Archive

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Oops!

Saturday, August 11, 2018, 22:04 EDT Leave a comment

I just realized that most of the graphics (buttons, banners, etc.) in the sidebar are MIA. That’s because I recently got rid of my old web site, where those graphics resided. I still have them but have to upload them to WordPress. Bear with…

Categories: Uncategorized

An Average Woman Who Made a Big Difference

Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 18:50 EDT 1 comment

Rosa Parks, the black woman who many years ago became famous for refusing to give up her seat on an Alabama bus to a white man as required by law, died yesterday.

I won’t eulogize her here. Not only did I not know her (I wasn’t born until nine years after her famous civil disobedience), but the web is inundated with tributes this morning that can be found by a simple Google search. What I’d like to do is talk a bit about the myth of Rosa Parks versus the facts, and explain why I think the bare facts have so much more significance.

The glamorized legend of Ms. Parks includes some misinformation about who this woman was, what she did, and why and how she did it. Fairness to Ms. Parks and respect for the historical record demand the myths—sometimes contradictory to one another—be put to rest.

  • Myth: Rosa Parks single-handedly got the modern civil rights movement off the ground by being a pioneer.

    Fact: While she was certainly among the earliest black activists to employ the tactic of civil disobedience, she was not the first and certainly didn’t accomplish anything by herself. Other men and women, under the coordination of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, violated segregation laws in the dashed hope of creating test cases by which courts could scrutinize and possibly overturn the existing laws. Ms. Parks’ act would have probably led to a similar dead end if it had not been followed by the massive boycott of the Montgomery bus system, an effort that took thousands of people and more than a year. It is more accurate to say that her individual action, along with those of many other committed people before and after herself, helped build the movement.

  • Myth (version 1): Ms. Parks was a simple seamstress who, tired after a day of work, was too exhausted to get up from her seat on the bus.
    Myth (version 2): She was an average, apolitical citizen who took a stand as an individual.
    Myth (version 3): She was an aggressive activist looking for a fight.

    Fact: A seamstress by trade, Ms. Parks was also a committed civil rights activist who worked in cooperation with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She acted in the manner promoted by the NAACP and other civil rights leaders of the time, maintaining a calm and respectful demeanor. Her activism illustrated that everyone, including those living in humble circumstances, could make a difference when they banded together and organized.

  • Myth (version 1): She boarded the bus that day with the intention of violating segregation laws.
    Myth (version 2): Her civil disobedience was a spontaneous act born of anger and frustration.
    Myth (version 3): She sat in the white section of the bus and refused to move.

    Fact: Others before her, under the coordination of the NAACP, had deliberately violated public segregation laws in the hope of creating a test case via which the courts could overturn the existing laws, but none of the other attempts had achieved the desired result. Ms. Parks agreed to be the next person to try. She sat in the "colored" section with the intention of challenging the law only if a white passenger demanded she give up her seat. When a white man did just that, she refused and was arrested.

  • Myth: All she did was refuse to get up from her seat on the bus; there was no personal risk involved.

    Fact: The Jim Crow south took segregation very seriously, and some whites were violent in defending it. If a white passenger had physically assaulted her for her refusal, law enforcement may or may not have protected her. She also risked garnering the wrath of militant segregationists who were not above terrorizing "uppity" blacks who tried to challenge the status quo. What might seem like no big deal in 2005 was in fact a great risk in 1955.

It is unfortunate than when young people today think about the civil rights movement, they think of Martin Luther King, Jr., giving a glorious and rousing speech before admiring throngs in the nation’s capital. The beginnings of the movement were much less stirring and certainly less tidy. Rosa Parks, like many others whose names have been lost to history, was willing to do the small and sometimes risky things that knocked down that first domino and got the movement going. To glamorize or embellish her contribution is to downplay the power of simple actions by humble people—and to ignore the courage those people had to muster in order to make a difference when success was far from assured.

Categories: Uncategorized

Surrender

Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 15:46 EDT Leave a comment

I have never received an influenza vaccination. As a someone who is neither over 50, under 10, nor immunologically impaired, and who doesn’t work with children, the elderly, or sick people, I though a flu shot was unnecessary. Besides, I hadn’t had the flu since I was a kid, so obviously I wasn’t highly susceptible.

Again last winter, even with the prospect of an unusually aggressive strain causing widespread illness, I decided against vaccination—but did take simpler preventive measures. I became more deliberate about frequent hand-washing at work. I started washing after using someone else’s phone or computer, handling a file, or attending a meeting. I adopted the habit of dispensing paper towel before washing, then using the paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the restroom door.

The reward for my diligence was a raging case of the flu at the end of February.

Folks, when they tell you the flu makes you really sick, they aren’t kidding. You can’t suck it up and carry on with your daily routine. This isn’t a cold or other type of viral infection, or the gastro-intestinal bugs that people erroneously call "the flu". While I did throw up for a day, that was the least of my problems. My head felt like it was being jackhammered from the inside, my joints felt like they were ready to explode, my throat felt as if it had been cut into shreds, my eyes ached. I had a 102-103° fever, chills, night sweats, and mild hallucinations. I swear I was in danger at least three times of coughing up a lung. I slept day and night. I was too tired and too sick to eat. I wanted to die for about five days, and on my first day back at work (part-time, for two hours), I had to stop and rest three times between the front door of the building and my office. Even after a week back at work, I was still so weak that I came this –>||<– close to cancelling my impending Spring Training vacation.

Now we have bird flu to worry about.

I submit. My flu shot appointment is a week from Friday.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Facts Are Wrong, but He Stands by Everything Else

Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 01:13 EDT Leave a comment

Remember when malcontent Randall Robinson wrote a short essay stating that America sucks because of what happened to black people in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina? To refresh your memory:

It is reported that black hurricane victims in New Orleans have begun eating corpses to survive. Four days after the storm, thousands of blacks in New Orleans are dying like dogs. No-one has come to help them.

Those are the only purported "facts" in his essay. The rest of it is Robinson’s own ranting and raving about how, because of the "facts" cited at the beginning, he has determined that his country is "a monstrous fraud".

It turns out that the first claim, about black storm survivors being forced to eat corpses to survive, was among the many reported atrocities that never happened. But that still leaves thousands of blacks dying of neglect by their country, right?

Not exactly. As of last week, the Katrina death toll was 1,281. The breakdown by state:

  • Louisiana – 1,035
  • Mississippi – 228
  • Florida – 14
  • Alabama – 2
  • Georgia – 2

If the entire state of Louisiana suffered 1,035 deaths as a result of Katrina, it is impossible that "thousands" died in New Orleans. Those who did die were not all black.

So where does that leave Mr. Robinson? Black hurricane victims were not eating corpses to survive. Thousands of blacks in New Orleans did not die, like dogs or otherwise. That means the two statements upon which he based his entire diatribe, the two horrifying revelations that constituted what he called a "watershed moment in America’s racial history", the events that left him "hopeless" and "sad" about the loss of "the America I strove for", didn’t happen. Oops.

But it matters not. Randall Robinson stands by everything else he wrote. Which is probably for the best. He might choke on the big plate of crow he would have to eat. And the last thing we need is one more Katrina-related death.

Categories: Uncategorized

Checking on Friends in Florida

Monday, October 24, 2005, 21:02 EDT Leave a comment

Hurricane Wilma made landfall over southwest Florida early this morning.

The center of Wilma came ashore near Cape Romano at 6:30 a.m. as a strong Category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph with higher gusts.

Cape Romano is about 20 miles west of Everglades City, and about 30 miles south of the Marco Island, the National Hurricane Center’s projected landfall site.

By my map, Cape Romano isn’t any 30 miles from Marco Island. It’s more like 5 miles south of the southern tip of Marco, and about 7 miles from the particular place where I stay during my annual Spring Training vacation. My friend Patty’s condo is about 400 yards from the beach on the west side of the island, and west of that beach is nothing but Gulf until you hit either the southern tip of Texas or the Mexican coast. But at least the city isn’t built below sea level like a certain other recent hurricane target. I haven’t heard any reports of damage on Marco Island, but I presume the screens on Patty’s lanai are in shreds and that her neighbors downstairs have some water damage. Good thing she is up here in New England this time of year.

Meanwhile, about 40 miles up the coast in the Fort Myers, reports are that Susan lost power this morning before dawn. The winds were really raging and she lost a several roofing tiles, causing some leaks. She is much closer to where Hurricane Charley made landfall last year, and even then her property took minimal damage. I anxiously anticipate hearing from her online once she gets electricity back.

Mary is way up in Tampa, and my aunt and uncle are in Sebring, so I’m not the least bit worried about them. Another aunt and uncle just bought a place somewhere down there, and I have no idea if they were in the storm’s path or not.

Categories: Uncategorized

Absolute Power

Monday, October 24, 2005, 19:21 EDT Leave a comment

Frequent readers of this site know that I am hardly a George W. Bush basher. I have been a strong supporter of his decision to go to war in Iraq (though not always the way it’s been executed) and a vocal critic, especially lately, of the pathetic mess the Democratic Party has become. (Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean? That’s the best they can do?) But none of that renders me blind to the Republicans’ many faults, and those faults are magnified after five years of total Republican control of Washington and the way President Bush appears to have taken advantage of it.

What has me on a roll today is the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination. Knowing nothing about Ms. Miers, I have no reason to criticize her—but nor do I have reason to feel good about her nomination. That is no fault of hers; she has not yet had a chance to show her mettle via confirmation hearings, and in any event I don’t believe it is up to her (or any other nominee, for that matter) to make a case for herself in the media. The confirmation process is the proper forum for her to put forth her qualifications.

What I would like to hear before then is something more from Bush about why he thinks she will be a good justice. So far, he has given only general platitudes, which may be fine when a nominee has a paper trail but don’t quite fit the bill otherwise. No, I don’t believe Bush needs to prove the worthiness of his nominee before the hearings. But since most of us won’t be able to sit at home and watch the confirmation hearings, it might be nice of him to give us some substantive statement of what he thinks makes this person qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

So what does Harriet Miers have to do with the title of this entry? Simply this: I wonder if Bush has failed to make the most basic case for his nominee because he thinks it isn’t necessary—the Republican-controlled Senate will go ahead and confirm her, regardless of what the public thinks. If it sounds like I am accusing Bush of arrogance… I am. It’s the same arrogance Democrats used to exhibit when they were in charge of everything. It’s why I thought Jimmy Carter should be defeated in his re-election bid in 1980 (even though I wasn’t yet old enough to vote) and why I voted for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992. OK, I also voted for Bush in ’88 because Mike Dukakis was a pathetic alternative. And I voted for Mondale in ’84, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, but only because I knew he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning.

The Democrats proved the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I didn’t trust them to run the White House and the House and the Senate, because when they did, they lost any sense that there might be another way of doing things from their way. Compromise and consensus became a part of their lexicon only after they fell solidly into the minority, and only then to mean "do things our way".

What is happening to the Republicans is in some ways worse. Not only do they seem to have lost any sense of competing ideas, but they haven’t even stuck to their own ideas (opposition to same-sex marriage excepted, unfortunately). Spending discipline—one of the few conservative issues with which I fairly consistently agree—is a thing of the past, with the only difference between the two parties now being whether that they’re throwing money at conservative pork rather than liberal pork. The idea that Americans might have to cut back to fund the important wars in which we are engaged (anyone ever heard of wartime rationing?) is as foreign to today’s Republican leaders as the notion that the politicians themselves should forego their particular pet projects for the good of the country.

None of which means I’ll be rejoining the Democrats any time soon. As disillusioned as I feel right now with the Republicans, today’s Dems aren’t any better. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows that I am not alone in that opinion: while only 32% of the public approves of the Republican leaders of Congress, the identical low level of approval befalls the Democratic leaders of Congress. (You have to scroll waaaaay down to the bottom of the page to get to this, which may explain why none of the major news organizations included it in their reports, she said cynically.)

This may be an opportunity for Democrats to get their act together and improve their own plight while their opponents are down. If you want to win back me and others like me, a good start would be to abandon the gloom-and-doom, cut-and-run approach to Iraq and instead start contributing constructively to the discussion about how we can most effectively help the Iraqis transition to democratic self-sufficiency. I know most of them don’t share my optimism that people in developing countries are as capable and deserving of self-governance as we privileged westerners, but they should try to put aside their racist and classist biases long enough to give the Iraqi people the benefit of the doubt.

Categories: Uncategorized

Biggest. Ripoff. Ever.

Monday, October 24, 2005, 01:10 EDT Leave a comment

No doubt you have heard those ubiquitous radio ads for the International Star Registry. It’s an operation that has been around for years, and while it can’t quite be called a scam operation because it don’t offer something it don’t deliver, its success certainly depends on a gullible target market.

What this company sell is a star-naming service. "Give the gift that will last forever—name a star after someone." For a fee, the customer gets to name a star after the person he or she designates. The name will be recorded "in book form in the U.S. Copyright Office", and noted on a certificate and star chart sent to the customer. The fee is $54 (plus shipping and handling) for the basic package. An additional $43 buys a double-mat and metallic frame for the certificate, plus a wallet card; for another $42, the star chart is matted and framed too.

Having done some matting and framing myself, I can tell you that the International Star Registry is making a killing from these so-called deluxe packages. A standard-size double mat and ready-made metal frame can be had for about $15 at retail prices. But even the basic product is a lot of nothing for a lot of money.

The International Star Registry is not associated with the scientific community, so there is nothing official about the name it assigns to a star, nor is it precluded from naming the same star more than once. The company isn’t even "international" except in the sense that they’ll take your money no matter where you live. Essentially, they don’t do anything you can’t do for yourself:

  1. pick a star off a star chart and decide that you’re going to name it after your great-aunt Helen or your next-door neighbor or your dead cat,
  2. write it down, and
  3. copyright the paper on which you wrote it down.

In the United States, practically anyone can copyright anything original for a fee of $30. What the International Star Registry does is hold off on copyrighting until it has a book full of names, and then spends $30 to copyright the whole book. If there are 100 entries in the book, it costs $0.30 per entry; if there are 1,000 entries, $0.03 per entry. My guess is that each book has tens of thousands of entries.

As for the certificate, I’ve seen one, and I thought it was tacky. The name of the individual for whom the star was named was inscribed in poor quality calligraphy. The star chart was like what you might find in a children’s book about astronomy, with the named star marked by what looked like a rubber stamp circle.

Clearly, this operation has sold enough of its product to have lasted for more than 25 years and be able to afford radio advertising all over the country. It’s success is proof that many people have more dollars than sense.

Categories: Uncategorized

Stupid Post-Game Questions

Monday, October 24, 2005, 00:16 EDT Leave a comment

Because of this evening’s downpour in Chicago, tonight’s World Series game was delayed. Instead of the pre-game show, therefore, Fox Sports gave us some post-game coverage following the Dallas Cowboys vs. Seattle Seahawks game, which Seattle won by a field goal at the buzzer. Some Fox personality whom I don’t know, interviewing some Seattle player whom I don’t know, asked the quintessential Moronic Post-Game Question:

"How big was this win for your team?"

This is the fallback question for on-air personalities who are neither journalists nor interviewers, and they never ask it after a game that is not really any big deal. It’s typically asked after a dramatic come-from-behind win, an emotional win-one-for-the-Gipper performance, or a decisive playoff win. The people who ask it are on the radio or television because they either look or sound good, not because they are capable of asking a probing question to elicit an interesting answer. In fact, they are utterly incapable thereof, which is why they are not the people asking the questions in the post-game press conferences given by players and coaches.

What they’re doing is asking a question that they and all the viewers already know the answer to, but just in case the interviewee doesn’t know what he or she is supposed to say, the interviewer asks a question for which there is only one reasonable answer. Just once, I’d like to see the following exchange:

Q: How special is this win to your team?

A: It isn’t special at all, Joe. This is our job, and we get paid obscene money to play. The reason we’re jumping around like kids on Christmas morning is because winning means we don’t have to listen to the coach holler at us, do an afternoon of wind sprints tomorrow, or be humiliated on national television. And you are an idiot.

In the unlikely event that one of these sports studs or sports babes is reading this, here are a few suggestions for some decent interview questions.

  • This would have been appropriate after the aforementioned Dallas vs. Seattle game: "That was a 51-yard field goal, Sam; was there any disagreement about whether you should go for the field goal or take your chances in overtime?"
  • Appropriate after a record-setting feat: "At what point in the game did you realize you might have a chance at a historic performance? Did you have any trouble keeping your nerves in check, and if so, what did you do?"
  • Appropriate after a playoff victory: "Obviously, athletic ability is of primary importance at this level of play, but do you feel your mental attitude contributed to winning this game/series/championship?"

Even if "human interest" fluff is the goal, there are some questions that might yield some interesting and unexpected answers.

  • "Does it take you longer to come down from the emotional high of a big win like this?"
  • "Give us the inside info about how you and your teammates celebrate after a big win like this."
  • "Do you have friends or family here today/tonight? How many, and what did it set you back to bring all those people to a game, anyway?"

You get the point.

In the unlikely event that one of people who hire these sports studs and sports babes is reading this, allow me to point out that I’d be happy to work for you. I will give you a much better product than what you’re getting now, and for about half what you’re paying those bimbos and bimbettes working for you now.

Categories: Uncategorized

C.Y.A. at the N.Y.T.

Saturday, October 22, 2005, 19:04 EDT Leave a comment

The grand jury investigation of a possibly illegal leak of a CIA operative’s identity isn’t he only relevant part of the story. The Associated Press is reporting infighting between Judith Miller, a reporter to whom Valerie Plame’s identity was allegedly revealed, and her editors at the New York Times.

In a memo to the staff, Executive Editor Bill Keller says Miller "seems to have misled" the newspaper’s Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, who said Miller told him in the fall of 2003 that she was not one of the recipients of a leak about the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame.

The conflict, in which Miller and her Times bosses are now embroiled publicly, may complicate—or at lease divert attention from—the central question of the investigation. But if it turns out Miller herself is part of the reason why the story got out of hand, that could change things significantly.

The plot thickens.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sorry, Folks, but These People Are Nuts

Saturday, October 22, 2005, 18:47 EDT Leave a comment

There is absolutely no reason to be surprised that fanatical followers of the so-called Religion of Peace have found yet another reason to rampage, barbarians that they are. This time, they have their undies in a knot over a DVD of a play that happened two years ago at a Coptic Orthodox (Christian) church in Egypt.

Three demonstrators were killed when thousands of people protested on Friday near a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria over the staging of a play they said was offensive to Islam, security sources said.

The demonstrators were killed during clashes between police and the more than 5,000-strong crowd which had gathered near St. George’s Coptic church in the Mediterranean port city after Muslim prayers, the sources said.

Reuters, being mindlessly neutral in their reporting even when it impedes accuracy, is calling the riots "protests" and is making the death of three rioters the focus of the story instead of the riots themselves. I wonder if they’d have thought the violence by the peace-loving Muslims to be newsworthy if the perpetrators hadn’t gotten hurt or killed in the process. And God—excuse me, Allah—forbid they should describe a violent riot as, you know, a riot.

The question someone, perhaps a reporter interested in doing some actual work, should ask is why this play wasn’t riot-worthy two years ago when it was actually performed. They must not have anything to gripe about this week, so they decided to make an issue of something that they didn’t think was any big deal before.

CNN, meanwhile, is reporting the riot itself as the main story, while still noting the perhaps questionable actions of police, which seems to me a more complete and less biased way of description of what happened. They also aren’t afraid of using the "R" word.

One person died and more than 90 were injured as thousands of Muslims rioted outside a Coptic Christian church Friday to denounce a play deemed offensive to Islam. Police responded by beating protesters and firing tear gas into the crowd, officials said.

Police said 53 protesters were arrested as people hurled stones, smashed windows and tried to storm St. George Church. Protesters also set a police car on fire and wrecked eight other cars, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Egypt’s peaceful Muslims have managed to illustrate yet again that they lack the basic human civility possessed by the western "infidels" they hate. Said infidels, after all, could have responded to any of the countless Muslim attacks against Christianity or Judaism over the years by rioting at mosques. But we’re better people than they are. It’s about time someone gets up the guts to tell them so instead of pretending they deserve any sort of respect.

Categories: Uncategorized