Saturday, December 14, 2002

Another senator in trouble

Courtesy of Greg Hlatky, whose "A Dog's Life" blog is a year old now.

Yes, I do wear clothes

I swear this happened. I just looked up a book on Amazon, and of course it had to pitch some other stuff to me. But then I saw "Customers who wear clothes also shop for:" Methinks a programmer is having some fun.

A buddy and I worked in billing for a large firm once and had made some modifications to a module that applied federal, state and local taxes. For testing, we created some dummy taxes in a test environment. Originally they had names that were, uh, highly partisan, and we laughed about it. Then a supervisor allowed that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. So we changed them to "competence tax" and "gratuitous tax". We had also set the rates very high so we wouldn't have to finagle a lot of data to make their effects show up.

And it's a good thing we did, because some moron grabbed those dummy taxes and put them into production. Next thing we know account managers are getting calls from customers asking about $50,000 of "competence tax" on their bill. Most of them were amused by the names, which I would hope that any idiot could recognize as BS. We let people know what had happened as quickly as we could, and near as I can tell no lasting harm was done. We did thank our lucky stars that the original names had been changed though.

There really weren't any repercussions for my partner or me because we hadn't done anything wrong (we didn't even have access to the production file in question). But we kept our heads down for a while and got very busy cleaning up the data and creating the right accounting entries for reversal.

And when nobody was watching, laughing our tails off.

A stand-up guy?

There weren't any car wrecks around, so I turned on the TV. It was actually late enough that I found myself tuned to Maury. He was running a "where are they now?" segment following up on past episodes with the theme "I have another shocking secret to tell you!". I had a lot of catching up to do.

One segment showed a couple where the woman had two secrets. #1 was she was sleeping around, and #2 was that she wasn't sure that the child she and her boyfriend (or might have been hubby - I wasn't paying enough attention) were raising was his. Then they showed the results of the paternity test. He lost.

Then of course was the emotional payoff. Sobs and hugs all around backstage. Yep, "daddy" was going to support her kid, blah blah and Maury decreed him a "standup guy".

No, in fact you're a sucker. You're hanging around with a faithless slut who'll breed you into the poorhouse if you stick around.

Then again, you're attached to a kid who didn't do anything to deserve this. What to do?

Then Maury follows up. Who should show up on stage but the guy and the baby. Where is mom? Gone. Well buddy, I guess you're alright after all - you're the best chance that boy will ever have. As for her, time wounds all heels.

And he could have done worse. For some time now judges have been holding men accountable for child support for kids not their own. Sometimes prosecutors play dirty tricks - far better that innocent men should get screwed over than some govt body should deliver on its welfare state promises.

Well, there is one way out.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Once innocent

I'll bet you've never heard of the Bund Deutscher Mädel. It's an innocent enough name - "Association of German Girls". Then again, once upon a time you might have said the same thing about their brother organization, the "Hitler Youth".

Ach, Hitler! Has anyone in history been so demonized? That must be the price he paid for losing WWII. Otherwise we can't account for the comparatively more benign reputations enjoyed by the even more murderous Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong, neither of whose names have become such worldwide epithets.

Nowadays perhaps only "racist" can compare to "Nazi" as a political insult. But Hitler didn't just show up one day and take over. Many saw his National Socialist German Worker's Party (Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP) as an alternative to other forms of socialism such as the various Communist groups (whose parties had names remarkable similar to Hitler's). He was the highly visible leader of what was from 1931 on the was the largest party in Germany, and he worked through existing political structures in the beginning. When the opportunity arose to consolidate power, he took it.

We'll never know how many voters stayed home during Hitler's rise out of "principle". Or maybe they said "my vote doesn't count".

Once Hitler had consolidated power, then what was the ordinary German to do? The police were beyond their control, and informers were everywhere. That old man who always looked out the window and waved at you? - he saw you talking to that non-Aryan the other day and wrote it down for his masters. Even well connected military men failed in attempts to kill Hitler.

Maybe on your way to a vacation in Munich you rode past Dachau and asked your father what it was. He told you that it was just an internment camp for foreigners, and you have no reason to believe he doesn't believe it himself. It was only after the war that the local officials were taken to tour the concentration camps.

And they were lectured:
Though you claim no knowledge of these acts you are still individually and collectively responsible for these atrocities, for they were committed by a government elected to office by yourselves in 1933 and continued in office by your indifference to organized brutality. It should be the firm resolve of the German people that never again should any leader or party bring them to such moral degradation as is exhibited here....
How scary to think of being called to account for the errors of your government because of your one vote out of tens of millions.

I expect that soon we will be going to war with Iraqis. There will be many innocent deaths, and I don't know of any way to avoid this.

But let's make sure we remember that this is about Saddam's goons and al-Qaeda, not Iraqis and Muslims.

[This post has been modified]

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Over the top songs

Alright, I can tolerate some cutesiness, schmaltz or tearjerking in a song, but some of them really jump the shark. Here are a few nominations.

One rich source is fathers singing about daughters. "White on White" is Daddy singing about daughter's wedding day, and "Butterfly Kisses" is a father recognizing his daughter is growing up. (Warning - Christian Content! - do not open in a government building or other public place lest you should destroy the wall between church and state).

A college buddy hated "I Will Be in Love With You", by James Taylor's younger brother Livingston - never mind what he used to say about it. For me it was "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill - I just want to throw a bucket of cold water on the guy. (I can't believe this - they just played it on TV in an ad with a girl and a lizard).

Then there's pathos spread with a trowel, like with the early 60's dead teenager songs. In "Teen Angel", the girl is killed when she returns to the car stalled on the railroad tracks to get her boyfriend's ring - it was written as a spoof and wound up as a hit. In "Tell Laura I Love Her" the guy is killed in a race trying to win some money for a gift for his girl. Then there was that poor girl "Patches" that they fished out of the river - who is not to be confused with "Patches" the son of a sharecropper who had to support his family at age 13. I thought there was another one where "the water ran red" or something like it - that time they should have really jumped the shark.

Bobby Vinton had a rough time - "Blue on Blue" was about a breakup and "Mr. Lonely" was a homesick soldier. Bobby Goldsboro sang of a lost wife with "Honey". Sing if you want to, guys, but IMO these pile it on too thick.

In the cutesy-poo category it helps to sing about kids. Bobby Goldsboro strikes again with "Watching Scotty Grow". Clint Holmes has "Playground in My Mind". I'm sure there are more, but I don't want to think about them.

Here is another set of selections. Or if you like annoying songs, look here.

Ha - now I've reminded you of all of these songs (if you'll admit to knowing them - they'll date you). The only way to get even is to make some counterproposals in the comments.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Why, they're just misunderstood!

Missouri apparently has these periodic meetings between assorted state prison inmates and various surviving victims and their families. The most recent one permitted access to the media and they showed it a week or so ago.

My overall impression was that it was phonier than a $3 bill. The prisoners spoke in counselor-speak, and generally didn't come off as representative of the prison population at large.

It's too bad John Gacy wasn't there:
It is no surprise that John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was admired and liked by most who had known him. He was a sharp businessman who had spent his time, when not building up his contracting company, hosting elaborate street parties for friends and neighbors, dressing as a clown and entertaining children at local hospitals and immersing himself in organizations such as the Jaycees, working to make his community a better place to live. People who knew Gacy thought of him as a generous, friendly and hard-working man, devoted to his family and community....During a three-year-period, Gacy went on to viciously torture, rape and murder more than thirty other young men, who would later be discovered under the floorboards of his home and in the local river.

Or how about Ted Bundy?
Some thirty-six women may have fallen prey to Bundy, but only he knew for sure.
But then
Ted was a man with a mission. He re-enrolled at the University of Washington and studied psychology, a subject in which he excelled. Bundy became an honors student and was well liked by his professors at the university.
What a fine citizen - anybody can make a mistake, right?

IMO Missouri is making a mistake. People might get the wrong message, concluding that "these guys don't seem so bad".

When the right message is "I can't trust my judgment - juries found these fiends guilty of horrible crimes".

These are a few of my favorite things

I forgot to turn off the TV again. And I just saw an ad for a show tonight on A&E, called "Cleavage". 9PM Eastern, 8PM Central.

And who could think of cleavage without thinking of Julie Andrews? About 99.99999% of the human race, I'm betting - she was "Mary Poppins", for crying out loud. As her husband Blake Edwards supposedly joked, "she has lilacs for pubic hair". But she decided to go against type by going topless in the movie "S. O. B.", and somehow I just had to work that in.

That settles it - I've run out of things to write about. See ya.

Scots-Irish in the US

I don't know how reliable this information is, but I found it interesting.

This is a brief history of the Scots-Irish from their origins to the US and elsewhere.

This tells of the purported origins of such words as "redneck", "cracker", "hillbilly", and "gringo".

Poor Pam

It was 20+ years ago, but I believe her name was Pam. Being one of the few women in my engineering classes, I knew who she was. One glance told me she was strongly Scots-Irish.

Well, what I really thought was 'hillbilly'. Because many of the settlers of rural mountain communities were Scots-Irish, and at the time I didn't know enough to distinguish between the two.

She had to have been smart or she wouldn't have been there - getting in as an out of state student cost at least an extra 100+ SAT points on each test. And she was in a big city at a major university instead of back home in what I believe was southwestern Virginia. Things were changing for Pam.

But then one fall she didn't return to the campus. According to the campus newspaper, back at home that summer she broke up with her long-term boyfriend. And he killed her.

Feminists would want to think of this as a male-violence thing, but to me it was about something else that nobody wants to talk about. Poor whites.

Although whites as a group are more affluent than blacks, there have always been more poor whites than poor blacks. But they usually don't live in urban areas, so they don't show up on TV except as exhibits on "Jerry Springer" (but they'd better not show up in blackface, huh?). They're diffused, so they don't have any influence, and they're too hard to mobilize on Election Day. They too have poor school systems that tend to keep them back home, where there's little opportunity. They often have associates that tend to pull them back down when they try to escape their rural ghettoes.

But they have no excuses. Poor blacks are there because they're kept down by the Man. Poor whites have all the advantages of course - they're white, aren't they?

And if you craft a political appeal to them, just watch the accusations roll in. Do you think they're racist? If so, what does that supposition say about you?

All of you who are so !@#$ sensitive to what you inferred Trent Lott might have meant with his silly throwaway line at a party a few days ago - see if you can't be as demanding the next time you hear references to "rednecks", or "crackers", or "hillbillies", or just plain old "white trash".

We miss you, Pam.

Heh heh

The spammer, spammed. From The Dodd.

Sunday, December 08, 2002

But they don't like lynching

This is what was published in The Note, which has been harped upon all over the blogs lately:
Here is what Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, said yesterday at Senator Strom Thurmond's birthday party, according to ABCNEWS' O'Keefe. "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

There is, as you might recall, an election in the Bayou tomorrow, where African-American turnout is crucial to the chances of Democratic incumbent Landrieu. Maybe Lott was being jocular. But a plain reading of what he said did generate some anger:

Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights told ABCNEWS' Douglass: "This was an offensive and blatant attempt to rewrite the history of the last 50 years" … "Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat, a segregationist. He gave the longest filibuster in history to try to stop passage of the Civil Rights Act. In his statement today, Lott also embraced those dubious achievements." ..'Lott betrayed his role as the Majority Leader of all Americans."
Good grief.

Lott certainly made a mistake, and probably cost a Senate seat in Louisiana. Anybody with real world experience ought to know that race baiters will seize upon anything, especially on the eve of an election.

The Note blurb said that "a plain reading of what he said did generate some anger". No, it took the addition of a lot of context on an occasion where Thurmond was retiring after long service. To make an issue of this is akin to using the Martin Luther King holiday as an occasion to air the gentleman's FBI file. As Jack Kennedy might have said, "No class".

And what was the context? That Thurmond was running as Presidential candidate for the States' Rights party, which overtly favored segregation. In retrospect it's refreshingly honest - few politicians were willing to be forthright about what was in fact was a common sentiment in Congress and throughout the country at the time.

So IMO the fuss by liberals is nothing but the usual race-baiting. And the fuss by conservatives is about getting a chance to posture while ridding themselves of a man who many found a disappointment as Senate Majority Leader.

The other nine-tenths (subscribers only) are capable of being gracious while acknowledging the service of a 100 year old, changed man.

Sasha send-off

In a move that will ruin our balance of trade for generations to come, La Blogatrice Sasha Castel is moving to the UK with fiance and blog cohabitant Andrew Ian Dodge. What with traveling, shipping her belongings, Christmas and a marriage coming one of these days, anybody who can tell their ass from their elbow ought to be chipping in to her tipjar generously.

But it gets better. Slip her a sawbuck and the saponiferous but never soporific Sasha will say "Mille grazie!" (That's "thanks a bunch" in Italian to you monolinguals out there.) by making you your very own bar of soap. Where else can you find an offer like that?

Good luck you two. And this time let's see a real Blogchild.

The truth about communism

The story of communism holds a malign fascination for me, so I've always made it my business to stay informed. However, there is much dross out there, and Communists are nothing if not good propagandists. So I've assembled a list of books on various topics to make it easier to know what *really* happened.

For broad strokes, one interesting recent work is "Heaven on Earth - the Rise and Fall of Socialism" by Joshua Muravchik. In the words of a cover blurb, "Socialism was man's most ambitious attempt to supplant religion with a doctrine claiming to be rational and 'scientific'". Muravchik follows the different strands wherever they lead through the present day.

Another interesting survey is "The Black Book of Communism". The authors trace the deadly legacy of Communism around the world in unsparing terms.

Some countries' experiences were particularly interesting. In "Spain Betrayed" we find out much about the Spanish Civil War which the left would prefer to have hidden. "A Twilight Struggle - American Power and Nicaragua 1977-1990" is about those left-wing darlings, the Sandinistas. "The Great Terror" is about the Russian experience. And "Hungry Ghosts" is set in China and talks of Mao's famines - they were so severe that peasants were driven to eating babies.

For the US experience, "Not Without Honor" is about American anticommunism, warts and all. "Hollywood Party" is about Communist efforts to take over movie studios. The legend of the Hollywood Ten is so deeply entrenched that diehards felt it necessary to disrespect Elia Kazan at his lifetime achievement award half a century later.

That great leftist bogeyman Joe McCarthy deserves an item of his own. He led a charge against Communists in government that was resisted with partisan fury by the long-incumbent Democrats. For a while he was a popular politician who owned an issue of great public concern. However, he had a drinking problem and he did not know how to handle that then-new technology called television. These shortcomings led to a loss of public support and subsequent censure by the Senate when his own party was in the majority. But in fact the US government was riddled with Communists and sympathisers, to the point where FDR dumped then Vice President Henry Wallace in favor of Harry Truman. Read more about it in "Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator" Challenge question - can you name anyone McCarthy accused of being a Communist who was not a Communist?

Communists learned a long time ago that they could not be truthful and still be successful - truth was defined as what served the Party. So Gus Hall's Communist Party of the US always denied they were associated with the USSR, Alger Hiss still has defenders, and prominent anticommunists are smeared at every opportunity. But the truth will out, and all sorts of interesting revelations emerged after the Cold War when Soviet archives were opened to researchers. This information led to books such as "The Secret World of American Communism", "The Soviet World of American Communism", and "Venona - Decoding Soviet Espionage in America".

For a more personal look, IMO the best book is "Witness", by Whitaker Chambers. More contemporary books are "Commies" by Ronald Radosh and "Radical Son" by David Horowitz. You can also catch up with Horowitz here.

That ought to keep you busy for a while. Failing that, here and here are Amazon lists with much more.