28 August 2009


Immigrants. We are all immigrants. I saw this little illustrated essay and was prepared to find it insufferably cute and cloying. Instead I was charmed.

I have always enjoyed such stories by recent immigrants though they are alien to my own life. There was no memory of an immigrant experience in my childhood. No one could remember when the first of our family got here, or how. I was told, vaguely, that we were Scotch-Irish but had no idea what that meant. (Only as an adult did I discover that it means I am supposed to be of hard-drinking, Bible thumping, racist stock prepared to fight at the drop of a hat. Fortunately I also learned that I am more likely English, mostly. Pick your stereotype).

I thought the most exotic thing about my family was that my grandfather's father had come from Germany and his mother was Welsh. Unfortunately I got that confused with Wellish, the family name of my uncle Richard, a Hungarian Jew whose mother had been smart enough to get him out of Vienna one step ahead of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named*. For some reason, as a child I did not realize that this made him an immigrant. Honest, I thought all New Yorkers talked that way.

Then there was my Aunt Jenny, who also had an unusual accent. I learned later, much later, that she had a cleft palate. I thought all New Yorkers talked that way.

Several years ago I discovered that my paternal family has been here longer than the United States has. The oldest one we can identify served as a musician in the Continental Army. Then he moved to Virginia and fathered 11 children, most of whom seem to have fathered or birthed 11 children or so. How the West was populated, I suppose (or at least Russell County, Virginia)

Not sure why I was thinking of this, unless it was because I stopped by our local Cuban sandwich shop for lunch today. Had a Jamon con pierna sandwich and Cafe Cubano. Talked to the owner, Willie, who is from the same town Carmen is, Santa Clara. Site of the final battle of the Cuban Revolution. (To this day low flying airplanes make Carmen a bit nervous). While I was talking to him I mentioned The Havana Village, a Cuban sandwich shop in the unnamed port city. It is owned by a Cuban of the old school, but run by my sister-in-law, who is Vietnamese (reminds me of El Gran Dragon del Oro - a Cuban-Chinese place just off of SoHo, back when it was just tacky ol' Howard Ave.)

They are all Americans now. Me too.




The Minotaur program and accountability

Continuing the mythological meme of that last post (can you find the minotaur on the diagram?) here is a pitch perfect newscast from the Onion on the recently revealed Minotaur program for handling detainees in our war on terror (now officially known as the 'war on whatever'). It manages to skewer both sides of the argument at the same time.

Labels: , , ,

Mythical creatures: a diagram

from a link on the Daily Dish

Labels: , ,

Hi - I'm here to install your new software

The most terrifying words in the English language.

New hardware, new software, whatever: your life will be hell until all the bugs are worked out. Last year my doctor's office installed new software to make the office more efficient: two months of lost appointments, missed calls, misinformation and confusion. But now it is all working fine, we think.

Remember the FBI's attempt to upgrade their computers? Spent millions, then had to pull the plug on the whole program because it was so messed up it was unusable.

And here is another one. Prince George's County in Maryland installed a new SchoolMax program (owned by a Canadian company) to do the scheduling. You can guess the rest:
Almost as soon as they began testing the scheduling component of SchoolMax during the past school year, officials realized there were flaws in the new computer system, which was meant to speed the process of assigning each student to classes. They lost more than a month patching it, falling further behind as each deadline passed.

It was, of course, a disaster. Thousands of students with schedules that made no sense, or no schedules at all. Oh, yes. What computers screw up, bureaucrats can make worse. The school system didn't bother to warn anyone that there was a problem. So...
At a news conference Thursday, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said that "to have more than 8,000 high school students out of class on the first day is inexcusable."[It's now been over four days]

"I want to offer my sincere apologies to the students, families and staff of Prince George's County public schools for the severe disruption to the school year that these scheduling difficulties have imposed," he added.

One other common feature of such stories also crops up. The software company blames the school system, the school system blames the software company. Can something be done about all this? You betcha.

[The Superintendent] said officials are reviewing the contract with SchoolMax "to see if there are possible damages that can be recovered."

If you thought the software folks screwed things up, wait until you see what the lawyers can do.


Labels: , ,

23 August 2009

In honor of Freddie the Pig

One of the brighter colleagues in the history department swears everything important that he learned in elementary school he learned from Freddie the Pig books.


I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us.
Pigs treat us as equals.
- Sir Winston Churchill ( 1874-1965)


He lied like an eyewitness

Supposedly that is an old Russian expression from the time of Stalin. Probably not, though it perfectly captures something too many historians forget: never trust an eyewitness.

On Andrew Sullivan's site there is a reminder of why. Memory is a construct, a fond hope, and a lie. Read the whole thing but here is the best part:
Less than a year after a cargo plane crashed into an Amsterdam apartment building in 1992, 55 percent of the Dutch population said they had watched the plane hit the building on TV. Many of them recalled specifics of the crash, such as the angle of descent, and could report whether or not the plane was on fire before it hit. But the event had not been caught on video.

I have lots of childhood memories that are clear as a bell - but I know that they are not based on anything I actually 'remember'. They are based on my mental reconstructions of stories told to me about myself when I was too small to remember much of anything. I have other memories, equally clear, that when I check with other people or written records simply are impossible. And so it goes.

I was going to say some further brilliant things but now I can't remember them.

Labels: , ,

22 August 2009

North Carolina in the news

Here in the High Country we are represented by one of most loathsome politicians out there .... and I do mean out there.... Virginia Foxx. The reason I say that are legion, going from her reputation back in the days when she worked for the same school I do, to her pernicious role in every political enterprise she has been a part of, to rumors about the way she has become wealthy (funny how politicians do that).

Anyway, back to the topic on hand. Virginia has been busy burnishing the old Tar Heel State's reputation in Washington during our health care debate. Here is a sample from a blurb about her on the Washington Monthly site:
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R) of North Carolina has already contributed so much to the health care debate. It was Foxx, after all, who argued a month ago, "There are no Americans who don't have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare." She added that reform would "give the government control of our lives."

A week later, Foxx insisted that health care reform would "put seniors in a position" in which they may be "put to death by their government."

And Thursday, Foxx was at it again, this time making a constitutional argument.

"The Constitution doesn't grant a right to health care, and most of us are living as much by the Constitution as we can. It also doesn't give the federal government the authority to deal with health care. As you may know, the 10th amendment, it says if it isn't mentioned in the Constitution to be done by the federal government, it's left to the states or the people."

ergo Medicare and Medicaid are unconstitutional.

I've always wondered if she is related to Redd.

Labels: , ,

Tort reform and medical reform

My friend Budweiser and I get together about every three months for deep discussions of politics, wars, cars, and a few other things (never gossip or family news, to Carmen's frustration). Budweiser, who is a legal aid lawyer, has a bee in his bonnet about tort reform and medical care: he hates trial lawyers like the late John Edwards who specialize in tort cases, especially medical malpractice.

I thought he was a bit irrational about it until I read this from a reader of Andrew Sullivan's site. He says that he is a liberal, working for an insurance company researching doctors and malpractice. If you take his self description at face value he knows what he is talking about and certainly seems to have the facts and figures. It's enlightening in several aspects. Here is just one:
As much as the trial lawyer lobby tries to dispute the facts, physicians did indeed flee Illinois in 2002 and 2003 after the judicial climate turned completely poisonous. There was a period in 2004 and 2005 where there were only 4 Neurosurgeons practicing in the entire state because several fled to Indiana, where there is an elaborate system of caps and state-funded malpractice insurance. The cost of malpractice insurance in Indiana is about 75% less than Illinois, and claims frequency and severity is a tiny fraction of Illinois'.

And here is another:
my company, after we initiated an elaborate Risk Management program a few years ago through which insureds could receive discounts for attending seminars, improving office procedures, electronic medical records, etc., claims frequency dropped by 28%. The program encourages fewer unnecessary tests and instead stresses improved record keeping, patient tracking, etc. Most "failure to diagnose" claims (the most common type) are the result of poor record-keeping, not failure to run additional tests.

So now I will listen to Budweiser with new respect the next time we meet at Tank's Taproom, down in that unnamed port city to the south.

Labels: ,

Fallout from the Appalachian Trail hike

Talking Points Memo is having a lot of fun with the catalog blurb from the Viking Press about a book written by Mark Sanford, nominal governor of South Carolina. This was written before Mark went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Here's what Kurtz has to say:
Touting the book as "a conservative manifesto from one of the Republican Party's rising stars," the catalog anticipates "national publicity," "author tour," and "radio interview campaign."

Sanford would have explained through "personal" examples "how the GOP went astray over the last eight years." One can only imagine.

"Governor Sanford's down-to-earth voice and common sense principles will give conservative readers a much-needed sense of hope," the catalog promises.

I especially like that part about 'common sense principles'.

...and then, the Argentine Bombshell.


Labels: , ,

18 August 2009

Say, just how tight is this collar supposed to be?

can I get on LOL Cats now, huh?

17 August 2009

Dollars and sense on Immigration

Every public policy no matter how small has a price tag, one way and another. The Cato Institute has figured out what it would mean to legalize illegal immigrants.
A new study from the libertarian CATO Institute concludes that legalizing the more than eight million undocumented workers in the United States would have significant economic benefits for the country, while simply enhancing border enforcement and applying restrictive immigration laws would actually hurt the U.S. economically.

How much benefit? $180 billion.

and even Victor Davis Hanson has admitted that we are NOT going to have the stomach for deporting all of them.


Labels: ,

The Shahnamah and the importance of oral hygiene

[this is actually something I wrote on my Neo last summer but forgot to upload into Sententiae]

This morning I read a six page chunk of the Shanamah and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is now clearly into the historical period with the story of Ardeshir's victory over Ardavan. Thus, in the beginning of the reign of the Sassanians. The story of Sekander, which I finished the day before was fascinating in its mix of history and fantasy. To salve their pride, apparently, the medieval Persians made Alexander, or Sekander as they call him, the secret son of the Persian king by his wife, the daughter of Filqis the king of Greece, whom once he had impregnated he sent back to Greece because of her bad breath. So history turns on its tracks because a bride's oral hygiene is not up to Macedonian royal standards.

Very interesting.

so if the Persians knew the use of antibacterial mouthwash history would have turned in its tracks.

13 August 2009

I knew it! It's a health food!


It's not just for self-indulgence anymore.

Carmen will be so happy - she's already had one heart attack so should take double the dose.


Labels: , ,

04 August 2009

The car I want

This is a British video review of the new Ford Fiesta, Euro version.

I am not sure the US model will be able to perform the truly impressive beach assault.

it should have a disclaimer that no Teddy Bears were harmed in making this film.


Labels: ,

The usefulness of Medievalism

From The Week:

A burglar in Scotland was frightened off when he was interrupted by a homeowner dressed as Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Torvald Alexander, 39, had attended a costume party dressed as the hammer-wielding deity, complete with red cape, breastplate, and horned helmet. Encountering the burglar, Alexander/Thor instinctively charged at the man, causing him to leap from the window and flee in terror. "I think I would be quite scared if someone looking almost like a gladiator ran at me," said Alexander.

Me too, Torvald. Me too.

must have been the horned helmet

Labels: ,

The Electrics ARE coming!

Nissan which has lagged behind its fellow Japanese auto companies Toyota and Honda in producing hybrids hope to lap them by introducing an all electric car. File this under 'interesting, if true.' The most unbelievable part of it is the price. I might be driving one yet.

and then there's the Chevy Volt.


Labels: , ,