I have to say that my ability to communicate orally and in writing to department heads has improved my stature in the eyes of the corporate brass."
    James will go a long way. My only criticism of him is that it's difficult for him to provide advice and guidance on effective positioning of knowledge products, development of key messages, audience targeting, and dissemination strategies. But these are things he can easily improve upon with enough experience and visits to Motivation Conferences. In this respect, he is head and shoulders above most of my people, who have no clue what vital terms like synergy and positive accentuation mean. Not only that, they have no concept of problem solving skills or the ability to manage multiple responsibilities simultaneously.

    Quote of the Week

    "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."- Dorothy Parker

    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    Saturday Video

    For all the wingnuts out there.

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Business is Not a Solution to Our Problem, Business is the Problem

    The billions of dollars allocated by the Federal Government in bailout funds has been a lightning rod for criticism on both sides. This morning's news that AIG seeks government approval to grant their CEOs and top executives another round of bonuses could easily inflame liberals, conservatives, and taxpayers all. The article takes care to set out the fact that AIG might never be able to produce any return for shareholders, even after paying back the billions of dollars it has received from the government, a reality in no small part due to its retention of the infamous credit-default swaps that undermined the solvency of the entire financial system and helped create the economic mess in which we are currently stuck. That the company would have willfully refused to learn its lesson ought to illustrate that the private sector should never be viewed or advertised as the noble, virtuous counter-weight to that metastasizing mass of collective "evil" found on Capitol Hill.

    What I have often wondered is how Republicans can legitimately continue to criticize Washington, D.C., as some kind of evil morass of corruption and inefficiency when the private sector has arguably proven itself more corrupt and more than willing to resort to illegal (and certainly unethical) means to perpetuate itself. This is an ancient talking point that dates at least back to 1980. Starting with Reagan's first term, the continual GOP drumbeat has been to assert that government is the problem and that it ought to be as small as possible so as to reign in its excesses. This is well and good until one takes into account that the corresponding, singular focus on the free market adopted then meant that the private sector grew larger and larger, corporations swelled to unprecedented sizes, and without sufficient regulatory oversight, they took frequent greed-driven liberties which contributed greatly to the economic mess of today. And, using AIG as an example, they are still more than willing to take these liberties, despite the devastating impact that their foolish practices made upon the lives of people in this country and around the world. Sainted capitalism is hardly any solution.

    Furthermore, as MSNBC's First Read this morning reported, 40% of the stimulus took the form of tax cuts. Yet, neither Republicans, nor Democrats seem to wish to incorporate this interesting fact into their arguments and counter-arguments. One can understand why Republicans would choose not to bring it up---it doesn't suit their agenda and makes the Obama Administration look bi-partisan and conciliatory rather than unilateral and radical, as they like to paint it. But I still wish some Democrat would throw this fact out in debate, preferably with the American peoples' full attention. What gives Republican arguments some degree of veracity and heft is that the United States is a nation with a strong libertarian streak. Tied to those libertarian leanings are a long tradition of being wary and suspicious of government. Criticizing those in high elective office might as well count as a national pastime. Corruption scandals only validate those cynical reactions and, indeed, often times these reactions are quite justified.

    However, what makes less sense is that people seem less inclined to feel any compulsion to vent their anger and frustration upon corporations and businesses. Perhaps this is because the past provides constant, numerous reminders of Federal government stupidity and waste, but we are still grappling with the notion of the huge, faceless corporation and it's partner in crime the multinational conglomerate. In a land until very recently dotted almost exclusively by small businesses (with a few notable examples), we still have a tendency to think of the private sector as being comprised exclusively of people we know personally and interact with on a friendly basis. In this idyllic, Norman Rockwell world, the grocer, the milkman, the tailor, and barber form a community of toilers working together in close proximity to each other. Government, in contrast, is a distant enterprise whereby, as this notion goes, we send representatives to make sure our needs are met and quite often find that their number one allegiance quickly shifts to the longevity of their profession, not to our concerns. The exact number of miles away from our communities they work seems to directly correspond to our dislike of them. To wit, state representatives are barely tolerable and national ones are utter abominations. Bred into us is a fear of strong centralized government based in some nebulous far away city where we have never lived, do not understand, and may never even visit.

    However, the times of a primary focus on regionalism are no longer our own. We have discovered that it's difficult to cast aspersions towards businesses and business practices that require a degree in Economics to understand. In a changing world, where we are growing more intertwined with the global economy and not the regional one we still fetishize, our understanding of the process needs to change. By contrast, the world of government seems to be simple enough though it is rarely as easily explained or defined as we would like it to be. Along these same lines, if I could, I'd like to ask a GOP senator or representative a question on one of those talking head cable shows without them having the benefit to prepare first--I would ask, Why do you act like the sainted private sector is some kind of bastion of purity? I know he or she wouldn't really answer it, of course. Instead he or she would just spin out my query or evade the question altogether by talking instead about incompetent bureaucrats and government's wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. So I suppose it's up to us, the ordinary citizens, to change the way we think and to adopt our attitudes to suit the present and the future, leaving the past behind.

    Thursday, July 09, 2009

    Extreme Amusement

    Those of you who have been reading this for the past several months know that from time to time I've posted the often-bizarre job listings I've encountered during my lengthy search.

    Today's laugh is a job for a receptionist. Naturally, it wasn't posted as such, instead it was listed as one of the most deviously clever euphemisms I have ever heard. The phrase used instead was "Director of First Impressions". I'm not sure who they were trying to impress--the potential applicant or the boss of the company.

    The True Sound of Silence

    A poster on a Quaker web board posited a question to readers. She had been driving home late one night where she encountered a rather pathetic looking homeless man begging for food on the side of the road. Out of fear for her safety, especially since it was dark and she was by herself, she kept driving and did not make any attempt to assist the man. Later, however, the thoughts which had at first been consumed and preoccupied with self-preservation turned to guilt. Perhaps she should have stopped to help. Perhaps her fears were utterly groundless. The incident made such an impression her that it caused her to question whether in future she ought to lend a hand to someone clearly in need, even if her first impulse was that of her own safety.

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most oft-cited examples of Jesus' teachings and has far superseded its original religious context by its frequent reference in secular society.

    "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead with no clothes. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, and he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, he too passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and looked after him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

    With this parable in mind, I formed my own response. I said,

    Martin Luther had this same dilemma. He would pray for hours to be perfect, then moments upon leaving he would have a sinful thought. Upon having this sinful thought he would become so instantly frustrated it that he would return to the church to pray, in hopes that this time his prayers would take.

    I'm not sure any of us can achieve spiritual perfection, any more than Luther himself could. But what you are doing here is punishing yourself for no good reason. I could provide you many times in my life instances where being overly cautious and overly guarded probably was not in my own best interest as well as very much in my own best interest. But I think the important thing to pull from this situation is being able to forgive yourself for being imperfect. We all sin. We all have sinful thoughts and at times these sinful thoughts manifest themselves in inaction where action might be better served.

    I used to get frustrated at people who didn't do enough. If you swim in activist circles long enough, that's the premise at the core of activism---people aren't doing enough, they should be doing more, and it's my job to inform them of why. But as I've gotten older, I've realized that many people do what they can and that furthermore they do more than some are willing give them credit. Those are the two tensions upon which your post is balanced. I'm not going to propose for you which direction to head, but I will encourage you to find a happy medium in between. I think you'll be much happier with yourself that way.

    The idea of the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity was predicated on the belief that if we quiet our minds and direct our energies away from selfish thoughts, then the Inward Light of God will remain alone and then the sought for path will open. Hence, the intent of Quaker unprogrammed worship, which while held in silence, is designed not to be full of empty, meaningless nothingness. It is not silence for silence's sake. What it is, however, is a chance to focus on what truly matters. If I had thought to mention this concept, I would have included it in my original reply to the posting.

    As I conclude, my mind can't help but flash to that old Simon and Garfunkle song, itself predicated on the topic of silence.

    And in the naked light I saw
    Ten thousand people, maybe more.
    People talking without speaking,
    People hearing without listening,

    People writing songs that voices never share
    And no one dared
    Disturb the sound of silence.

    Fools said I, you do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows.
    Hear my words that I might teach you,
    Take my arms that I might reach you.
    But my words like silent raindrops fell,
    And echoed
    In the wells of silence

    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    Good News!

    After nearly four months of job application, frustration, and toil I am pleased to announce that I will be returning to DC for a face to face interview to be held next Monday. Another interview with a separate organization was already scheduled for that same day over the phone and I am in the process of trying to modify it so that I can interview with both places in person during the time that I will be there. If it'd been up to me, I would already be settled in DC and working a new job, but the awful economy has complicated and delayed my plans considerably. As I reflect back on this process, it's absolutely ridiculous that I have submitted roughly 1,100 job applications, been scheduled for a paltry four interviews, and had to spend a minimum of four hours a day on the matter even to get where I am now. That's just a reflection of how absolutely insane the job market is these days.

    My flight leaves Sunday morning, so what this means is that from that day, Sunday, 12 July until Monday, 20 July my posting here will be sporadic. I'll at least make an attempt to put something worth reading up here from time to time, but since I'll be away from my computer during that period, I can't promise I'll be able to write every day that I'm away. Expect more of these extended absences in the coming weeks and even months, particularly until I am actually hired. I've been saving money since March to go back and forth between here and DC, but I am frankly surprised it's taken four months before I've even had the ability to make my first trip. I do know an interview does not guarantee a job--only an opportunity to audition before an employer. Still, this is a goal that I have been working doggedly towards for a good long while and I celebrate any opportunity to see my wonderful girlfriend who has been missing me terribly.

    As an aside, I was going to go up there soon anyway, because I made her a promise during her visit last month; I vowed to her that she wouldn't have to wait to see me in person nearly as long to she did (three months) for the first good long while we were apart, and that's a promise I fully intend to keep.

    Tuesday, July 07, 2009

    New Media Madness

    I stopped taking the local newspaper a few weeks ago. After I recognized how much I was spending per month for the privilege of subscribing to something I read for perhaps five minutes a day, it didn't make much sense to keep it going. Like many Americans, I get most of my news over the internet these days. My reasons why are many. Over the past several years, my hometown paper, The Birmingham News, has been increasingly full of ad content in place of actual hard news. Not only that, the quality and scope of the veritable journalistic institution, which in its heyday was the gold standard of all Alabama newspapers, has begun to suffer mightily.

    I noticed this disturbing lack of professionalism both in the writing and in the routine copy editing. Pictures were sometimes captioned incorrectly and the content of the paper increasingly took the form of short one-to-two paragraph blurbs when I was expecting in-depth analysis instead. If the intent was to emulate the country's worst (in my humble opinion) designed newspaper, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, they could not have done a better job of it. Additionally, I've already noticed how, while engaged in conversation with others, people I've talked to increasingly do not refer by name or subject to the op-ed columns written by the paper's stalwart voices, meaning either that they aren't reading them or find other voices much more compelling and informative. Before, people often based their own opinions on a controversial issue on the opinion of the local mouthpiece. I've noted such things in people of all ages, even those who likely keep their subscriptions current, as I did, for no other reason than force of habit.

    Most newspapers have been suffering mightily to stay afloat over the years. Birmingham once had the ability to support two papers. I first began to notice the move towards downsizing when the evening Post Herald was dismantled some four years ago, very much following a trend of consolidation that has befallen most large American cities. I find it fascinating that at the turn of the Twentieth Century almost every major U.S. city had more than one paper, and sometimes three or four. Not anymore. Increasingly I also have been reflecting on how generational differences are partially to blame for this change. The younger-than-age thirty set never read the newspaper with the zealousness of generations before them or, for that matter, any regularity. For people my parents' generation and older, the morning newspaper ritual was enmeshed into the proverbial cultural fabric as the morning coffee. From the beginning, most people my age took their news from television, and then embraced the internet when it arrived. I was one of the few in my age group who waited eagerly for the latest print edition to land on the driveway following a busy news day or major sporting event.

    Lest you think otherwise, this is not some ode to a Golden Age now growing extinct. Newspapers and the people who ran them had plenty of warning and plenty of time to prepare for the new wave of New Media in the form of electronic publication. Instead, they clung stubbornly to old ideas and resisted embracing internet-based journalism until it began to cut severely into their bottom lines. My local paper, for example, has made a tentative commitment to an electronic edition, but still refuses to make their entire daily edition available online. Part of their behavior is understandable. They built a brand new building at probably the worst economic time imaginable and now are in a panic to pay for it. Desperately clinging to an increasingly aging readership is what they and many papers are banking on for the future, even if they've had to make appalling cuts in wages, hours, and benefits to their workers to do so. The Birmingham News, for example, used to be well-known for being a great place to work. Now the sea change in the industry combined with the recession has gutted its resources to such an extent that it, like many of the dailies, is fighting to stay alive.

    Those of us who are part of this New Media revolution have frequently been the target of established media outlets who decry us for our amateurism. And while it is true that some people use the internet to advance unfounded gossip, resort to hyperbole when restraint would be a much better strategy, let innuendo suffice for solid facts, and willfully violate all the time-honored truths of Journalism 101, the irony is that, due to budget deficits, the print media, among others, has been forced to resort to amateurish tactics themselves. It's not been just the gatekeepers themselves who have broken established codes of conduct. A new generation of politicians seems unwilling to work within established channels. The example that comes to mind is that of Sarah Palin's recent announcement that she was stepping down as Alaska's governor, which violated every rule in the book in its timing, delivery, message, and intent. I agree it was also a very bizarre event, but I believe it to be a harbinger of times to come. Depending on what you hold true, we are becoming an informal society to the point of madness, or we are challenging the constraints of rules, both written and unwritten. It's a Brave New World out there, and what cannot be refuted is that whatever comes next will be vastly different than what came before it.