Wednesday, February 28, 2007

War - Where Are the Killer Dolphins?

Cathy Sorbo recently wrote about the military's use of animals to battle "aquaterrorism." And it reminded me of an interesting story that blew out of Hurricane Katrina. Thirty-six killer dolphins, armed with deadly darts allegedly escaped their enclosure during the hurricane and were roaming the Gulf of Mexico.

Though it was reported in The Observer, a casual inquiry is difficult for establishing the verity of the story. A quick Google search found the original article, but also a plethora of sites, such as Snopes, which claim that it was all a hoax.

Unfortunately, my current internet research skills impede me in establishing the actual truth, as well as filtering through the thousands of search hits to find the outcome of the tale. Any suggestions on how to efficiently get to the bottom of this would be greatly appreciated.

Anyway, true or not, it's a great story.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Society - Obsessed With Guilt

Ten years ago, when I lived in Korea, a friend shared with me his observations about the differences between Occidental and Oriental cultures. One of the most important, he noted from his experiences working with various corporations, is that in the West, when there is a problem of some kind, the first thing people do is try and establish who is to blame for the problem. In the East, the first thing they do is try and fix the problem. In general, people have faith that the one responsible will not only be aware of their culpability, but will also be conscious that others will be aware of it too. And it wasn't until my Asian friend pointed this out to me that --in my experiences over there-- I recognized it to be true.

That's not the case in Europe and the Americas. An anecdotal example of this happened to me just this past Friday at work. I showed up on my day off in order to collect some papers and prepare a fax that needed to be sent for my visa application. Unfortunately, my boss, who never works on Fridays, had failed to leave two very important papers. I informed the secretary of the problem, adding that it was urgent that this fax be sent out that very day. And, instead of looking through the files to find the necessary papers, she began asking me why I didn't make sure the boss had left the papers for me.

Feeling somewhat on the defensive, I mentioned the list of three items I'd given the boss, that it was very clear and that it was she who had only provided one of these items. "Yes, but why didn't you make sure of this yesterday?" the boss' right-hand woman insisted. It went back and forth like this for a long minute: Me claiming that I had done what was necessary and her asking the same question over and over.

It was aggravating, and I took a long breath to keep my cool. This was going nowhere, so I decided to change tack. I pointed out that whatever happened --or failed to happen-- the previous day was in the past and not relevant now. More important was the fact that these papers are missing and that we needed them at that very moment. "This is what we should be thinking about now," I added with finality.

She blinked, somewhat disconcerted. Then, after a pause, she said, "Yes, but why didn't you take care of this yesterday?"

Now, I'm a passionate man, but I recognize that in difficult moments this passion can cause me to act like a prick. So, experience has taught me to curb my reflexes and not go on the attack. At least, that is, when I want or need something from my nemesis. Thankfully I was able to suppress whatever words were clawing to escape my throat. But in moments like these, when that surge of anger and adrenaline make my face burn and my eyes rattle, when the room itself seems to tremble, it's impossible for me to be completely silent. A quick mental calculation chose a self-effacing yet sarcastic response: "Because I'm stupid. Okay? Is that what you want to hear?"

I thought it was benign enough. But she didn't. The end result was an emotional rant from an unstable secretary, no aid in securing the papers, and a wasted 6 months of aggravating preparation for this moment. Not only that, but my boss runs the risk of paying a €30,000 fine for having an undocumented employee. This is what happens when irrelevant pursuits get the best of us.

Perhaps it's all the Judeo-Christian crap that is our inheritance, this Jonathon Edwards bullshit that invests so much importance on culpability. But, criminy, what a senseless waste of thought and energy. One could say that the secretary where I work is a jerk, or was just in a bad mood or whatever. But if you think about it, she behaved very typically for people in Europe and the Americas. If she were a person who had behaved in the opposite manner, by leaping on the problem and trying to solve it rather than establishing who was responsible for the mess, she would be remarkable for having an enlightened character. Yet, in the East, such enlightenment is more the rule than the exception.

We have a lot to learn over here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Online Tests - Career Self-Assessment

My original intention was to direct readers to the site for career enhancement personality tests. But, it turns out that Monster doesn't offer the same tests that they did some years ago. Apparently the Myers-Briggs/Kiersey mafia has decided that there's too much money to be made instead of offering the tests free. But here's a site that links to many of the tests for free. Worth trying out if you're interested in a career change, or even getting started on a career.

Personally, I found them remarkably accurate. For example, one suggestion was that I should go into animation. I actually took their advice a few years ago and shelled out three grand for an animation school. Though I was considerably older than most of the other students, my natural abilities surpassed them in most every respect.

Unfortunately, I chose the wrong school --probably because I had been smitten by the receptionist. The teachers were excellent professional animators who had no idea how to teach, and the demo reel that I was promised to have at the end of the course never materialized. Money lost, career put on hold. And I never got more than a lunch date out of the receptionist.

But don't let my unfortunate experience discourage you from trying these tests. If you feel lost and don't know which way to go --career-wise-- try out these tests. It just might change your life for the better.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Society - Reborn Babies

Now this is pretty sick.

If you're the parent of a still-born child, which option would you choose? a) Grieve? b) Rejoice? c) Have a Plastic Likeness of Your Child Made, Complete With Beating Heart and Pulsing Veins?

In a new twist on just how warped our species is, option c) is now a real possibility. The Daily Mail reports on this new trend that many aggrieved parents are embracing. The five stages of grief have traditionally been described as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. But many unsuccessful breeders are miring themselves in stage one by accepting their denial. They contract a UK company, Reborn Baby, to re-create their dead baby in order to ease their loss.

In the interests of taste and compassion, I will summarize my opinion in one word: Pitiful.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Television - The Winner

Not long ago, I recommended an online film called, The Old Negro Space Program, written, produced and directed by a "man" named Andy Bobrow, who also wrote for Malcolm in the Middle. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

Well, I got an email from Andy today, touting a new show that he's writing for Fox. Here's what he has to say:

Last spring I was fortunate enough to get hired to help write a new show on Fox called “The Winner.” It stars Rob Corddry, of "The Daily Show" fame. And I swear to you, I am proud to be a part of it. We all believe we have captured lightning in a bottle with this show. Even my mom laughed at the pilot, and she hates television.

The show premiers on March 4th on Fox. But they are taking the unprecedented step of putting full episodes online before the premiere. They want to create “buzz,” and I want them to have all the frickin' buzz they can get. If the show launches well, I get to keep my job.

So please go to <> and watch a few episodes. I recommend the first two, “Single Dates,” and “What Happens in Albany.”

I haven't seen it yet, but I don't doubt it's worth checking out.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Author's Note - Another Hiatus

A week has passed without any posts. Sorry about that. A baby with high fever from a throat infection plus an article past its deadline made for a prioritizing decision to put the blog on hold.

Actually, it was kind of nice to step back from it. I started wondering if this is something I really need or want to do on a daily basis. The original idea was to improve my writing by meeting a daily deadline and, hopefully, generate a little extra income through this AdSense NonSense. The former has come to fruition, for sure. Three months of steady writing has taught me how to cut out the bullshit that fills the work of an aspiring and amateurish writer. And I'm sure that three more months will improve my technique far more. So, at least in that respect, there's a reason to continue.

As far as generating revenue, I see that the most successful blogs are either by writers who already have a fan base established (Rude Pundit) or by bloggers who have a near-obsessive specialization in their content (Mind Hacks). Unfortunately I'm a nobody --in the grand scheme of writers and readers-- and my interests are far too varied to be content with just a single theme; an anthropology professor impressed that idea into my malleable young mind at university when he came in to class the first day and said iconically, "Specialization leads to extinction."

This, I suppose, could partially explain how I could arrive at my 40th journey around the sun without having altered my quality of life much from when I was 25. It's good to stay young, sure. But it sucks to be poor. Thus, I wonder how much time I should continue to invest in the blogosphere when I can be free-lancing articles that pay --however boring they may be at times.

It does feel on occasion like I'm flying, when I get going on something that unleashes a modicum of passion but that, also, most magazines wouldn't want to publish; and it's nice when my Statcounter soars to 140+ hits in a single day. But it's a lot of work, too. And gratification, while it may put a smile on my face, doesn't pay for a decent vacation --which, if memory serves me correctly, puts an even greater smile on my face.

Oy vey. What to do. Guess I'll just keep pegging away at it, without expecting any ka-ching! to come of it. Perhaps I'm just feeling a tad cynical today. Half a bottle of absinthe can really dry out the happy hormones one day later. Hoo-boy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sport - Underwater Rugby

It's been around for nearly fifty years, is played in dozens of countries, yet very few people have heard of it. Unfortunately, the conditions aren't ideal for spectators, but if they were, Underwater Rugby would probably be a lot more popular.

Here's an article I wrote that came out this month in Barcelona Metropolitan magazine.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Society - Ann Coulter Deconstructed

Ann Coulter Deconstructed is a Flash commentary I made back around August and have only recently remembered that it's floating around out there in Internetland. Even though the events that it addresses have since passed, it still seems pertinent today.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cool Websites - The Internet Archive

The Internet Achive is an impressive collection of documents, audio, music and moving images, available for free to everybody. Their motto at the top of the page is "Universal Access to Human Knowledge," and they seem to be sincere. Another nice feature is the "Curator's Choice" that they offer in each category in order to help you wade through the thousands of items in their collection. It's a very good site, either for browsing or the serious researcher.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Books - The Wisdom of Crowds

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, by James Surowiecki.

I just finished this book and found it thoroughly fascinating. It's full of studies, anecdotes and insights that I never imagined, but in retrospect make perfect sense. There's no need for me to go into a critique here, because it's a fairly well-known work by now and plenty has been written on it. I would recommend it to just about anybody, but especially to people in management.

Wikipedia has a decent summary here. This is the Amazon link. And Salon has a thorough critique here.

Check it out. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Personal Essay - Gay Magnet?

Occasionally in life, there are moments of clarity which have a bracing effect similar to opening all the windows in a stuffy house and filling it with brisk, cool air. The mind clears suddenly and you literally feel the fresh blood flowing through your brain. I had just such a moment last evening, coming home on the train, when I was faced with the stark realization that it must really suck to be a woman.

Now, before I elaborate, I think it's important to go a little into the backstory. Just over a week ago, I made a drastic change in my appearance by going from fairly long hair to scalp-hugging short. No small part in this decision was the fact that chicks just don't check me out like they used to. Sure, there's the sense of identity which marks a long-haired person --free spirit, artistic type, independent, out of the main-stream-- and there's also the tactile pleasure of a healthy mane. But, a man who lives with his ex-girlfriend and their 2-year old child really needs to maximize his possibilities if he's going to swim in the stream of free coitus.

So, since the lines in my face have closed all doors to the kind of hippy university girls who once waltzed with me to various dark niches, I decided to go with a clean, professional and fiscally responsible look. . . . In order to get laid, in case that wasn't clear. However, my strategy seems to have backfired on me.

Last night on the train, I opened my eyes and glanced around. My vision panned across the eyes of an attentive man. I continued to scan my environment, instinctively glancing back to see if the other guy had broken his stare. But he hadn't. I looked away again, thinking, What's up with this guy? Unwillingly, I looked back. Still staring. What the fuck?! Oh, christ, yea. He's gay. Now he thinks I'm gay ... and coquettish. I just don't like being stared at, and --try as I might-- I couldn't stop peeking back periodically. And of course, he misread my interest. The compliment would have been flattering maybe; but to be honest, this guy seemed to be way too hard up. Even if I was gay, I wouldn't want to get together with such a desperate loser.

I started staring out the window across the aisle. While watching points of light float past, my eyes focussed on the reflection in the window. There was another man who seemed to be watching me. Or maybe, I considered, he was doing the same thing as I. But, if he was watching me --and I was watching a point directly behind his reflection-- then, he must be thinking that I'm staring into his eyes. My eyes jumped over onto the owner of the reflection before I could pull them back. Then, emboldened, he turned his head and faced me directly, eliminating any doubts. Oh, shit, I thought, before turning to look out the other window.

And now he kept staring. Granted, this guy was a bit more stylish and on the ball than the other, in some ineffably suave sort of way. But he was still a dude. Now, I don't make any judgements on where people eat, I just know what I prefer. Yet, ironically, here I was, a hungry man with a feast before me and no stomache for the food that was offered. Both these guys were in my field of vision unless I looked down or away. Their eyes burned into me like lasers, making me feel like I was being scanned by two horny Terminator robots. It's unfortunate they can't see each other, I thought. Because if somehow they could just start staring at each other, everybody would come out a winner.

I began to curse my hair-stylist, thinking that she'd given me a gay haircut. It wasn't the first time that a man has shown interest in me, but for some reason this was the first time outside of a gay club that I was so popular. I looked at myself reflected in the window and preened, not caring anymore if I appeared coy. She had left me with echos of Freddie Mercury. The only thing missing was the frou frou mustache. Damn.

Then suddenly it dawned on me: This is what women experience on a constant basis. Thus, my prefatory statement. What torture, having to go through life, negotiating eye-contact and enduring the tight-lipped, predatorial gazes of men. It's like having a spotlight glaring in your face. I'm sure many women must learn to love it, like little ballarinas pirhouetting on the stage. But I wonder what percentage of them must absolutely despise it. I really felt like giving the finger to these two guys. With both hands, criss-crossing my arms while flashing a Billy Idol sneer.

It struck me suddenly that I wasn't so different than them; I often can't help focussing on attractive women and wonder if their uncomfortable glances signal an interest in squishing it. A forgotten memory came just then, of me sitting in a pub in Edinburgh, chatting with some friends, when a woman walked by the table. An attractive, ballsy Scot. Our eyes met. Without even thinking about it, I turned around to check her out from behind and found myself raising my eyes into her furious expression. She gave me the finger and mouthed, Fuck you, before spinning on her heel. It hardly seemed reasonable to me at the time. It's just what guys do. But sitting on the train, I realized that, if I'd been born a woman, sooner or later I would have done exactly the same thing.

And so it was, with great loathing, I found myself rising to my feet as the train pulled into my station. Squeezing through scrunched knees, I stepped out into the aisle, gazing blankly at nothing at all, knowing the inevitable conclusion to this scene. I walked the length of the wagon, feeling two pairs of eyes burning into my backside. And I thought, From this day forward, I will stop checking out women's asses. Then I wondered how I was going to fill up the time.

Monday, February 05, 2007

War - Now Iran

Bush, the one-trick pony, is repeating himself and mirroring his Iraq strategy to launch the U.S. into yet another war. And for once, the American media is doing its job. They are actually shining a light on obvious developments of great importance. It wasn't at all so --exactly 5 years ago-- for Iraq.

A full 13 months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, The Guardian ran a special report that revealed the intentions of the Bush Administration. That was in February, 2002 and it wasn't until the following September that Bush made a statement to the U.N. which confirmed that the mechanations of war were already in motion.

I remember that special report very well, because shortly after reading it, I mentioned the invasion plans to my brother. He was incredulous. It wasn't possible that some foreign press could know and report something that the good ol' American media wasn't reporting. Ours is the land of the free press, and there's absolutely no way that something as important as that would go unreported. My brother cautioned me not to read any more of those Third World rags like The Goblin or The Guardian or whatever it's called. He snorted and changed the subject to whether or not it was warm here in Barcelona, a favourite topic of conversation in my family.

I realized then that the media really does create reality.

I felt like a kind of soothsayer over the next 7 months, as if I had tapped into some esoteric source that revealed ethereal knowledge of great import on this mortal plane, and nobody else could see the road through the fog. I read my "Third-World rags" and noticed a sudden pre-occupation with Iraqi No-Fly Zone rules. I monitored the escalation of bombardment from 0 in March 2002 to between 7 and 14 tons per month in May-August, marvelled as it reached a pre-war peak of 54.6 tons in September. I, and everybody else in Europe, noticed that these bombardments were focussed mostly on southern military targets. We noticed this sudden preoccupation with weapons of mass-destruction. Yet, everybody else in the U.S. was completely in the dark. And when BushCo. began to play the media card, it was a coup.

At least now the U.S. media is telling people what seems to be down the pike. The AP reports:

In recent days:

_Bush raised the U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf to its highest level since 2003 by ordering a second aircraft carrier strike group to the region.

_The administration confirmed that Bush has authorized the military to kill or capture Iranian agents who are plotting attacks on U.S. forces.

_The administration has armed Iran's Arab neighbors with Patriot missiles.

Also, the Enron Junta is leaking unsubstantiated reports that Iranian agents were part of a brilliant, well-coordinated operation which resulted in the kidnapping and execution of 4 U.S. soldiers.

It's hard to believe that these guys are so stupid as to really start another war on top of the two that we're losing, but maybe to them it's not so stupid after all. Perhaps it's part of some other plan that fits with scripture. Who knows what these boneheads are up to. But thank the Gods that the Fourth Estate is no longer giving them carte blanche.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Politics - Biden Screws It Up Early

If there was a Political Darwin Award, Senator Joe Biden would have just won it. In a most incredible act of stupidity, Biden said publicly that Barack Obama is "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean." He later claimed that he didn't mean to say it quite that way. Apparently, he originally intended to say, "All them other nigras is stinky and ignunt."

It's a pity, because I actually like his plan for Iraq. But after watching him squirm on The Daily Show, I was left with the overwhelming opinion that this guy is about as presidential as William Macy's character in Fargo. Here is a perfect example of the Peter Principal in politics.

But, you know, one thing I don't get is: How is it that Barack Obama is considered African-American in the first place? I've had the same question about Tiger Woods being labeled "The First Black Golfer." Tiger is as Thai as he is black. In fact, he looks more Thai than he does black, yet nobody calls him "The First Thai Golfer."

So, what is it that makes Barack black? Just because his father is Kenyan? Does that make him more black than white? He doesn't even come from an African-American culture, however you decide to define that. Barack grew up with his white mother in Hawaii and Jakarta and went to Harvard, about as far removed from any kind of black culture that I know. In fact, in his book, Dreams from My Father, Barack wrote, "my father looked nothing like the people around me."

The real issue here is that by calling Barack black, or African-American --or whatever the current PC fashion is-- this is the true racist crime. It is a form of hypodescent that comes from The One Drop Theory, a formula which concludes, essentially, that because he is not one hundred percent white, Barack therefore cannot be considered as such. In the Either You're With Us or Against us line of reasoning, this practice basically says, "He ain't all white, so he must be colored." This is what people should be getting up in arms about. Yet, nobody even notices the incoherent logic and inherent racism in that common practice.

Why not just let Obama be Obama? What difference does it make, so long as he has all the qualifications and qualities to salvage the shit-house that the current administration has created? Hell, I'll vote for him. Not least because he has had the balls to admit that he smoked weed and snorted blow. He's a true man of the people. Let him reign.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Politics - Gonzalez the Prick

Alberto Gonzalez, sometimes also referred to as "That Smarmy Little Fuck," has revealed yet more of the evil that fuels the current Enron junta in Washington. Evil is the very word for it --and that's not a word I use lightly. Unfortunately it's been abused by religious extremists who employ it as a catch-all phrase for something they haven't the insight or lucidity to describe with accuracy. But in this case, evil can be defined as the very act of destroying certain fundamental rights for hundreds of millions of people while at the same time killing tens of thousands in order to enforce the same democratic ideals that --again-- are being undermined. Hypocrisy, totalitarianism, chicanery and casuistry are not even strong enough words for that.

Yet Alberto, with a smirk, sits before a Senate Judiciary Committee and says, "The constitution doesn't say that every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas. It simply says that right shall not be suspended."

There's not much more to say on this that hasn't been said already. I'll let Steve Colbert take it from here.