Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Mexico Issues Stamps of Black Character

MEXICO CITY - The Mexican government has issued postage stamps depicting an exaggerated black cartoon character known as Memin Pinguin, just weeks after remarks by President Vicente Fox angered U.S. blacks.

The series of five stamps released Wednesday depicts a hapless boy drawn with exaggerated features, thick lips and wide-open eyes. His appearance, speech and mannerisms are the subject of kidding by white characters in the comic book, which started in the 1940s and is still published in Mexico.

Activists criticized the stamps as offensive, though officials denied it.

"This is a traditional character that reflects part of Mexico's culture," Carlos Caballero, assistant marketing director for the Mexican Postal Service, said. "His mischievous nature is part of that character."

He went on to add, "just like, you know, eating a lot of watermelon and being lazy."

The 6.50-peso (60 cent) stamps — depicting the character in five poses, from a classic "sharecropping" pose to a more modern depiction featuring the character running from a liquor store with what appears to be two forty-ounce bottles of Colt 45 — were issued with the domestic market in mind, but Caballero noted they could be used in international postage as well. A total of 750,000 of the stamps will be issued.

Publisher Manelick De la Parra told the government news agency Notimex the character would be a sort of goodwill ambassador on Mexican letters and postcards. "It seems nice if Memin can travel all over the world, spreading good news," de la Parra said, calling him "so charming, so affectionate, so wonderful, generous and friendly."

"And did I mention, so mired in poverty?" de la Parra added. "Add that one to the list. Mired in abysmal, epic poverty. It is the kind of poverty we in Mexico call el pozo de lagrimas, literally, the well of tears. Only his healthy appetite for white women can ease the pain of knowing that his future generations will be doomed to low wages and poor performance on standardized tests for years to come."

(the majority of this is from an article off of the associated press by mark stevenson; the original is available by clicking here.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

more thoughts on not learning

i've been thinking over the past week about the numerous ways my stupidity has made itself manifest over the past two-point-seven decades of my life, so as a sort of continuation of last week's ruminations on my inability to learn, consider the following:

1 for years, i couldn’t understand why athletes wore sweatbands on their wrists, but i never bothered to question it until i was watching a playoff game between the lakers and the kings back in 2002. i remember the lakers ultimately won and went on to secure the championship from some new jersey team… the nets? yeah. i always get them mixed up with the devils, and frankly, when i hear “new jersey devils,” i don’t think of sports. i think of deviled ham. sad, because i’m sure they were trying for something intimidating; which is not to say, mind you, that the prospect of spreadable ham is not frightening. you certainly wouldn’t want to get it mixed up with sports—can you imagine the commercials?

“deviled ham—is it in you?”
“dear god, yes! now how the fuck do i get it out?!

anyway. i was watching one of the playoff games with a friend, and i’m like, “do they really think their wrists are going to get that sweaty?” he had to mime the act of wiping his forehead with his wrist three times before i understood.

speaking of which, why is it that, when we mime something to someone, and they don't get it, rather than explain it with words, we mime it again, only slower? as though the problem was not that our gestures were incoherent, it was our blinding speed?

2 i got my first car when i was 19. it was a 1989 nissan pulsar. now, before we criticize the nissan pulsar, we should credit the company for being very forward thinking, as the pulsar was one of the first cars with crumple zones—in a collision, the cabin was designed to crumple neatly, keeping the engine block and trunk area safe from harm. at any rate, the first day we got it, my father and i were checking it out and making sure all of the systems and “electronics [sic]" were functioning properly. so my father asks me, “check the cigarette lighter.” i pushed the metal plug into the slot and waited for a little while, then pulled on the knob impatiently and stared at the heating element. i expected the coil to be glowing orange, like the cherry on a cigarette when someone takes a drag; instead, it was black and smelled like burnt oil. i stared at it blankly.

“what do i do now?”
“touch it.”
touch it?”
“yeah, touch it.”

i was able to use my thumb again after about a week, though the spiral-shaped blister took much longer to heal completely. by the way, the correct answer is, you spit on it.

in defense of my father, he had no idea his son was retarded.

3 i used to believe it was impossible to achieve a decent shave without shaving against the grain, largely because i had no idea when it was the right time to change the blade on my razor. i asked my father once, and his answer was, you’ll just know. unfortunately, i was 16 at the time, and had been shaving for almost four years by then, and i obviously didn’t know. his answer, “you’ll just know,” by the way, doesn’t mean that a small voice will perk up inside of you the instant you begin an activity and tell you some secret. no, what it means is, you’ll spend months, perhaps years, maybe even decades, not knowing, screwing things up many times, incurring trauma or, at the very least, losing some blood, until you finally get it. what “you’ll just know” ultimately means is, “i have no fucking clue,” and in fact, if this were the answer i’d received on this and many other occasions, well, i probably would feel less animosity towards parents and other authority figures.

i can’t remember any more how exactly i started shaving, but i remember why. i was in my eighth grade drawing class, and the teacher was discussing shading. for his demonstration, he decided to draw my profile on one of those oversized pads of paper the jolly green giant writes his grocery lists on (“i’m tired of vegetables—toss me up one of them villagers, dammit!). to my eventual chagrin, his chosen medium that day was a wide charcoal pencil, making the rendering of finer details like a chin or a basic human shaped skull difficult, to say the least.

by then i had already achieved a kind of beard, and by “achieved,” what i mean is, allowed to accrue due to negligence, like the way one might say, “check out all the cavities i’ve achieved,” or, “i’ve achieved three generations of tapeworms in my colon.” my beard was not so much like peach fuzz... it was more like an elderly woman’s mustache. except, all over my face.

which, by the way, is what it feels like to enter or exit an italian household.

anyway, my teacher set about drawing my head on the paper and all i can say is that i looked paleolithic. i looked positively simian. i looked like one of the kids in that one classroom in the opposite building who still kept an extra change of clothes in a tupperware container above the coat rack. and we all had a good laugh, though by we i should clarify that i mean all of us who were not me. so, ... they.

and i remember looking at this horrific depiction of myself and deciding to at least learn how to farm so that i could boost myself into the mesolithic, because that particular lithic is the shit.

as for whether or not one should shave against the grain... well, you'll just know.

they said i play well with others

Believe it or not, some people favorited this photo. [Photo credit: Duke Energy]

going in for training reminds me of going up on stage, when in fact, it should be more like going to the hospital.

you don’t go to the hospital unless you really need to, or, if you have an hmo, when they tell you it’s okay. and usually you know you need to go to a hospital because:

when it only hurt a little bit, you decided to wait until it went away. now you can’t look to the left.

you’ve exhausted your sister’s remaining supply of the vicodin a doctor prescribed for her three years ago and you’re betting if they operate you can get more.

you’ve counted 3,483 specks on the bathroom ceiling, zero rolls of toilet paper left in the cabinet, and two of everything else.

you went to “that guy” and got “a deal” and he made it “hurt like a motherfucker.”

and since you’ve been humbled by your failures to practice your own brand of “common sense medicine,” you’re pretty much willing to accept the fact that you don’t know what’s wrong with you and maybe somebody who’s spent the better part of a decade studying the subject will have something original, or at least accurate, to say. you realize, furthermore, that this is not the time to show the doctor how much you know about your pancreas.

though, to be fair, your examination will most likely not begin with the doctor gathering the nurses and interns around and then asking you, cold end of a stethoscope pressed firmly to your abdomen, to “name three functions of the liver.” training seminars, on the other hand, are built around nothing but questions designed to determine if you already know the answers to questions you are about to learn the answers to. “can anyone tell me some methods for handling problem employees?” they ask you at the beginning of the unit on handling problem employees. it seems as though the point of your being there is not to learn new skills, but to prove to your superiors, not to mention everyone else in the room, that there was no need to send you to training to begin with.

and as if that’s not bad enough, i had to eat in front of these people! let me be perfectly clear: eating is not something i prefer to do in front of others. for one thing, it depresses me to see the ridiculous portions balanced upon the plates of the thin people, as though they are trying to invent new platonic solids out of carefully arranged foodstuffs (“i call it a brownie-decahedron”) while i have to contend with my guilt over indulging in one—whole—slice of pizza.

and i should clarify that by “contend with my guilt,” i mean “eat chocolate until my sweat smells like christmas.

and another thing. i consider myself to be an ethical person, and eating in front of someone else just isn’t a very considerate thing for me to do. it’d be like, if i were living in a country where we used our hands to wipe ourselves, and i used my wiping hand to shake yours. that’s not very nice, yet that’s what i was forced to do. to everyone in the room. at lunch. and i’m not even being metaphorical—the restrooms were not well kept.

but seriously, when i eat, it’s a battle, and the food is going to lose. it’s like if kasparov were to play a game of checkers, not that he would, really, unless the people at IBM made a computer program that also played checkers and then challenged him to beat it. and paid him handsomely regardless of the results. then i guess he would probably play checkers. i, on the other hand, would not have to be paid to go against a computer designed to eat more pies than me, the rationale being, even if i didn’t win, i would still get to eat a fuckload of pie. i don’t know exactly how much a fuckload of pie is, but i bet it’d be enough, probably at least a grip of—no, two grips of pie, i’m betting. that’s a lot of pie, my friends.

my point back there being, my objective when i eat is to clear the field of play. and the best part? at burger king, when i said “king me!” i got a paper crown. this, by the way, got old by the time i turned seven, and will continue to be “old” until i have grandchildren, when, ironically, it will be “cute.” unfortunately, if i eat fast food with any kind of regularity, by the time i have grandchildren i will probably also have “colon cancer,” which will cause a “fuckload of problems,” which is the answer to the question the doctor will pose when i get to the hospital.

furthermore, as when i play checkers, when i eat, i do so with a single-mindedness that does not allow me to actively listen to others, maintain eye contact, keep my clothes tidy and clean, or chew thoroughly. so the unit on lunch was a particular challenge to me.

adding to the anxiety produced by the prospect of eating a meal is the fact that i—am—stupid. most people are stimulated by questions; i am incapacitated by them. whenever our instructor would ask us something, my mind would go numb. not blank, mind you, but numb. i could not will a thought to happen. it was like i was one of those encephalitis patients in awakenings who are catatonic for a while and then come out of it; or like jessica simpson, who won’t.

thankfully, we frequently broke out into small groups, enabling me to coast along on the effort of others. this, i believe, makes me an ideal candidate for upper management, but not so good at middle management, which requires all sorts of actual effort. i’m not good at effort, although, once, someone said, “this requires effort,” and i thought they said, “this requires a fort,” and was very excited until i realized we were not, in fact, building a treehouse. not that i understand now why i would have thought getting a five on the ap calculus test would require constructing a house of wood.

the first indication that i was mistaken? under “test location,” it did not state, “up a fucking tree.

thankfully, i can say that i did learn a lot at training. i learned that repeating what others say back to them makes them think you’re a good listener, even if you have no clue what they meant; i learned that, when in a group, if you tell people what to do but don’t come up with any ideas of your own, they’ll do the thinking for you; and, finally, i learned that you should always use the restroom downstairs, rather than the one attached to your conference room.

in other words, the important things.