30 June 2006

The MSM answers Derbyshire

The Derby will not have to take my word for why Hispanics are not flocking to the Republican banner despite the Bush clans best efforts. The Washington Post has just published an article by Charles Babington discussing this very issue. First, a good quote showing why the Latino vote may be in play for Republicans.
Most Latino voters lean Democratic, but Republicans have long felt they can chip away at that advantage. Bush -- who has advocated social services and pathways to legal status for illegal immigrants since he was governor of Texas -- took 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004 after winning 34 percent in 2000, according to exit polls. In league with Mehlman, political adviser Karl Rove and others, Bush has urged his party to pursue Latino voters in numbers that could help keep Democrats in the minority for decades.
So, as Derbyshire wonders, what is the problem? One is the conjunction of Republicans in Congress refusing to pass the Voting Rights Act with increasing Republican resistance to Bush's plan to provide a pathway to citizenship for millions.
"It's sort of a double whammy," said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), a Cuban native who is among the GOP's most visible Hispanic leaders. Under Bush's leadership, he said in an interview, "our party has shown a very welcoming approach to the emerging Hispanic vote." However, he said, "there obviously are those who feel that's not important. . . . I think there could be great political risks to becoming the party of exclusion and not a party of inclusion."

Now Martinez is a Cuban American, and many Cuban Americans don't seem to feel much solidarity with 'Hispanics', which is sometimes seen as a bureaucratic euphamism for 'Non-white Latins.' In any case, I think Mel is speaking as a concerned Republican strategist here rather than simply as an Hispanic.

The article goes on to declare flatly, "The actions have embarrassed the White House and inflamed many Latinos." As for the refusal to pass the Voting Rights Act due to a provision in it calling for bilingual ballots, there is this reaction from another Republican Hispanic (see, the term is not an oxymoron yet):
John Bueno, a Republican from Michigan, is president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which was meeting in Dallas last week when news of the voting rights flap broke. "My first reaction was, 'My God, here we are, it's 2006, and we're still dealing with this issue,' " Bueno said. "Mainstream Republicans are frustrated right now with what's going on in Congress."

Democrats on the other hand are having a hard time understanding this gift, but not for the same reasons Derbyshire and his companions at National Review Online are having the same difficulty.

29 June 2006

More Wisdom from Derbyshire

This is getting to be a regular feature of Sententiae, but John Derbyshire of NRO's Corner has once again come up with something interesting. This time he is actually funny. Here's the gist of it:
It's an odd thing—a paradox, really—that our last Democratic President showed little interest in Latin America and seems to have had no friendships or business ties there. Chelsea was sent to Oxford, and I think you could make a case that the Democratic Party as a whole, in its thinking, is more Euro-centric than Latin-American-centric. And yet Hispanic voters in the U.S. are solidly Democratic. All the main appeals of the current Democratic Party—big-govt. populism, a zero-sum racial spoils system, victimology, open borders, etc.—are much more attractive to Hispanics, and (except for the open borders) much more in line with Latin American political traditions, that the GOP's appeals to self-support, low taxation, etc.

So the decades-long Bush family project to bond with Latin America has not brought, and so far as I can see is not likely to bring, any political advantage to the GOP. It's a strange thing. Anyone got explanations?

Let's see - where to begin? Most people who are genuinely knowledgable about Hispanics and their culture recognise that, despite the Derby's snide stereotypes, Hispanics in America are most likely to be conservative in values, putting a high premium on family values, security (as in law-and-order) and self-reliance (most come from societies where you do NOT want the government paying any attention to you). I think D is trying to imply that the Democrats have tried to 'buy' Latin support with a list of projects he despises. It reminds me a bit of how the White South portrayed attraction Blacks felt towards Republicans during Reconstruction.

So why wouldn't Hispanics flock to the Republicans? Well, could it possibly be the stimatization of all of them as illegals, the inflamed rhetoric to deport them, and the contempt heaped upon them for speaking Spanish? Does the political ghost of Pete Wilson and Prop 187 have anything to say on this subject? Has Derbyshire been living in a closet the last decade?

Nah. Must be that "big-govt. populism, a zero-sum racial spoils system, victimology, open borders" the Derby thinks is turning their heads.

Flag Burning and Peggy Noonan

I've always thought that Peggy Noonan, former speech writer for the Great Communicator, was, as a political columnist, a good speech writer. She's a skilled word smith and nothing more. Still, once in a while she has an arresting observation about the political scene.
The flag burning amendment is a bad idea, and will not prove, in the end, politically wise or fruitful to any significant degree.

Of course, part of the reason I think this is worth repeating is because it agrees with my view. But she goes on the list three reasons why this is so. The last reason is one I hadn't thought of, and worth quoting:
Americans don't always say this or even notice it, but they love their Constitution. They revere it. They don't want it used as a plaything. They want the Constitution treated as a hallowed document that is amended rarely, and only for deep reasons of societal or governmental need. A flag burning amendment is too small bore for such a big thing.

Now if only some of elected officials learned the same reverence we might try to come to grips with some real problems, of which we have a few.

27 June 2006

Alas, Poor Clio!

This is an Amazon.com reader's view of a recent book on the Knights Templars, about which a lot of nonsense has been written, not least by Dan Brown. This reader seems disappointed not to get the nonsense. English is obviously not her native language, but the sentiments are universal I am afraid.
This book is strictly based on historical sources. However, the history of the templars results to be more less charming and mysterious as ever. Nicholson cancels all doubts but all beautiful elements of the texture as well. Her historical method is too rationalistic, and it doesn't give room to mystical or philosophical hypoteses. There are only some hints at baphomet and at the so-called "islamic" components of the tenets of Templars. Even though it is well documented, it represents a very harsh or arid reading.

25 June 2006

Clemens' Notebook

From The Week this week:

At least 90 former officiails at the Department of Homeland Security now work as executives, consultants, or lobbyists for companies that sell billions of dollars worth of goods and services to their former agency. The New York Times

Gustav Emegger, 70, of Braunschweig Germany, was apprehended by a policeman as he fled from a clothing store with a stolen shirt. In desperation he bit the officer's arm, moistening it severely. "He tried to bite the officer several times," said a police spokesperson, "but had forgotten to put his teeth in and so was unable to cause any harm.

LATE BREAKING NEWS! Hilary Duff says she is a virgin.

Charitable giving neared a record high last year, according to the Giving USA foundation. Americans gave an estimated $260.3 billion in 2005, close to the inflation adjusted $260.5 billion in 2000. Much of the surge in gifts went to victims of the Asian tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake, and the Gulf Coast hurricanse.

'Best Buy' in Vinho Verde: Quinta do Ameal 2004 Loureiro for $13. Vinho Verde was the favorite wine of the Bomash family in Minneapolis when Clemens lived there, long ago. It was a great wine for the summertime. According to the wine enthusiast 'it's low in alcohol, bonedry, thirst-quenching and crisp as a thin slice of lemon.' The Quinta do Ameal is produced by a top estate, is a Riesling like wine with the flavor of almonds and a 'piercingly clean ripeness and acidity.' Sounds like time for a run to the Big City.

And the news from Poland: A Polish lake became 30% vodka following a leak at a local distillery. As locals stampeded to collect pails of lake water, one 71 year-old woman commented, "If God doesn't help, everyone will be a drunkard with only a hole were the lake was."

More late breaking news: New York City was named by Reader's Digest as the most polite city in the world. [Maybe the staff was drinking Polish lake water]

22 June 2006

Sounds like a must read

This notice in a salon.com article about Central Asia's role in literature caught my eye. See what you think. [no url because you have to be a subscriber].
A more recent novel about Central Asia is Robert Rosenberg's "This Is Not Civilization," published in 2004, which contains what is surely one of contemporary fiction's most beguiling opening lines: "The idea of using porn films to encourage dairy cows to breed was a poor one."

21 June 2006

USA - oldest nation on earth?

Paul Halsall, whose blog I mentioned in the last post, often has as a foreigner and iconoclast something interesting to say about the United States. Here is one of them, in response to a post on Mediev-L about Americans having such short historical perspectives;
I have to say that in terms of the "political present", Americans have a much lengthier sense than the British.

While one might cite Churchill or Attlee (more likely Beveridge), Harold Wilson, or Margaret Thatcher in a political discussion in modern Britain, I don't think anyone would cite as authoritative the opinions of Baldwin or Asquith, never mind the Duke of Wellington or Pitt the Younger. Occasionally, I suppose, the opinions of past political thinkers might be cited, but not without the awareness of a vast difference between when Locke, Smith, and co. lived and the present.

But American political discussion - this in a modern industrial continental world power - is obsessed with the opinions and ideal of rural politicians of the late 18th- and 19th- centuries, and such ideas are frequently (even if partially or anachronistically understood) put forward as positive support for a position. In a sense the American "political present" stretches well over 200 years, while in Britain it is 60 years at the most.

A comparable phenomenon is the American insistence that the United States is a young country. In fact, there are good grounds for considering it the oldest in the world. Every other part of the world has been conquered or gone through a revolution of some kind which has meant that the modern state occupying any given territory is less old than the USA. I suppose the UK might be considered older, but a) the current "United Kingdom" dates from 1801 (or perhaps 1927 when "UKGBNI" became the name of the state), and b) (more importantly), the series of constitutional, legal/judicial, and administrative reforms of the 19th century created a very different constitution.

A New Blog out t here

There is a new blog out there, by somone I actually know, Paul Halsall, creator of the amazing Medieval Source Book. His personal blog is English Eclectic and it is worth taking a look at. Like Andrew Sullivan Paul is 1) English 2) gay 3) very very smart 4) a devout Catholic. Unlike Andrew Sullivan Paul is 1) not very succesful in turning his blog into a money maker 2) not a well informed commentator of the American political scene from a conservative standpoint (not, not, not) and 3) a Medieval historian, in fact one who studies the Byzantines, those eye-gouging, icon destroying, Greek-fire spewing scamps whom Gibbon maligned so unfairly.

I would advise you to check him out.

And if you have the slightest interest in Medieval history, especially in regards to Christianity, check out the source book mentioned and linked above.

19 June 2006

Immigration Policy

Everyone is up in arms about illegal immigration, and many about immigration of any sort. For the moment I am simply putting up some observations and facts, like the results of the national polls reported here earlier, shuffling them around in my mind and trying to come up with some useful ideas of my own. It is obvious that the most direct way to dry up illegal immigration is to dry up the demand for their labor, since that is why most illegals from the south come here. Yet here are some facts as reported today by The Washington Post (so you know it must be true!):

"Between 1999 and 2003, work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Homeland Security Department. The number of employers prosecuted for unlawfully employing immigrants dropped from 182 in 1999 to four in 2003, and fines collected declined from $3.6 million to $212,000, according to federal statistics."

"The government's steady retreat from workplace enforcement in the 20 years since it became illegal to hire undocumented workers is the result of fierce political pressure from business lobbies, immigrant rights groups and members of Congress, according to law enforcement veterans."
If we are upset about illegal immigration for the good reason that it is illegal, then enforcing the laws against employers has to be a key to the solution. It is only now that the Federal Government is beginning to pay attention to this end of it.

I do not think this will go very far, however. The really big employers have deep pockets that politicians feed off. Remember my post showing how an editor of the Wall Street Journal feels about it? So I do not think much will be done in terms of enforcement, at least against employers. That being the case, unless something remarkable happens to the Mexican economy, there will always be large numbers of Mexicans (mainly) willing to risk anything to come here.

Of course, I could be wrong.

16 June 2006

The sole remaining GM electric car?

And what has happened to the one EV1 the Smithsonian had on display? They have removed it and stored it away where the public will never see it again. As Washington Post reporter Linda Hales wrote in the article mentioned in the last post wrote:
The mystery, meantime, at the National Museum of American History is why a rare surviving example of that car -- a silvery-blue 1997 EV1 sedan -- would be removed from display yesterday just as interest in the innovative vehicle seems bound to grow.
By the way, GM contributed $10 million in 2001 which paid half the cost of the history museum's new transportation exhibition hall, which was renamed to honor the benefactor. But lest you think there is a connection the GM spokesman says emphatically:
"There is no conspiracy to do away with the EV1 at the Smithsonian. There is no Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy at GM to do away with the EV1."

Boy! Was I ever wrong when I claimed that the American automobile industry couldn’t be creative.

American Automotive Creativity - I was wrong!

It seems that at least one American automobile company was pursuing the dream of an alternate energy vehicle with great creativity - General Motors!

As reported in the Washington Post, the General developed and launched a fleet of silent, aerodynamic electric vehicles to meet California's zero-emissions mandate. The shapely two-seater, called the EV1 was driven in California and Arizona from 1996 until 2003. The Washington Post story calls it “a classic 1990s tale of government regulation, corporate innovation, brilliant engineering and consumer lust for the Next New Thing.”

What exactly was it? A dynamic little car powered by nickel-hydride batteries that had a range of 125 miles between charges, more than enough for a days worth of driving in California. In fact it was developed by GM specifically to meet California’s tough new zero emissions standards.
“The engine whirred, rather than roared, but spewed no emissions; there was no gear-shifting; and drivers talk of the car's torque with awe.”
GM leased the car to drivers who, by all accounts loved it and are fiercely loyal to its memory. One has even produced a movie about it, "Who Killed the Electric Car?" which will premiere 30 June. So, GM had an innovative new electric car, one that seemed to function in the real world, and had been willing to spend $1 billion on research and development. Obviously I was wrong in my previous post about the lack of creativity and innovation among American car manufacturers. So why aren’t we seeing a new generation of such cars zipping around now that gasoline is $3 a barrel? Why is our only alternative Japanese hybrids that still you gasaline?

Well, because GM decided that not only would you never drive one, you would never see one either. It confiscated all of the cars from their drivers and destroyed them for scrap, except for one donated to the Smithsonian. Why? I am tempted to say “just because GM wanted to” but that would be wrong. GM says that it only had 800 paying customers for it and therefore it wasn’t worth keeping the program going. This overlooks the 5,000 people who had already signed a waiting list to get them. And this was only in California. And the fact that most of that money had been R & D money already spent, not production costs to produce more vehicles. Why did GM destroy the EV1s already on the road?

Perhaps GM wanted the car to fail. The GM spokesman hints at that when he says "The EV1 experience demonstrated to California regulators that battery technology was not going to advance further.”

That'll show those pesky government regulators.

Equal Justice for all - depending on your net worth

There is a fascinating article in today's Washington Post about the expenses run up by the law firm defending Jeffrey Skilling, ex-executive of Enron Corp and soon to be convict. The firm represented Skilling for 5 years and was paid $23 million by Skilling personally and $17 million from his insurance.

Nevertheless, the law firm is reporting a loss, said by one source as more than $25 million beyond what has been paid. The bill is so huge that Skilling can not pay even though he departed Enron with millions - we don't know exactly how much but the Feds put a hold on $60 million cash and other assets, a $5 million mansion and a $350,000 condo in Dallas (used only for visiting their daughter while she was in college).

Defense lawyers will ask that most of this money be released to Skilling since, as one of the lawyers sweetly points out, "He wants to take care of his family and his lawyers." Well, the man does have his priorities.

Why such huge expenses? The five full partners who worked on the case cut him a break and only charged $500/hr, while much of the work was done by junior partners who charged as little as $200/hr. Much of the intellectual grunt work, especially the research, was probably done by paralegals who get paid - oh, I don't know, maybe $40 an hr? (What the firm bills for their work is different than what they are paid for the work, I believe).

"There wasn't a lot of second-guessing" among the firm's policy committee, the chairman of Skilling's law firm said. "We felt an obligation to our client. . . . .It was the right thing to do for our client and the smart thing to do for our firm."

I can imagine. It is somewhat like asking me, as an expert on the middle ages, when the Roman Empire ended. I spend 100 hrs researching the question, preparing charts, graphs and cross referenced indexes, and then say "AD 476". You know that this will hold up in court because ... well, because I have a PhD and work at a college, so I must be an expert.

So I bill you $20,000 because I am a busy little expert and my time is worth $200/hr. And it is - if we all agree that it is. Let's say you are broke and can only pay me $5,000 @$50/hr. I say, OK, if that's all you have. Then I pocket the money and complain about how I lost $15,000 on you.

The disturbing thing is: this is real money, and the lawyers and paralegals have real intelligence and talent, all devoted to cases like this. The final payoff to the State, our society, and our economy?

Absolutely nothing.

15 June 2006

Vox Populi, Vox Dei

This is an opinion I disagree with, but here are the stats on popular opinion on English as an official language issue, from National Review Online

¡Ay Caramba! [Jack Fowler]
A new Rasmussen Reports Survey shows 85% of Americans want English to be the official language of the U.S. The political breakdown: 92% of Republicans, 86% of unaffiliated voters, and 79% of Democrats back the stand. Did Harry Reid know there were so many “racists” in his party?
Posted at 3:23 PM

Just thought I'd post that for Joey's reading pleasure.

14 June 2006

Wikipedia - Kids, don't try this at home!

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, the on-line encyclopedia that seems to mutate on its own, has recently said this about college students using his creation.

Speaking at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday called “The Hyperlinked Society,” Mr. Wales said that he gets about 10 e-mail messages a week from students who complain that Wikipedia has gotten them into academic hot water. “They say, ‘Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia’” and the information turned out to be wrong, he says. But he said he has no sympathy for their plight, noting that he thinks to himself: “For God sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”

Mr. Wales said that leaders of Wikipedia have considered putting together a fact sheet that professors could give out to students explaining what Wikipedia is and that it is not always a definitive source. “It is pretty good, but you have to be careful with it,” he said. “It’s good enough knowledge, depending on what your purpose is.”

I'll have to remember to add this to my syllabi next semester! Students think they know everything about electronic research, but reality is sometimes disappointing.

A Conservative view on Immigration

Holman W. Jenkins, jr, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, has an interesting coumn on immigration today. Here are two paragraphs I found especially well put.

With 12 million illegals in the country, whole sectors of our economy exist only because of immigrant labor. Farms would shut down along with jobs for suppliers of seeds, packaging and ancillary services. Jobs for waiters, maître d's and chefs would vanish, not just those of immigrant busboys, kitchen hands and cleaners. Some 1.2 million illegals are believed to work in construction. If the cost of home building goes up, demand goes down: Less wood is sold, fewer nails, fewer power tools, fewer pickup trucks. Contractors would make less profit; ergo, Harley-Davidson would sell fewer Road Kings with all the chrome and finery.

Armchair wonks say, "Enforce the law and damn the consequences." Every time the government does, however, a few of those couch warriors suddenly become vocal activists on the other side. It's their employer, their brother-in-law, their neighbor who finds himself facing criminal charges. It's their house that doesn't get finished. Don't be surprised if some of the latest politically inspired crackdowns end the same way. Blowback in the Cincinnati area is already growing against the arrest last month of four foremen for Fischer Homes, a well-liked local home builder.

So what is the solution? That's a little less clear, but read the column for yourself.

As always, if that doesn't work, http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/hjenkins/?id=110008514

13 June 2006

Jesus Laughs

"And what’s interesting to me is one of the arguments they have in the book [Name of the Rose by Eco] is that comedy is bad because nowhere in the New Testament does it say that Jesus laughed. It says Jesus wept, but never did he laugh.

"But, I don’t think you actually have to say it for us to imagine Jesus laughing. In the famous episode where there’s a storm on the lake, and the fishermen are out there. And they see Jesus on the shore, and Jesus walks across the stormy waters to the boat. And St. Peter thinks, “I can do this. I can do this. He keeps telling us to have faith and we can do anything. I can do this.” So he steps out of the boat and he walks for—I don’t know, it doesn’t say—a few feet, without sinking into the waves. But then he looks down, and he sees how stormy the seas are. He loses his faith and he begins to sink. And Jesus hot-foots it over and pulls him from the waves and says, “Oh you of little faith.” I can’t imagine Jesus wasn’t suppressing a laugh. How hilarious must it have been to watch Peter—like Wile E. Coyote—take three steps on the water and then sink into the waves. "

Stephen Colber, 2006 Commencement address, Knox College.

I tend to think that Colbert has stumbled onto a great truth. Or maybe he was just making it up.

Stephen Colbert on Immigration and Jobs

"And when you enter the workforce, you will find competition from those crossing our all-too-porous borders. Now I know you’re all going to say, “Stephen, Stephen, immigrants built America.” Yes, but here’s the thing—it’s built now. I think it was finished in the mid-70s sometime. At this point it’s a touch-up and repair job. But thankfully Congress is acting and soon English will be the official language of America. Because if we surrender the national anthem to Spanish, the next thing you know, they’ll be translating the Bible. God wrote it in English for a reason! So it could be taught in our public schools."

2006 Commencement Address, Knox College

12 June 2006

What Is History anyway

Going through notes for one of my classes I came across these quotes defining history. Thought this might be a good place to air them.

What is history? People have had great fun with it: for example:

Henry Ford: "History is bunk."
Leo Tolstoy: "History would be a wonderful thing — if it were only true."
Hegel: "We learn from history that we do not learn from history."
Napoleon "History is a set of lies agreed upon."

And my all time favorite which actually describes traditional history very well, though a bit acerbically:

Ambrose Bierce: History, n. An account mostly false, of events unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools.

11 June 2006

World Languages: a Response

Maire the Red has suggested that Spanish has more native speakers than English. This may be true, although from looking over various statistics I think it is the other way around. This site has some statistics. You'll notice that the first chart, by Weber, shows English as having the most native speakers, at about 332 million. This is contradicted by other charts which show English at about 322 million. Since The Economist's yearbook of statistics for 2005 show the major English speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK and Us) as having combined populations of 378.5 million it is clear that there must be well over 340 million today, even allowing for 10% of these nations not speaking English, which is probably too high.

Other countries where English is co-official, such as India, Hong Kong, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe have a combined population of 1,632,200 million, but only a minority would speak English. All of the above charts, however, number the number of speakers of English as a secondary language at 150,000 million, giving total world wide speakers of English as 480 million, well above any estimate of Spanish speakers.

As for immigrants learning English, and Joey's comment, I will get to that soon.

10 June 2006

That's all for today!

I am very annoyed with blogger.com right now. It ate my last post. I should have known better than to use Internet Exploer with Blogger. Two error prone programs trying to work in tandem virtually spelled trouble. Well, of to bed to read The Great Human Diasporas by Luigi and Francesco Cavalli-Sforza.


Gibbon and the Byzantines

Well, if anyone thought Gibbon had problem with Christians, you should read what he had to say about the Byzantines. He has long intorduction to his section on the Byzantine Empire where he points out how corrupt, vicious, degraded, etc., the Greek speaking inhabitants of the Empire were. At least, according to Gibbon.

Here's his assessment of one of their emperors:
'If Constantine the eleventh were indeed the subject most worthy of empire, we must pity the debasement of the age and nation in which he was chosen.'

Occasionally he found one or two to admire, at least before pointing out all the ways they fell short of being true Romans. Here is his take on Emperor John Comnenus (AD 1118):
'During his government of twenty-five years, the penalty of death was abolished in the Roman empire, a law of mercy most delightful to the humane theorist, but of which the practice, in a large and vicious community, is seldom consistent with the public safety.'
Sounds like a familiar argument - at least here in America.

And finally, here Gibbon comments on the sterner virtues of John's son Manuel (AD 1143):
'The first in the charge, the last in the retreat, his friends and his enemies alike trembled, the former for his safety, and the latter for their own.'

Clemens' notebook: Languages

About 10,000 years ago there were perhaps 5 to 10 million humans on Earth. They may have spoken as many as 12,000 languages.

Today there are more than 6 billion people on Earth speaking about 6,800 distinct languages, though by the time I post this and you read it, one or two of them may have disappeared. The median number speaking each language is 6000 individuals. Two thirds of these languages have never been written down.

Of these languages Mandarin Chinese has by far the greatest number of native speakers, while English is by far the widest spread with the largest number of non-native speakers.

None of which explains why Anglophone Americans have become so fearful about their English.

Clemens' Notebook: Advice for Writers

I think that occasionally I will use the blog (or the blob, as my mother calls it), as a notebook to store odd little notes on this and that found here and there. They will not be meant to be interesting to anyone else. Here's the first one, from Josh Marshall, a journalist whose blog talkingpointsmemo.com is busy tracking down all the muck that is fit to rake.
Bad writing is usually imprecise writing - and its badness usually stems from the bad writer not having taken the time to think through what he or she means to say. The cobwebs and vagaries of their minds are revealed in bad prose.

I will try to keep this in mind as I blog. You may draw any deviations to my attention.

The Minnesotan in me

Though a Virginian born and bred, I came to terms years ago with the fact that I was born a latent Minnesotan. This first occurred to me during the winter of 77-78 when I had moved there. On Columbus Day it started snowing so hard that native Minnesotans rushed to the windows yelling 'It's snowing!' I knew we were in trouble.

We went for period of 30 straight days where the temperature did not go above 0 degrees Farhenheit. Somewhere in late January it finally got up to 5 above. As I was walking towards Cedar-Riverside on the way to class I remember unbuttoning my jacket, an old navy pea jacket, thinking 'Gee, it's warm today.' And then it hit me. 'My God! I'm becoming one of them!'

Which is why it struck me so funny when G. K. introduced the Prairie Home Companion show in his movie by describing Minnesotans:
"We're not a beach people. We are a dark people who believe it could be worse, and are waiting for it."

I think I'll have an Effexor cocktail and reminisce.

09 June 2006

'The Prairie Home Companion', G. K., and me.

My lady and I just made our anniversary trip down to the Tri-City so we could see the area premier of the 'Prairie Home Companion' movie. It was a nostalgic experience for me. For one thing, as part of this special wing-ding we all got two little Bee-Bop-a-Roo-Bop Rhubarb pies. But mostly it is a good movie. You should go see it.

It made me homesick for Saint Paul, Minnesota and the morning show that Garrison Keillor did that I listened to on my way in to school, or to work at the Minnesota Historical Society. The movie takes place in St Paul, my favorite place to live. I remember the Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion Show when it was still just a local show, a home town secret. I saw Garrison several times, here and there. He briefly considered going to St Clement's Church where I went. And he personifies much that I admired and loved about Minnesotans. At 6'4'' and looking like a young Jack Elam he is hard to miss.

The first hint at what the movie might mean to me came in the first few seconds, when 'River Road Productions' flashed on the screen. River Road runs along the bluffs of the Mississippi right through the Twin Cities. I lived one half of a block from it, near the Lake Street Bridge. I drove, biked, or walked River Road nearly every single day for nine years. Later in the movie they did a song named after Summit Avenue, which ended at River Rd about a block from my apartment. Another road I drove or biked up constantly. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived in several different places on Summit Ave. In the movie his bust virtually becomes a character in the movie.

The first scene takes place at the old Mickey's Diner, a place in the shadow of John Ireland's cathedral. Then the movie shifts to the Fitzgerald theatre, again a place I have been by many times. And Meryl Streep has the Minnesota accent down pat.

I could go on, but it's hard to put into words the special allure St Paul still has in my memory. The old Summit Ave area was my home, and until I got married I went back every summer. Once I pulled off I-94 on Cretin down to Summit, I could feel myself relaxing. I was safe among friends.

The ties have loosened over the last seven years. But the movie brought it all back.

04 June 2006

An 'American' subcompact

As a followup to that last post, there is one little car with good gas mileage (26-34 mpg) that seems to be solid and well designed sold by an American car company: The Chevrolet Aveo! It can compete with all those little Japanese and Korean cars that are now selling so well!

No, wait - it's built by the bankrupt Daewoo Corp in Korea and sold in Europe and Asia as the Kalos.

Never mind.

Deja Vu in the Automobile Business

It is no secret that the American auto companies (but not the Japanese and Korean companies) are suffering now that gas prices are going up. There are lots of articles out there explaining this. Here are some quotes from one in Bloomburg.com (my italics):

'June 2 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. led Asian automakers to a record share of U.S. automobile sales in May on demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Japanese and South Korean brands captured 40.2 percent of sales, up 3.9 percentage points from a year ago, passing the previous high of 40 percent set in October. Asian brands posted a combined 10 percent sales gain, led by increases of 17 percent for Toyota and 16 percent for Honda.

Rising gasoline prices are blunting demand for trucks, which account for a majority of sales for General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler unit. Toyota's new Yaris subcompact and Honda's new Fit small car travel almost 40 miles on a gallon of gasoline, compared with 17 miles a gallon for Ford's F-150 pickup, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

``Honda and Toyota's focus on cars paid off in May when high gas prices propelled their sales upward, outpacing truck- centric GM and Ford's gas-guzzling offerings,'' said Brian Bruce, who helps manage about $18 billion in equity, including Ford and GM shares, at PanAgora Asset Management in Boston.

...... Gains for the Toyota City, Japan-based company were led by the new Camry sedan, the Yaris and Scion small cars. ....Toyota's market share jumped to a record 15.8 percent, compared with 13.4 percent in May 2005, according to Autodata Corp.

Honda, based in Tokyo and fifth in U.S. sales, raised sales to 141,810 vehicles from 122,169 a year earlier. The increase was led by the Accord sedans and coupes, the Civic small car and the Fit subcompact.

There is more along these lines. The interesting, and depressing, thing is that I have been reading stats like this for the last 30 years or so. I have also been reading articles pointing out, over and over, that American car manufacturers where concentrating too much on the big vehicles with big profit margins, and deliberately abandoning the small car market to foreign companies. There always been auto journalists and business analysts pointing out out that they were putting all their eggs in one basket: one basket totally dependent on cheap gas which almost no one expected to last indefinitely.

If so, the chickens that laid the eggs have come home to roost. Deciding on R & D for a future product mix must be a complicated job, but didn't the American execs read the same articles? Did they think that the executives at Toyota and Honda continued to develop small cars simply because they couldn't compete with the American companies in real vehicles, like SUVs and large pick-ups?