Decoration Day

Spring 1868. General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, a support organization founded by veterans for veterans, issues the following as General Order No. 11:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

This wasn’t the first Memorial Day, technically; the townspeople of Waterloo, New York had inaugurated just such an observance two years earlier. But General Logan’s call to honor fallen soldiers resounded nationally, and five thousand turned out at Arlington National Cemetery on the thirtieth of May, placing flowers and placards and gifts on the resting places of twenty thousand.

Two years later, General Logan spoke at Arlington, and this is part of what he said:

This Memorial Day, on which we decorate their graves with the tokens of love and affection, is no idle ceremony with us, to pass away an hour; but it brings back to our minds in all their vividness the fearful conflicts of that terrible war in which they fell as victims… Let us, then, all unite in the solemn feelings of the hour, and tender with our flowers the warmest sympathies of our souls! Let us revive our patriotism and love of country by this act, and strengthen our loyalty by the example of the noble dead around us…

I come from a family with strong ties to the military. Both my parents were sailors, and my father had served in the Army before joining the Navy. A brother served in the Navy; a sister took on the duties of a soldier’s wife. But it took me rather a long time to understand the “noble dead”; I knew nothing of death except that it was a scary prospect, and I didn’t see nobility as being part of the package.

The first inkling of what it meant came during Basic Combat Training in 1972. I was eighteen, grossly immature, and generally scared spitless. The guys with the funny hats who dragged us out of bed at 0500, well, they were just an obstacle, to be endured and then to be forgotten.

Except that they knew things. They weren’t scholars issuing position papers from ivory towers; they were men who had Been There, who had faced real enemies, and who had come back to show us pathetic slobs how to face real enemies ourselves. There were things you did, and there were things you did not do, if you expected to come back yourself. And since we were all green as hell and totally lacking in life experience, what we wanted more than anything else was to be able to come back.

So we learned. We fired (just as important, we cleaned) our weapons, we studied simple tactics, we got used to sleeping with the rocks and the ticks, we got to the point where we weren’t as embarrassingly bad as we had been a couple of months earlier. And the NCOs, who up to then had never been satisfied with our performance, pronounced themselves satisfied: we were going to be all right.

Most of us did come back. But some did not, and we found ourselves grieving for them and for their families, because we knew that it could just have easily have been us. Their sacrifice was received and found worthy. Noble, even.

I thought about this during the dedication of the World War II Memorial this week, especially when that old soldier Bob Dole explained why it was happening:

What we dedicate today is not a memorial to war. Rather, it is a tribute to the physical and moral courage that makes heroes out of farm and city boys and that inspired Americans in every generation to lay down their lives for people they will never meet, for ideals that make life itself worth living.

I hope, as I slide into old-soldier status myself, that I’ve done my best to live up to those ideals.

(Originally posted 30 May 2004.)

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Down here on the ground

Have you ever wanted to scream “You’re not helping!” at someone? It’s like that.

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Unneeded assistance

Just landed in the spam trap:

I discovered your [post identification redacted] page and noticed you could have a lot more traffic. I have found that the key to running a website is making sure the visitors you are getting are interested in your subject matter. There is a company that you can get traffic from and they let you try it for free. I managed to get over 300 targetted visitors to day to my website.

I get 300 visitors a day without having to target a damned thing. Why should I fork out to some vendor of Digital Snake Oil (Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.)?

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Today’s numbers racket

Everything you ever hated about the Financial Industry in one brief anecdote:

The check was for $6,000, an amount this sow never saw in her life. She was always overdrawn on her accounts, had well over $1,000 in fees, and was just a miserable, pathetic, excuse for a human being. But what made this great was just how obvious it was she had printed this check off of a cheap ink-jet printer.

My solution was simple — call the cops and get this vermin arrested for passing fake checks.

But oh, no. Not for the staff nor my boss. How did we know it was fake? How did we know she purposely printed this off? Besides (and pay attention to this) we needed her late and overdraft fees because those (despite never being paid) made this a profitable account.

Yep. Meets the technical definition of an asset, even if for all intents and purposes it is clearly anything but. Somewhere in the ether are a couple of quadrillions worth of complicated derivatives with all the tangible value of unicorn farts — believe me, I know from unicorn farts — that are, for the moment, being carried as assets. How long can this go on? So long as everyone agrees that these are actually assets and doesn’t try anything foolish like, oh, trying to cash them out.

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From the Not Happening files

So last night, while I should have been heading for the sack, I found an interesting little plugin which would list every single tag used on this site. I’d planned to give it its own page and a link up top; you click on that and you get an index of sorts, whether you’re looking for something mentioned only once (rather a lot of these) or more than five hundred times (Thunder-related stuff). In fact, I installed it briefly, and the results were at least acceptable.

But there’s one minor problem: there are ten thousand tags. (The number has climbed as high as 10,001; recent paring has whittled it back to 9,990, and considering it was 9,800 in September, I can’t complain too much.) It’s not exactly like indexing an encyclopedia, but it’s tedious, and it takes a heck of a long time to load. So I disposed of that idea, and also killed off the Tag Cloud I’d had hidden elsewhere, as it was kind of silly, as those things almost always are.

I might have gone along with it had it been possible to limit the listings to, say, things that had at least two mentions, which would have cut down the size of the display by half. (Which tells you what kind of concentration level I must have, if there are 5000 topics here that have been mentioned only once.) There apparently is a hack for this, but I couldn’t get it to work, so I set the idea aside. For now, anyway.

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Lost without translation

When New York City’s classical station, WQXR, moved down the dial, it also gave up some of its service area. A couple of translators in the fringe area have helped a bit, but station management has other plans as well:

New York Public Radio has acquired 90.3 WDFH Ossining, NY from Hudson Valley Community Radio for $400,000.

Then again, this isn’t a big signal boost — yet:

WDFH currently operates with 53 watts at 145 meters. As part of the asset purchase agreement, NYPR has agreed to file with the FCC an application to increase power to 250 watts. FCC approval of that application is a condition of the sale to close.

The main WQXR signal is only 610 watts, but it has the advantage of 416-meter height — on top of the Empire State Building, that is. The current 53-watt version of WDFH makes it almost all the way to Mount Vernon.

(Via a Doc Searls link pile.)

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Third time’s the charm, and then some

Volume 3 by She & HimThe fourth album by She & Him is called Volume 3, a title which perhaps is curious for its use of the digit instead of spelling out the number as they did in two previous albums, not including the obligatory Christmas album, which I bought but did not review, inasmuch as it didn’t really fit into whatever grand scheme Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward were planning, except of course for (what else could it be?) World Domination.

Based on the evidence of Volume 3, I’m ready to hand over the premises. The eleven ZD originals here show serious growth in her songwriting chops, plus a certain amount of unexpected faithfulness to one of my own guiding principles: love is composed of the magical and the mundane, not necessarily in equal quantities. As an object lesson, see track eight, “Together,” arguably ZD’s drippiest bit of romantic tomfoolery since the tearful “Sentimental Heart” on Volume One, which somehow remains grounded: she (mostly) keeps the quaver out of her voice, and not even the shimmering strings that come in during the instrumental break (nice touch, Mister Ward, sir) can drag it over to the weepy end of the scale.

As always, S&H have selected some unexpected covers: Blondie’s “Sunday Girl,” a track from Parallel Lines which was never released Stateside as a single; “Baby,” the B-side of Ellie Greenwich’s demo-turned-single “You Don’t Know”; and the early-Fifties torch song “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” mostly remembered today as a mid-Sixties soul single by Mel Carter. Deschanel’s reading of “Hold Me” is heavy on the torch.

And as always, Ward’s production is simultaneously impeccable and unobtrusive, and his instrumental work is always appropriate. (He also sings a bit, mostly on “Baby.”) Nicely, he cuts off the strings-and-choir reprise of “I Could Have Been Your Girl” at the close, right before you begin to wonder why it’s there in the first place.

I admit to speculating a bit as to whether any of these songs were intended to recall ZD’s recent split from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard. Maybe a little: “I’m stronger than the picture that you took before you left” (from “Turn to White”) sounds ever so slightly accusative. But that’s about it: if there’s sadness here, and there is, it’s a generic, and possibly more universal, sadness. And that, too, is a component of love, though determining whether it’s part of the magic or part of the mundane is way above my pay grade.

(Previously discussed: Volume One; Volume Two. Reviewed from my own purchased copy.)

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Corner of Desolation Row and Positively 4th Street

Now this is nifty: a map of every place mentioned in a Bob Dylan song.

And there are a lot of such places, believe me.

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The check isn’t in the mail

The IRS “Where’s my refund?” site is down this weekend, “due to several factors, including scheduled maintenance,” and one might reasonably ask, “What other factors?”

There are many, but these are the Top Ten:

  1. IRS accidentally got put on the Sequester List
  2. All the field agents’ cars ran out of gas at about the same time
  3. Joe Biden’s doing some replanting, if you know what I mean
  4. Cost of buying votes unexpectedly rose 4.5% this year
  5. Nobody remembers who was supposed to renew domain
  6. Congressional health plan expanded to include polygraph tests
  7. Had to cover Antonio Villaraigosa’s unemployment check
  8. Eric Holder had to subpoena himself, causing an endless loop in government computers
  9. Tim Geithner’s late with his payment again
  10. Hey, them drones ain’t cheap

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On the far side of Lake Wobegon

Over at Hot or Not, the sole attraction used to be a seemingly endless collection of pictures of various and sundry individuals, which you would presumably rate for hotness, or perhaps notness. This gets really old really fast, especially for some soft-headed bozo like me who’s reluctant to give anyone less than a 4 out of a possible 10, except, of course, himself; when asked to rate myself on this scale in the past, I have usually said somewhere between 2 and 3, though lately I’ve cut myself a little more slack — say, 3.5.

But maybe I was right the first time:

Scientific American reports that a new study finds that “most of us think that we are better than we actually are — not just physically, but in every way.”

Psychologists Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia put together a slightly less feel-good experiment than the idealized setup in the Dove commercial above.

Participants were shown a cluster of images of themselves. One was original. The rest were digitally doctored. Some made the participant less attractive, while others made them more attractive. When asked to select the unmodified original, subjects tended to gravitate to one of the computer-enhanced images that made them look better.

It didn’t stop there. A stranger who had met the participant a few weeks earlier was asked to select that person from the same set of portraits. Surprise: They tended to pick the unmodified, less-than-perfect original.

And it gets worse. Says SA:

Most people believe that they are above average, a statistical impossibility. The above average effects, as they are called, are common. For example, 93 percent of drivers rate themselves as better than the median driver. Of college professors, 94 percent say that they do above-average work. People are unrealistically optimistic about their own health risks compared with those of other people. For example, people think that they are less susceptible to the flu than others. Stock pickers think the stocks they buy are more likely to end up winners than those of the average investor. If you think that self-enhancement biases exist in other people and they do not apply to you, you are not alone.

Nor do I have this going for me:

A 1995 study concluded that “negative correlations between individuals’ overall self-enhancement of their personality” led to more favorability among their peers [pdf]. In other words, people who didn’t think the world of themselves were more motivated to present themselves to others in a more positive light. They were more likable, possibly because they weren’t insufferable narcissists.

I admittedly don’t think the world of myself, but I do try to avoid presenting myself in too positive a light.

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A fairly B9 artifact

Sam the Sham’s “Wooly Bully” came out shortly after my eleventh birthday, and having lived a relatively sheltered life up to that point, I had no idea what Sam meant by “Let’s not be L7.” Eventually, of course, I did figure it out — I’m not entirely dim — and in my later years I was delighted to see that there was an actual band called L7. Better yet, they’d put out a song called “Bite the Wax Tadpole,” which was alleged to be “Coca-Cola” in Chinese.

Eventually the band drifted from punk to grunge, and put out this anthem which every so often gets stuck in my head:

I am not in a position to explain that brief trou drop.

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Decor values

Another one of those Not Unreasonable Questions: How Far Can You Go in Decorating Your Cubicle?

Some employers have written guidelines about personalizing workspaces, while many others do not. What’s appropriate is sometimes difficult to define.

But a survey of marketing and advertising executives uncovered objects that would strike someone as surprising in most office settings — a live pig, punching bag, mermaid sculpture, a pair of men’s underwear, a rock collection, hair dryer, and a drawer full of clothes.

Not being any kind of executive, I figure no one should be surprised at my shrine to Twilight Sparkle.

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Meanwhile on the Amazon

I had five items on order from the World’s Largest Invisible Retailer, all of which arrived the same day — yesterday — and three of which required explanations.

Two of them (a book and a CD) had been preordered at some price X, which since had dropped to some lower price Y. The charges were adjusted accordingly, with X-Y equal to $1 on the book and $6.34 on the CD.

And then a credit for $2.79 showed up; evidently I’d qualified for Super Saver (free) Shipping, had checked the box accordingly, and yet didn’t notice that I’d been charged anyway.

None of this, however, compares to the corporate announcement that they’re acquiring licenses from intellectual-property owners to permit Kindle publication of fanfiction. Surely no one is going to pay for my pony stories; still, the idea goes beyond intriguing. (And besides, I said no one was going to read them, either, and that was 3,200 readers ago.)

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Finder’s keepers

This is apparently Rebecca Black’s desktop:

Screen shot from Rebecca Black's Mac

Two things (apart from Hello Kitty in the center) jumped out at me:

  • There’s a folder called “My Book.” Oh, really?
  • AIM? Seriously?

Addendum: It just dawned on me. AOL first put AIM online in May 1997. The service is therefore one month older than Rebecca Black.

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Quote of the week

Nicole Hill (no relation) on being from this little corner of the globe:

At some point, life punches you in the gut for the first time. You watch the hand of God come down, and an entire town disappears off the map.

You fall to your knees and you cry and you spit and you cuss the day and night. And then you get up.

You don’t waste your time asking the heavens why. There’s work to be done.

You see someone else shaking their fists at the sky, so you reach your hand down. And then they get up.

That’s what being an Oklahoman is. Being so goddamned resilient and perseverant that ain’t nothing or nobody can keep you down. I’ve been a lot of places, lived in a few of them, and met many great people. Without minimizing anyone else, Oklahomans are a different breed. When you’re a little guy used to getting kicked, you not only learn to pop back up but you become the first one to reach out to others.

If you were wondering about that #okstandard hashtag, now you know. Even if you weren’t born here, as I wasn’t.

And yes, I meant “corner of the globe.” A lot of us are deemed square pegs by various holes glorying in their roundness.

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Shrimp engine thrown on barbie

Ford is phasing out its manufacturing operations in Australia, following years of declining demand for its big-bruiser Falcon and Territory models:

“The company had hoped to stem the flow of customers out of Falcon with an EcoBoost engine, which was a highly advanced two-litre turbo four-cylinder as opposed to the traditional six-cylinder. Unfortunately, even though the EcoBoost Falcon is a fantastic vehicle out of Australia, the reality was that Falcon buyers don’t want a little four-pot, and buyers stayed away.”

The one genuine advantage of the EcoBoost — less weight over the front wheels — is realized in front-wheel drive vehicles, which these aren’t.

The last Oz-built Fords will appear in 2016.

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