Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Driving off the Road

The last two weeks have been strange. I look at my calendar, and I think, busy day. Lots of things on the agenda, lots of projects bubbling. But somewhere around 11am I find, wait a minute, this day isn't so bad after all, I have tons of time.

I'm left a bit bewildered by it all -- it's like driving on a narrow road between two high cliffs and then suddenly coming around the corner and finding the cliffs have fallen away and you're face to face with an enormous expanse. And it's so wide open, you almost drive completely off the road.

So there's this sense of everything opening up. And then, come day's end I think to myself, Wow. I got so little done. Busy day.


My Favorite Cat Video

I would never have predicted I would ever have a blog entry about cat videos. It probably says something about the state of my mind at present... Ranger, needs exercise, badly.

Monday, April 27, 2009

On (and Off) the Hook

Midtown Starbucks, 3:30pm, Monday.

Businesswoman: Well, I wanted to tell you, we were very impressed with your resume. You've got a really excellent set of credentials and some fantastic experience.

Candidate: Thank you.

Businesswoman: You're welcome. We were all very impressed.

Candidate: Thanks. That's great. I'm glad.

Businesswoman: No, we were! And we thought you had so many strengths in so many areas, all of the skills we need, except for one area, and that is actual management. Working with the unions, working with customers who have questions.

Candidate: Right. OK.

Businesswoman: And you know, a lot of things you can learn on the job. You've certainly had a lot of experience in everything else. But you would need to learn. Because, what do you do if someone comes and we're all sold out but they have a reservation? Which things need to be addressed by unions, which don't? You could definitely learn it all, there's no question of that, but you don't have that experience right now.

Candidate: No, you're right, I don't.

Businesswoman: And other candidates have experience in this. But they don't have some of the experience you have in other areas.

Candidate: Hmm.

Businesswoman: So Jamie and Curtis and I had to really talk about this. We really worked hard and struggled with this.

Candidate: Ok.

Businesswoman: And we've decided that we don't think you have the qualifications for the job.

Candidate: Ah.

Businesswoman: Not that you couldn't have the qualifications, because you totally could. But the thing is, you don't right now. You have all sorts of other parts that we are actually looking for, but you don't have this.
And I wanted to tell you in person because we were really impressed with you. If you had a little experience in this one area, you would be an ideal candidate.


Businesswoman: And personally, I don't believe in form letters or calls on answering machine messages. I feel like people are so much better happier -- I mean, I know, you're not thrilled, you're probably not psyched that I'm telling you you didn't get the job, you're probably like God, this really sucks. But when we can sit down and talk, and I can be like, you are really great, but you need help with this one area, I think that's helpful.

Candidate: Hmm. Well...thank you. I ... understand. I do want to say, I have worked for a number of start-ups, and that work always involves having to learn new things very quickly, doing in-depth research. I feel very confident at this point in doing that.

Businesswoman: Mm-hmm. Yeah. But you don't have that experience right now. You could have it, you so could, but you don't, not yet, and so what if we hire you and then what happens if someone is locked out? Or there's a problem in the kitchen. How do you handle that? Could you figure it out -- of course you could. But you don't know right now.

Candidate: Hmm. Uh, Ok. Well...

Businesswoman: But I just want to say, your resume is really, really impressive. Seriously. (laughs) I'm not laughing at you, I'm just really impressed.

Swine Flu, Anyone?

As the world worries about outbreaks of swine flu (it's even in Australia, if you can believe that), did you know that there was great fear of a Swine Flu Epidemic in the 1970s? A number of public service announcements were done as television commercials. And thanks to the glory that is Youtube, here they are, straight from the 1970s, for us to enjoy!

Is that second one disturbing, or what? How could people dress like that?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Not To Be Read While Eating

So, in researching the whole "technicolor load" phenomenon, I came across two other tidbits.

First, have you ever wondered why animals sometimes eat their own feces? It turns out, it's not because they're too stupid to know better. Rather, doing so has certain health benefits. Rabbits and certain other animals are actually unable to completely digest their food the first time around (so to speak). They need to "double dip" in order to get all the nutrients. It's like cows chewing cud... just nastier.

Other animals, such as dogs, eat poop because it has vitamins and protein in it. In fact, if you've ever seen your dog chewing on your cat's poop, this is because cat poop is actually very high in protein.

Tastes like chicken.  

And speaking of eating feces (how's that for a transition?), second, pretty much all of us do. Not like a sandwich, I mean, but in very small amounts, usually in our sleep. Most human beings have pinworms, which are tiny little creatures that live in your intestines, largely minding their own business, and emerging only to lay eggs right on the outskirts of the anus. 

(Like I said, this is not a blog entry to be reading over sloppy joes.)  

Their egg laying makes us itch, and that's intentional -- momma pinworm wants us to scratch the area, thereby scooping up some of her microscopic eggs under our fingernails. And then, the next time those fingers come to our mouths -- which often enough happens while we continue to sleep -- those eggs end up on their way down our digestive track, where they need to be to hatch and continue the species. (It's like an ant farm in your intestines.)

If you want to know for sure whether you have pinworms, there is a test you can do, but you'll have to Google it yourself. Even I have my limits.

Hi! I live in your colon!

For more on poop.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

TMI: Part 2 -- Color My World

So, yesterday I mentioned that my evacuations are emerald. As you might imagine, I wondered about that, after a few days, and so I've done some research on what we might call dookie hues.

As you might expect, the dye of one's droppings has a lot to do with what's in it. For instance -- have you ever eaten lots of food that has food coloring in it (for instance, at a Star Trek party where the cook decided to make all the food look like it's from Klingon)? If so, you know that the food coloring doesn't quit "on entry".

So, too, certain foods in and of themselves can affect the coloration of one's ... . Beets turn poop red. Lots of lettuce can actually turn poop green. (Not exactly my problem.)

But the main ingredient in the hue of one's helping is blood. Bilirubin is a pigment created through the breakdown of red blood cells in the liver and bone marrow. It's part of the material expunged after eating. And it gives poop its natural shade.

Blood has a lot to do with poop's other shades, too. Black bowel movements are usually a sign of partially digested blood -- not a good sign. Red release usually means bleeding -- also not a good sign. And in adults yellow can means there's less bilirubin in it, or that you have a giardia parasite infection, which has to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control, and so is definitely not a good sign.

But what about bird poop, you ask? It's white. Well, I'm glad you mentioned it. Bird poop is actually a little bit different. The waste products from the kidneys of birds don’t come out as urine but as uric acid, which is a white paste. So, when you're sitting on a park bench and you get nailed by a high-flying pigeon, they didn't crap on you, they peed on you. Or they did both -- bird "pee" actually emits from the same place as their poop.

So, green -- yes, it can come from lots of leafy vegetables. It can also come from having a lot of iron in your diet -- meat, fish, greens. And apparently that's the current situation for me. It's not dangerous, just ...well, veridian.

Monday, one more set of thoughts to share on this. Be prepared...

Susan Boyle Fans Take Note

From my new post on America's In All Things Blog:
Everywhere I look this week, all I hear about is Susan Boyle, the British woman who wowed the judges of "Britian's Got Talent" with her performance of "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables. She's got a great voice, a nice story and a wonderfully pleasant, funny personality.

But that's not why we're talking about her. There are lots of great singers with great stories on these sorts of shows. No, we're talking about her because her performance revealed our prejudice, namely that ordinary or unattractive people have nothing to offer. Ms. Boyle, as we all know by know, is not your normal talent/reality show contestant; she's not 20 with pre-whitened teeth, porcelain skin and perfect hair. She is 47 and very ordinary -- like most of us, really. And when we first saw her we assumed she was a joke.

Click here for the rest...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

TMI: Part 1

My bowel movements currently look like something from the Wizard of Oz or the Incredible Hulk. If I went to the bathroom at an investment bank, it might well be the only thing green the bankers there would have seen in almost a year.

I know, I know, I am actually writing about human excrement. I'm actually nervous to do so -- will I offend?

And that's sort of interesting -- just the mention of terms like "poop", "excrement", "toilet" or "fecal matter" -- and we get uncomfortable. Even revolted. Yet every day we poop (well, most of us) and sometimes frequently (oy vey); it is as natural as breathing, and not doing it is just as deadly as not breathing, too. Every living creature in the world does it, in one way or another. In fact, if you think about it, our world is probably filled with microscopic dookies. Filled. (Those wonderful dust motes you see gently wafting through the sunlight? Probably poop. The dust you wipe off your desktop? Poop. The unseen layer on top of your ice cream? Dead skin cells and poop.)

Maybe it's the smell that causes the very mention of the term to so freak us out. (And the people say, ya think?) It certain is... fragrant. Its scent, I have discovered in trying to research the possible causes of my own verdant vacuations, actually comes from the active bacteria in it. Poop consists of water (3/4ths of poop is water, in fact); dead bacteria who die in the digestive process; fiber (i.e. stuff we can't digest); protein, dead cells and live bacteria. Apparently some of those live bacteria, produce that smell. (One guy I found online wondered whether we couldn't create a food additive that would make our poop smell better. It's probably just a matter of time. Of course, it will make us sterile, but if we're smelling like roses, really, who cares?)

Or maybe it's the way it looks. It certainly does revolt us to look at it, doesn't it? But if you dug a hole and watered it, and then scooped up a pile of warm, wet mud, it might not look that different, but we wouldn't freak. Or if I made an Angelfood cake and shaped it like poop -- yeah, disgusting in theory, but would its looks actually horrify us? I don't think so.

Or it could be the fact that it has all those germs in it. If you eat your own poop, you could get very sick. But since when are we talking about eating our own poop? And if we want to go there, the thing is -- put your fork down now -- we are eating our own poop. Really. We just don't know about it. Wait until we talk about pinworms....

Probably it's some of the above and social convention. We're taught it's disgusting from the first moments of our lives, and so we go through our lives reacting to it like it's some combination of toxic waste and the Hunta virus. When in fact it's the normal stuff that comes out of us after every meal.

I know, it's a strange perspective. But when your poop comes in technicolor, well, it opens your eyes. Pardon me for saying so, but I shit you not.

More later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

America's Anniversary

Last weekend America Magazine celebrated its 100th anniversary. The first issue was dated April 17, 1909, and I am told -- though it's probably impossible to verify -- in the years in between there has never been an interruption of service. Today the magazine is perhaps the 4th oldest periodical in the country. It's also the largest Catholic weekly in the United States -- in fact, it's pretty much the only Catholic weekly that remains.

Photos of our 50th anniversary show a packed house of religious and donors at a black tie dinner in Manhattan. There were so many people, they didn't all fit in the photo. In the congregation at St. Ignatius Church on Saturday I'd say we had about 300, most of whom stayed for a wonderful drinks and hors d'veours reception afterwards in the church hall.

And as I sat looking out on that congregation during the liturgy, a funny question bubbled to mind -- what exactly are we presiding over? Certainly a mass of thanksgiving: the magazine has been through tough times on many occasions; in the first year the editor-in-chief blew through a hundred thousand dollars (over a million dollars in today's terms), and when he exited at the end of that year there was about $50 in the bank. Most of the editors-in-chief over the magazine's history have likewise been removed, sometimes because it's time for them to go and they don't want to, other times because they can't balance the books or they really, really don't play well with others. And sometimes all of the above.

But still the magazine has continued, and even thrived. Editors have been consulted by presidents. They've written in all the major newspapers and magazines, and on many television networks, too. And in certain eras the magazine has had enormous influence over Catholic culture, even leading the course of discussion. As Catholics we don't believe that happens on its own, or simply by luck. It says something about the graciousness of God.

At the same time, I wondered if we weren't presiding over an ending of some kind, too. Not that America is closing up shop anytime soon. In fact, even as other publications are really hemorrhaging subscriptions, our own remain pretty steady.
But will there be an America Magazine in another 100 years? Or even in 10 years? It's hard to say. The world is changing rapidly, and as we adapt, the purposes of old things fade. The very notion of a print publication may soon be like dial phones or the post-up boards we used to use to make the pages before the dawn of Quark, a distant memory.

Our celebration was anything but funereal; but if we were marking among other things an ending of some kind, it seemed like the best kind of ending, a Christian kind, one with some further, as-of-now unimaginable act yet to come.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Second News Story You Have to Read to Believe

So, you're in the doctor's office/unemployment line/police station, and you're filling out one of those initial questionnaires -- Name, Address, Date of Birth. You get to the line for religion. What's your answer?

10 employees of the Scottish Police gave a most intriguing response...

Call me when you have the swords and interstellar travel...

That's what I'm talking about!

A News Story You Have to Read to Believe

From Germany: Doc Morris Pharmacies is running a set of condom ads that propose that one should use protection because the child you may otherwise have could turn out to be a world class sociopath. The large sperm (right) represents a future Adolf Hitler. (Seriously.)

Others include Chairman Mao...

...and Osama Bin Laden. (That's where he's been hiding.)

"Be safe, because your children could be a danger to everyone" -- how dark is your world?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


This evening after work I climbed from the subway into the grey overcast drizzle of a New York evening in mid-April. A cool breeze wanders by, without much force or sense of direction. And we who emerge to the street are much the same, spinning off into little eddies that gradually lose steam.

It's been weeks, maybe months since I've paid much attention to the world around me. Our winters have none of the brutality of New England or the Midwest, but still, by February I've withdrawn into a cocoon to wait for better days.

And while this gloomy dusk is hardly what I'm hoping for, looking up Sixth Avenue I'm surprised to see a sudden explosion of white blossoms on all the trees. For a moment it takes me completely by surprise, and I wonder if this was what it felt like the first time I saw hard yellow kernels erupt into popcorn.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Notre Dame: The Nyquil Theory

For the last couple of weeks there's been a lot of furor over the fact that Barack Obama has been invited to speak at Notre Dame's graduation. In fact, over 200 thousand people signed a petition asking the school to dis-invite him. Numerous bishops have attacked the decision, as well, while others, including the superior of the Holy Cross order that founded Notre Dame, have called on Obama to use this moment to speak on the issue and reconsider his point of view.

If you go to our blog you can see plenty of dialogue about the whole situation. Here are a couple of my thoughts...

1) The issues of life -- which includes not only abortion but things like care for the elderly and euthenasia, war and the death penalty -- form a significant set of fault lines in Western culture, particularly American culture. And none of us do anything constructive to deal with these tensions by trying to suppress the conversation. It's a power move, rather than a rationale one, and offers nothing of substance to address the underlying questions and concerns about such things as when life begins and its value at various times.

For me, it's sort of like taking Nyquil. Nyquil is great when you're laying in bed with the flu and cannot get to sleep. It suppresses the symptoms, and bingo, sleep like a baby. But the next morning you feel like garbage again, because Nyquil only suppresses symptoms. Alone, it doesn't attack the underlying cause of my illness. If I want to make progress on that front, I have to be patient. (And perhaps consider other approaches, too.)

I think it is very, very likely that President Obama agreed to the invitation precisely because he saw that the only way for all of us to move forward is for us to try and forge some sort of common ground. And rest assured, no matter how one side or the other is demonized, there is common ground to be found.

2) Inviting someone to speak need not be a validation of their point of view. And one way of making that clear, which a number of people seem to be suggesting, is to give honorary degrees to every major invited speaker. Boston College Law School grappled with just this issue last spring, in fact, after the school invited the Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who had spoken in favor of torture, as its graduation speaker. Originally he was set to receive the school's highest award, the Founder's Medal. But after a number of alumni, faculty and students spoke out against this, the school backpedaled. (And thank goodness they did, as his speech largely justified the approach of the Bush Administration, and suggested that a refusal to support torture constituted being "timid" and "risk-averse".)

3) There's something terribly, terribly inhospitable in telling an invited guest that they're not welcome. It's hard to see how this strategy can actually be somehow morally acceptable, in fact, when it seems so incredibly rude. We would never accept this behavior from our children. So how can we possibly accept it as appropriate behavior for adults?

I admire the bishops and others for their willingness to continue to speak out on this issue when much of the culture largely ignores their point of view. And I think some of their emotion comes out of a very clear (and accurate) sense that the American cultural perceptions of "life" have potentially disastrous consequences that are themselves being "spun" away.

At the same time, the stridency of some is neither becoming nor helpful. No one listens long to someone screaming at them. And really, should they?

Why is This Popular?

Over 2 million people have watched this clip of a British "congressman" attacking the Prime Minister. It's very spirited, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why it is so popular...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Coolest Thing I Heard This Easter

So, it's over. The Easter Triduum -- that is, the high holy days of Holy Week -- Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. Phew!

When I was a kid, I don't think we went to any of the services except Sunday. I can remember as I got serious about becoming a Jesuit all this talk about a "Triduum", and thinking, what's all this, then? (And more importantly, is it mandatory?)

These days, lo, so many years later, what I like about these services is how they offer so many different doorways into an experience of God. There's all the normal stuff, which is good, but then there's also lots of unique moments -- the washing of the feet; the veneration of the cross; the use of darkness and fire; the singing of the Exultet. And on and on. There may be too much in any one year for any of us, but if you've never gone to any of these services, it's worth trying one or another, because each can be rewarding in a pretty unique way.

So, my favorite moment this year: I was at a service on Good Friday at Boston College's St. Mary's Chapel. And in the homily, the priest told this story:
My sister has a friend whose daughter was diagnosed with a terrible disease that required a blood transfusion to fix, but she had a very rare blood type.

And the only match was the girl's 9 year old brother. And when his parents explained that his donation would save his sister's life, he agreed. But he seemed upset. And his mother thought perhaps he was worried about his sister, but she didn't push him.

After the transfusion, his sister all well, it came out that the little boy had not been upset because he thought his sister was going to die, but because he thought in giving his blood to his sister, HE was going to die. So basically, he had agreed to the transfusion thinking it would kill him.
And then the priest said this:
The true measure of our generosity is not how much we give, but how much we keep for ourselves.

How about that for challenging! Crikey!

How did God speak to you this Easter?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Penny for your Thoughts

It's funny how being away from a place for a while gives you new perspective on it when you return.

For instance, New York never seemed so crowded as when I got back from my tertianship. Downtown Melbourne, Australia had its pushy-crowd moments, but for the most part when I think of Australia I recall the wide open space, and the general ease of pace. Returning, it was hard not to be shocked by the pointy-elbows-out, in-the-paint-banging of Midtown Manhattan. But we've talked of this before...

Another thing which I've noticed more since returning is the American penny. Australian currency, with its 1 and 2 dollar pieces, is even more based on coin than our own. But they don't have a penny. They barely use a nickel, even. 10 cents is often the smallest amount you'd get back, and even that seems like a total waste of coinage.

Before going, I would have thought the penny a necessity, given the random costs of things, including tax. Things don't always come to an even number (or a multiple of 5).

But the truth is, they can. You just round up or down.

Today commerce works in quarters at the minimum -- and that's for a gumball -- and usually dollars or half dollars. (We rarely see a magazine for $3.05 or $3.20, for example. It's going to be $2.95 or $3.50.) The penny is like the appendix, an evolutionary remnant.

And in fact, I think that's actually true: I was at a baseball game with a couple older Jesuits last fall. And one was saying, when he used to go to Yankees games 60 years ago, it was 10 cents to get in. "10 cents was real money then," he said.

And... the penny dropped (couldn't resist it): the penny, the nickel, the dime -- these are really more or less remnants of the era he remembered. Even when I was a kid in the 1970s and 80s, candy or soda was 25-50 cents, a comic book would cost you 35 cents ... the point being, small change had some buying power. But not today.

It all makes me wonder what the heck are we doing using the penny? Why do we bother? For all intents and purposes it's useless, and we should eliminate it. But something tells me that's not high on the priority list of the federal government these days....

So here's another idea. We have all these pennies. We don't use them. But in other countries, a penny really still is a lot of money. So what if we put our pennies in piggy banks like we did as kids, and when the banks get full, we take that money and sent it to people or services where it actually means something. I've got a pamphlet on my desk for the Catholic Medical Mission Board. They help people all over the world (actually an astonishing 96% of what they raise goes to the services they support), and according to their information, a gift of $20 can provide a kid with basic vitamins that they need to survive for a whole year. $50 can distribute vaccines for mumps, measles or rubella for 100 infants. and other organizations likewise allow you to give money as small as $25 that is collected and given as small loans called microloans to farmers, merchants and others in countries where $25 is again a lot more money than it is here.

Or, if you're looking for something closer to home, How about Red Cloud Indian School? Something like 70% of their yearly operating budget (which last I checked was around $10 million) has to be raised every year. That can't be easy these days...

All of us want to do good in the world. And it's harder to figure out how to do that, or even to pay attention to that, when there's so much economic downturn and anxiety. But even now, even if we're out of work, we can all do something. (And you can be assured, if we're feeling the pinch in the States, people in the developing world are enduring far worse.)

Most of the time I see pennies these days, they're lying on the sidewalk, in the street. They're useless. But collect them and send them off to someone in need, and they can still make a difference.

Friday, April 3, 2009

New Word of the Day: Starma

Starma -- the belief that one's ability to get a seat at Starbucks is directly proportional to whether or not one leaves them your change.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Call China On Your iPhone For Nothing

Skype, the Web Phone Giant, Brings Cheap Calls to Cellular

Published: March 29, 2009 (New York Times)

SAN FRANCISCO — Skype, the Internet calling service that has more than 400 million users around the world, is aggressively moving onto mobile phones.

The Luxembourg-based company, a division of eBay, plans to announce on Tuesday that it will make its free software available immediately for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch and, beginning in May, for various BlackBerry phones, made by Research in Motion.

Other companies have already made software for those phones that works with Skype, but it does not offer all of the service’s features.

As with Skype on the computer, users of Skype on mobile phones can make calls and send instant messages to other Skype users free, and they pay lower rates than the phone companies would charge when they use Skype to call landlines or other mobile phones.

This year, Skype announced versions of its software for Nokia phones and phones running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Google’s Android operating systems.

Apple will limit Skype’s use on the iPhone somewhat, allowing Skype calls to be made only when the device is connected to local Wi-Fi networks, and not allowing Skype calls over the data networks of its carrier partners like AT&T. Apple imposes the same restrictions on all voice applications in its App Store.

The idea of bringing Skype to mobile phones has always been viewed by cellular operators as potentially threatening. It opens up the possibility that people will use their data plans to make calls using Skype, instead of the more expensive and profitable voice minutes on the carriers’ cellular networks.

“The carriers are in the business of selling voice minutes. For a long time they saw products like Skype coming along and they were concerned,” said Ben Wood, director of Research at the London-based CCS Insight, a market research firm. “But it turned out a little bit different than they expected.”

Mr. Wood said many carriers had modified their views about so-called voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VoIP, services. In some cases, Skype has proved to be appealing to consumers and a competitive advantage for a carrier over its rivals.

Skype tested its service in London in the last two years with Hutchison 3, a British mobile network. It said it drew more customers to Hutchison 3 and increased its revenue for each user, since people were making calls on their cellphones using Skype that high calling rates would have discouraged otherwise.

Scott Durchslag, Skype’s chief operating officer, said he did not think the limitations on using Skype on the iPhone would be a big drawback for users, since Wi-Fi networks have become common.

However, he said he hoped Apple and AT&T would relax restrictions and let people make Skype calls anywhere they roamed. “We think these things should work on any device, any network, at any time,” he said.