Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Downside of Targeted Marketing

Ever think there was no downside to only getting ads that you would potentially respond to? Well, here it is, and I think she's right.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chicago and the Olympics

It would be awesome if we got the Olympics in 2016, and here's the sweet logo we would use if we did. I think it's pretty great.

Israel and Guatemala Part II

So I finally finished the behemoth of the book that is Arab and Jew and my impressions are that the book is too long. Towards the end, I felt like the same thing was being pounded into my head over and over: the quarrel between these two people has no solution.

I'm not here to argue about whether it does or doesn't - it's easy for me to sit here and say that yes of course there should be, that the solution merely warrants one of the two sides to be the bigger man and say "OK, we will stop, step back, and be the ones to start the solution." It's easy to say that when you aren't from either side and don't have some of the almost innate hate and violent history in your being.

So I'm not here for that. I'm here to talk about me dammit! Isn't that what a blog is all about? I'm here to talk about how what I've read affects me and what it makes me feel and think.

Here is a line from page 426 of this book:

I heard all these words: 'You are playing football like a dirty Arab,' and then later some guy would come and say, "Hashem, I'm sorry, it's just the expression we use."

I've mentioned before how some stuff in the book, mostly the wall between two peoples living in the same place, is so similar to the way things are in Guatemala. But read this line to anyone from Guatemala and they'll know exactly what's going on. Only we use the phrase "Indio," which technically means Indian but really stands for a derogatory name for the indigenous people of Guatemala.

And yeah, it sounds bad. But I'm here to tell you that, a lot of the time, it isn't. As lame as it may sound, as lame as it sounded in the line I quoted, it's just an expression. We call ourselves (whites) "indios" when we do something too extreme or violent. It's just an expression, we don't mean any harm by it.

And it seems that's the same problem going on in Israel right now. People don't see that just the formulation of such a phrase has negative beliefs inherent to them.

In case you still don't know what I'm trying to say, the closest example I can think of to it here in the states in the word "fag." Or the way some people (and here I'm guilty of it) say "That is so gay."

I had this discussion with Mindy a while ago and I was trying to explain to her that I didn't mean it in a bad way. That I'm not homophobic or anti-gay (it probably sounded the way people explain that they don't have anything against hispanics or blacks: I have a cousin who is black/hispanic), it's just my terminology. My colorful language, so to speak. And I could see her looking at me like "Are you serious?" I could feel how the words were coming out of my mouth and seeing her listen to my idiotic explanation made me realized that "wait a minute, maybe this is something I should take a closer look at."

It's weird reading something about a topic that, at first glance, is so far away from your reality only to see that you have a personal experience that allows you to see exactly what it's like in other people's shoes. Only to realize that you aren't the victim, you are the bad guy.

It's weird.

What's the solution? Well, the book has some answers in the various get togethers between Jews and Arabs, especially the young ones. They are shocked to see that not all Jews carry rifles, not all Arabs throw stones. It's simple really: try to expose reality to these people so that they can see how wrong all their preconceptions are.

I know it's very cliche and overall pukey, but there's something to it all.

I used to be scared at the idea of venturing to certain parts of the country outside the capital of Guatemala. To places where it's pretty much the Wild West. You're on your own out there. But I went on a trip a few years ago with my dad and interacting with the people of my country, with the "indios," proved a very relaxing experience. It made me see that - like the Arab people, actually - the people of Guatemala are very warm and hospitable.

Guatemala, after all, isn't as scary a place as you would think. Go and you'll find out too.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spanish Writers

My godfather once told me something about the differences between Guatemala (and all Latin American countries) and the United States. He said:

The big difference is that there is a lot of money in the US. Getting money is easy, they practically give it away because they can make money off the interest. So money isn't valued as much. Ideas, that is what is valuable. If you have great ideas, people will look for you and the money will follow. Here, in Guatemala, there is no money. You can't get a loan. So if you have some money, people look up to you, want to be around you. It doesn't matter that your ideas are terrible. Since you have the money, you have the power. That's the way it is.

I bring this up because today I'll start a book in Spanish I was given for Christmas. I don't read a whole lot in Spanish and I sometimes feel guilty about it. But on my way back from the gym today, I kind of thought out those feelings and came to some important realizations.

First of all, you have to know that most people in developing countries can't read or write. This is important because it causes those who do like to read (which is an even smaller minority of those that can read, sadly) to believe things about themselves that aren't true. Here in the US there are millions of people that love to read. And that's the end of it. But it seems that in Latin America the few people that like to read somehow believe that because they love to read they are somehow meant to write.

So you end up reading all this crap in both newspapers and books that, while not bad, reeks of one, general feeling: Ooooo, look at me, look at all the words I know and how I can put them together in highly intellectual ways. Look at me, aren't I a great writer!!

And maybe that's just me, but I hate that. Yes, OK, you can read and write, and you maybe even love to read and can appreciate the classics. OK. But please don't let that go to your head. It doesn't make you better than everyone around you. Smarter? More intellectual? More educated? Maybe in certain ways, but not in every way. It does not make you a better person.

Unfortunately, I haven't come across any spectacular, original, entertaining books in Spanish in a long time (and here I hope Tollo sets me straight, debunks this whole post, and lists a bevy of great, contemporary works). Yes, there are the classics: Borges, Marques, Asturias. OK, OK, yes. But it's totally different to read literature that is that old and read contemporary stuff.

The only book I can think of is The People of Paper, by a young Mexican writer. But it's in English. I've read a few books of the "new" authors that are supposed to be the next big rage. Mostly Guatemalans, but not all. Alberto Fuguet, Halfon, and others. They just don't move me the way some contemporary English writers do (Foster Wallace, Safran Foer, Eggers, etc.).

And here's the part where I kind of bail on this whole idea: maybe it's just that I can't enjoy literature in Spanish the way I do in English. It may be sad, but it could be true. Of that I'll never be sure.

Until then, this is the way I feel: highly educated people in countries like Guatemala have education, a love for books, and thus become a rarity where they live. So it's like my godfather said, they have the ability to write but they don't have a whole lot of original ways to say it. But people still say they are the "next big thing," since - hey - what else is there?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Yahoo Entrepreneur teaches a lesson

This entrepreneur of the week feature on Yahoo Finance is pretty cool because it gives a quick storyline of how someone took an idea all the way into a successful company.

One of the most useful/encouraging things about the feature is that every one I've read, no exceptions, goes like this:

- Person has passion for X, causing them to get really into it (X)
- Person decides to expand their passion for X by helping other people
- It balloons thanks to great demand and turns into a growing, actual business
- Person makes a crucial decision that ends up costing him/her big time, and the company plummets, almost dying out completely
- Person mortgages their home, raids savings, goes into debt, and so on to keep the business afloat, the problem is overcome, and now the business is a huge success

With slight variations, this is the way all these stories go. Probably by design, but the point is well taken: There comes a time where things will fall apart and you don't think you'll be able to go on. The people that succeed and truly believe and have that quality to succeed - they keep going and break through that wall.

Lesson: we will all face adversity, all of us. What are you going to do when you run into it?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Oprah's new book

Sidney Pioitier's book, The Measure of a Man. Watch it blow up on the Amazon charts.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Let the Obama bashing begin

So the latest bit of news is the rumor Insight magazine published about Obama having gone to a Madrassa school as a six-year-old boy in Indonesia. The magazine didn't quote anyone by name, and didn't mention how they got this info.

CNN went to the school and dispelled the rumor right away. Fox News, however, continued to report on it and bring up the rumor.

Steve Doocey of Fox News asked:

“Why didn’t anybody ever mention that that man right there was raised — spent the first decade of his life, raised by his Muslim father — as a Muslim and was educated in a Madrassa?”

Never mind that the rumor is false, we pretty much knew that he was going to get trashed somehow, with something. He's one of the biggest, baddest candidates in the race and so has a huge bullseye on his back. So this was expected. There will be more to come.

(It's interesting to note that one rumor had the Hillary Clinton camp starting the rumor, not the Republicans, but the Clinton camp says no, that that would be too dangerous a move, since it could backfire due to Obama's incredible popularity)

But never mind all that. The question that comes to my mind is the ineptitude of the people at whom this rumor is aimed. It's not meant for you and me, it's meant for the Bible-belt crowd that will not accept anything outside of what they know.

But it's sad, because as much as I would like to say "a small group of people," I can't. It's a huge group of people in the country (half of the US population that voted in the last election) and it's embarrassing that the mere whisper of Obama being a Muslim (which his father was) could prove an effective way of keeping him from winning the presidency.

Sad, sad, sad. It's the type of thing that makes Obama that much bigger, that much more important in today's world of politics.

Obama is now the personification of hope. Now we just have to get him into office.

Bid Nip

This is a cool little tool that allows EBay bidders to bid seconds before an auction closes, which allows you to bid the maximum amount you want to spend and not push up the price of the item. It's an intriguing service, one that will incite many a moral discussions, but the very first question I had was what would happen if two snipers (that's what they call it, "sniping") bid on the same item. Their FAQ answers it thusly:

What happens when multiple users are sniping the same item?
BidNip does not affect the rules of eBay auctions. The person who places the highest bid before the end of the auction wins. For complete rules, please check eBay Buyer's Guide.

So unless both snipers bid the exact same amount, it shouldn't be an issue. But what if, by some chance, that did happen? Would the Bid Nip computers blow up? I wonder what EBay has to say about all this.

Morningstar Investment Classes

Morningstar has a great area on its site devoted to teaching people everything you need to know about investing. The site is perfect for beginners and a great review for those more familiar with most of the lingo and numbers.

I definitely recommend it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

When the Levees Broke - Review

This Spike Lee documentary first aired on HBO in four parts. I rented it on 2 DVDs.

It's about Katrina, what happened just prior, during, and after. The inadequate preparations for the storm are easily outweighed by the incredibly inept response to the tragedy that unfolded once the storm had passed.

This is the toughest part of the documentary to deal with. Why wasn't more done faster? Why, why, why?

This movie does what Al Gore mentions in An Inconvenient Truth when he states that, once legislators (and everyone else) accept that global warming is a real problem, it creates a moral imperative impossible to ignore. Watch this movie forces you to think about why people weren't helped sooner and why they were continually treated so badly even when the magnitude of what had happened came to light.

Lee does a great job of letting the people who suffered through this tell their stories, and some of them are just plain heartbreaking. He also includes some footage of the Superdome and the storm that I'd never seen before.

This movie is a must for every citizen of this country.

Geja's — Review

This Chicago restaurant is well known for being one of the most romantic restaurants in Chicago. The first time I went it was with Mindy, she took me for my birthday. It was actually one of the first, real sit-down dinners we ever went on.

Since then I've done some reading about it and there is a group of fierce dinner goers that just hates the place because it's so well know, because it's expensive, and because so many other people like it.

But lets get this straight: this place rocks. We went again last night and it was awesome. The dinners come with fondue for dipping an assortment of breads and fruits. The cheese is a blend of swiss and something else, and it tastes incredible.

Next is the main dish, depending on what you ordered. The combination plate is a popular choice, and all the meats and seafood are exceptional. You cook these yourself in the fondue pot boiling on the table.

Next is the dessert, which consists of a pot of chocolate to dip strawberries and other fruits.

Whatever you read about this place, know this: it's a great restaurant with great food at a fair price.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Guatemala and Israel

So I'm reading this book called Arab and Jew. The guy that wrote it lived in Israel for a few years as a reporter. He's neither Jewish nor Arab. Well, all he does in this book is talk to people from both sides about certain topics (racism, religion, politics, etc.). It's been very illuminating and today it hit me: there are many similarities with the way society is in Guatemala.

Not only that, the way people are wary of certain groups of people happens today in the US.

There are perceptions of latinos, indigenous people, blacks, etc. that shape how we treat and feel towards them. But we never really interact with these people. It's the way some Arabs feel about Jews—all they think of when they hear the word "Jew" is of a soldier with a gun in his hand.

Why? Because it's all they know. It's why there are so many efforts to get these two groups together to interact, especially when they're young.

Wireless Electricity!

It's possible after all!

Check it out here!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

American Idol = Nasty

What the hell? I'm not a huge fan of the show but I've seen it before over the years.

It used to be that Simon was the "bad guy," he really gave it to contestants that weren't up to par. I guess the producers finally realized that without Simon there is no show because for this season they decided to get the judges to all hammer these people.

Forget about just saying "that's bad," they have resorted to personal attacks, mocking, making jokes, and purposefully trying to humiliate these people.

Now, I'm all for this kind of stuff, but some of these people are just poor morons that don't know what the hell is going on. No reason to humiliate a moron who knows nothing better. It's really cruel and I can't understand why a show that's supposed to be about music is turning so nasty.

I don't know, but it's painful to watch and I'll be there next week.


This blog entry from Mary Mitchell of the Sun Times is pretty interesting. She bemoans the literal quote attributed to a woman (presumably of color) who was quoted as saying:

"I am on my way. I am fittin' to move," said Wasp, who grew up in Altgeld and is raising a 10-year-old son there. "To me it's like the devil's playground. It's where everybody come and do they dirt. I want to get my son out of here."

Now, the comments in response to her post are more militant about this, but she's a little upset over this type of quote. She would rather have reporters "clean up" the English to not negatively portray the person.

It's the idea of the story being more important than the characters in it, especially such a "trivial" thing as what this person talks like.

Personally, I could care less about this. But it brings me back to the issue of quoting or translating things that athletes say in the paper. Sammy Sosa was quoted literally and there was an outcry because it made him sound dumb. He isn't, but that's what we think of when we hear someone say stuff like "fittin' to," even if they aren't.

Which is on us, not the reporters quoting the source.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Intelligence vs Education

Here's an interesting piece on how most of us, while touting the importance of education for all, have forgotten that some kids just aren't intelligent. The author goes on to discuss certain "basic" barometers that separate passing and failing:

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.

It's really interesting and makes you think twice, but worst of all it creates the doubt in your mind about what to feel about education. Keep pushing it (which has been very tough)? Or change the way we think about implementing it?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Talladega Nights

Please, no matter how much you want to give it a shot. . . please don't. Awful, awful, awful.

Sentenced to death. . . and fined

Just as I was bitching and moaning over not posting something on here for a while, here comes something from Kuwait.

Turns out one of the ruling family members was caught selling drugs or something, which is punishable by death over there. Which in itself sucks, but check out this part:

In addition to the death sentence, the court fined Sheik Talal $35,000 for drug trafficking.

That just shows you how backward things are over there (on top of the whole drugs=death deal)

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Pebl

I went to Guatemala for the holidays and saw a total of three Pebl phones in the course of 11 days. How many have I seen in the US? Zero. I need to get an answer for this one. All I can think of is that Guatemalans simply went with the newest phone out there and followed the Pebl after the Razr, but I don't know. I wanted the phone from the very beginning and was surprised that no one here had it.

The answer will be posted at some point.