Monday, December 31, 2007

Famous People Born in 1908

[Update January 6, 2009: I've posted a list of Famous People born in 1909. The new list has pictures and short descriptions of each person.]
[Update Nov. 13, 2011:  Famous People Born in 1910  and Famous People Born in 1911. Also, Famous People Born in 1913.]

As we move into 2008 it seems useful to look back to get some perspective. Doing that I found on a day-by-day list of events for 1908. You can click the link to see it. The page included people born in 1908. [If you're looking for events or people born on specific days in 1908, that's how the brainyhistory list them.] I thought the people list more interesting. This list of people seems to be US centric, though I spotted some European born people and at least three African Americans.

Of all the people on the list only two appear to be possibly still alive. says that Claude Levi-Strauss is still alive. But it didn't have George Kimble, a famous geographer, listed, so I couldn't tell. I have not double checked all the dates that I got from However, for all the people who did not have death dates, I googled and got added the death dates with and *, mainly from Wikipedia.

Abraham H. Maslow 1908 - 1970
Alistair Cooke 1908 - 2004
Amy Vanderbilt 1908 - 1974
Arthur J. Goldberg 1908 - 1990
Bette Davis 1908 - 1989
Cesare Pavese 1908 - 1950
Claude Levi-Strauss 1908 -
Edward R. Murrow 1908 - 1965
Edward Teller 1908 - 2003
Estee Lauder 1908 - 2004
Frank Leahy 1908 - 1973
George Kimble 1908 - ??
Harry A. Blackmun 1908 - 1999*
Jacob Bronowski 1908 - 1974
Jimmy Stewart 1908 - 1997
John Kenneth Galbraith 1908 - 2006*
Joshua Logan 1908 - 1988*
Lawrence Welk 1908 - 1992
Lyndon B. Johnson 1908 - 1973
Leo Rosten 1908 - 1997
Louis L'Amour 1908 - 1988
Milton Berle 1908 - 2002
Quentin Crisp 1908 - 1999
Rex Harrison 1908 - 1990

Richard Wright 1908 - 1960
Robert Morley 1908 - 1992
Rosalind Russell 1908 - 1976
Simone de Beauvoir 1908 - 1986
Theodore Roethke 1908 - 1963
Thurgood Marshall 1908 - 1993
William Randolph Hearst, Jr. 1908 - 1993*
William Saroyan 1908 - 1981
Yousuf Karsh 1908 - 2002
Mary Hemingway 1908 - 1984*
Eddie Albert 1908 - 2005*
Lefty Gomez 1908 - 1989*
Paul Brown 1908 - 1991
Ethel Merman 1908 - 1984
Carl Albert 1908 - 2000*
Rene Daumal 1908 - 1944
Greer Garson 1908 - 1996
Henri Cartier-Bresson 1908 -2004
Pauline Frederick 1908 - 1990
Carole Lombard 1908 - 1942
John Holt 1908 - 1967
Osbert Lancaster 1908 - 1980

Who are they all? I don't know them all, but there are at least three US Supreme Court justices, lots of actors, a great photographer, newsman, comedian, a US president, an economist and ambassador to India, the psychologist who authored the Hierarchy of Needs, a baseball player, a congressman, a key architect of the atom bomb, several writers...

I thought it would be interesting to see how many people born in 1908 are still alive. That is a fairly complicated question to ask it appears. The best I can find is the number of centarians, but that is everyone over 100. Actually as of today, most people born in 2008 would still be 99. Here's the Google-answer for the question: Number of 100 year old U.S. citizens per 100,000 population for various dates.

In 2000, there were 50,454 centenarians in the United States, or 1 per
people, or roughly 18 per 100,000
In 1990, there were 37,306 centenarians in the United States. or 1 per
people, or roughly 15 per 100,000
Apparently the numbers before these are less accurate. But the researcher did provide this as well:

In 1900, there were 46 centenarians per million people in the US, or
4.6 per 100,000
In 1930, there were approximately 35 centenarians per million people
or 3.5 per 100,000
So, there are a lot more today (18/100,000 rather than 4.6/100,000 in 1900). I'm guessing the drop between 1900 and 1930 might reflect the 1918-20 flu epidemic.

Who born in 2008 will be on this list in 2108? Among all those babies born will be a host of people who will go on to be world famous. So treat them with respect. You never know what the will achieve.

[November 2008 Update: I'm posting writings by and/or about Claude Levi-Strauss in honor of his 100th birthday at the end of November.]

Hosting Files -

Nathan, commenting on the Lebow post, said he'd try to get a better copy of the article posted on I've been looking for a place to host pdf files for this blog so I can actually put up good links to texts. So thanks Nathan.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

AIFF - Orange Revolution

OK, one more, then that's it.

Orange Revolution has particular relevance for paranoid leftist Americans. Are the powers that lie behind the Bush administration going to accept defeat in the 2008 presidential election [I'm not predicting defeat necessarily, just a scenario] and allow for a peaceful transition to a Democratic president? They didn't in 2000, and there's been suggestion that they election manipulation in Ohio gave them the election in 2004. So, if you believe that they are capable of anything from tampering with votes, voters, voting machines, etc. or even declaring a national security emergency and postponing the elections indefinitely, this is a movie you need to watch.

The ruling party, despite dictating to the media what they can say about the election and the candidates, is still losing to opposition candidate Yushchenko going into the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. Yushchenko even survives a poisoning that knocks him out of the campaign for a month and leaves his face disfigured. It's clear the government is manipulating the elections and the polling. According to the DVD blurb when Yushchenko is delcared the loser:
They come into the streets by the hundreds of thousands, from every part of the country. Their election has been stolen, and they have come to defend their votes. They march in protest, set up tent cities, and form human barricades around government buildings, paralyzing all state functions.
But this documentary, which has interviews with many people in Yushchenko's campaign, also shows that the campaign had been expecting this result and planning for these mass demonstrations well in advance. They had gotten the tents, had set up procedures for food, bathrooms, music and all the sound and video equipment with it, and on and on, including donations to pay for everything. So when the election results were rigged, the Orange party were ready for the hundreds of thousands who showed up, in a snow storm. And they had contacts in the government to find out what was happening and how to counter.

Americans have a lot to learn from Ukrainians about how to win back a stolen election. In 2000 perhaps Americans were too lulled into the belief that we have fair democratic elections. In 2004 we have less of an excuse. But if the election is stolen in 2008 there will be no turning back and we'll have no excuse for not being prepared. If the Democrats are not watching this film and talking with the participants in preparation for November 2008, then they aren't doing their job.

I would note that at the end of the film it says on the screen that Yushchenko's party fought amongst themselves and things weren't terrific. But it seems to me the point is that the party in power, who were using that power for their own ends rather than for the people's, were not allowed to steal the election and keep in power. Whatever problems Yushchenko had in ruling, were less serious than had the old regime stayed in power.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

198 Methods of Nonviolent Protest and Persuasion

This is only the first 34. This is from RANT - A Trainers Collective.

1. Public speeches
2. Letters of opposition or support
3. Declarations by organizations and institutions
4. Signed public declarations
5. Declarations of indictment and intention
6. Group or mass petitions

7. Slogans, caricatures, and symbols
8. Banners, posters, and displayed communications
9. Leaflets, pamphlets, and books
10. Newspapers and journals
11. Records, radio, and television
12. Skywriting and earthwriting

13. Deputations
14. Mock awards
15. Group lobbying
16. Picketing
17. Mock elections

18. Displays of flags and symbolic colors
19. Wearing of symbols
20. Prayer and worship
21. Delivering symbolic objects
22. Protest disrobings
23. Destruction of own property
24. Symbolic lights
25. Displays of portraits
26. Paint as protest
27. New signs and names
28. Symbolic sounds
29. Symbolic reclamations
30. Rude gestures

31. "Haunting" officials
32. Taunting officials
33. Fraternization
34. Vigils

These are the sections they have under Resources

Action Planning
Affinity Groups and Spokes Councils
Direct Action/Civil Disobedience
Health and Safety, Medical
Spanish Materials
Strategy Anchorage Beach Hike

I haven't been on a hike since spring - too busy, too lazy, wrong time, wrong hike, lots of excuses. The concept is great - a website where people who want to meetup for some activity. But walking along the beach near Kincaid sounded just right and the time was fine.

We did ok coming down the steep embankment from the Jodphur parking lot. This big piece of driftwood was at the bottom, on the beach.

We were eight people and eight dogs, all of whom will sleep well tonight.

The strong tides in Cook Inlet tend to jumble the sea ice and leave a lot on the shore.

Doug Van Etten, the mastermind behind the adventurer group.

The clouds were heavy, but there was a break on the western horizon all afternoon giving us a peak of the Alaska Range. I think this is Mt. Redoubt.

Baranof Hotel Gets Cheap Oil

While oil field support executives were running their legislative log rolling scheme from Room 604 of the Baranof, the hotel was already starting to wean itself from petroleum and using its own kitchen cooking oil to heat the hotel. There was a short item in the ADN Money section on Thursday, December 27, 2007. I couldn't find it through Google, but found what might be the source - what looks like a copy of a Westmark Hotel press release on a December 17 Reuters report. Baranof general manager Steve Hamilton said they started using cooking oil because the local incinerator no longer took the oil. They now collect oil from other Juneau businesses
The Baranof creates a mix of 1/2 vegetable cooking oil and 1/2 fuel oil
which is then used to heat the hotel. The hotel can burn up to 2,000 gallons
of oil in one month and typically uses 10,000 gallons of cooking oil over the
course of the year. By using cooking oil, the hotel has reduced the amount of
fuel oil they use by 9,000 gallons a year.
So, with a little thinking we can find better ways to do things. Instead of paying someone to dispose of their waste cooking oil, they now save the cost of 9000 gallons of heating fuel. How many more clever alternatives are out there? It seems like we generally have to be forced to find them when business as usual doesn't work. Sounds like everyone is coming out ahead.
Environmental benefits from using vegetable oil include releasing fewer
pollutants into the air, recycling of carbon already in the system and a
reduction in carbon output. In addition, businesses in Juneau have found a
reliable way to dispose of unwanted cooking oil without running afoul of
environmental regulations. Employees from the Westmark Baranof Hotel pick up
the oil free at their doorstep each week.
Way to go Steve. And by the way, how come the ADN left out the environmental benefits in their version of the story? Or don't they talk about that sort of thing in the Money section?

Friday, December 28, 2007

AIFF and Mental Health - A Summer in the Cage, Autism the Musical, Body/Antibody, Oil on Water

According to the National Institute for Mental Health

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.1 When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.2.... In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.3
Despite these statistics, we are, as a nation, dismally ignorant about the specifics of individual mental illnesses and the moral and ethical implications of how they work.

I didn't think I was going to write any more about this year's Anchorage International Film Festival, but I was able to borrow a few from the Festival office, and I just watched a powerful piece of movie making - A Summer in the Cage. It begins as a documentary about making a documentary about the basketball players at the Cage in Greenwich Village. But it turns into a film about one of the few white players, a guy named Sam, who takes over the director's life (and vice versa) and gets him to make the film about Sam, who is manic-depressive, also called bi-polar. It all worked for me - the photography, the story, the characters, the music, the lack of resolution. It had the magic.

And that got me to thinking. This was the fourth mental health themed movie that I saw through the AIFF. I guess if we aren't willing to talk about something, we leave it to the artists deal with it. And these films each did in totally different ways. The others were
Autism and the Cage were documentaries. For Autism, the movie making was low tech and succeeded because it didn't get in the way of the story. Cage was a very produced movie - it says "produced in association with the Sundance Channel - and it works well. The editor made good use of even the out of focus footage. Both delve deeply into the world of their mental health disorders to give us an intimate look at how the illness affects the individual and those around the individual. Each use the media of film to convey to outsiders what these conditions are like. Both films followed people with mental illnesses, not knowing where they would end up. Autism the Musical had more structure because it was focused on a musical being produced by a group of autistic kids. A Summer in the Cage was more or less a chance encounter that led the director, through curiosity and a growing sense of obligation (well, he told the story so that's what it looked like) to follow along for five years.

The two features were totally different. Oil on Water was ostensibly a feature film about the romance between an artistic young man and a beautiful model/writer. Only toward the end did it become the story of a schizophrenic. I left the theater with the sense that spreading the message about schizophrenia was the purpose of making the movie, and the interview with the producer Elle Matthews on the Writing Studio website seems to back that up.

On the other hand, Body/Antibody seems like a movie in which a character happens to be obsessive-compulsive. There's nothing preachy about the movie, this is not an 'educational movie,' it's just a good, dramatic comedy, that incidentally gives us a glimpse of what it means to be obsessive-compulsive. The director was at the showing and said he'd been fascinated by the disorder and had wanted one day to make a film that featured it. But it's the character who happens to have the disorder, not the disorder itself, that is the focus. However, the audience learns a lot about the disease. How, for example, can someone obsessed with cleanliness have sex? We find out. In addition to sex, it has that other essential ingredient of a successful 21st century movie - violence. Ultimately, I would expect that this movie will also serve as a greater vehicle for educating the world about mental health because it is basically entertainment whereas all the others are films about a mental health issue and they are troubling. This film could easily be released at the mall cineplex anywhere in the US and do well. The others will have a more difficult time getting that sort of audience. Autism, according to its website, will be shown on HBO and Cage was shown on the Sundance Channel.

For anyone who is teaching about mental health, I would highly recommend all but Oil on Water as excellent vehicles for getting the message across. They are real (including the language) and compelling and the basis for excellent discussion on the specific mental health issues they cover. Oil on Water has a more artsy look. I like artsy, but I had problems with the acting and pace in the beginning. It probably would be of interest to those with schizophrenia and their relatives and close friends.

Understanding about mental illness is critical in the United States and the rest of the world. In the US we have a basic story that says everyone is responsible for how his life turns out. Mental illness doesn't fit in that story. We'd rather believe that people are irresponsible, lazy, or evil when they don't behave appropriately. It's their own fault they don't succeed. What scientists are learning about mental health contradicts that story. One day there must be a showdown between our myths of autonomous man and the reality of mental health and illness.

These movies help show how powerfully, good movies can affect people's basic stories, by giving them an intimate window into the lives of people they otherwise would not know.

For earlier posts that touched on these movies see here and here for Oil on Water (I liked it better after seeing some other films), Autism the Movie and Body/Antibody are briefly mentioned in the first Oil link. Autism also has its own post. Body/Antibody should have had its own post, but I saw it late in the festival, so I hope I've done it justice in this post.

Picking the Right Story to Interpret the 'Facts'

Philip commented on the last post about Charlie Wilson's War:

Back through the 70s, I read a lot about the USSR. Current affairs and history, mostly dealing with musical life there. Between knowledge from that and talking to friends who had worked or studied there, I felt that the USSR was already teetering close to the edge before the mid-70s.

Hedrick Smith's _The Russians_ came out in 1975, four years before the Afghan invasion, during the middle of the short Ford administration. The book fairly clearly describes the already existing structural flaws that led to the collapse of the USSR fourteen years later.

It is possible that by forcing the Soviet government to spend more on defensive and counter-offensive weapons during the 1980s the US sped the inevitable along, but I doubt we'll ever know.
I've discussed in previous posts - particularly this one about "a black-hole bully, punching the nose of a passing galaxy" - how humans interpret facts based on the stories in their heads. Those stories - models, theories, narratives, we use many different words - get into our heads in different ways. Which story gets to be the interpreter of any collection of 'facts' at any point in time in any individual's brain, is a mystery. And I would wager most of us aren't aware of the stories we have that compete to interpret the world around us. Some we can identify - though they may not be the real story - others work in our heads without our ever actually articulating them.

Phil does a good job articulating the basis for his interpretation of the fall of the Soviet Union and he may be right - the Soviets were on the decline and, at best, the defeat in Afghanistan just sped that up. But I'm not so sure. The Soviet Union fell when the people stopped obeying. They simply withdrew their willingness to obey. When individual dissidents did that, the government could deal with that. But when the entire population did it, the government simply dissolved. (OK, this is my story, greatly influence by Vaclav Havel's "The Power of the Powerless". Click on the title for excerpts of the essay and here for a discussion that applies Havel's story to the US today.) The loss of young Soviet lives in Afghanistan and the eventual defeat in Afghanistan brought the people of the Soviet Union to the point of being able to withdraw their cooperation with the government. To simply stop cooperating with the regime. Then the radical capitalist crusaders with their "capitalism as the savior of humankind" ideology rushed into the Soviet Union to spread their Gospel. The initial euphoria dissipated as the pitfalls of unbridled capitalism - greed, inequality of wealth, followed by inequality of justice - resulted in a relative few Russians getting fabulously wealthy and the vast majority seeing their physical standard of living fall. Now, they seem to be sliding back into traditional Russian totalitarianism. So, Afghanistan may have made that moment of change possible. Without Afghanistan, things would have gotten bad, but they could have kept the Soviet infrastructure and more carefully adopted aspects of the market, as has China. The point of this post is not to decide who is 'right' but to illustrate how stories help us (for better or worse) interpret what we accept as 'facts.'

On NPR's Day to Day this morning (you can listen to it here,) the real Charlie Wilson says that the arming of the Mujahideen was his greatest achievement and he repeats the final message of the movie - that all we needed to do was fund the schools and infrastructure of post-war Afghanistan, and it wouldn't have left open for the Taliban to take.

But I can't help but wonder. At the end of the film we see Charlie Wilson half-heartedly, and unsuccessfully, arguing with his committee colleagues that they need to just put $1 million into education for Afghanistan. He worked a lot harder for arms than he did for education. I suspect his story is influenced by his own part in it all and his need to feel good about helping the Afghans defend themselves. But if he'd have fought for schools with 1/10th the zeal he'd fought for stingers, surely he could have raised a few million for schools. This "I did the right thing but Congress didn't follow through with schools" story doesn't quite ring true to me. Bringing the Soviet Union to its knees is a better story for Charlie Wilson, than bringing the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and allowing Bin Laden to train Al Qaeda there.

Charlie Wilson's War leads in part to today's war

George Crile's book, Charlie Wilson's War, gives an in depth picture of how things work in Washington DC, particularly how an unimportant Texas Congressman was able to get $100 billion worth of weapons and aid to the Mujahideen to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. The clip gives you as almost as much of the movie as the movie gives you of the book. You only get to hear Julia Roberts on the phone and you don't even get that much of Philip Seymour Hoffman who has the best role in the movie as a not usual CIA agent.

The quote from Congressman Wilson at the end of the movie suggests that it wasn't arming the Mujahideen that led to the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, but rather Congress' unwillingness to fund schools after the Soviets left. Did Wilson significantly speed up the fall of the Soviet Union by spearheading the arming of the Mujahideen? I don't know. I do know that the book should be read by as many people as possible given that the US is once again at war in Afghanistan. The movie also gives a glimpse of a refugee camp, another must see for Americans. The movie is entertaining, but not especially enlightening.

If you're taking a long plane trip, this is a great airplane book. It's really hard to put down. Watching the movie won't spoil the book, anymore than watching my short video will spoil the movie. See also the official Charlie Wilson's War website.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anchorage in Winter - Downtown and Biker

I went to a meeting at the train depot today. Here's a shot from the third floor looking south towards downtown Anchorage. The big building on the right is the Hilton Hotel.

With the advent of the mountain bike, the availability of studs for bike tires and bright flashing bike lights, and the increasing price of gas, more and more people are discovering that winter biking is doable. Cold isn't the issue - people are outside skiing and snow machining, so why not biking?

The biggest problem is cars. I'm NOT a biker who goes out in the street if a decent sidewalk exists. Claiming your biker's right to use the road is like Timothy Treadwell playing with grizzlies. The cars might miss you most of the time, but all it takes is one to ruin a perfectly good life. (And if you're contemplating suicide, go biking. Maybe it will change your mind.)

But that said, trips where there is a plowed bike path or sidewalk, of less than a mile, are easy to handle. Then start going further. And you can usually find a bike rack or no parking sign to chain it too. And you can always take a bus back - they have room for two bikes in front.

Did I take my bike today? Nooooooo. I don't have studded tires, so don't go out too far, especially on a tight schedule. But I try to use it when I'm going within a mile or two of home and back rather than the car. I never claimed to be perfect.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Retaliation - Will Alaskans Be Required to get Pre-Approval when flying over Canada?

This warning for Alaskans found at Boing Boing while attempting to get follow up information on the Icelandic woman held at JFK.

Many flights from Western Canada to southern Ontario pass over US territory. The US is now making noises that they may require passengers on such flights to be pre-approved by US authorities up to 72 hours in advance. This also applies to Canadian flights to Mexico, Cuba and other points south.

It will be politically impossible for the Canadian government not to impose similar conditions on US flights passing over Canada. This included flights from Alaska to the Eastern US, and most flights from the US to Europe.

It'll be amusing to watch the reaction of some US congressman travelling from Washington to Alaska or Europe, when Canada denies him permission to get on the flight because he didn't book far enough in advance.

I guess the flights to Seattle could veer out over the ocean a bit to avoid this, but will they?

And another reminder that what we do without thinking has long term consequences:

China raised its visa fees for Americans to match what the US charges foreigners. They also require you to come to the embassy or consulate in person as the US does in China. Fortunately, the Chinese did this only symbolically - you can hire someone to take your passport in for you and get a visa if you don't have a local consulate.

Brazil also instituted fingerprinting of Americans coming into Brazil in retaliation for this requirement by American Customs.

Let's hope wiser heads prevail.

Liberty Watch - Reading Lolita in Tehran

Sanaz has missed the last couple of the literary meetings of Azar Nafisi and seven of her best female students. They meet in her apartment to read Western literature. Sanaz comes late into the meeting. Nafisi writes in Chapter 21:
Her story was a familiar one.

I was stunned, after reading her story, to realize that it is a familiar one. I just posted about Eva Ósk Arnardóttir [I've learned it's Erla, not Eva] early Tuesday morning. But first listen to Sanaz' edited story.

A fortnight earlier, Sanaz and five of her girlfriends had gone for a two-day vacation by the Caspian Sea. On their first day, they had decided to visit her friend's fiancé in an adjoining villa. Sanaz kept emphasizing that they were all properly dressed, with their scarves and long robes. They were all sitting outside, in the garden: six girls and one boy. There were no alocoholic beverages in the house, no undesirable tapes or CDs..
And then "they" came with their guns, the morality squads, surprising them by jumping over the low walls. They claimed to have received a report of illegal activities, and wanted to search the premises. Unable to find fault with their appearance, one of the guards sarcastically said that looking at them, with their Western attitudes...What is a Western attitude? Nassrin interrupted. Sanaz looked at her and smiled. I'll ask him next time I run into him... The guards took all of them to a special jail for infractions in matters of morality. There, despite their protests, the girls were kept in a small, dark room, which they shared the first night with several prostitutes and a drug addict. Their jail wardens came into their room two or three times in the middle of the night to wake up those who might have dozed off, and hurled insults at them.
They were held in that room for forty-eight hours. Despite their repeated requests, they were denied the right to call their parents. Apart from brief excursions to the rest room at appointed times, they left the room twice - the first time to be led to a hospital, where they were given virginity tests by a woman gynecologist, who had her students observe the examinations. Not satisfied with her verdict, the guards took them to a private clinic for a second check...

Erla Ósk Arnardóttir, an Icelandic national, purportedly was searched, ask about her last period, not allowed to contact anyone, paraded through JFK airport chained and handcuffed, treated rudely, and eventually held overnight in a jail cell for the minor infraction of having overstayed a visa by 3 weeks, more than ten years earlier.

I had just written that I was reading this book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, but while it was interesting, I was having trouble getting through it. I think I figured out my problems with the book.

1. Each chapter is almost an independent vignette. There is a connection, but one isn't compelled to read the next chapter. Reading it in bed before sleep, I found myself hoping the short chapter would end and I could sleep. This is unlike some books where I had to find out what happened next.

2. The book doesn't challenge what I know. A student once gave me a one-page article and said it helped him understand why he was having trouble in my class. The article said there were two kinds of learning - happy and unhappy learning. Happy learning is when you learn something that reinforces what you already know. Unhappy learning is when you learn something that challenges what you already know. Reading Lolita's author is Iranian, but her perspective is a Western one, and her issues are the ones a Western professor might have teaching under the Ayatollah. They confirm our stereotypes about Iran. That is not to say that I want to read something that says Iran is really a wonderful place to live, but rather I would like to read something that would help me understand the mindset of those who support the regime. How do they think? Are they similar to Americans who blindly support the Bush regime? Or is it a totally different reasoning?

But last night's story gave me a new reason for why Americans should read this book. It illustrates stories of repression, large and small, which we see going on in the US today. That George W. would bring democracy to Iran, let alone Iraq, is ludicrous given that he's already introduced a police state in the no-man's land of airport security - particularly before one gets out of customs - where people have no rights, cannot contact friends or relatives or attorneys, can be held indefinitely without apparent reason. Erla Ósk Arnardóttir's story as well as those mentioned by Naomi Wolf and our own experiences with TSA tell us this. The story was also told in the short film Security that was part of the Anchorage International Film Festival.

A least Nafisi and her students could read Lolita, albeit getting copies was not easy, but it was not illegal as it was in the US not all that long ago. And among some circles in the US the book is still condemned.

Reading Lolita in Tehran is a reminder about those who zealously protest their loyalty to America and condemn as traitors those who would criticize the US government. How are they different from the 'morality squads' or the guards who dealt with Arnardóttir?

I would make it very clear, though, that most of the TSA I have dealt with have not slipped over into the dark side. They've tried to do their task with humor and understanding. They've not been thoughtless automatons. Even Erla writes,
another jail guard took pity on me and removed the leg chains.

And they are restrained by their instructions and the lack of resources and by facing irritable people late for their planes. But for the most part I see this as a terribly expensive - in time, money, and degradation of freedom - facade to make us feel like our government is protecting us from the enemy, an enemy that I believe is a lot less formidable than the current administration would have us believe.

Note: I did try to find more on the Icelandic tourist.
  • The site I initially found the information on mispelled her name. It should be Erla, not Eva.
  • There isn't a lot on this in mainstream new media. I guess for most surly and inappropriate treatment by TSA is not news. However the International Herald Tribune
has an AP story:
REYKJAVIK, Iceland: Iceland's government has asked the U.S. ambassador to explain the treatment of an Icelandic tourist who says she was held in shackles before being deported from the United States.

The woman, Erla Osk Arnardottir Lillendahl, 33, was arrested Sunday when she arrived at JFK airport in New York because she had overstayed a U.S. visa more than 10 years earlier...

She was deported Tuesday, she told reporters and wrote on her Internet blog.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir told U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst that the treatment of Lillendahl was unacceptable.

"In a case such as this, there can be no reason to use shackles" Gisladottir said. "If a government makes a mistake, I think it is reasonable for it to apologize, like anyone else."

Van Voorst has contacted the officials at JFK airport and asked them to provide a report on Lillendahl's case, Gisladottir said.

12/20/2007 | 12:02

US Authorities Regret Treatment of Icelandic Tourist

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir received a letter from Stewart Baker, Assistant Secretary for Policy for the US Ministry of Homeland Security, yesterday, saying he regretted the treatment of an Icelandic tourist earlier this month.

The letter states that the incident gives the US Ministry of Homeland Security a reason to review work procedures regarding how foreign tourists are being received in the US, Morgunbladid reports.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My First Music Video - Hunting in Winter

I didn't intend to make a music video. I had some pictures from this afternoon's walk at Campbell Creek near Stuckagain. But music sounded like a good idea. Grrrr. Going to have to learn how to use Garage Band so I can make some noises to put on some of the videos. But in the meantime, what can I use without getting into too much trouble? Something winter related.

I found a CD one of my students, Guo Wei, gave me in Beijing. She was an er hu player in the student traditional Chinese orchestra at Renmin University of China. We even got to hear two of their concerts in beautiful concert halls. So I found a piece from the CD

New Melodies of "Si Zhu"
Collection of Traditional Musical Instruments

Conducted by Qin Pengzhang Yang Chunlin

This is part of track 3 - Sketch of Life in the North - fourth movement - Hunting in Winter

Well, we weren't hunting, but it is north and it is winter.

And then, one thing led to another. The pictures had to have some connection to the music. Let's just say, I learned a lot on iMovie today, and I have a long way to go. I really got into the music and wanted to do the whole piece, but I never would have finished that. It's not finished as it is. I hope you enjoy the pictures of Campbell Creek area and the wonderful music.

This is especially for my musician fellow blogger, Phil; Guo Wei; Frank in Beijing; and Des and Lyrica.

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing

When I was at the library yesterday, I picked up 10 Rules of Writing at the new books shelf and proceeded to read it, and finish it, in about 30 minutes. This was tremendously satisfying since I have several books I'm sloooooooowwwwly working my way through. Reading Lolita in Tehran is

beautifully written and interesting, but isn't a book I have trouble putting down. I'm also working my way through We're All Journalists Now, a book on bloggers as journalists. Actually, it's not hard and not long, but after reading 30 pages I put it down and I'm having trouble picking it up again. I'm having trouble with books, because the internet panders to short attention span. I must start working more seriously on my to do lists lest surfing prevents me from doing other things I want to do.

So, quickly, the 10 steps:
  1. Never open a book with weather
  2. Avoid prologues
  3. Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue
  4. Never use an adverb to modify 'said'
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control
  6. Never use the words 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose'
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things
  10. Try to leave off the parts that readers tend to skip
I'll have to check if I'm following these rules. I'll add some pictures and a few more comments later. Gotta run now.

[Back. Joe Ciardiello's illustrations are fantastic. No exclamation point. Perhaps the main justification for stretching a six year old New York Times article into a book is to share Ciardiello's illustrations. The one on the right illustrates one of the many exceptions to the rules. In this case Rule 5. Elmore writes about exclamation points
If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
The book is so short they had to use the thickest pages I can remember to stretch it into book length.]

Liberty Watch - TSA Guarding the Nation

Here's the beginning of the story of an Icelandic visitor who was chained and handcuffed at JFK held without sleep or food and very delayed phone contact, then taken to a jail in New Jersey. I found a number of other sites carrying the same story, but not futher corroboration of the story. It appears from the story that her crime was having overstayed a visit by three weeks in 1995. So let's withhold judgment at the moment, but put it into our Liberty Watch file as we watch Naomi Wolf's ten steps to dismantling democracy take place. This seems to fit 5. Arbitrarily detain and release citizens. Although this is not a US citizen, would American citizens expect this sort of treatment when visiting other nations? The whole story is at this site.

[Note: Later stories say it is Erla, not Eva]

The story of Eva, [Erla] Ósk Arnardóttir:

During the last twenty-four hours I have probably experienced the greatest humiliation to which I have ever been subjected. During these last twenty-four hours I have been handcuffed and chained, denied the chance to sleep, been without food and drink and been confined to a place without anyone knowing my whereabouts, imprisoned. Now I am beginning to try to understand all this, rest and review the events which began as innocently as possible.

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

I was photographed and fingerprinted. I was asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was forbidden to contact anyone to advise of my predicament and although I was invited at the outset to contact the Icelandic consul or embassy, that invitation was later withdrawn. I don't know why.

The rest of the story is at this site.

[12/26/07 See related/follow up story here.]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Victor Lebow's Complete Original 1955 Article

  • The article is at the end of this post.
  • The article appears to be in the vein it is quoted - more a prescription of how retailers will have to market things than a critique of capitalism. But the quote itself shows he had a macro perspective as well as a micro perspective
  • I haven't been able to find much more about Victor Lebow.
  • There is the 1972 book titled, Free Market: The Opiate of the American People. Perhaps he got disillusioned about American business and this quote was an early insight he had.
  • Are there any students of Lebow? Family? If you ever see this please help fill in the missing links.
  • Kevin, this post is all your fault. Thanks.

[January 30, 2008 Update: I've just received and posted Lebow's bio from the 1972 book, Free Enterprise: The Opiate of the American People.]

[Update 13 May 2009: Yesterday's NYT article on Story of Stuff seems to have brought more than the regular number visitors here. Hundredgoals has given a link to a much easier to read pdf version of the 1955 article in a comment today.]

In a previous post I raised questions about a quote by Victor Lebow. Was this the serious blueprint for American business to insinuate consumerism into the spiritual center of American life or a critique of modern capitalism?

Most of the links I googled looked like they all linked back to the same source. There was no contemporary discussion of the 1955 article on line. The University library nearby didn't have the Journal of Retailing on line back to 1955, but did have hard copies. But then I found a 1972 book by Victor Lebow called Free Enterprise: The Opium of the American People. It seemed to me that someone writing a book with that title must have have written the above paragraph as a critique, not as a prescription. I decided not to follow up and find the original article.

But I got an email from Kevin in Chicago who was trying to track it down too. So I went to the library today. Got the microfiche and found the article. It looks like a serious retailing article, talks about the 1955 marketing year and what retailers are going to have to do. It's in that context the above quote is written. There is no electronic version available, and the copier connected to the microfiche wasn't working very well, so I ended up taking pictures. I still haven't figured out how to post pdf files on blogger, so I'm going to post the pictures of the microfiche screen. (See below)

In the midst of all this there was a fire alarm in the library and everyone had to evacuate. A staff person, it turned out, had burnt popcorn in the microwave. That all took about 40 minutes.

Googling today I've found a 1944 article:

The Nature of Postwar Retail Competition

Victor Lebow Journal of Marketing, Vol. 9, No. 1 (Jul., 1944), pp. 11-18. [The link gets you page 1]

An OCTOBER 13, 1976 Manas Reprint article "MOTIVES OR METHODS?" that talks about a Victor Lebow book review of Robert Heilbroner's Business Civilization in Decline. Here Lebow appears as a critique of modern business culture, and is qouted writing, for example,
Capitalism is already showing signs that it can no longer generate the social morale so essential to continued existence. It is true that it has freed probably more than half the American people from scarcity and want. But at the heart of this business civilization is a "hollowness"—everything is evaluated in money terms. "Or consider advertising, perhaps the most value-destroying activity of a business civilization." That hollowness is further emphasized by the low estimation business places on the value of work, which it sees as a means to an end—not the true end in itself for that is profit, income, economic growth. Nor is industrial socialism immune to this outlook, for its roots lie "in machine process and worship of efficiency." Under a business culture [civilization as Heilbroner puts it sharply]. Stuffed into the dustbin of history would be[the values] of output are celebrated and those of input merely calculated."

Then there is a totally different sort of reference to a Victor Lebow. This is about a 1942 Wichita Kansas East High graduate who was part of a fantasy Martian Empire that was created in 1937, by the website owner's older brother.

My brother James was 13, and in the eighth grade at Robinson Junior High School in Wichita, Kansas. And in his mind he was fashioning a cosmic empire filled with strange and wonderful creatures and races — in which a stalwart group of Exiles from the planet Mars were the chief actors and heroes.

This Empire, the Martian Empire, eventually spread over most of the known Universe before it finally faded around 1948. During the eleven years it flourished, however, the Martian Epic became very elaborate — covering some 15 billion years of Martian history — and Martian technology, manners and morals, art, music, religion, language and literature. And it generated a narrative Epic that encompassed many galaxies.

Among the members of this empire he identifies Victor Lebow and includes a picture.

Victor Lebow: At East High: he was usually on the Honor Roll, was a member of the Nationally Honor Society, and a semi-finalist for the Summerfield Scholarship. At WU: he belonged to the Independent Students’ Association and Aesculapius.

I emailed Lee Streiff, the website owner, but the email came back undeliverable. [later: I guess that's because of this:
Thornton Lee Streiff, 72, died Sunday, August 1, 2004 in Wichita, KS. No service was held.]

This Victor Lebow graduated high school in 1942 and it is unlikely he would have authored an article in a business journal in 1944. He could be the author of the 1972 book on Free Enterprise. And the Lebow quoted in the Manas article above. But the Manas quote echoes thoughts from the original quote. It's probably a different Victor Lebow.

Meanwhile here are the bad copies of the original 1955 article that the quote comes from. The famous quotation comes from page 7, right column. There is a chunk that was skipped over, but it really doesn't change the tenor of the quote. But I saved these as high res photos so you should be able to click them and get them in readable = not good, but readable - size.

[Jan. 7, 2008 - Thanks to Nathan, one of the commenters on this post, I now have an account at where you can park word, pdf., and other files. So I cleaned up these photos and saved them as a pdf. file. You can enlarge the document in the window or even download it. This should make reading it easier. I'll leave one or two of the old pages up so you can see the difference. It's on p. 5-10 in the journal, then skips to 42, then a part of page 44. The oft quoted part is on p. 7.]

[January 4, 2021:  This post, and I'm sure many others, is the victim of the demise of FLASH.  I'll have to figure out how to retrieve some of these documents in a still usable form.  Thanks for your patience.] [A little later:  That wasn't hard. SCRBD has figured it out and I just went back to SCRBD and the new embedding code works fine.]

p.5 of the journal / (p.1 of the article)above

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"It's like a bully, a black hole bully punching the nose of a passing galaxy"

This blog's name is "What Do I Know" because I'm interested in how people 'know' what they know. How is it that Christians of one denomination 'know' their truth while those of another know a different truth? And Muslims yet another truth. Hindus and Sikhs still others.

How is it one voter 'knows' that Ron Paul is exactly what American needs, while another thinks he would be a disaster?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but the explanation that makes most sense to me is that humans come to 'know' things through a complex mix of ways.
  • genetics provide us with instincts and predisposed tendencies
  • experiences with the world that provide us with mostly unconscious knowledge of the physical world (visually interpreting depth and movement) and the social world (interpreting the intent of other people)
  • instructions from authorities such as parents, the media, teachers which is why Chinese babies end up speaking Chinese, unless they get adopted by, say, an American, in which case they end up learning English; and why Muslim kids usually have Muslim parents
  • logic and reason provide us with ways to examine what we know, test it, change it
All of these ways are essential, none is best for everything, some are better for some things. How they play out in our brains is different from individual to individual, and even within a single individual from one time to another.

So I found Seth Borenstein's AP story on a black hole the other day interesting. He writes:

"It's like a bully, a black-hole bully, punching the nose of a passing galaxy," said astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who wasn't involved in the research.

But ultimately, this could be a deadly punch.

What in Neil deGrasse Tyson's life causes him to see, in these images, a bully punching someone in the nose? Why does he put human intent in them? Poets use images to convey abstract ideas. If Tyson is trying to make this astronomical event understandable to us non-astronomers, why that image? Watch the NASA video and see if that is what you see.

Actually the description in the video is far less based on human emotions.

This made me think of Rohrschach tests. Those inkblots psychologists give patients to interpret. From the same ink splotches, different people see totally different things. I only have a layperson's understanding of such tests and the site said very little

The test itself, as well as the book, are too well known to require any detailed commentary here, was full of typos that didn't give me much confidence in that site. (revealing one of the ways I 'know' what I think I can trust on the internet.) had what they purport to be an actual Rohrschach test. I went through the eleven inkblots, but at the end I had to 'skip' eight or nine ads to get to a page where I could pay £8.95 to get my results. But if you just go through the test pages, you'll get the point I'm making here about interpreting what you see. The questions they ask give a sense of the different things people see. Here's one of their inkblots.

I think the inkblots - and the space activity - are good examples of seeing how people take their own knowledge, experiences, and emotions to interpret the identifical 'facts'.

One part of improving public discourse is for people to become more aware of how they know things - the stories in their heads with which they interpret the 'facts' of the world. Also, explicitly seeing how different people 'see' different things in the same set of 'facts' is also instructive.

Attending the corruption trials also emphasized the way people take in evidence and determine guilt or innocence. Clearly the jurors saw things differently than the defendants.

And, of course, some people's interpretations of facts, are a closer match to reality. My basic test for good interpretation is how successful one is in using that interpretation to predict outcomes. Sometimes this can be done - which fishing hole is most likely to yield fish? - sometimes it can't be done - which is the most beautiful painting?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Winter Solstice Yet Again - Thank You Jean Meeus

So, when exactly is the solstice? I felt a little dumb cause I couldn't remember if it was Dec. 21 or 22. Turns out it changes. This year, the solstice was today at 1:07am.

Hermetic Systems Offers a way to calculate the solstice:
To calculate the date and approximate time of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and of the summer and winter solstices you can use this online calculator. This is based upon the formulas given by Jean Meeus in his Astronomical Algorithms but without corrections for perturbations, so that the times may differ from the true times by up to 20 minutes.
So who is Jean Meeus? Wikipedia says:
Jean Meeus (born 1928) is a Belgian astronomer specializing in celestial mechanics. He is sometimes known as Jan Meeus. The asteroid 2213 Meeus is named after him.

Jean Meeus studied mathematics at the University of Leuven in Belgium, where he received the Degree of Licentiate in 1953 . From then until his retirement in 1993 , he was a meteorologist at Brussels Airport.

His area of interest is spherical and mathematical astronomy.

In 1986 he won the Amateur Achievement Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

The Willmann Bell Publisher site has this on Meeus' book Astronomical Algorithms:
Meeus, 6.00" by 9.00", 477 pages, hardbound, 2nd Edition published 1999, 2 Lbs. 6 Ozs. ship wt., $29.95..

Errata: 1st Edition
Errata: 2nd Edition

Note: We are currently shipping the June 2005 printing which incorporates all know corrections to that date.

In the field of celestial calculations, Jean Meeus has enjoyed wide acclaim and respect since long before microcomputers and pocket calculators appeared on the market. When he brought out his Astronomical Formulae for Calculators in 1979, it was practically the only book of its genre. It quickly became the "source among sources," even for other writers in the field. Many of them have warmly acknowledged their debt (or should have), citing the unparalleled clarity of his instructions and the rigor of his methods.

Start year and End year specify the range of years you're interested in. Only years in the range -100 CE through 4000 CE can be used with this calculator. (c) 2001-2007 Sunlit Design Sat, 22 Dec 2007 03:20:22 PM +700 gives UT You can click the publisher link above for the rest of this.

And Sunlit Designs a site for Understanding and Designing Sundials writes:
Jean Meeus has provided a bridge text for dedicated amateurs interested in astronomical and solar event calculations.

Programming the calculations provided by Meeus is possible using any modern programming language. Meeus covers a wide range of astronomical areas.

If your interest is in the motion of the sun, you do not need to program his algorithms yourself ... it has already been done in The Sun API.

Someone named Raoul posted to 12/10/2007 9:09:17 AM
A very well known mathematician (I once spent some time at his home) Jean (for John) Meeus calculated when did that happen before and when in the future: 1612, 1615, 1632, 1668, 2007, 2022, 2059, 2078, 2191. [I would think John is for Jean myself]
I mention this only because there is a John F. Meeus who is the Belgian Consul to Liverpool, England. Is this the same man? I don't know how common a name Meeus is and I don't think it is worth it emailing him.

The point of all this is: We can thank, apparently, Jean Meuss for knowing exactly when the solstice is.

Last year I put up some pictures that showed the winter and summer solstices - here's a link to that post

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney is a dark, dark movie. They must have depleted the blood bank filming it. But the music and lyrics carry us through this evilly brilliant film And Johnny can sing. Not like Rex Harrison talks his way through the songs in My Fair Lady. There's one bright sunny vignette when Mrs. Lovett sings By The Sea, but Sweeney is grimfaced throughout.

After completing the video, I read the A.O. Scott's NYT review. As Scott wrote,
It may seem strange that I am praising a work of such unremitting savagery. I confess that I’m a little startled myself...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Stephen Sondheim - the man behind Sweeney Todd

After seeing Sweeney Todd in Anchorage, probably in 1990-1, I decided I needed to know more about the musical's creator. I was surprised to learn that he had written the lyrics to West Side Story and Gypsy. West Side Story had always been, in my mind, connected to Leonard Bernstein.
Stephen Sondheim was born on 22 March 1930, the son of a wealthy New York dress manufacturer. But, when his parents divorced, his mother moved to Bucks County, Pennsylvania and young Stephen found himself in the right place at the right time. A neighbour of his mother's, Oscar Hammerstein II, was working on a new musical called Oklahoma! and it didn't take long for the adolescent boy to realise that he, too, was intrigued by musical theatre.(from A Guide to Musical Theater)

A list of his musicals from The Stephen Sondheim Reference Guide

* Anyone Can Whistle
* Assassins
* Bounce
* Candide
* Company
* Do I Hear a Waltz?
* Evening Primrose
* Follies
* The Frogs
* A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
* Gypsy
* Into the Woods

* A Little Night Music
* Marry Me a Little
* Merrily We Roll Along
* Pacific Overtures
* Passion
* Putting It Together
* Saturday Night
* Side By Side By Sondheim
* Sunday in the Park With George
* Sweeney Todd
* West Side Story
* You're Gonna Love Tomorrow

I realize that the American musical - especially those of the 1950's and 1960's - doesn't mean that much to younger Americans, but there were many great ones, and Sondheim was involved with many of them. And he has pushed the medium harder than anyone else to discover what it could be.

His initial success came as a somewhat reluctant lyricist to Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story (1957) and Jule Styne on Gypsy (1959). Exciting and adventurous as those shows were in their day, and for all their enduring popularity, Sondheim's philosophy since is encapsulated in one of his song titles: "I Never Do Anything Twice". His first score as composer-lyricist was A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1962) - a show so funny few people spotted how experimental it was: it's still the only successful musical farce. In the following three decades, critics detected a Sondheim style - a fondness for the harmonic language of Ravel and Debussy; a reliance on vamps and skewed harmonies to destabilise the melody; a tendency to densely literate lyrics. But, all that said, it's the versatility that still impresses: you couldn't swap a song from the exuberantly explosive pit-band score of Anyone Can Whistle (1964) with one of the Orientally influenced musical scenes in Pacific Overtures (1976); you couldn't mistake the neurotic pop score of Company (1970) for the elegantly ever-waltzing A Little Night Music (1973).(Again: A Guide to Musical Theater)

But Sweeny Todd has to be the masterpiece of masterpeices.

With Sweeney Todd (1979), the Prince/Sondheim collaboration reached its apogee, blurring the distinctions between lyrics and dialogue, songs and underscoring, and combining a complex plot with operatic emotions to create a unique musical thriller(.A Guide to Musical Theater)

So tonight we go see Johnny Depp as Sweeny Todd in the new movie. The preview we saw a while back doesn't even mention this is a musical/opera. It only emphasized the macabre story of the the man coming back with revenge on his mind. It will be interesting to see how audiences react when they find out. And we will also hear the debut of Johnny Depp the singer, in an extremely complex musical role.

Here's a link to Sondheim on the Charlie Rose show.

Oh yes, there are a bunch of other movies that rolled into town that look good, including Charlie Wilson's War and Atonement. The Secret of Raon Inish and Stephanie Daley. Both also got four stars in the Daily News. The Kite Runner, another great book, only got three stars.

[For video and short review go to Sweeny Todd]

Thursday, December 20, 2007

10,000th Visitor Prize

The prize for the 10,000th visitor to the site since I set up sitemeter has been received by the closest person I could identify (#9,998). Her blogging name is Tea N. Crumpet and she embroiders. So she got a tin of Chinese Tea and an embroidered Chinese handkerchief.
Fortunately, I remembered to take a picture before I sent it. Our runner up, KS (I think that's who it is,) gets a dinner at the Thai Kitchen next time she's in Anchorage.

Car Wash at 0 degrees - Before and After

I sometimes get stuck on how I have to do something. Like washing the car. Either I take it to one of the places where you put the quarters in and you can blast it with hot soapy water, or I use the carwash attachment I bought for the hose and wash it in the driveway. But I don't do that in the winter when the hose is safely in the garage.

Yesterday it was hovering around 0° F outside. My wife, after months of driving a typical Alaskan car around - see first picture - suddenly decided she needed a clean car to take some friends to the airport. I didn't relish driving to a car wash place and then taking the wet car out of the washing bay into 0° weather.

So I got two buckets of warm water and some old dishtowels and in 20 minutes we had the worst of the dirt gone just by hand washing in our own garage. It still looks pretty streaky, but at least you won't get all dirty if you lean against it. When it warms up I'll take it in for a soapy soak spray job.

I just needed to think differently about how to solve the problem. Faster, cheaper, and good enough for now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

$8 Billion in Unredeemed Gift Cards - More than Double Credit and Debit Card Fraud

That's not the headline of Tuesday's ADN article in the money section. Instead they have "With gift cards, easy buy becomes personal." It's a story, by Detroit Free Press reporter Greta Guest about how
Holiday gift card sales have soared 44% from $17.2 billion sold in 2003 to $24.8 billion sold during the 2006 holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
[I've linked to the Detroit Free Press article because it doesn't show up on the ADN website. I'm guessing that's because it was a syndicated article. The Freep article is a little longer than the ADN article.]

Everything in the article is about how convenient gift cards are as presents. My skeptical mind began thinking about the gift cards my daughter got for graduation that she found five years later. How many people never use their gift cards, because they fall behind the desk, or get left in a pocket of pants that are no longer worn? And why didn't anyone at the ADN Money section ask that question? This was just a fluff piece promoting gift cards.

I'm thinking, 1% of $24 billion is, quick, can you figure it? 24+ seven zeros. $240,000,000. If just 1% of the people who got gift cards lost their cards it would come $240 million - a quarter of a billion dollars. OK, ok, people who got $100 cards are less likely to lose them than people who got $10 cards, or are they? And what about the people who use up only $22 of a $25 card? And besides, what if it's two percent or even five who lose their cards? The companies get free money. Maybe I can sell gift cards to my garage.

So I emailed Greta Guest, the reporter, and asked if she had gotten information on unredeemed cards too, because it wasn't in the ADN story. She said she had and sent me to the Free Press online story. In fairness to the ADN, it wasn't in the Free Press story either. Well, she emailed back, she'd written an earlier story on the topic which had all that.

That story is "Gift cards are popular, but many sit unused" published November 14, 2007. If the ADN published that one I don't recall seeing it and I can't find it on their site. That article says,
Consumer Reports, which started a public education campaign Tuesday, warns shoppers that when unredeemed, gift cards can turn into a windfall for retailers. When a gift card goes unused, retailers in many states can take the card value as income.
But they do have to report it as income. However, in some states, including Michigan,
the value of unused gift cards is collected from companies by the state after five years
In the fourth quarter of 2006 after last year's holiday season, Nordstrom recorded $8 million in income from unclaimed gift cards unused for five years or more. Massachusetts-based research service TowerGroup estimates that nearly $8 billion was lost last year because of unredeemed, expired or lost gift cards.
Did you catch that? $8 Billion unredeemed. The National Retail Federation says there was $24.8 billion in gift cards sold in 2006. That's just under 1/3 that's unredeemed. But it isn't quite that neat. The articles said most cards are void after five years, so this may be five years worth of sales. But the start of the article was that there was a 44% increase in the last three years.

The Consumers Union says
Consumer Reports is also releasing its latest survey, which finds that 27 percent of gift card recipients have not used one or more of these cards, up from 19 percent at the same time last year. And among consumers with unredeemed cards from last season, 51 percent have 2 or more.
Among the reasons that gift cards have not been redeemed:
  • Over half (58%) of consumers indicated not having the time; followed by not finding anything they wanted (35%).
  • Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents who have unused cards from last holiday season did not use their gift card because they forgot about it.
  • A good proportion of consumers (7%) will never redeem their gift cards from last season because the card is lost (3%) or expired (4%).

And it gets more complicated. TowerGroup who made the $8 billion estimate based that on much more than retail gift cards.
Research and advisory firm, TowerGroup, expects gift cards to be a major hit again this holiday season. Combined gift card sales in the U.S. will exceed US$80 billion in 2006 - a more than 20% increase over their 2005 level - with breakdown by segment as follows:
* Retail: $29 billion [$4+billion more than NRF estimate]
* Restaurant / Fast Food: $18 billion
* Miscellaneous (gas, services, etc.): $12 billion
* Universally accepted (i.e., bank-issued): $23 billion

Despite the popularity of gift cards with consumers, the space continues to be a source of controversy in terms of fee-structures and redemption rules. While retailers do not generate revenue until a card is either used or permitted to be declared as dormant, they do receive a "free float" on unused cards. One large retailer recently showed a $42 million benefit to its income statement for unused gift cards more than two years old.

In any case, instead of a fluff piece on how great gift cards are, the ADN at least should have told us that (from the TowerGroup again)

the unused value on these cards, often referred to as "breakage" in the payments industry, has a bigger impact on consumers than the combined total of both debit and credit card fraud. While debit and credit card fraud in the U.S. totals $3.5 billion annually,

But we all know that the ADN, like most media, have a rabid liberal bias, so they always put an anti-business slant on their stories.

And while you're at it ADN Money folks, what happens to the unredeemed amount in Alaska? Do the retailers keep it or does it go to the state like unclaimed money in banks? Or is it all collected where the companies have their headquarters?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anchorage Daily News Blogging Policy - 2

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the ADN is recruiting community bloggers. This resulted in a comment by a community council member who had received a copy of the terms of agreement that ADN was asking community bloggers to sign. I discussed the terms of agreement and posted them in the ADN Blogging Policy 1. Their terms of agreement suggest to me that they haven’t thought this out very carefully. So in this post I’m going to discuss
  1. What's the difference between a blogger and the kind of contributor this Agreement was originally written for?
  2. Why might a blogger sign the agreement?

I would first distinguish between 1) the reporters and staff who are working with the website and the blogs at the ADN. They obviously understand the potential and have done a great job in posting important and timely material, and 2) the higher ups who are responsible for the Terms of Agreement.

The Terms of Agreement document- and Kathleen McCoy, who’s coordinating this effort, and who appears to be in the “reporters and staff” group, corroborated this - is basically a version of the old agreement the ADN has used for independent contributors to the ADN with a few cosmetic changes to make it address blogs. (I should also say that this is McClatchy boiler plate rather than ADN, since it even leaves the name of the newspaper blank.) But bloggers are a far different animal than contributors of old.

Bloggers and traditional writers are significantly different

Writers needed a publisher, bloggers do not. The biggest difference by far, the difference that makes all the difference, is that before the web and blogs, writers were dependent on some medium to publish their writing. Websites (and blogs are a type of website) have changed this completely. Bloggers don’t need a publisher. They need access to the internet (most libraries provide this) and knowledge of how to set up a blog. They don’t even need to know how to read or write. My MacBook allows me to push a button and the computer’s built in webcam will record my picture and whatever I want to say.

This said, why would I, a blogger, sign up with the ADN? Here’s what the ADN says it offers to bloggers:

[When I went back to get the specifics of what the ADN would provide, I couldn’t find it in the Terms of Agreement. I guess I got that from the Key Terms in the email Kathleen McCoy sent the Federation of Community Councils, which I didn't post anywhere. I’ll post the whole list at the bottom of this post.]

  • ADN wishes to host community bloggers on our site.*
Blogspot hosts my blog and everyone else's free already. This is no big deal.

  • We will use our print and web platforms to inform readers of the online blogs we host and that they can participate in, to help grow audience. *
This is the only benefit I see from cooperating with the ADN. And it is important. When Kyle linked to my blog during the corruption trials, he did it because he felt the blog had something worthwhile to add to the coverage. With in-house blogs, will he be told he can't link to other local blogs that are better than the ones ADN carries? (Obviously I have a personal interest in this issue.)

  • No money is involved*

I get the same great benefit from my Blogspot blog. Google (who owns Blogspot) pays me nada. But they have adsense if I want to sign up. They will put content related ads on my site and I would get some tiny amount of money from the hits on the ads. With ADN, any ad revenue goes only to ADN.

  • Readers will be able to comment on blog entries, and subscribe to an rss feed from the blog.*

These features come with my Blogspot blog and I have more control over comments if I need to than the ADN seems to have.

  • Blog writers will be able to link, post photos, and even post video on their blog if the spirit moves them.*
Yeah, yeah, yeah, every blog can do this too.

  • Standing content on the righthand side of the blog page can be built in and stay on the blog for use by readers. This could be useful Websites, good books or articles you like your blog readers to know about, PDF documents you think they might want to read,etc.*

Again, standard on all the main blogsites.

[* the lines with * at the end were taken from the McCoy Key Points mentioned above and posted at the end of this post]

What does it cost bloggers?

1. More legal exposure than they probably would have as an independent blogger. From the Terms of Agreement:
You warrant and represent that all written entries and all other materials posted to the Blog is your original work, free from plagiarism, and that it has not been published anywhere else, that it has not been assigned, licensed or otherwise encumbered anywhere else, that it is not libelous or defamatory, that it will not violate or infringe the copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, right of privacy or publicity, or any other proprietary right of any third party. You also agree to refuse any compensation from any third party for placing any content on the Blog, to not use the Blog posts as a vehicle for advertising or promoting goods or services, and to not knowingly link to any downloadable applications or other content which may be harmful to a user’s computer.
[Did Dan Fagan sign one of these?]
Bloggers should avoid much of this anyway, except that
  • by being on the ADN site, new bloggers have a larger audience. Upset readers are more likely to go after the ADN than a lone blogger. But then they will find out that the ADN has dumped all the liability onto the blogger. So the blogger, who would have been fine as an independent blogger, has attracted, because of the connection to the ADN, a legal action.
  • now you can get in trouble from the ADN as well as someone reading your blog
  • A private blogger might want to take payments from someone to post things. And may want to take ads.
You agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless NEWSPAPER and its affiliates, employees, successors and assigns, against and from any and all third party claims, liabilities, damages, fines, penalties and/or costs of whatsoever nature arising out of or in any way connected to a breach of your representations and warranties under this agreement.
You open yourself up to all sorts of potential liability.

2. Loss of control over your blog

NEWSPAPER shall own all right, title, and interest in and to the web site, and all intellectual property rights relating thereto. All rights not expressly granted under this agreement are expressly reserved.
It isn’t clear what this means because it seems to be contradicted later in the Agreement, but if you get tired of the ADN you own the content, but here it says they own the blog. grant NEWSPAPER an irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, paid-up, transferable license, in perpetuity, to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, perform, and publish your Blog, including a license to redistribute, reproduce, republish, and to authorize republication, reproduction, and syndication of all or part of the Blog in any database, in any other media or platform or by any other method (computer, electronic, magnetic, online, optical, video, CD-ROM or otherwise), now or hereafter invented.

While most bloggers aren’t going to do any of these things, and while the ADN gives you the copyright, they also have taken the right to make money from your work with nothing in here that says you even get a share of any profit they make off your work.

NEWSPAPER shall have the right to modify the Blog content in order to make it compatible with the technical requirements and the “look and feel” of it’s web site. You grant us the right to use the Blog name, your name, likeness, photograph and biographical material to advertise, promote and publicize you and your Blog for the purposes of promoting and introducing new users to the Blog….NEWSPAPER shall have the right to remove any content from the Blog or it’s web site that NEWSPAPER believes, in its sole discretion may violate the rights of any third party, violates any law, or is otherwise objectionable.

WHAT?!!! You’re going to edit me without my having any say? Are you going to correct my possessive pronouns too? And reproduce it with my name on it? Even if I don’t like what you did to it? NFW. (Would that be found “otherwise objectionable” by the ADN?)

3. Banishment from the ADN's realm if you terminate your agreement.

in the event that this agreement ends, NEWSPAPER will stop within 30 days any advertising, promotion or publicizing of the Blog from any Web sites owned or affiliated with NEWSPAPER

If you change your mind and get out of the agreement, you get blackballed by the ADN. Even if this isn't what they intended, it doesn't sound very welcoming.

What should the ADN do?

Recognize that this is new and ever changing territory. The only certain old rule is “go with quality.” Quality, in the blog age, means authenticity, immediacy, transparency, and honesty. Good bloggers looking at the Terms of Agreement will see them as: inauthentic, warmed over old contracts, with the real meaning hidden in legalese.

The attorneys should lighten up. Go for quality and things will work out the best they can. There’s no guarantee. The Terms of Agreement are the kind of document you take to the other party’s attorney and you work out the details to both parties’ satisfaction. But in this case, the bloggers don’t have an attorney. It’s take it or leave it. So, if you want bloggers to believe in your good faith, you need to offer the kind of Agreement they would get if a) you really wanted the bloggers on your website, and b) they had an attorney to negotiate a contract that fairly met the bloggers' needs as well as newspaper's.

I’d recommend you consider what the ADN has to offer the bloggers. What do they want? I can’t speak for them all, but here are things I’d like:
  • Recognition that you value my participation. The newspaper is going to bloggers as part of the ADN's survival strategy, but the Terms of Agreement makes it seem like the higher ups are doing this completely against their will. Show you appreciate the bloggers with
    • a token honorarium,
    • free tickets to events bloggers might cover or other in-kind benefits,
    • a share in any future profits from syndication or whatever ways you might leverage a blog into future earnings (odds aren't high this will happen anyway)
    • a payment for every 1000 page hits.
    • awards for best blog, best blog stories, best blog coverage of a major event, most prolific blogger, etc.
    • any combination of the above and this is just off the top of my head
  • Very limited and transparent editorial guidelines with a blogger advisory board to ensure fair application of the guidelines. Yes, the ADN needs to protect itself from copyright violations, defamation, and bad journalism. And sometimes there may need to be format changes. But any changes in content or style should be made with the agreement of the blogger and the newspaper, and failing that, with an appeal to the advisory board. The advisory board could be used to work out a new Agreement after a year or two of testing the first one. And pay them. It doesn't have to be the $400/hour you pay your attorneys, but if you do it right, you'll save a lot of that money too.
  • Balanced protection against legal action. This means that the newspaper shouldn’t abandon bloggers if a lawsuit arises that is not due to negligence or carelessness on the part of the blogger. The newspaper should help protect bloggers' press rights such as getting access to events and information as it helped its reporters get access to trial documents and tapes this year.
You should also check out the NYU study of the best blogging newspapers in the US. They came up with eight factors to evaluate newspapers' blogging quality:
  • Ease-of-use and clear navigation.
  • Currency
  • Quality of writing, thinking and linking.
  • Voice
  • Comments and reader participation.
  • Range and originality.
  • Explain what blogging is on your blogs page.
  • Show commitment!
    (Details for each factor at the best blogging link above.)
The ADN line staff is doing what it can to meet these standards, but the ADN management need to convince the corporate attorneys that business as usual, legally, will be just as fatal as business as usual, journalistically. [Note: the survey looked at the biggest 100 newspapers, so the ADN wasn't in the running, but I think now - after a great summer of improvements - the ADN would score high with its web coverage and inhouse blogs.[

***Kathleen McCoy's Key Points to Community Councils

Key points:

* ADN wishes to host community bloggers on our site.
* We will use our print and web platforms to inform readers of the online blogs we host and that they can participate in, to help grow audience.
* No money is involved on our end or the bloggers' end. This is a community service, aimed at turning the ADN website into a place for conversations and information sharing, beyond what our own reporters produce.
* Readers will be able to comment on blog entries, and subscribe to an rss feed from the blog.
* Blog writers will be able to link, post photos, and even post video on their blog if the spirit moves them.
* Standing content on the righthand side of the blog page can be built in and stay on the blog for use by readers. This could be useful Websites, good books or articles you like your blog readers to know about, PDF documents you think they might want to read,etc.
* The blogger (cor bloggers, one blog can be shared among a tightknit group of people) will get a unique username and password that will give them access to their blog. They can blog from home or work, or the coffee shop down the street.

* I am your resource here at the News for questions, standing content you need posted to the right side, help getting that video up.
* This is new for us. We'll all be learning together, but we are confident it can make a contribution to the public dialogue in Anchorage.
* If you have an idea for a blog you'd like to see, call me and I'll follow up.
* I've enclosed the blogger agreement and the terms of use to this email

So, let's talk. I'm working on setting up as many community blogs as I can. I have three I am working on now -- and will be happy to start working on community council blogs if members so choose.

My best!/ Kathleen]