Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Article Note: On Wal-Mart and Health Care Costs

Citation for the article:

Green, Joshua. "The New War Over Wal-Mart." The Atlantic June 2006: 38-44.

Read in print.

I mostly wanted to make a note of this article because some of our freshman composition classes deal with topics related to Wal-Mart, under the broader topic of globalization. One of their textbook features a unit on this too. At any rate, this looks like an interesting article to point out to some of them in the future. The author looks at how health care costs will affect Wal-Mart down the road, as they are affecting firms like General Motors. His argument is to gradually move towards a universal health care system while showing to companies like Wal-Mart that such an approach is more cost effective down the road. While he is in favor of a method to require people to carry health insurance, similar to current laws for having auto insurance, the argument is compelling. In my opinion, we probably could do better with a universal system with a government base, but I know to many it smacks of socialism. To me, it's just taking care of your own. But as I said, overall, the argument is interesting, and it may be of interest to some of my students.

Friday, May 26, 2006

List of Places to Have a Beer

The Beer Advocate has made available its list of the "Top 50 Places to have a beer in America." I have only been on one of them, here, so it looks like I have some traveling to do. By the way, it seems Texas shines for its absence on this list.

Booknote: Peace is Every Step

Title: Peace is Every Step
Author: Thich Nhat Hanh
Publication Information: New York: Bantam Books, 1991
ISBN: 0-553-35139-7
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Buddhism (Zen), spirituality, inspirational

I picked this book up from the new books cart at my workplace out of a little curiosity. The fact that it has a foreword by the Dalai Lama helped, since I have read some of the Dalai Lama's books. Readers can find my note on one of the Dalai Lama's books here, a book that I enjoyed very much. The essence of the book I am noting now is that we need to be mindful. Being mindful of our actions, emotions, and behavior will allow us to find peace and love within ourselves. Once we do that, we can then work for peace around us. I know that I have probably oversimplified the author's message, yet to me it seemed as simple as that. I am not saying doing that is simple though. Being mindful allows us to see how things and people are interconnected, and if we can see as much, we can find that peace is with every step we take.

The book is written in short segments arranged in three parts. The writing displays a calm and conversational tone that makes it easy to read. It is the perfect book to read when you are likely to be interrupted. It is also a good book to read when seeking some solace. I found nice to read a few pages at a time before bedtime for instance. The book has a lot of good meditations. One that stuck with me is the one entitled "Interbeing." It tells how a poet can see a cloud on a sheet of paper. It is really simple: the cloud brings rain, which helps the tree grow, from where comes the paper the poet will use to write down his verses. This is just a small sample, but it illustrates the book's content well.

The book is simple and well-written. Any reader interested in a little inspiration will likely enjoy it. While it presents many important Buddhist ideas, readers do not need familiarity with Buddhism to enjoy it. Actually, it may inspire some readers to explore Zen further.

If I were a European city

Yep, it's Friday. If you are one of the few regular readers of this little blog, you know what that means. A while back I did that little quiz about what city in the United States I would be. So, I figured it would be fair to try my luck with Europe. Anyhow, here is my result. They caught the dislike of snobbery pretty well, since it is something I hate with a passion. By the way, I would love to visit Dublin, and the rest of Ireland.


You Belong in Dublin

Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions.
You're the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl... or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.



Wishing all out there a Happy and Safe Memorial Day Weekend, if you are among those who celebrate it. The rest, may you have have a good weekend too.

Monday, May 22, 2006

So, now they are recording my phone conversations.

Needless to say, I am not happy about this. As if the powers that be had not lied enough, after denials, it turns out they are recording my phone calls and everybody else's. Not that I call anyone they would consider "important," but that's none of their business. So, I don't know about the rest of you out there, but I am certainly supportive of any and all efforts to make them accountable. Last I looked, this was not the Soviet Union, and I don't think that brave soldiers are fighting around the world just so we lose our liberties at home. Benjamin Franklin said it pretty well, "any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. " So when people who for some reason are ok with this say something stupid along the lines of "but you have no civil liberties if you are dead," I cannot help but wonder if patriots like Patrick Henry, who said that famous line of give me liberty or give death, are rolling on their graves or not about now. You can find the story on the U.S. Senator who said it here (via TPM Blog), and you may want to also read what Patrick Henry actually said here, which by the way, looks very relevant. I don't know about him, but I am not one of those to say, "oh, spare me the pain and take my rights and freedoms away." And feel free to take a look at the EFF and their efforts to make the phone companies that folded like a cheap suit accountable.


EFF v. AT&T

Friday, May 19, 2006

Playboy's Top 25 Novels

Playboy has announced its list of "The 25 Sexiest Novels Ever Written." The books range from literary to a bit more sexy. It is the Playboy site, so if you happen to be one of the folks who may find Playboy offensive, you may want to skip the site. However, the part of the site with the list has a pretty nice display of the book covers, and you can click on the covers to get some information on the books and why they were included on the list. From their introduction:

"If reading is thinking with someone else's brain, then erotica is feeling with someone else's body parts. With that in mind, we set out to find the books that arouse the most. We limited our search to novels (perhaps we'll tackle memoirs and manuals next), focusing on works of fiction marked by frank language, candor and enthusiasm. Body parts are named and interwoven in ways that arouse, linger and channel your own desires. Some titles were famous for being dirty books for decades, contraband smuggled in from Paris. A few were champions in the courts, books that freed the language. Some tackled taboos. Others showcased attitude -- either curiosity or humor or energy. To us, they are the ultimate love stories."


Some of the works featured on the list are (in no particular order):
  • Memoirs of A Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill), by John Cleland.
  • Interview with a Vampire, by Anne Rice.
  • Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.
I was tempted to put this in our library's blog, but I get the feeling that some of the more "conservative" elements would not appreciate erotica and good literature. So, for those who do, go over and take a look.

A hat tip to The Literary Saloon.

Article Note: On Tattoos and Colonialism

Citation for the article:

Bailkin, Jordanna. "Making Faces: Tattooed Women and Colonial Regimes." History Workshop Journal 59 (Spring 2005): 33-56.

I read the article via Project Muse.

We can probably file this under "odd and curious." At any rate, the article caught my eye, and it took me back to my days of studying postcolonial theory and literature as an English major in a previous life. The article begins with a brief summary of the Chisholm case. In 1889, Malcolm James Chisholm, a British police officer in Burma, was accused of forcibly having the face of his Burmese mistress tattooed. This event sounds like the type of thing for tabloid news, but the event illustrates a lot about the tattoo art and its place in Burmese and British societies. The author claims that "in this article, I explore the phenomenon of tattooed women in British Burma and in London's fashionable circles from the 1880s to the 1920s, investigating the interplay between the body politics of these two groups" (33).

In Europe, tattoos were usually associated with sailors, soldiers, or criminals. However, they enjoyed some popularity in British upper circles during the period from the 1880s to the 1920s, a period of stress for the British aristocracy. Burma as a site of study is significant because during the time period it was seen as a place without an aristocracy, which made it a colonial anomaly. Readers can contrast this situation to the situation in India where the British often played princes and other aristocrats against each other. Tattoos, especially in women, could be problematic:

"In Mandalay, Rangoon, and London, British observers tended to 'read' the phenomenon of tattooed women in remarkably similar ways, that is, as a sign of British failures to rule effectively. In all these locales, tattooed women dramatized a crisis of British global dominance, that was exemplified by the failures of the British men to police, protect, or modenize women's bodies" (35).

In essence, tattooed women signified weak British authority. Burma was a contested site. It was difficult for the British to control it given tribal unrest and metropolitan misgivings about the adventure. Chisholm illustrated some of these issues. He was young and inexperienced, quickly promoted.

Contemporary British investigators suggested that tattooing in Burma had various gendered meanings. For men, some tattoos were significant of spells and power. Face tattoos in males, however, were often punitive, marks for criminals. For women, tattoos had a complex history, often confusing given British ethnographers that often rejected local explanations or misinterpreted what they saw. One meaning was that of tribal resistance against the old Burmese kings, which the British deposed. However, these tattooed women remained to remind the British of tribal defiance and unrest. This type of tattoo puzzled the British. Eventually, some British came to see female Burmese tattoos in erotic terms. Chisholm's crime threw a wrench into this by marking a woman with a punitive form of tattooing:

"In adopting the facial tattoo for his wayward mistres, Chisholm had violated the gendered practices of tattooing in Burma. And, in misapplying native technologies of punishment and governance, the British officer was himself labelled a criminal" (39).

The issue was not what Chisholm did to the woman; the problem is he violated all sorts of norms, not to mention he reinforced the precariousness of the British authorities in Burma. It is interesting to note that at least two London newspapers were sympathetic to Mah Gnee, the mistress, who was never photographed or sketched. British women found the case alluring, in part because Burmese women were seen as more liberated. According to Bailkin, "British scholars frequently praised the equality of Burmese men and women before the law. . ." (41). In addition, "the freedom of Burmese women to obtain divorces, to trade at bazaars, and to enter into contracts on their authority contrasted sharply with the limited gains of British feminism" (42). Thus, ". . .the voluntary tattooing of tribal women in Burma designated a corpus of rights and privileges that was as yet unmatched in Britain" (42, emphasis in original).

As it turns out, Chisholm was acquitted, though questions about his role remained. To his colleagues, his real crime was a failure to control his native subordinates, an "abandonment of Britain's moral mission" (43). The event made the British police seem weak and incompetent. Meanwhile, tattoos became popular amongst high class British women. It was also adopted by the aristocracy; one possible reason was as a way to be associated with success in the colonies, a place that could save them from ruin. The article goes on to discuss this process and the fad leading to the 1920s. Overall, an interesting way to look at British history as well as gender studies and colonialism.

So, I am geeky in a major way

Well, folks, it's Friday, so odds are you know what that means for this blog. Yes, it's one of those quizzes. As for this one, I knew I had some tendencies in this area, but I never thought I would get a high score on a quiz measuring degree of geek. It was interesting taking this one, since it can be a little dated. It was scary to see some of the stuff I actually remember and still do. And while I don't take computers apart and put them back together before I have my frosted flakes, as I said, there are some tendencies. Anyhow, here are my results.

i am a major geek


A hat tip to Mark Linder, who posted it over in his blog here.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Adding to the vocabulary

Peter Rost, blogging at The Huffington Post, has a small list of words for 2006, some new, some not so new. According to him, these are important words for surviving the year. My favorites are:
  • BLAMESTORMING: Sitting around in a group, discussing why a deadline was missed or a project failed, and who was responsible.
  • SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything, and then leaves.
  • SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream, only to get screwed and die in the end.
I knew there was a name for when I had one of those days. Now I know.

Houston is only 9th when it comes to road rage?

The AutoVantage road rage survey is out, and it has been making the rounds in the news. I caught a glimpse of it on CNN, but as I am looking for a good link, it seems that all the online news sources are putting the same AP story. One example of this is the reprint at Houston Chronicle, which is pretty much AP rehash for the most part anyways. I guess an illustration of lack of original reporting and news conglomeration, but I disgress. The point is I heard that Houston was ninth on the survey, but the only reference I found to Houston is that it was mentioned along with other cities in the survey. This wire story out of Connecticut, where the company that did the survey is based, mentions Houston.

At any rate, if Houston was ranked ninth, I have to say I am a little disappointed. I thought the city would rank higher. In the short time I have been living here, I have discovered that Houstonians make it a point of pride to be rude and enraged when they drive. This even applies to school zones. I have actually had people in their large SUVs honk at me, pass me at a fast clip, barely cutting me off because I was driving within the speed limit in a school zone during school hours. Heck, they even honk and get mad in the school zones with the deputy sheriff parked nearby. And don't even get me started on the guy who went down the wrong way on a one way street, almost hit me head on, and when I swerved to the side to avoid him, actually stopped his car, got out of it, threw a tantrum, and began to yell at me. Needless to say, I just made my turn and left him there. Last thing I need is some whacko who apparently does not know the regulations of the road getting some gun out of his SUV. Apparently illiteracy goes along with road rage for the local morons since there was a prominently displayed "DO NOT ENTER" sign as the guy strolled in. And by the way, the guy was fairly well dressed, professional looking. Readers can find my recent encounters with other local road mofos here.

The top road rage city according to the report is Miami. The nicest places are Minneapolis, Nashville, St. Louis, Seattle, and Atlanta.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Dear Graduates, just not the usual speech

The Phantom Professor has written a commencement speech for the graduates. It provides a blend of satire with a grain or two of reality. If you have heard your share of commencement speeches, and you are sick of the usual b.s. they convey, go on over and read her writing. Here is a little sample:

It would be foolish for me to repeat all those usual commencement speech clich├ęs. You know, all that rosy hooha about the next decade being the best years of your life, about how you should be persistent, about how you should hold onto your dreams and how even a C student can become president of these United States. Except for that last one, it's all bullshit.


Now go read the rest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Americans prefer to watch movies at home, or how long did it take to figure this out?

The Pew Research Center has released a new survey (warning PDF) revealing that "three-quarters of all adults say they would prefer watching movies at home than a theater." Now, I am not trying to be flip with the title, but readers may already know that I fall within those three-quarters. Heck, I would rather be quartered alive than to be found in a movie theater. Back in January I wrote about why I stopped going to the movie theaters. So, upon seeing the survey results, I cannot help but get the feeling of "what took you fellows so long?" It is pretty common knowledge that between the less than stellar product that Hollywood is putting out, the expense of going to a movie theater with minimal value for your money, and the fact that going to the theater means being exposed to just about every form of rudeness known to man that most people prefer to watch a movie from the comfort of their homes. Add to this that movies come out on DVD fairly soon, and you get the picture. Interestingly, however, the survey reveals that the most popular way to watch movies is via network, cable or satellite, not on DVD, which I will admit runs a little counter to my initial intuition. Then again, it makes sense. If you plunk down the money for a good satellite package or for cable that is more than basic, you may as well be using it. The survey also points to services like Netflix and use of devices like TiVo.

Now, this does not mean that people are necessarily abandoning theaters. The survery found a decline, but the study has mixed results. For instance, the survey found that people who have great viewing equipment at home and tend to watch more movies are also more likely to go to the theater. "Movie buffs, in short, tend to watch a lot of movies, no matter what the venue." On the other hand, those who hardly go to the theater in the first place display a much stronger preference for watching movies at home. The significance for the movie industry is that the decline in theater attendance is ocurring among the young, the affluent, and the well educated, which are key demographics for the movie theater business. Also interesting, one of the reasons that usually keeps me out, the bad manners, is very low on the reasons people list in the survey for not going to the theater.

Another interesting finding is that, from those who don't watch more movies at home or in the theater, 77% would prefer to do other things with their free time.

Overall, an interesting survey to look at. In my case, I am still going to wait for the DVD to come out, if I can get away from my PS2 or the Internet, or better yet, some quality time at home.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Maybe we should put those pennies back in circulation

I am one of those folks who will stoop down to pick up a penny on the sidewalk. For the most part, I am also the type who empties his pockets of change. Well, recently, Ruchira Paul, of the blog Accidental Blogger, had a little piece reminding us that we probably should put those pennies back in circulation. You see, making a penny is not just worth a penny. It actually costs the U.S. Mint more than a penny to make one. Not to mention that although they are copper pennies, the actual copper content in them is pretty low. It is a brief post, but it makes for interesting reading and food for thought. For one, I have heard the argument that we should just get rid of pennies. I mean, what the heck can you buy with a penny? Pretty much nothing. However, here is the catch. Those businesses who use the gimmick of .99 pricing. You know the ones. Instead of $10.00, they price it at $9.99 to try to fool you into thinking it's under ten bucks. Are you fooled? I am not. Add to this the fact of sales taxes that usually make for an uneven price total anyways, and you need those pennies, or at least businesses do in order to make change when you pay with a $20 dollar bill for that $9.99 plus tax item.

As for my change, I usually keep it in a piggy bank (along with other coins), and after a while I will empty the little piggy, roll them up, and take them to my bank and deposit them. It's kind of a silly little ritual in a way, but it does put a little away now and then. I would never use one of those counting machines; you lose money on that. My wife usually keeps her change, until she gets short on cash and then the coins come out. I will admit, I may cringe a little when she goes to pay for something in change, but hey, cash is cash. I like the idea of taking mine to the bank because I know they will eventually circulate. So folks, some food for thought. What are you doing with your pennies?

On an aside note, Ruchira Paul linked to an article out of the Houston Chronicle, but the article has gone to the archive by now. I tried finding it on Lexis-Nexis (I have access via my campus), but I don't think I got it. However, there is one article on Lexis-Nexis dated for April 30, 2006 that deals with the story, which makes me wonder if the date got changed along the way somehow (known to happen from edition to edition). If interested, the article's title is "Heavy Thoughts on Metals" by Loren Steffy. It does make for good reading and adds to the discussion. To get it, always remember you can ask for help at your local public library.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Find out if you are geeky enough to be a librarian

Erica at the Librarian Avengers posted this little quiz a while back. The only reason I did not get them all is that I have no idea what an Ubuntu box is, and I don't have a doctorate (not for lack of trying. I left a doctoral program to become a librarian). Anyhow, go on over and give it a try. In my case, I ought to "quit your job immediately! Grab the nearest child and teach him to read! Oh, and start stocking up on acid-free paper." Well, that was the result, but I am already at the cool job, so other than quitting, everything else is well.

Booknote: Take It Back

Title: Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future
Authors: James Carville and Paul Begala
Publication Information: New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006
ISBN: 0-7432-7752-X
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Politics, Political Science, Current Events

This is probably the book that the operatives at the Democratic Party should be reading, but they probably won't. More importantly, it is a book for those who are tired of letting the Right dictate everything from morality to politics. Carville and Begala, who are featured commentators on CNN, have written a basic plan for Democrats, and I think for progressives in general, to stand up and take control of the nation. It is as simple as that. The authors discuss current events and various issues, and then they provide their analysis of how the issues can be taken back. Much of it does boil down to not tolerating the misinformation and lies put the dominant politicians and their allies. When they attack, rather than taking it, others should attack back. If they lie, catch them at their lies and force them to explain why they take certain positions. For instance, they discuss the many tax breaks for the one percent of the country while removing various health care measures for the middle class. If the Right and conservatives supposedly are so compassionate, why do they then make the middle and poor classes bear the burdens and sacrifice so much? The authors say it is time to make the Right and conservatives have to actually answer that and other questions.

The book overall is a good read in eleven chapters, including a conclusion about progressive patriotism, because, after all, questioning and asking for accountability is being patriotic. Every chapter includes a list of notes and references for readers who want to check the information trail. The tone of the book is fairly casual, almost conversational at times. In a way, the voices of the two authors come across strongly (you can almost hear them at times). It gives a good sense of current events, and how things have gone fairly low since the current administration took over (hey, given their poll numbers at about 33% at last reading, I am not saying anything that's not true here). For Democrats and progressives, the book may offer both a sense of affirmation and a sense that something can be done. For Republicans and conservatives, it may be a book to skip, or maybe they should be reading to know what the other side thinks, the other side that seems to be getting larger in their discontent. Those in the middle may want to read it too. It may prompt them to ask a few questions. And asking questions is always a good reason for me to read a book.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Open Letter by Patricia Polacco, Educator and NCLB Opponent

I came across this open letter via Rory Litwin's Library Juice blog. While I ordinarily try to stay out of the politics, the No Child Left Behind Act is one of the things that I am not happy about. I have seen its negative effects both as an educator and as the parent of a child who is now subjected to obssessive and excessive standardized testing as the result of the act. The letter deals with Ms. Patricia Polacco's non-appearance at the International Reading Association's conference as a result of it being cancelled by the sponsor, SRA/McGraw Hill, who profits from making and providing the exams. Needless to say, the company does not want to hear any dissent about the NCLB. I don't know about the rest of you, but I do find it disturbing that a corporation can so easily censor a speaker at an event for educators. Then again, maybe I am not that surprised given the current climate in the nation. This letter raises some serious questions about intellectual freedom and our First Amendment rights. Anyhow, I will let readers read and make up their minds. Text comes from Ms. Polacco's site.

Here is the letter then:

To All Educators, Librarians, and Media Specialists Regarding the cancellation of my appearance at the IRA in Chicago for May 2 and 3, 2006

A few months ago I was approached by The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, OH to appear at the International Reading Association Conference in Chicago on May 2 and 3, 2006. I was to be part of 5 events. Speeches, 'meet and greet' and book signings.

I was happy to accept the invitation which, I assumed, was coming from the I.R.A. and my publisher. It is always such an honor for me to speak and interact with teachers and librarians from around the country.

But then a very disturbing turn of events transpired. My staff started receiving phone calls and emails from this firm in Ohio requesting that I furnish them with a detailed written outline of what I intended to include in my speeches. I assumed, of course, that this was asked so that a synopsis of my content could be included in a printed brochure furnished to the conferees.

You can imagine my astonishment when I finally called this firm and learned that this was not the reason. They requested my written outline because their 'client' wanted to make sure that I would not discuss my deep concern about NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND MANDATE...as well as my concern that there is a link between this mandate and the SRA/McGraw Hill Company who manufactures, prints, and profits from the sale of these tests to school systems all over our country.

It was then that I closely reviewed all of the emails (I had not up until this time because I had been doing school visits and was not home until now). I then realized that the "client" that this firm referred to, but never names, was indeed, SRA/McGraw Hill! I also learned from the Officials of the IRA that SRA/McGraw Hill was indeed sponsoring the event that I had been invited to. I was shocked!

This "firm" insisted that my speech be "upbeat, non-controversial, and non-political"...I countered with the fact that the plight of the American teacher is far from "upbeat" and they are caught in the vice grip of the most controversial and political LIE that has ever been perpetrated on the American teacher.

I was also quite mystified as to why SRA/McGraw Hill would even select ME and invite me to be part of their program knowing how strongly I feel about this entire situation.

My speeches certainly do inspire teachers...I truly believe they are among the last hero's we have in our country...but I always mention the destructive path that is laying wasted to our schools and that is the No Child Left Behind Mandate!

I did mention to them that I considered this broaching "censorship" and a violation of my freedom of speech.

Finally, after receiving numerous emails from this 'firm' that got more and more 'insistent'...I finally sent them a written refusal to alter my speeches in any way, Certainly I can moderate their length, but I refused to alter the content. I made them aware if they truly had a problem with this, then they could "un-invite" me to be part of their event.

Needless to say, SRA/McGraw Hill cancelled my programs within the hour!

My main concern here, is that I very much fear the conferee's will be led to believe that it is I who cancelled this event. The cancellation was the choice of SRA/McGraw Hill and was generated by a blatant attempt to CENSOR my remarks and the content of what I say to teachers. Which is a clear infringement of my constitutional right to freedom of speech. I pride myself on being an advocate for America's teachers as well as being one of the most reliable speakers at conferences in our country.

My lawyers and I have set a formal request to SRA/McGraw Hill through their representative, The Buchanan Associates in Dublin, Ohio, to post the following signs outside of each venue at the conference where I am schedules to speak.

"DUE TO PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SRA/McGRAW HILL AND PATRICIA POLACCO, SRA/McGRAW HILL HAS CHOSEN TO CANCEL ALL OF PATRICIA POLACCO'S APPEARANCES AT THIS EVENT"

Call anyone you know that was either going to attend my events, or that did and were disappointed and tell them why this happened.

I am very disturbed by this on many levels. It seems that we American's are losing, by leaps and bounds, our constitution "guaranteed" rights.

I am insulted and very offended not only on my own behalf, but also because of these various organizations that seek to profit from the misery for our teachers and school children. Profits and money seem to matter much more that truly making changes to our educational systems that would truly help our children. I have to admit that I have a certain amount of pride in taking this stand on your behalf.

Yours faithfully,

Patricia Polacco

Monday, May 08, 2006

Morning mofos, and I had not even made it to work yet

Commuting in Houston at times looks like something out of the Mad Max movies or maybe one has to drive like Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle. I usually would not complain or rant, since at this point I am starting to get used to the fact that people who drive here just have no sense of civility, to put it politely. Don't get me wrong. I learned to drive in Puerto Rico, one of the worst driving places you can imagine, but at least there people have some civility when they do something. Back in Puerto Rico, they may cut you off, but at least they wave as they do it. I have also driven in Chicago and a few other metropolitan areas. Houston just has that, "je ne sais quoi," that something about its drivers who proclaim, basically, "f*** you, I am driving here." In Spanish, we would call them "hijos de puta," except to do so might actually lessen such a lofty insult reserved for true s.o.b.'s. Apparently, all that campaign about Texas hospitality is lost in Houston roads. At any rate, the "Morning Commute Mofo" Award for this morning goes to:

The guy in the white luxury (I think it was a Lexus) car who, seeing that the three lanes in the road were moving slowly (due to one of the many delays in Houston's fine roads), decides to get into the left turn only lane (the road at the intersection I was in diverges from three lanes to five, the two extra for a left turn), thereby blocking everyone behind him, including myself, who actually had to make that left turn. And why does this mofo deserve the MCM Award? Because the reason he got into the turn lane was in a lame attempt to get ahead in traffic. In the end, he actually found some sucker to let him back into his lane as he sped ahead with the intention of cutting off whoever was going to move ahead with the green light. And he did not even get ahead at all. A lot of people passed by him. The only reason I am not posting that mofo's license plate here to add him to the Hall of Mofos is that he was two cars ahead of me. Now, what would be an MCM Award without a runner up? Today, we can nominate two.

One, the lady who also got into the left lane, then into the turning lane to try the same stunt, only to see right away she was not going anywhere. Mind you she did it without a turn signal, and only the fact that I drive cautiously and defensively kept me from being hit. Had it being another of our upstanding reckless drivers, the wreck would have probably delayed me for another hour in getting to work.Not to mention that she had been "jackrabbiting" lane to lane earlier in a lame attempt to find the fast lane. You know it's Murphy's Law: the moment you move to the lane that seems to move faster, it slows down. Apparently, she was not familiar with Murphy or his laws.

Two, the lady behind me, who was driving this huge Fjord Explosion while fiddling with God only knows what on her seat. Could it have been her cellphone? Her breakfast? Her makeup? Her lingerie? The world will never know. All I know is that I had visions in my rearview mirror of being squashed like a bug by an Urban Assault Vehicle, not unlike one of those little cars at a monster truck rally. By the way, ladies doing their makeup in their cars as they drive in the morning could be a post onto itself. These are the women that men usually mean when they say, "damn women drivers." And before some angry feminist woman writes to me, keep in mind, I am married to a woman who is a good driver (one of the very few people I will allow to drive for me. I prefer to drive myself), as was my mother (health prevents her from doing so now), and most women I know personally are decent on the road. One common pattern? They don't try to apply mascara or pull up their pantyhose up while they drive. Maybe one of these days if I get one of those camera cellphones I will post the proof. These ladies are women who think they get bonus points if they can apply their lipstick while talking on the cellphone while driving. The point is those ladies give a bad name to women driving as a whole. Thinking about it, rather than coming after me, any feminist woman out there thinking of directing their outrage at me can instead direct it at them. Just tell them, "hey sister, you are making the rest of us look bad."

And finally, what would a commute be without some indecent exposure? Some readers may know that I commute via Houston's (not-so) fine public transportation system. I drive to a Park and Ride, and then I take the bus downtown. Once I got into the lot, after the aforementioned left turn (and by the way, I would say that particular intersection likely has about an accident a month, usually a mofo who thinks the yellow light will wait a bit longer for him or her. Another common reason is people like to speed in the long stretch before hitting the Interstate, but they fail to slow down if the traffic slows down. Resul is usually a rear end fender bender. I saw one last week in fact, but I disgress), I started walking to the bus. Now, I usually park a bit of a distance. While I was walking, I look to the right to cross from one parking aisle to another, and what do I see? A man with his pants wide open. Yes, you read it here. The guy was apparently tucking his shirt in, and he had opened his pants to do so, thus showing a bit more than usual. The thing I wonder now is if the lady who arrived at the Park and Ride at about the same time saw him or not. He seemed totally casual about walking in broad daylight, opening his pants and fixing his shirt. How he kept his pants up is beyond me as he walked is beyond me.

And all this before I even got on the bus to work. Just another fine day here in Houston.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Something extra for Cinco de Mayo

I just found this quiz via Library Tavern, and it seemed very appropriate. At any rate, not a bad way to imbibe while at work.

You Are a Blueberry Margarita

Honestly, there's no one quite like you. And believe it or not, most people think that's a bad thing!
You're open, wild, friendly, wacky, and tons of fun. You have a big personality... and a big heart.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

(Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian)

As some readers may know, I work in a commuter campus. That means no dorms. As a result, there is no big Cinco de Mayo celebration today, but there was a great one yesterday. Our campus celebrated a Fiesta on the Bayou from 6:00pm to about 11:00pm. The event was sponsored by various campus organizations. Since I myself commute via the public bus, I could not stay for the whole thing. But I was able to take some time after work and enjoy the festivities. I arrived just in time to listen to the mariachis. I happen to enjoy mariachi music very much, so I could have just sat there and listened to the songs all night. After the mariachis, there was a folkloric dance troupe performance where a group of young ladies in very bright colored dresses performed a traditional Mexican dance. To make things better, there was free food and drink (non-alcoholic. For a couple of bucks, you could have gotten a margarita, but I did have to drive when I got the park and ride). So, I had some time to enjoy some food, hear some music, and be with the students and campus community. It made for a lovely early evening.

So, today is the holiday. If you follow the first link above, you can get a quick overview of this Mexican holiday, which by the way is not the "Mexican 4th of July" (yes, I have heard some, shall we call them "not so informed" folks, say this. Mexican Independence Day is on September 16). The Census Bureau, once again, has a holiday feature for Cinco de Mayo. Some facts from the Census document:
  • 25.9 million
    Number of U.S. residents of Mexican origin in 2004. These residents constituted 9 percent of the nation’s total population.
  • Trade With Mexico
    $290.2 billion

    The value of goods traded between the United States and Mexico in 2005. Mexico is our nation’s second-leading trading partner, after Canada. <http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/www/>
Get a few recipes in case you are having your own celebration, via the Food Network, here.

Here are some links from the Librarian's Internet Index.

So I am a d4

It's time, once again. . .well, you get the idea. It's Friday, and odds are this is another quiz post. Hmm, I am starting to wonder about some of these quizzes as of late; they seem to be bringing the darker side of me (see previous example here). No one here is saying that is a bad thing though, hehe. I will confess here that as a teen I did play D&D at one point (actually, I ran the dungeon, thank you very much. Dungeonmaster is the way to go if you ask me). At any rate, here are my results:



I am a d4



You are a four-sided die, a d4. Otherwise known as a tetrahedron, a "Caltrop", or (to a lesser degree) "Ol' Pointy". This crap bores you, so I'll get to the point. Others tend to see you as petty, conniving, manipulative, argumentative, defensive, greedy, and needlessly antagonistic. You see yourself as focused, effective, efficient, influencing, shrewd, tactical, and direct. Both points of view are in fact correct. You always know the best way to get things done, a fact that never wins sympathy with others. Whenever you manage to gain control of a situation, your solutions are swift and brutal. Unfortunately everyone else is convinced that granting you such power is, "a bad thing" and often conspire to keep it out of your hands. Such short-sighted fools!

Take the quiz at dicepool.com

A hat tip to Mark Linder who posts his result here. Unlike Mark, I no longer have my old TSR stuff (company now owned by Wizards of the Coast); parents got rid of a lot of stuff once kids left the house. Maybe one of these days I will get back to it, who knows? In the meantime, I am discovering Magic: The Gathering (mostly as a collector).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some facts on Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

(Crossposted from The Gypsy Librarian)

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, so a happy month to our Asian/Pacific American friends. It has been a national celebration since 1977.

I can always count on the Census Bureau to have one of their timely fact sheets. They have one for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Some facts from that sheet, applicable to Asians. The Census also has separate numbers for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
  • 14.0 million
    The estimated number of U.S. residents in July 2004 who said they were Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races. This group comprised 5 percent of the total population.
  • 49%
    The percentage of Asians, age 25 and older, who have a bachelor’s degree or higher level of education. Asians have the highest proportion of college graduates of any race or ethnic group in the country.
  • 2.3 million
    The number of people age 5 and older who speak Chinese at home. After Spanish, Chinese is the most widely spoken non-English language in the country. Tagalog and Vietnamese also have more than 1 million speakers.
  • 282,000
    The number of Asian-American military veterans.
Infoplease has a pretty good summary of information on the month, including its history here. There are various links here that may be of interest.

The Asian Pacific American Heritage Association is the primary organization associated with the event.

The National Park Service has a listing of properties and places "listed in the National Register and the National Park Units highlighting important aspects of the Asian and Pacific experience in America" (from the website).

You can read the Presidential Proclamation for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

And here are some other links from the Librarian's Internet Index which may be of interest.

Oh, and a small addition for readers: some reading lists here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Americans pretty much clueless in geography

The latest survey from the National Geographic Society is out, and it found that Americans are woefully clueless when it comes to geographic knowledge. You can find the Reuters story on the topic here that highlights the report, and the actual story from the National Geographic Society News here. Some of the findings include (citing from the NGS page):
  • Take Iraq, for example. Despite nearly constant news coverage since the war there began in 2003, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate the country on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel.
  • Nine in ten couldn't find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
Let me see. The United States has been at war in these nations for a few years now, and yet a substantial number of Americans have no idea where their country is sending their sons and daughters to die? Notice it is the 18 to 24 crowd, the ones very likely to enlist (or get drafted if a draft came back) that have no idea. Not to mention that the United States is spending billions of dollars on a daily basis on the war in Iraq. I think as a taxpayer some people may want to know where their money is going (or do they?). More findings:
  • A third of the respondents could not find Louisiana, and 48 percent couldn't locate Mississippi on a map of the United States, even though Hurricane Katrina put these southeastern states in the spotlight in 2005.
Now that particular finding I find very disturbing. I may give people the benefit of the doubt, not much but a little, when it comes to world geography. But not knowing your own geography has to be a new low. I am sure some cynic would be tempted to say that the relief efforts for the area were so bad because they could not even find the places (as for the overall incompetence in that front, others have written about it and documented it much more eloquently). Attitude in terms of global awareness may not be that much better:
  • Fewer than three in ten [young adults] think it's absolutely necessary to know where countries in the news are located. Only 14 percent believe speaking another language fluently is a necessary skill.
That may explain a few things as well. And there are reasons why learning a foreign language can be beneficial. Readers may want to take a quick look here for some ideas. Geography is usually taught under social studies in schools, or at least it was in my day. However, this seems to be going down the wayside, in large measure because of things like high stakes testing that emphasize very limited skills, mostly to pass the test, while forsaking everything else. I wrote about how social studies is losing out to reading and math last year. While back then I was mostly looking at history, I did refer to geography as well. Nothing wrong with learning reading and math, but there are other important things. The fact that Americans can be so clueless, and so cavalier about that cluelessness, when it comes to geography should be a matter of concern. The world is becoming a much more global community. From outsourcing to globalization to multinational corporations, having geographic knowledge is necessary. The one thing that the survey does not mention is cultural knowledge, which often goes with geography. It is not only knowing where a country is, but having a good sense of its people, land, and culture. Given that the United States has involvement around the world, whether military or business or otherwise, it is foolish not to have a good geographic knowledge. You can bet that the rest of the world can likely point to a map and find the United States. Given that economies are becoming more competitive, and that the United States needs to have a well educated workforce down the road, this is one aspect of that education that cannot be neglected.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Remember when. . .

It is not very often that I express myself on politics and such. However, this caught my eye. It is apparently one of those chain e-mails making the rounds. I do remember when for these items, and I cannot help but wonder. So, read and see if you remember when or not as well.

A hat tip to Americablog where it was posted as "An email making the rounds."

REMEMBER WHEN you displayed your flag on the front porch on the 4th of July, and you didn’t have to worry about whether it would be misinterpreted as support for a corrupt president and his administration?



REMEMBER WHEN ‘Support the Troops’ meant equipping our military with everything necessary for battle, instead of just being a catchy phrase that looked good on a bumper-sticker?



REMEMBER WHEN your tax dollars paid for things like improved education and social programs, instead of making Halliburton shareholders millionaires?



REMEMBER WHEN you watched movies about WWII, and it was the enemy who tortured captured American soldiers, instead of American soldiers torturing the people they’d allegedly ‘liberated’?



REMEMBER WHEN you heard something on the TV news or read something in a newspaper, and you didn’t have to go to the internet to find out just how much of it was fact, and how much of it was ‘spin’?



REMEMBER WHEN a politician was caught with his hand in the cookie jar and he resigned in disgrace, instead of excusing his own behaviour by claiming that his political opponents were equally as guilty of wrongdoing?



REMEMBER WHEN ‘Made in the USA’ labels on products were the norm, and not a total oddity?



REMEMBER WHEN you hitchhiked through Europe as a teenager, and you DIDN’T have to replace the American flag on your knapsack with a Canadian flag in order to be a welcomed guest in a foreign country?



REMEMBER WHEN organized crime figures had to make phone calls from the corner phone booth, because they were the only people who had to worry about wire-taps?



REMEMBER WHEN telling a fellow politician on the floor of the House to ‘go f*ck himself’ was considered behaviour unbecoming an elected official, instead of being accepted as the way a Vice President behaves himself?



REMEMBER WHEN you could pretty well count on the fact that if the president said it, it was based on sound intelligence and was probably true?



REMEMBER WHEN you could rely on your elected representatives to put your interests ahead of the corporations that filled their campaign coffers, or the lobbyists who gave them great basketball tickets?



REMEMBER WHEN you didn’t even KNOW what religion the people you voted for were, because it didn’t really matter? Remember when you didn’t know what party your neighbour belonged to, because that didn’t really matter either?



REMEMBER WHEN the pension you’d worked for your whole life wasn’t in danger of being wiped out by corrupt CEOs, assisted by respected accounting firms that made that corruption almost impossible to detect?



REMEMBER WHEN you could brag that as an American, you were guaranteed things like free speech and due process of law, without checking the nightly news to see whether those rights were still in effect?



REMEMBER WHEN the president upheld the law of the land, instead of coming up with ‘legal loopholes’ to support the idea that he’s above the law?



REMEMBER WHEN you could say, “I’m a proud American,” without qualifying it with a list of all of the things your government is doing that you’re not exactly proud of?



REMEMBER WHEN you actually thought that the people in charge of running your country were smarter than you were?



REMEMBER WHEN your parents worked all their lives to ensure you a better life, instead of worrying about how bad the life they’d be leaving their children might be?



REMEMBER WHEN the importance of clean drinking water and breathable air were unquestionable mandates, and not some crazy hippie agenda to be weighed against corporate profits?



REMEMBER WHEN questioning your government’s policies was seen as ‘participating in the process’, and not ‘giving aid and comfort to the enemy’?



REMEMBER WHEN the ‘enemy’ was a country or military force that posed a threat to American democracy, and not a nation of innocent civilians who whose destruction was dismissible as ‘collateral damage’?



REMEMBER WHEN your country went to war based on facts beforehand, instead of constantly-changing suppositions after-the-fact?



REMEMBER WHEN ‘patriotism’ was judged by your words and actions, and not by whether you were a member of the party currently in power?



REMEMBER WHEN the ‘American Dream’ was attainable through diligence and hard work, and not the luck of the ‘outsourcing’ draw?



REMEMBER WHEN the election of a president was considered the result of democracy in action, and not the result of Diebold executives doing the job they were expected to do?



REMEMBER WHEN you sang ‘God Bless America’ as a kid, and never thought you’d grow up to wonder if, in view of your country’s actions, asking God’s blessing was asking a bit too much?



I REMEMBER WHEN … and I wonder if these ideas will become ancient history by the time those of us old enough to recall them are dead and gone.