Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Striding Along

Somehow, between work and family life, I manage to have a running life too. I run several miles a week, run road races a few times a year, and belong to the Gate City Striders running club in Nashua, NH. I am the club newsletter editor and publish an issue of the newsletter six times a year. I just posted the latest issue of Striding Along to the club web site. Check it out!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Connecticut Yankee in King Cotton's Court

I just finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain. Before reading the book, I knew the basic plot -- a Hartford Yankee from the late 1800's travels back in time to King Arthur's Round Table. I expected lots of time-warp details -- the hero impressing everyone with "modern" inventions like gunpowder, telephones and so forth. There is plenty of that, but most of the last third of the book deals with a more serious subject -- Slavery.

Consider this passage from Chapter 31:
"I had an auxiliary interest which had never paled yet, never lost its novelty for me since I had been in Arthur's kingdom: the behavior -- born of nice and exact subdivisions of caste -- of chance passers-by toward each other. Toward the shaven monk who trudged along with his cowl tilted back and the sweat washing down his fat jowls, the coal-burner was deeply reverent; to the gentleman he was abject; with the small farmer and the free mechanic he was cordial and gossipy; and when a slave passed by with a countenance respectfully lowered, this chap's nose was in the air -- he couldn't even see him. Well, there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce."
Reading this passage, I get the feeling that Twain has traveled, not 1300 years back in time, but a mere 30 years, back to his native Missouri. He seems to remember feeling superior to slaves, like a lot of poor whites did. No doubt, that's what motivated many poor whites to fight to preserve slavery. Even if they didn't benefit financially from the system, at least they were not the lowest of the low.

By all accounts, Twain soured on slavery sooner than most Southerners. It's interesting that he was still meditating on slavery 30 years later and that he was so willing to condemn the human race because of it.

For more on the book, including all the text on-line, see the Yankee Homepage.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

No Blog Today

I went to the beach instead. This shot is just North of Wallis Sands Beach in Rye, NH. Click the picture for a better view.

It was a beautiful day. Maybe Spring really is just around the corner.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Double Standards

Conservative columnist John Leo writes a weekly column for U.S. News. This week, he criticizes both liberals and conservatives for:
"[taking] an allegedly principled stand on a Monday, then [switching] firmly to the opposite principle on Tuesday if it is to their advantage"
He cites plenty of specific examples of this behavior.

This got me thinking about congressional Republicans this week passing a bill to transfer a single court case from state to Federal jurisdiction. These are the same people who complain about activist judges making broad policy decisions from the bench. So it is OK for Congress to intervene in the courts when a majority objects to a single judgement, but it is not OK for judges to make broad policy. Isn't that a double standard?


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Lost Logo

IBMers might want to visit the on-line IBM logo exhibit for a history of the IBM logo. The logo on the left was IBM's trademark from 1924 to 1947. It has sort of a Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow feel to it. Don't you think?

But wait. There's at least one logo missing from the exhibit. A Google image search of "ibm logo" resulted in several hits on the image at the right. Try it yourself and see.


Friday, March 18, 2005

The Case of Language Log vs. Frank Delaney

Language Log cited Frank Delaney for gilding the lily in his NPR interview last Saturday. I won't argue against Language Log's main point -- that Mr. Delaney is out of his depth when discussing the finer points of the Irish language. Mr. Delaney probably wouldn't argue either.

However, I think Language Log crossed the line with phrases like, "Delaney was ... babbling to Scott Simon about the Irish," and, "Why is everyone so given to bullshitting about language and thought?" I heard the interview and Mr. Delaney was not babbling. He was quite eloquent. Neither was he misleading us about his expertise as an Irish linguist. He was simply answering a question about why the Irish are good communicators. Listen to the NPR interview yourself. Then ask yourself if his larger point was sound.

Why is this important? It is important to me because Language Log's extra dose of attitude wasn't necessary to establishing the main point. Language Log didn't have to take Mr. Delaney down a notch to prove anything. We all are guilty of gratuitous attacks like this, of course, but we all can do better.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Today everyone's Irish. Despite what your local drinking establishment would have you believe, being Irish is not about green clothes, green beer, and corned beef. Well, maybe the corned beef is authentic, but a plate of boiled praties would be more so.

For a better perspective on the Irish, here's some reading material:
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill. The title is not a joke. While the rest of Europe was muddling through the Dark Ages, Irish monks preserved classic texts.

  • Ireland, a Concise History, by Paul Johnson. A great short history of Ireland by a renowned, British historian.

  • The Great Shame, by Thomas Keneally. This is a thick book, but it reads like a novel. Although there are several story lines, the theme is about Irishmen transported to Australia in the nineteenth century. Many of them eventually emigrated to America. My favorite story line is about Thomas Meagher, the great Civil War leader of the Irish Brigade. My favorite short episode is about the band of Irish-American Fenians who tried to liberate Canada in 1866.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

What does "Axis of Elvis" mean?

It doesn't mean anything. It popped into my head one day and I liked the sound of it. Obviously, it's a variation on President Bush's "Axis of Evil", but I'm not making fun of the president -- really.

Before I created this blog, I googled the phrase to see if someone else was using it. As it happens, James Lileks used it in a blog entry from February, 2003. He beat me to it by two years. Sigh. Before the Internet, you could at least pretend you had an original thought.

Others have used the phrase since. Some of them don't seem to understand Lileks's original point. In any case, no one seems to have a serious stake in the phrase. It's as good as any phrase at conveying the idea of a collection of disjointed ruminations. That's good enough for me.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Beware the Ides of March

Or maybe not. Superstition says bad things happen on March 15 -- the ides of March -- but the idea is really a misreading of Shakespeare. In Julius Ceasar, the Soothsayer foretells Caesar's murder in the Senate by saying, "Beware the ides of March." However, the warning is specific; not general.

In the complicated Roman calendar, the ides occurred once each month. It was the 15th day in March, May, July and October. It was the 13th day in the other months. "Beware the ides of March," is more like, "You'll hit a tree on Tuesday," than it is like, "Tuesdays are bad luck."

There's more on the ides of March in this article from the BBC.