Monday, February 26, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses Go Postal

These days, it's truly unusual for me to get a handwritten envelope in the mail. None of my friends are Amish, so I tend to get most of my correspondence by electronic means. Even my mom, in her mid 70's, has started sending me birthday cards by e-mail.

Today I was a little more than surprised when I got an envelope in the mail with a cursive script address. At first I thought it was one of those computer-generated mass mailings with the fake handwriting that intends to fool you into thinking someone wrote you a letter, but it was the real McCoy. For a second I thought maybe it was my mom, sending a newspaper clipping about something I last cared about in the ninth grade. Nope, not her handwriting.

These days, you really need to be careful what you open, but I forgot that when I tore open the envelope. Inside was a handwritten note, along with a small pamphlet. The note read:

Dear Mr. ________ :

My husband and I live in your area. We do not Know You Personally, but We have some important information to share. A sample is enclosed in a tract.

We have tried in the past to contact you With No Success. We realize most people are Very busy today.

As a Bible Student We are sharing as Volunteers in a Worldwide Work being done in over 234 Lands.

If after reading the enclosed Tract you are interested, contact us at the above address.

Eleanor Myers
Jehovah's Witness

This led me to wonder: have the Jehovah's Witnesses gotten so lazy that they are resorting to letter writing instead of knocking on doors? Not that I'm complaining -- I really don't want to talk about God with people who won't celebrate their own birthdays -- but come on, put a little effort into it, guys. I didn't realize that if I want to be proselytized, I have to be the one doing most of the work.

Or maybe they've finally gotten the hint? Have they gotten so weary of rejection that they're mailing out letters in the half-hearted hopes that someone will actually take the bait? Maybe it's the redemption lottery: the more letters you send, the more likely that one person will respond.

Come to think of it, there's a big opportunity here that millions of people have probably hoped for yet never had. What would Mrs. Eleanor Myers do if I showed up at her door and wouldn't leave until she accepted SpongeBob Square Pants as her personal savior?

It's tempting, but why take the chance?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Only in New York.....

Apparently they get a rabbi to say "om" over the food as it's prepared...

Monday, February 19, 2007

The hazards of equality

When first named to lead Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina was asked what it felt like to be the first female CEO of a major high tech company. "I don't know," she famously said. "I don't know what it's like to be a male CEO." Admirably, she downplayed the impact of her gender on her role, acknowledging that she had been raised with the belief that she could achieve whatever she wanted. Her upbringing had been tempered neither with the message that she was held back from some things because she's female, nor that she had to work and fight all that much harder because she's a woman. If she worked hard, she could succeed. She confronted her share of discrimination along the way, but she faced it and overcame it, as any ambitious person would.

When Carly ran into difficulties at HP and ultimately was very publicly relieved of her duties, some pundits opined that she never really fit in because she was a woman in a male-dominated industry. Never mind that HP has quite a good track record of promoting and hiring on merit, regardless of gender. Never mind that she showed immediate and persistent disdain for the company's much heralded consensus-based culture. And never mind that her own substantial hubris had kept her from adapting her strategy when it proved unworkable.

It led me to think: we've achieved equality only when we have the chance to fail equally as spectacularly as we want to succeed. If women are to be judged on their own merits, we have to take the bad with the good. If we want a fair opportunity to succeed, we have to be willing to suffer the consequences of failure. To expect otherwise is to ask for preferential treatment -- just the thing feminists fought against when it was granted solely to white men.

If people in a business - or a society - expect to be treated fairly in a meritocracy, it seems to me that they'd want to be judged solely on what they achieve and the talents they bring to the table. They wouldn't want to be granted a mulligan after they err. If you insist on swinging from the mens' tees, you can't demand the womens' handicap when your shot misses the hole by five feet. Yes, it stinks to fail, and yes, it really stinks to lose something you've worked so hard and so long to gain. But that's what makes it so precious to win in the first place.

Said another way, "They wouldn't let me succeed because I am a woman" is the flip side of "they only gave me a chance because I am a woman." No ambitious person - male or female, Caucasian or otherwise - wants to be judged that way.

Maybe history doesn't remember those who come in second place, or the people who fail. At the same time, it does remember those who recover and go on to win. (Just look at the '69 Mets) I think that the real prize of equality is getting the opportunity to bounce back from failure or setbacks.

Here's to more second acts. And more chances to risk spectacular failure.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Meet me halfway, dude: dress the part.

What's the deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? I'm not going to get into politics ... we all know the guy is both deranged and evil. I'm talking about his image:

Why can't the guy wear a tie?

In every picture I've seen, he's wearing a sport jacket and a dress shirt with one or two buttons unbuttoned. It's not a bad look, but come on. The guy seems to think that it's casual Friday every day. Isn't it reasonable to expect this guy to find a respectable outfit befitting an evil despot?

Every self-respecting dictator or deranged leader puts some thought into an evil costume -- a look he makes his own. It's like the villains in Batman or Superman. Think about it: Kim Jong Il has that weird hair. Castro has made the rumpled fatigues look his trademark. Khadafi has had two distinct looks: when he was an axis of evil guy, he had that snappy army uniform with a bit too much ornamentation. Now, as a man of peace, he's got the Arab getup.

You dress as any one of them (or someone worse, as Prince Harry discovered) for Halloween, and people immediately know who you are. Dress like Ahmadinejad, and people assume you had to work late and didn't have the time to change before you came to the party. You look like that guy on the NJ Transit train who had a rough day, pulled off his tie and started drinking beer out of a can smuggled in a paper bag. Let's face it - it's one step better than the lame "let me cut a few eyeholes in a sheet and I'll go as a ghost" costume.

Now, I have nothing against the casual, no-tie look. Most men can pull it off. But does it command respect? Does it engender fear? I'd say no. For a lot of guys, it wouldn't even get them a date at a singles dance. So Ahmadinejad thinks it's going to ensure him permanent status in the Axis of Evil? Seems mighty doubtful.

What's funny is that Katie Couric recently noted the mnemonic she uses to remember the pronunciation of his name: "I'm a dinner jacket."

Friday, February 09, 2007

The new social disease

You carry it without knowing. After staying out all night. Even in the best hotels.You can never tell who's afflicted. Sometimes they don’t even know, until the embarrassing hives and itching appear.Herpes? The clap? No (well, maybe, but not here). It’s bedbugs.

Yes, bedbugs, the scourge of tenements and, well, the 18th century, are back. Bedbugs (or bed bugs) are small nocturnal insects of the family Cimicidae that live by hematophagy, feeding on the blood of humans and other warm-blooded hosts. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Resurgent due to increased global travel and the banning of DDT, they’re showing up all over the place, and they’re remarkably insidious. From a health standpoint, they’re pretty much harmless, except for the aforementioned itching and hives. Oh, and their uncanny ability to drive their host into a spiral of madness.

I had the unfortunate privilege of bringing these tiny hitchhikers home from an August trip to Ireland, a country which, as you know, has had reasonable sanitary standards for quite some time. Roaming the countryside of County Kerry, I assumed I was running the risk of picking up some sort of sheep scourge from all of the scat I stepped in, but I never expected bugs.I stayed in five different hotels, all of which seemed nice and clean. There was no reason to believe that they harbored any insects that wanted to come home with me.Then again, one of my college roommates said the same thing about one of her Friday night hookups, and that one required a visit to the health center after a few days. (Itching and rash, oddly enough.)

Anyway, all seemed fine through September. I attributed a few small itchy spots to a stray mosquito that might have made its way through a window screen somehow. Then came the onslaught.By the time I found them in October, I had a nice rash of bites on my back, arms and legs. I discovered a bunch of sated bedbugs on the underside of my spare bed pillow, deceased after happily engorging themselves on my blood. Yeech.

If you're unlucky and took months to determine the cause of your misery, the little fu- I mean suckers -- will have totally infested all of your bedroom furniture and perhaps the cracks and crevices of the walls and floorboards and... well, you get the picture. I had a relatively minor case, which I determined had come in from the luggage I'd brought to Ireland and stored underneath my bed.

As you can read in the Wikipedia entry, the next step involves basically boiling all of your bed clothes, all of the clothes in the furniture anywhere close to your bed, and then vacuuming the living daylights out of your bedroom. Then you get the pest control guy in. I say "pest control" instead of "exterminator" because he or she can't do it all. Even when they reach every living bedbug during a visit, it's not over. You end up becoming a partner in the eradication, vacuuming and boiling clothes and changing your sheets almost obsessively. While the poisons or enzymes or whatever the professional used are good, they still won't kill the eggs, so you have to wait for them to hatch and then murder the nymphs. I guarantee you'll be seeing your new best friend, the pest control guy, at least once again. Fortunately they include a second and third visit in their fees. They know.

Oh, and they'll encase your newly treated mattress and boxspring in vinyl covers so the bugs that are in the bedding can't get out. You've got to leave the covers on for a minimum of a year until the bugs all die off (yes, they can live that long without another meal). I chose to look at the positive side: if I ever start wetting the bed, at least I won't wreck the mattress.

Unluckily for me, all of this happened during a very hectic and stressful time at work, when I was working longer hours and coming home totally exhausted. I was in no state to change the sheets, boil the crap out of them and vacuum like June Cleaver on speed. I had no time to have the bug control guys come back for the second visit, so when the bugs reappeared, I did the best I could with the enzyme solution the pest guys left me. I smoothed cortisone cream over the hives to control the itching.

And meanwhile, I was going absolutely mental at work with the stress of my job and the anguish of these little fuckers literally sucking my lifeblood out of me when I didn't have the strength to do anything about it. Not fun. I bought a few six packs of Guinness, not just to appease the Irish bedbug gods, but to get absolutely plastered to forget them for a while.

You really start wondering why they chose you, of anyone, to come home with. What, were they expecting to sleep with me and get their little green cards? This country is so set on keeping terrorists out of the country that they're harassing perfectly innocent people, when they could be sending these #*$&@^ to Guantanamo instead.

But I digress.Back to the social disease aspect. If you're dealing with a bedbug issue, you have to be careful who you tell, because you're apt to be classified as a moron or as someone in deep denial. Or maybe a hypochondriac. Very few people know about them and that having them is not an indication of poor hygiene or sleeping around in fleabag motels. Many people will tell you that you should have the pest control guys show up day after day after day and bomb the place. They'll tell you to throw out the mattress and boxspring and maybe the whole bed. When you tell them that those options won't help (and often mean that you'll pay good money for a new bed that will eventually get infested, too), they'll look at you like you're delusional. Everyone's an entomologist.

I couldn't do much at work but suffer the anger of my boss for all of the fuck-ups I was committing on some major projects. No way was I going to go chapter and verse into my angst-inducing infestation. Maybe I should have, but I figured it wasn't worth looking both incompetent and delusional.

The social life suffers, too. Forget about inviting overnight visitors over. Imagine the conversation:

"Uh, before you come over with your toothbrush and a change of clothes, there's something I have to tell you."

"Oh, boy. Do you have herpes? Hey, it's okay, I'll wear a condom or three."

"Uh, no, I have bedbugs."

"Good God!" *noise of screeching tires as the guy can't get away from you quickly enough*

Let's face it, no condom is big enough to cover the whole body. Well, unless the guy is really, really small, in which case he has enough problems to deal with.

So, bottom line, you've gotta be careful. The world is divided into two types of people: those who've had bedbugs, and those who will. The only solace is to remember that they were pretty much ubiquitous before the invention of DDT. Our ancestors survived them just fine. Except they were really, really itchy.