July 29, 2009

The Stupid Logic of Screwing You Over

[The story as originally posted was wrong. Instead of fixing the story and explaining the differences, I'm leaving this post with a summary of what actually happened and deleting the inaccurate stuff. Sorry - I had a memory glitch. This is something a wife is good for. Correcting you on your mistakes. Below is the reworked story. It's less interesting, but still ridiculous. And whiny. But what do you expect from a blog?]

I just paid a parking violation. Let me tell you the story!

A few weeks ago on June 8, I took my daughter to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. I parked in a nearby city lot. The lot has a quirky machine that you pay for your parking voucher. Sometimes it works, sometimes it does not.

I didn't have any change and I only thought we were going to be in the area for 3 hours. It's $1 per hour (reasonable!) I put a $5 bill into the machine and I told the machine I'd be there for 3 hours. It told me it had no change, but printed out a nice "I owe you $2, please beg for your money later from the city." Seemed fair enough to me at the time, although I wasn't happy about it.

On a subsequent visit to New Bedford, Maggie and I underpaid for parking and incurred a violation. The city still owed me $2, but the lot checker doesn't know that, of course.

It irked me that they still owed me money, but charged me for a violation. But what can you do?

I didn't pay the ticket right away; I'm bad with those things, and deserve the surcharge. I eventually got to it today. Somehow, the ticket had ballooned to $35. From $10. I found that out when Ryan and I strolled into the parking office and handed over both the violation and my IOU.

The clerk handed me back the IOU and asked me to fill out my name and address while she tallied up my fee on the violation. Once I paid her and handed back the IOU, she began to stare at it like she'd never seen one before. This struck me as strange, since she seemed to have a procedure for them (put your name and address on it.) She asked me how I got the IOU. I told her the parking machine didn't have any change. She handed me the IOU and essentially told me she didn't know what to do with it. Then she went off to consult someone else. When she came back she told me she could give the thing to the parking clerk (I thought she was the parking clerk) and he would decide what to do with it. She couldn't pay it (she told me) because it was over a month old. (!?) Nothing on the IOU gave it an expiration date.

Clearly I screwed up estimating my time in the lot. Clearly I should have paid the ticket sooner to avoid the additional fees. But it really bugged me that not only were they going to tack on punishments for late payment, they wanted my $2 as well.

I was incredulous. I told the clerk (?) that this policy was ridiculous. Nowhere was it posted that the IOU would expire. She reiterated her helplessness. She told me, basically, that she just worked there and had no power to honor my IOU. At this point, someone else came into the office to do some business. I knew I wouldn't get anywhere and didn't want to hold up some other citizen who was trying to pay a fine. I left, bidding the "clerk" to "enjoy her ridiculous day." I felt like Han Solo in Star Wars, shooting the console and declaring "Boring conversation anyway." Any more time there would have been wasted.

Plus, we had to get back to Ryan's car. We'd only paid for an hour.

The whole thing is ridiculous, and I have to learn that the city does not see "owing you money" the same way that, say, rational people do. And I should get better about paying my violations on time.

Posted by James at 2:37 PM | Comments (5)

Presidential Beer

So, who do you have to arrest for being loud to get invited to a presidential beer around here?*

Here's a story in the Boston Globe about local brewers hoping that the president will serve Massachusetts beer at the White House's so-called picnic table summit.

Reportedly, the president wants to drink Budweiser. That's not even technically an American beer anymore.

"I wish he wouldn't,'' said Suzanne Schalow, manager and former bartender at Cambridge Common, a restaurant near Porter Square known for its beer selection. "I saw him drinking a PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] during the campaign and had tears in my eyes. . . . He's so blessed to run a country with over 480 craft breweries; there's no need to go macro.''

If I had my choice, they'd drink Man O' War IPA. But I understand that the distribution of that award-winning brew is relatively exclusive, and even the president would have a little trouble getting his hands on some. I fear that his taste for PBR and Bud might indicate that the hoppiness would bowl him over. I fear that our president is not a man who appreciates the finest our national brewers have to offer.

Sure, on the campaign trail he needs to look like a man of the people. I suspect someone will thrust a PBR or Bud into your hand at some time during your travels. But even a beer snob should not turn his nose up at a free pint of the most average American lager, so long as it is chilled to the right temperature. Honestly, a beer among friends is still a beer. (A warm Bud, however, is a mouth full of foam -- a different story entirely).

As I digress briefly, let me make is clear: I have opinions about the quality of beer, but I do not believe this reflects on the quality of person. I merely wonder why people don't gravitate toward a better beer, depending on whatever their tastes are. If people can afford it, I am 99% sure they can find a better beer than PBR. Better in my opinion and better in their own.

Such interesting dynamics in these beer choices.

If that's what you like, Mr. President, then go ahead and drink Bud. I sincerely hope you are not posing. But Obama reportedly told Lt. Crowley that he also appreciates Blue Moon. Is that too Belgian for the cameras? Or does Obama feel like it would be taking sides to drink the same beer as one of his guests, in this case? Is this one of the banes of leadership and diplomacy in America? It is impossible for me to tell, because I don't think you can get an honest answer from a politician today on his choice of beer. Imagine the uproar if he said he drank nothing but Framboise. Strawberry lambic? It's pink for God's sake and it sounds French! All the while, our president may be longing for the sour pour of a good lambic, putting up a brave front and drinking Bud. I would shed a tear for my president.

Or he just might hate good beer.

Some say that Dr. Gates likes Red Stripe. All I can say to that is "whatever." Red Stripe is the Budweiser of Jamaica, a place that is not known for its beer. It's a good quality beer in terms of being consistently what it is. It amazes me that a man of letters should not have a more interesting preference in his beer. What are we teaching our academics nowadays? I don't want to make too many assumptions, but perhaps Dr. Gates hasn't had a beer in a while (he also cited "Beck's" Really? No disrespect, but Really? I haven't had a Beck's since the early 90's) A whole craft revolution has engulfed the U.S. of A., long since obliterating the tyranny that drove some citizens to seek any foreign beer lest they be stuck drinking domestic dreck. "Domestic" is now something to celebrate about a beer.

The only one of these men who seems to be drinking the home-grown good stuff is Lt. Crowley. I have to say, it speaks well for the man to not mind being seen drinking a Belgian-style ale, even if it is made in Colorado. I like a cold Blue Moon now and again. It'd be more to the liking of local breweries if he'd been drinking more local. Based on his appreciation of Blue Moon, Lt. Crowley would probably appreciate a Sam Adams White Ale (out of season right now) or their Summer Ale. I bet he'd like Harpoon UFO, or the Kolsch-style beer they brew. I could list many other local choices; the list is long nowadays.

Suffice it to say, I am puzzled at how this beer choice thing is shaking out. Except that one aspect of drinking together is that it is a time-honored method of hashing out ideas. It brings people together, even if it sometimes intensifies our differences, because it shows we can come together on some things even if we do not agree on others. And we can still survive and communicate despite those differences. This is not just moderate political bullshit, it's vital for the ongoing intellectual and societal health.

[* Having a blog is trying at times. On the one hand, there is great pressure to cover issues that are ever-present in the media. On the other hand, there is the feeling of beating a dead horse. Ideally, it would be nice to know when a story is going to be THE story that dominates the news for over a week. But even then I would not know whether to address it early or simply avoid it altogether. Blogs are often about conversation, and some of these issues turn into rehashes of arguments being made elsewhere, or a Rorschach test of bias and prejudgment. Sometimes I have to realize the same thing over and over again -- this blog is about my often skewed take on a subject. By "skewed" I don't mean biased (although I am biased, as we all are, by my own experiences). By "skewed" I mean that I hope to take an angle that is at least slightly different than everyone else. Otherwise, why is there a reason to visit my blog at all? The times I most despair about my blog are the times when many other people are saying exactly the same things I am. But even that is not clear, since I hope to add an additional voice of reason when reason is otherwise being shouted down. I starred that line because there is a good chance you and I disagree about some aspect, large or small, about the Gates arrest. I provide this link to the police report, because in the officer's own account, the only real reason Gates was arrested was for being loud. Gates "continued to yell" at Crowley. This could have been remedied by police leaving the area, since Crowley had already failed to find evidence of a crime. (Being loud is not illegal in Massachusetts.) Both men acted stupidly, in my estimation. Crowley failed in the larger responsibility, since only he had the power to turn it into an arrest, and therefore a much bigger deal. With power comes responsibility, eh? So, dear reader, you and I probably disagree somewhere along this line of reasoning. Especially if you have unfailing support for either men's actions. It is possibly to be a good man and do something stupid.]

Posted by James at 12:07 PM | Comments (7)

July 27, 2009

Really, Discovery? Really?

I turned the TV on and the Discovery Channel is showing a program called "A Haunting." Apparently, this is a series which tells stories of haunted houses.

I love a good ghost story. I grew up on them. This program is a very well done, as far as these things go: spooky, with dramatizations and flashes of ghostly faces and such. Of course it's all absolute junk.

And that's the problem. "Discovery" (as the channel now calls itself) is one of those cable channels that some people pointed to a few years back, citing the great availability of educational programming which now made the necessity of public broadcasting obsolete.

Discovery is full of junk like this. There's some good stuff, but there's also much sensationalist BS presented as fact. As an argument to eliminate funding of public broadcasting, Discovery is a pretty crappy argument.

Posted by James at 2:33 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2009

Pocky Men's

Pocky Men’s, originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.

It’s dark chocolate, presumably for men because… what, women can’t handle dark chocolate? Or maybe men can’t digest milk chocolate?

Posted by James at 11:54 AM | Comments (5)

July 23, 2009

Intellectual Influences

Who are your intellectual influences? We all take elements of what we hear and read and incorporate them into how we think, view the world, argue and solve problems. I was thinking about my own intellectual influences and as I thought longer, more occurred to me. So I figured I would trickle them out over Twitter as I think of them. The list omits close personal friends and family who obviously were strong influences. I'm not ignoring them; I'm focusing on others so that people might take a look at my influences if they're interested and share their own so that i could check them out. You likely don't have access to my parents and friends.

Here are a few that leaped to mind immediately.

  • Richard Feynmann - for science and inquiry as a part of life, and for individuality
  • Sun Tzu - for thinking about conflict and organization
  • Gerry Spence - for understanding what it means to win an argument
  • Suzette Haden Elgin - for recognizing language's role in thoughts and emotion, and knowing when you are inadvertently in an argument
  • Carl Sagan - for a sense of wonder

There are many, many others, but that's the start of my list. What are yours? Comment here or to Twitter with the hashtag #influences

Posted by James at 10:52 AM | Comments (7)

July 22, 2009

Submitted to Sen. John Kerry - July 22, 2009

Senator Kerry,

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing to you to thank you for your vote in support of halting production of the F-22. Your vote will help rein in wasteful military spending at a time when every dollar is vital to the health of our nation, considering realities of the economy and the conflicts we are fighting.

In my opinion, this proposal put forward by your friend Sen. John McCain and supported by the president is both a practical victory and a symbolic one. I know it was a difficult decision, considering there are jobs in Massachusetts that rely on the F-22 program.

I find it reprehensible the program to build Lockheed's F-22 was engineered to involve jobs in as many states as possible, ensuring that representatives and senators would feel political pressure from their constituents regardless of the need of this jet.

I'm certainly glad you considered whether the cessation of this program was appropriate in maintaining the defense of the nation, and that you came to the same conclusion that I and many others did (including Secretary Gates).

The reason that I am writing is that I hope this vote, and the cooperative victory it represents, heralds future decisions based on what is practical, not what is most politically expedient. I appreciate your efforts.


James P. Burke

(Background: President wins on defense spending - Boston Globe )

Posted by James at 3:38 PM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2009

Robocop Again?

I'm torn. I just read that MGM is planning a remake of Robocop. Paul Veerhoeven's ultra-violent tale gave us humor mixed with social commentary wrapped in a sci-fi candy shell. It was disturbing and gratuitous. Does it need a re-imagining?

I would say "no." Except for the fact that Darren Aronofsky is reportedly going to direct this new film, which will not use any of the previous work as cannon. Aronofsky is one of the most fascinating directors; his tough-to-watch (for me anyway) Requiem for a Dream was a gut-wrenchingly moving and surreal look at the effects of drug abuse. What interest him about a Robocop remake?

That question alone has me intrigued. If they just want to do it again as a big budget action film, I'm not interested. But if Aronofsky has something else in mind, it'll be hard for me to stay away.

Posted by James at 7:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2009

Red Panda News

Red Panda Wallpaper

Red pandas are my new favorite animal. That's the kind of unique and exciting news you can get on my blog. That's why you people keep coming back for more!

I took this picture of a (what I believe to be) male red panda at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in DC. People visit there from all over to see the giant pandas, but I'll take the red pandas over the giant ones any day of the week.

The reason I believe this one to be a male is that we were told the female was pregnant and being kept in a special area. Here are another couple of pictures of this fella. The picture above is cropped to be used as the wallpaper on my phone. Feel free to steal it for your phone background if you decide you're a red panda fan. Although you can find much better pictures out there.

The LA Times ran a story this week about a couple of red pandas who were born in a zoo in China; the zookeepers didn't even realize she was pregnant, and the mom abandoned the cubs. Red pandas are notoriously difficult to raise, and they're endangered. In an effort to save the cubs, they've enlisted the help of a mixed-breed farmer's dog to nurse the panda pups. The adoptive momma dog is all reportedly plenty eager to help.

Can we say it all together? Awwwwwww!

Posted by James at 11:47 AM | Comments (4)

July 18, 2009

Cronkite & Communication

I was not there to hear about the moon landing in person. I'm sure that hearing Walter Cronkite announce this historic moment would have made a huge impression on me. Of course I remember him as a trusted voice of journalism, and I usually found that voice more comforting than inspiring.

An inspiring moment from my youth was the ride called "Spaceship Earth" at EPCOT Center, part of Walt Disney World in Florida. Experiencing it as a pre-teen, I was fascinated by the thread of how communication was tied to the progress of humankind.

I returned to "Spaceship Earth" on my honeymoon, with Maggie. As it was also one of her favorite rides, we experienced it together for the first time. By the time we got there it had been remodeled a bit, and the new voice of Spaceship Earth was Walter Cronkite.

As Walter told the story of how knowledge has been passed on through the centuries, and how communications technology was vital, I heard it with the ears of someone who had not been an adult for too long. I began to think about how I fit into this thread of communication. Where was my place in the history of communication? I still wonder that today.

I know Mr. Cronkite didn't write the text for the ride; he merely added his voice. Still, this is my most vivid memory of the man.

Mr. Cronkite, you tried to make us better, more informed people through your communication and you gave us enough credit that we should be able to connect the dots ourselves. Few have that same respect for their audience today. Thank you.

Posted by James at 1:00 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2009

Window view.

Window view., originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.

On and off drizzle.

Posted by James at 3:03 PM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2009

It's the pits

People who stand in front of the produce at the supermarket eating said produce before they have bought it are worthy of scorn. It's not a frakkin buffet, folks. Come to think of it, that behavior wouldn't fly at an actual buffet, either. Don't eat where you're touching the fruit. I don't care if it's grapes, or what-have-you. They're grapes, you don't need to try before you buy. You don't see people swigging from the gallon jugs of milk in search of the best jug. There's a reason.

It's disgusting to see someone chewing over the available fruit, and I daresay that the supermarket should discourage it because it is extremely off-putting. Not simply in a personal way, it puts me off the supermarket's wares.

Cherries are on sale at Stop & Shop this week, so I sauntered up to the buffet sample bar feed trough counter where the bags of cherries were, and I noticed that the guy standing next to me was smacking his lips, chewing away at something and looking around furtively, his hand leaving his face to seal up a bag of cherries.

As he wandered off (without his bag) I made sure to take my cherries from the other side of the display. Then a question entered my mind: if he was eating cherries, what was he doing with the pits?

Posted by James at 9:11 PM | Comments (9)

Rex's Brief Adventure

I'm in the middle of cleaning up my desk. It's an awful mess, and I really can't get much work done in this environment. However, I hate cleaning it so much that any little distraction is welcome. That's part of why Maggie always says it's good to do these things in stages. Get a little done, feel good about it, and come back to it later. As long as you can come back to it later.

As I was trying to decide what to do with some old pay stubs, Maggie was taking K to her cello lesson. She pulled out of the driveway, and I placed the stubs down somewhere that was definitely not their final destination, a small admission of temporary defeat. I heard Maggie stop the car across the street and get out.

"What's wrong?" I yelled down to her from the office window. I could see her wandering in the street.

"Rex has gotten loose somehow, but I can't get him." Rex is our neighbor Tim's dog, a friendly brown mutt who patrols the corner from behind the safety of Tim's fence.

As Maggie drove off, I decided I'd go out and see what I could do.

I'm not much of a dog person, but last week we'd had an encounter with another neighborhood dog that colored my perceptions about how easy it is to retrieve a loose canine. During some yard work I turned around to find a small dog trying to make friends with me. He appeared to be some sort of corgi. In retrospect, he may simply have been trying to herd me. Hard to say now.

The corgi's name was Max, and he was keen on checking out our house and convincing us that we were sheep. Max borrowed our back yard for a little while waiting for someone to come pick him up. In the end, the dog officer got to the house before the owners did, but we were happy that we'd kept our furry visitor safe from the perils of the road.

Rex, Tim's dog, was nowhere to be found. I wandered up the street calling his name. He ran out from some bushes and acted like a dog, coming near to sniff me, but then immediately running away and around me. He could tell I wanted to take him back home and he wanted none of that. At one point, I called to him and I got him to follow me halfway back to his house, but then he just took off again.

I walked back to Tim's house and saw that the gate had gotten open. I figured I'd take one more shot at convincing Rex to come close, but I didn't have a leash. I'm sure I could have improvised something, but I am uncomfortable putting ropes around other people's dogs, even if I'm trying to help.

Luckily, another neighbor, Mr. Murray, saw that Rex was out and came up to help. Rex was more familiar with him. As we walked to a side street where we thought Rex had gone, we discussed Max as well, and he let me know where Max lives (good to know if we ever encounter him again). Apparently, the same dogs have a tendency to get loose in this neighborhood.

When we found Rex he was still reluctant to be lead back. He ran up to me again, but then swung off and bolted toward a woman and her daughter who were standing with a cat.

Rex chased the cat (Sabrina) up a nearby tree before running up to the woman who simply grabbed his collar. She was apparently familiar with him, because she called him by name.

Meanwhile, I tried to coax Sabrina from the tree. I was about 6 inches from reaching her, but she remained motionless, shooting me a "You have got to be kidding me" expression. I was so intent on trying to get the cat down that I failed to introduce myself to the woman who had collared Rex. As she handed him over to Mr. Murray, she told me that Sabrina belonged to a neighbor and that she'd eventually come down from the perch.

That was my cue. Dog and cat were safe, and my attempt at help was pretty irrelevant. I am just not that good with pets.

Posted by James at 3:32 PM | Comments (3)

July 10, 2009


I don't really have a shotgun post for you today, so we'll go with a smorgasbord.

Here's a mix I put together for July. It's 8 relatively diverse tracks. The Phish at the beginning just reminds me of working at SimCalc in the summer. paper Planes is what it is.The third track, Gravity, is an example of Vienna Teng's great vocal and piano talents. Then we go a little old school, a little new school, a little techno, The Racounteurs and finish up with the promise of secret adventure!

Here's a link that would have been in today's shotgun post, had we had one. It's an NPR story on the top 10 reasons why BMI is bogus. I've always thought so, so glad to see some support there.

Maggie sent me this wildlife photography fail; I agree that the look on the penguin's face is priceless. And how often do you say that?

This is one of the freakiest things I've seen in a while. And I watch the news, so that's saying something.

Fall River is now promoting itself on-line with a FallRiverNow.com Internetwebsite. In related news, I just learned that Fall River has at least two martini bars.

Today we're out and about for medical reasons. I hope to have nothing important to report as a result, and we can continue on as previously.

Posted by James at 9:12 AM | Comments (2)

July 8, 2009

Predicting Palin

Patti sent along a link with some recent poll results:

Fifty-four percent of Americans say they would be not too likely or not likely at all to vote for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin if she runs for president in 2012 while 43 percent would be very or somewhat likely to support her , according to a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted July 6.

Of course, the jaw-dropping part of that story is not that Americans are not running to the hyperventilating soon-to-be-ex-governor of Alaska to lead us to a future of prosperity. It is, rather, that 43 percent of those polled would be at least somewhat likely to vote for her for president. One wonders if the question was worded thusly: "How likely would you be to vote for Sarah Palin in a presidential election if her opponent was Satan himself? Not at all likely? Somewhat Unlikely? Undecided? Somewhat Likely? Very Likely? or 'You Betcha?'"

I can't tell you Sarah Palin's political future because not even Sarah Palin knows what she's going to do when she wakes up tomorrow morning, so predicting her actions or how her adoring fans will react to those actions is an exercise in futility. It amused me that the above-mentioned poll was also asking whether people thought she would run for the presidency. 61% of respondents thought that it was at least somewhat likely that she'd go for it in 2012. Sure, why not? Who can tell? Who would have thought last year or even last month that she would announce to the world, in a speech about how horrible quitters are, that she was quitting the job Alaska voters elected her to and casting off the responsibility she agreed to take on?

What it comes down to is this: since Sarah Palin was thrust into the national spotlight, she's proved herself to be one of the least stable leadership figures ever to come to our attention.

I'm only an armchair pundit, and only a sometime armchair pundit at that, but my post-game of the 2008 election is that everyone thought it was going to be a change election, McCain raised his profile by going the "wildcard" route and it backfired in the end. His choice of VP increased interest in his campaign with a certain segment of his electorate which (in my uncharitable opinion) is not only distracted by bright, shiny objects but also likes to see things blow up.

Meanwhile, the economy was tanking and the swing portion of the electorate decided that they wanted the more stable candidate1. I think that the American voter gets a fairly good read of the stability of a candidate. Who can tell what course a president will take once he or she is in office? Ideology can give way to pragmatic concerns, the Congress can assert its authority, and opinions can change. But a person's reaction in the face of challenge and their stability is a trait that people look for, and it's a trait that can be seen during a trying presidential campaign.

Every indication from Palin's video resume is that she is intemperate, fickle, attention-seeking and easily bored. If there is a time when "conservative" comes to mean "willing to shirk responsibility because the job isn't fun anymore" then Palin's star will again be on the rise. If there is a time when the swing voters in this country feel the need to elect a president who will steer a crooked course, roll the dice on our future, and blame David Letterman if it all goes to Hell, Palin will be a shoo-in.

1. Despite the whooping about socialism, Obama is practically an avatar of stability. In manner, he's the most moderate president we've had in decades. As president he's showing a tendency to act boldly... but those bold efforts are toward preserving stability. It turns out that undefined change has a very wide interpretation. The swing voters sensed this before the election, and so far it looks like they got what they wanted. Meanwhile, the ones who are most disappointed in Obama are those who were looking for really radical liberal changes, and those who were looking to lampoon really radical liberal changes. We can debate McCain's stability, but I think that he was seen as a much more stable candidate before he took a chance on Palin. I don't think that the more perceived-as-stable candidate always wins, but I think there are times when this is more important to people. In 2012, I think the GOP will be trying to convince us that we're headed down a dangerous road and we need radical change in the other direction, so it may well be that GOPers choose a more revolutionary candidate.

Posted by James at 9:43 AM | Comments (0)

Dodo Drawing


Telegraph.co.uk reports that a 350-year old sketch of a dodo -- drawn during a time when there still were dodos in the world -- is gaining attention and expected to fetch over $9,000 at auction.

The dodo is the first recorded human-caused extinction, and a reminder that our actions do have very permanent consequences for the Earth and other species.

Of course, you can see an actual dodo skeleton at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Pictured here is the my photo of a model of a dodo that sits in the case with the skeleton, based on contemporary drawings and made with chicken feathers. On the drawing in question, an expert had this to say:

Another dodo expert, Anthony Cheke, said: "There is always a lot of interest in artefacts like these because the dodo is such a curiosity. This is certainly an unusual image although the drawing is, frankly, not very good even by contemporary standards."

Oh, snap! Take that, wannabee dodo artist from 350 years ago! You just got served.

Posted by James at 7:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 6, 2009

Providence Plantations

There is a bill making its way through the government of Rhode Island to change the state's name.

The full name is "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." The name bears the mark of the history of the state, which merged the settlements (sometimes referred to as "plantations" in those days) of Providence and the island that we now call Aquidneck Island (were Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth are).

I'm not a Rhode Island resident, but I have a strong attachment to the state. I have been employed in Rhode Island, have paid income taxes there, and Maggie is currently employed there. I live fewer than 6 miles from the border, and can probably get there on foot in an hour and a half, although the direct route would require some swimming or flying. I got married in Rhode Island. Some of my favorite restaurants are there. I care when goofy stuff is going on in Rhode Island.

The effort to rename the state has set its sights on the "and Providence Plantations" part. The reason? Apparently because the word "plantation" reminds some people of slavery.

"When I see that word 'plantations,' I start thinking about slavery. I start thinking about the injustices," said Sen. Harold M. Metts, a Providence Democrat and a bill sponsor. "… It's not about guilt. For me, it's about healing." (Providence Journal)

It is important to note that the word "plantation" in this case has absolutely nothing to do with slavery, despite the fact that slave trading did play a part in the history of this region. But it makes Senator Metts "start thinking about slavery." Is that a good enough reason to change the name? I say it is not.

The association of slavery with the word "plantation" in this context is based on a different meaning of the word in a different context. So, any real, continued mental association relies on ignorance. It is my belief that the only proper first response to ignorance is education, not accommodation. We should not indulge, cultivate, perpetuate or wallow in our ignorance. We should seek to dispel it.

I don't imagine that Senator Metts is ignorant of the actual meaning and context of "plantations" in the full name of the state. By now, someone surely has explained to him the history, and he must recognize that his association is an accident. It's at this point that I wonder why anyone would pursue a name change once they understood their error.

It bothers me that, if this eventually goes to the people for a vote, those in favor of the renaming will be trying to convince the population that there is something harmful or upsetting about this coincidence of words. They will rely on more people confusing the original contextual meaning of "Providence Plantations" with their objectionable meaning, and will possibly convince many people that they've been living in a state that has had a name that reinforces or celebrates some aspect of slavery. I find this deplorable, and if you don't believe it will happen in earnest before any vote, here's an example if it just happening seemingly by accident in the title of a news article: " R.I. May End Link To Slavery Past " The title assumes that the name is a link to slavery, and many reasonable but uninformed people who read it might think that erasing such a link is an easy decision. Well-meaning ignorance will not help us reach a more enlightened period.

Retreating from the name is a declaration that there has been something wrong with the name all this time, and there has not been.

Some have also pointed out that the name of the state appears not only in official state documents but also in the Constitution of the United States of America. Are there legal repercussions of changing the name? Should the constitution itself be changed if the language misunderstanding is so objectionable?

What should Rhode Island do instead?

Educate on the contextual meaning of the state's full name. This much should be obvious.

Educate about the actual role of slaves in Rhode Island. We should not forget or ignore the past. Not only should we acknowledge where slaves were a part of the building of this state, we should remember what the growth of the colony meant for the previous settlers of the area and what effect it had on them. Remembering the past should help inform our actions in the present and future.

Educate on the Rhode Island's legacy of freedom. In June of 1774, Rhode Island became the first colony to ban slavery when the general assembly prohibited the importation of slaves. That's a legacy of freedom in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is also known for the religious liberty that its founder Roger Williams sought for the people.

Seek to right present day injustices and imbalances of freedom. If present-day Ocean State legislators are looking to make their mark on freedom and liberty, if they want to help a minority that is currently suffering under laws that make them unequal, why not work to make same-sex marriages legal in their state?

In short:

If the focus of legislators is really on healing, and there is agita over the actual involvement of Rhode Island in the history of slavery, it should be countered by making it clear how Rhode Island has distinguished itself on the issue of slavery since then, rather than with empty gestures of renaming where none is warranted by meaning and sense. Remember the past so that the future can be better. In the legislature, attention should be focused on present-day injustices.

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (7)

July 4, 2009

I'm Back!

No, I haven't quit blogging. Reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated, although the same can't be said for Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays and the gubernatorial career of Sarah Palin.

See what happens when I go away?

For the last week, the family and I had been in Washington DC, as Facebook friends, Twitter followers or anyone who checks my Flickr photostream are already aware. We had some adventures.

Some DC Highlights

  • Tour of the Capitol building
    • Full of great things to see, rich in history and beautiful.
    • As we were leaving through the tunnel to the Library of Congress, an evacuation of the Capitol Visitor's Center began and they closed all the exits and sent people through the LOC tunnel, toward us. We hurried across.
    • Got to see Thomas Jefferson stepping on John Adams' foot up close.
    • We were shown around by a very personable young congressional page from Worcester who is studying government at Harvard. I wish her well in her senior year.
    • We sang "I'm Just a Bill" (what we could remember of it) on some steps on the actual Capitol Hill. We were at the Cannon Building; the actual steps where the Bill in the cartoon sings were roped off.
      • I looked for the velvet rope where they make the "bills that didn't make it that far' stand. Didn't see it.
      • Notice how the cartoon skips the role of lobbyists, conference committees and the vote that takes place after a conference committee? This explains my confusion the first time I heard about conference committees.
  • Meeting George
    • George is/was "Joubert" on EAForums and a longtime friend. He has commented here before. This was the first time we've had a chance to meet in person.
    • He generously bought us lunch and kept the kids laughing into the afternoon. it was a great time.
    • He drove us out to the Zoo, where I got to see one of my favorite animals, the red panda.
  • Seeing the Smithsonian Museums
    • We saw all our favorites and got to spend plenty of time on them
    • I learned that rocks contain water
    • We saw both classical and modern art, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Especially the Magritte, Rodin, Mueck, and Vermeer.
      • i felt like I wanted to say something about what I was looking at, but the need to move on prevented me from thinking too deeply about what i was seeing. I think you have to sit for long periods of time with a notebook to form your thoughts properly. of course, i can say some superficial things. I could go with the very Spock-like "fascinating."
    • We spent most of our time at:
      • National Museum of American History
      • National Air and Space Museum
      • National Gallery of Art East and West buildings
      • Hishhorn Museum
      • National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
  • We walked miles and miles.
    • On the first day alone we walked over 4 miles. Here was the bulk of that walk, not counting walking back and forth and around.
    • Walking allowed us to avoid gaining crazy amounts of weight, despite lots of high-calorie eating. Walking all day makes you hungry. Very hungry.
  • We learned a lot about the metro system in DC
    • Very clean compared to the Boston T
    • Cheap, and especially convenient for commuters.
    • Tough to figure out at first for newcomers because there are at least a couple of different types of busses which have different rules, and they don't use an "Inbound/Outbound" system like Boston. You have to know where the end of your line is to know which train to get on, even if you're not going to the end. Doesn't take too long to figure out, but if you're only there for a couple of days, you'll be looking at the maps a lot.
    • If you have any questions about getting around DC on public transit, I'm pretty sure I can answer them, now. :)
  • Had my first "Five Guys" burger and fries. In Georgetown, not in the place that Obama gets his. Sure, I could have done this in Dartmouth, but I'm hardly in Dartmouth anymore.
  • Got to see Lincoln up close. He's bigger than they say.
  • The view from the tower of the old Post Office building.
    • There are steel cables that run vertically through the openings in the tower, making photography difficult, and the guard prohibits approaching the cables too closely. But it's still a great experience.
  • The DC Ducks duck boat tour of the city
    • Loads of fun.

What I'd like to see if we return to DC

  • Fisherman's Wharf
  • Holocaust Museum
  • WWII Memorial
  • American Indian Museum
  • Postal Museum
  • Newseum

There is just not enough time in 6 days to thoroughly explore the city, especially when you have 4 people. We weighted our trip heavily to the children's interests, which overlapped heavily with our own.

That's all for now!

Posted by James at 12:20 PM | Comments (5)