Monday, November 19, 2007

Where goes the dollar?

I found interesting the following commentary on the weakening US dollar by Harold Maass, a columnist for the magazine The Week. (Adam Smith is the 18th Century Scotch author of The Wealth of Nations, in which he wrote of the "Invisible hand" of economic systems. Jim Cramer is the blustery TV commentator on the economy and the stock market.)

The dollar can decline along the Adam Smith path or the Jim Cramer path, says David Ignatius in The Washington Post. In the "Adam Smith version," natural market mechanisms help the dollar make its necessary downward slide gradually. China starts saving in other currencies, the declining greenback shrinks our deficit, and then "the dollar eventually will begin to rise again." But in the "Jim Cramer version," the dollar's "gradual adjustment" turns into a "stampede," fueled by "emotional, volatile traders." The Fed raises rates, we stop consuming, and the U.S. sinks into a recession. The sinking dollar can be "part of the cure," but Smith makes the medicine go down easier.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bad guys who can't get it right

There seems to be no end of stupid criminal stories--real ones. We've heard about the burglar-to-be who got stuck in an air vent at his intended target and had to be extricated by firemen, or the carjacker who found he didn't know how to shift the gears of the car he intended to make off with.

Another to be added to these misadventures appeared in the Baltimore Sun today. A guy went to a Baltimore bank, gave a handwritten note to a teller announcing a holdup, and took off with his loot ($526). However, there was one little flaw in his plan: he wrote the note on the back of a blank check from a checkbook he had gotten from that bank when he had an account there, but which had been closed six years ago. You guessed it: he left the note behind at the bank. At least, he showed customer loyalty by going back to his old bank.

He will have plenty of time to think about a better plan for his next heist--a judge gave him twelve years in prison for his little caper.

The giant-killers in the western North Carolina mountains

There must be something in that mountain air (or maybe the bootleg moonshine which is said to be made in those hills) that makes giant-killers out of the sports teams at small colleges in western North Carolina.

First, Appalachian State University (a contender in the small-school football division of the NCAA) beat mighty University of Michigan 34-32 on September 1st this year (at Michigan's home field), when Michigan was rated no. 5 in the nation. This was certainly one of the greatest upsets in U.S. college football history--as dozens of sports columnists and TV commentators breathlessly told the world. To make it even more of a David and Goliath story, Appalachian came from behind 31-32 with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the game (with no more times-out available) to score a field goal and then block a last-minute field goal attempt by Michigan, to win by 34-32.

Then, on November 7th, another David hit another Goliath between the eyes. Gardner-Webb, a tiny Baptist school, thrashed the University of Kentucky, long a powerhouse in college basketball, by an 84-68 score (also on Kentucky's home turf). I have heard that Gardner-Webb was never behind in the score throughout the game.

The initial response by the sports media to both upsets was, "Who is Appalachian State/Gardner-Webb?" and "Where in the country are they?" The answers: Appalachian State, with about 15,000 students is located in Boone, North Carolina (population about 15,000); Gardner-Webb, with about 4,000 students, is in Boiling Springs, North Carolina (population about 4,000). I obtained that info from the schools' websites; I found it interesting that the student population and the town's population were about the same in each case.

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The giant-killers in the western North Carolina mountains.": And your Tar Heels just barely escaped tiny Davidson last night on the hardwood!

Hey, Anonymous,
Davidson isn't up in the mountains, and Carolina did win.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Google can goof

Believe it or not, Google can screw up. When I keyed in "richard milhaus nixon" to make sure I had his middle name right in my immediately foregoing posting, Google asked me "did you mean richard milhous nixon" (no question mark at the end). Then it went on to list numerous citations for "Richard Milhaus Nixon."

Another Richard Nixon

Yes, there was another Richard Nixon (his middle name was Williams, not Milhaus). A native of New Hanover County, North Carolina, he graduated from the University of North Carolina on June 2, 1859. He and my paternal grandfather were classmates. All of this I stumbled upon on the Internet, which provides a photocopy of the original program of the commencement exercises from the university library.

The use of Latin at prestigious universities was cool at that time--the state of North Carolina was referred to as Carolinae Borealis, the officials of the university as Gubernatori, and the graduating students as Juvenes hodie primi gradus in Artibus honorem petentes. The students' names were put into Latin where possible: Nixon's first name was listed as Ricardus, my grandfather's middle name (which was Henry) as Henricus; others were listed as Gulielmus (for William), Georgius (for George), Robertus (for Robert), and so on.

Young Nixon was one of the eleven graduating seniors who was a commencement speaker during the morning ceremonies (there were four more in the afternoon). His topic was "The Imagination; to be Cultivated." The other speakers were North Carolinians except those noted below. Their topics were:

"Latin Salutatory"
"The Hamiltonian System"
"Objections to an Elective Judiciary"
"The Persecution of the Jews" (New York)
"The Man of Letters"
"The Common Sense Man" (Alabama)
"The Independent Thinker" (Virginia)
"The American Student"
"To be great is to be misunderstood"
"Comparative merits of Curriculum Colleges"

There was "Music" (otherwise unidentified) between each speech.

The commencement ceremonies included a Christian hymn, a prayer, reading of "Psalm CXVII", and a benediction.

My grandfather's 1859 diploma (all in Latin) hangs in my house alongside mine, also from the University of North Carolina, presented to me 90 years later in the class of 1949 (all in English). There were no hymns or psalms at my commencement, but my diploma does say "...this sixth day of June in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-nine..." I guess that no such religious phrasing is included in the university's diplomas today.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

CBS is a bummer

I have never before used this blog to register complaints about any service provider. If my complaint involved someone who billed my credit card, I contacted MasterCard (or whoever) not to pay them; otherwise, I have settled the matter with the other party. ("Angie's List" is a good website to describe a subscriber complaint--or even better, to search for a service company one might want to use to see criticisms/plaudits from others who have used them.)

However, CBS is beyond the pale, in my opinion. I signed up for their college football website (at $14.95 a month) several weeks ago; this website is supposed to allow paid customers to watch their video of some games and get an up-to-the-minute status on others in progress. Although CBS has billed me, they never recognize me when I log in. When I go to their "Help" link, they say they will e-mail my password to me, but never do. I am just before cancelling.

Today (10/28/07), when I registered to make comments on CBS programming, I was thanked for registering. However, after I spent some time criticising Lesley Stahl's clumsy handling of her interview on "Sixty Minutes" with French president Nicolas Sarkozy--she repeatedly mispronounced his name--when I tried to submit my comments, the website didn't recognize me.

No wonder CBS ranks third among the over-the-air networks.

DO cry for Argentina

Argentinians have a lot about which to cry (or maybe laugh). In their general elections held on Sunday, October 28 there were three women among the fourteen candidates running for president. In the USA there is a huge debate over whether a female candidate can make it to the presidency, Hillary being the only one trying to do so at the moment. But imagine the difficulty of an Argentine feminist having to pick among the three. Of course, with eleven male candidates to pick from, an Argentine voter may have an easier choice as to whether or not to vote for a woman: should Hillary be the Democratic candidate in the U.S. election in November 2008, some voters who would be inclined not to vote for a woman may choose her anyway because they could never bring themselves to vote for whoever the Republican candidate might be (their only alternatives being to not vote at all or to vote for some minor party candidate).

Who are the three women candidates? There is an interesting similarity with the U.S. here--one is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the wife of the outgoing president, Néstor Kirchner (a Bill and Hillary act). She is 54 years old and was elected in 2005 to the country's senate. The other two are Elisa Carrió, age 50, a member of the house of deputies, and Vilma Ripoll, age 53, a nurse and a member of the Buenos Aires city council.

Should one of these women win the election, she would be the first elected female president of the country. (Eva Perón was put into office as president by her husband Juan Perón in 1974 to follow him; he had not gained that office in a free election.)

An interesting sidelight: All Argentine registered voters age 18 and older are required to vote in these elections (exceptions are those physically disabled, mentally incompetent, or incarcerated). This information, and all that in this posting, is from the 10/28/07 edition of the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín. The paper doesn't say what the penalty is for violation of this law.

Women as presidential candidates is not something new in South America. When I was in Chile in April 2005 there was a hot debate in the primary elections between two women candidates; one of them, Michelle Bachelet, was ultimately elected as president later that year.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Whom to root for in the World Series

Normally, in the 2007 World Series I would withhout stint or cause root for the Red Sox because:

1. Being nostalgic, I tend to root for a team that was one of the original 16 teams for many years in the two Major Leagues (until the Boston Braves left Boston in 1952 and started a mass movement of teams from their homes bases, plus establishment of new franchises). However that may be, I also recognize the need for evolution in baseball, like everything else in life.

2. I have long been a New England-phile: I love the fall foliage in Vermont and New Hampshire, where my family and I have traveled numerous times on vacation.

3. I have a passion for the New England intellectuals of the past: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller, Henry Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, and others.

So, why do I hesitate to root for the Red Sox this year? Simple: the disgusting behavior of their manager, Terry Francona, with his incessant chewing and spitting while on TV camera throughout a game. It is almost as disgusting as if he were to urinate in front of the dugout in plain view of the camera. (There are several Red Sox players who also chew and spit, but Francona sets a bad example for all of his players.) On the contrary, I have never seen the following managers spit: Tony LaRussa, of the St. Louis Cardinals; Joe Torre, of the New York Yankees; Jim Leyland, of the Detroit Tigers; or Eric Wedge, of the Cleveland Indians. Likewise, I have seen numerous players in both Major Leagues who don't chew or spit.

Defenders of chewers and spitters like Terry Francona, might say, "He has a highly stressful job and he gets results, so why criticize him? My answer: Many leaders in our society have stressful jobs and get results--physicians, mayors, governors, Congressmen, business executives, educators, and others--yet they don't have to chew and spit in public to do their jobs.

As I have said in a previous posting, I would like to see a high-ranking elected official (preferably a U.S. president) undertake to persuade those in baseball (owners, managers, players, TV telecasters) to order those on camera during a game to desist from their disgusting chewing and spitting.

Attention: All Philo Vance fans

This is to let all amateur detective Philo Vance fans (all three or four of them) know that I have added considerable additional content to an existing Wikipedia article on the whole Vance scene. It is accessible at .

Monday, October 22, 2007

A foolish resolution in Congress

The resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives labelling as "genocide" the killing of over 1 million Armenians by the Turkish military during 1915-17 (House Resolution 106) is, in my opinion, foolish. Certainly it was a terrible event in history, but what is the point of the U.S. Congress taking it up now? Virtually no one involved, as a perpetrator or as a victim, is alive today and, furthermore, it is crassly political. Why needlessly antagonize a friendly nation, Turkey?

Has any resolution been offered in either house of Congress officially designating the Nazi murders or those of the Japanese in China during the 1930's as genocide? I don't know the answer--perhaps such resolutions have been offered and passed; but what is the point? Everyone knows that they were terrible atrocities; we don't need an act of Congress to so define them.

Why stop with the massacre of Armenians? Why not a resolution to deplore the sack of Rome and the attendant raping and killing by the Goths in 410 A.D.?

Or the invasion of Iraq by the Mongols about 1256? (According to The Columbia History of the World, "The Mongols...poured into Iraq and, as they drove toward Baghdad, plundered or destroyed everything in their path..." (p. 278) Sound familiar?)

Or the invasion of Ghana by the Almoravids in 1076? (The Columbia History of the World describes the invaders as "young zealots, the holy war against all who refused to heed the call to orthodox Islam...(who) overwhelmed Ghana and sacked its capital" (p. 302))

Aren't there more pressing needs for Congress to give attention to?

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "A foolish resolution in Congress": Here, Here Mycroft. I could not agree more. Of course would you actually expect more from Nancy Pelosi's "Do Nothing Congress"? I would describe Congress as inept as you would describe the Bush Administration. Unfortunately at the highest levels of American government, our elected officials (on BOTH sides of the aisle) are more interested in pointing fingers, assigning blame and launching probes and investigations into the other's party than actually stepping up to the podium with valid input, ideas and solutions to fix what truly needs fixing. I don't need to know that we now officially recognize an event that took place 100 years ago as genocide any more than I need the government to protect me from trans fats.

Well said, Anonymous.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Football-wise a mixed weekend

Another week, another big upset. Syracuse's 38-35 win over Louisville (number 18 in the country) on 9/22, while not quite as stunning as the Appalachian State defeat of Michigan a few weeks ago, certainly isn't far behind. Syracuse (my wife's alma mater), a three-time loser until last Saturday--12-42 against Washington, 0-35 against Iowa, and 20-41 against Illinois--caught fire in the Louisville game. Their 38 points in that game were more than the total of their scores in their three preceding games.

Some of the total points by both teams in Saturday's games looked like basketball scores, with many in the 70's and 80's. Two exceeded 100 points: Hampden-Sydney 56, Guilford 49 and North Dakota 63, W. Washington 42. At the other extreme, Monmouth 6, Carroll 3 registered only 9 total points.

Otherwise, a bleak Saturday 9/22. Almost all of my favorite teams lost: North Carolina, North Carolina State, Towson, and Maryland; the only consolation was Columbia's beating Marist 31-7. While Columbia beating anybody is a cause for joy, only so much pride can come from beating up a little team with not much more power than that of a prep school.

The Baltimore Ravens almost blew a 20-3 lead over the Arizona Cardinals yesterday--they had to get a field goal with zero minutes left to win 26-23. Coach Billick and his assistants must have a lot of horseshoes, rabbits' feet, and four-leaf clovers to have the luck they have had in their last two games--against the New York Jets on 9/16 and again yesterday against the Cardinals, pass receivers on those teams dropped catchable passes at crucial points which, if caught, could have brought defeat to the Ravens.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"When constabulary duty's to be done, a (restroom) policeman's lot is not a happy one"

That old Gilbert and Sullivan ditty might well apply to the undercover cop in the men's room at the Minneapolis airport, who has become a figure in the news.

I wonder how he got the assignment. Perhaps he was promoted by his superiors to the head of the class.

He has a good chance to do a lot of reading. He could probably finish War and Peace while on duty.

During his workday he probably has to really use the bathroom. If he gets a shoe tap and a hand signal from the next stall while doing that, how does he handle it?

He would have been perfect for those old black-and-white quiz shows of the early days of television, To Tell the Truth and What's My Line?

In To Tell the Truth, three individuals with somewhat similar appearance would say something like "My name is Joe Blow and I am the head pots and pans scrubber at the White House." One would be the real guy and the other two fakes. By asking questions of the individuals, the panelists (usually three or four well-known individuals) would each vote on his/her choice as the real Joe Blow, following which the real Joe Blow would stand up and the two fakes would each give his/her real name and occupation.

In What's My Line?, an individual would appear with the host, John Daly, and give his/her name--like Joe Blow--and, as I recall, say where he/she lived and some other minor detail, like he/she was a Yankees fan. The TV audience (but not the panelists) would then be told that Blow was the head pots and pans scrubber at the White House. The panel, usually consisting of Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, and Bennet Cerf, would pose all kinds of questions--like "Do you make a product or provide a service?"; if a service,"Do you touch the people you provide the service for?; if a product, "Is the product smaller than a basketball?" The panelists would then each make his/her guess about Blow's occupation.

I can see now three young men (the cop is reported to be age 29) on To Tell the Truth standing up and saying, "I am X, undercover police officer at the Minneapolis airport...." Or on What's My Line? and the TV audience being told who the guy is and the panelists probing him with questions.

I wonder if he takes a laptop computer with him while on duty to keep up with his e-mail, maybe to take notes for a duty report to his superiors, or whatever. I bet he could get a deal with Readers' Digest for an article titled something like "My Beat in the Men's Room", which he could write while actually on the beat.

I read somewhere that he has a master's degree from college. I suppose some of the courses he took were "Restroom Surveillance 302", or "Cruise Control 405", or "Foot Signaling 206."

When he gets home from work and his wife asks, "How did your day go, Honey?", I guess he might say, "Well, I collared a clergyman, a banker, and a doctor. The clergyman offered to pray for me to get a promotion from this crappy job, the banker offered me a job as chief security officer at his bank, and the doctor offered to treat me free-of-charge if I ever get claps from sitting on these toilet seats. I busted all three, they were a shoe-in."

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Small-school football prostitutes

For many years small-college football teams have been like prostitutes--letting themselves get beaten up by powerhouse teams from the big schools, all for money. This usually happens at the beginning of the football season, with the games played at the homes of the big schools. The big schools get to warm up (and send in the scrubs, to give them a chance to play, after the first teams have run up a big score); the small schools, as compensation for their beatings, get to take home handsome revenues from the game, their share of the revenues from ticket sales and TV contracts. These revenues often go a long way toward funding all sports programs--football, basketball, baseball, and the minor sports (for male and female students)--for the small schools. They go home bloody but richer.

Some outcomes of these contests on September 1st this year were: Louisiana State 45, Mississippi State 0; Boise State 56, Weber State 7; Cincinnati 59, Southeast Missouri State 3; Penn State 59, Florida International 0; Louisville 73, Murray State 10; Florida 49, Western Kentucky 3; Oklahoma 79, North Texas 10; and Alabama 52, Western Carolina 6.

But once in a blue moon the prostitutes beat up their johns. This happened on September 1st this year when little Appalachian State University, from its mountain stronghold in tiny Boone, North Carolina, went to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on mighty Michigan, rated number 5 in the nation last year. (Michigan is in the I-A division of the college teams--the major schools--while Appalachian is in the I-AA division--the smaller schools.) As usual, Michigan was supposed to thrash little Appalachian and send them home bruised and bloody.

BUT APPALACHIAN HADN'T LEARNED ITS ROLE: IT RAN AWAY WITH A 34-32 VICTORY. The way it drove 69 yards with 1 minute, 11 seconds left in the game (and no more time-outs to use) to get into position to score a field goal, and then block an attempted field goal by Michigan in the closing seconds, made it one of the most exciting games in football history. Sports writers all over the country have let the prose fly in describing the game as the greatest upset in football history--which is certainly a reasonable claim. I was drinking a margarita while watching other football games on TV when I suddenly saw Appalachian State 34, Michigan 32 stream across the screen along with other scores. I couldn't believe it; I thought the tequila in that drink must have been stronger than I realized. Then it came across again with a breathless announcer saying it had really happened.

Although I didn't watch the game because it wasn't televised in my part of the country, I am sure, had I watched it in progress, I would have thought it would have been the most exciting football game I had ever watched. (I would have been pulling strongly for Appalachian.) I have learned over the years never to say "I will never see another game this exciting!" I said that after the Baltimore Colts 23-17 victory over the New York Giants in the National Football League championship game in December 1958 (the first time in professional football that there was a sudden-death overtime to break a tie). That game has been frequently referred to as "the greatest game of football ever played." Even though I was a young man in excellent health at the time, in the closing two minutes of the game, with the Colts behind 17-20, I thought I was going to have a heart attack, an emotional breakdown, or both if the Colts couldn't score to win. They did, and I was drained of energy for several minutes after it was over. I went through much the same excitement when North Carolina State (for whom I was heavily rooting) came within a hair of winning in the closing seconds of their game with Ohio State in September 2003. NC State was behind 38-44 with the ball first and goal on about the Ohio State two-yard line, with enough time to score, but couldn't get the ball across. Again, as in 1958, when the game ended I was limp from yelling and screaming, and said that this game was about as exciting as the Colts-Giants one. Of course, the team I was rooting for didn't win in 2003; also, it was not a championship game, as the 1958 one was, but it was as exciting. Now, I am saying that, had I been able to watch the Appalachian-Michigan game in progress, I would probably have said that it was the most exciting one I had ever seen.

So, I repeat: never say never.

This year, 2007, has seen not only the Appalachian State upset of Michigan, but also the Texas Rangers beat the Baltimore Orioles by 30-3 in August--the first time in 110 years that a major league baseball team has scored as many as 30 runs in a game.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Exeunt Turdblossom, exeunt Alberto

There was once a smart young fellow, Turdblossom,
whose sway over the Chief was awesome.
There was never an adviser
more brilliant, sagacious, or wiser.
His words of wisdom put into the ear of the Chief
made things happen beyond belief.
Those in Washington in the know
said Turdblossom would always have the bon mot
to create victories for which the Chief could crow.

Yes, Turdblossom was a very smart young fellow,
fearless, savvy, and stellar.
Whenever the Chief was in a tight spot,
he could turn to Turdblossom, that young snot,
who would scheme and plot
to come up with a plan, whether cricket or not.

But, alas and alack, after all his capers,
eventually Turdblossom got his walking papers.
After pulling so many strings
and taking care of so many things,
and giving so many speeches,
he had gotten too big for his breeches.


That poor fellow, the late AG,
tried too often to be cagey.
Admiration among Senators he did not inspire,
and of him his underlings did tire
(especially those prosecutors he did fire).
So, Alberto got the old heave-ho.
He was shown the door
and will not be heard of any more.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Medical care outside of the USA

My reading an editorial today in the New York Times which lamented the poor standing of the United States as to availability of health care, compared to other industrialized countries, reminded me of two times that I needed medical care in other countries.

In 1953, while living in Dakar, Senegal (in what was then French West Africa) and working for the international oil company Texaco, I got a bad cut on one of my feet by stepping on some broken glass while barefooted. I was taken to a nearby hospital by friends, where my wound was stitched up and bandaged. I never was asked to pay anything for this service (which included a follow-up visit to remove the stitches and the dressing). This was many years before I had any medical insurance. Upon phoning the hospital to see if they might have sent me a bill that could have gone astray, I learned that there was no charge. Being quite naive at that time, I felt that I should have paid something, so I mailed a check to the hospital--I don't remember the exact amount but I believe it was, in francs, the equivalent of about $15.

In 1993, my wife and I did a home exchange with a couple who lived in a rural area of Buckinghamshire in England for three weeks. I developed a headache during the flight over which stayed with me for two or three more days. So, early on a Monday morning, I phoned a number to reach a doctor that our exchange partners had left at the house. The number reached was some kind of doctor referral service, where I was told to go to a medical practice in a tiny town called Wing, about a 20-minute drive from the house we were occupying. The practice was in a large old clapboard house, and it was clearly a family practice because there were parents with small children and an assortment of other patients in the waiting room (which had obviously been the living room of a family in years past). Seeing the number of patients waiting, I anticipated a long wait to see a doctor. But, to my surprise and delight, in about 25 minutes I was told to take stairs up to the next floor where Dr. Jones would see me. There I was greeted by Dr. Jones (her real name, I'm not using a fictitious name), a very attractive fortyish woman.

After examining me, she told me that my headache was nothing more than tension, and that she would give me a prescription for some medication that I could pick up at her dispensary downstairs. Then, she told me that, because I was neither British nor from a European Union country, I would have to pay for her services and the prescription--there would have been no charge had I been British, French, Spanish, etc. because it would have been covered by the U.K. national health service. She was almost apologetic when she told me this; I told her that would be no problem, especially since she had seen me after such a short wait on a busy Monday morning.

I then went back downstairs, where I picked up the medication at her dispensary in one of the rooms of the house--no going to a drugstore and waiting for the prescription to be filled, as in the U.S.--and paid the bill. The bill for everything, the doctor's services and the prescription, was £6, the equivalent of about $9. I have rarely gotten such a bargain.

Will we ever see such health care service in the U.S. as I did in the French colony in 1953 and in England in 1993?

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Medical care outside of the USA": NEVER!

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Medical care outside of the USA": You will if you really push for it and elect a party that's most likely to be interested in providing good health services for all US citizens.

Anonymous and Anonymous: Thanks for your comments. According to you both, the answer is somewhere between "if" and "never."


Sunday, July 29, 2007

The noun gender thing again

No sooner had I done a posting on the gender of nouns in Spanish and French (This and that on 7/20/07) than I received an e-mail from Ségolène Royal, the Socialist candidate in the French presidential elections earlier this year (when she was trounced by Nicolas Sarkozy in the run-off). This e-mail was one of many that I have received from her in her series entitled La lettre de Désirs d'avenir ("The letter of Hope for the future") since I got on her e-mail list prior to the elections (the first on April 22nd and the run-off on May 6th).

This most recent e-mail from Mme. Royal was an invitation to un grand pique-nique (no translation needed) to be held on August 25th by and for the party faithful and to attract sympathizers of all sorts. She signed off Amitiés à toutes et à tous ("Friendly greetings to all (females) and to all (males).") This is just another example of how noun genders in other languages can complicate things--in English she would only have to had said "Friendly greetings to all."

This sign-off is another of the many used in written communication which I wrote about in my posting Parting is such sweet sorrow on 7/11/07.

In my May 1st posting The French presidential election (redux), just prior to the May 6th run-off, I told of the inundation of e-mails I was receiving from Mme. Royal after I had signed up on her website. In that posting I posed the question "...whoever wins, will I ever hear from Ségolène again? I don't have high expectations." Was I ever wrong--I still get her e-mails. They are no longer numbered, as they were before the run-off (the last of the numbered ones was 95).

Friday, July 20, 2007

This and that

In English we have two pronouns with which to designate a noun (sometimes joined with an adjective): "this" and "that", e.g., this large book and that crazy man.

The Spanish have three: "este" (this one close by), "ese" (that one over there), and "aquel" (that one far away).

But the French have only one: "ce." To distinguish between distance, they say "ce (whatever) ci", this (whatever) close by and "ce (whatever) la", that (whatever) over there, "over there" being almost any distance from a few feet to thousands of miles).

The above Spanish and French examples are just applicable to a single masculine noun. The variations are shown below.

Since English doesn't have gender for nouns, "this" and "that" can apply to any single noun. Of course, we do have "these" and "those" for plural nouns. That's it, no further variations.

Ah, but in Spanish and French there are numerous variations:

If the Spanish single noun is feminine, it's "esta", "esa", and "aquella". If it's plural, it's "estas", "esas", and "aquellas". If it's a plural masculine noun, it's "estos", "esos", and "aquellos". Also, the Spanish have a word for "this" and "that" in a very general sense: "esto" (¿Qué es esto?) What is this?; plural it's "estos" (¿A quien pertenecen estos?) To whom do they belong?

If the noun in French is feminine (and also singular), then the "ce" becomes "cette" (cette table ci, this table here, cette voiture la, that car over there). Also, even when a noun is masculine, but begins with a vowel (including the letter "h", which is mute except when preceded by "c"), the "ce" becomes "cet": cet outil ci, this tool here, cet homme la, that man over there). All plurals, masculine and feminine, are "ces": ces livres ci, these books here (livre is masculine), ces lunettes la, those eyeglasses there (lunettes is feminine).

Also, the French have pronouns when the noun is omitted because it has already been specified: ceci or celui-ci this one here (for a single masculine noun), celle-ci, this one here (for a single feminine noun). For plurals, it's ceux-ci and celles-ci (or ceux-la and celles-la respectively).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Parting is such sweet sorrow

How many ways do you end a conversation with someone--in person, on the phone, by e-mail, by letter delivered by the post office (does anybody mail letters anymore?)?

You might just say "goodbye," that's the simplest and most sincere way. You are saying "God be with you." Of course, you can't order God to be with your friend: you don't give orders to God. What you are really saying is that you hope that God will be with him. But that thought is ambiguous. First, what does God being with someone mean? If there is a God, isn't he always with everyone all the time throughout history? (Maybe it's like Jesus being with George Bush in each of the 21 photographs in that wonderful spoof on Bush, Destined For Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush, reviewed in my previous posting Satire is mightier than the sword.) Second, you imply to your friend that maybe God has not been with him for some particular reason--maybe he sinned and fell out of favor with God--and you are hoping that he will behave better and get back in God's grace. Hardly a pleasant thought to convey to your friend.

OK, so much for the philosophising. Back to the original question: How many ways are there to end a conversation? Following are just a few.

I beg to remain, Sir, your most humble and obedient servant. Yes, that was a very common signoff for business letters in the 19th Century. Sometimes the "I beg to remain" was omitted and just the "humble and obedient" was used. Also, sometimes an abbreviation was used: Yr humble and obt svt.

During modern times (at least until e-mails came into being) Yours truly and Sincerely have been in use in the USA. (I still frequently use the latter in business e-mails or faxes, but may well give it up for something less yesteryear.) The British equivalent is Faithfully yours.

The French go way out: Agréez, Monsieur, nos salutations distinguées. (Be aware, Sir, of our distinguished salutations.) They have several other versions, among which is notre parfaite consideration (our perfect consideration)--it's been some time since I've seen that one, but, as I recall, it goes: Assurez vous, Monsieur, de notre parfaite consideration (Be assured, Sir, of our perfect consideration). Whereas the foregoing are more formal business usages, more informal signoffs among acquaintances are often Bien à vous (Well to you), or Bien à toi, (Well to thee) when the familiar form of "you" (the tutoiement) is used.

The Spanish frequently use sin otra cosa, lo saludo atentamente (without anything else (to say), I salute you attentively). If it is a female who is being saluted, it will be la saludo atentamente.

The e-mail has brought about new greetings and signoffs: Hi Joe, blah blah blah. Regards, Harry.

In oral communication (personal or on the phone), I find myself increasingly using the very modern signoffs: "stay cool" and "take care." I used to use "so long" but that is so 20th Century.

The one thing that ties all of the above signoffs together is that they are mostly insincere. It's not that we are being deliberately deceitful when we use them, it's just that it seems cold to suddenly end the conversation or the letter or the e-mail without some sort of pleasantry. So we adhere to custom and say something pleasant as we take leave of the other person.

To put the cart before the horse, a word about greetings in written communication. The "Dear Mr. X" in a business letter (and in most personal letters) is obviously insincere: how can we feel that someone we don't even know is "dear?" "Gentlemen" used to be the preferred form in business letters when one didn't like the "Dear Sirs," but even that form has to give way to modern times. Chances are that at least as many women as men will see the correspondence in question; for that reason I have begun to use "Ladies/Gentlemen." Even then, I am probably being duplicitous in that I don't really know that all of the recipients of my correspondence are, in fact, ladies and/or gentlemen, since I usually don't even know them.

The French, with the most effusive signoffs mentioned above, are the most direct with their greetings in business correspondence: usually simply Monsieur (or Madame). However, politicians or people trying to sell something to the recipient of their correspondence often start off with Cher Monsieur X or Chère Madame Y. (Dear Mr. X or Dear Ms. Y.)

The Spanish often use the greeting Muy señor mío or Muy señora mía ("Very my sir" or "Very my lady," neither of which makes any sense.)

Well, sin otra cosa, Agréez, Dear Readers, my distinguished salutations. Cheers. Stay cool.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Satire is mightier than the sword

All of the ink used by numerous commentators in deploring George Bush's presidency--including my own*--has probably wounded him less than the book Destined For Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush. When I first spotted the book at my local public library, I wondered how an autobiography could be unauthorized; but, as I glanced through the book, it didn't take me long to realize it was a spoof. It is cleverly put together by Scott Dikkers, editor of The Onion, the satirical newspaper, and Peter Hilleren, a producer of radio and TV shows.

* My most recent postings about Bush have been My apologies to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover, posted 3/25/07; One man out of our 300 million has brought this on us, 1/29/07; and The tragedy of the George Bush presidency, 12/18/06.

Selecting excerpts from the book is exceptionally difficult because I find myself wanting to quote everything--the book is so humorous from beginning to end. It is dedicated to "the faith-havers."

In an "Introduction" by Dick Cheney, the VP says "I advised the President that this was not the appropriate time to release a book containing highly classified information which may compromise our nation's security...This was my view based on the evidence, and had nothing to do with the fact that the President had still not given me an autographed copy of the book, for which my feelings were deeply hurt." Later he describes Bush as "...the finest President who has ever occupied the White House. His fortitude in the face of evil has been, frankly, kick-ass." Cheney ends the "Introduction" saying: "Now I must conclude my remarks, and turn my attention back to my official responsibilities here in the underground bunker...I am working diligently to perpetuate the permanent state of war...Now, please go fuck yourself."

In the first chapter, entitled "Like 'Roots' Only White," Bush includes in a description of his ancestry: "My father met my mother at a debutante party when she was 30. He was immediately enchanted by her horse-like beauty, her forceful nature, and her immense stature. She loved his gangly limbs, and his rugged upper-crust Connecticut standing."

Following his birth, an announcement was sent out which read:

Join us in our Joy as we celebrate the blessed birth of our son
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, born July 6, 1946.
Date: August 17th, 1946
LOCATION: The Dallas Marriott Ballroom
Cost: $1000/plate
CHOICE OF ENTREE: Sirloin___ Spare Rib_____ T-Bone_____
All proceeds to go into the Bush Election Campaign Fund

A "Third-grade report card from Midland Elementary School," dated May 26, 1954, is pictured. it shows letter grades put in by the teacher having been doctored by the young Bush: a C- in Arithmetic has the "-" converted to C+ by a downstroke over it, a D- in Civics changed to an A+ by writing over the D and making it into the A and putting the downstroke through the "-" as before, and several others.

In a chapter entitled "The Clown-Faced Zombie I Call My Wife" Bush tells of the reception following their wedding:

During our first dance, Laura looked at me with her empty red eyes, and reminded me of my promises to her. She whispered tenderly into my ear "I will eat your soul." I smiled at her and said, "You are my clown-faced zombie, now and forever." And our covenant of love was sealed.

In the chapter "My Name Is George W. Bush and I Am Not an Alcoholic" he writes of his youthful boozing:

During one memorable incident when I was in high school, I drank some Texas Firewater straight from a bootleg still operated by a classmate...In another instance I awoke in the bed of a pickup truck somewhere and did not know where I was...But after forty years of this kind of good cheer, and an inclination to toast in times of triumph, it was time to face the hard truth: I did not have a drinking problem...The day I realized that I was not an alcoholic changed my life.

Probably the funniest of the funny is in the chapter "The Greatest Love of My Life: Jesus." He got started on the path toward his born-again-in-Christ epiphany by "the celebrated prophet Billy Graham...He looked like a frank-incensed Wise Man...His piercing eyes had the effect of searing right through a person like holy lasers." Bush then began attending a men's Bible study group at the Houston Hyatt hotel, where he discovered Jesus:

He was standing there, on the other side of the crowded room, smiling at me...I felt my heart skip a beat, as they say. I examined Him closely. He wore a tattered rag-like robe. His skin was a slightly darker hue, like that of the East Indian or the mulatto. And He had a face like that of the movie star Mel Gibson, but more Jewishy...Jesus then stood and walked over to me, and He said, "Give all you have to the poor and follow me."

For an instant, Bush thought of calling hotel security because "I did not know, in those days, if Jews were permitted in the Houston Hyatt." But, as he talked with Jesus, he realized:

From that day forward, I have had Jesus in my heart. I especially agreed about the part about eternal life. If you simply accept Jesus as your personal savior, all sins are wiped clean. It is all automatic. There is no memorization. No forms to sign. No outlay of capital. You just say "Jesus, come into my heart," and He takes you. It is that simple.

There is a centerfold section of 21 black-and-white photographs of Bush at various times in his life, with Jesus in each picture. He is like the Biblical pictures of Jesus--long hair and beard, flowing robe, and a wreath around his head. He holds the 8-month-old baby Bush, he is with him in his Yale baseball uniform, as he holds his twin daughters at the moment of their birth, as he is sworn in as president in January 2001, in the Oval Office, giving his famous "Mission Accomplished" speech on an aircraft carrier in 2003. .

Jesus was very helpful during Bush's campaign for the presidency in 2000. "In my daily bullpen sessions with Jesus, we would strategify about the day's events and how best to get the message across. Jesus would give me strength during those stressful times. He would remind me of my purpose, telling me that I was God's puppet on earth..."

When Bush had to select a running mate for the nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 2000. His father had told him "to choose someone who seems less qualified than yourself. Someone who, by comparison, makes you appear to be a seasoned and wise leader."

I then turned to Dick Cheney...I asked him to search the land to find the imagined prince my father had described, the great second-in-command of my destiny. Dick Cheney conducted a thorough search, and found only one worthy candidate: himself. I happily accepted, because I trusted his impartial judgment.

Following his election to the presidency in 2000:

God had made me His instrument on Earth...I knew He would help. He would surround me with the wisest men in the land...The Lord would send Heavenly helpers in the form of Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfield, Scott McClellan, and John Ashcroft. These were the Angels who were sheperded by the Lord to serve in my administration.

He says of the Abu Ghraib prison situation in Iraq:

America does not torture. Therefore, military justice was handed down swiftly against these wrongful torturers. We started at the bottom and worked up the chain of command, all the way to the top. The highest-ranking official in the promotion of torture was Private first Class Lynndie England. A court of military justice found that she was solely responsible for the shameful abuse of these prisoners. She was found guilty and is currently serving her prison sentence.

Criticism of the Commander in Chief is not to be tolerated:

Criticism of the Commander in Chief is the greatest security threat we face in the 21st century. This is one of the vital lessons we learned after 9-11. Such open questions brought comfort to our enemies abroad, who hate us and want to destroy our democratic values.

Could any straightforward denunciation of Bush's policies and his actions have more effect than the satire in this book? I doubt it. There is no better way to take down anyone, any group, or any opinion than satirizing them. There is no defense against satire.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"Quick catalysts" or "organic growth" in the stock market

Commentary by a columnist at Barron's, the weekly financial newspaper, is worth noting. It is by Michael Santoli and on page 8 of the 6/11/07 issue.

In the easy-money, deal-a-minute ethos of the present (stock) market, outsized attention is being paid to quick catalysts that create an instant one-time step increase in values--LBO's, leveraged recapitalizations, corporate split-ups, huge stock buybacks.

Ignored, by contrast, are genuine organic-growth stories, companies that seem able to keep increasing earnings even as the profit cycle matures and slows.

Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) are the two biggest exception to this rule. All the growth seekers are crowded into these two cult names and a few others.

The "quick catalysts" that he refers to:

"LBO's" (leverage buyouts): When private investment groups buy out previously publicly-traded companies and, subsequently, own them privately. The "leveraged" means that these private groups use large amounts of newly-created debt--bank loans and other forms of debt--to raise the funds to buy the companies. The catalyst here is that speculation that certain publicly-traded companies might be ripe for picking by these private investors may increase the market price of their stock.

"Leveraged recapitalizations" are similar to LBO's in that such recapitalizations usually retire sizable amounts of the common stock of the publicly-traded companies involved by buying it in the in the open market and replacing it with newly-issued debt. Unlike companies involved in LBO's, these companies' stock remains publicly-traded--but, again, speculation that XYZ Co. is going to do such a recapitalization will tend to increase the market price of its stock.

"Corporate split-ups": When companies divest part of their structure by giving such parts outright to the original companies' shareholders or selling the parts to other parties. Again, speculation of such deals will tend to drive up the stock price of those companies. There have been many split-ups in recent years.

"Huge stock buybacks": Many companies have been for years buying back their own publicly-traded shares on the open market. Of course, this buy-back activity tends to increase the market value of the stock by increasing the demand of the companies themselves for it. There can be many reasons for buybacks: fewer shares outstanding will decrease the supply and, thus, tend to increase their market value (often making stock options of the companies' executives more valuable); if the companies pay dividends, there will be fewer shares outstanding in the future on which to pay them; the companies may not have plans to make large capital investments in the foreseeable future--construction of new plant, adding new product lines, acquiring other companies, etc.--buying back their stock is preferable to sitting on large amounts of funds above their needs. Frequently, some combination of these reasons lead to the buybacks.

The reference to Google as a "cult name" is because of its enormous success with its Internet search engine and related products. It only started up in September 1998 and had its IPO (initial public offering) in 2004--several years after many of its competitors were in operation. Yet, it leads the pack in revenues. I guess the Barron's columnist also includes Apple as a "cult name" because of its success in competing with Microsoft and other giants in the intelligence technology industry with its computer and its Ipod, and also because its new I-phone seems to have promise.

Following is some clarification as to the distinction between "quick catalysts" and "organic growth."

The former means that the price of a particular company's stock may rise in the stock market, not because of any increase in the intrinsic value of the company, but because of the actions taken by company management described above (the LBO's, leveraged recapitalizations, split-ups, and stock buybacks). Such activities often cause froth in the company's stock price temporarily.

Conversely, organic growth is genuine increasing of a company's value, as reflected in its stock price, from increasing profits and net worth from successful results of its operations.

However, it needs to be said that there are not always clear distinctions as to which of the two concepts might be causing a runup in the price of a company's stock at a certain time. Some observers might say that a catalyst from a particular action taken by a company--say a spin-off of a segment of the company that was not a good match with the rest of the company--is actually promoting future organic growth of the company.

Conversely, some skeptics might say that healthier earnings per-share increases of a company's stock are due just to buybacks--which have reduced the number of shares outstanding and, thus, automatically increased earnings per-share. Yet others may say that the buybacks are contributing to organic growth because they have reduced what was excessive equity capital, making the company leaner and meaner.

I take exception to the columnist's comment that there are only a "few other" companies achieving organic growth other than the two "cult figures" he names. There is a considerable number of companies around the world that, through skill in developing new or better products and services, producing them more efficiently, marketing them better, expanding profitable operations through acquisitions or through new startups (or perhaps through some combination of all these efforts), are increasing their value.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"Touching up" the news

Reading a New York Times columnist's piece today on the subject of Lou Dobbs, the pontifical CNN commentator, reminds me of a story I heard while working on the Chicago Tribune. The Times columnist, David Leonhardt, in his column headlined "Truth, Fiction and Lou Dobbs" accuses Dobbs, of purveying false information on various topics on his TV show.

The story that I heard while working on the Tribune during the summer between my junior and senior years in college goes like this:

A cub reporter on the Tribune, who has been on the job only a few days, is called to the city editor's desk and told that a huge fire is on going on at the corner of two streets he names (let's say at X and Y streets) and to get there and cover it. The young reporter, being from some other place and knowing very little about locations in Chicago, goes out and asks a policeman how to get to the corner of X and Y streets. The cop tells the young man that there is no such corner--that X and Y streets are parallel to each other.

A few hours later, the reporter turns in a story about a 12-alarm blaze that brought out dozens of pieces of equipment and hundreds of firefighters, about people jumping from windows in upper stories into safety nets set up on the ground below and of others being brought down ladders by firemen, about spectators saying that this was the biggest fire ever in that section of the city, and so on.

But, after turning in the story, the cub reporter has second thoughts. He asks himself, "Why did I have to be such a wiseguy? Why didn't I just realize that the editor was playing a trick on me, and say 'Good joke, sir'?" And he worries, "I'm going to get the axe for this." The longer he waits to be called in by the editor, the more panicky he becomes.

Finally, he is called in, shaking as he goes. As he enters, the editor continues looking at the cub's story for several seconds, then looks up and says, "Pretty good story, young man. It's OK to touch up a story a little bit to make it more interesting to the reader."

With so many news sources and so much spinning of the news today, we, the public, have to constantly be alert to such "touching up." Checking in with the website FactCheck at is one way to be alert.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Quiz question of the week

One 5-letter word can be changed as follows to create three homophones--words that are pronounced exactly the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings:

No. 1 The word itself
No. 2 Remove just the first letter of the word
No. 3 Remove just the second letter of the word

The question is courtesy of National Public Radio's "Car Talk."

Answer next week.


Anonymous said...


My guess would be the word "scent".1. Scent2. Cent3.
Tustin, CA

Dear Anonymous,

Excellent. Congratulations. You must be homophonic.
I don't have to give the answer next week; you have already given it. But I'll publish some more homophones in the future.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wikipedia, everybody's encyclopedia

"What hath God wrought?" That was the message sent by the inventor Samuel Morse over the first telegraph line in the United States; it was sent from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland in 1844. One could almost enthuse as much over the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia, a wonderful source where one can both find information and provide it to share with the whole world. Following are extracts from its website which tell about it.

Welcome to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit. a multilingual, web-based, free content encyclopedia project. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. With rare exceptions, its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the edit this page link. The name Wikipedia is a portmanteau of the words wiki (a type of collaborative website) and encyclopedia. Since its creation in 2001, Wikipedia has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference Web sites on the Internet.
In every article, links will guide you to associated articles, often with additional information. Anyone is welcome to add further information, cross-references, or citations, so long as they do so within Wikipedia's editing policies and to an appropriate standard. One need not fear accidentally damaging Wikipedia when adding or improving information, as other editors are always around to advise or correct obvious errors, if needed, and the Wikipedia encyclopedia software, known as MediaWiki, is carefully designed to allow easy reversal of editorial mistakes.

Its website lists 24 languages in which it is available.

I have used it as a reference source almost since its inception. But I just recently took to contributing text to its articles--a practice which I find very rewarding (and addictive). My contributions have been quite diverse: my first was in the existing article "Preferred Stocks," which I adapted from a posting on my blog entitled Beware of Preferred Stocks published on 4/19/06 in which I explained why individuals (as distinct from corporations) should never invest in straight (as distinct from convertible) preferred stocks.

As soon as I posted my insertion into the existing article, I received messages from two "administrators" (individuals who have authority to contact anyone who makes a posting onto Wikipedia to guide them into making their postings acceptable--and more informative--under the encyclopedia's rules and guidelines). The messages pointed out, among other things, that opinions can't be included in articles, however well-founded they might be; thus, the admonition in my blog posting that individuals should never buy straight preferred stocks was revised to: Some argue that a straight preferred stock, being a hybrid between a bond and a stock, bears the disadvantages of each of those types of securities without enjoying the advantages of either. (However, opinions can be expressed in the "Discussions" link at the top of the first page of each article.)

There were several back-and-forths between the administrators and me--I gave in on a few issues but refused to delete one part of the text which I maintained was essential (I said I would withdraw my contribution in its entirety if they wouldn't allow the part at issue, following which they agreed with me). One of them suggested my contribution might be "less Anglo-Saxon," about which I told him I was was totally baffled and which he didn't press. All of the correspondence with them was quite amicable. My contribution can be accessed at, beginning with: In the United States there are two types of preferred stocks... and ending with: Advantages of straight preferreds posited by some advisers...

My second contribution was to an existing article entitled "Chaffin's Bluff"--the site of a battle in Virginia during the Civil War. It included excerpts from letters by my great-grandfather who was a surgeon in the Confederate army to his daughter (later my grandmother) in which he described the heavy fighting going on around him and his heavy load of work tending to wounded men from both sides. This contribution was adapted from my blog Surfing Through American History with Great Grandpa posted on 2/23/06. I didn't hear from any administrators about it. It can be accessed at

My third contribution was to write a review of a book Blood Done Sign My Name, by Timothy Tyson (published in 2005), about a race riot that took place in 1970 in the small North Carolina town in which I was born and grew up. The disturbance followed the acquittal at trial of a white man who brutally killed a black man. I posted the review in the "Discussion" link of the article about the book, which, as I note above, is the place for opinion. (I didn't hear from any administrators about it.) I e-mailed my review to the author of the book and received back a scathing rebuke in which he called me an "idiot" and a "knee-crawling son of a bitch" and so maligned me in a few other ways. That review, the author's comments on it, and comments by another individual can be accessed at and clicking on the "Discussion" link at the top of the article.

I have become addicted to making contributions to Wikipedia. Each time I read or think about some historical event, some current topic of interest, read some fiction, or whatever, I am drawn toward doing a posting about it in Wikipedia. (One isn't restricted to just making contributions to exisiting articles--as I did in my three to date--he can start a new article, subject to maybe having to deal with administrators.) At present, I intend postings on Sherlock Holmes, Thomas Paine, and a few other subjects.

I believe anyone who contributes to Wikipedia is making a genuine contribution to society, both present and future. It is truly an encyclopedia of the people in the sense that it is an accumulation of massive knowledge, rather than of a relatively few select experts on various topics, as is the case with traditional encyclopedias. Of course, with anybody and everybody able to contribute to it, Wikipedia is bound to contain erroneous or misleading information from time to time. But the process allows for self-correction: someone spots something wrong and corrects it. I have just spotted a substantial error on the article on Thomas Paine and plan to correct it, as well as add more information about him.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Pinnix,Growing up with parents from the South (Dad - Louisiana, Mom - Mississippi) I was raised in a home that separated whites and blacks. I've spent my entire life trying to do the opposite. I read, with interest, your review and the author's response; I stand on your side. You knew your facts, whether you live in Baltimore now or not, and grew up in Oxford therefore seeing first-hand many of the events he spoke of. His response seemed more to bust your knowledge than to address his shortcomings as an author. I will continue to be amazed at your knowledge...much like I am of your son.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 8:05:00 PM

Dear Anonymous,

Many thanks for your thoughtful message.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The French presidential election (redux)

When, some time ago, I innocently sent an e-mail to Ségolène Royal's campaign to get on her mailing list, little did I expect such a bombardment. Almost daily I receive an e-mail entitled La lettre de Désirs d'avenir ("The letter of Hope for the future"); each letter is numbered, today's was no. 95. Each has the text of every speech she has given, every interview with the media, and video clips of those same events, and more. I could spend two hours reading and watching each.

Well, Sunday May 6th will be the run-off vote between her and Nicolas Sarkozy (le second tour). After that, whoever wins, will I ever hear from Ségolène again? I don't have high expectations..

Friday, April 27, 2007

About the French

In response to my 4/19/07 posting on The French presidential election, I have received comments from two sources:

One was from a family member:

My recent trip to England for an International Sales Meeting was quite eye opening. While most of my counterparts around the globe had questions about President Bush and his policies (which you will be happy to know I addressed to their satisfaction), the ONLY UNQUESTIONED COMMON THEME worldwide was that EVERYBODY had a mutual hatred for the French. I found that amusing. Who cares who their president is? On the world stage, I've learned that France is irrelevant (at least by popular opinion)

Another was from a long-time friend and a fellow Sherlockian:

I see that you have comments about the deplorable fact that France is in imminent danger of suffering their first woman president ... but then ... who deserves that indignity more than the French?

Why all this animosity toward the French?

I have heard a number of people (Americans) complain about rudeness of French people whom they encountered while traveling in France, especially when they (the Americans) tried to use English to converse with them. With one minor exception, I have never had that problem when traveling in metropolitan France or in the following DOMTOM (départements d'outre-mer, territoires d'outre-mer: overseas departments, overseas territories): Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, and St. Pierre & Miquelon. In fact, I have found most people that I have encountered in those travels to be very nice (just as I have found people everywhere I have traveled).

Part of the reason is probably because I speak French, and, thus, don't get into any language problems. However, when I first went to Dakar, Senegal (then part of French West Africa) in 1953 to work for the international oil company, Texaco, I knew only a little French, so for awhile, as I was improving my ability, I had to use English with the few French people with whom I came in contact who could speak it. I never experienced any unpleasantness from those people. (Hearing French spoken around me and seeing it in print every day--and also being in a sink-or-swim situation--I learned it quickly.)

I suppose some of the Americans who experience rudeness in France do so because they unconsciously carry a chip on their shoulders and, thus, get what they expect. The French have the habit of showing courtesies when approaching someone, such as saying the equivalent of "good morning," "excuse me," "if you please" before engaging them in any further conversation, whereas Americans are apt to just ask a simple question--"How do I get to Main St.?" or "Where can I find...?"--outright, without any preliminary pleasantry.

One thing Americans (and any others) who dislike the French might consider is that the French have been ahead of us in providing some amenities of everyday life.

--Direct deposit to bank accounts. When in Dakar in 1953-54, we paid our European (white) staff by direct deposit to their bank accounts; likewise, we paid most bills from vendors by such direct deposits, rather than by mailing checks. These transactions were handled by the local branch of our French bank years before there were computers--they used manual procedures and mechanical office machines to do it. Direct deposit only came to the United States many years later. Also, our French bank paid interest on checking accounts--again before there were computers--something which some US banks have only recently begun to do.

--Unlimited subway trip tickets over a certain number of days. The Paris metro has had such tickets for many years (and also the London underground), but it was many years later before they were available on the New York subway.

--Paying highway tolls with credit cards. In 1993, when my wife and I were about to return a rented car in France, I used all my French francs to fill it with gas (we were leaving France and I didn't want to keep any francs). Just as I started to drive away, I remembered that I had a toll to pay ahead, so I went back to the office at the gas station to ask if I could get my francs back and pay for the gas with a credit card. The people there told me I had no problem--that I could use my credit card to pay the toll. Voilà! The toll collector swipes your card, prints and hands you a receipt, says merci, and you're on your way. The whole procedure takes about 10 seconds. Even today, I'm not aware of any toll roads in the US where this can happen ("EZ passes" are the closest that I know of).

--Development of the "hyperstore". A "hyperstore" is a store under one roof that offers such diverse merchandise as food, hardware, building materials, electronics, and various items typically carried in a department store. The huge French department store chain Carrefour, which began operations in France in 1957, and which opened its first "hyperstore" in 1962, according to Wikipedia, now operates numerous of these stores around the world: 535 in Europe, 169 in Latin America, 181 in Asia, and 5 in Africa.

How much of an amenity "hyperstores" are can be debated; the same arguments against them are those made against Wal-Mart (they drive traditional, established stores out of business, exploit workers, exert unfair pressure on vendors of their merchandise, etc.). I have been to Carrefour stores in France but never to one of their "hyperstores" there, but I did go to one in a suburb of Madrid, Spain in 1988 (where Carrefour operates under the name "Pryca"--Precio y Calidad: "Price and Quality"). I was amazed at its vast capacity--it was like a Safeway, Target, Home Depot, and Best Buy all rolled into one.

Chew on those thoughts a bit, you French haters.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The French presidential election

Va, Ségolène, je te soutiens! (Go, Ségolène, I support you!)

The first round (le premier tour) of the French presidential election will be held on Sunday, April 22nd. Unless one of the several candidates wins a majority in the first round (which isn't likely to happen this time), there will be a second run-off between the two top candidates on May 6th.

Why do I support Ségolène Royal, the Socialist (female) candidate? I am not a socialist. I support her for an irrational reason (just as my wife, and many other women, like or dislike people in the news).

First, because she was born at a French army base in Ouakam, outside of Dakar, Sénégal, in what was then French West Africa, on September 22, 1953. I was living and working in Dakar at the time--I worked there for Texaco, the international oil company, from January 1953 to October 1954 (part of which time I lived at Kilomètre 5, route de Ouakam).

Second, she has a really cool website , in which she uses the informal "thou" and "thee" (tutoiement) with the voters she is trying to win. I have mixed feelings about such use in languages other than English (see my 4/25/06 posting No "thou" and "thee" in English), but I like it from her.

Imagine, Madame la Présidente, the first woman president of France.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Virginia Tech tragedy

The tragic killing on the Virginia Tech campus on April 16th made me think back to my college days. The event brought an irony to mind: Even with a campus police force at Virginia Tech (which all colleges have these days), the horrible killing rampage took place; however, during my years at the University of North Carolina in the 1940's, there was no campus police force there. Any need for police services on the campus was provided by local police; I think the same was true on most college campuses of that era (in 1949-50 I lived near the Columbia University campus in New York City, and don't remember seeing any police force there).

One can perceive that life in general is more dangerous today than in times past--but one who has been around for awhile can also reflect on the vast changes that have taken place during his life span. The evolution from no campus police to professionally-administered campus police forces is just one of those changes. Another reflection: during the time I lived in New York close to Columbia, I would walk back and forth through Morningside Park alone at night to the 125th Street subway station in Harlem. Not only did I do that, but a girlfriend at the time did the same thing. I wouldn't do that today even in daylight.

As I have commented in earlier postings, the widespread availability and use of drugs in recent times, versus a virtual absence of them in most communities in past years, seems to be a principal reason for greater danger today. I can't come up with any reason for this dreadful change in our society, especially when that society was far worse off in the 1930's (when it went through the terrible depression) and the 1940's (when World War II affected everyone's life), and when black people had far fewer opportunities in their lives.

However, there also have been changes for the better during my lifetime. For example, during my entire school years, kindergarten through college, there was racial segregation in North Carolina--I never attended school with a black person until I took some courses at Towson Univerity, in Towson, Maryland, during the 1990's. When I occasionally visit my hometown in North Carolina I have black people eating in restaurants around me, something that never happened when I was growing up there.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Easing young teenagers into romance

It was ever thus, but with a difference.

Today I saw an ad in the Baltimore Sun by Macy's, the long-time department store of the common folk, that promoted a wonderful product to ease young teenagers into romance. Here is the scene (on an almost full-page ad in color):

Hope Springs Eternal.
Spring 2007 inspires the scents that matter most.
Experience a fragrance defined
by the spirit of a new generation.

Below that introductory heading is a photo of two young teenagers, a boy with almost no facial hair (but cute little locks of his hair falling over his right temple) and a girl with long hair and lips half-open (seeming to say, "Give it to me, boy."). They are both in an embrace, wearing blue jeans (naturally); his belt is unbuckled (making it much more easy to pull down his jeans) and her jeans have no belt; not only that, but her jeans are pulled down about two inches below her navel and about a half-inch of her underpants is showing. There can be little doubt as to what is about to come (sorry, no pun intended).

But, what is this all about? It's about CKIN2U. What on earth is CKIN2U? Clearly, a pun (or, more correctly, a double entendre) is intended by the advertiser. Anyway, here is what the ad says it is:

CKIN2U, new from Calvin Klein
For the first time from ck, new fragrance, one for him, one for her.
Fresh but warm; a tension that creates sexiness.

Rewind back 65 years: Life for teenagers was tough. I had to do without fragrances in my early amorous exploits. But, that's life, modernity moves on.

P.S. The "Eau de Toilette spray" has a fancy price: for "him" and for "her," the 3.4 oz. bottle is $50.00 each. When I was 15, that price would have been like a cold shower on my amorous adventures: I made $20.40 working a 40-hour week to cut undergrowth with a bush axe in preparation to build an army camp six months after Pearl Harbor. But I managed OK without a fragrance.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fancy job descriptions

I thought I had heard all the euphemisms for job descriptions--just a few are:"ingress/egress engineer" for a doorman, "roofing technician" for a guy who replaces shingles, "transportation director" for a person who waves taxicabs forward in a cab rank and puts waiting passengers in them, "cosmetic counselor" for a person (usually a woman) who works in the cosmetics section of a department store. But I recently learned of another one.

For some time, as a volunteer, I have been tutoring men at the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore. I tutor some one-on-one and others in a group; they are all men who have been addicted to drugs and/or alcohol and are in the Mission's recovery program. I tutor them in the "three R's"; some want to become able to pass the GED tests to get a high school diploma, while others just want to improve their life skills in order to get more out of life and to improve their job prospects.

One man with whom I am working told me that he is job hunting. He showed me one lead that he was working on: it was described in a bulletin from an employment agency as openings for "floor technicians" in local hospitals and government buildings. When I asked him what "floor technicians" do, he told me that they clean the floors, empty trash, and clean bathrooms. Didn't we used to call them "janitors?"

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My apologies to Presidents Coolidge and Hoover

Recently during a conversation with a man probably 15-20 years my junior, that gentleman commented, "George Bush is the worst president in my lifetime," whereupon I responded, "The same for me." But then I remembered that, during the first two years of my life, Calvin Cooolidge was president and, over the next four years, it was Herbert Hoover; history has generally characterized those two men as less than great presidents. So, I added, "But maybe Bush is not as bad as those two."

Somewhat later, I checked Presidential Leadership*, a book which contains a review of each of the 42 presidents who preceded George Bush by one of a selected university professor in the fields of political science, history, and law; in addition to these reviews, 78 individuals in those fields rated each president, from best to worst. (George Bush was reviewed based on his accomplishments during the first three years of his presidency, shortly after which time the book was published, but was not rated because of the lack of his full tenure at that time. Likewise, two of the presidents who died shortly after taking office were not rated: William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, exactly one month after taking office, and James Abram Garfield was assassinated on September 19, 1881, after just six months in office. Thus, 39 of the presidents were rated.)

* published by Dow Jones & Co., New York 2004, edited by James Taranto, of The Wall Street Journal, and and Leonard Leo, of The Federalist Society, 291 pages.

In reading the review of Coolidge by John O. McGinnis, a professor of law at Northwestern University, I found the the following comments:

Historical evaluations of presidents consistently underrate Calvin Coolidge...The reason for such slights is wholly ideological: Coolidge provided (at least until Ronald Reagan) the most effective presidential defense of limited government in the twentieth century.

The harsh ideological judgment of Coolidge has also relied on a false stereotype of his political views and ignored his many virtues that transcend partisan politics.

Coolidge provides a model for the kind of leader needed in a republic: honest, modest, and shrewd.

Coolidge was ranked 25th from the top of the 39 who were rated.

Likewise, Hoover was also spoken of kindly by Robert H. Ferrell, history professor at Indiana University. Some of that reviewer's comments are:

We should expect Herbert Hoover to get a heavy amount of criticism. After all, the Great Depression started on his watch...President Hoover deserves better. Consider his philosophy of government, which is largely accepted today...Alas, most scholars of the presidency have chosen to remember the gibes about Hoover, who was in fact a great public servant whose service spanned five decades. He deserves better from history.

Hoover was ranked 29th of the 39.

I have a faint recollection of "Hoover carts." That name was applied to automobiles which had been converted into mule-drawn vehicles by their owners who were supposedly so destitute during the Great Depression of the 1930s that they were unable to buy gasoline for them or to maintain them. I don't recall exactly how the conversion took place--did the owners just hook up a mule to the front bumper, or was some kind of surgery done to the hood? I don't remember, but I do remember a "Hoover cart" parade passing my house in the small North Carolina town where I grew up. That event was probably during the 1932 presidential campaign and was likely the effort of Democratic strategists in support of Franklin Roosevelt. I imagine the "Hoover cart" term itself was dreamed up by those political operatives.

So, after reading the reviews of Presidents Coolidge and Hoover--even though realizing that each represented the opinion of just one individual reviewer--I feel that I do owe an apology to the memory of those two men in thinking that they might have been worse than George Bush.

The three highest-rated presidents were George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, in that order. The three lowest were Franklin Pierce and Warren Harding, tied for 37-38, and James Buchanan, the worst at 39th.

If the book Presidential Leadership is updated some time after January 20, 2009, it will be interesting to see whether James Buchanan or George W. Bush gets the 40th spot.

However, a higher power will eventually have to rank Bush. I quote from my blog posting "The Worst President in History?" of 5/20/06, in which I wrote about a magazine article with that title, written by a Princeton professor. I added the following comment in that posting.

Since he professes to be a faithful believer in the Divinity, when he passes on to meet his Maker, Bush had better be prepared to explain away his personal responsibility for the tens of thousands of American military personnel and Iraqi civilians killed and gravely wounded, as well as the thousands more of ordinary Iraqis whose lives have been made miserable during the war and its aftermath.

Something gets lost in translation

Below are three translations of a paragraph from a front-page story in the 3/25/07 issue of The New York Times–one translation each by"Systran," "GoogleTranslate," ( and "Free2Professional Translation" ( ( In each, I translated first from the English text to French, and then from that French translation back into English. ("Systran" is a program which I bought–it sits in my browser and translates,upon command, any text that I have on the monitor screen from a newspaper, magazine, or other source that I have accessed on the Internet from one designated language to another; the other two are free programs in which the user copies and pastes whatever is on his screen and then designates another language that he wants it translated into.)

Something indeed did get lost in each translation.

The original text

An international regulatory system created after the war has prevented diamonds from fueling conflicts and financing terrorist networks. Even so, diamond mining in Sierra Leone remains a grim business that brings the government far too little revenue to right the devastated country, yet feeds off the desperation of some of the world’s poorest people. "The process is more to sanitize the industry from the market side rather than the supply side," said John Kanu, a policy adviser to the Integrated Diamond Management Program, a United States-backed effort to improve the government’s handling of diamond money. "To make it so people could go to buy a diamond ring and to say, ‘Yes, because of this system, there are no longer any blood diamonds. So my love, and my conscience, can sleep easily.’’’

So that anyone who knows French can see the translation from the English into the French, I am reproducing below that from "GoogleTranslate." (The repetition of the accented vowels wasn’t in the translation itself, but it only happened when I pasted it below.) The other two translations were approximately the same.

Un systèème de normalisation international créééé aprèès que la guerre ait empêêchéé des diamants de remplir de combustible des conflits et de financer des rééseaux de terroriste. Nééanmoins, le diamant extrayant en Sierra Leone reste des affaires sinistres qui apportent au gouvernement loin trop peu de revenu vers la droite le pays déévastéé, pourtant alimente outre du déésespoir de certaines des plus pauvres personnes du monde. «« Le processus est plus pour aseptiser l'industrie du côôtéé du marchéé plutôôt que le côôtéé de l'offre, »» a dit John Kanu, un conseiller de politique au programme intéégréé de gestion de diamant, un effort ÉÉtat-soutenu uni d'amééliorer la manipulation du gouvernement de l'argent de diamant. «« Lui faire ainsi des personnes pourrait aller acheter un anneau de diamant et pour dire, le `oui, en raison de ce systèème, làà ne sont plus aucun diamant de sang. Ainsi mon amour, et ma conscience, peuvent dormir facilement. '''

Just look at the screwups above in the French translation:

–"fueling conflicts" gets translated as combustible, the kind of fuel that you put in your car or in your furnace at home.

–"to right the devastated country" gets translated as vers la droite le pays dévasté, "toward the right (the right-hand side) the devastated country."

–"feeds off the desperation..." gets translated as alimente outre du..., "feeds besides..."

–"a United States-backed effort" gets translated as État-soutenu uni, "State-supported united."

Translation by "Google Translate."

An international system of standardization created after the war prevented diamonds from filling of fuel of the conflicts and to finance networks of terrorist. Nevertheless, diamond extracting in Sierra Leone however remains sinister businesses which bring to the government far not enough income towards the line the devastated country, feeds in addition to despair of some of the poorest people of the world. ""The process is more to asepticize the industry on the side of the market rather than the side of the offer,"" said John Kanu, an adviser of policy to the integrated programme of diamond management, a plain State-constant effort to improve handling of the government of the diamond money. ""To make Him people thus could go to buy a ring of diamond and for saying, the `yes, because of this system, there are not any more any diamond of blood. Thus my love, and my conscience, can sleep easily. '''

Translation by "Systran"

International year regulatory system created after the war has prevented diamonds from fueling conflicts and financing terrorist networks. Even so, diamond mining in Sierra Leone remains has grim business that brings the government far too little returned to right the devastated country, yet feeds off the desperation off nap off the world' S poorest people. ""The process is more to sanitize the industry from the market side rather than the supply side,"" said John Kanu, has policy adviser to the Integrated Diamond Management Program, has United States-backed effort to improve the government' S handling off diamond money. ""To make it so people could go to buy has diamond boxing ring and to say, ""Yes, because off this system, there are No to skirt any blood diamonds. So my coils, and my conscience, edge sleep easily.""

Translation by "Free2Profesioinal Translation."

A regulating international created system after the war prevented from diamonds of supplies conflicts and financing terrorist networks. Even if, the diamond extracts in Sierra leone remains a threatening matters that brings the government returned it far too small to the right the devastated country, nourishes nevertheless despair of certain ones of the people of the poorest world. "The procedure is more to disinfect the industry of the side of the market instead of the provision side," John Kanu says, a counselor of political one to the Direction Program of Integrated Diamond, an United States Supported the effort to improve the government checks diamond money. "To do it if the people could go to buy a diamond ring and say, 'Yes, because of this system, there is longer more any blood diamonds. Therefore my love, and my conscience, can sleep easily'.

With the amazing progress that has been made in synthesized voice and other digitized communication tools, it would not be surprising one day to see idiomatic translations between languages by websites such as those above, just as those made by human interpreters. But that day is not yet here.

It's Rudy again

Back in 2000 I received a message from Rudy Giuliani, mailed to my home in Maryland, urging me to contribute money to his planned campaign against Hillary Clinton for a Senate seat from New York state. That campaign never happened because he later found that he had prostate cancer, which forced him to abandon it.

At the time, I wondered why he would think that I might so contribute since I was not a resident of New York state. I also wondered how his campaign workers got my name; I guessed that they got it from the registry of a hotel in the Wall Street area of New York city, where I stayed numerous times when I was working as a consultant for a client in the area. They must have figured that anyone staying at that hotel must have been both a moneybags and a staunch Republican, who would gladly contribute to Giuliani's campaign fund even though they couldn't vote for him.

Now Rudy's at it again--this time in his campaign for the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election. I just received the following e-mail from him.

Dear Friend,

Click Here tojoin Team Rudy today.
I am running for President because when I look to the future, I see a country where Americans are confident our nation is in control of its destiny. I believe in solving problems through strength, not weakness – from optimism, not pessimism. I am passionate about seizing our opportunity and sharing a vision of how America can be better. I'm emailing you because you are someone who makes up your mind early. You are influential in your community, and it would mean so much to have you join my team as one of its founding members.

Pictured here is your First Edition Team Rudy Member Card. I'd be honored if you'd activate it and help me run a strong campaign with your gift.

Blah, blah, blah.

I don't know, Rudy, I'll have to think about voting for you--but forget the gift to your campaign.



Location: United States

Mycroft Watson is the nom de plume of a man who has seen many winters. He is moderate to an extreme. When he comes to a fork in the road, he always takes it. His favorite philosopher is Yogi Berra. He has come out of the closet and identified himself. Anyone interested can get his real name, biography, and e-mail address by going to "Google Search" and keying in "User:Marshall H. Pinnix" (case sensitive).

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