Not even subject worthy but it's sort of about tamales although it's really about me killing time and entertaining myself

Anyway, I don't think that last post really worked, but I left it up. Actually, I put it up, then took it down, but I realized I'm to lazy to fix it so I just put it back up. I don't bother to really edit or think much about my posts, so sometimes they just don't work. I'm a sometime blogger, not an author. I don't know why I am telling you that, but i'm to lazy to delete it. It's my blog! If you don't like it, go shove it up your ojojona and read something else. Ojojona is a town in Honduras where I am going for a wedding (sorry, paternity leave remember?) in late April.

Anyway, today I want to talk about my cooking. I know what some of you are thinking, "That mind! That body! And he cooks too! How is that man still single?" Well, if you call cooking frying everything in olive oil and garlic , then well, yeah, sure, I cook. How am I still single? There isn't enough bandwidth on the internet for me to get into that one my friends.

Anyway, I wanted to talk in particular about my tamales. Tamales are tough for me because they don't really follow my normal pattern for food (cut food, heat oil and garlic, cook food in oil and garlic, eat with rice or tortillas). Tamales are made with corn flour, water, and not much else. You make the dough, put something inside the dough, wrap it all in a corn husk or banana leaf, boil, and walla! a present you unwrap for your stomach. Mmm!

Anyway, tonight I ate some of my tamales and I can safely say they are the 2nd worst tamales ever! The only tamales that were worse were the 1st time I ever made tamales, they weren't even edible and I got rid of them by knocking pigeons off my balcony with hard tamale bits. The pigeons were attracted by the tamale I spread on the porch because it's sort of like bread, and as the pigeons flew in I smacked 'em with tamale! Here's tamale in your eye you flying rat! Ha ha ha.

Anyway, I can't figure out why i can't make tamales better and it makes me sad :( . I can make me some killer beans now (cooking beans every day for almost 2 years and you pick up some tricks, like the one with the tomato and the jumping bean. Actually, that was a joke - remember the one where the tomato and the jumping bean walk into a bar? The bartender looks at the avacado and says, "what do I look like? Guacamole?" Ha ha ha - it's funny in spanish...).

Anyway, this blog is really just to try your patience and see if anyone finishes it. I'm even sober, not a drop in me! This is why I don't have to drink much or do other recreational drugs, my mind is already so fragile. So my tamales are terrible and it's a bummer. In Honduras, we used to eat two types of tamales. The first were called tamalitos and they were little and sweet, just like hondurans. They consisted of corn meal and sugar, wrapped in a corn husk and boiled. They were great. The other tamales were big and full of all sorts of things, and they were called nacatamales. Naca might have a meaning, but I don't know what it was even though I asked. For a while I was using naca as a prefix for anything wonderful, for example, "Ay que bueno que va a empezar mi nacanovela!" (translated as something like Oy how great my wonderful soap opera is about to start). I usually said this when Pasion de Gavilanes was about to start because that show was the naca-entertainment! I seriously tried to buy the DVD a while back but couldn't find it. Boo! I also used naca to describe Myrita because she was my favorite naca-hermanita in town, coolest happiest 10 year old ever. Oh, the nacamemories.

Anyway, Hondurans were notorious for eating nacatamales around christmas, and I had piles of nacatamales from people my last christmas in site. I couldn't decline the tamale because that would be rude, so I ate them all. Honestly, between you and me, I gave some to my neighbors dog as a peace offering because I had to buy her protection and because I couldn't eat them all. I felt guilty about that though. Then everyone asked me who made the best nacatamales in town and I said my mom back in the states. Awww...the nacamentiras.

Anyway, the nacatamales were notorious among the peace corps community because every tamale had a single piece of meat, pork or beef, in the center and it was usually on the bone so you had to very careful while eating them. Not only that, it was a single piece of meat and mostly fat, the good fat though. This was tradition, and i'm not sure why they didn't pull the meat off the bone but they didn't. This drove some volunteers crazy, but I didn't care. I love nacatamales. I love them if I'm on a bus, I love them if I'm in a car. No matter where I are, I love them love them near and far. I love them in leaf or corn husk, I love them morn and eve and dusk. I will not share them with an animal, unless the pile looks just unbearable. I love them even when I'm full, I love them even though I'm dull. I love them love them love them see, but I cannot cook them woe is me.

Anyway, I can't believe i am even bothering to keep writing but what the heck. So the first time I made tamales I overcooked them. The second time, a definite improvement, they were still bad. So I'm looking for advice. I want help from someone who can make tamales that are worthy of the naca. And I'd like her to speak spanish, be between 5'6 and 5'10 with dark skin and dark hair, and like to travel. If she's independantly wealthy, that's fine too. Thank you for your help.

Anyway, I had a really stressful day at work by the way... Time to go watch House, it's the naca-programa!


Negation versus creation

The first exposure I had to the philosophy of Frederich Nietzsche was in college, he was the last in a series of four or five philosophers we studied. We ended up spending more time than we were supposed reading Hobbes' Leviathan (believe me, a few chapters is plenty, it's an interesting idea but 1/2 a semester for an intro to philosophy course?) so we only had a few weeks on Nietzsche. We read parts of his book Beyond Good and Evil. It's not a novel or an argument so much as it's a series of what i think are called aphorisms or something, not sure exactly what that means. Basically, it is a series of short ideas about almost everything. When I read it, I made a comment to someone (I think my mom actually) that he didn't seem to believe in anything but he certainly knew what he didn't believe it. I'll call that a philosophy of negation, a series of ideas about what should not be. For example, we should not allow women to be raped, children should not be soldiers, we should not cage humans in Cuba, etc (my examples, not his). Although you can identify a positive idea by taking the opposite of these ideas, it is not presented as such. I might have made up the term philosophy of negation, so if this has some other meaning to you I apologize. I think a lot of my ideas are too negative so I am working to be more positive, rather not complaining but coming up with ideas to improve things. I have been aware of this side of me for some time, but after a guy at worked called me the most negative person he had ever met, I decided to focus more strongly on it. He also said I was always smiling, which didn't make any sense to him, and that when he had a question I might bitch for 20 minutes first but I would always try to help. Welcome to my world buddy! Bear with me, this is going somewhere.

Anyway, later on in my life, I decided to try to push myself through what i have read is Nietzsche's best book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This is a book where he lays more clear an actual philosophy of life. And by clear what i really mean is murky and dense, and I should re-read it but I haven't chosen to devote myself to that yet. Anyway, I'll call this a philosophy of creation because the opposite of negativity is creation. Is that true? I don't know, but I like it and for me, for this example, it works. In Zarathustra, as much as i understood it, Nietzsche argues that man is a beast but that we can overcome our nature and become something more. He calls this the uberman or overman or superman, depending on the translation (I don't read German after all). He pities people who are bound to problems of this world because they don't realize that man can be more. Obviously, his argument is more in depth and more powerful than my crappy synopsis, but you can and should research that if you are interested. Actually, I believe it is this philosophy that sometimes lumps him in with the Third Reich and Hitler, this basic concept that man can overcome and become something else. It can be read into Hitler's idea of the perfect man, for him a type of German. I don't know that Nietzsche was an anti-semite and I think he would find that type of hatred a weakness that should be overcome. His narrator overcomes by leaving man and living in nature, in a cave, with animals, for a time. Isn't that always how philosophers do it?

Where am I going with this? For many years, I have been living a life of negation. I have been unhappy about what I cannot change, about who I am compared to who I think I should be, about things outside my control. Or things I perceived to be outside my control. However, my sphere of influence is larger than I believe, and my ability to change my own life is incredible. I need to transform myself into my own overman, transform my life into a life of creation, into a life where i create and surround myself with people who help me create a positive life for me and those around me. I often return to Nietzsche when I am confused because I am out of step somehow with friends or family and what they think I should be doing. Am I doing things because I want to (creation) or because I don't want to do something else (negation)? How am I pursuing my own life?

A few short examples of what i am talking about. I have a few friends who believe the point of man is to procreate, to pass on our seeds. They argue this is nature. I argue this was nature and that man has largely passed beyond that state. We aren't in any way near a singularity for humanity, a point where we cease to exist. All the wars and all the nuclear weapons won't wipe out our species. We don't exist in any sort of natural state so I can thankfully devote myself to other things if I so choose. I also read a book recently called Notes from an Economic Hitman about all the bad economic shit america does to keep other countries in control. It made me feel powerless. I'll talk more about that book later. I also had the wonderful opportunity to see my sister this weekend and hang out with an 18 month year old toddler. I forget what it's like to be around children, I forget how wonderful that experience is. His parents live a life very different from mine, but they obviously love the child and are doing all they can for him. Does that mean he is going to turn out well? No, but it's best hope any of us have. It's the greatest gift I received from my parents.

I am a little off track again. Basically, I have been thinking again about my life and how I view my life. I need to focus on myself, on my beliefs, on what i want. It's not selfish because I'm honest with people about what i can offer them. I need, or I want to, create beauty in my life, not identify ugliness. I have a chance that few people have because I have intentionally left my life fairly free of chains that others have (positive and negative) so I can become what i want to become. I just need to do it. I need to step outside even though it's cold and do it. I'm not even sure what it is and, because of that and only because of that, I'm not exactly how to find it. It might be the mountain or the city of the country or the word, but I'll find it. It's the journey towards that that will make me happy, for me I think it's that constant journey. No more negativity.

I think I sort of lost the thread at the end and couldn't really explain myself, but hopefully it makes enough sense. Actually, this wasn't even supposed to be about me. I was going to speak about America. We talk about the dream of America and how positive America has been for the world as an idea. Yet, when you look at our history, have we actually lived up to our potential as a nation? We define success by money, and by other countries having more money. What about more happiness? Our history since the second world war is sketchy at best. The dictators we have supported (including Saddam as you may recall) reads like a whose who list of terror. We speak now in golden words about freedom and such, but do we promote and fight for freedom around the world? Or do we fight for ourselves? As I need to remake my life, we need to remake America into a world leader. Obama might not be electable, he might not even have good ideas, but he at least speaks words that make me want to believe. He speaks like a creationist. Is he? I don't know. It's funny, but for all the obscene excesses of the academy awards, I love the "little" awards they announce before I went to bed at 9. Those people, some of them give speeches that make me believe in the power of film because they love it. Scorcese too, actually. They do it because they love it, and film like other mediums can make a difference.

America could and should be a strong positive leader throughout the world for so many things. People like to think we were before Bush because they hate him so much. I hate him too, I seriously think I could build a case for treason against the idea of america. However, that's glorifying the past. You want to think we used to be great? We weren't. We may have been better, but that's a question of degrees we all have to decide. How many genocides did we stop (compared to how many there were), how many people did we help compared to how many we could have helped? What is the ratio of hummers on the road to the number of people starving at any one time? What is the ratio of your effort to help to the amount of help needed? More importantly, what is that ratio for me? Do I want to look back in my life and say i offered up 2,000 lives I could have helped over 20 years so I could retire at 55? Could I ever be truly happy like that? Negation vs. creation. It's my life and my time to live. For me, what I want, it might not be what you want. It might not align to your goals. Fine. You don't criticize me when I disappear and I won't criticize you for staying. That is our new state of nature. That is what being a person means now. That is all we have to live for.


Favorite books

Someone published a book that is basically a list of famous authors (famous? I hadn't heard of all of them...) favorite books, so I was curious what my top 10 would be. I am making this a little flexible because some aren't entire books, but it's my blog. List in no particular order, except the first one belongs there.

  1. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is easily the most creative book I have ever read, the first book I ever read where I was amazed that people could write like that, which meant people could think like that. It also has some extremely interesting views on power, solitude, and family that are normally not discussed but make the book worth multiple reads. Incredible. One of the first lines talks about giant rocks like prehistoric eggs and the need to point because many things did not have names. This line immediately sets the stage and timing of the book, then Marquez proceeds to rebuild reality throughout the story. Absolutely incredible. I can't even begin to describe how amazed and impressed I am by this novel. Easily my favorite novel of all time.
  2. Bible, written by God et al. And I'm not just putting this on the list in case any omnipresent beings are reading this blog. Actually, the Bible has any number of great stories regardless of where you fall on the official Bible Credibility Scale. The Sermon on the Mount is probably the greatest single short speech of all time, although the entire old testament is full of interesting stories and the gospels in general are worthwhile. To be honest, I didn't spend much time on the part where the Soandso begot Susywhatshername who married Blennyblahblah and they begot..., I think it is the book of Numbers - a little repetitive. Also it then drags on into 40 pages on cutting fat from a lamb and burning it best for the big fellas pleasure, that gets a little tedious and boring as well. You can also ignore anything between the gospels and revelations, it is so dull even the vatican won't turn it into a movie. Don't skip revelations though. I can confess this if I bury it deep in the description because omnipresent beings only have time to scan blogs, not read the details. Seriously though, the Bible is one of those books that is so ingrained in our American culture and the basis of so many other stories it warrants the time. I'm not saying it's necessarily right, I'm just say it's true.
  3. Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. The style is very short and direct sentences and this may be one of the books where Hemingway either developed that style, or it may be a good example. Regardless, the character development is great. There is a single female character so if that is what you are looking for, look elsewhere. One of my favorite books to re-read and I'm never disappointed.
  4. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. I already talked about this, very clever and creative. I imagine meeting and speaking to Marquez would be a great time and we would drink rum and tell stories (mostly him). Meanwhile, I imagine meeting Borges would be like watching one of those cartoons about fractals where you zoom in on a fractal and it becomes another fractal and you keep zooming and it keeps repeating. The conversation would just be mind boggling, entertaining in its own way because of everything that keeps happening, but really more mind blowing than enjoyable.
  5. Iliad and Odyssey by Homer. I picked up the Odyssey in Peace Corps because it was there and I had a lot of time to read. Honestly, I did not expect to complete it. I'm not trying to be intellectual, the Robert Fitzgerald translations of these books are delightful and fun. You do have to get used to reading them as poems (sort of like Shakespeare, it is just a different flow), and there is not a single limerick in the thousands of lines of poetry, but it's still worth it. Once in a while, it's okay to challenge your mind and see what happens. Your mind is a muscle, I know I've said it before. These books both reward your effort. I don't know which I prefer, but the character development of Achilles in the Iliad is wonderful.
  6. The Stranger by Camus. Some people consider it a bit dark, but I read this for the first time at a point in my life when I needed something like this. It has had a profound impact on the last 10 years of my life, and I probably re-read the last 4 pages monthly. I won't argue all the effects of this have been positive long term, but the power of the idea and how it affected me puts it on my list.
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Very amusing look at life and war. Makes some attempt at depth, mostly successful, but I'll always enjoy it for the comedy. If you read the first 10 pages and don't like it, don't keep reading. It doesn't change. To me, that's a good thing.
  8. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Just a great read. See the cat? See the cradle?
  9. Howl by Allen Ginsberg. "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn searching for an angry fix..." That still gives me the chills, one of the angriest poems I have ever read. This poem is filled with a lot of great imagery. It catches how I felt at 20 better than any piece of writing I have ever experienced. It might be possible for pieces of my life to be defined by this poem, The Stranger, and, hopefully maybe, the Sermon on the Mount. That wouldn't be such a bad life, would it?
  10. Poetry by Frederico Garcia Lorca. Because he wrote this line about New York (roughly translated from Spanish): "...There is a wire stretched from the Sphynx to the safety deposit box that passes through the heart of all poor children...." Also because he wrote a lot of happy poems that breath youthful exuberance and make me feel young, mostly his earlier poems. That feeling is not something I can do very well myself. He was murdered by Franco's nationalists during the Spanish Civil War. As he matured, he poetry gains depth and understanding but I still prefer some of the more joyful poems of his youth because sometimes that is what I need.

OK, 2 honorable mention, it's my list remember. James Joyce is arguably the greatest english writer of the last century, but he can be dense. His short stories in the Dubliners are written extremely well, tight I would call them, but they aren't anything more than great short stories. However, in Portrait of the Artist, he has a fire and brimstone speech that makes the flames tickle your feet as a little bead a sweat walks down your forehead and falls on the page. Although the entire book is great, that passage is top 10 (or 12...).

The other is Arthur Rimbaud, and I throw him out because of his longer poems the Illuminations and A Season in Hell although I like a lot of his work that I know. They both have great openings, and if nothing else, you should flip through the opening sections of each of these poems while browsing a bookstore. "When the idea of the flood had subsided, a hare stopped among the clover and swaying flower bells, and said his prayer to the rainbow through a spider's web..." Isn't that a great opening line to a poem? Wouldn't that be a great opening line to anything?

That's my list. It might change if you asked me tomorrow but right now, that's what I'm thinking.

PS: After rereading this, I realized I don't have any female authors (except maybe god et al?). I reviewed my bookshelf and I don't actually own many female authors. I wouldn't consider myself a manly man, but what who knows. The closest I come to having more than one book by a female author is Jean Genet and that's not very close at all.


Guacamolification: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Avacado as a Symbol for My Life

The other day I was sitting around for 30 minutes of silence because unlike war dodging "war presidents", "take a stand" follower politicians, and gay or child molesting "family values" conservatives, I try to practice what I preach. I'm not always successful, but I try. Anyway, I was sitting there contemplating the great mysteries of life, among them whether or not my avocados were ready to become guacamole, when I realized I was confronted by one of life's most frustrating mysteries: How can you really tell if an avocado is ready? It needs to be soft but firm, but that balance is much harder to find in an avocado than a tomato or a mango. I swear sometimes I'll know the avocado is rotten but it's actually great, and other times i doubt it's even ready and it's rotten to the core. Sometimes, I think the ripe period for an avocado is measured in hours, other times they sit ripe for days. Then it hit me, the realization, the light shining, the birds chirping, the fire crackling: the avocado is a symbol for life. It is a symbol for women, for sports, for work, for work life balance, for women work life balance, for women sports work life balance, and for this blog. Don't believe me about the blog, just check the title my friend. Like I said, I try to play it straight.

Anyway, ever feel like you can't tell a good woman (or man) when sticking your toe into the lukewarm lap pools of modern dating (Editors note: the narrator originally wrote frozen scum covered ponds of modern dating, but he's trying to be shed his image as a cynic and be more positive given that it's so close to valentines day. Speaking of which, you know valentine's day marks the day the patron saint, Saint Valentine, was beheaded. As the old proverb says, "Nothing celebrates a beheading like chocolates, roses, and sex." I think that's originally from The Iliad, but I can't be sure, it certainly sounds more Homer than Shakespeare somehow. End note). That confusion, that uncertainty, is what I feel contemplating my avocado pile. Which ones are ready? Is she the one for me? If I cut this avocado, will I wish I had cut a different one? If I love her, will I wish I had loved another? This one feels sweet on the outside, but it actually has a moldy core. She seems sweet on the outside..How can you tell? Now put in job or any major life decision for women, and you see the pattern. Life is full of mysteries my friend. Women, blogs, avocados. They seem so different, yet they are so similar.

Since I don't do many life updates here, here is how my day went. I woke up at 4:30 AM to catch a 6:30 flight that left the gate 15 minutes late, sat on the tarmac, an announcement came on we were 15th and would wait another 1/2 hour, then another announcement that the Philly air traffic system was down (another 20 minutes), then the line starting moving. We arrived in Pittsburgh 2 hours late. I got my crappy enterprise rental car. This is the 2nd straight enterprise car where the drive seat can't tilt and it's stuck in a gangster lean as I drove down the expressway to West Virginia. About 2 miles from West Virginia, I was passing a truck, hit an ice patch, did a 360 and ended up in a ditch. 1 guy stopped to see if I was ok, I hope he had chocolate and sex for valentines day, screw everyone who just drove past me. (trying to be positive and less cynical... ahh screw it). In time, I managed to drive out, get to my client, do training for 6 hours, get 2 beers and a crappy sandwich. Now I'm watching the Daily Show and ready to go to bed. That's why I don't blog about my life, nothing happens.

In an effort of full disclosure, it is mildly possible I actually wrote this blog while listening to the song Californication and watching Dr. Strangelove over and over. I'm saying it's just possible. We are what we pretend to be... Actually, I just wanted to use the word guacamolification because it popped in my head and I liked it. I realized the other day when talking to a friend who is getting married that I also like the word nuptials, as in have you and your girlfriend nuptialized yet? My friend commented, and this was funny, "Yeah, it's a good word unless it's about you." True enough. Anyway, I made it a spanish world too - nuptializar, meaning to nuptialize. I'm bringing them both into the vocabulary.

Stop reading this blog, you only 364 days to shop for valentines 2008! Motto for a throwback valentines: "You should behead-ing out to buy me some chocolate." Think about it...


30 minutes of silence

About 1 month ago, I cancelled my digital cable because I was tired of paying Comcast $120/month for internet and cable. Anyone who ever complains about money needs to cancel cable, at a minimum. The cost is ridiculous, and if you can't find another way to fill your time without feeling empty you have problems larger than money to address. Actually, and I won't get into this much, but I think everyone should spend at least 1/2 hour each day in silence. You don't have to sit and think, you can do dishes or sweep or take a walk or whatever, but for 1/2 hour each day, you should be alone with yourself. You should think about your day, or your dreams, or your lover, or politics, or your children, or the world, or whatever - but just give 1/2 hour each day to your mind. Turn off your radio, turn off the tv, and just be for a bit. I want to say I won't count walking because that provides external stimulus (depending where you walk the stimulus changes but it is still there), but I figure it's a start. Besides, we are all getting fat so walking for 1/2 hour is probably good on a mental and physical level. I have, at various points in my life when I have been unhappy for any number of reasons, made myself do this. For a minimum of 1/2 hour, I sit and think about whatever pops in my head (sort of like writing this blog actually). At the beginning, it was hard, the time dragged, I had to build my mind up to it. Through this and other experiences, I firmly believe the mind is a muscle and needs to be exercised to stay fit. Through these exercises, I rediscovered (or recreated?) my ability to entertain myself, to understand myself, to be alone with myself and realize and truly believe that was enough. With time, I gained a much better understanding of myself because the same daydreams returned or the same concerns popped up or the same ideas kept re-occurring. With time, I can focus my mind more quickly and move through more ideas in 1/2 hour, although it is still nice to just let my mind wander. I have seen other ideas where people recommend writing for 10 or 15 minutes a day, whatever is on your mind. Same idea, whatever works for you. I think we all need to be comfortable with ourselves first and until that point, we will never be truly happy with anyone else. We may build dependencies, but they are unhealthy dependencies. It is great to be in love and depend on another person, my point is you need to be comfortable with yourself first.

Speaking of first, I am way off topic again. I can sit in silence for 30 minutes but I can't write for 5 without wandering into the bushes. I'll come back now. Eliminating digital cable means I now have about 40 stations, approximately 30 of which are various public access or smaller local stations. The interesting thing is this prevents me from channel surfing for 4 hours at night, so I spend more time writing this blog, or reading, or writing other things, or doing something else for me. It makes me engage myself in my life, not a passive bystander. For me, that's what I need to do but to each their own. Anyway, I just found a news talk show hosted by an announcer named Tavis Smiley. I have heard Tavis Smiley before on public radio and I have always been a little up in the air on how interesting I find his program. In an effort of full disclosure, Tavis Smiley and his radio show (rather, the ones I have heard) often focus on problems facing "Black America" (NOTE: I say black not African American because I have had a number of Caribbean friends tell me they are obviously black so it's not offensive if used respectfully, but they don't feel any connection to Africa). I am not black nor am I from or largely involved with "black cuases" (quotes added because I obviously suppor equality, I am just not involved with it. Oh forget it, I know what I mean. I'm using Tavis Smiley as an example tonight, don't read to much into it), so part of my issue with him may have been he discusses issues that do not effect me directly. However, I humor myself as empathetic and somewhat aware, so I do listen. Anyway, I listened to him interview Bill Maher and it was interesting, it was a more open side of Tavis I haven't seen before. Has he become my favorite journalist? No, but it was another side of him I haven't heard before on the radio. It was interesting.

My point is I would not have watched that program if I had 223 other stations to watch. I would never have gone to peace corps if I never sat myself down and wondered what I really wanted. I would never have done a lot of things without trying to figure out what would make me happy. I don't care what makes you happy, I just want you to understand what it is. If it's mindlessly watching Fox News and voting republican, then do it (remember, 2nd Wednesday of November is voting day). My point is we get caught up in our lives, and I've been there, but we need to make an effort to escape. The next time I see Tavis Smiley on TV, maybe I'll watch it and I'll learn something. Maybe I'll learn something mare than if I watch a basketball game or Law and Order or a Simpon's re-run, or maybe I won't. Then again, maybe I'll ignore the TV for the entire half hour and try to figure something out for myself. You never know, I might even come up with an idea to fix our tax code.

Quick thoughts on globalization

I wish I had 2 good quotes to use here, one from a purely business standpoint (beauty of the market and all that) and the other from someone who just lost their job due to globalization. The stark reality of globalization is it allows us to buy things cheaper. Imagine what your fancy new iPod would cost if all the parts were American made? You might need home equity to purchase it. People who sell globalization sell it on the fact that you couldn't afford things, or you couldn't afford as many things, if we didn't have globalization, if we didn't sew underwear in China and put computers together in Pakistan or build whatever wherever it is being built.

That's probably true. My concern with globalization, and I'm generally OK with the idea within the appropriate framework, is how it is done. For example, there are number of reasons to move these jobs to lower paying markets. One is the lower cost of living, leading to lower employee salaries. That, obviously, is critical. It is also very difficult to compare cost of living between countries, even though many economists and leading publications have factors. The reason I don't buy these exactly is because many goods are cheaper in developing countries, especially basic (locally grown) fruits, vegetables, and a basic starch which every country seems to have. However, cars, iPods, TVs, radios are all generally the same price or more expensive. So the cost to survive is less, but the cost to live equally may actually be closer to the cost here in the states that is generally reported. It all depends on how much a person consumes, how much of modern consumer hysteria they embrace, that decides cost of living. Remember that we push consumption in the US, we push debt and credit cards - hell, we even push it as patriotic to spend - so we can't argue it's good for america but not for everyone else. Well, we can and we do but we shouldn't. I would argue most proponents of globalization with these statistics (our government, magazines like the economist, other major publications) are pro-globalization and open markets and, therefore, setup the rates accordingly. Ignoring this though, at it's core, it is cheaper to live in these countries.

Another reason to move overseas is tax breaks. This actually happens right now as companies play states off each other to attract factories and jobs. The state may help to build the factory or provide many years of tax breaks in order to lure a factory and thousands of jobs. It's like building a sports team a stadium because the team "brings the community together." It's welfare for super rich people who can buy sports teams worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. It's bullshit. Regardless, I can't argue playing countries off each other is bad if we do it in Penn and NJ, so I'll let it go. I think it should be addressed nationally, but it won't, so there isn't any hope for international law here. There are more important issues anyway.

A third issue with globalization is the difference in pollution laws. Many smaller countries do not have the laws or the enforcement in place to properly prosecute pollution mills. In fact, if they do have these laws, chances are they would not get the factory or the factory will leave. As much as our car culture and our refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol are effecting global warming, we may be doing more global damage by poisoning drinking waters and making open landfills. This may not be as drastic an issue, but it is as important. It is another argument that capitalism is brutal, it directly kills people, and America is a heartless monster that refuses to hold her citizens accountable. I am counting corporations as citizens because they have become our own aristocracy, incredibly wealthy and glorified in our papers regardless. Remember, Jack Welch from GE started as a butcher, laying off thousands of people. He retired a King. Short memories are a failure we all share. Anyway, it is my opinion that America's lack of positive leadership around the world will have as big an impact on any future events (and I think they will be violent) as any sort of religious confrontation. If you follow money to the ends of the earth, won't it be easy for someone to follow behind with a sword?

I read part of a book by a NY Times contributor (Friedman I think?) called Lexus and the Olive Tree about globalization. I couldn't finish it, I tried a few different times. He made the argument at the beginning that it is irrelevant what he thought of globalization because he couldn't stop it. Then he proceeded to write about how right it was. It is obviously right for us, we win. Is it right for other countries? It provides jobs and needed infrastructure (roads, ports, etc). But does the country win? A few jobs for miles of polluted waters? What percentage of that money really helps the country's schools or medical facilities? If we do a little tiny bit of good when we could do a lot, what does that mean? Should I be happy we aren't doing all bad? Or should we all rise up and hold ourselves more accountable for what we buy and what we allow our corporations to do in our name. You may not think it is in your name, but America itself is like a corporation selling open markets. If they destroy the world, then we will all be accountable in the eyes of our global neighbors. And we all should be. There are better frameworks we could be selling. These include allowing foreign wages to be controlled there, but holding companies to either American standards or agree to international environmental standards, as well as linking the companys profits to development/educational programs in the countries. I realize there is a lot of corruption around the world (including the US, check out accounting reports in New Orleans and Iraq's american consultants), but this would be a start in the right direction. Making money is not a goal, it's a by product of our lives. We happen to need money to live, but our limits define us human. What would you do for someone you love, or what won't you do for $100 define our character. Hiding behind corporate profits is inhumane and should be criminal. Besides, the people who do that, the "corporate leaders," really show their weaknesses as leaders and people. And for the rest of us who sit idly back and enjoy the profits of this work?

Righteous indignation might sound ok in a blog, but am I willing to pay $600 for my next iPod? Or $24 for underwear? Do I do everything I can do to stop it and stop supporting it? Everything begins internally, everything begins by looking in the mirror. "ooh, nice haircut" said the author as he looked in the mirror. What do I see in the mirror? Is it enough?


Employment at will

A friend of mine has an essay to write about at will employment and wondered what I thought. Actually, he was looking to quote me as, to use his words, "a scion of cyberspace." At will employment basically means I can leave when I want and you can fire me when you want. It sounds easy, logical, good open market for people to whore themselves - excuse me - apply their skills at various companies to receive the best salary, benefits, commute, vacation time, whatever you may be looking for. In general, I agree that an open human capital market is a good thing because it gives flexibility to the work force in general and, more importantly, me in particular. This blog is all about me after all. Love me love me! You don't become a "scion of cyberspace" without a little ego!

Anyway, is this type of arrangement between workers and employers a good thing? At first glance, as I said above, I say yes. However, I think we need to look into this with our depth perception glasses, as uncomfortable as those may be. A flexible employee market, where employees can trade off skills to the highest bidder and management can eliminate low performing employees, is a great market mechanism to keep America productive. It rewards excellence, and skills, and creativity. It, in other words, rewards people who are already winning. It helps people with strong skills develop better skills, which enables us to get even higher paying jobs where they continue to develop us! In general, this system helps people who are educated and/or went to college, people from better high schools (feeds into college I agree but it has some other effects), people who are naturally leaders and those who develop these skills, drive, determination, etc. Basically, the free labor market is a great tool to separate the "winners", or people who can function in corporate America, from "losers", people who cannot. When I say cannot, I am speaking in very general terms of people with less eduction or desire or motivation or, as a friend would say, someone who has many barriers (lack of education, children at home, no family, low confidence from one of the previous items, etc).

The free labor market, over time, in my opinion, separates us into winners and losers. Actually, I believe everything about capitalism as a major system of our economy and our lives creates this division. A few years back, actually many years back, there was an article in The New Yorker about Karl Marx. You may have heard of him, he was a bit of a trouble maker and tried to stir up all the working class (proletariat) against the big, powerful, bourgeoisie. He even helped express the idea of communism (or socialism, not sure which), the adoption of which caused a bit of world strife for a few years in the in 1900s. Anyway, one of Marx's arguments against capitalism is that the worker loses out and the manager wins. He argued that it would drive man against man and chain us all into a sort of slavery to objects. He also argued that with time, capitalism would create great divides between winners and losers. The article argued that regardless of what one thought of communism as a political idea, his criticism of capitalism was extremely strong and profound, and in many was becoming true. That argument has only strengthened in the 10 years or so since I read that. In other words, you might not like his solution but you can't fault his argument. The article argued he should be recognized at least as much for his criticism of capitalism as for his support for communism. As an aside, he never truly created a document for implementing and running a communist state, which is a big gap in his legacy. Instead, he focused on pro-commy propaganda and capitalist criticisms. Just something to keep in mind as you judge his role in the failed communist states of history, past present and future.

Anyway, it appears he was correct. The divide between the winners and losers may actually be increasing, or as people often phrase it, the middle class is disappearing. The winners are winning and the losers are losing. The losers are not only losing here in America, where they were barely able to make a living wage (remember it has been 10 years since we increased minimum wage, which means every year a minimum wage earners actually loses money from the previous year. How the minimum wage isn't just tied to annual inflation, just like legislative salaries should be, is beyond me.), they are now losing more because jobs are moving overseas. It is actually cheaper to sew clothing in China and ship it to America than it is to do that here. Fine, I like cheap clothing. However, the only way for such a free labor market to work is through retraining people who lose jobs to do other jobs. This is the only way the entire globalized economy won't collapse through tariffs and other protectionism. As jobs leave a country (ie the US), the government and the companies must re-train portions of the population to work in other industries. Why is it in the companies interest? If people hate the company or don't have jobs, they can't buy anything. People hate Walmart, but a lot of people shop there. Why? Prices. Actually, I read an article a few years back called the 2nd place advantage. The article was probably in the Economist because it sounds like something they would say but who knows. Anyway, the article argued that being 2nd in an industry can actually be a good thing because you don't get the negative publicity. There is a lot of anger against Coke in developing countries and WalMart here, but the statistics say both Pepsi and Target have very similar practices. You just don't know it because they aren't the leader. Think about that when you shop or complain - it's probably best to research the issue a bit but I wouldn't be surprised if it were true.

All right so I went way off topic there. The topic is open markets. I think the concept is good, but I'm probably in the winning bracket if I choose to be. I am educated, I have experience, and I have some savings. I already dropped out of my life once for 2 years, returned, and am considering doing it again. I'm spoiled. Most of my friends are in the same situation to varying degrees. So what? I don't feel guilty for it, but I do realize the freedom I have means that other people do not have these freedoms. What is our other option? Return to the days when you worked at a company for 40 years, received a pension, went home to you picket fence, and lived happily ever after? I don't like that either.

This little rant was all over the place. In the next few days, I'll try to take out pieces and expand on them. Basically, the issue of at will employment is necessary to create a global economy, it is necessary to have a flexible economy, and it is necessary to keep me sane. However, it is a sidecar from our capitalistic motorcycle, and like all motorcycles, it is dangerous. That's a dumb analogy but I don't care. I'm a scion, remember?


Disagreeing properly

It seems to me we have a great lack of intelligent discourse in this country right now. What bothers me most is that we aren't even talking about the root issues. For example, people posturing for presidential runs are saying things like "if I knew then what I know now about Iraq I wouldn't have voted for it..." I interpret this as saying if there were weapons of mass destruction I would not be against the war or the troop escalation. Let's play a thought game for a minute and take a theoretical look back at would could have happened. If we invaded Iraq, removed Saddam, took over the country, chaos takes over as it has BUT we found enriched uranium or other strong evidence of WMDs. What would be different? Well, the world at large might be slightly more supportive of the war but I don't see how Iraq would not be still in chaos. Is there anything in the finding of some sort of WMD stockpile that means Iraq would now be a nice, stable, peaceful society? Of course not, I think Iraq would be in more or less the same state regardless. You voted on your politics 4 years ago, don't deny it. If there were WMDs, what would you say now? Yes, Iraq is absolute chaos but we found WMDs, so we should send in 21,500 more troops? And what the hell, let's get Iran too just in case? That's a terrible argument, but I think it's the argument being made.

To me, the root cause of disagreement is rarely the focus of debate. I blame the media for not pushing it and politicians for not having the strength to point this out. Let's take another example: abortion. What is the abortion debate? Well, it looks like an argument of women's choice versus pro-life. If I break this down in my head, the debate is a single point, something that a physicist would call a singularity, and here it is: when does human life begin? If life begins at conception, then abortion is murder and already covered by existing murder laws. If life begins at birth or when the fetus can feel pain or when the fetus looks like a little tiny human or at some point after conception, then, in your opinion, after that point, abortion should be murder. However, before this point, it is not and should be legal. Is it possible to believe life begins at conception but that abortion should still be legal? How does that work? It's OK to kill really tiny lives? If so, email me because I can't get my head around that one but I'm open to considering it. Ignoring complexity of rape or incest, I don't think that is a rational argument. To me, and I realize this might seem like an oversimplification although I don't think it is so I beg your patience , the core question (indeed, the only question or, perhaps more accurately, the initial question) in the abortion debate is only when life begins. However, that is not the debate I see on TV or in the magazines. As I understand it, and I'm no legal scholar, abortion is legal based on a right to privacy. If you believe conception begins at birth, abortion is murder plain and simple. If you don't believe that, then, and only then, can you believe the women should have the right to terminate her pregnancy. There isn't any right to privacy if you kill your 3 year old in your own home? However, a 3 year old is obviously human. A fetus? I agree that is open for debate. If only it were the debate... The Supreme Court needs to rule on when life begins and that will define the law. I think the Supreme Court should take that up, but not until I'm sure that my side will win...

For the record, I agree with the "women's right to privacy" issue only because I don't think a fetus is a life until it is born. That is why I think stem cell research should be legal. That's me, feel free to have your opinion. Don't worry, I don't mind, I accept the fact there are lots of wrong people in the world.

You know what's odd about this blog? I intended to talk about Exxon and their extreme profit. Hmm, maybe I'll get to that later.


Save the whales! And the humenguins!

A friend of mine pointed out a headline on The Onion that reads, "In Order to Save The Whales, We Must Breed With Them". Now that's an interesting idea, but I think it's a little infeasible given the size difference between a normal human and whales. I think it's even probably a bit of a stretch for male porn stars. So I was thinking about how we could use this type of logic to truly save an endangered species that might be just a little cuter, maybe a little more manageable size wise, and, why not, is already a movie and media superstar.

That's right, I am talking about penguins. Or the creation of humenguins! Think about it: penguins are cute, everybody loves penguins, and they have all the media attention after a big sappy documentary about penguin mating and a cartoon about a dancing penguin. To go a step further, I promote that we encourage, not force but encourage, people from warm weather countries to procreate with penguins so the penguin receives some genes that make it more adaptable to warmer climates. Think how cute the waddling little humenguins would be, strolling along South Beach without any ill effect. Also if we took a penguin, already black and white, and mated it with a Latino or Indian and raised our little humenguin as a Muslim, is there any place in the world it would not be welcome? I don't think so.

Paternity vacation

After watching almost all my coworkers "work from home" at some point over the last few weeks because their children were sick, it occurred to me I was being treated unfairly. I am being oppressed. I can't just work from home whenever I want and blame it on my kids. "Love to come into work today but you know got this kid, sniffles, day care won't take him. Call my cell to wake me up and I'll let you know what I'm working on." It's terrible, it's unjust, and quite frankly, I'm not taking it anymore. Does anyone ever verify the child is sick? No. People take maternity and paternity leave, but does anyone truly verify the child exists? I don't think so.

I figure I have a few options, last on the list being marriage and children. Number one on the list is to manipulate the loophole I mentioned above, namely that nobody ever really asks for proof the child is sick. However, everyone knows I don't have a child but what they don't know is how little I care for this collective "reality" we share. I am hoping to take a 2-4 week trip to Central America at the end of April for a friends wedding and some travel, and I figure why couldn't I be on "paternity leave?"

I thought about asking for paternity leave on the basis of some artistic, metaphorical rebirth. This would entail me arguing, and my company buying into the fact that I will be "reborn" after my trip, basically I would be "giving birth to my true self." I don't think those jokers would go for it, they don't have the ability for abstract creativity like we do. So I thought, why not just say I am actually having a child? Who is going to check? I'll say some tramp seduced me one night as I walked around Philadelphia and then she disappeared until just the other day she tracked me down. And she wasn't really alone. I'm going to be the father of an illegitimate child that is due around April 28th, which is conveniently when my friend gets married. Who is going to check? I'll take a picture of some baby in Honduras and who is going to know? I'll make up stories about the birth, complain about our pediatrician, whine about how quickly they grow, same as my coworkers. "Hey, do you know a good pediatrician? Mine is fabulous but he's so hard to get into see. Sometimes, I think he is just doing it for the money." "Isn't this picture adorable? They get big so fast don't they?" with a nostalgic sigh. I've got it down.

The only problem I can foresee is my coworkers might ask how I got so tan being on paternity leave. I thought about going abstract again, using my son (sun?) as an excuse and saying he was actually born as a true sun. Nothing but a big ball of hydrogen and helium glowing in the dark, no wonder my fake one-time lover was always so warm during the pregnancy. It's abstract, but who is going to call a new father on that? Then I could use the ongoing son is sick routine whenever I felt like taking a day off. If I got tired of the child, I could just say he got sick, turned himself into a black hole and disappeared just like most teenagers.

It seems to me this is a pretty foolproof plan. I am just a little concerned with the fake mother of my imaginary child. She doesn't want to get married and make an honest man of me, and her language is terrible, she swears constantly and sleeps with men she just met on the street. What kind of environment is that for a child, even a make believe one? I can't take care of the child, I'm not ready. Arrgg, the stress of even conceptualizing my imaginary son drives me crazy. Sigh. Maybe I can't pull this off. I'll have to find a plan B. It's so unfair though.