Sunday, April 24, 2005

Is Blogging A Liberal Art?

I once had a Greek landlord, a few decades ago, one who had a penchant for suing people. His litigiousness, in fact, knew few if any bounds. He never sued me because I was usually far enough in arrears on my rent as to be useful on an ongoing basis as an unremunerated property manager, occasional paper server and blue moon propagandist. My extended exposure to the liberal arts had revived feudal notions of noblesse oblige that added value to my worth as a mere tenant.

One of the parties sued during my vassalage was a law firm, whose fee for a suit my landlord won was more than twice the amount of the settlement. He lost the suit against the law firm that had represented him, but appealed the ruling to the state supreme court and won, claiming that the state's consumer protection act could and should be applied to the practice of the state's legal profession.

I mention the suit here because the case established a legal precedent and I'm inclined to wonder if the basis on which it was argued might not have some implications for bloggers to the extent that blogging may be construed as a "liberal art or learned profession". The state supreme court asserted exemption from consumer protection provisions on the basis of the federal Sherman Anti-Trust Act as a "learned profession" with the prerogative of establishing and maintaining standards and discipline for its own practitioners, but it held that certain aspects of legal practice, particularly advertising, consist in the sale of services that do constitute "trade or commerce" and may require consumer protection when issues of "public interest" are at stake.

I'm certainly no lawyer, but as bloggers everyday are becoming more and more viable in purveying information that does impact the public interest and, to the extent that it is consumed by the public, one must wonder, do consumer protection rules apply and do those bloggers fortunate enough to make blogging their livelihood need Sherman Anti-Trust protections if consumers can demonstrate they've been misled?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

News From The Front

This summer I'll be visiting the U.S. again, and the trip, as usual in odd-numbered years, will include a few days in Milwaukee to see my mother-in-law. I'm looking forward to it. Seeing my mother-in-law again is, of course, always a joy. She's 84 now and still gets around pretty well, but the reason I'm really excited is that about a year ago I googled up an item on the net that I've been wanting to have a look at, just to see what I can see. We're talking documents here that are even older than my mother-in-law.

My great great grandfather served in the Civil War with the 27th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He didn't make it back from the war and by the time my great grandfather died in 1897, nearly all living memory of my great great grandfather had vanished into the mists of time. Twenty years ago a collection of letters, written before, during and after the Civil War, were donated to the library at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. A minister's wife in Sheboygan, named Mary Abbott Miller, apparently carried on a lively correspondence during the war with both her husband, the Reverend Alonzo Miller, and her brother, Martin Abbott.

Alonzo Miller served in Company B of the 27th along with my great great grandfather, who served in Company F. They enlisted at the same time and would have gone through training together at Camp Randall in the last months of 1864 and joined up with the regiment in Little Rock, Arkansas in the first few months of 1865. They would have traveled together from Little Rock to New Orleans and from New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama and taken part in the sieges of Fort Blakeley and Spanish Fort in April and gone from there in June to the supply depot at Brazos Santiago at the mouth of the Rio Grande where they marched on and captured Brownsville in July and August. There probably won't be any specific mention of my great great grandfather's tragic demise in late July that year. But then again, there might be. Who knows?

The wartime correspondence between Mary Miller and her brother, Martin Abbott, should also be fairly fascinating. Martin Abbott signed on early in the war with the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was essentially an all German unit and one of the first regiments organized in Wisconsin. They took part in the battles at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in a division commanded by Carl Shurz, a German immigrant regarded by Mark Twain as one of the truly great Americans of the 19th century. The unit also took part in the battle at Lookout Mountain and ended the war under Sherman in the capture of Atlanta and his famous march to the sea. Schurz had close ties to Lincoln, so the 26th had a high profile and was often embroiled in controversy.

Mainly I'm hoping that the wartime letters will provide me with some new leads for researching the first decade my immigrant ancestors spent in America. I'll let you know how it goes when I've got the goods.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Big Town

I didn't find time to surf member blogs on Blog Explosion this weekend so nearly all of the visitors to my blog the past two days have been the result of people hunting up terms on search engines like Yahoo and Google. One visitor who Googled in was searching the terms "Wawasee+country+kennel". I can't imagine what they were looking for, but my blog was the fifth listing on the first page of their search. I mentioned Lake Wawasee a few weeks ago in a post about South Bend, the town in Indiana where my mother was born and raised.

The fourth listing on that search was headed 'The Big Town'. It's either a long story or a short book by Ring Lardner. The subtitle, "How I and the Mrs. go to New York to see life and get Katie a husband," tells what the story is about. Katie is the younger sister of the Mrs. I haven't read the whole thing yet, but from what I've seen so far it doesn't seem fictional enough to be a novel and there's too much story in it to call it an essay. It's mostly just Ring Lardner being Ring Lardner.

What I hadn't realized is that Lardner was born and raised in Niles, Michigan, a few short miles north of South Bend, just across the Michigan state line. He actually began his career as a journalist on a paper in South Bend and if 'The Big Town' is as autobiographical as it seems to be, then the resort on Lake Wawasee where my mother worked summers in high school as a lifeguard, not far from where my grandfather was born, was a favorite haunt of Ring Lardner's in the early days of Prohibition.

I'm not sure yet if F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway were actually part of the life he and the Mrs. saw on their trip to the big town. The leaders of The Lost Generation were still youngsters then, in their early twenties, but I understand both of them did acknowledge reading and being influenced by Lardner early on in their careers.

Lardner is often quoted on the subject of genealogy for having said that "the family you come from isn't as important as the family you're going to have." Some people think that Ring Lardner Jr. was a good illustration of that principle. He wasn't quite as famous, but he sure lived a lot longer than Hemingway and Fitzgerald. His one-liner to the HUAC during the Hollywood witchhunts, "if I did, I'd hate myself in the morning," earned him two years in prison and ten years on the blacklist, but it also brought down the House.

I don't have any kids, but if I did I think I'd recommend that they read Lardner's book I do have a niece and later this year she'll be going off to school in The Big Town.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

On The Blink

I have two television sets. One of them is on the blink. It has been that way for about six months. It's a Sharp 14" Multi-System that we bought about ten years ago and we only use it now on those rare occasions when there are two worthwhile things on television at the same time. We keep it in the bedroom and pay for a second cable connection, so I figure it might as well be hooked to a television that works.

The Master's, live from Augusta, Georgia, will no doubt be aired here in the Philippines a week from now and, golf nut that I am, I'll want to watch every minute of it. The live coverage will air between midnight and six a.m., but the replays from the previous day's rounds will be shown in primetime. So last week I went to the appliance store at the mall, found a salesperson where the new Sharp flat-screen models are on display and obtained a telephone number for the Sharp repair center. They have telephone books here in the Philippines, very thick ones, but they're utterly useless.

The technician came out to look at the set wearing a blue nylon jacket that was three sizes too big. It did say Sharp on the back which was reassuring. Yes, here in Manila television repairmen do indeed make house calls. He opened it up and pulled out three big circuit boards and went to work with his makeshift voltmeter, testing the solid-state circuitry. He spent most of his time cleaning and re-soldering some of the dodgier connections. After about half an hour he came up with his diagnosis. Two parts, he said, IC unit, capacitor. I had tried earlier without success to establish some dialogue, but until that point he hadn't uttered a word. And that was when it occurred to me that my tech's grasp of English was limited almost entirely to the jargon of solid-state technology and kitchen electronics. Tagalog does not contain words for these things, so there is no point in translating the technical manuals. How in the hell did he learn this stuff?

Tomorrow he'll return with the parts and fix it in about five minutes. A week from now my wife can sit on the couch in front of the Trinitron in the living room and watch dramas on the Hallmark channel while I try to follow the flight of Tiger's tee shots on that little fourteen inch screen in the bedroom. I paid the tech his 250 pesos, the front end of his housecall fee. In American money that's less than five bucks. He'll collect the other half when the set is working again.