Tuesday, July 29, 2014


In the new film Lucy, which hit screens last Friday, Scarlett Johansson plays a young woman who ingests a drug that supposedly allows her to use 100% of the power of her brain, as opposed to the 10% that the average person uses. As a result, she evolves into a tremendously powerful being with capabilities far beyond those of ordinary people.

I think this is interesting, especially the part about the average person using only 10% of the power of their brain. It's long been clear to me that the average person uses hardly any of the power of their brain, much less 10%. I don't think the average member of Congress gets as high as 7% on a good day, and the extreme political partisans of the left and right would be hard-pressed to reach 4% even with an intellectual tailwind. Religious zealots of any kind might clear 2%, except in the Middle East, where Jewish and Muslim crazies between them couldn't come up with more than 1%.

So let's talk about this drug that Lucy took. Do you suppose there's a safe dose that could be prescribed for members of Congress, right- and left-wing partisan wingnuts, and religious bigots that could bring them up to an acceptable level of brain activity? Perhaps a recommended children's dose would be appropriate, since most of them act like spoiled children anyway. We don't want to give them too high a dose, because there's no telling how much damage a member of Congress could do with access to too much of his or her brain ... look at the havoc Ted Cruz and Darrell Issa have wreaked with just the microscopic percentage of their brains they're using now.

We can't afford to be hasty.

Have a good day. Encourage your Senators and your Reprehensive to use a little more of their brains. They'll never look as good as Scarlett Johansson, but maybe they'll make a little less of a hash of the country.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Bilbo's Plan for Dealing with the Illegal Immigration Crisis on the Southern Border

The President has asked for $3.7 billion to address the flood of unaccompanied children pouring into the United States illegally across our southern border. Because it's his plan, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives reflexively detests it and will never pass it, on principle alone.

After much bluster and posturing, the GOP has come up with its own plan to address the issue, costing about $1.5 billion. The GOP plan would mandate the deployment of National Guard troops, boost funding for Border Patrol, and require the administration to more quickly process and deport young children and families who have illegally entered the country. Because it's their plan, the Democratic-controlled Senate reflexively detests it and will never pass it, on principle alone.

Both $3.7 billion and $1.5 billion are an awful lot of money. I have a plan that would cost considerably less.

Under my plan, Congress would allocate approximately $1 million to fund a covert CIA operation which would replace directional signs on Mexican highways and railroads so that directional arrows and distance markers indicating the route toward the United States actually point back toward Central and South America. At border crossings on the southern border of Mexico, new signs would be erected which say "Welcome to the United States!"

Everybody will go home.

Now, I know what you're thinking ... you're thinking that it's a stupid idea and it will never work. But consider this: is it any more stupid than expecting Congress to agree on a rational plan?

I rest my case.

Have a good day. Remember that the real issue is not immigration ... it's illegal immigration. Everybody seems to miss that point most of the time.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Poetry Sunday

Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson made an unlikely duet, but when they sang their great song "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," their very different voices meshed seamlessly in a story about memories of lost love. And lust. Here's another take on remembrance of love and lust from Jack Gilbert ...

Cherishing What Isn't
by Jack Gilbert

Ah, you three women whom I have loved in this
long life, along with the few others.
And the four I may have loved, or stopped short
of loving. I wander through these woods
making songs of you. Some of regret, some
of longing, and a terrible one of death.
I carry the privacy of your bodies
and hearts in me. The shameful ardor
and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds
of happiness and the walled-up childhoods.
I carol loudly of you among trees emptied
of winter and rejoice quietly in summer.
A score of women if you count love both large
and small, real ones that were brief
and those that lasted. Gentle love and some
almost like an animal with its prey.
What is left is what's alive in me. The failing
of your beauty and its remaining.
You are like countries in which my love
took place. Like a bell in the trees
that makes your music in each wind that moves.
A music composed of what you have forgotten.
That will end with my ending.

Thank you, ladies ... I love Agnes, but I like you all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Another week gone ... and good riddance.

An Algerian airliner en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria with 116 people on board disintegrated in the air and crashed in Mali; a Liberian man has died of Ebola in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, raising fears that the epidemic of the deadly virus will spread even farther; Islamic extremists belonging to the group ISIS have destroyed Jonah's tomb, a site considered holy by Shiite Muslims; a Canadian SWAT team stormed a passenger jet at Toronto's Pearson International Airport after it returned to the airport when a passenger "made a direct threat against the aircraft;" and scientists have revealed that the earth barely escaped the impact of a huge solar flare in 2012 that could have destroyed enough high-tech infrastructure to drive the planet back to the 18th century.

Life without blogging ... can you imagine anything more horrible?

And so this week's selection of theme cartoons deals with ... what else? ... blogging.

Sometimes, it's perhaps not the best thing to do ...

As I was saying above ...

Happily, this is not a problem that I have ... right? ...

Ever wonder how blogs got their name? ...

This is also the situation with most comment sections of online news articles ...

And before there was blogging online, there was ... well ... 

Turning to other topics, I feel this way most days at work. No snarky comments necessary, Mike ...

 Nothing like a tech-savvy doom prophet ...

Clever ...

And finally, did you ever wonder where those handsome, studly young fellows and gorgeous young coeds went ...

And so it goes for another week. The weekend got off to a good start yesterday evening when I met two of my old college friends, Gonzo Dave and Bob, for dinner and reminiscences at McCormick and Schmick's restaurant in Crystal City. We had a great time, and later this morning Dave and I will meet at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for a day of admiring aviation history. Life is good.

Have a good day and a great weekend. See you tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Ass Clown of the Month for July - Part 3

How quickly the time passes, and how many are the candidates!

Sometimes, there's just no doubt of the right selection. Our third Ass Clown of the Month award for July is presented to second-time winner ...

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Mr Putin received this non-prestigious award in February 2014 for his shameless milking of the Sochi Winter Olympics for the benefit of his political cronies. This month, the award is presented for his craven avoidance of responsibility for stirring up trouble in Ukraine and providing the powerful surface-to-air missiles that allowed Russian-backed separatists to murder nearly 300 people by shooting down a civilian airliner. He wants to "make Russia great again," but he's exposed himself as a common and despicable murderer.

Vladimir Putin is named our third Ass Clown of the Month for July 2014. You've really earned it, Vlad.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow. If you wish to nominate an ass clown for future awards, send your nominee to der(underscore)blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com and we'll add him (or her - this is an equal opportunity award) to the Hall of Shame.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Old Hard Sell

Agnes and I don't watch all that much television, but when we do we have to grit our teeth and put up with the barrage of commercials for every product under the sun, no matter how obscure or inappropriate it is ...

There must be an enormous market for medications to treat erectile dysfunction ... there are certainly enough commercials for them. And what genius decides to run the commercials in prime time, when children are watching? "Daddy, what's an E-Dee?"

And how about all those ads for medicines to treat ailments you never knew existed? "Be sure to ask your doctor if supercalifragilisticexpialidoxycycline is right for you!" Why would you take any medicine that has a list of contraindications longer than the list of territories claimed by the Chinese government? "Don't take supercalifragilisticexpialidoxycycline if you are male, female, young, old, pregnant, not pregnant, allergic to any substance formed from any material in the periodic table of the elements, or have visited any location within or beyond the orbit of Neptune in the past 30 days. If you experience a sudden change of sex, turn into a cockroach, or have thoughts of running for Congress, stop taking supercalifragilisticexpialidoxycycline."

Oh, and there's a lawyer out there waiting to help you sue for the injuries you never knew you might have received from the things you never knew existed. "Have your Islets of Langerhans suffered damage from uncontrolled sea level rise? Call the law firm of Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe right now ... you may be eligible for significant financial compensation!"* The next series of commercials will no doubt advertise for participants in the class action lawsuits for the people who went blind trying to read the.00000000015 pitch font in which the fine print is written.

And let's not forget the ads for pawn shops, payday loans, and car title loans ... all of which show deliriously happy people singing, dancing, and waving great wads of cash ... who clearly don't realize they'll spend the rest of their lives paying insanely high interest on those loans.

Commercials. The reason God made DVRs.

Have a good day. more thoughts tomorrow.


* Not a cent of which you will ever see once you're done paying the legal fees.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vox Nihili

Just a short post this morning ...

I ran across an interesting article the other day (well, interesting to a linguist, anyway) in Mental Floss: 20 Latin Phrases You Should Be Using. I didn't think most of them were all that useful*, but one - the last one on the list - jumped out at me ... vox nihili.

It's derived from another, more widely known Latin expression - vox populi, which means "the voice of the people," and is sometimes used by bloviating politicians trying to seem profound, and wanting you to think that they know what "the people" want**. Vox nihili, on the other hand, literally means "the voice of nothing," and is used to describe a pointless or meaningless statement ... such as those coming from bloviating politicians who want you to think they know what "the people" want.

Therefore, I propose a new motto for the United States Congress ...

...after all, they're not accomplishing anything, anyway.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Except for "Caesar non supra grammaticos," which will probably be of great use to Gonzo Dave.

** Usually, they actually do hear the voices of the people ... the Oil People, the Banking People, the Real Estate People, and so on. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

At Least Republicans and Democrats Aren't Killing Each Other*

Warning - political-religious rant. Come back tomorrow for something lighter.

You have been warned.

A while back in this space, I offered a plan for peace in the Middle East that basically involved walling off the entire area, filling it up with sand, and starting over. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but - as I pointed out at the time - it was at least as workable as any other plan anyone has offered to bring peace to that tortured part of the world.

Today, as the political crisis and horrifying slaughter continue in Gaza, I have to reluctantly fall back on my plan as the only one that will ever work.

The problem with the Middle East is that it combines the very best of the very worst in human nature: intense and utterly rigid religious beliefs, irreconcilable political demands, and the presence of a resource (oil) that the world needs and wants. Each side has a claim to the same territory, each side believes their claim is just and all others are illegitimate, each side believes God gave that plot of land only to them, and each side believes that it must deal from a position of unquestioned strength in order to prevail. If ever there was a witches' brew of political, historical, and religious hatreds, it's in what we for some reason continue to refer to as the "Holy Land."

The Israelis contend that they are entitled to a homeland in what used to be called Palestine, and cite both religious history and modern politics (such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the 1947 UN resolution partitioning Palestine) as proof of their claim. They point to their sufferings in the Holocaust as a reason why they need a nation that is their own, that they can defend, where they will be safe.

Many Arabs despise the Israelis (Jews) on religious grounds and will never rest in their hatred until the Jews have been driven from the land. Others contend, logically enough, that perhaps the Jews do deserve a homeland as a result of the Holocaust, but that it should be carved out of Europe, where the Holocaust took place, not out of Palestine.

Good luck reconciling all those positions.

The Palestinians don't trust the Israelis. The Israelis don't trust the Palestinians. The Palestinians have earned a reputation for violence that makes much of the world indifferent to their plight, while the Israelis have earned a reputation for intransigence and heavy-handed violence that often undermines their desired image as a plucky little democracy under siege.

Regardless of who you blame for all the historical events that led to today's situation, I absolutely believe the leaders of Hamas bear the ultimate responsibility for the current ongoing carnage. They launched salvos of rockets at Israel in the certain knowledge that the Israelis would retaliate with full force. They chose to launch those rockets from the densely populated Gaza Strip, knowing full well that any Israeli retaliation would kill large numbers of innocent Palestinians. That didn't matter. All that mattered was their hatred of the Israelis. The fact that innocent Gazan Palestinians would be caught in the crossfire was fine with them, because they would be able to show endless photos of devastated neighborhoods and dead children as "proof" that the Israelis were at fault.

I am not an apologist for Israel. I think that the Israelis have brought much of the hatred of the local population on themselves by their actions and policies. But at some point, people on both sides with brains and hearts have to step back and say yes, I may hate you, but enough is enough.

The Palestinians must accept that, however unjust in the beginning and however bitter now, the state of Israel is a reality on the ground. The Israelis will never be rocketed or suicide-bombed into leaving. Such actions will only continue the cycle of violence. They need to stop dreaming of an idyllic past that will not return, and start concentrating on building a future for their children and grandchildren. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, it left behind a territory with an established infrastructure that could have been developed into a thriving center of commerce and tourism. Instead, hard-core Palestinian elements - driven by hatred rather than focused on building for the future - turned it into a constant battleground. Their callous indifference to the well-being of their own people deserves the condemnation of people of good will everywhere.

The Israelis, for their part, must accept that creation of their state resulted in dislocation and hardship for thousands of people who were already living there. They cannot destroy Hamas and the even more extreme groups any more than those groups can destroy the state of Israel. They must stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank, withdraw from that territory as they did from Gaza, and work with the Palestinians to help build a functioning state that can eventually become a partner for development in the region. Given the established hatreds, this will be no easy task, but the alternative is endless repetitions of the same misery and bloodshed.

Regardless of what each side believes, both are at fault.

And the chances of them recognizing it and trying to resolve things peacefully is about nil.

Have a good day. Don't let this happen to us.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yet.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thoughts on Buying a New Car

There are a lot of things I don't enjoy doing, but near the top of the list - which also includes root canals, figuring out our taxes, dealing with telemarketers, and chasing itinerant preachers away from the door - is buying a new car.

Buying a car is unlike buying anything else. You can't just go to the neighborhood car store, browse the aisles, pick the car you want, have the checkout person run a bar code over the scanner, and be on your way. No, car-buying is a dance rivaled in complexity only by the finest classical Japanese Kabuki, an intricate gavotte in which simple people seeking affordable personal transportation perform intricate maneuvers with a team of sales representatives, deputy assistant managers, assistant managers,  managing managers, executive managing managers, finance officers, finance managers, and senior finance managers.

It's not easy to get all those people into one small room, but they manage it.

I bring this up because Agnes and I have just purchased a new automobile. This was difficult for several reasons, not the least of which is that all of the cars in which we were interested cost the equivalent of the GNP of an average third-world country. Which brings up the subject of price ...

Nobody can tell you what the car you want costs. There's the price advertised in the newspapers and screamed in hard-sell television ads. Then there's the "internet price," the "sticker price," the "invoice price," the "Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price," and the "sale price," none of which are the same and none of which is the real price. No matter what price is quoted, you must add taxes, tags (licensing fees), freight, "dealer preparation," assorted fees, surcharges, ma'am charges, and light brigade-charges. The actual price requires negotiations of the sort usually observed in the finest of middle eastern souks, and nobody with whom you speak directly is empowered to agree on something with you ... they must always check with their manager, who must check with his manager, who must then - from her Olympian heights - send back the stone tablet on which is graven the approved numbers, which are presented to you in order to start yet another round of negotiations.

Price negotiation is but one of the hurdles that stand between you and your new chariot. You must also find a car that has the features and accessories you want ... most of which can only be obtained as part of "option packages" which include a lot of stuff you don't want*. For instance, if you want an AM/FM radio, you have buy it as part of the "entertainment package," which includes DVD players in the back seat and a fold-out stage in the trunk on which optional midget performers can present shows at tailgate parties.  Want a sunroof? It comes with the "exterior prestige package," which includes the xenon quartz halogen cyber-infused security light package (only another $1750). And don't forget the trunk monkey.

In the good old days, the "Navigation Package" was a cheesy plastic envelope full of maps from the local Sunoco station. Nowadays, it's part of a nightmarishly complex multicolor video screen that also allows you to program your radio, answer your phone, play music, and adjust the trajectory of the Cassini spacecraft as it orbits Titan. And it's only an additional $3,675.

Okay, now you have found your car and it's more or less what you wanted. Now you have to deal with the finance department.

Considering that an average new midsize car costs about as much as a house**, the financing of the vehicle is very important, and the dealer - reasonably enough - wants to know that you are able to pay for this fine mechanical steed. Thus, you need to fill out the application for a credit check, submit a liter of blood for testing, and leave an arm or a leg (your choice) and your firstborn child as collateral. The finance manager submits all this information, pulls the lever on the side of his computer screen, and ... if three cherries spin up ... you are granted the right to bind yourself to indentured servitude for the sixty months it will take to pay off your car***.

Car buying. Just shoot me now.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* In this respect, buying a car is much like getting cable television services, which requires you to buy 700 channels (including Professional Fly-Fishing Highlights and the Sewage Pumping Channel) in order to get the half-dozen channels you really want to watch.

** As a comedian once said many years ago, "I never thought I'd have to pay $20,000 for something that didn't have a doorbell." You can tell how old that was.

*** By which time it will be pretty much of a wreck, anyhow.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Poetry Sunday

One of the things that drives me crazy ... as I'm sure it does many of you, Dear Readers, is the modern phenomenon of people who insist on chattering away at high volume on their cell phones in public, no matter how personal the subject or annoying to others. Many is the time I've wanted to pitch someone out of the window of the bus because I was sick of hearing about personal problems they had no business sharing with the world. I like George Bilgere's take on it in this poem ...

Bridal Shower
by George Bilgere

Perhaps, in a distant café,
four or five people are talking
with the four or five people
who are chatting on their cell phones this morning
in my favorite café.

And perhaps someone there,
someone like me, is watching them as they frown,
or smile, or shrug
at their invisible friends or lovers,
jabbing the air for emphasis.

And, like me, he misses the old days,
when talking to yourself
meant you were crazy,
back when being crazy was a big deal,
not just an acronym
or something you could take a pill for.

I liked it
when people who were talking to themselves
might actually have been talking to God
or an angel.
You respected people like that.

You didn't want to kill them,
as I want to kill the woman at the next table
with the little blue light on her ear
who has been telling the emptiness in front of her
about her daughter's bridal shower
in astonishing detail
for the past thirty minutes.

O person like me,
phoneless in your distant café,
I wish we could meet to discuss this,
and perhaps you would help me
murder this woman on her cell phone,

after which we could have a cup of coffee,
maybe a bagel, and talk to each other,
face to face.

Next time you're in NoVa, give me a call and we can talk about it. Face to face, of course.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.