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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zeitgeist Movement

I'd like to recommend a very timely 2-hour documentary called Zeitgeist: Addendum which you can watch online here in its entirety. This is a sequel to the original Zeitgeist movie on a different (although arguably related) topic, but I think it's a much better film.

The movie explains how our financial system works, which I was very glad to learn. I had no idea what the Federal Reserve was, how it came about, and how it affects the value and supply of our money. Our system is designed such that every dollar created by the Federal Reserve creates a greater amount of debt owed to the Federal Reserve by our government. (The Fed is not a governmental institution, but a private one.) Basically the way things work now, our economy will never be free of debt, and thus our citizenry will always be financially enslaved. It's kind of a depressing reality.

But the film offers hope in the form of projects like The Venus Project, which is a movement away from a monetary-based system and toward a technologically-based system. (PDF explaining the project can be downloaded from this site.) Technology is the means to attain true freedom, the Venus Project posits, but advancement of technology is crippled by the motivation to create profit. Monetary systems are inherently imbalanced, inevitably creating socio-economic strata, rather than a balanced society.

Anyway, those are some of the themes of the film, and I found them rather interesting. The movie is a little bit alarmist (although not as alarmist as the first Zeitgeist), but it has rather provocative things to say.

I'd love to hear what you all think if you get a chance to watch it.



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HealthQuest2008 - October: Yoga-ta stop eating all that sugar!

I failed to give an update to HealthQuest2008 in September cause I was just so gosh darn busy finishing up the law school apps, getting prepared to climb the mountain, and being excited about my trip to Berkeley (which I will write about soon -- I'm busy transcribing a couple of the talks that I recorded).

So, long story short from September: I gave up alcohol for the entire month with the exception of one pint-sized beer that I had at the Bohemian. (I simply can't go to the Bohemian and not get a Cherny Bock ::queue Homer Simpson-esque drooling noise::.) I also gave up excess sugar for roughly 3 weeks before I couldn't take it anymore and completely caved, scarfing down chocolate left and right. But after two weeks of no alcohol and very little sugar, I managed to magically lose 5 pounds, which then managed to magically reappear a week later without explanation or invitation. C'est la vie.

So, it goes without saying that in October I've completely thrown out the sugar embargo altogether, and with much detriment, because I seem to be overcompensating for the sugar that I didn't eat in September. In fact, I've had so much sugar this month that I'm actually starting to get a little nauseated at the thought of eating more of it. So I'm afraid it's probably time to start another sugar embargo, at least to clear my system of all the instant diabetes I've been feeding it this month, and then gradually allow a moderate amount of sugar back into my diet. I think quitting altogether is neither (a) possible, nor (b) wise, since I tend to overcompensate when I fail.

On the excercise front, besides hiking Mt. Olympus this month, which was totally one of the best experiences of my life, I've been taking a weekly power yoga class at the Fieldhouse. This is the first yoga class I've taken where I feel like I get a great aerobic workout in addition to the benefits to my flexibility, balance, and strength. I feel great after the hour-long class, but pretty much want to kill my instructor during the first half of class wherein he likes to kick our asses with a Plank to reverse push up to Upward Dog to Downward Dog routine that gets progressively faster during the first 5-10 minutes of class. Then he tortures us with Warrior 1, Reverse Warrior, Chair position, and all other manner of thigh busters, but strangely, the hardest thing for me is keeping my arms lifted in the air for various poses. I really have pathetic arm strength.

Which brings me to another activity I've done this month: dragging Sov, a former personal trainer, to the gym with me to teach me about lifting weights. We did various arm exercises, and I learned that I rather like doing squats and rather hate doing crunches. Sov didn't think I got a good enough work out, but my trembling arms told me otherwise, and my muscles have only just started feeling whole again after nearly a week since the weight training. His expertise is very valuable, though. He knows what your muscles are supposed to do, and teaches you to visualize using the muscles in their appropriate manner when working them. I plan to bring him back to the gym with me again shortly.

So that's the story for October. Here's hoping I can make it through November and the Thanksgiving holidays without completely busting my gut.





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Saturday, October 25, 2008

boyfriend

Ian and I have been together for nearly 3 years now, and have lived together for most of that time, and it's recently occurred to me that I don't like calling him my "boyfriend". To me, boyfriend and girlfriend are words used in relationships less committed than ours. I think that's the best way to put it. I was going to say relationships not as long as ours, or relationships younger than ours, but really I think time and age are irrelevant factors. It's all about commitment.

I told this to Ian the other night. "I recently realized that I don't like calling you my boyfriend," I said, and he said, "I know! I keep wanting to call you my Partner, or something, but that just sounds like we're gay."

And it's true. There's no adequate term for a straight, non-married, non-engaged, cohabiting, fully-committed romantic couple. "We could call each other Life-Partners," I said, "but that still sounds a little bit gay, and cheesy on top of that."

Ian then suggested we could try the term Lovers, and I cringed. "No term used in the company of others should bring our bedroom lives to the forefront of their minds. That's just inappropriate, whether hetero or homo," I said.

So I guess that rules out my using the term Sweet Piece of Man Flesh.

Seriously, though, we need to come up with a word to describe the type of relationship Ian and I have. Any ideas?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Gay Mormon: The Ultimate Oxymormon

Today's letter to one of my beloved advice columnists, Dear Margo, is written by a gay Mormon who is struggling to come to terms with his sexual identity within a religion that is not accepting of gays, but that he still believes to be true. Sadly (or maybe comfortingly), he is not alone in this struggle. Here's the letter:

10/24/2008 – DEAR MARGO: I am 18 years old and have recently come to terms with the fact that I am gay. The enormous issue with this comes from the fact that I am of the Mormon faith, which famously takes a strict stance on homosexuality. I attend a church school in Utah, and living in a hostile, homophobic environment is taking its toll on me. I am trapped in feelings of self-loathing and doubt, and I wish for nothing more than to have heterosexual feelings. On the one hand, I do believe in the religion and know it has done great things for me, but I also feel like I can't stay a member of the church being who I am. I am afraid that if I live as a gay person, I will be sent to hell in the afterlife, but if I remain celibate in the church, I will be completely miserable. This issue has caused intense bouts of anxiety and depression. I feel trapped with nowhere to turn.

--- BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

DEAR BE: This is just a guess, as I am no statistician, but there have got to be more gay Mormons than just you. I would posit that you could find a liberal Mormon psychologist who might be helpful to you. It would be a shame to give up a religion you feel has done a great deal for you, but conversely, you are who you are, and it is my understanding that one's religion should not cause him pain, anxiety and guilt. As for wishing to miraculously have heterosexual feelings, you might as well wish for eyes of a different color than you were born with: It's not going to happen. Granted, no one has yet come back to report, but I am highly skeptical that gay people go to hell as a group. I hope you find either a religious or secular counselor who can help you and the Mormons coexist. You might try this site, as well: http://www.affirmation.org/about/.

--- MARGO, FAITHFULLY

Poor guy. But he's not alone; there are actually quite a few gays out there who still identify as Mormons. In fact, one of my good friends from high school is a transgendered lesbian Mormon. I never had a problem accepting her sexual and gender identities (in truth she makes a lot more sense this way), but I never could understand why she remains faithful in a church that thinks the very core of her identity is sinful. She once explained to me that to her the core teachings of the Mormon church are true, but that the church is run by imperfect people who bring to it their imperfect prejudices. I believe the words she chose were, "I LOVE Mormonism; HATE Mormons." Good for her that she has found a way to reconcile the divide that to me is just too stark to ignore.

I believe, as Sov has recently opined, that eventually, maybe in a few decades, as gays become more and more accepted as normal in widespread culture, there will come a Mormon "revelation" that being gay is not a sin.

Until that day, I don't think I'll ever understand gays who choose to be Mormons.



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Monday, October 20, 2008

Patron Rant

I recently finished reading Steve Dublanica's Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip -- Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. It's an entertaining read, even for someone like me -- the type of restaurant patron who thinks a tip is something to be earned, not to be expected. The writing is at times a little self-indulgent, the dialog reads in a very scripted manner, and I counted some 20 grammatical and spelling errors in the book (many of which could have been caught by spellcheck [seriously, what is up with editors who don't spellcheck a manuscript at least once?]), but if you overlook all that, you'll find a nice voyeuristic glimpse into the life of a server, and you'll probably learn a thing or two about what you can do to be a good patron.

It was interesting to see things from the server's perspective for a change. I myself have never been a server (I'm not much of a people person), but I have many friends who are or have at one time been a server, and there's one thing all servers have in common: whatever they make in tips is never good enough. I've often heard from server friends the phrase: "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to eat out!" This phrase also makes an appearance in Waiter Rant, and I agree with the sentiment. But I'd like to add a little phrase of my own: "If you can't provide the minimum level of acceptable service in a restaurant, you shouldn't expect a 15% tip, and should probably get out of the restaurant business." That includes being friendly, taking orders accurately, making amends when mistakes happen, and finding the right balance between checking on us too often and checking on us too infrequently. The door swings both ways.

I understand that restaurant work is very physically demanding (I was a dishwasher for 2 months at a cafe, so I know a little bit about this), and servers are essentially independent contractors whose wages are paid by their patrons. They do not get benefits like health care, sick leave, or paid vacation, and they work long hours on their feet. But most servers do actually make a very decent wage. They just aren't generally very good at managing their money. Hey, I know that if I were paid daily in cash I might have difficulty controlling my spending too, because it's so much easier to spend money when it's burning a hole in your pocket. But that's no excuse for blaming your money troubles on your customers. Unless your customer is a total prick, you're going to get your 15% if you do the minimum level of acceptable service, and for every bad-tipping prick, you're bound to get a great-tipping former server to balance out your income.

Anyway, there's always going to be a divide between those who serve and those who are served. We are warring factions. But it is fun to rant about the other side, isn't it? So let's share. I'm going to share some bad experiences I've had as a patron, and then invite you to share your bad experiences as either a patron or a server.

Patron Rant #1:
Ian and I went for Sunday brunch at the Avenues Bakery in Salt Lake (now out of business, I believe). Our server took our order and brought us our beverages, and then we proceeded to wait an abnormally long amount of time for our food. We watched as tables that were seated after us received their meals while our server didn't so much as offer a refill on our coffee or tea. In fact he didn't even stop to say thank you when he dropped the bill off on our table in passing. We flagged him down and informed him that we hadn't received our food yet. He was very embarrassed, and went off to rectify the situation. Our meals came within minutes after that, but we were both pretty pissed off while we ate. We fully intended to stiff the guy on the tip, but when we were presented with the bill again, he had comped almost the entire tab, and we felt bad stiffing a tip on a $3.00 bill, so we ended up tipping the guy, but felt a little manipulated in doing so.

Patron Rant #2:
Once again Sunday brunch, but this time at the very popular Ruth's Diner up Emigration Canyon in Salt Lake. I've had some delightful dining experiences at Ruth's in the past, and Ian had never been to the place before, so I took him there. We were seated inside in the section that looks like an old streetcar. Our server took our orders and then we waited. Our drinks never arrived, and our server never noticed. We watched her race back and forth up the aisle bringing drinks and refills to neighboring tables, but she never stopped at ours. After a half hour or so, she dropped our entrees off without stopping to see if we needed anything else. After a few passes, we were able to flag her down and let her know that we still needed our drinks. She copped an annoyed attitude and we had to remind her what we ordered. She brought us our drinks but never offered to refill my coffee before bringing us the tab. She did nothing to make amends for her blunder, and so we stiffed her on the tip. (We are not habitual stiffers -- this is one of maybe two times that we have completely stiffed a tip, but she earned it.)

Patron Rant #3
Market Street Grill near the University of Utah. It's not a high scale restaurant by any means, but it is a little bit swanky. Servers dress semi-formally, and prices are semi-expensive. Ian and I walked up from our apartment one evening wearing casual attire and were seated on the patio. Not long after we were seated and gave our orders, a well-dressed man and his date pulled up in a Porsche and were seated at the table next to us. We had the same server. Our service was not particularly bad, but was quite lacking in comparison to the very attentive and friendly service given to our neighbors. Ian and I felt like we had been judged as poor tippers based on our casual appearance as opposed to the clean cut appearance of our neighbors. In actuality, we were probably in a much better position to tip generously, since we both made decent wages and didn't have a Porsche payment or a fancy date to impress. But our server fulfilled her own prophecy, as we gave her a pittance of a tip. I know that servers size-up their tables, but they should never make us feel as if we've been sized-up.


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Friday, October 17, 2008

The Mac/PC Quandary

I'm still planning to write about my Berkeley trip. As my brother Zac and I walked around the city and the University campus, and as we attended the Free Culture Conference, I kept making little mental notes about things I wanted to talk about in my blog. I contemplated sketching out some posts on my legal pad, but I felt that method of pre-writing kind of cramps my blogging style. I'm an organic blogger, and very stream of consciousness in my writing. I have quite a bit of difficulty writing about my thoughts after having thought them rather than as they occur. And if I write little notes on my thoughts, I tend to lose the meat when I go to flesh them out later.

The obvious problem is that I don't have a laptop. I should have had a laptop with me so I could blog about my day before going to bed. But I've never had much of a need for a laptop before. I'm happy using my desktop at home, and while in school, I found the computer labs sufficient for any work I needed to do on campus. Still, law school will be a different story, and I do plan on investing in a laptop before I go (but preferably after I'm accepted so I can get a sweet student discount).

So here's the thing: I've always been a PC user, and as irritating as Windows can be sometimes, I at least know how to maneuver the Windows system. The only thing about Windows that really bothers me is that you basically have to reformat your hard drive and reinstall the system every year or two to keep things running smoothly. Annoying, but manageable.

But now Apple has become a rather well-liked company, thanks to the iPod and iPhone, and the Macintosh has had a resurgence of popularity that has me eyeing the other side. I don't know a damn thing about Macs, but I plan to investigate them before deciding what I'm going to do about a laptop.

So I'm asking for your opinion on the Mac/PC debate. Which do you like better and why? What are the positives and negatives about your Mac or PC? If you use both, what is the compatibility between the two? Can you open Word/WP/Adobe files on Mac?

Some of the more computer savvy of you might suggest that I get a PC with Linux. But I feel like Linux is for people who really know what they're doing, and I'm just a casual user who doesn't plan to become a computer expert, so I don't think Linux would be for me. But feel free to defend the virtues of Linux if you are so inclined.



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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mounting Mt. Olympus

Above the inversion, view of Lone Peak .25 miles from Mt. Olympus summit

Mt. Olympus is not the tallest mountain peak in Salt Lake City's Rocky Mountain range, but it is one of the most recognizable, and the trail to the southern peak is a favorite among Utah's hiking enthusiasts. My childhood bedroom window looked out on Mt. Olympus, and because of this, part of me has always considered it to be my mountain. For years I have pledged to conquer the mountain, and since I'm facing the prospect of uprooting from Salt Lake next year, I decided there was no better time than the present to make good on that goal.

So my friend Sov and I have spent most of the summer preparing for a hike up the 4 mile-long trail to the southern summit of Mt. Olympus. The majority of my previous hiking experiences have taken place in southern Utah, and so this summer afforded me the opportunity to see some really beautiful northern Utah terrain as we prepared for the big hike. Later on I'll post some photographic highlights from our preparatory hikes, but for now I'm posting some exciting, thrilling, and yes, even titillating video footage of our October 9th hike up Mt. Olympus!

Alright, so the video might not actually be one or more of those adjectives, but if you are interested in seeing what it's like to take a 9 hour hike up and down the side of a 4,000 ft mountain peak, then this video might appeal to you. Thanks to Sov for synthesizing roughly 40 minutes of footage into a 10-minute clip, and for being a committed and supportive hiking buddy, without whom I doubt I could have achieved this feat.

(P.S., Make sure to jump over to SovKnight.com to read Sov's description of the hike, which is much more descriptive than mine. [Hey, I just got back from Berkeley and I'm tired! More on that tomorrow.])



Sra, glad that the Up part is over

Sov, mountaineering and video editing guru

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Commentary on Religulous and Religion

Last night Ian and I met up with Sov at the Broadway Theater to see Bill Maher's documentary Religulous. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but that's probably because I'm a non-believer; I can't imagine the faithful seeing this as anything other than a bash on their beliefs. And really that's exactly what it is. This is not a documentary about religion, but about the madness of religion.

I don't think Religulous is intended to sway believers, but rather to rally non-believers. The message is that religion causes greedy and destructive behavior, and if we non-believers don't start asserting ourselves, the religious may end up self-fulfilling their Armageddon prophecies.

So did the rallying work on me? No, not really. I mean, I do think organized religion causes an awful lot of harm in the world. But I also don't think there's much that can be done about that. It's not like religious belief is ever going to go away, and the dangerous mindsets that ofttimes accompany religious belief are not easily alleviated.

Besides, deep down I really do think everyone has a right to believe whatever they want, just as I have a right to disbelieve whatever I want. Though I still find myself baffled when otherwise intelligent people buy into what I perceive to be utter nonsense. Here I'm talking about specific peculiarities of religious belief, and not belief in god in general. As to a belief in god, I don't fault anyone for that. Although I am atheist, I recognize that there is no solid proof one way or another regarding the existence of god, so it requires just as much of a leap of faith to disbelieve in god as it does to believe in god. Fence-riding agnostics are the true realists in this picture.

When someone's religious belief begins to impinge upon the rights of others, that's where I have a problem. It's a fine line to walk, because when dogma says your belief is the only correct belief, you can't very well be tolerant of the beliefs or non-beliefs of others. I suppose it's anyone's right to not be tolerant. But when intolerance lends way to injury, that's where I become intolerant of intolerance.

I don't know. I guess there's one side of me that wants to say religious people are a bunch of crazy dangerous motherfuckers*, and another side that wants to say it's ok to be a crazy motherfucker as long as the dangerous stuff is left out of the picture.

Mostly, like politics, I just try not to think about it.


*Edited to add: When I say "religious people are a bunch of crazy dangerous motherfuckers", I'm not talking about you personally. In fact, I shouldn't even say "people" but "institutions" or "ideals". Religion does provide its followers with a sense of community, hope, and belonging -- and these are some very positive things about religion -- but it also tends to do the opposite for non-followers, by ostracizing, condemning, and dividing. Personally, I think the bad outweighs the good. But what else would you expect to hear from an atheist?

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Saturday, October 4, 2008

The last time I talk about the law school applications until I get my results

Well, I submitted my law school applications last night. It's done and I feel great relief about that. I've been working on this whole process since I began studying for the LSAT last Fall, and while the year has gone by quickly in retrospect, there was a lot to accomplish in that time. It's nice to finally be over this hurdle.

I want to thank everyone who provided comments, praise, and criticism on my essay. The response was generally positive, and the criticisms were generally apt. I did my best to address the shortcomings you all pointed out, and I feel like the final product is a much stronger essay thanks to your help. So thank you sincerely.

I did have a couple people tell me that the essay sounds like I just got bored one day and decided to go to law school on a whim. I guess I can see how that might come across if you're not looking at the whole picture. The story about the car and the CD booklet is true; that really was the moment that everything fell into place for me, and I was being honest in telling that story. But just because the decision was made in a moment doesn't mean the moment wasn't a culmination of a great deal of thought and soul-searching. I thought I communicated that by showing that I changed my mind about my initial decision to go to law school specifically because I did not want to make such a serious decision lightly. I thought I communicated that now I have a specific reason to go to law school (especially since I did flesh out my conclusion to include more specific plans for what I hope to accomplish).

I was advised that I needed to "schmooze and bullshit the committees more" and really play up my passion for legal studies. I was told I should have talked more about the six years I've spent working in the legal industry and played up that angle a lot, and I should have talked about my grandfather, who was an attorney and a judge, which would show that I come from a legal family.

Well, the problem with that angle is it IS bullshit. Those things have nothing to do with me and why I want to go to law school. Really, they don't. My grandfather is my hero. He had so much integrity -- more than anyone else I have ever known -- and because of that he made a fine judge and attorney. The scales of justice tattoo between my shoulder blades is for my grandfather; that is how I honor his memory. But I don't want to be an attorney just because my grandfather was one, and I think that is an overused ploy that admissions committees would see right through.

Also, yes my experiences working for the med mal firm and the IP firm have definitely influenced my choice to go to law school, but only in the sense that those experiences haven't DETERRED me from making this choice. Some people decide to go to law school because it looks so exciting on TV and in the movies. Well, there's nothing like working in an actual law firm to show you that law really isn't that glamorous most of the time. But it is rewarding in its own way. I think in my essay the role that these experiences plays is exactly as it should be. It was a guide but not a major factor in my choice.

I was not willing to lie to the admissions committees or even bend the truth so that it reads like what they want to hear. I tried to tell them what they wanted to hear in my first attempt at the essay, and that essay was terrible. It was dishonest, dispassionate, and not my voice. This essay, on the other hand, was my voice, and it was the best I could do. If that ends up not being good enough for the admissions committees, then so be it. I was honest, and I feel no shame in that. It really was the best I could do.

So now I play the waiting game. You'll hear from me about this again once I start to get some results, and especially when I know where I'm going (because I have to believe that I'm going to get in SOMEWHERE). I'll probably know in 3-8 months.

Until then, breathe a sigh of relief with me. We can finally talk about something else!



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Friday, October 3, 2008

Young for my age

Today is my 26th birthday. As my dad would say, I've just entered my 27th year. It's cool, though, I still feel young. My peer group has consisted mainly of 30-somethings for several years now, and so I identify more with that age group anyway. So since it's like I'm 30 already, by the time I actually reach 30, I'll be really young for my age. And I'll have a law degree. Awesome.