Highway 99 is Racist

I’ve been driving on highway 99 for all my adult life, and only yesterday did I discover it’s racist.

They covered this issue last night on NPR’s All Things Considered. It turns out that Highway 99’s true name is the “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway.” Don’t know who Jefferson Davis is? Neither did Washington State Representive Hans Dunshee until he noticed a historical marker by the side of the road and learned that the route was named after the one-and-only President of the Confederacy during the civil war. Outraged, Dunshee proposed renaming the Highway after a black Union soldier named William P. Stewart, and this proposal was unanimously approved by the state House of Representatives.

While no fan of the Confederate cause, I must say that the drive in the last few decades to purge American history of all references to events, people and ideas which are currently viewed as unacceptable bothers me to no end. What ever happened to learning from your mistakes? If I was somehow able to forget all the bad and foolish things I have ever done in my life I would then almost certainly embark on a career of repeating each and every forgotten blunder.

Representative Dunshee insisted that “in this state, we cannot have a monument to a guy who led the insurgency to perpetuate slavery and killed half a million Americans” And yet the state itself in named after a man who owned slaves, George Washington. When this was pointed out to Dunshee, he simply replied that George Washington was remembered for uniting the nation, while Jefferson Davis is remembered for dividing it. How quick we are to “remember” the laudable qualities of our those we deem heroes while conveniently forgetting they faults, while doing the exact opposite for those we judge to be historical villains.

You can here the NPR story here [Real audio required]. The renaming bill died in the state Senate yesterday.

Umbrella License

If people were required to pass a competency test and get a license before being allowed to walk down crowded city sidewalks carrying an open umbrella, I strongly believe that we would see a dramatic decrease in the annual rates of eye-poked-outedness.

Books: the His Dark Materials

The surest way to find out if someone has read the His Dark Materials series (short of asking them outright) is to start raving about Harry Potter; If the person has read this trilogy by Philip Pullman, sooner or later they will give an exasperated sigh and announce that while Harry Potter is a fine (if light-weight) diversion, The Golden Compass is so much better.

The Golden Compass is set in a world which could be mistaken for Earth until about page seven, after which a host of subtle and not-so-subtle differences start showing up. In the latter category is the fact that the souls of people do not reside inside their bodies, but rather manifest themselves as external and distinct entities in the forms of animals. Also curious is that the theologians of this world are preoccupied with something called Dust: a kind of physical, magical, or religious particle which seems somehow tied to conscienceness. Much of the story revolves around the quest to discover the true nature of Dust and the journey of the young Lyra as she travels across her world and into others — including our own.

It took a while for The Golden Compass to hook me — two-thirds of the way through and I still could have put it down forever. But once the hook took hold, I devourer the rest of the novel and tore through the next (The Subtle Knife). Unfortunately I found the third book, The Amber Spyglass, to be something of a disappointment. While the first two books seemed meticulously plotted, many of the major plot points in Spyglass did not strike me as being thoroughly thought through. (A friend and fellow enthusiast of the series hit the nail on the head when he describe the final book as feeling “rushed”). But even so, the His Dark Material series is an involving and though-provoking read, and one I highly recommend.

Porn Viewer

The word “loathsome” can be used to describe someone whole fills you with loathing. And the word “awesome” describes someone who fills you with awe. And the word “fearsome” describes something that fills you with fear. So what, exactly, does the word “handsome” mean?

Oh, if only there was some way for me to find out the etymology of the word “handsome”. If only I had, at my fingertips, some sort of enormous reference machine, some kind of crazy 21st century device that would allow me to instantly research any question by pressing keys and clicking buttons. But, alas, all I have is this expensive, useless, weblog-reader / porn-viewer.

Weekend Sex

An exchange from Rewind, a weekly NPR comedy show from KUOW in Seattle. The show’s guests are discussing a recent study that purportedly found the funniest joke in the world, and observing that none of them really enjoyed jokes that much. One person explained why:

Cash Peters: Standard jokes are a bit like really bad weekend sex. The kind of sex where, you know, you were tired all week so you plan to have sex on the weekend, but it’s never as fun as random, spontanous, exciting sex. Jokes are like that. People say “I have this joke for you,” and you know that now you just have to sit back and wait for the funny line, and you know you’re not going to find it funny or amusing. I hate jokes for that reason. They’re just basically bad sex with your clothes on.

Kermet Apio: That is one of the most beautiful analogies I’ve ever heard.

All the recent Rewind episodes can be heard through their website. The clip above comes from the January 11th show.

Focused and Executed

Man, corporate culture is tough. Today I saw a bit of a speach given by Carly Fiorina, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, to shareholders. At one point she put up a slide of HP’s upper management team and said

Hewlett-Packard got to where it is today because these people were focused and executed.

Cripes, I wonder what would have happened to them if they hadn’t been focused.

This Can Only Get Funnier

A friend of mine was telling us a story last night, and in the middle I interrupted and said “Skip to the part where you threw up.” Everyone just cracked up … it was great. I’m going to start interrupting everyone while they are speaking and use that line — “Skip to the part where you threw up!” — maybe even interrupt people two or three times per story. I’m confident that the more times I interrupt people and use the joke, the funnier it’s going to get.