Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Not-So-Uplifting Report

Sorry, Victoria's Secret and Frederick's of Hollywood ... although your products may be seductive and decorative, a study conducted in France* reports that not only do bras not support the female breast and decrease back pain, they may actually be harmful in that they may in fact encourage the breasts to sag.

According to the results of a 15-year study led by professor Jean-Denis Rouillon of the University of Besançon, conventional wisdom is wrong and bras are a "false necessity." According to Professor Rouillon, who spent a decade and a half using a slide rule and caliper to carefully measure changes in the orientation of the breasts of over 300 18-35 year-old women at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire (University Hospital) in Besançon, “Medically, physiologically, and anatomically, breasts gain no benefit from being denied gravity. On the contrary, they get saggier with a bra.”

Indeed, after regularly measuring women who were not wearing bras, Professor Rouillon and his fellow researchers concluded that "on average their nipples lifted seven millimetres in one year in relation to the shoulders."

The researchers believe their findings suggest that wearing bras prevents the growth of breast tissue, which can lead to deterioration of the muscles that support the breasts. The breasts of women don't wear a bra get more of a workout and are, therefore, better developed.

Dr Rouillon was careful to note that the results of his study were preliminary, cautioning that “The small sample of 320 young women is not representative of the entire population – that would require something like 300,000 subjects.” The professor went on to add, “We will simply have to recruit a larger sample of the female population, and conduct further research."

I'm volunteering to do the data collection in this country.

Have a good day, and put a little bounce in your step.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Where else?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Books We Lie About Having Read

We all suffer from a wide range of frailties, one of which is a tendency to play fast and loose with the truth*. Despite that Biblical injunction against bearing false witness, all of us are guilty of lying at one time or another. Most of the time, the lies are relatively minor ("I can't come to work, boss, my grandmother's funeral is today"), sometimes they're significantly bigger ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinski"), and sometimes the stench of flaming pants is overwhelming (insert quote from any presidential candidates' debate here). And sometimes we lie about odd things ... like the books we claim to have read.

I ran across this interesting article the other day: The Book Most People Have Lied About Reading – and It's Not War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy's great novel War and Peace is actually on the list of the top 20 books people lie about having read (it's at #4), but the winner is - of all things - Alice in Wonderland. Go figure.

I think most of us want to appear to be better read and more erudite than we really are, which is why someone felt a need to compile a list of books people claim to have read. This is the complete list, with those I've actually read in italics**, and my parenthetical commentary added:

1. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll;

2. 1984, by George Orwell (if Mr Orwell only knew ...);

3. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, by JRR Tolkien (I've read the whole trilogy at least half a dozen times over the years);

4. War And Peace, by Leo Tolstoy;

5. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy;

6. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle (my favorites were "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Adventure of the Speckled Band");

7. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee;

8. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens;

9. Crime And Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky;

10. Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen;

11. Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (I've always wanted to read this, and it's on my Kindle ... I'll get to it eventually);

12. The Harry Potter series, by J. K. Rowling (I've read the whole series twice, and loved it);

13. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (a gift from Mrs Smith's high school Humanities class);

14. The Diary Of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank;

15. Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens;

16. The Fifty Shades trilogy, by E. L. James (I feel like I should be ashamed to admit having read these, rather than Dickens or Dostoyevsky);

17. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie (a wonderful and often-imitated mystery);

18. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (also in Mrs Smith's Humanities class);

19. Catch 22, by Joseph Heller (you can't have served in the military and not appreciate it); and,

20. The Catcher In The Rye, by J. D. Salinger.

So, I'm at 50%, having read ten of the 20 books on the list. The three great Russian novels on the list - War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Anna Karenina - are books I've always wanted to read, but just never got around to ... probably because of the sheer size and weight, although having read and enjoyed the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings series, that's probably no excuse. And I think it's interesting that there are four novels by Charles Dickens on the list ... apparently, we believe that Mr Dickens is one of those people we're supposed to have read, but that many people of generations after my own haven't***. And I sort of feel guilty for not having read To Kill a Mockingbird, especially in light of the discussion and controversy over Harper Lee's new novel, Go Set a Watchman (which I haven't read, either).

My reading tastes are very wide and eclectic, and include plenty of brain candy as well as more substantive and thoughtful works ... the Inspector John Madden novels by Rennie Airth and the philosophical writings of Eric Hoffer sit side by side with the Repairman Jack stories of F. Paul Wilson and Stieg Larssen's stories about Lisbeth Salander.

So, Dear Readers, what do you like to read? And what books are you guilty of claiming to have read, but really haven't? You can 'fess up ... your secret is safe with me.

Have a good day. Read something good. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Especially if you are pursuing a career in investment banking or politics.

** No, really!

*** He's one of those "dead white males" many people believe we're supposed to eschew in favor of more ... contemporary ... authors.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Musical Monday

Another of my favorite performers is Nanci Griffith, a lady with a beautiful voice whose songs cover a wide range of styles and topics. This was the first of her songs that I ever heard, and I've since spent a small fortune buying up her CDs and tracking down her videos on YouTube. I like the ethereal quality of the video, which matches her delivery ...

Make your reservations at the Late Night Grande Hotel now, before prices go up.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Poetry Sunday

No commentary necessary ...

Everything We Don't Want Them to Know 
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan 

At eleven, my granddaughter looks like my daughter
did, that slender body, that thin face, the grace
with which she moves. When she visits, she sits
with my daughter; they have hot chocolate together
and talk. The way my granddaughter moves her hands,
the concentration with which she does everything,
knocks me back to the time when I sat with my daughter
at this table and we talked and I watched the grace
with which she moved her hands, the delicate way
she lifted the heavy hair back behind her ear.
My daughter is grown now, married
in a fairy-tale wedding, divorced, something inside
her broken, healing slowly. I look at my granddaughter
and I want to save her, as I was not able
to save my daughter. Nothing is that simple,
all our plans, carefully made, thrown into a cracked
pile by the way love betrays us.

Have a good day. Love your daughters and granddaughters, and come back tomorrow for Musical Monday. More thoughts then.


Saturday, February 06, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Two weeks ago, we were up to our earlobes in snow. Now it's in the 50's and raining. Oh, well ... at least I don't have to shovel it.

Italian actor Raphael Schumacher was killed when a stage hanging scene went tragically wrong; one person was killed and at least three were injured in Manhattan on Friday when a construction crane collapsed during the morning rush hour; one person was killed when a Somali airliner was crippled by a bomb ... the airliner made a successful emergency landing, and the man who was killed was apparently the bomber; six people, one of them a child, were found dead in a Chicago house; and a group of Chinese investors are planning to buy the Chicago Stock Exchange.

This week, in honor of the political and social positions espoused by some presidential wannabes, we feature cartoons about cave men ...

Do you suppose this is how the term "fast food" came about? ...

Exhibits were easier to curate back then ...

The tradition of opposing government support to the arts goes back a long way ...

Before camera phones, Facebook, and Instagram, there was ...

As I was saying ...


And then the fight started ...

Art criticism goes way back ...

High tech in the Stone Age ...

Grange Fair stand, 20,000 BC ...

It's always been a problem for hosts and hostesses to face ...

And there you have it: a Stone Age Cartoon Saturday for the first weekend of February!

Here in NoVa, the snow is continuing to melt and we're preparing psychologically for our presidential primary, coming up in less than a month. Let the stupid and insulting ads begin!

Have a good day and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.


Friday, February 05, 2016

Great Moments in Editing

Welcome to the first edition of Great Moments in Editing for February, 2016 ...

Watch out for that caffeine content ...

The police are always looking for clues. But then, so are most men ...

Do ya' think? ...

As niche businesses go, this one is pretty interesting ...

Ouch ...

I'm sure I would, too, particularly if I was still alive ...

Yet another example of the unfortunate juxtaposition of news article and unrelated photo ...

I'm surely glad we don't have to speak British ...

I'm sure there's an interesting backstory here ...

Those evil bastards from ISIS are taking every opportunity to exploit our weaknesses ...

And that's it for today's Great Moments in editing. Watch your coffee intake and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Screenjunk and Chartjunk

I’ve written a few times in this space about things that really get me cranked … about robocalls and other things; there have also been other posts in the distant past that I can’t find at the moment.

But I have yet another pet peeve to share with you … all the stupid, distracting crawlers and logos that occupy the bottom part of your TV screen when you’re trying to watch the news. You know what I mean … the “breaking news” headline about some cat stuck up a tree, the “weather update” that tells you to tune in at 11:00 for a weather update, the endless crawl of the stock ticker across the screen, and the spinning, pulsating logo of the station in one corner. AARRGGHH!! CNN and Faux News are notorious for these distractions, but every pretty much every news broadcast down to the local level is guilty. Here's an example , which in this case occupies about a third of the screen and provides multiple distractions:

I call this optical trash “screenjunk,” in a nod to what Dr Edward Tufte, one of the foremost authorities on presenting data and information, refers to as “chartjunk.” Chartjunk is what Dr Tufte calls anything put onto a PowerPoint slide that is not directly relevant to the point being made – company logos, distribution restrictions, unnecessary explanations, deliberate obfuscations, or unrelated advertising, for example. It’s distracting material that steals attention away from what should be the focus of your attention. Here are two particularly egregious example of slides drowning in chartjunk ...

This one, presented by House Republicans in an attempt to portray their view of the complexity of health care reforms proposed by House Democrats, is an excellent example of including unnecessary detail and unclear connections to confuse an already difficult issue:

Good luck with extracting useful, decision-quality information from either of these slides.

A related bit of annoying screenjunk is the ad for one show on a television network that plays on screen during another show. It’s tremendously annoying, particularly when the show you’re watching is one of your favorites, or is especially interesting.

Remember two famous adages: William F. Buckley's famous admonition to "eschew obfuscation," and the often-ignored advice to KISS - "keep it simple, stupid."

Have a good day. Say what you mean, without obfuscation and distraction. Everyone will thank you.

See you tomorrow for the next installment of Great Moments in Editing. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Guest Post

Hello, again! It’s me … Clara … you know, Bilbo and Agnes’s granddog.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to write anything here ... my last guest post was back in August of last year! Bilbo usually keeps a pretty close watch on his computer, and in any case I don’t get to visit his house very often … he thinks I’m too excitable, just because I run around the house at top speed and jump from chair to chair and try to poach yummy stuff from the kitchen counter. What a spoil sport.

Well, anyhow, I had a chance to get my paws on the computer again, so I thought I’d give you some more of my dog’s-eye perspectives on a few things.

First of all, I heard everyone making a big deal yesterday about it being “Groundhog Day.” So what? Who cares? What good are groundhogs, anyhow? If you want a day to celebrate an animal, why not have a “Dog Day?” After all, we do a whole lot more for you than any fat, stupid groundhog. Oops … sorry … I’m starting to sound like that Trump guy. Oh, and another thing about groundhogs: if I understand this right, you think that if some groundhog in Pennsylvania wakes up, looks around, and sees his shadow, winter will last for another six weeks. Are you for real? You don’t believe it when scientists tell you the climate is changing, but you trust a rodent to predict the rest of your winter? You people really need to go back to school.

And speaking of winter, I’m a pit bull. We have very short hair and we don’t get winter coats. And I’m here to tell you that it’s no fun to have to squat down in 21 inches of snow to do your business. So if you have a dog, give us a break during the winter, and make sure you clear us out a patch where we can do our business without getting frostbite of the backside.

I've been working hard on being a Good Dog. It took a long time to get back in everybody's good graces after I ate the couch, but my Lovable Clara PlanTM seems to be working. Here I am, helping Elise play games on her iPad ...

And here I am, schmoozing with Bilbo. I'm trying to distract him so he doesn't realize that this is the couch I ate ...

I'll let you know in my next guest post if the Lovable Clara PlanTM is still working.

One last thing ... I may be just a dog, but I think that (like most dogs) I'm a pretty good judge of character. And trust me on this ... if I get close enough to either that Trump person or that Cruz person, I'm gonna bite him. Think carefully about who you vote for. I like it here, and I don't want to have to move to Australia.

Bilbo will be back tomorrow to do his own post. Until then, arf!


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Presidential Campaigns and the Seven Deadly Sins

You may recall, Dear Readers, that there are said to be Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. I’ve written about them before, and I thought about them the other day when I read this article by Michael Gerson in the Washington Post: Donald Trump's Dangerous Politics of Pride.  On reading the article, it dawned on me that the Seven Deadly Sins are alive and well, and deeply rooted in the politics of the presidential campaign ...

Pride: Pride has been defined as excessive belief in one's own abilities, it is often considered the deadliest of the Deadly Sins, and the one from which all the others arise (it was pride that led Lucifer to challenge God for supremacy in heaven, after all), and there’s no better modern-day exemple of overwhelming pride, arrogance, and self-aggrandizement than Donald Trump. I don't know if in his heart he believes everything he says, but if he does he's even more dangerous than I thought.

Greed: Greed is the obsessive desire for material wealth or gain. It's easy and often accurate to accuse the "1%" of greed, but many members of our political class* are equally greedy – perhaps not for money directly, but for power ... which can provide the opportunity to make money by manipulating the law for personal gain, and to force one’s personal philosophies of governance and social and religious morality on others.

Gluttony: Gluttony is usually associated with grossly overeating, but in the larger sense it represents an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires. When someone who wants us to vote for him for president advocates invading another country and taking their oil to pay the costs of war, I think one could argue that it's an example of gluttony. One might also argue that the desire to own unlimited numbers of guns, far beyond the needs of personal defense and regardless of the concerns and safety of others, is an example of gluttony as well.

Sloth: Sloth is the deliberate avoidance of physical or spiritual labor, and in this sense the US Congress - for wasting time on frivolous political games to the detriment of the nation - is clearly guilty on many counts. But in a larger sense, the US electorate is equally guilty, both for its intellectual laziness in accepting ludicrous political promises** without thinking them through, and for blindly returning the same useless individuals to office term after term.

Lust: Lust is usually associated with uncontrolled sexual desire, but it can refer to any uncontrollable passion or longing ... such as the lust for power*** that keeps many individuals in Congress for extended periods of time. The passionate attachment to a particular doctrine, whether social, political, or religious, might also be considered lustful.

Envy: Envy is the desire for that which belongs to someone else. It’s bad enough by itself, but it’s an insidious evil that can lead to other Deadly Sins … for instance, when envy turns to anger that someone owns something we want, it merges with the sin of Wrath.

Wrath: Wrath represents uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate toward another person ... and if there's a defining Deadly Sin of American politics today, it's wrath. I wrote about this last month, focusing on the role of angry and intemperate language in politics. American voters in general, and the Republican electorate in particular, are clearly guilty of the Deadly Sin of wrath, which blinds us to reality and prevents us from seeking common cause with others.

The Seven Deadly Sins are clearly alive and well in today's America, and perhaps we would do well to consider balancing them out with the so-called Seven Cardinal Virtues that oppose them:

Pride is balanced by Humility – not a trait often observed in the political class, and utterly foreign to persons like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz … but worth exercising by those who desire power;

Greed is balanced by Generosity – not high on the list of characteristics of, say, mortgage bankers and hard-core conservatives, but worthwhile nevertheless;

Gluttony is balanced by Temperance – the knowledge that enough is enough, whether one speaks of food, drink, guns, power, or anything else;

Sloth is balanced by Diligence – a recognition that work must be done, and that while doing the right thing may be difficult, it is nevertheless the right thing to do;

Lust is traditionally balanced by Chastity, but Chastity applies to lust in its sexual sense, and not to its full meaning of an unrestrained or uncontrollable desire. In this regard, the balance to Lust may be better expressed as Temperance in its sense of balancing of simple desire against excessive craving††;

Envy is balanced by Kindness – the replacement of resentment with patient satisfaction. Not always easy by any means, and particularly not in a time of me-first instant gratification; and finally,

Wrath is balanced by Patience – a trait not especially common nowadays for anyone, much less those who demand action and are infuriated when it is not delivered on their terms or according to their liking.

When you make up your mind on a candidate to support, consider how well his or her behavior reflects the Deadly Sins and the Cardinal Virtues. There’s no ideal – or even close to ideal - candidate running, but we can inform our decisions better so that we intelligently pick the least bad option.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Many of them are members of the 1% as well … running for office is not cheap.

** Like building a wall on the border with Mexico, and making the Mexicans pay for it.

***We also talked about power in the context of Greed, remember?

 Remember George W. Bush and his "compassionate conservatism?" Nobody else does, either.

†† As with Gluttony.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Musical Monday

One of the things that often drives me crazy is hearing a song, liking it a lot, and not having any idea who sang it or what the title was ... which makes it difficult to track it down and buy it for my collection. Today's song is one such. I knew the singer was Judy Collins (I'd know her voice anywhere), but I had no idea of the title, and every guess I had was wrong. As it turns out, you'd never guess the title from the lyrics. Here is Judy Collins singing her wonderful tune, "Song for Judith" ... not until much later called "Open the Door," which would have made it a lot easier to track down!

I think this is another song that's a great blend of wonderful tune and gorgeous lyrics:

"Open the door and come on in - 
I'm so glad to see you, my friend!
You're like a rainbow coming around the bend.
And when I see you happy,
Well, it sets my heart free;
I'd like to be as good a friend to you
As you are to me."

Have a good day. Be someone's rainbow coming around the bend.

More thoughts tomorrow.