Friday, June 26, 2009

"How to Argue Like Jesus"

Admittedly I have not read this book How to Argue Like Jesus yet, but I can vouch for one of the authors and I think it's a cool concept. Anywho, John Facebooked all his friends, and said I could win a free book if I linked to a recent interview John and his coauthor Joe did for Christian Book Notes. So here you go!

How to Argue Like Jesus examines the life and words of Jesus and describes the various ways in which he sought—through the spoken word, his life, and his disciples—to reach others with his message. The authors then pull some very simple rhetorical lessons from Jesus’ life that readers can use today.

Both Christian and non-Christian leaders in just about any field can improve their ability to communicate effectively by studying the words and methods of history’s greatest communicator.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Waste in the education system

I'm not well versed in the pros and cons of unions but generally believe that in civilized societies such as ours they generally hinder labor mobility and cost us more trouble than they are worth. Specifically, teacher unions gum up the works of attempts to reform the public school system, but I had no idea to what an extent they soaked up money and paralyzed the system. Case in point this AP article about suspended teachers that the district is unable to fire due to their union contracts:
Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.
Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.
This is one of the worst wastes of taxpayer dollars I've heard of in a while!
Hat tip: Freddie

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Homesick for Texas

I blame the torrential downpours of the last two weeks. I think it might be the first time since I moved here permanently after college that I'm actually homesick for the Lone Star State. "It's a lovely place to be born and raised, but I've had my fill, " I say at cocktail parties when introduced as the token Texan. Immediately people always want to know if I'll ever go back. Probably not for a multitude of reasons, but my friends I am homesick.

Homesick for incessant sunshine...
Homesick for being baked alive when I get into a car that's sat in triple digit heat...
...for Blue Bell Ice Cream...
...for that friendly Texan twang...
...for TexMex and margaritas...
...for pick up trucks and guns...
...for Sonic Drive-In drinks...
...for goshdarn sunshine!

How much could I pay you to stand in line?

Fascinating story about the economics of line standing to get into Congressional Hearings on the Hill. The reporter does a good job of covering both sides of the story:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Freedomfest in Vegas!!!


I get to go to Freedomfest in Las Vegas for work! Three huge reasons to get excited for Whitney:

#1 I've never been to Vegas.

#2 This is libertarian/free-market mecca. It even has a theme song called "Freedom and Gold" - lol

#3 This means my boss doesn't hate me after all! whew

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My black thumb

My college boyfriend once berated me for having gone through five cellphones during the course of our relationship. He had the same one circa 1999 and he was damn proud of that. I also went through three computers in college, two mp3 players, three printers, a palm pilot, and God knows how many other various sundry electronics that now escape my memory.

Now my office rajah (ahem Romulo) claims I'm the only one who ever has systemic computer/printer problems. I like to think I'm just a good user of these items - I use them so much and so vigorously they just give up. It's not my fault things are built to fall apart and be replaced these days! I may not be an environmentalist hippie, but I do lament the quality of consumer goods having deteriorated over time. It seems egregiously wasteful and seems to be a poor reflection of our culture. One European habit I wish we would adopt was buying high quality clothes. Europeans don't own as much as us - especially in their closet - but what they do have lasts much longer and fits even better. So there - it's the poor production quality and not my incessant mouse clicking that is the downfall of electronics in my path.

In other news, my office plants are thriving.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Quintessentially Arlington, VA

So there are some places that give Arlington a little more character than this video/rap gives it credit for, but I thought my out of town friends would be amused to see a little slice of life of where I currently live. For my DC peeps, this is mucho entertaining as well!


Just moved to a new hood
and it's straight up gangsta
Let me show you around...
my town

People all around
better know the deal
that the people in this town
are ghetto for real

So when people tell me
Remy, where you calling from?
I say a straight up thug town
called Arlington

It's a real tough town
packing heat and boat shoes
my crib's in a rough spot
right next to the Whole Foods

I'm ducking gunfire daily
check to see if one got me
but that's just life in the hood
when I go get my puffed kashi

But we never do ... more

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Becoming the Party of Freedom

I've recently come out (hardy har har) about how I feel on the issue of gay marriage and was excited to see another conservative touting the same sentiment over at Big Hollywood: marriage isn’t a complex issue. Science aside, one needn’t believe that homosexuality is moral in order to understand that nowhere does the Constitution give the federal government the right to regulate marriage.

The Republican Party has made a huge mistake in advocating a kind of Cafeteria Constitutionalism. (I’ll take some guns, no helmet laws, please, a free market, and…yuck, hold the gay marriage!). One can’t legitimately invoke the Constitution to oppose federally mandated sex education, and then use the federal government to impose school prayer. Leave that fair-weather-federalism to the Left.

It’s not a state secret that the Democrat Party has become little more than a loose coalition of special interest groups with few or no coherent philosophical underpinnings. It’s also apparent that the Republicans are equally lost philosophically and couldn’t even manage to nominate a presidential candidate with the fiscal good sense to oppose corporate bailouts. Now here we are: face to face with an opportunity to take stock, recalibrate, and decide what we want from our political leaders.

Me, I implore the Republicans to become — once and for all — the party of freedom. The true moral highground is there to seize. Our Constitution was created as a shield against government encroachment on our personal lives. Conservatives should be the last people who would dare turn this document into a weapon.
To me, pressing a social agenda like this is part of the Republican party's undoing. To be consistent and ultimately successful at the ballot box, we need to always be on the side of liberty.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Contradictions, Qipaos, and Characters - CHINA

What a foreign way of life! Having been to Europe, Latin America, and Africa, I now realize that you haven’t truly “been abroad” until you’ve been to the East. In Europe as a white American, I blend into the background. In Latin America, everything is just a little brighter and louder than America, but still not so foreign. In Africa, my expectations for development were so low I’m sorry to say I wasn’t too astonished by anything. China, however, was different. From the systemic contradictions to the plethora of umbrellas, China held one surprise after another.

China’s development was impressive, but my experiences demonstrated that they still have a long way to go. For instance with all the pollution, traffic, and general overcrowding in Beijing, I’m amazed they were able to pull off the Olympics. Only by shutting down factories both to cut down on pollution and to encourage people to visit relatives in rural areas were the Chinese able to make way for Olympic guests. This, however, was a temporary fix and the city seems to be struggling to accommodate the population and reign in pollution. Some (not me) might argue the lack of Western toilets and toilet paper may be a cultural preference, but it is pretty clear sanitation overall and water quality is still an issue in Beijing, Hufei, and Shanghai so imagine what the smaller towns are like! Not to mention the personal sanitation issues of spitting and allowing children to defecate on the streets. When we visited the industrial park in Hufei, the power went out twice killing the productivity of the call center upstairs. Perhaps the economic Tiger of the East is not so scary after all.

Having read that China is a country of contradictions many times before my arrival, I thought it might merely be a rhetorical tool for authors to hedge their bets about China’s future, but now I have seen some of these ironic paradoxes firsthand. It is commonly known that civil disputes or protests are on the rise in China, yet many everyday forms of expression that I’m used to as an American were noticeably absent. For instance, I only saw graffiti once during my two weeks – on a random late-night cab ride through Shanghai – also missing were flyers, street musicians, street surveyors with clipboards, and picket lines in general. In America, these blend into the background, but in China the dearth of physical evidence of individual expression I had heard and read that I shouldn’t be worried about being attacked or mugged in China (maybe just pickpocketed) because the Chinese want to save face and make a good impression especially amongst foreigners. They had no problem ripping me off with steep prices in the market though. I often had to haggle down to 25-30% of their initial price. When I had lunch with a Chinese-American friend in Hong Kong, there were two menus – one in Chinese and one in English – everything was the same but the prices! They blatantly discriminated against English speakers by charging 10-20 yuan more per dish. For many of our lectures by Chinese professors, I found you had to read in between the lines of contradiction. Dr. Yu Yongda informed us of his “Advantage Integration Theory” which diminishes the role of natural resources or comparative advantage in a country’s development yet clearly China needs to hone certain sectors or skills if it is to be competitive globally. Once, Dr. Lu Wei even said, “Sometimes you can signal left, but turn right.” Even if I could remember the context, I don’t think that would make much sense, but to the Chinese people subtleties such as this can indicate a lot and can help clarify such contradictions. Reviewing what I have written thus far, I can see how it might seem as if I have a negative perception of China. But the Chinese people made all the difference in the trip.

My favorite part of the trip was building a relationship with my tailor’s family in Beijing. Having arrived early to Beijing, I spent a couple days wandering the city by myself and happened upon a back alley pedestrian street which was under heavy construction. Despite the physical mayhem of the street, the businesses flanking either side of this treacherous obstacle course were still open. This dusty venue is where I found my tailor in a small shop. I had priced qipaos (traditional Chinese dresses) all day and wanted to see what they had to offer. The store itself was not that impressive but they had a decent selection of qipaos and I found one I especially liked. “How much?” I asked an eager 13 year old girl. She grabbed her calculator and typed in 600. I typed in 200 and she laughed and typed in 450. I laughed and typed in 250. She shook her head and retyped 450 but when I started to walk away she agreed to 350. I said I would need to try it on first. I stepped into the makeshift dressing room which consisted of a curved shower curtain rod and a sheet of fabric. I needed only to put my arms through the dress to see that it would not fit. I stepped back out and shook my head. The girl frantically started gesturing and saying “custom, custom.” Then I noticed the disgruntled old man who had been staring at a computer screen and listening to Chinese talk radio quietly. He grunted at the girl and picked up a phone. The girl was able to communicate that I should wait. Five minutes later the energetic and smooth talking Jian Nan came bouncing into the store with her strawman of a husband in tow. Next thing I knew, I was agreeing to being measured for a custom qipao that I would only pay 420 yuan for. The 80% downpayment up front made me nervous, but Jian Nan showed me “many picture of happy Western customer” and reassured me that “we a business, we go nowhere.” Looking back, I wonder if she was hurt by my skepticism. After all, the Chinese have guanxi. When I came back to pick up my dress two days later, I brought a friend to buy a suit. The family was thrilled and Jian Nan let me pick out a scarf for free. She asked if Eric and I were boyfriend/girlfriend – all Chinese seemed very relationship focused – who is who in relation to one another at all times. I said no. She said “better or else you have babies and work too hard – always working to take care of them.” I asked her how many children she had. Obviously, she was a lower income working class girl so how could she afford more than one child? She and her skinny husband have two – they paid a heavy tax for their second child but it was worth it she said. The government is apparently caring less about this now and not enforcing the tax as much. China must be realizing the critical demographical situation they have created. Only while Eric was getting measured for his suit did I discover that the recalcitrant old man was the actual tailor and not Jian Nan. She was just the mouthpiece. I think she mixed up her pronouns somewhere because she seemed to really know her stuff and run the place, I thought SHE was the one who made my dress. Yet, her only talent is her English. That’s fine – she’s got the gift of gab even if her grammar is a little rough. They Jian family was so sincere and appreciative of my business, I wish I could go back and ask them more questions about their life and business!

Everyday encounters such as mine with my tailor and his family held their share of wonder and were the moments that made the trip worthwhile. I shall cherish many random endearing moments as well. Apparently Chinese people only like intense, slow songs for karaoke or else they are incapable of singing fast songs in English. These ballads make for some entertaining moments! Also, Chinese people are very fastidious about not having food stuck in their teeth and habitually use toothpicks after meals, but are very careful to cover their mouths. Yet, they lack any other table manners! I arrived a day early and went on a tour with a group of Chinese strangers, my first meal was a baptism by fire in not caring about other people’s germs when they used their chopsticks to eat off communal plates. Then, there were the umbrellas. So many and in so many varieties! The Chinese seem to be very conscious of protecting their skin – or perhaps staying cool? Everyone seemed to have one and many made bold, often glittery fashion statements with them. Shortly after arriving home, news coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre started picking up. CNN and BBC reporters were sent to Beijing to film segments on site, but plain clothes police officers bared any decent footage with their umbrellas. The result was a hilarious but sad dance while reporters tried to sincerely engage with the camera on a serious subject while dodging an army of umbrellas.

I loved my time in exotic China, but unlike any other trip abroad I’ve taken, I was excruciatingly thankful to be coming home to the United States of America despite the characters and genuine people such as Jian Nan that I met while I was there.

"If I could turn back time"

How about this for a romantic revelry of what coulda been? Sure, I was stoked to get my first job out of college and yeah it was a do or die (move back to TX) situation but this laundry list doesn't sound too shabby and could equip nearly anyone for a badass job after a year...

[From Seth's blog]
How about a post-graduate year doing some combination of the following (not just one, how about all):

* Spend twenty hours a week running a project for a non-profit.
* Teach yourself Java, HTML, Flash, PHP and SQL. Not a little, but mastery.
* Volunteer to coach or assistant coach a kids sports team.
* Start, run and grow an online community.
* Give a speech a week to local organizations.
* Write a regular newsletter or blog about an industry you care about.
* Learn a foreign language fluently.
* Write three detailed business plans for projects in the industry you care about.
* Self-publish a book.
* Run a marathon.