Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You've Got to be Carefully Taught

I went in to watch the news yesterday partway through a segment on revising school text books in Texas. Apparently it involved omitting and/or changing references to the War between the States, the Liberty Bell and Christmas. Lots of people were upset, but I can't comment on the report, because I just didn't see enough.

I can, however, write on a text book which has a home in our basement. Among Ernie’s large collection of books is a relic from his early education. It is entitled Southern Lands, written by Harlan H. Barrows, Edith Putnam Parker and Margaret Terrell Parker and published originally in 1929. It might be worth keeping just for the graffiti inside the front cover. 75 cents for a textbook!*

It’s a "geography" book: you know, the subject that doesn’t exist any more—it’s Social Science these days. They might just as well have called it social science even way back then: this is a dense book, packed with facts and figures, charts and study questions, way more complex than anything you would find in today’s grade schools, or maybe even colleges.The authors write of the Belgian Congo and Rhodesia and there's not a single stan in sight.

And here's page 131, in which our triumvirate describes the problems of Mexico:

As a rule, they received little pay for their work. Sometimes the received none. Small wages mean low standards of living. Great numbers of Mexicans have become used to such standards. Since they do not know better ones, they do not wish for them. They do not know how to help themselves if they have a chance to do so.
You've got to be carefully taught

*I hate geography
In case of fire, throw this in.
Don't be hard on this book
me lad–75¢ it cost me dad
This book is nice and new
but the junk inside it is just gue (sic)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

From Sharks to Hedgefunds in 100 Pages

Murder mysteries are my favorite escapist literature. Not the Agatha Christie/village green school where there are six stock characters and we have to figure out who dun it, but international or high tech, biological weapon or political, medical or some variation thereof. Just read a financial mystery, Top Producer, by Norb Vonnegut. (No relation of THE Vonnegut.) It starts off with all the right ingredients, including a slick stockbroker protagonist, Grove O’Rourke, and a shredded body in the shark tank of the Boston Aquarium. But by page 100, this is what we get:

JJ owned $190 million of one stock. The markets can cut share prices 60, 70 or 80 percent in seconds. If Jack Oil crashed 50 percent, for example, JJ would lose $95 million. That’s why I wanted him to hedge.
A zero-cost collar would insure JJ against losses greater than the first 10 percent. Of the $95 million loss, JJ would eat the first $19 million. That’s 10 percent of $190 million. But with SKC’s hedge in place, my firm would pay him $76 million. That’s $95 million minus the $19 million. JJ limited his downside and avoided catastrophic losses.
And so on. . .

From a promising murder mystery we get to a wealth management manifesto in a hundred pages. However, you’ve got to admire the finesse of these hedge fund operators.

Maybe they should get a large bonus.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Literature for a Snowy Day

I have written on a couple of occasions about Scandinavian mysteries. I wrote about Henning Mankell here and Åsa Larsson here. I intended to write about Stieg Larsson. Maybe I wanted to wait until I had read the third book in the trilogy—and there are 24 reservations ahead of me at the library for The Girl who Kicked the Hornest’s Nest—or maybe I was just lazy. I must say I was severely tempted after reading the passage in the second volume of the trilogy where Lisbeth Salander furnishes her apartment. She had stolen vast amounts of money by hacking into a bank account and then bought a 27 room apartment. She only used a few rooms and went on a shopping spree which read something like this:

She bought a Klippan loveseat, a Bjursta table, a Florö bed, a Knubbig lamp, an Ektorp armchair, a Hemnes chest . . .
I think there was an idea lurking in the back of my mind that there was something worth writing here. A high school essay . . . a senior thesis . . . a Ph.D. dissertation. At least a post about couches and chairs. But I didn’t write it.

Laura Miller did. This wonderful article on Nordic gumshoes appeared in Saturday Morning’s Wall Street Journal. Surely her article said it all about detectives on snow-shoes. Then, by one of those glorious pieces of serendipity, the Grosse Pointe Library Newsletter, Library Pointes, appeared in my mailbox, exhorting us to try Kjell Erikkson, Hakan Nesser, Helene Tursten, Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum and Mari Jungstedt. I think I will take their advice. After I’ve gone to IKEA.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Ace Hardware

Do you think this is a glass half full, or a glass half empty?

I’ve written about our local hardware store before. That time I was somewhat amazed by their merchandise.

Now I turn my attention to their marketing. I just received an e-mail from them containing the following paragraph:

Thanks for being one of our most valued customers. We appreciate your business during this past year and look forward to helping you turn your next to-do list into a "to-done" list.

From your friends at Village Ace Hardware
What a Sally Fields moment! They like me! They appreciate my business!

Then I see this:

Hi Beryl Ament, as of 01/08/2010 you have 180 points. You only need 2500 points to earn a $5 Reward.

Anyone know anything about Marketing? Does that seem a good incentive?

Monday, January 11, 2010

I am Thankful

Part of my New Year organization involves a re-vamp of my blogroll. My previous one called for blogs to be divided into English blogs and American blogs. But how to classify the expat blogs by an Englishwoman living in Tennessee or by Paola in Seattle, what to do with Michael, an American who writes from Horsham? Then there's all the Englishwomen living in France . . . and so it goes. So I have just listed a few of the many writers I read. If I had any manners, I would introduce you to them. But you are not wallflowers, you can make their acquaintances, and follow their links to meet their friends.

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery? I don't intend to imitate any of my favorites, but I do love the structure that "The Bookworm" gives to her blog by featuring every Monday the Simple Woman's Daybook, where she completes a litany of sentences. One of them is "I am thankful" . . . and in my case it can be completed, "I am thankful that I have a wonderful neighbor who cheerfully uses his snow plough to clear our driveway and front path."

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Pay Attention, Mr. President

By today’s standards, I was a pretty awful mother. I told my children they were bad—forget that hate the sin, love the sinner stuff. I told them that they had done something wrong. I used lots of “you” sentences, as in “you hurt your brother”, rather than the “I” sentences, like “I am sad that you hurt your brother.” I do understand the advances in psychology here and I no longer wince at “that behavior is unacceptable”. It is the language of child-rearing. So imagine my consternation yesterday when President Obama addressed the American people:

Now, I will accept that intelligence, by its nature, is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it. Time and again, we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary.
Those are my italics. I think I know what happened. In his hasty attempt to show the world that terrorism has no place in his administration, the President grabbed his copy of “Child Rearing in the 21st Century” off the bookshelf (that’s the book crammed up against that best selling book for children Captain Underpants) instead of “The Wartime Rhetoric of Winston Churchill”.

Now, as I understand it, another rule of enlightened child rearing is to say firmly what you expect and set out the consequences for not conforming. As in “Janet Napolitano will apprehend the bad man or have a time out”.

In my day he would have spanked her.