I came, I saw, but there was no Latin to be conquered

veni vidi

Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never had the option of studying Latin while in high school.

Mind you, the decidedly uninspired worth ethic I demonstrated in my teens perhaps ensured that I wouldn’t have taken Latin had it been offered, but the fact that California’s public school system was well in the crapper by the time I was enrolled in high school in 1980 made it a non issue.

Indeed, the Language of the Caesars was considered passé by the lightweights who had taken control of the Golden State’s education system beginning in the 1960s.

Instead, I squeaked my way through a couple of years of French – which in no way prepared me for the two years of college French that was required for me to graduate.

Years later I regret not having studied at least a smattering of Latin at some point in my schooling.

To be able to read Cicero, Cato or Tacitus in the original would have given me the chance to view their world through a wholly different lens, rather than one distorted, even unintentionally, by translation.

Fortunately, after a decline of several decades the study of Latin is increasing in popularity once again. Perhaps, common sense is returning to a segment of the education community, and the greatness of literary giants of past millennia are again being recognized on a wider basis.

Latin may not be for everybody but as Cicero once stated, “Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

(Above: Cartoon from The New Yorker and likely the only time the words “mani” or “pedi” will ever appear in this blog.)

An unintended consequence of minimum-wage laws

Borderlands Exterior

Borderlands Books is a privately owned San Francisco bookstore that has been in operation for nearly 20 years.

Concentrating on science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror works, Borderlands has overcome a number of challenges since opening in 1997: a 100 percent bump in rent in 2000; the trend toward online sales; the increasing popularity of ebooks; and the impact of the Great Recession.

Still, according to store officials, Borderlands managed to overcome each of the trials. In fact, last year was the best the store had enjoyed.

“At the beginning of 2014, the future of the business looked, if not rosy, at least stable and very positive,” Borderlands officials wrote on the store’s website. “We were not in debt, sales were meeting expenses and even allowing a small profit, and, perhaps most importantly, the staff and procedures at both the bookstore and the cafe were well established and working smoothly.”

Despite that, Borderlands recently announced it would be closing, by March 31 at the latest.

The reason? Last November San Francisco voters, out of touch with the realities of running a business, overwhelmingly passed a measure that will increase the minimum wage within the city to $15 an hour by 2018.

Borderlands Books as it exists cannot remain financially viable in light of increased minimum wages, according to the store website.

Unlike some businesses, bookstores are hindered in their ability to adjust for rising costs.

There’s a limit to how much a bookstore can increase book prices because publishers set prices. In addition, companies such as Amazon.com have siphoned off consumers from brick-and-mortar bookstores and made it more difficult to get them to pay retail.

In other words, adjusting prices upward to cover increased wage costs isn’t an option for Borderlands.

The change in the minimum wage will see Borderlands’ payroll jump nearly 40 percent. That will result in total operating expenses being bumped up by 18 percent. For Borderlands to offset that expense, it would need to increase sales by a minimum of 20 percent, which it doesn’t see as realistic.

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Evidence that the technologically lame will be forever among us

dogbert

For a society that prides itself on technological savvy, a segment of the Western world seems utterly unable to comprehend one of the simplest concepts concerning Internet security.

SplashData, a California-based provider of password management applications, reports that the most common Internet password held by users in North America and Western Europe in 2014 – once again – was “123456”. Next up was the even less imaginative “password”.

Since SplashData started its study in 2011, “123456” and “password” have been the top two passwords each and every year. This, despite the fact that millions of accounts are hacked annually, technology employed by hackers is constantly improving and countless warnings not to use insipid passwords are issued regularly.

At this point, anyone who goes with “123456” or “password” is all but asking for their information to be stolen. Especially if one goes with “password”. Talk about the height of laziness. You might as well just give your boss your resignation slip, put on a pair of old sweats and call it a career because you aren’t even trying anymore.

Other common passwords included “12345” – for those unable to type in a full six digits – and the ever-so slightly longer “1234567”, “12345678” and “1234567890”. Given that hackers employ computer programs that can run through common passwords in a matter of seconds, using sequential numbers such as the above is barely a step above packaging up your data and mailing it to the bad guys.

Other number-based passwords include “111111” (no need to even move your finger while you type!), “123123”, “696969” and the crafty “abc123” (unimaginative and lazy).

For the technologically indolent who are number-adverse there’s “qwerty”, “letmein” and “access”. Yes, nothing screams “computer whiz” like the password “letmein”. I believe both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs used that for years, although Jobs preferred “letmein1”.

Finally, a couple of other notably bad passwords: “superman” and “batman”.

The above passwords might be understandable if they were taken from a group of 5th graders, but SplashData based its list on more than 3.3 million passwords that were leaked last year. That means a significant number of adults actually thought the “batman” and “abc123” were credible passwords.

No one deserves to be hacked, but some folks sure seem determined to extend an attractive invitation.

Duke student shown crying over spilt milk; wants image expunged

duke crybaby

One thing that has largely escaped my understanding is crying over the outcome of a sporting event.

I’ve been upset at the result of many a game – to this day I snap off the television whenever Kirk Gibson’s game-winning home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is shown, to the point where I still have never seen it in its dastardly entirety – but I have never been moved to tears.

Of course, when I say there’s no crying in sports, I’m talking about adults, not small children, the latter of whom, a wee short on perspective, might understandably be overwrought when their team loses. (I’m also not referring to athletes, who, having trained their entire lives, have the right to display whatever emotion they want should they lose a crucial game.)

When it comes to fans, however, unless the individual shedding tears is a parent, spouse or possesses some very close bond to an athlete playing, crying because your team loses is ridiculous. Crying when you’re team loses a regular season game is flat-out absurd.

Thus, we have the above unnamed individual, who, as we can see, took Duke University’s 90-74 loss to the University of Miami last week rather hard.

But, as though bursting into tears wasn’t bad enough, she took it a step further.

After the histrionics were shown on television, the sports journalism site The Cauldron captured a screen grab of the weepy Duke follower and posted it on its Twitter site. Not surprisingly, the image was retweeted numerous times.

The next day a “rep” for the tearful fan contacted The Cauldron and told the site that the blubberer wanted the image “taken down.”

The Cauldron declined.

A couple of points: Beyond the sense of entitlement that the student exudes, one can’t help but be stunned that someone of college age would believe that asking a website to remove an image would actually eliminate said image from the Internet.

If you don’t want a photo of yourself bawling like a 7-year old who just witnessed her beloved pet being flattened by a semi floating around the ether for all eternity, then don’t burst into tears when a group of scholarship athletes lose a basketball game. And for goodness sakes, don’t do so when your team loses a regular season basketball game.

Just how sheltered has your life been when this is what causes you to go into meltdown mode, anyway?

Media outlet speculates on what long-lost gun would think, say

winchester rifle

State workers in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park recently came across a Winchester Model 1873 rifle propped against a tree in the desert. It’s unclear how long the rifle had been resting in the desolate location, but from its condition and the fact that it was produced in 1882, it would seem it’s been a long time.

Here’s how CNN began its story about the find:

“If this rifle could talk.”

If that rifle could talk it would probably say something along the lines of “I’m really, really bored” or “Where the hell have you been?”

CNN opted to give the gun a more colloquial tone in its musings:

“In a gravelly voice, it may recite a yarn of weary settlers swaying on horses’ backs in the parched, rocky Nevada wilderness. It may talk about riding in a saddle holster across neighboring Utah more than a decade before it became a state of the union.”

Left out is the possibility that the Winchester’s owner went off to use the bathroom and forgot where he put his gun, or that he got himself so gooned up on cheap firewater that he couldn’t find his horse, never mind his rifle.

Of course, if the rifle could talk, it would be a pretty amazing rifle because none of the rifles, shotguns or handguns I’ve seen or handled has so much as uttered a single word. It would be worth a pretty penny, I’d imagine, whether it was 130-plus years old or not.

CNN goes on to speculate further:

“Who knows how many years the rifle stood there, after someone left behind the model called ‘the gun that won the West.’ Did they have to depart in a hurry – running from danger? Or did they not see it, as it stood neatly camouflaged against the arid trunk of the juniper tree?”

Ah, unfounded speculation, the secret garden of the reporter with space to fill, a deadline to meet and few actual facts.

What is known is that the gun was manufactured and shipped in 1882. The Great Basin National Park staff was able to determine that from the weapon’s model name and serial number, which are still legible.

A couple of facts CNN didn’t have to imagine: The rifle will be conserved in the condition it was found, and it will become part of the display commemorating the park’s 30th birthday in 2016.

No word on whether the Winchester will have a speaking role.

(Top: Winchester Model 1873 rifle found propped against tree in Great Basin National Park. Photo Courtesy: Great Basin National Park.)

A lesson in how not to win friends and influence people

cops

One could speculate on how the above made it into a newspaper – mischief, a prank gone awry, subliminal loathing of law enforcement – but of all the mistakes I’ve seen printed in newspapers over the years, and there have been many, this has to take the cake.

The comment was attributed to Hardin County Sheriff John Ward by the Elizabethtown (KY) News-Enterprise in a story that appeared on the front page of paper on Jan. 8. Ward denied making any such comment and stated that what he said was officers go into law enforcement “because they have a desire to serve the community.”

The paper, which retracted the statement, initially called the misquote a typographical error, but later blamed it on a production mistake.

The media blog jimromensko.com investigated and was told that two copy desk staffers – 23 and 32 years old – had been fired.

“One wrote the ‘shoot minorities’ line on the page proof as a joke and the second – in charge of the front page – put it in the story,” according to the blog.

It’s telling that reporter Anna Taylor was not fired. Editor Ben Sheroan explicitly stated in an editorial posted Thursday afternoon that Taylor was not responsible for the mistake.

“A function and process designed to rid the news pages of error instead added a terrible one that altered the reporter’s original sentence,” Sheroan stated. “No reasonable excuse can exist.”

Ward said the interview was conducted with another member of the Hardin County Sheriff’s Office present and there was no part of the interview that mentioned any related comments.

“I have served in law enforcement for 30 years and have never known any officers that had these motives,” he said in post on the department’s Facebook page.

One imagines folks at a certain central Kentucky newspaper have been pouring over their media liability insurance policy quite closely the past day or two.

Dirtbag desecrates Civil War veteran’s grave

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Grave robbing may not rank up there with murder, rape or assault with a deadly weapon, but there seems something particularly heinous about the crime. One supposes an individual willing to disturb the dead has, in all likelihood, little respect for the living, either.

It’s unclear how often this reprehensible act takes place, but it likely occurs more than most of us realize.

Among the most recent cases is one that came to light earlier this month in Georgia.

Nearly 150 years after a Confederate officer succumbed to disease contracted during the War Between the States, his remains were desecrated and dug up from a Crawford County cemetery.

First Lieutenant James Alexander Nichols of Company F of the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment died from dysentery on Nov. 9, 1866, and was buried in Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery in west-central Georgia.

More than likely, Nichols’ remains were disturbed by a cretin looking for artifacts, such as uniform buttons or similar items. Many men who served in the Civil War, particularly those who died during or just after the war, were buried in their uniforms.

The Crawford County sheriff, Lewis Walker, said he was initially unsure why someone would disturb the grave, but, in a comment showing remarkably little intuition, said he was “hoping family members of the deceased might have ideas.”

Last year, two Georgia men were arrested and charged with grave robbing after the remains of five Confederate and Revolutionary soldiers were disinterred in Burke County, Ga., which is due east from Crawford County, on the border with South Carolina. Both men were later sentenced to five years in prison.

According to records, Nichols was elected brevet second lieutenant for Company F, 2nd Regiment, Georgia State Troops on Oct. 14, 1861. He was mustered out in 1862 and elected second lieutenant for Company F of the 57th Georgia on May 3, 1862, in Savannah. He was promoted to first lieutenant on Jan. 11, 1863.

Nichols was surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and paroled three days later. According to terms of his parole, Nichols agreed not to “ … take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, nor as guard of prison, depots or stores, nor discharge any duties usually performed by Officers or soldiers, against the United States of America, until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.” Continue reading