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  • Archive for the 'Personal Narrative' Category

    25 Stories About Work – Lost Productivity and Typing

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 23rd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Vermont, the early 1990s

    When I was interviewing for my first job I had a chance to visit IBM in Burlington, Vermont. At the time IBM had a large contingent of workers and management staff at that location. On an unrelated note, IBM still has about 4000 workers in the state, and recently offered a company $1B TO TAKE THEM OFF THEIR HANDS. To confirm, they were willing to sell this business for negative one billion dollars (to quote Dr. Evil). And the sad thing is that the “buying” company wanted IBM to PAY THEM two billion, so they rejected the “offer”. Read about it here.

    I had been on a plane maybe once or twice previously and was completely clueless about what to do. I packed my bags and took a cab to the hotel. In the morning, before my interview, I got into the shower and turned on the water. I did not think to check what the temperature was before I got into the shower and it happened to be set on a scalding level; I ended up falling back out of the shower, grabbing the curtain on the way down, and scattering the shower curtain rings throughout the bathroom. I wasn’t seriously hurt. To this day I always check the shower temperature while standing outside the shower stall (or tub) and I only go in when it is at an appropriate level.

    The day started out on an ignominious note (with the shower incident) and the interviews were a disaster. I think we ended the day with a discussion that maybe someday I would at least utilize IBM equipment (they were primarily a manufacturing company at that time) since it seemed obvious that I wouldn’t get a job offer in Vermont.

    What I remember most of all was the endless sea of desks. IBM had workers that manually calculated their managerial accounting reports and they sat in a giant room that seemed to go on for infinity. I don’t have a photo but in my head it looks something like this…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 8 Comments »

    Retail Therapy ‘n’ Woes

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th October 2014 (All posts by )

    With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?
    Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Personal Narrative, USA | 5 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – “Don’t Hang Up” and the Recruiter from Detroit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 19th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Champaign, early 1990s

    As I graduated from college in the early 1990s, I went through the interview process on campus. About half the companies really liked me and about half the companies hated me. I guess I was a polarizing interviewee but who knows I had little idea about what to expect in an interview or how to behave. I do remember buying a suit with my mother for about $400 which seemed like an astonishing amount of money at the time.

    In addition to the on campus recruiters, I also fielded some phone calls. Looking back before the age of cell phones it is amazing that anyone ever got in touch with anyone else – they must have called me in my dingy hellhole of an apartment in the 5 minutes that I happened to be there in between class, prepping for the CPA exam, and going out drinking. I guess we had an answering machine but I’m not even sure about that and my roommates at the time weren’t exactly the most reliable.

    I was enamored with the idea of work and getting the heck out of Champaign so I was like a happy puppy when anyone called. The joke is that I would select the last recruiter to call.

    One day I did receive a call: Hello. I’d like to talk to you about a job opportunity in the transportation industry, he said. I was interested. I was always interested. Then he said something I’ll never forget.

    The job is in Detroit. Don’t hang up!

    The recruiter combined both sentences into almost a single thought, with urgency, because he apparently was used to people instantly hanging up as soon as they heard the job opportunity was in Detroit.

    I didn’t hang up. But I surely did not pursue that opportunity. Because it was in Detroit, of course. No wonder that city went down the drain…

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 18 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Office Hoteling and the Elusive Consultant Desk

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Chicago, the ’90s…

    When I first started out as an auditor I had a tiny cube that consisted of just a desk and a chair with a big phone in a giant warren full of other cubes. There was a big bay window that let in the sun and lights far overhead. I didn’t know anything and was happy just to have a place to call my own.

    How accounting worked at the time was that you were assigned to clients and were “on the road”. If you were in the office you charged a code for down-time and struggled for something to do. You could take a training class, do research in the library, or more often than not you’d be assigned some sort of drudgery administrative work. Most of the time I ended up photocopying our audit files when clients transitioned to new auditors, which is much more work than it sounds because you had to dis-assemble the work papers, copy them, and then re-assemble the files again. The copier tended to regularly jam and you soon learned how to take that copy machine apart, as well. Not a good use of a master’s degree…

    After a while the managers learned who was good and who wasn’t and I was constantly busy as a result. We worked and traveled all the time and often I had overlapping clients, meaning that tasks I couldn’t complete onsite piled up for me at the little cube while I was at a different client. This was before any concept of telecommuting and we didn’t even have our own laptops. The only way to get work done was to show up at the office (on Saturday or Sunday, since I traveled all week) and do the remaining tasks.

    One time our office engaged in some sort of ISO process and they decided that having a “clean desk” was mandatory. So the (usually worst) staff that were in the office packed up everyone’s desk and sent it off site so that when the office tour occurred, my little rat cube was completely clear. Thus when I showed up on a Sunday a couple of weeks later to follow up on some annoying task from a parallel client, all of my papers were gone and that was an entirely wasted day. The fact that I still remember this over 20 years later shows how angry I was at this bureaucratic stupidity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – New Mexico Is Part of the United States

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 11th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    El Paso Texas, the ’90s…

    I supported a financial analytics system for a utility based in El Paso, Texas. Before I visited El Paso for work I knew virtually nothing about the area, the economy, or the people. One of the most interesting and unexpected benefits of my career was the opportunity to extensively work in areas of the USA that I never would have visited otherwise.

    One thing I did know is that 1) Texas has its own electricity grid that ‘walls it off’ from the rest of the USA called ERCOT 2) the El Paso area was “outside” of that grid. Thus while Texas may be its own separate country in their mind, El Paso was something else entirely.

    Another realization when you are working in El Paso is just how damn big Texas is. It can take longer to drive from El Paso on the western side of Texas to Houston on the eastern side of Texas than to drive from El Paso to Los Angeles. It was also extremely hot and the sun was blazing; some of the women brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the noon-day sun.

    The managers I met in El Paso said it would likely make more sense for El Paso to be part of New Mexico, rather than Texas. Many of the managers lived in New Mexico. A funny story they told was how many Americans believed that New Mexico was NOT part of the United States, and stories like this were collected in the back page of a local magazine and they were often hilarious.

    While flying to New Mexico one day I sat next to a gentleman that was frequently in El Paso for business. At the time, Ford Expedition SUVs were all the rage. He said that the last three times he visited El Paso, he selected an Expedition from the local rental car affiliate, and the car was stolen (and likely driven over the border into Mexico). I didn’t ask him why he was so stubborn and kept renting them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 5 Comments »

    Gypsy Retail in the Autumn

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th October 2014 (All posts by )

    My daughter and I spent almost all of last Saturday at our booth in the parking lot of a local Beall’s, in the heart of what would pass as the new downtown of Bulverde, Texas – if Bulverde could be said to have a downtown of any sort. There is a sort of Old Downtown Bulverde, at the crossroads of Bulverde Hills Drive and Bulverde Road, where the post office is (in a teeny Victorian cottage covered with white-painted gingerbread trim) and around the corner from one of the original settler’s farmsteads, complete with an original stone house and barn – now repurposed into an event venue. There is a small airfield nearby, and astonishingly enough, Googlemaps show a polo ground. But the landscape all around is that of the lowland Hill Country – low rolling, patched scrubby cedar, and occasional stands of live oaks. Everything – including a perfectly astounding number of single family housing developments are scattered unobtrusively here and there among the hills, the cedar and the oaks.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, Personal Narrative | 9 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Brooklyn Before Gentrification

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 4th October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Brooklyn, New York City, the ’90s…

    I was assigned to do a regulatory audit of a large utility in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1990s. At the time Brooklyn was nothing like it is today. When I got off the plane at LaGuardia and hailed a cab…

    Me to the Driver – I want to go to Brooklyn. The Driver – Hell no, I’m not driving to Brooklyn

    After I finally convinced a cab driver to take me to Brooklyn (with much New York style yelling), when he dropped me off in front of the office building, he would whip the wheel around as fast as he could and do a U-turn right in front of the facility and high-tail it off to the highway to get out of Brooklyn. They couldn’t get out of the neighborhood fast enough.

    The utility was based at what appeared to be the only newer office-type building in Brooklyn. There were NO hotels that you could stay in Brooklyn at the time. We stayed in Manhattan and took the subway to work every day. We seemed to be the only boring white accountant-type people in suits going TO Brooklyn in the morning and we were the same distinct minority returning to our hotel every evening. Our partner onsite was kind of distracted so we had to stay on him to get out of work at 5pm so we weren’t taking the subway at night because that seemed to be a dicey proposition.

    Whenever there is a strike at a utility the union guys who read meters and make service calls walk off the line and management comes out to do essential tasks (along with other people that they hire). Thus the management people that we spoke with had harrowing tales of visiting completely dilapidated and burned out homes throughout the borough while they were on strike duty. Management seemed to live everywhere except Brooklyn and it made sense why – there were even a few who lived in Pennsylvania and made epic commutes to and from work daily.

    One manager talked about a scam where people wrote checks to the utility to pay bills and often they used a 3 digit acronym rather than spelling the whole utility. He said one of the customer service agents took those first three digits and added a last name and opened a bank account themselves under that combined name and took the checks and deposited them, running off with the money. We laughed a lot because that seemed like a scam that was doomed to fail after a while but a bit clever.

    There were no cabs in Brooklyn. You had to hire a “car service” which was usually a completely beat up Chevy Impala or the like driven by someone who spoke zero English. They usually had no idea how to get to the airport so I had to give them directions. A few times I was very scared that the car would literally fall to pieces while we were driving; they were probably old taxis that had given up the ghost and given a second, desperate life through this method

    One Monday morning when I was flying in I felt dizzy and ill and when I got onsite in Brooklyn at the only standing office building I came down with the flu very badly. I kept throwing up in the stall and getting progressively weaker. I was the only person onsite from my company and didn’t know the client people well enough to count on them to take care of me so in the few minutes between throwing up I somehow got back to Manhattan (probably via the subway, I don’t remember) and arrived at my hotel early. For some reason I remember this clearly – the band Rancid was pulling up and their hair was spiked up and they had real “rock chicks” with them in miniskirts and fishnets and covered with tattoos right when I arrived. They said my room wasn’t ready yet so I told the clerk “that’s fine, I will just projectile vomit onto you” and amazingly they got me a room right away. I just sat in there and was sick for a few days and then flew back to Chicago. That was not a productive week at all, obviously.

    Today Brooklyn has changed immensely and seems to be almost completely gentrified. I even have friends that I visit there and it is quite charming. It is amazing to think of all these changes that have occurred since I first went there in the early 1990s.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 4 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Industrial Decay

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 3rd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Somewhere in a Northwest Indiana formerly industrial city, the ’90s…

    We had a utility client in Northwest Indiana. The city used to be a large industrial town but had been hit hard by various plant closings and also the rout of the US steel industry in the ’70s and the ’80s. A friend of mine joked that you wouldn’t be surprised to see a dinosaur walking around the abandoned ruins of the nearby towns and city. For some reason I thought that was really funny after working there for a while.

    At our client they had multiple buildings that were connected by walk ways that were sometimes rounded or with all around glass. We called them the “habitrail” just like the hamster homes you could buy for your pets.

    The work onsite at the client was grim. I was given the least exciting areas to audit, the balance sheet and plant accounting. The balance sheet had assets that were not documented that were stagnant for years. At that point in auditing all you did was to re-word the notes from the prior year accounts and then put them back in this year’s file. After just a few hours as a novice auditor I pointed out that the notes didn’t make sense and started to do a bunch of new analytics when they told me to stop and just gave me something else to do. This is where you get the joke

    Why did the accountant cross the road? Because they did it last year.

    If you tell that joke to an accountant I am telling you they will laugh their heads off. It isn’t really funny to anyone else but it sums up the drudgery of what auditing used to be.

    One day the partner came out. Now we were all packed in a grimy little room. These were also the days when you could smoke like a chimney in the office and we all wore wool suits so I might as well have smoked 3 packs a day too. I stunk. It was after noon and I was hungry and I broke the silence by asking if we were going out to lunch. The whole room swiveled their heads at me and I got a tongue lashing later from the manager. I wasn’t supposed to talk or ask any questions while the partner was on site. Live and learn.

    Driving to Indiana from downtown Chicago was a long effort. The air conditioning in my car wasn’t great so I’d usually just drive in a T shirt and change when I got near the facility. One time I was pumping gas in a gas station nearby when the auto shut off didn’t work and I got gasoline all over my suit. That did not make for a pleasant afternoon of work.

    Another time when I was pumping gas a deranged, toothless local came up to me with his arms waving.

    Don’t sign the deed! he screamed. Don’t sign the deed!

    I didn’t.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 13 Comments »

    25 Stories About Work – Plains Blizzard

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 2nd October 2014 (All posts by )

    I was recently on a plane doodling and thought of some funny / interesting stories from 25+ years of working and traveling. So I decided to write them up as short, random chapters of a non-book with the title of this post. Hope you enjoy them and / or find them interesting. Certainly the value will be at least equal to the marginal cost of the book (zero)…

    Somewhere in Iowa, the ’90s…

    I was an auditor for a long since merged together utility. We used to fly in and out every week, leaving Sunday night (in your suit, in case your luggage was lost by the airlines) and leaving the office at 5pm Friday and driving to an airport 3 hours away to arrive home about 10pm Friday. We did this every week for the “busy season” which lasted about 3 months or so.

    For Thanksgiving weekend one time we left on a Wednesday. A giant storm was coming up over the plains as we drove across Iowa into Nebraska where the airport was for flights into Chicago. At the time we didn’t really have cold weather gear, we just had long wool coats and leather gloves to go over our suits. We didn’t even have boots, just work shoes.

    We stopped at a gas station and the wind was really whipping across the plains. When I got out to pump gas I was almost knocked flat on my back. While shivering in the car after pumping gas I told them we ought to turn back and just give up for the night and stay in Iowa.

    I was the lowest ranking guy so I was overruled. There were obvious reasons why everyone wanted to get home for Thanksgiving and away from work in Iowa.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Personal Narrative | 10 Comments »

    Don’t Panic: Against the Spirit of the Age

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 21st September 2014 (All posts by )

    Cold and misty morning, I heard a warning borne in the air
    About an age of power where no one had an hour to spare …
    – Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Karn Evil 9, 1st Impression, Part 1

    Imagine that you just stepped out of a time machine into the mid-1930s with a case of partial historical amnesia. From your reading of history, you can still remember that the nation has been beset with economic difficulties for several years that will continue for several more. You also clearly remember that this is followed by participation in a global war, but you cannot recall just when it starts or who it’s with. A few days of newspapers and radio broadcasts, however, apprise you of obvious precursors to that conflict and various candidates for both allies and enemies.

    As mentioned several times in this forum, I adhere to a historical model, consisting either of a four-part cycle of generational temperaments (Strauss and Howe), or a related but simpler system dynamic/generational flow (Xenakis). That model posits the above scenario as a description of our current situation and a prediction of its near future: a tremendous national trial, currently consisting mostly of failing domestic institutions, is underway. It will somehow transform into a geopolitical military phase and reach a crescendo early in the next decade. It cannot be avoided, only confronted.

    Nor will it be a low-intensity conflict like the so-called “wars” of recent decades, which have had US casualty counts comparable to those of ordinary garrison duty a generation ago. Xenakis has coined the descriptive, and thoroughly alarming, term genocidal crisis war for these events. Some earlier instances in American history have killed >1% of the entire population and much larger portions of easily identifiable subsets of it. Any early-21st-century event of this type is overwhelmingly likely to kill millions of people in this country, many if not most of them noncombatants. And besides its stupendous quantitative aspect, the psychological effect will be such that the survivors (including young children) remain dedicated, for the rest of their lives, to preventing such a thing from ever happening again.

    I will nonetheless argue that no matter how firmly convinced we may be that an utterly desperate struggle, with plenty of attendant disasters, is inevitable and imminent, we must avoid both individual panic and collective overreaction.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Current Events, Environment, History, Human Behavior, Immigration, International Affairs, Islam, Latin America, Leftism, Media, Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Religion, Rhetoric, Science, Systems Analysis, Tech, The Press, USA, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    By Way of Explanation

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th August 2014 (All posts by )

    Everyone has these two visions when they hold their child for the first time. The first is your child as an adult saying “I want to thank the Nobel Committee for this award.” The other is “You want fries with that?”
    – Robin Williams

    I suppose I should say something here, because this quote turns out to be a bit on the poignant side. Readers already aware of some portion of the following detail may be excused for skipping this one; I have alluded to various portions of it in posts and comments on different blogs over the years, and I tend to feel like I’ve worn friends and acquaintances out with it in conversation. It’s that worst of topics, my autobiography.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Current Events, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Tradeoffs | 9 Comments »

    Indonesia’s New President is a Fan of Metal

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 26th July 2014 (All posts by )

    I’ve had a long relationship with heavy metal. I remember being a kid for a show at the Aragon Ballroom back in 1986 – I think it was Yngwie Malmsteen (who is often known as Yngwie “F@cking” Malmsteen for his reputation as being a jerk) and we waited outside all day for a general admission show. At that time the Uptown neighborhood was dangerous and populated at all hours by drunks and bums. Some of the more clever fans had stolen lawn chairs along the way so they’d have something to sit on during the long hours of waiting. We watched the minutes click by oh so slowly at a big bank across the street. And of course everyone in line was drinking or smoking or doing something else to pass the time. Many people passed out not once but twice in line, shook themselves off, and went back to what they were doing (one guy in a big mud puddle). Later a kid had a limo drop him off in front of the venue and walked out towards the line. That was a big mistake as the entire crowd was jeering him as one. A few homeless people came by asking for change and someone had the idea to toss a quarter at them and soon the whole line was hurling their change in a shower. Towards the end they installed barricades to segment the crowd so that the entire line of a couple thousand people wouldn’t all surge forward at once when they began letting people into the venue. At that point you were penned in like veal in a cage packed next to other leather jacketed rowdy and drunk fans. The grizzled Chicago street cops eyed the crowd with disdain… you could tell that if they had their way this whole bunch of bums and idiots would get taken into custody…

    Over the years I don’t go to as many metal shows as I used to and won’t spend all day in line, obviously. But I still feel affection towards the music and the no-compromise attitude of those that have stuck with it regardless of the fact that it gets no radio airplay, little iTunes action, and is on the fringes of the “general” entertainment landscape. Of all the genres of music, metal can live on because it doesn’t need any of these things, just fans who are dedicated, and these fans revel in the fact that they are outsiders.

    Indonesia just elected a new president, a “man of the people” named Joko Widodo who took on the establishment tied to the former dictator. I am astonished to see that he is apparently a fan of metal, and even a fan of bands like Lamb of God, whom Dan saw recently in Madison and described their show as “insane and sonic”. All of this comes from this Noisey article (Noisey is part of the awesome Vice media empire). It is unthinkable that a US presidential candidate would ever admit to being a fan of metal, especially the non-cartoony metal bands like Lamb of God. Lyrics are NSFW (if you can understand them). Here is a clip

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Music, Personal Narrative | 2 Comments »

    Archive: An Acute Shortage of Care

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th July 2014 (All posts by )

    (It’s been a rough and work-filled weekend from me, as regards providing good bloggy ice cream. I am wrapping up a couple of finished projects for Watercress clients, prepping for three more – from repeat clients no less, so they are entitled to an extra ration of care) and hand-holding a poet, coming down to getting her first book launched. I tell you, I am in two minds about publishing poets after this; a temperamental and high-maintenance variety of author … anyway, this rant dates from 2006, and was one of my more biting ones, written at the time of the last Israeli-Palestine conflict, or possibly the one before that. Yeah, I took sides. This explains how and why that came about.)

    So, one of NPR’s news shows had another story, banging on (yet again) about the plight of the poor, pitiful, persecuted Palestinians, now that the money tap looks to be severely constricted; no money, no jobs, no mama no papa no Uncle Sam, yadda, yadda yadda. (It’s sort of like an insistent parent insisting that a stubborn child eat a helping of fried liver and onions, with a lovely side helping of filboid studge. You will feel sorry for these people, the international press, a certain segment of the intellectual and political elite insist— you must! You simply must! It’s good for you!) I briefly felt a pang, but upon brief consideration, I wrote it off to the effect of the green salsa on a breakfast taco from a divey little place along the Austin Highway. (Lovely tacos, by the way, and the green salsa is nuclear fission in a plastic cup. Name of Divey Little Place available upon request, but really, you can’t miss it. It’s painted two shades of orange, with navy blue trim.)

    It may have been a pang of regret, barely perceptible, for the nice, sympathetic person I used to be. I used to feel sorry for the Palestinians, in a distant sort of way, the same way I feel about the Tibetans, and the Armenians, and the Kurds, and the Chechens (well, once upon a time, say before the Beslan school atrocity) and the poor starving Biafrans and Somalis, and whoever the international press was holding the current pity party for. Really, I used to be a nice person. I really did feel kindly, and well-disposed to those parties, and I wished them well, since all of them (and more) being victims of historical misfortune.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Civil Society, History, Israel, Middle East, Personal Narrative, Terrorism | 10 Comments »

    For the 4th – Sgt. Mom’s Most Memorable

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th July 2014 (All posts by )

    (From my archives – my most memorable 4th of July ever!)

    The flags are out, like it’s 4th of July every day, like the pictures I saw of the glorious, Bicentennial 4th of 1976… which I actually sort of missed. Not the date itself, just all the hoopla. The 200th anniversary of our nation, celebrations up the wazoo, and I missed every one of them because I spent the summer in England, doing that cheap-student-charter-BritRail-Pass-Youth-Hostel thing. I lived at home and worked parttime, and finished at Cal State Northridge with a BA and enough money left over to spend the summer traveling. I didn’t go alone, either. My brother JP and my sister Pippy were bored with the prospect of another summer in Tujunga, California. I assume our parents thought the world in 1976 was a much safer place than now, or I was responsible enough at 22 to be at large in a foreign country in charge of a 20 and a 16 year old.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, History, Humor, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative | 9 Comments »

    Circumnavigating Key Biscayne

    Posted by Jonathan on 22nd June 2014 (All posts by )

    A few weeks ago I paddled around Key Biscayne, one of Miami’s barrier islands, with a buddy of mine. We traveled clockwise on the map (click the preceding link) from Crandon Marina. The weather was unusually good and we had a great time. Here are some photos.

    Circumnavigating Key Biscayne by Kayak
    Departing Crandon Marina.
     
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Personal Narrative, Photos | 8 Comments »

    Green Acres is the Place to Be…

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th May 2014 (All posts by )

    Yes – I like this place very much. Although there is probably altogether too much traffic on weekends.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Customer Service, Diversions, Entrepreneurship, North America, Personal Narrative, Photos | 7 Comments »

    History Friday – At the Inn of the Golden-Something-or-Other

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd May 2014 (All posts by )

    (For a Friday, a little change from the usual – a post about traveling, history, and an insufficient command of French … but an appreciation for good food and small country inns. This is included my ebook “Travels With Blondie.”)

    I have been flipping over the pages of my battered Hallwag Euro-Guide, attempting to reconstruct my hopscotch itinerary on little back roads across France, at the wheel of the VEV in the early autumn of 1985. I avoided the big cities, before and after Paris, and the major highways. For a foreign driver, Paris was a nerve-wracking, impenetrable urban jungle, a tangle of streets and roundabouts, and the major highways were toll-roads and expensive; much less fraught to follow the little-trafficked country roads from town to town to town. We ghosted along those two-lane country roads as much as a bright orange Volvo sedan can be said to ghost, the trunk and the back seat packed with mine and my daughter’s luggage, a basket of books, a large bottle of Metaxa brandy (a departing gift from Kyria Paniyioti, our Athens landlord) and two boxes of china and kitchen gadgets purchased from that holiest of holies of French kitchenware shops, Dehillerin in the Rue Coquilliere.

    From Chartres and the wondrous cathedral, I went more or less south towards the Loire; the most direct way would been a secondary road to Chateaudun, and an even more secondary road directly from there to Blois, through a green countryside lightly touched with autumn gold, where the fields of wheat and silage had been already mown down to stubble. The road wound through gentle ranges of hills, and stands of enormous trees. Here at a turn of the road was a dainty and Disney-perfect chateau, with a wall and a terrace and a steep-sloped blue-slate roof trimmed with pepper-pot turrets, an enchanting dollhouse of a chateau, set among its’ own shady green grove. There was no historic marker, no sign of habitation, nothing to welcome the sightseer, and then the road went around a bend and it was out of sight, as fleeting as a vision.
    Blois was set on hills, a charming small town of antique buildings, none more than two or three stories tall, and I seemed to come into it very abruptly late in the afternoon. Suddenly there were buildings replacing the fields on either side. At the first corner, I turned left, followed the signpost pointing to the town center; might as well find a place to spend the night. As soon as I turned the corner and thought this, I spotted the little hotel, fronting right on the narrow sidewalk. It had two Michelin stars, which was good enough for me (plain, clean, comfortable and cheap) and was called the Golden… well, the golden something or other. I didn’t recognise the French word; truth to tell, I didn’t recognize most of them, just the words for foods and cooking, mostly, and could pronounce rather fewer.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Architecture, Diversions, Europe, History, Personal Narrative, Recipes, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

    It Is Great, Until It Isn’t

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 25th April 2014 (All posts by )

    Living in Madison, I associate with a larger than typical number of lefties, liberals, and others who lean to the left of the political spectrum. Oddly, being a leftist seems to be associated with anti-science and other oddities.

    When at parties and having discussions with locals, I always stay out of politics. I always shift the subject. Most of the people I deal with are extremely nice, good folks, but they are true believers, and nothing I say will do anything but make situations uncomfortable. But one subject I never hold back is not getting your kids vaccinated. My wife always cringes if it comes up because she knows the bazooka is coming out.

    I use the big words too, like “bullshit”, “nonsense” and interesting catch phrases like “have you ever seen a child with whooping cough?” or “I hope your kids don’t get measles because mine won’t”. It does fall on deaf ears, but with the anti-vaccers (is that a word?) I don’t care.

    Separately, my wife, while not a squishy leftist, does have a soft spot for marketing buzzwords like “organic”, “natural” etc. She typically spends more money than need be to offer food choices to my kids that are pesticide free, purchases “safer” chemicals and does other things like that – things that I offer to you are probably nonsensical. However, I have chosen not to “die on that hill”. Besides denting my wallet a bit, I don’t think that it is harming anything, so I let it go. I don’t have many complaints about my wife and I am probably way ahead of most husbands in that department (she puts up with me so that pretty much overrides any of my tiny complaints).

    But. Lice. Several years ago, both of my children got lice from school. Fortunately (?) I lost my hair a long time ago so was not in the loop, but my wife was mortified. I will never forget the moment – she said (and I am almost quoting) “get down to Walgreens and get the nastiest, strongest chemical you can find and get back here and help me with this”. I almost fell over and stumbled out to the car in a daze, wondering how my wife could have made such a radical change in the five minutes since my kids came home from school.

    But I did learn something. When the excrement hits the air conditioning, people want this crap solved. Now.

    Back to the anti vaccination folks.

    Everything is great and works until it doesn’t. Today I note this story about a famous anti-vaccination group, the Amish. Funny how one’s religion doesn’t seem that important when your kids contract a terrible disease. All of a sudden, vaccines look pretty good.

    More than 135 people crowded into a local woodworking business Thursday where nurses used up every available dose of vaccine — and then ordered 300 doses more, said Pam Palm, a spokeswoman for the Knox County, Ohio, Health Department.
     
    “Not getting immunizations has been the way the Amish have felt in the past, but they certainly have responded in this situation,” Palm said.
     
    The outbreak was detected this week when four unvaccinated Amish community members showed evidence of measles infection following a March trip to the Philippines to offer humanitarian aid to typhoon victims. More than 20,000 people have caught measles in the Philippines and at least 50 have died in a severe ongoing outbreak.
     

    I think this might be a good example of stated preferences vs. revealed preferences. Revealed in a most uncomfortable manner. I assume most of my left leaning friends here in the Madison area would do the exact same thing in the circumstances.

    My wife, while succumbing to some of the marketing for organic and natural products, thankfully didn’t fall for the vaccine scares that were prevalent when our children were born.

    I think if anyone were going to a third world place that was under duress (like the typhoon ravaged Philippines) that they would be REQUIRED to get boosters for measles, cholera, and whatever else I could think of. And why wouldn’t you anyways? But I guess that is my Midwestern common sense sneaking through again, and heck, what do I know.

    I do know this. Kids with measles = parents getting measles vaccines for everyone.

    Posted in Leftism, Medicine, Personal Narrative, Politics | 16 Comments »

    SWOT, One Year On

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 15th April 2014 (All posts by )

    A year ago I was dispassionately composing my analysis. Today, when I left the Sprint campus and drove east on 115th Street to turn north on Nall toward I-435, there were TV news vans with telescoping antennae lining the street at the entrance to the Jewish Community Center.

    Coincidentally the number of dead is identical. There are, however, no (physically) injured survivors, and the motivation for the attack was similar only in that it was intended to draw attention to a cause. I fear that the perpetrator is cunning enough to succeed in that; his previous notoriety was due to legally forcing some radio stations to briefly carry Nazi ads during an election campaign season. Much has been made of the gentile – and indeed seriously committed Christian – identity of the victims, but I believe that was unimportant to him. What mattered was that he seize a mechanism for dissemination of conspiracy theories, and now, given the administrative blockheadedness of the American justice system and the puerile conventions of American journalism, we are all too likely to be subjected to many hours and tens of thousands of words of exceptionally vicious, totalitarian propaganda, varying portions of which will be heard by tens of millions of people. This guy knew exactly what he was doing.

    I could tell that from the video snippets of his arrest, just as I could tell, hours before it was officially confirmed, that he would turn out to have come from rural Missouri (Aurora is nearly a 3-hour drive from Overland Park; he had to have cased both facilities beforehand) and would turn out to be a southerner with prior Klan involvement. It was completely obvious from his accent, his tone of voice, and his attitude on camera. He is now operating inside the American institutional OODA loop. Our entirely proper determination to grant a scrupulously fair trial – when we’re not piling on the charges in order to ram a plea bargain through, that is – will be roughly equivalent to giving him not airtime for advertisements, but his own highly rated nationwide radio network.

    Fortunately, he is also sufficiently sui generis that copycat attacks are unlikely, at least in the immediate future. Should an American Dolchstoßlegende catch on, however, things may deteriorate sharply. The general case is to scapegoat a relatively small, easily-identified minority: it was the “1%,” or twenty-five guys on Wall Street, or the Koch brothers – or George Soros, or Obama/Pelosi/Reid, or the leftist academics on their Long March through the institutions – or (of course) Jews, or Latino immigrants or Asians stealing our jobs. If we just expropriate, or deport, or exterminate them, and everyone like them, the story goes, our country will be purified, and Utopia ensue. The ideology may be Nazi or Communist; either will do in a pinch, as Hayek wrote nearly three-quarters of a century ago: its adherents are uncertain, and know only that they hate Western liberal civilization.

    Just to make things more complicated, tolerance can definitely be taken too far. Interviews with the perpetrator’s neighbors in Lawrence County, Missouri, immediately elicit idiotic postmodernist comments to the effect that he seemed like a nice enough guy but had some opinions that they didn’t agree with. Great. Your assigned reading is here, you nitwits.

    So when blood ran in the streets of my city, did I follow my own advice in the ostensibly-uplifting conclusion to my analysis of a year ago, and immediately redouble my efforts on whatever it is I was supposed to be doing? Well, it was a Sunday, so there was somewhat less of that, although I tend to devise more projects for my spare time than I could possibly execute anyway. But in the event, whatever it may say about me, I felt tremendously violated, as though the murders had occurred in my driveway rather than six miles away. And what I actually did was drink rather more cheap boxed red wine than usual and break down a couple of times. I don’t have any particular aversion to weeping, but I don’t need to do so very often. Turns out I needed to on Sunday evening. The question of how I will react should much larger-scale events occur in even closer proximity remains unanswered.

    The problem, of course, is that this kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen here … which is a rather hypocritical sentiment in light of the actual statistics on violent death locally. A couple-three people a week get murdered in this town, three-quarters of them in an area covering only one-tenth of the municipality of KC, Mo., and a tiny fraction of the area of the entire MSA. Assuming that the said area (34 mi²) has the same population density as zip code 64130 (of which it largely consists), a moment with a calculator establishes that the homicide rate in question – the southwestern boundary of that area reaches to within two miles of my house – is nearly 80 per 100,000 per year, making it one of the most dangerous places in the Western world, and also as dangerous as Iraq before the Surge, which the media thoughtfully informed us at the time was the Worst Thing Ever. Gallivanting off to Haïti is all very well, but perhaps I should find a more local ministry to volunteer with while I’m at it.

    But it really isn’t supposed to happen here, and not just because Overland Park is a world away from the East Side. Side-by-side, indeed inextricably mixed, with the ongoing mayhem five minutes’ drive from my doorstep is a deep reservoir of peace and contentment. God damn it, we just want to listen to jazz and eat barbecue. In its best moments, there is no gentler place on Earth. The lives of those taken on Sunday bear witness to that.

    “The new thing — the thing which we had not known — the thing we have learned now and should never forget, is this: that a society of self-governing men is more powerful, more enduring, more creative than any other kind of society, however disciplined, however centralized.” – Harry S. Truman, Radio Report to the American People on the Potsdam Conference, 9 August 1945

    “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now.” – Harry S. Truman, to reporters, 13 April 1945

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, History, Judaism, Law Enforcement, National Security, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Quotations, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA | 3 Comments »

    On Ice

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 28th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.

    Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Business, Customer Service, India, Personal Narrative, USA | 9 Comments »

    La Vie en Rose-Colored Postcards

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st March 2014 (All posts by )

    The SS Majestic – when getting there was luxurious

    My Grandpa Jim, who was short, energetic, and as a young man, fabulously charming, emigrated from Five-Mile-Town, County Armagh in 1910. Sometime over the next few years, he fetched up in Southern California. Having been trained as something of a specialist – a professional estate gardener, he took employment with an old-moneyed California family and spent the following five decades as their old family retainer, keeping the grounds of their estate up to par.
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    Posted in History, Personal Narrative, Photos | 11 Comments »

    Letter From The Past

    Posted by Dan from Madison on 13th March 2014 (All posts by )

    Last Friday I was the MC for our first Midwest Business and Markets Conference. It was a great day, and Zen went over it pretty well in this post.

    The day before, Thursday the 6th, I had a few hours to kill so I worked out and walked all around the Union League Club of Chicago. The place is like a museum.

    Of greatest interest to me was the library.

    It is an old school room, where they are still using the Dewey Decimal System. It reminded me of days long gone, when I used to have to go to the library in my hometown of Rockford, IL or at school at U of I and use the Dewey system to find out where texts were that I needed.

    The ULCC library isn’t that large, so I just strolled around looking at all of the books and magazines. They have a giant signed book collection of the people who have spoken there, as well as many rare volumes under plexiglass. There were a couple of old guys who were sleeping in the soft leather chairs. It was QUIET in there and the only audible sounds were guys pecking away at their keyboards and the turning of pages.

    I sort of enjoyed this quiet, as my life doesn’t afford much quiet time with work and kids and wife and farm and all the rest.

    After a while I grabbed an unusual volume (to me), and below you can see the title page:

    Basically, this offers a prayer (or a few) for every day of the year, including holidays and other special events. The book was printed in the thirties, and had a calendar for the prayers extrapolated out to 2013.

    Some of the prayers were interesting to me, as I don’t really know squat about the Episcopalian religion. I also read a few Psalms. It brought back a few memories as when I was a child I was raised Baptist and we were forced to memorize many of the Psalms (in the King James Version).

    The books in the library could be checked out by ULCC members and they used the old school cards in the front of the book, stamped with the date it needed to be returned. The prayer book had been checked out a total of once, in 1993. That may have been the last time it was touched, besides to be moved or cleaned.

    Most importantly, when I opened the volume, a note fell out into my lap.

    Watch over our child, O Lord, as her days increase; bless and guide her wherever she may be.
    Give us, her parents, the wisdom to teach her the realities of life.
    Strengthen her when she stands for what she believes in; comfort her when she is discouraged or sorrowful; raise her up if she falls in trying to grow; and in her heart may your peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

    After reading some of the prayers and Psalms, I carefully folded the letter, placed it back in the book and put the book back on the shelf.

    Cross posted at LITGM.

    Posted in Personal Narrative, Religion | 16 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman, “Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend”

    Posted by Lexington Green on 9th January 2014 (All posts by )

    Our good friend Seth Barrett Tillman has an excellent article, part personal narrative, part meditation on the basis of conflict between Arabs and Jews, based on thoughts on the book of Esther.

    The article, “Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend” may be found by clicking here.

    On the Jewish holiday of Purim the practice is to read the book of Esther. Purim is on March 15-16 in 2014. It is not a widespread practice, but I know Catholics who read the book of Esther on Purim, and I read it last year for the first time. If you have never read it, you should. It is only about 6,000 words, the length of a long article, not a book. You can find it here.

    As Seth notes, while the story is one of survival for the Jews, it also shows the sorrow and disgrace suffered by every defeated people at the hands of their conquerors.

    Every year at Purim, my co-religionists and I read Esther. The story, as customarily explained to children, is that Esther won a contest . . . something akin to the modern beauty pageant. The prize was that she was made queen – the wife of the Persian emperor. As a result, by pleading to her husband on behalf of her brethren, she was well-situated to save the Jewish community from the nefarious Haman, who actively plotted genocide against the Jews. Esther’s courage thwarts Haman and the community is saved, although it remained in exile. The story is presented as one with a happy ending.
     
    But, that is the story as it is told to our children.
     
    By contrast, an adult, who considered Esther, would understand that the story of Purim is also an intensely sad story.

    Highly recommended. RTWT.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Morality and Philosphy, Personal Narrative, Religion | 2 Comments »

    Adding Up the Old Year, Looking Towards the New

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 2nd January 2014 (All posts by )

    In a meditation that I posted about this time last year – just as we came down to Christmas and the last frantic dash to the end of the year – I laid out the things that I wanted to do, or ought to do during 2013. Time to take stock and look at which ones I did manage … and those that I shall have to try harder to do in 2014.

    #1 – I was resolved to change my main bank account from Bank of America to a Texas institution. Check. Actually accomplished this the first week of the new year, and it went quite painlessly, changing the automatic deposit from DFAS and the automatic payment to the mortgage company. Check.

    #2 – Finish and publish The Quivera Trail in time for launching in November, 2013. Done and check. Also begin on the next book, or at least the research. I had thought it would be tentatively entitled The Golden Road, starring young Fredi Steinmetz and the usual cast of characters historical and created … half-check. Started research, but was detoured into writing another picaresque adventure, Lone Star Sons, which will be a short and adventurous bagatelle and a re-working of the Lone Ranger, as a historical adventure in 1840s Texas – which I am posting, chapter by chapter at the book blog and website, here. Lone Star Sons will be my November 2015 book … but I will be well along in writing The Golden Road by then.
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    Posted in Blogging, Civil Society, Current Events, Personal Narrative, USA | 15 Comments »

    Christmas Day

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th December 2013 (All posts by )

    Merry Christmas to all. My youngest daughter drove 8 hours from Tucson and my oldest son 9 hours from San Francisco yesterday to be with the family Christmas Eve. We were all at my younger son’s house for their annual party but he had to work at the fire house. Today we will assemble at various houses and one restaurant for dinner. All are healthy and happy.

    My best to all.

    I have research subjects for this morning. My daughter-in-law wanted to know the value of the tetra drachma I had given my middle daughter as a birthday gift this year. I bought it from a workman at Ephesus a few years ago. It is the most perfect Attic Owl I’ve ever seen. I had it mounted in a necklace. This morning I’ve been researching the subject. What would a tetra drachma buy in 500 BC ?

    My son-in-law and I discussed the question of extra-terrestrial life last evening. I’m doing some research on Archea and extremophiles today. Lots to do on Christmas Day before dinner time.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Holidays, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »