Friday, September 29, 2006

Musings et. all

My buddy Dan at Musings et. all speaks my thoughts. My favourite part is "Super Fun-Time Jihad Block Party Extravaganza."

The House of Wisdom

For those of you who know me, you're aware that New York is not my cup of tea. The city's corporate and formal attitude is completely different from the laid back, casual appeal of Boston. Money is always tight, and the aesthetic demands of my job keep me thinking I need to spend money on clothes. This once leisurely activity is now conspicuously job-related. Every major corporation has offices in New York, and the streets are dominated by heels clicking on the pavement and voices chattering away on cell phones.

In the midst of all of this is the New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library in Bryant Park. Just a block away from the Conde Nast building, a veritable monument to conspicuous consumption, the library is a quiet and inspirational haven, filled with the whispers of human history. Flanked by Patience and Fortitude, the lions which have become the institute's symbols, this monolith of early 20th century architecture houses one of the most valuable collections in the country.

Yesterday I visited the library and spoke to the librarian in charge of the rare books division. I saw a first edition Derrida, a 17th century copy of Vetruvius' treaty on architecture, and a 15th century liturgical manuscript, one of the last of its kind, produced during the dawn of the printing press. I was inspired like I hadn't been in a long time. That rush of intellectual curiosity came streaming back, missing since my final days as an undergraduate at Boston College. This all-consuming wonder, I thought as I held a leather-bound volume, is what really matters in this world. My corporate job seemed distant, almost a figment of my imagination.

After nearly an hour chatting with the librarian, I felt heavy reality settling in. I clicked back to my office in Times Square, slicing through the warm air with my sense of wonder clinging to me desparately, unwilling to be brushed away by the phones and e-mails awaiting my return. The corporate world felt surreal; my job, meaningless in the face of what I had experienced within those marble walls.

I think something in us dies when we sign over our lives to faceless corporations. We don't stop and think about what's beautiful in this world. We spend our lives trying to substitute our lost sense of wonder with products that never quite fill the hole. We work jobs that we hate because they give us a six figure paycheck, not a penny of which will buy us true satisfaction. Every day we walk by places like the NYPL Humanities Library and never enter. I don't want to make sweeping claims about our souls being lost to materialism, but having spent 3 months in a stark office with naught but one picture frame on the wall makes even the glossy magazines in the reception area look dull.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Opera Director's Silver Platter

The director of the Berlin Opera recently cancelled a producion of Mozart's "Idomeneo" (article here). The reason given by Kristen Harms, the director, is that the depiction of Mohammad's severed head might offend Muslims, and she fears for the safety of the audience and of the staff at the opera. Also depicted in the opera are the severed heads of Poseidon, Jesus, and the Buddha, but apparently Harms is not afraid of offending neopagans, Christians and Buddhists.

Protecting sensitive religious types is not my goal here. My point is that you won't get shot or have a fatwa issued clamoring for your head if you symbolically or artistically decapitate any other religious figure. Muslim faith forbids the depiction of the prophet Mohammad for fear of idolatry. What if the depiction is being made by a non-Muslim?

This from the article:
Last month Madonna sparked criticism from some Roman Catholics in Germany for a show that staged a mock crucifixion. Mel Gibson's 2004 movie, "The Passion of Christ" met with disapproval from some Catholics and some Jews. In 2004, a Birmingham, England, theater canceled its run of "Behzti" after a violent protest by members of the Sikh community.
The difference amongst all of these? The only one that sparked "violent protest" was the one that offended Muslims.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Taking A Page Out Of Brazil's Book

In October 2004 I wrote an article for Boston's Whats Up Magazine about voting in Brazil. To make a long story short, in Brazil everyone is obliged to vote. Not doing so incurrs all sorts of civil penalties, like the inability to renew one's passport. I did not advocate for making voting compulsory in the United States, but I did write that all citizens should participate in the voting process. It is a time to exercise our rights as citizens, and to voice our opinion about candidates running to represent us in government.

In that same issue, then managing editor Jesse Post wrote an article about voting blank, or anulling one's vote, something which does not happen with much frequency in this country. Since voting is not compulsory in the United States, if one does not approve of the candidates, he or she has the choice to not vote. Andrew Downie, writing for Time.com, gives a snapshot of the political climate in Brazil. Corruption is rampant, and the political elite, which continues biting holes into public money, continues getting reelected. A culture of annulment is growing out of grassroots campaigns, catching the attention of the middle class and college kids. Because voting is compulsory in Brazil, citizens do not have the choice of sitting out the election. Not satisfied with any of the available candidates, one is either forced to pick the least worst or annul the vote.

Generally speaking (and this may vary by state), a candidate cannot be elected with most of the votes. He or she needs the majority of the votes, so 50% plus one as opposed to having the highest percentage of votes. Consider this: If there are two candidates and 50% plus one of the votes were left blank or annulled, the people prefer no one to the available candidates. Blank votes are not thrown away; they are counted. Blank votes say "I don't want any of these people to represent me." A blank vote is a protest. Instead of sitting at home and not choosing, go out and choose no one. A blank vote says "I would rather have no one in office than these guys."

It is easy to not choose. In Brazil, where people are forced to do so, annulling the vote tells the powers that be that they think none of the choices are competent enough for the job. They are forced to protest. Americans should take a page out of Brazil's book. Choose no one.

Monday, August 21, 2006

And Now For Something Very, Very Mundane

I guess it's time to stop with the political blogging for 10 minutes. According to Wired Magazine, political blogging is "tired," and not "wired." But who's counting, really? I'm here to talk about my job. For some, my blog may be the only point of contact with me since I disappear, blend into the background, and generally exist in a semi-hermit state. I try to avoid it, but it just happens. I am not a people person.

Now, the irony of this situation is that I work in the Human Resources department of a major corporation. In fact, I'm the first face a lot of people see when they walk in for the first time (not counting the security guards and the occasional celebrity you may bump into on the elevator). Being nice to people is actually part of the job description. I answer the phone, a device that scares me. Calling people I don't know is one of my phobias, and I do it dozens of times a day. This is what I will overcome for $13 an hour.

I process paperwork. That's the bulk of my job. Ever wonder who fills out those I-9 forms? I do. By hand. Working here has made me realize how much ground we still need to cover until everything is computerized. Signatures still need to be written on paper. We still need photocopies of IDs, and those confidentiality agreements still need to be filed (the original and a copy, in two different offices). Candidates still need to fill out applications when they come for an interview (although they are working on making it fully digital). Correction: I process a lot of paperwork.

Living in New York as a low grade junior employee means being broke most of the time. I'm usually very frugal with my spending, but at $1075 a month in rent it becomes very difficult to live even a modest lifestyle without having to put groceries on your credit card once in a while. I'll do the math for you: $1075 is more than half of my take home pay, particularly after all the taxes and pre-tax benefit premiums (and now my 401(k) contributions). I was making less than this in Boston and banking almost half of what I made; now I'm spending more than that on rent alone. I really wish they would give me a raise, though I'm about 10 months away from a review. I may not be working here anymore by then, depending on my luck. I hope it's good.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Photoshop Aberration

So it's been all over the news. Reuters freelance photographer Adnan Hajj altered photos of the bombings in Beirut. Every article I've read about this issue has focused on how journalism is not to be treated as "creative nonfiction." Fact should not be tampered with; if they're altering the billowing smoke from a bomb blast, what else are they not telling us straight up? That's all valid, and I'm not here to take anything away from these arguments. In fact, I wholeheartedly agree that even the most minor of alterations is unacceptable.

I have not, however, read anything at all about the crudeness of the alteration, and how obvious the tampering looks. The image looks false. There seems to have been no attempt to make the smoke look even remotely realistic. Furthermore, there are ways to enhance the photograph (as far as sharpening and increasing contrast, or burning into the shot) that would not objectively alter the image, i.e. would intensify it without actually adding or removing any information. The new clouds of smoke are obviously a poorly done copy/paste job executed with the clone stamp. Besides the obvious reason why this guy is being dumped, he is also a lousy photoeditor, and should be let go on those grounds alone.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Pink Military

CNN.com posted an article today on the military's don't ask don't tell policy. If this were any other organization in this country, discharging someone from their duties because of sexual orientation is a criminal offense. Furthermore, with women now in the army the "jealous lover" excuse is meaningless.

According to the article, the policy is costing the military big bucks. The subject in question is an Arabic language expert; obviously someone valuable to the current situation in the Middle East. It seems like many of those in critical and valuable positions are being discharged under the rule, a sure sign that what a soldier does in the bedroom (or barracks) shouldn't be factored into his or her ability to do the job.

Either way, the don't ask don't tell policy is hurting the military, which just keeps shooting itself in the foot.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Lesson in Semantics from Mr. Snow

This from CBSnews.com:
"A great many of those signing statements may have little statements about questions about constitutionality," White House spokesman Tony Snow said. "It never says, `We're not going to enact the law."
Ok, fine, but what does that mean? From what I gather, limiting executive power in any way seems to be unconstitutional under this administration. I would like to point out that Nixon claimed executive privlege on the Watergate tapes that eventually led to his resignation.

Little statements about constitutionality could mean anything, including "the executive branch is not subject to this ruling by virtue of executive privlege." That's a little statement about constitutionality that says in not quite so many words "We're not going to enact this law." So I suppose Tony Snow is telling the truth. Perhaps no signing statement says those words exactly, but from what I understand, that's usually what they imply.