Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Monday, May 19, 2008


I have a second job teaching ESL on Wednesday and Thursday nights. And yes, doing this in addition to the full-time job at the software company is every bit as exhausting as it sounds.
Early on, when I realized that the tech support job alone wouldn’t be enough to foot the bills, I looked around to see what other part-time employment I could get that would help me maintain my extravagant lifestyle of paying bills on time and not going deeper into credit card debt. I wanted to do something mindless and repetitive like data entry, but was unable to find anything part-time.

ESL also came to mind as it was something I had experience with, and I had, in the last year, supplemented my income by teaching online. But I was a little remiss to actively search for another ESL job since I would have to take the work home with me, plus I had left the ESL industry in Japan because I felt burnt out. But, necessity is a mother so I sucked it up and started scouring CraigsList where I soon came across a school that looked promising: Teikyo Heights Loretto University.

It seemed like a perfect fit-- part of a network of educational institutions associated with the Teikyo Group: a Japanese educational consortium comprised of universities in Japan, the US, Germany, China, Russia, the UK, and the Netherlands. I thought this should be easy since they would most likely promote studying abroad to the Japanese students at the sister campuses. Since I have experience teaching English to Japanese I figured I would be an obvious choice as part-time instructor.

It was not to be, unfortunately, when I went to the interview. Though there are a few Japanese students, the majority of the denizens that were traversing the halls of the old Sisters of Loretto building (which they’ll constantly remind you is at the highest point in Denver) are not Japanese. I found as well that their affiliation with the Teikyo Group was tenuous at best. I applied anyway, but the only positions that available were subs. They would add me to the call list and contact me if something came up. It never did.

My search pretty much stalled out after that. It’s kind of hard to believe, when compared to the prevalence of ESL jobs in countries abroad how difficult it is to find sustainable work teaching English (especially if you don’t have a Master’s Degree) in the US. I suppose this may be easier in places with greater international prominence, but surely there’s a large enough population, even in a cow town like Denver, of F-1 Visa students and other immigrants to find worthwhile employment.

Eventually I did come across a start-up language school that was sharing space at the Community College of Aurora at Lowry. I could work twice a week teaching four hours a night for 20 bucks an hour. Plus they’d pay me for an additional hour of planning for each day I worked. This was back in September, so I’ve been working there continuously (except for the semester break in early March when the company expanded into a new building) for the past nine months or so. Damn! Has it really been that long?

The new semester started in April, and after about eight weeks of class I’ve come to realize that I still don’t really know all that much about the countries that my students are from. The majority of the class is from Tajikstan, but I’ve got a very diverse group of students comprised of: Israel, Morocco, Costa Rica, Romania, Mongolia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. So in the interest of not sounding like a moron by making sweeping, incorrect generalizations when talking to my pupils about their respective homelands, I plan to devote the next few entries of this blog to discussing language and culture.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

In defending what seems to me a pretty surprising claim by the church that aliens might possibly exist, Reverend Gabriel Funes says, "[H]ow can you rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?" Talk about your grocery store Catholic! I had always thought that the only other-worldly places named in the Bible were Heaven, Hell, and purgatory, but then again, even the existence of purgatory is only inferred.

I'm not willing to do any research on it because I hate Tom Cruise, but I bet this kind of news is just going to be used by Scientologists to try to prop up the legitimacy of their ridiculous cult. Disgusting.

And what kind of ramifications will this have on Catholicism if aliens are added to the official canon? Well for one thing they'd have to revise The Lord's Prayer:

Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On Earth (and Pluto and Alderon and Vulcan and SJ-7854930C) as it is in Heaven

OK, yeah, maybe I am having a little bit too much fun with this, but then again, if you believe there's a connection between the Catholic Church and aliens, you'll probably think there's something to this as well:


Saturday, May 10, 2008

On Liberty and Entrapment

A few weeks ago I attended the Appleseed Project run by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association. I had been invited by a friend, who was a gun nut, and was interested to see what it was all about. I didn't have a lot of experience shooting a rifle, and therefore decided if there was a clinic that could improve my marksmanship, then it probably wouldn't hurt anything. Surely, there were worse ways to spend a weekend than knocking the crap out of paper targets with my friend's SKS.

We drove west into the mountains at about 6:00 pm and arrived at around nine to the private ranch where the event would be held the next morning-- just in time to see the owner opening up the barbed-wire gate. We asked if it would be all right to build a campfire. We were at an elevation of around 7,000 feet, so even though it was mid-April, spring comes late to the wilds around Cañon City. Unfortunately, due to dry conditions we were denied our request. So I spent the night in the shivering frost under two sleeping blankets and a fleece roll that I had bought at the sporting goods store earlier that day. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep. The next morning, as we were hoping for the sun to come over the valley and warm our chilled bones, the weekend event began to take shape and the thirty or so participants gathered at the meeting point. There we went through intensive safety instructions and were lectured about the historical importance of the date on which this event was scheduled.

The significance of the date (from a Wiki article) is as follows:

On the night of April 18, 1775, (English) General Gage sent 700 men to seize munitions stored by the colonial militia at Concord, Massachusetts. Riders including Paul Revere alerted the countryside, and when British troops entered Lexington on the morning of April 19, they found 77 minutemen formed up on the village green. Shots were exchanged, killing several minutemen. The British moved on to Concord, where a detachment of three companies was engaged and routed at the North Bridge by a force of 500 minutemen. As the British retreated back to Boston, thousands of militiamen attacked them along the roads, inflicting great damage before timely British reinforcements prevented a total disaster. With the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the war had begun.

While listening to the trainer muddle his way through an explanation of the 'first strike of the match that set off the powder keg' I kept wondering what would possess someone, other than an absolute steadfast firearms devotee to want to come out and do this shit. The average person today would probably consider the very notion of doing something like this a hobby for whack-jobs and militia wannabes. I was waiting for the big cheese-it-up section in which someone was going to tell me that I wasn't a true American until I owned a rifle.

I swallowed my prejudice as best I could, however, and tried to take the lessons to heart. I wanted to hear what had to be said from a purely mechanical perspective, reminding myself that there's nothing inherently political about being able to fire a rifle. After all, who knows when you might need it? What if you get stranded in the wilderness or the price of food gets so high that it's just more economical to hunt?

So I focused on the end goal: developing the ability to accurately hit a target at 500 yards. I learned the six steps to superior marksmanship: sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, focus on the front sight, keep your finger on the trigger, and follow through. In addition, I learned how to find my natural point of aim, adjust sights by calculating minutes of angle, and how to shoot standing, sitting, and in prone position. It was all new to me, and it hadn't dawned on me until near the end that our ultimate goal was to make a rifleman's score on the Army qualification test. I fell far short, but without question had marked improvement between the first and second days. My patterns were tighter and towards the end I felt I was able to call my shot, knowing where the projectile would strike at the moment of fire.

The first day passed apolitically, much to my liking, since I'm not really the type of person that likes confrontation and I didn't want to get into a political discussion with the folks on the range, many of whom I could tell just from a few moments speaking probably wouldn't like where I stood ideologically. But, at the end of the training we were cajoled to take political action, not explicitly instructed to vote Republican mind you, but to vote against the Demon-crats at every turn, since they represented a threat to the rights of the citizens to own arms, and that was the essence of being an American. I must say it left me with a bad taste in my mouth, seeing that at such a critical time for our country, that was the only political topic anyone there seemed to give a shit about.

The bottom line is this: people who are fervent about protecting the second amendment aren't so because of their love of liberty, but because of their love of firearms.

They don't give equal weight to the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. What about freedom from cruel and unusual punishment? Certainly the incumbent Republican administration is explicit in their affront to this law when they appoint an Attorney General who won't even identify the medieval practice of water boarding as torture. My problem with the NRA and people like I met at the Appleseed Project is that they're incredibly myopic. But that's the nature of interest groups and lobbyist who fail to look at the big picture, who try to convince everyone to cast their vote based on a single specific issue.

I mean really, if you want to tag the protection of civil liberties as the cornerstone of your political view, then clearly the current administration has done more to infringe upon the rights of the individual citizen then any Democratic 'gun grabber' administration in the history of the country. If the worst that Clinton had done was to drive up the price of ammo and make a few assault rifles unavailable to people, well, I'd take that over being complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people based on an out-and-out lie.

On the other hand, do I think people should be allowed to own assault rifles? Yes. There's nothing inherent in a piece of wood and iron that will kill you or turn you into a crazed murdering maniac. One does not automatically provoke violence by purchasing a rifle. I can understand the appreciation of a firearm as an object of beauty, as a survival tool, and as a symbol of something that has allowed people to take their destiny in their own hands. Yes there need to be more stringent gun control laws and tougher enforcement on existing laws so that criminals and the mentally disabled are denied access, but wholesale restriction won't prevent criminals from seeking them on the black market.

If people justify their right to own arms as a manifestation of free choice, then there are lot of other freedoms they should equally defend. If people should have the right to own assault rifles, then they should also have the right to determine whether or not to have an abortion, or to have the right to marry if they're gay. They should defend the right to due process, stand up for the principal that one is innocent until proven guilty, and be especially interested in making sure that the state must give a reason for holding you against your will. If we are true with ourselves about what it means to be free, and hold ourselves to a more absolute definition of freedom then people should also have the right to die should they feel that to be the best course of action. It may be morally hard to swallow, but it's a clear manifestation of free choice nonetheless.

Going into a broader consideration of liberty and restrictions I find it prudent to ask the question: what in human experience ensnares and what liberates? I'm not speaking just about law and enforcement here, but the broader, less apparent internal and social constraints which restrict us from being able to behave and become who we want.

The issue was made large and relevant to my recent experience with Appleseed when I watched Into the Wild just a few days afterward. Certainly we're born into obligations that have the capacity to prohibit total realization of self. The obligation to your family and moreover their expectations of what you should become are difficult in the best of contexts, and can be overwhelming when taken to the extreme. That was the covert tyranny which the protagonist was attempting to overcome in his disappearance into Alaska. Influence, the will of the group, a web of obligations, social conditioning, the expectations of your friends, your family, and your peers: all have the ability to trap and to negate the actualization of desire.

By attempting to withdraw from the natural traps of socialization you evoke suspicion, contempt, and even fear. It's a bold endeavor indeed to attempt to transcend them. But the question is relevant still: What would you do with absolute freedom?