To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?
lo que tanto aclamamos la noche caer?
sus estrellas sus franjas
flotaban ayer
en el fiero combate
en señal de victoria,
fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Por la noche decían:
"Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún
Voz a su hermosura estrellada,
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?

I'm trying to figure out if I would know what this was, if I didn't know already. My Spanish is virtually nonexistent.

... Light of the dawn ... clamor at night ... stars ... float above the fiery combat. (That might do it.) ... Victory ... liberty ... for the night ... defend. (Pretty sad, huh?) Voice ... stars ... land of the free. Yeah, I think I would get it.

(For my international friends, this is The Star Spangled Banner. Here is the story behind the anthem.)

There's some controversy about this song being sung in Spanish. I've read Amy Tan books, about Chinese mothers and their American daughters, and various other stories about immigrants, and listened to my immigrant coworkers talk about their experiences, and I've thought a lot over the years about how I would be if I were an immigrant. What if I decided to move to China, for instance, and make my home there permanently? How much would I embrace Chinese culture? If I had children after I moved there, would I give them Chinese names or American names? Or both? Would I speak English in the home? If I found myself in an expat community, how much pressure would I feel to learn the language and fit in with the culture? And how would that affect my family?

So I've thought about this, and I've thought that I would probably try to learn the local language and fit in with the culture as fast as I could. I'd probably speak English at home, with my family, but I'd try not to make my hypothetical bilingual kids be my translators. So Chinese, for instance, would be the language of work for me, and of dealing with neighbors and doctors and store clerks and auto mechanics and so forth, but English would still be the language of my heart. I don't think I could help that. If I took the trouble to translate a Chinese national song to English so I could sing it, I think that would be a sign that I had truly internalized my bond to my new country. I think the Spanish-language Star Spangled Banner is beautiful. I suppose, since so many people are upset about it, there must be something I'm not considering.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blasts Kill 23 in Egyptian Resort City

Three nearly simultaneous bombings hit an Egyptian beach resort popular with foreigners Monday at the height of the tourist season, killing at least 23 people a day after Osama bin Laden issued a taped warning against Westerners.

Earthquakes aren't enough? Hurricanes? Tsunamis? We have to create disasters too?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Still with the Duke case. Which brings up echoes of Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, etc.

Some people wonder whether it is possible for a prostitute or a girl of lax morals to be raped. I have a couple of thoughts.

First, the personal responsibility thing is a real stumbling-block for some. Let's consider this scenario: I park my car in a public lot, leave an expensive laptop on the seat, and go off without locking my car doors. When I come back several hours later, the laptop is gone. Was I foolish in leaving the laptop unguarded? Absolutely. Was the thief wrong to take it? Amazingly, some would say that since I didn't lock the thing up, it was fair game and I have no grievance. Compare this to a different scenario, in which I lock the laptop in the car trunk when I think no one is looking, and the thief has to break into the trunk to take the laptop. In the second scenario I would deserve more sympathy and probably get more consideration from the police, but I don't think there is a difference in culpability for the thief. In both cases, he knew he was taking something that didn't belong to him. The fact of the matter is, that while theft is wrong and people shouldn't engage in it, if your laptop is stolen you won't have it anymore, so it behooves you to lock the thing up. And locking up your laptop isn't controversial or counterculture like acting like you have some morals is so most of us just secure our property without thinking much about it.

So consider a case in which a woman goes to a man's hotel room in the middle of the night, or contracts to strip at a party for money. Maybe she has it in the back of her mind that anything might happen, and maybe she's OK with that. Then if sex occurs, is it possible that it was rape? People say, what did she go there for? I've heard that over and over.

Here's an analogy that I find useful. Suppose that you decide that you want to do something to help the homeless. There's a homeless shelter down the street from your workplace, and you arrange to go there one afternoon and take a tour. If you like what you see, you're prepared to make a large donation. The people who run the shelter meet you at the door. They know what you're there for, and they very nicely start showing you around. Once you get well inside, though, they push you up against the wall, go through your pockets and take your wallet and your cell and PDA, grab the watch off your wrist, and then hustle you over to the front door and push you out into the street. Were you robbed? Well, what did you go in there for? You were probably going to give them some money anyway, right?

Not that I think this scenario describes the Duke case. If the reports are true that there's no DNA match and the timeline doesn't add up, I'm thinking this one was a false accusation. We'll see what happens when (if) it goes to trial.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

I wish I had listened to loud music when I was a kid. Maybe then I'd have hearing loss like a lot of other folks seem to have, and it wouldn't be so irritating when they hold conversations with each other at the top of their lungs. It's probably not too late. I should borrow F's ipod and crank it up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

While I'm on the subject of race ...

Here is an interesting article in the local paper. You have to register to read it, but it's free. It's about a photographer who took pictures during the famous sanitation workers' strike the week before MLK was assassinated, and who recently ran across his negatives and developed and printed them. I'm going to take out the full names from my post. They're on the newspaper website.

Here's one of the pics.

And here's the photographer's commentary.

One of [X]'s favorites shows a white woman carrying a sign with stenciled lettering: THE NAACP SUPPORTS THE FIGHT FOR DECENCY. You can see the back of an older man, wearing a fedora, looking at the marcher.

In the many hours he considered the photo, repairing it pixel by pixel, [X] constructed his own interpretation of the moment, as he explains to the class.

"To me," he says, his voice Southern and nasal, "(she) has become the symbol of the, you know, Yankees coming down to the South and joining in on the march. And this white guy is the symbol of the South looking down in disdain at the marchers.

"Now, you can interpret it however you want, but in my photographic eye, this is how I took it."

How you can see disdain in the back of someone's head is beyond me. But what's funny is this subsequent letter to the editor:

Subject of civil rights photo recalls 'strange, urgent' era

I am the white woman in [X]'s photo of the 1968 civil rights march (April 3 article, "Emerging views, 1968 / For nearly 40 years, photographer's negatives lay, unprinted, in storage").

I was born in Memphis; I am not a Yankee or an outside agitator. My grandfather, Malcolm Patterson, was governor of Tennessee and my seven-times-great-uncle, John Sevier, was the first governor of Tennessee.

In other words, the man in the fedora who is shown in the photograph is casting a disdainful look at a native.

I worked in the movement for 10 years, during which time I was on the board of directors of the Memphis branch of the NAACP. I chose the streets instead of luncheons where ladies discussed "sensitivity" issues around the subject of race relations.

It was a strange and urgent time. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything.



So it's funny, the assumptions we make.
We've had some election problems in Memphis. Dead people voting, etc. I feel sorry for Ophelia Ford, because this crap has gone on for years while her brothers and nephews were elected to one office after another, and now that it's finally her turn all this stuff blows up. It's embarrassing but kind of encouraging to see the election commission FINALLY paying attention and trying to take steps. As usual, I have a few thoughts.

The election commission can only man the polls with people who volunteer to work elections. You do get paid a little bit, but it's a nominal amount. I think people ought to be called for election duty like we're called for jury duty. It's one day out of your life, plus an evening class beforehand. And then these people need to be assigned outside their precinct so there won't be any "forget the rules, this is how we do it" nonsense or "come on, you know me" stuff. They can take advantage of early voting or absentee voting so they won't have to leave to vote in their own precinct.

Then we need to get serious about requiring picture IDs. It chaps my rear that we see those pictures of proud Iraqis with purple fingers, who braved actual death from car bombs and so forth to exercise their sacred right to vote, while our own citizens can't be bothered to make sure they have their dadgum driver's license in their pocket. It's just tooooo much trouble. Or else they don't have a picture ID. How about the get-out-the-vote people running their vans into the poor neighborhoods ahead of election day to take people to the highway patrol station and get their state IDs? They could put fliers out and run ads on the radio stations to tell people when they're coming and what kind of identification they need to have ready. I would be willing for my taxes to pay for the HW patrol station to be open on a Saturday for the purpose ... heck, I'll even spring for coffee and donuts. Or fit out a mobile ID station to actually go into the neighborhoods and make IDs.

There's the argument that requiring IDs is a reminder of the Jim Crow days when black people were kept from voting due to underhanded tricks like poll taxes or literacy tests. I think it's time to put the bad old days aside and act like it's 2006. Memphis is a majority black city. The election commission is run by black folks. NO ONE is going to try to keep a black person from voting because of his race. Why would anyone want to pretend that he's not sure he'll get his rights? Where is the pleasure in that? What happened to "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud"? How about "here is my picture ID, and I'm going to vote, dammit"? Do people who want to fear having to show their ID want their children to fear it, and their grandchildren?

Finally, the law enforcement folks need to throw the book at people who vote illegally. One man who voted in that contested election, in the wrong precinct, said that it was the election commission's responsibility to make sure he voted correctly. No sir, it was your responsibility to file your change of address and quit lying. The election commission ought to randomly audit a certain percentage of voters after every election and prosecute illegal voters. People who vote more than once, or who vote in elections they aren't entitled to vote in, or who vote dead people, disfranchise everyone. Everyone. We need to set some cottonpickin' standards and quit acting like a third-world country on election day.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I am so TIRED. We ended up taking F back to school yesterday, after all morning at church and early afternoon at the in-laws', and didn't get home until around 11:00 PM. I am no spring chicken. I'm not sure I ever was, to tell the truth.

I have a lot of stuff I want to talk about but I can't seem to keep my eyes open. So I'll just post this story my mom sent and call it a day.


One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Alex standing in the foyer of the church staring up at a large plaque. It was covered with names with small American flags mounted on either side of it.

The seven year old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, "Good morning Alex." "Good morning Pastor," he replied, still focused on the plaque.

"Pastor, what is this?" he asked. The pastor said, "Well, son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died in the service."

Soberly, they just stood together, staring at the large plaque. Finally, little Alex's voice, barely audible and trembling with fear, asked, "Which service, the 9:45 or the 11:15?"
Christ, the Lord, is risen today!
All creation joins to say:
Raise your joys and triumphs high!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply!

Lives again our glorious King!
Where, O death, is now thy sting?
Dying once, He all doth save,
Where thy victory, O grave?

Love's redeeming work is done,
Fought the fight, the battle won.
Death in vain forbids Him rise:
Christ has opened paradise.

Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him we rise,
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hector Casanova/The Kansas City Star

I had to post this picture. It accompanied an article about toddlers and their imaginary playmates. I don't think I had one but I believe my brother did. F had a dinosaur that trailed her around for awhile when she was two.

I used to think about the relationship F had with Bunny, which I suppose is somewhat analagous. She wanted Bunny - well, she wanted Bunny all the time, but particularly when she was afraid or sick. Bunny comforted her in a way that we could not, although she definitely wanted comfort from us too. But actually, Bunny was and is just a stuffed animal and can't do anything or comfort anyone. It was interesting to me to consider that when Bunny comforted F, she was actually comforting herself. I used to read pop psychology and I think what was happening was that F was projecting an aspect of her own personality into Bunny, and as she matured, she was able to integrate it back into her own - is gestalt the word I want?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Minister: Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?
People: Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow.
Minster: God commendeth His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
People: Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

It seems to me that with a little prudent behavior, one can cross entire catagories of horrifying experiences off one's list.

A man who eschews drunken parties with a stripper who is a stranger to him, and whose propensity for extortion he doesn't know, doesn't have to worry about false accusations of raping that stripper.

A woman who turns down the offer to mimic sexual availability in a very explicit way to a bunch of 20-year-old men at a drunken party, with no one to protect her if they find her act convincing, doesn't have to worry about being raped at that party.

In the Duke Lacross team case, as with the Kobe Bryant case and a whole bunch of others that we've seen in recent years, it looks like one party is criminal and the other is all but criminally stupid.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages)

I'm always reminded of Chaucer this time of year when the mockingbirds that nest in the maple tree in the front yard start hollering all night. They're entertaining to listen to during the day, because they sound like a voice-activated tape recorder that records one birdsong after another. But at night, when you're about to drop off to sleep and one of those birds lets go, you could cheerfully shoot it. F has felt quite murderous on occasion because they're right outside her window.

Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of engelond to caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

All glory, laud and honor, to Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
Thou art the King of Israel, Thou David's royal Son,
Who in the Lord's Name comest, the King and Blessed One.

The company of angels are praising Thee on High,
And we with all creation in chorus make reply.
The people of the Hebrews with palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion, they sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted, our melody we raise.
Thou didst accept their praises; accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest, Thou good and gracious King.

R took this picture this morning from the balcony with his camera phone. Those green blobs are the palm branches the children were waving.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Colorful, huh. I think all this mess is going to slip past Memphis but Mississippi is taking a beating right now. Counties to the east of us were hit earlier today and at least two people are reported to have died in the storms. I hope the folks in Fayette County and points east and north have battened down, because here they come again.

edit 4/8/06 Eleven people died in Tennessee from the tornadoes yesterday. That brings the total to 36 since Sunday.
File this under Very Local Politics.

Brother makes 2 Fords in 9th race

Joseph Ford, Jr., the son of County Commissioner Joe Ford, practices law in California. But he is coming back home to run for the Ninth District congressional seat being vacated by Harold Ford, Jr. as he vies for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Frist. (All clear?)

And I love this paragraph from the article:

Two of the most widely watched races are the battles for the seat abandoned by U.S. Senate Majority Leader and presidential hopeful, Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and the Ninth District House seat. Harold Ford Jr., D-Tenn., princeling of the Ford family political dynasty, will face off this summer against state Sen. Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville, who calls herself the "only Democrat" in the Democratic primary.

"Princeling", ha. But I'm impressed by "Jr"'s ability to speak extemporaneously, which I have witnessed, and he does act like he has some sense. He's suffered from Uncle John Ford's various scandals, which isn't fair, but on the other hand if he weren't a Ford (and Harold Sr.'s son at that) he wouldn't have been the political shooting star he is in the first place, so I guess he has to take the bitter with the sweet.

But another Ford, Harold Jr's brother Jake, has thrown his hat into the ring as well, so this race will be Ford v. Ford. And state Sen. Steve Cohen is going to try for it again, after having lost to Jr. in his first primary 10 years ago. Sen. Cohen probably has a better chance this time, due partly to scandals involving yet another Ford, Ophelia, whose election to the state Senate in her brother John's place was helped along by a few dead voters who won't lie down. I don't think that will hurt Jr. too much, but I think there's a certain amount of Ford fatigue in this city that Joe Jr. and Jake don't have a strong enough image to overcome.

In other news, there's been a petition to recall our city mayor. I haven't signed it, and I haven't heard too much about it in the last couple of weeks. Why haven't I signed the petition? It certainly isn't because I'm impressed with Mayor Herenton's leadership, accountability, or trustworthiness. It's because he was elected in the elections our city charter was set up to have, and therefore is my mayor (although I didn't vote for him). We don't need to be changing the rules around because we're in a snit. The rules are far too important for that. Also, he's been mayor for a number of years, won re-election 2X (I think) and was city school superintendent before that (got his contract bought out for mismanagement) so it's not like he was an unknown quantity or changed after he got in office. (I love Memphis but sometimes I think my thought processes might as well be Martian when I contemplate the decision-making that is done in this city.) Plus, unlike in CA when Gov. Davis was recalled with Arnold standing in the wings, we don't have a clear alternative for Mayor Herenton if we do recall him. I have a feeling I know who the next mayor will be and I'm not in a hurry.
Here is a creepy article about former Pres. Carter: Jimmy Carter has some advice on morality and values. (via

"I was teaching a Sunday school class two weeks ago," he recalls. "A girl, she was about 16 years old from Panama City [Fla.], asked me about the differences between Democrats and Republicans.

"I asked her, 'Are you for peace, or do you want more war?' Then I asked her, 'Do you favor government helping the rich, or should it seek to help the poorest members of society? Do you want to preserve the environment, or do you want to destroy it? Do you believe this nation should engage in torture, or should we condemn it? Do you think each child today should start life responsible for $28,000 in [federal government] debt, or do you think we should be fiscally responsible?'

"I told her that if she answered all of those questions, that she believed in peace, aiding the poor and weak, saving the environment, opposing torture ... then I told her, 'You should be a Democrat.'"

Interesting opinion Mr. Carter has of half of his fellow Americans. We want to destroy the environment, we support torture, etc. And what a profound depth of thought he wanted to encourage in that 16-year-old, not to mention respect for her fellow Americans and a willingness to engage in discussion, understand their views, and possibly modify her own, as I and all independent thinkers sometimes do.

I remember that when F was 7 years old, during the elections in 1994 that saw the upheaval of the Democrat-controlled houses of Congress, she asked me what made a person a Democrat or a Republican. I told her that everyone wants what's best for the country, we just have different ideas about what that is and how to go about getting there. Right after that Harold Ford Sr., who had kept his seat but lost the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee, went on TV complaining about the "East Memphis devils" who voted Republican and said that his people were writing down the addresses of people who had yard signs promoting his opponent. (The newspaper reported that people whose yard signs had been picked up phoned the Republican headquarters and asked for them to be put back. Even some people who hadn't HAD those yard signs asked for them. Some wrote in letters to the editor in which they spelled out their addresses and asked that special note be made of them.) It's not a Democrat thing to hate and despise half the population of the U.S., is it?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A person died and went to hell.

The demon who took charge of him told him that there were many rooms in hell, and that he could choose which one he wanted to spend eternity in. But once he passed a room, he could not go back.

The first room had a concrete floor. People were inside, standing on their heads.

"I'll pass this one up," he said.

The second room had a dirt floor, ditto.

"Nope", he said.

The third room was ankle-deep in mud. But the people inside were standing around laughing and talking and sipping coffee.

"This is the room for me!" the person said.

Right then another demon came into the room and said, "All right, coffee break's over! Back on your heads!"

I'm telling this because every now and then you hear somebody say "coffee break's over, back on your heads", and it occurs to me that eventually this will become a saying that no one knows the reason for. And that will be a shame.
"Pianka said he is scheduled to meet with FBI officials today."


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

This is a horrifying story. (via

Forrest Mims attended a speech at the Texas Academy of Science. The speech was not videotaped, so he took careful notes.

But there was a gravely disturbing side to that otherwise scientifically significant meeting, for I watched in amazement as a few hundred members of the Texas Academy of Science rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation to a speech that enthusiastically advocated the elimination of 90 percent of Earth's population by airborne Ebola. The speech was given by Dr. Eric R. Pianka (Fig. 1), the University of Texas evolutionary ecologist and lizard expert who the Academy named the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist.


Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify this number, he asserted that the only feasible solution to saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

He then showed solutions for reducing the world's population in the form of a slide depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. War and famine would not do, he explained. Instead, disease offered the most efficient and fastest way to kill the billions that must soon die if the population crisis is to be solved.

Well, life imitates art, I guess. Or to put it another way, SF writers anticipate all sorts of lovely and horrifying things, and they do it with poetry and poignancy that tends to be lacking when the real thing comes along. When I read this article I immediately thought of The Last Flight of Doctor Ain, James Tiptree's short story that was published in Galaxy in 1969. It's a haunting and beautifully written story, and I hope that whoever keeps track of such things has read it, and therefore keeps a close eye on Pianka.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Somebody found my blog searching Google for this:

A graph has an x intercept of -3 and a y intercept of 3 Whats the slope?

I doubt he or she found anything to help in my stuff. If you come back again, here's how to find your answer.

One way to calculate slope is to take two points and divide the difference between the Y-coordinates by the difference between the X-coordinates. You have to start with the same point each time or you might get the signs confused.

An X intercept of -3 means you have a point at (-3,0). That's because where your line crosses the X axis, the Y coordinate has to be zero. Y intercept of 3 gives you a point at (0,3). So (3-0)/(0-(-3)) is 3/3, which is 1. Your slope is 1.

To use a different pair of points as an example, try (2,5) and (4,9). (9-5)/(4-2) = 4/2 = 2. You have a slope of 2. If you plot this, you will see that you have a much "steeper" slope than your problem above.

Another way to look at it is that your slope is "rise over run", that is, to go from one point to another, how far up do you have to go, divided by how far over to the right. If you have to go down and to the right, or up and to the left, your slope will be negative. If you are using intercepts, you're starting from zero, that is from the other axis, each time. So starting from an X intercept of -3 you have to go three units to the right to get to the Y-axis. And to get to the Y intercept of 3 you have to go up three units from the X-axis. The rise is 3, the run is 3, the slope is 1.

A line with a slope of 1 is always at a perfect 45 degree angle from your axes (providing that both axes are scaled the same), and goes from the lower left to the upper right. When X goes up, Y goes up. A slope of -1 means it goes from the upper left to the lower right. That is, when X goes up, Y goes down, and vice versa.

The best thing you can do is plot this yourself on a piece of paper. You don't even have to use graph paper - just scratch in an X and a Y axis and mark off some points. Do this a few times and you can get it in your head what that slope of 1 is really telling you. You will thank yourself later.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

We have a new person in our group, V.

On Friday I happened to have a conversation with another coworker about something and in the course of it used the expression "treated like the red-headed stepchild". Then I stopped myself, hand over my mouth, because - V is a redhead. Brilliant, flaming red hair. You can't miss it. She didn't hear me, fortunately. But here is another insensitive saying that has now been brought to my attention and must be struck off my list of expressions.

(I'm kidding. I doubt she'd care.)

Sometimes I hear one of my sayings from somebody I'm not used to hearing it from. My boss talked about something taking "ten forevers", which is one of mine and I don't know where I got it, and today R said we'd walked "all over hell's half-acre", ditto. At my previous place of employment I used to work with a woman who used a lot of black English, and was very expressive with it. Sometimes I would repeat what she said back to her, word for word. It always sounded so funny in my thin little white voice that we both would die laughing. I remember that once I had to call in because I'd hurt my back. My friend told me that she tried to impress upon our boss that it would be bad if I had to miss a lot of work, because we were understaffed as it was. She said that she told her, "If Laura back is threw out, we in deep sh-t." It sounded very natural in her voice, and when I repeated it - well, we laughed our heads off. Funny how that works.