Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Job Hunt

When I was a freshly-minted graduate with an opportunity-rich history degree, I applied for a job at my hometown’s museum. The Otago Museum is about what you’d expect from something that serves a college town of 100,000 – it’s no Smithsonian, but it’s certainly not terrible. But let’s be honest – it’s not really anything special.

But a job’s a job, and I was quite pleased to be offered an interview. A thirty-minute slot on a warm January afternoon was assigned to me; I shined my shoes, tucked in my shirt, and drove my mother’s van to the museum.

It was a panel interview, a variety of interview I’ve only seen in New Zealand. Three middle-aged women were gathered at the other end of a long table, staring me down and bidding me to have a seat.

The usual questions were asked – why do you want this job, what kind of pay do you expect, yahdayahdayahdah. I negotiated them fairly well, I think, but then I tend to assume the best of my performance unless I’m presented with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Which makes the next events – presentation of said evidence – rather fortuitous. They asked me what I liked about this particular museum and I, all smiles and naiveté, said in what I thought was a charming fashion that I couldn’t say because I hadn’t (ha ha) actually been there.

Wrong answer.

“How,” a panelist breathlessly stammered through her rage, “do you expect to work in this museum if you’ve never even been here.”

I began to suspect that this interview wasn’t going as well as it possibly could, but I couldn’t for the life of me imagine how I was going to dig myself out of this hole. This would become a theme.

“Well, I have been to a lot of other museums that are about the same size as this one, and to be honest I’ve never found them to be that different from one another.”

Silence, as she gripped her pen so hard that I feared for its health, and furiously scrawled some notes. Something tells me they weren’t positive.

“Well,” another panelist intervened, “it’s been great meeting you and we’ll. Be. In. Touch.” As she showed me out the door, I glanced at my watch – it had been ten minutes.

It will be clear by now that the interview process has never been easy for me. The above example is a particularly egregious one, but similar examples positively (or negatively) abound. Which is a shame because, if I say so myself, I am quite employable.

The vast majority of this blog’s meagre fanbase will know this, but it bears repeating. Entry-level job interviews are almost always conducted by a low-level manager, occasionally backed up by an HR rep. HR reps, with their contagious anxiety and perpetual looks that can only be described as existential, don’t deserve an internet-lambasting; they’ve got it bad enough as it is.

Lower-level managers, on the other hand, are quite the opposite. For one, They tend to have an enormous chip on their shoulder. I suspect that this is because of a similarly-sized insecurity on their part – their place on the employment ladder is the kind is acquired not by skill or aptitude but instead by simply paying dues. This creates the type of person who has an incredible amount of expertise on the minutiae of their section of whatever organisation they work for, but very little capacity for big-picture thinking, or even, more often than not, basic social skills.

I’m substantially, and quite obviously smarter than these people, and please don’t take that as arrogance. You probably are too – it’s a really low bar.

I recently interviewed for a job at a call centre at a large Australiasian bank. It went okay, I thought – they asked me all the questions I expected, I fielded them all fairly well, and I’d even done some research beforehand to back up my answers. I didn’t mention that I actually do my banking with someone else, and nor did I tell them that I can’t really tell the difference between banks.

In short, things were looking good – they even had me come in and listen to some calls to “get a feel for the job.”

However, in the very final few minutes, after I’d put on my jacket and said my goodbyes, the lower-level manager showed me her sleeve’s final trick. Out of nowhere, she whipped out a copy of my cover letter. Shock and horror – in my application process, which involved responding to more than one job ad, I had put the name of a different employer on top of the letter.

And that is pretty bad, I’ll admit. It shows a certain unprofessionalism, apathy, and inattention to detail, three attitudes I would certainly bring to a call centre role, but which I had until now managed to hide.

“Well?” she said, shooting daggers at me.

I explained myself – that I had applied for more than one job and this mistake had fallen through the cracks. She nodded and let a smug smile pass her face at my recognizance of her authority as “team leader.”

“But to be fair,” figuring that now that we were friends again we could be honest with one another, “you did have me in for an interview anyway.”

The cogs in her assistant manager's brain ticked over once or twice while she processed what had just happened. Then it was back to the all-too-familiar tight-lipped smile and ice-cold handshake. “You’ll be hearing from us.”

Luckily for everyone involved, I never did.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Loin Fruit


I’m fairly sure I did not enjoy my own birth, but I am lucky enough to not remember it. Everyone else involved, however, does remember this momentous event in my parents’ Manhattan apartment, unencumbered by frivolities like electric lights or pain meds.

This experience sounds wholly unpleasant, especially for my mother. But giving birth was just the first hassle she underwent for me and her subsequent two offspring, and it was nowhere near the most severe.

As an adolescent, I was an underachieving little snot. I never did homework, rarely did classwork, and, if I wasn’t disrupting others with one delightful shenanigan after another I was looking out the window, forming elaborate fantasies in my brain unrelated to the task at hand.

Report cards reflected this charming personality year after year. Comments were seldom positive and grades were never high. At the conclusion of one particularly memorable semester, I got a 0 in art – I hadn’t turned in a single thing.

Watching me attempt to assemble Lego structures was enough to ensure that I was clearly never going to be a carpenter – if my success wasn't academic, it would be nonexistent. What’s more, I was a voracious reader in my spare time, a paradox that no doubt drove both my parents around the bend.

So they tried everything. They tried grounding me for bad grades; they tried rewarding me for good grades. They tried helping me with my homework, they tried keeping in constant touch with my teachers. At every turn, I dodged and weaved their efforts and every six weeks my report card would indicate exactly to what extent I had done so.

At long last, they decided that the education system simply wasn’t teaching me in a way that I could learn, and they opted to homeschool me. It wasn’t really “they,” though – my father works full-time, so the brunt of my homeschooling rested with my mother.

And this is what I mean when I mention the effort she goes through for me. Not only did she elect to stay at home and teach her seemingly unteachable son, she also opted to do it not in elementary school, not in high school, but in those atrocious, puberty-ridden years of middle school.

Twelve-to-fourteen is a terrible age. It’s an age of squeaky voices and obnoxious attitudes. It’s an age where kids start to develop opinions but lack intelligence to actually back them up; in this regard I was no exception. In short, early adolescence is when school is the best thing the public service has to offer, as a full day with these "people" comes close to meeting the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

But, like a champ, my mum took on her very own snotty twelve year old, spending every day in its entirety with me, trying her damndest to shape me into an educated person.

The reason I share this extended anecdote is because today is my mother’s birthday. And, as I take tentative steps into a well-adjusted adulthood, I’m starting to realise that I didn’t become this way on my own. I have my mother to thank, for her advice (solicited or no), for her constant support, and for her unconditional love.

Even from afar I know that she’s constantly thinking of my best interests. These manifest themselves in endless positive comments on my blog, messages with safety tips, and, probably unbeknownst to my father, offers of financial assistance.

So happy birthday, Mum. Thanks for giving birth to me and raising me. Thanks for always looking out for me and tolerating all manners of rubbish from me. You have done and are doing a great job, and for that I love you.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Where It's Due


I thought getting a credit card to pay for my flight from the US to New Zealand would be easy. For one, my credit history is a rich tapestry of on-time payments and clear balances. More importantly, though, this is America. Financial crisis notwithstanding, isn’t access to credit a God-given right around here?

I was halfway there already. I’d recently opened a bank account and was overjoyed at its internet banking services. I gleefully logged in and became even more gleeful when I saw that I could apply for a credit card online. I didn’t even have to fill out much in the way of forms – they had all my information on file, so it was just a few mouseclicks before they assured me that my credit card would be in the mail shortly.

I quickly texted my aunt and uncle, whose house I get my mail delivered to, and told them to be on the lookout for my contribution to the American economy. A few days later, I received an unexpected and embarrassing reply letting me know that my application had been declined.

Bummer. Not only had a bank deemed me too large of a financial risk, but my own overconfidence had caused this information to be given to me secondhand. Through family. It was a fairly profound loss of face.

Perturbed, I called the bank, certain that it was some kind of misunderstanding. Of course, I first sat through transfer after transfer from one monotonous, distracted call-centre employee after another. While Americans tend to be absurdly friendly – indeed, so much so that this cultural feature arguably offsets the negative things like the lack of socialised medicine or the presence of pro-lifers – call centre employees are an exception to this rule.

Fair enough, too. They’re hourly workers who are asked the same few questions over and over again. They get paid whether they’re on the phone or off it, so it’s in their financial interests to make calls as short as possible. That was my philosophy when I worked in a call centre, which is possibly why I don’t work in one anymore.

I must have gone through five or six of these drones before I was put through to the holy grail of customer service: someone on commission. Not only is it in these people’s best interests to help you they also tend to be people who genuinely enjoy interacting with other people. Of course, by “help” I mean “sell something,” but I’ll take what I can get.

Bonnie was a pleasure to talk to for ten minutes or so. I told her that my credit history was entirely in New Zealand, and she responded with “Oh, what’s New Zealand like?” I told her a few choice anecdotes, she told me about her friends travelling through there, and I offered them my parents’ place to stay, an offer which she graciously declined. All in all, it was a very nice conversation, although it concluded with “sorry, I can’t help you, my job is selling identity theft insurance.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t need that.”

“Are you sure? Identity theft is....”

I listened to her spiel, then pointed out that an identity that can't get a credit card isn't particularly lucrative to anyone, including its original owner. To this she started to pitch again, and I regrettably had to hang up on her.

I started over at square one, this time asking for a credit card salesman right off the bat. I was put through to Dave who, while friendly, would probably not enjoy a friendship with me like Bonnie did. He was a tad smarmy.

I shouldn’t be too hard on him, though, because he quickly answered my question. Due to my entire credit history being through New Zealand banks, it meant that it was effectively nonexistent. My favourite American habit of unapologetic ethnocentrism was alive and well in the credit industry.

Like Bonnie, he was a shrewd salesman who knew that information doesn’t come with a commission. “We could get you something called a SecureCard.”

“What’s that?” I asked, with bated breath and sinking expectations.

“Well, you give us money - $300 minimum – and then you spend it through your SecureCard”

“Not to be ungrateful, Dave, but if I had money, don’t you think I’d just spend it?”

“Yes, but . . .”

Even for someone with very low sales resistance, I recognised that this card was little more than a wallet with a monthly fee, so when I hung up on him I felt zero remorse.

I pondered my situation, and decided that, unseemly though it may seem, I was going to have to restrict my spending to money that I have.

How very novel.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Global Warming

I used to be a global warming denier. A very vocal one, at that. Every time it would come up at
the tiny liberal arts university I attended (which, it goes without saying, was a lot), I would pipe up with the insightful comment “oh, that’s not real.”

Did I believe it? Who knows. I had read Michael Crichton’s book that outlined, through murder mysteries, steamy romance, and gunplay, exactly why those who believed in global warming are not just misguided but criminal. More to the point, though, I just enjoyed people’s reactions to my statement. Global warming (or climate change, whatever) is the religion of the 18-24 demographic. Its existence is not just an opinion – it’s fact, that must be prosletised. The misguided must not be tolerated, but converted.

So, needless to say, it was pretty fun to contradict people when it came to global warming. Their reactions were perfect; the only other place I’ve encountered such vehemence is when I use my flatmate’s Xbox Live connection to stand in front of my teammates in first-person shooters, thus blocking their shot and reducing their all-important win/loss ratio. Sometimes I think people would be less upset of I were a Holocaust denier, but I have never had the stones to find out. Hopefully I never will.

At any rate, it’s been a couple years since then and I’ve mellowed a little. However, as I read the newspapers and browse the internet, I’m starting to notice a resurgence of my old opinion. This especially true now, as places like Europe and Florida experience record low temperatures, which is bringing all the deniers out of the woodwork. “SEE?!” a cacophony of columns, blogs, and Facebook statuses (statii?) shout, “we told you!”

Being a low energy person, I have arrived at the same conclusion regarding climate change as I have almost everything else – who cares? And I don’t mean “who cares if the climate is changing,” because I have to say that I do care, especially considering how I plan on returning to New Zealand in the near future. A not-very-large island in the Pacific Ocean is hardly the place to be when the waters start to rise.

What I mean is this, and I address it to all the smug deniers: why do you care if the climate is changing or not? More important than climate change, real or imagined, is a lifestyle change – one that every single one of us would benefit from. Running our air conditioners and heaters less often, hanging out our clothes, and taking the bus now and again is not going to kill anyone. Indeed, it would be a massive improvement in a day and age where obesity is on the rise, cities are designed to make walking not just inefficient but downright dangerous, and huge parts of the world are still in the recession brought on by people living beyond their means.

It’s Pascalle’s wager, but with real life as opposed to mythical conjecture. Let’s say we all make a change, get rid of our cars and bike to work, eliminating the pesky costs of fuel and maintenance and developing strong hearts and thighs that could crush someone’s head. Less radically, let’s say just half of us get rid of our SUVs and trucks and take the revolutionary move of buying a 4-door sedan. Let’s say that happens and global warming turns out to be nothing but collective delusion. Will we look back and say “god, what a waste, I’m healthy, financially solvent, and it was all for nothing?”

Somehow I doubt it.

But look at the alternative. What if global warming is a very real threat and we do nothing? Not only will the waters rise, we’ll be too fat to outrun them. So we’ll pile into our SUVs and try to outdrive them, but we’ll run out of gas before we reach higher ground. So we’ll get out and push to the nearest gas station – but when we get there our credit cards will decline because we maxed them out on our beast of a vehicle’s warranty last month.

So to the deniers: shut up. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, and if you’re so fixated on global warming (or lack thereof) that you can’t see the bigger picture, you don’t have the analytical skills to have a valid opinion anyway.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find my MasterCard and book a transpacific flight.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Grinding

Reading these pages over the past year, you may think that I’m particularly inept at navigating
Vietnamese culture. You’d be right; I was inept at navigating Vietnamese culture. I never had any idea what was going on, ever, and was in a constant state of confusion.

However, this is not solely because Vietnamese culture is so incredibly foreign. My bewilderment is constant, no matter where I am. As my father’s colleague commented when I was a vacant four-year-old, wandering around, bumping into things, and falling over – “Sam is completely unaware of his environment, isn’t he?”

Things confuse me. I'm back in North America, visiting people I met while studying in the hilariously-named Sackville, New Brunswick (pop: 5,000), and I find myself, on occasion, just as befuddled as I was in Vietnam. At times, I am substantially moreso.

I went to a party a couple weeks ago and was reminded of a university tradition that is seldom spoken of but deeply universal. The Grind. This is really a special piece of Western culture, and it has not received the analysis it deserves.

It takes place in a bar with the music at maximum and the lights at minimum. Girls, pack animals to the end, stand in a circle and dance, with heavy emphasis on hip movements. Guys stand on the periphery of this circle and wait until they somehow get some secret signal from one of them that indicates that she’s up for a grind. Without further ado, he moves in and grabs her hips and suddenly they’re a couple.

I’ve given it a shot from time to time, and, with the exception of one very enthusiastic girl who turned out to not be a girl (oops), I have always met with failure.

It just doesn’t make sense to me. When a girl is approached by a guy from behind, how does she immediately know that he is acceptable? She can’t see him, she can’t hear him – what is it about him, then? Does he tap out some secret code on her lower back? Can she smell him over the stale beer and sweat that invariably defines the kind of places grinding occurs?

Maybe it’s just bitterness at being so consistently excluded from this club, but I think it’s one of the last vestiges of our evolutionary past. The whole thing does not seem very human; it’s much more of an animalistic ritual, with the ovulating females gathering in search of an alpha male who can assist them in the nature-given task of passing on their DNA.

It’s not always rainbows and sunshine, though. Two of my friends have been dating off and on for a few years now, constantly breaking up and getting back together. One night, after one of these breakups, I met both of them at a bar that specialised in overpriced beers, sticky floors, and a dance floor with lots of space to get your grind on.

Tensions were running high, as they often will in a recurrinng breakup situation. Indeed, I was wondering why they were spending time together at all, but the subsequent events soon replaced my ponderings with entirely new ones.

Here’s how they interacted. They squared off and started making idle chitchat, as if they were spurious acquaintances. It very quickly disintegrated from “hi how are ya’s” into something far more sinister. Without any trigger or justification, they were soon taking strips off one another.

“You’ve gained a bit of weight.”

“You never were much of a student, were you?”

The odd thing was, though, that they’d deliver these lines as if they were banal pleasantries, with a smile and a nod of the head. Back and forth they would go, until it finally became too much and one of them lost the smile off his or her face.

But would a fight begin? Oddly, no. Whenever one of them got particularly offended, he or she would grab the other one, march him or her out to the dance floor, and furiously grind for ten minutes or so. Then they’d return and take it from the top. This happened again and again and again, with the awkwardness rising as I was left in the non-dancing portion of the bar, taking small, fifty-cent sips of my eight dollar beer and wearing a pained expression.

Like I said, I don't get it. In my youthful idealism, I like to think that we've left mating dances with shrieking and throwing feces, but being at a university again reminded me that we have not quite shrugged off our genetic past.

But I guess DNA has to be spread somehow, and in this regard grinding is nothing if not efficient.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Full-Cream Democrats


There’s something really annoying about the kind of person who does nothing but complain, offering problems without solutions. Not only is this person irritating, he or she is quite dull too.

Now, the last thing I want to be is irritating and dull, so I’m going to offer some solutions to the problem I recently explored: namely the profound lack of (metaphorical) testicles among Democrats.

In spite of my complaining, there are viable candidates still out there. Bemoaning the good old days is hardly a productive activity, as, good or bad, they’re old. More relevant to our current situation is the presence of real, living Democrats who – I think – wouldn’t chase poll numbers and cringe in the face of criticism like these last two winners have so predictably and painfully done for what promises to be a combined total of at least twelve years.

Dennis Kucinich

There’s nothing Lite about this guy. He’s an all-sugar, maximum caffeine, full-fibre Democrat. Of course, that’s why he hasn’t gotten anywhere in the mediocrity that is the Democratic party.

It’s not his Liberal-ness that impresses me, although he does have a healthy dose of it. No, as I’ve reiterated a thousand times now, a presidential candidate needs stones. And Kucinich has so many that I fear he may have a hard time walking without pain.

Let’s start in his private life. Look at his wife! She is a babe. In superficial physical terms, he is way out of his league. A man who resembles a gremlin who can attract a woman like that must have a profound amount of self-confidence, of which there has been a shortage lately amongst our Democrats.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Kucinich became mayor of Cleveland when he was 31 (a position also held by Jerry Springer a few years previous, but his career followed a slightly different trajectory). That’s a pretty impressive achievement at a relatively young age, but it gets better. When Municipal Light, the city-owned power company, went into default, the Mafia wanted it sold to (their) private hands. When Kucinich refused, they put a hit out on him.

Allow me to reiterate. They wanted him dead. His political decisions didn’t put his career, reputation, or power at stake – they put his life at stake.

This is the kind of toughness we need in the White House. If he’s not going to back away from the threat of death, there’s no way he’s going to compromise his positions for the sake of a few points in a poll or the disapproval of party hacks. This is a guy who knows what he wants, and who isn’t afraid to put himself at risk to get it.

Al Franken

My first acquaintance with Senator Franken was when I found a copy of his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot in my parents’ house when I was nine or ten. I read it, but didn’t understand any of the subject matter. I did, however, immensely enjoy the fact that it was full of swear words and dirty jokes. I could read it in full view of my parents who had no idea that their son was reading raunchy jokes far above his age level. They just though I had a mature interest in politics. Suckers.

But I digress. Al Franken ran for Senate after twenty years of writing edgey, inappropriate, and downright offensive material. Even though he must have known that it would be used against him, he ran anyway because he knew that ideas, intelligence, and integrity are far more important than the fact that you wrote an article for Playboy in 2000.

And what did his campaign do when his previous writing career was predictably used as ammunition against him? Did they apologise, say that it was taken out of context, say that he was different then? Hell no. I’m usually loath to put quotes in my blog as I don’t like anyone’s writing other than my own, but for the Franken campaign I’ll make an exception:

Al had a long career as a satirist. But he understands the difference between what you say as a satirist and what you do as a senator. And as a senator, Norm Coleman has disrespected the people of Minnesota by putting the Exxons and Halliburtons ahead of working families. And there’s nothing funny about that.
He went on to put amendment on a spending bill that made it okay for government contractor employees to sue their employers if they get raped, which he then stood by in the face of vocal Republican opposition. It wasn't a big-ticket issue, but it was an important one - and by tirelessly working at it, holding hearings and destroying corporate lawyers, he made it a big-ticket issue.

Put this man in the Oval Office.

Alan Grayson

Alan Grayson is the second Democrat Congressman in thirty-nine years to come out of his Florida district. One of his first moves was to attract the ire of the spineless sops that make up the vast majority of his party by calling a lobbyist a “K-street whore” when she publicly said that he – a Harvard economics grad who worked as an economist – didn’t understand economics.

Of course, the Democratic party went beserk. How dare he use language like that?! He “went too far” said a number of his pansy peers, many of whom, I can only assume, have spent enough time with to know the difference. This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy about Democrats. A lobbyist spouts some patently untrue drivel, is called on it with a swear word, and they attack the latter. And these guys wonder why they’re shut out of power for years on end.

He wasn’t discouraged, though. His next move was to weigh in on the healthcare debate, skewering the Republican’s (lack of) a plan as one that encouraged patients to die quickly if they get sick. He then went on to read out (on my birthday, thanks Congressman) the names of people who died as a result of a lack of insurance on the House floor.

Put him in the Oval Office. Put any of these guys in the Oval Office. These are just three people who don’t chew their fingernails, lunch with lobbyists and make half-assed speeches about “bipartisanship,” which, they seem to have forgotten, isn’t necessary when you won the election.

These are guys who have faith in their ideas and are prepared to fight for them. These are guys who don’t mind that, in politics, (and in the rest of life, for that matter), there are times that people will disagree with you, vilify you, call you names, even, god forbid, not like you.

These are guys are secure enough to know that that’s okay. So put them in the Oval Office and let them run the country right.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I don’t care.

That’s really it. I don’t care. That sums up my position on 99 percent of stories that are on the news, and today was no exception. Indeed, I possibly cared less about today’s developing human interest story than I’ve ever cared about any other news story.

You probably know the details, but I’m going to rehash them. A family was (naturally) building a giant balloon in their backyard; their six-year old (Falcon) got into the balloon when the dad was working on it; dad yelled Falcon; Falcon hid in the attic; balloon took off; everyone panicked when they mistakenly assumed that Falcon was in the balloon; he wasn’t. End of story.

But wait, there’s more. In a postgame interview with the family, Wolf Blitzer (who has always
weirded me out) asked Falcon why he hid. Falcon’s reply was “we did it for the show.”

Then someone in the family farted, which was funny.

The internet rage machine went crazy. Over the lie, not the fart. I swear, I could hear blood vessels rupture under the pressure and fingers develop massive callouses as enraged e-warriors hammered at their keyboards with every ounce of energy they had.

And it would be kind of outrageous if he actually put him in the balloon (which, by the way, would not have been able to take off with a 6-year old). But he didn’t. The whole thing was farce, and we ate it up. Even the outrage against him for lying is playing into his attention-whoring hands; even my typing of this blogpost is giving him what he wants.

The stunt in the first place didn’t surprise me. This shit happens all the time; everyone wants to be on TV (including me – do you think I post on this blog for my health?) The surprise, and irritation, was in the moral crusade against him afterwards by the internet for lying.

We’re so quick to judge people that we forget how inconsequential their actions are. So he lied about his kid being in a balloon. Call me overly forgiving, but I’m fairly sure there are worse things he could have done.




This whole thing has just emphasized how dumb we are. We are so furious over small lies by normal people that we conveniently forget about the bigger lies by the people who lead us, who spend our money, and whose honesty is far more important. We’ve somehow lost – or never had – our collective sense of perspective.

And yes, okay, he wasted some public money. But again he’s taking his cues from our politicians. He lives in the Western USA, near Iowa, where billions of dollars per year are given to farmers
to keep them in what are essentially make-work jobs. He lives in a country where military spending makes up a majority of the budget yet universal healthcare still doesn’t exist and investment banks are given public money to keep them in business. One rescue operation is chump change.

So more power to ye, balloon man. You told a lie and got caught. I don’t care. You told your son to hide in the attic and play with his toys for a few hours. I don’t care. Basically, you lived your life in a slightly bizarre way that ultimately doesn’t affect me at all. Please continue doing so, and I'll continue trying to focus what limited energy I have on liars whose lies actually matter.