April 27, 2004

Corporate Contrarian

Imagine if along with CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CIOs, and all the other CxOs, there was a standard position in the business hierarchy called "corporate contrarian," or to stick with the established pattern, CCO (chief contrary officer). This would be the person who's job it is to find problems with every proposal and idea. A professional pessimist.

Wait a minute! That job has probably already been filled by the business-owner's mother or father, and they don't even expect a salary!

Posted by ldfs at 2:25 PM

April 26, 2004

Who Will Be Head Honcho at the U.S. Archives?

In the world of archivy, where I dwell, there is a controversy brewing. John Carlin, Archivist of the U.S. since New Archivist of the U.S. since 1995, has announced his plans to retire. Initially Carlin was an unpopular choice to with most professional archivists in the United States as a person to head the nation's archives. This was primarily due to a total lack of any background in archives or training in the field of history. Before being tapped to head up NARA, he was an academic and administrator with a background in agriculture. Archivists are not known for their political clout, so not surprisingly, the protests went unheeded. As it turned out, Carlin exceeded most of their expectations.

Apparently, a while back, Carlin made known his intention to retire in 2005, so it took some people by surprise when the news came out recently that he is planning to retire this Fall, or as soon as his replacement is hired. There is speculation that he was coerced into retiring sooner, so that Bush could put his successor into place before the end of his presidential term, presumably so he could ensure that person would prevent the disclosure of certain records (such as the records of his father, which are scheduled to be released in January) he wants to keep secret.

Whether this concern is valid, I really don't know, but this time around, archivists are kicking up a fuss and getting a bit more media attention than the last go round. It's kind of ironic, because in many ways Bush's nominee, Allen Weinstein, has a lot more going for him as a candidate than Carlin. He is a professional historian, for one thing. The fact that he has publicly declared himself a Democrat suggests he's not that likely to be in Bush's back pocket. The main criticism levelled against him personally seems to be that he refused to make the notes for his controversial book on Alger Hiss public, and therefore he is inclined to be secretive.

A lot of the angst is really about the invisibility of archivists as professionals in this country. Bush nominated Weinstein without consulting with professional organizations of archivists or historians, as has traditionally been the accepted procedure. But Bush was arrogant. He didn't play by the rules, and now there is opposition to the nomination that could probably had been avoided. And the archival profession is getting its 15 minutes of fame.

Maybe the media exposure will bring archives out of the dark basement and into the light a bit more. Maybe the next Archivist of the U.S. will be Chosen by the miracle of modern reality tv.

Posted by ldfs at 3:14 PM

April 21, 2004

Taxation of Gassification

James Lileks takes issue with Andrew Sullivan's argument for a higher gas tax. Though I don't think we share many opinions, politically, I frequently find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to acknowledge he's got a point. I should add, however, that I'm pretty easily swayed. All too often, while reading up on the political debate du jour, I find myself nodding in agreement with whatever I just read. Then I read an argument from the opposition and find myself agreeing with that person, too. It is relatively rare that I actually get as far as forming a firm opinion either way.

Anyway, I usually find Lileks pretty convincing, but he blew it when he attacked Sullivan for commenting that a gas tax would reduce the "wanton consumption of gasoline." According to Lileks, this amounted to a claim that

"Driving your child to school and using fuels sold at market rate is immoral. If not gratuituously cruel and merciless."

I'm quite sure Andrew Sullivan has no wish to deprive little Gnat of her education. But how about the high school kids who could easily take the school bus, but because the bus would be uncool, drive their own cars? Does Lileks really think that there aren't a lot of Americans who drive when they could opt for mass transit without undue inconvenience, or who buy gas guzzling behemoths when there are more fuel efficient options?

If a higher gas tax could be used to improve transportation infrastructure (especially mass transit) and spur the demand for the development of more fuel efficient hybrid vehicles, then I'm willing to pay for it.

Posted by ldfs at 3:57 PM

Rabbiting on About Bunnies

Spring is springing, and with it come the inevitable thoughts of small furry creatures, with and without holiday accessories such as baskets of eggs or chocolate.

So is it "little rabbit Foo Foo" or "little bunny Foo Foo"? I refer to the famous abuser of field mice. For me it has always been and always will be little bunny Foo Foo, but apparently there are diverging versions of the famous tale of rodent delinquency. Is it a regional thing, or what? A Google search reveals 5,040 results for "little bunny foo foo" and only 2,550 odd for "little rabbit foo foo," so it would appear that the bunnies have it. Apparently, I am not the first to ask this question. A bit more searching reveals the following posting from someone named Dave Wilton on alt.folklore.urban:

There are definitely two separate literary traditions at work here. According to the OED2, the earliest reference for Bunny/Rabbit Foo Foo is Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, "The Knight's Tale:"

"And in the grove, at tyme and place yset, This bunnie Fewfew and this field maus be met. To chaungen gan the colour in hir face;"

The next reference is from Shakespeare, in a sonnet believed to have been written in 1609 (about the time he was hacking the Bible):

"Clear wells spring not, sweet birds sing not, Green plants bring not forth their dye. Herd stands weeping, flocks all sleeping, Nymphs back peeping fearfully,
For Rabbitt Foofoo hath killed a mouse."

H.L. Mencken's History of the American Language, however cites a 1623 manuscript from the Plymouth colony that claims John Alden sang a "lullabye about Bunnie Foofoo" to his children.

From here, the trail disappears for several centuries. The OED2
cites a 1910 draft manuscript by B. Potter titled "Peter, Mopsy, Flopsy, and Foo-Foo Rabbit."

Back on this side of the pond, the OED2 cites a 1925 letter by Zelda Fitzgerald records that "Scott is quite upset because the publisher elided a poem about Bunny Foo-Foo from This Side of Paradise. Scott believed it to be essential to the narrative."

In the same year, Ernest Hemingway's journal records on 25 June (cited in Random House Hist. Dic of Amer. Slang): "Had a long argument with Joyce and Stein today. He recited some doggerel about Little Rabbit Foo-Foo. Gertrude and I recalled it as Bunny Foo-Foo. Became quite heated, and Joyce stiffed us by leaving without paying the check. Bastard."

The tentative conclusion must be that "Bunny" is the older, but changed to "Rabbit" quite early on in Britain. In America, the older form seems to have been preserved. So Americans that use Rabbit Foo-Foo are following the British tradition.

Even if Wilton made it all up, it's very convincing, and since I'm entirely too lazy to check any of his sources (this from a professional librarian!) , I feel justified in holding to the argument that Foo Foo was properly known as a bunny. Those who disagree consider yourselves warned. The "Good Fairy" will turn dissenters into goons. Or is it the "Blue Fairy"?

Posted by ldfs at 3:17 PM

April 14, 2004

A Bit on Banking

Reading about the advantages of the French house-buying system over the British one reminds me of one of my own favorite axes to grind: The advantages of the British banking system over the American one, at least when it comes to checking accounts (or should I say "current accounts," as they do across the pond).

In the US, writing a check can be problematic, because the recipient can never be sure that the check is good. If the account is overdrawn, the check bounces, and not only does the person who wrote the check get charged, the person who received the check as payment gets charged as well. Because of this penalty, many shops and restaurants will no longer accept payment by check. It is not uncommon for small shops to publicly post photocopies of all the bounced checks they've received as a sort of gallery of shame for all the other customers to see.

In the UK (or at least in Scotland) they have this thing called a cheque guarantee card. (N.B. When in Scotland, spell as the Scots do.) If you are considered trustworthy by the bank, they'll give you such a card. When you write a cheque, you present the card to the merchant along with the cheque. They take down the number on the card, and this essentially guarantees them that the bank will honor the cheque. If the writer of the cheque has overdrawn their account, that's between them and the bank. The merchant doesn't get caught up in the crossfire. I just don't understand why we don't do that over here.

With the advent of debit cards and PayPal, I suppose it's a moot point. Checks (and cheques) will probably be obsolete in a few years anyway.

Posted by ldfs at 11:10 AM

April 9, 2004

Low-Carb Craziness

It's sad the way new information about nutrition and diets gets twisted by the media and people's natural inclination to oversimplify. Take the current hype about low-carb foods. The popularity of anti-carb diets such as Atkins has gotten so high that restaurants and manufacturers are all jumping on the low-carb bandwagon. For many people the message has boiled down to a simple formula: high carb = bad, low carb = good. Nevermind the fact that many of the low carb products that are being peddled are actually rather high in fat, sometimes saturated fat. No distinction is made between good carbs, such as those found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and the carbs contained in a candy bar or a slice of Wonder white bread.

Remember just a few years ago when "low fat" were the buzzwords? Eventually, it dawned on people that a lot of these products were low fat but were actually very high in calories/sugar. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't eat foods low in fat. It means we shouldn't eat foods high in calories and/or sugar.

As American society becomes more and more dependent on pre-prepared, processed foods, we will probably continue to fall victim to these distortions of the nutritional facts.

Meanwhile, the price of eggs goes through the roof, and there is a new steak house opening on every corner. Oh well. More whole wheat sourdough bread for me!

Posted by ldfs at 9:13 AM

April 8, 2004

Movie Motion-Sickness

I love the movies, but they're making me literally sick.

Has anyone else noticed that hand-held cameras (or a technique that simulates the effect of hand-held cameras) are being used more and more often for films? Apparently, it's consider "edgy" or artistic in some way, as I am coming across this technique more and more often, and not just in the low budget independent films. Unfortunately this kind of camera work makes me, to borrow someone else's words, "sicker than a parrot in a tumble-drier." I am not particularly susceptible to motion sickness in general, so I can imagine the effects are ten times worse for those who routinely experience car-sickness and the like. As it is, I have had to leave films halfway through or sit through significant portions with my eyes closed an increasing number of times over the past year. "Pieces of April," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," and to some extent, "Lost in Translation" all left me with a royal headache and, to put it delicately, a major loss of appetite.

I am an independent and foreign film fan, and every week I get an e-mail newsletter from Landmark Cinemas, our local "art house" chain, telling me what's on for the coming week. Along with the plot summaries, the number of minutes, and the rating, I have asked them if they could also include a warning about use of hand-held cameras, where applicable. That way I could at least avoid wasting my money (not to mention the rest of my day, as I usually don't feel normal again until after I've had a good night's sleep). If it catches on, maybe it could become a regular feature of movie listings, along side the ratings for violence, bad language, drugs, and sex. Call it the barf factor. Anyone else want to join me in this campaign?

Posted by ldfs at 12:57 PM

April 1, 2004

Foolishness

I wonder if I will actually get through this whole day without being tricked into falling for an April Fool's joke. My husband gets me almost every year. I'm very gullible.

My favorite foolishness of the day: Go to Google, and enter the words "weapons of mass destruction" as search terms, then click the "I feel lucky" button.

Posted by ldfs at 4:24 PM