Archive for May, 2009

None Dare Call It Racism

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’ve been following a number of political Twitter people on Twitter lately. Some on the right and some on the left. For the most part the people on the right have really be upsetting me because they go over the top a lot. But today I read a Tweet by Newt Gingrich that got me thinking. He said “Imagine a judicial nominee said "my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman" new racism is no better than old racism

I mean really just imagine a white man saying that his race and gender better qualified him for a position on the Supreme Court. What would be the reaction? Would he be forced to withdraw his name from consideration? I have no doubt that he would.

Now as I understand it what Judge Sotomayor actually said was a Latina would often "reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life." Yes I can see that a person’s life experience would influence how they decide cases. I’m not sure that different always implies better or worse though. Was her statement racist? Would it be racist if a white man said he could “reach a better conclusion than a Latina/black/woman who hasn’t lived the life” I think who many who would agree with Judge Sotomayor on the first statement would be quick to damn the white man for the second statement. Am I wrong? Who would be willing to defend both those cases?

Personally I am not willing to write someone off as a racist on the basis of one statement that I don’t have full context for. It doesn’t matter to me if it is Sotomayer or some white guy. I want to know context and I want to look at a broader history. But if I don’t hear some Democrats expressing some concern about that statement and asking some tough questions about it I will view them negatively.

I should say that at least one left wing friend of mine once insisted that only people with power could be racist. That a person who was out of power (say a black person or a Hispanic person) could never logically be called racist. I find that argument preposterous and completely lacking in credibility. But you know I would also hardly call a Federal judge powerless or less powerful than the average person of any ethnic/racial/gender group no matter their own race/gender/ethnicity. People of all races, gender, religion and ethnic background can be racists. We don’t want racists in positions of power no matter who they are.

I’m predisposed to like Sotomayor because she was first appointed by George H W Bush and she’s from New York. Yeah some bias there. I am impressed with much of her personal story. Her race and gender are pretty much meaningless to me. For the most part though I see myself as being open-minded on this nomination. As with any appointee to the Supreme Court I expect the Senate to do a pretty through and non-biased review before confirmation.  I always hate to see these things fall on pure party lines.

Bags and Protecting The Environment

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

A while back we started using canvas bags at the supermarket. Our local supermarket was giving people a nickel credit for each reusable bag they brought with them. That made it pretty cheap to buy a couple of these bags and keep them in the car. Over time we acquired more of these bags. Some of the bags we are using are from conferences I have attended. Often times they give each attendee a canvas bag with all the handouts for the conference and for people to  carry stuff they pick up in the exhibit hall. What to do with them afterwards? Well using them for shopping works out very well.

More recently we have been bringing these bags into all sorts of stores. First Wal-Mart and other food stores but lately even clothing stores and, well, just about any store we go to. The reception from store clerks has been overwhelmingly positive. The one surprise is that older clerks seem to see this as more positive than younger people.

The younger people are just in the habit of mindlessly using the plastic bags they have from the store. The older people seem to more actively think about what they are doing. Those people recognize the value of reusable shopping bags for the environment and for reducing waste in general.

But the real plus is that we feel good about what we are doing. There is no doubt that we are saving the world 100s of plastic bags and the environmental costs of those sorts of bags. And you know what? Those canvas bags are easier to use than the plastic bags as well. One can carry more stuff more easily in them with less fear of bags ripping and spilling their contents. So it’s all good.

Recycling Is An Old Thing

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

One of the things I do at museums is read that signs next to the things on exhibit. Silly I know. But one learns a lot from those little signs. One of the things I have learned over the years is that people have been recycling since before written history. Perhaps they haven’t been doing it quite the same way we think of it all the time but they have been doing it. And this has interesting consequences.

Take for example the coliseum in Rome. Do you know why it is in ruins? over the years the coliseum fell into disuse and was no longer being maintained. So people started recycling. They took stones and bricks from there to build other things. In fact most ancient cities and buildings were built in part with materials recycled from earlier cities and buildings. The only way to avoid that was for a structure to remain in continuous use until more modern times.

And then there is the case of tapestries. Old drafty castles and what not had huge woven tapestries to help keep them warm, decorated and less drafty. Not many of these have survived into the modern era. Why? Well because over time people needed money so they burned the tapestries. This allowed them to recover the gold and silver from the treads that were woven into the material. In fact with gold it is estimated that some percentage of all gold ever mined well into the upper 90 percent is still being used. It has just been recycled time and time again.

Which brings me to a more local example. You may have seen a bowl or other piece of silver worked by Paul Revere. This is not because he was the most prolific or even the most talented colonial era silversmith. Rather it is because he was famous for his Revolutionary War exploits. Most silversmiths of the era had their work melted down and recycled over time. As people run into money shortages or perhaps got tired of a pattern or their needs changed it was quite common to have silver and pewter melted down and reworked into something else. More recycling.

So over the years we have lost many things of potentially great historic value because of recycling. Is that bad? Someone else will have to answer that question. But I think today we think carefully before we turn one things into another. Clearly aluminum cans are not worth saving in any great numbers. Buildings are a more tricky matter. But the fact remains that recycling may be a big thing today but it is by no means a new thing.

About My Internet Addiction

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I think it is widely accepted that I have something of an addiction to the Internet. Email, blogs, twitter, IM, and so forth. I find it very hard to put them aside and ignore them. But I have come to a point where I would sort of like to break that cycle. There are two problems with that.

One is that I just can’t afford to ignore some of that. Most of my work information including things to do and meeting requests comes by email. Most of my training is online. If I ignore it than it rapidly becomes too much to deal with at once. So I keep up with it all the time. Could I do it less often? Yes, and to some extent I am doing that. But I can’t shut it off completely.

The other is that I am something of a knowledge junky. That is I am also addicted to knowing what is going on. I have found that I can be away from the news for longer periods of time so that gives me some hope that I could break free from the Internet if work didn’t keep requiring connections.

The real question is do I want to break the addiction. Actually the answer is yes. I just don’t see a way to do it short of retirement or at the very least finding some other job. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

You Can Call Me Al

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

I had a conversation with a salesperson one time that got off to a bad start. Very often sales types start off by trying to move much too quickly to a level of intimacy that they are not really entitled to. This guy was no exception. He started off and without taking a breath said something like “Hello Alfred. Your friends call you Al? Can I call you Al?”

I replied that “My friends call me Alfred but you can call me Al.” It threw him off his game which made me very happy.

I don’t go by “Al.” And if fact I know very few people named “Alfred” who like “Al” as a nickname/diminutive.  Many of them put up with it anyway (my Dad does) just because it is the path of least resistance. I never have. “Al” is short for “Allen/Alan” or “Albert” but it is not, in my mind, short for “Alfred.”  “Alf” is short for “Alfred” and I’m a lot more accepting of that though few people use it for me. Those people are almost all close family and I don’t generally invite people to use “Alf.”

I find that people generally want to be addressed by the name they introduce themselves with. I introduce myself as “Alfred.” And that is the name I recognize as mine. In fact one time I was walking though a mall with friends and one of them said “I think that person is calling you.” It turned out that someone I knew (a more or less work relationship) was calling me but they were calling “Al.” I would no more hear that as someone calling me than I would if they have been calling “Charley.”

Speaking of “Charley” I once worked with a salesman who insisted on calling one person we called on for business as “Charley.” He introduced himself as “Charles” and all his co-workers called him “Charles.” I pointed this out one day and the salesmen blew it off saying “he likes being called “Charley.” It didn’t seem that way to me but well we didn’t get the business. Was that a factor? Who knows. But I do know that someone who calls me “Al” is pretty unlikely to get my business.

More Things I Just Don’t Get

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Dreadlocks – Just plain ugly. Yes I know these people wash their hair and just don’t  brush it. Still it looks really gross to me.

Tattoos – I keep hearing that some of them are beautiful but those much all be hidden from me. I guess it is the permanence of it all that bothers me. There is no room to change your mind.

Men in shorts – To me shorts have always been something men wear to participate in sports. Basketball, swimming, tennis, etc. Once you are done you should put on some pants. If it is too hot to go outside without shorts than stay inside. But seriously it is never ever too hot to go out in long pants. Period.

Acquired Taste – I hear this about several things. A related term is “You have to develop a taste for it.” Why should I bother? Is it wonderfully good for me? Will it make me live forever? If not there are plenty of things I like the first time I taste them. If there is nothing else available maybe I will, of necessity, develop a taste for some of these things. Until them I will avoid them. I’m more concerned about what negative effects most of these things have and how developing a taste for these things will mess with my enjoyment of things I currently like.

Crying Children at Disney World

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

I made the comment on Twitter last week that if you have a crying child at Disney World that you are doing it wrong. A gross generalization of course but generally true I think. There are a number of reasons that children cry at Disney World (and other similar places) and most are relatively easy to handle and even avoid.

Tired – A lot of kids just get over tired on this vacations. Their parents are paying big money and they want to wring every possible second out of the trip that they can. Unfortunately children get tired. Parents should know their kids limits and break for a nap (or naps) during the day. Staying on the park grounds is wonderful for this. We always used to take an afternoon break for a nap when we traveled with a young child. This is also good advice when traveling with someone who is old too.

Hungry – Feed the poor kid. And feed them something they like. Vacation is not the time to force a child to learn to like something new. There is no fun in that for anyone.

Scared – Some kids are afraid of some rides or characters. Why force them? Take them away from the scary character. Maybe next year they will not be afraid and you can get that great picture. Why take a picture of a scared and crying child?

They want something – First off children should learn the word “no” long before they can walk or talk. They should also know that crying will not get them something. So that you have to do long before the vacation. If all that fails don’t take them into the shops. OK that is hard when the gift shop has to be walked through to get back out of the building. But move quickly and promptly at least. If a child is a nag don’t give them a lot of time to browse.

Also set some limits. Give them a budget if they are old enough to handle that. Let them choose what they want to spend their limit on. And if they still cry – nap time!

Baby stuff – Maybe they need a diaper change. Change them. Maybe they are too hot. Take them in some air conditioned place. Maybe hungry – bottle time! On second thought if they are too small to really enjoy or even remember Disney maybe it is too early to take them.