Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Warning Signs


Your government is for sale, many of your elected officials are utterly ignorant of basic scientific and economic facts, and for many of your fellow citizens, unrestricted freedom is more important than common sense and civic responsibility.  Here are a few warning signs that you may consider posting as needed ... particularly as we approach the presidential election season:




No need to thank me. It's a service we curmudgeons gladly provide.

Have a good day. I will not be posting tomorrow, but the Editorial Gems Friday, Cartoon Saturday, and Poetry Sunday posts are already written and will appear as usual (if perhaps a bit later in the day). See you then.

Bilbo

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Soft Language


As a lover of language with a special interest in the meanings of words, one of the things I find very frustrating is when we refuse to say what we mean. Here's a clip of George Carlin's discussion of the plague of soft language that sums up what I'm talking about (warning: adult language* ahead) ...



And I'm not a "senior citizen" ... I'm a geezer, and proud of it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* That would be "dirty words" in a more forthright time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Celebrating a Life


As you know from yesterday's Poetry Sunday post, my father passed away last Friday night. Although we are grieving, I think that an important part of the process of accepting the loss of a loved one is remembering the high points of that person's life, and the good times that will serve as the legacy. Here are a few vignettes that will help introduce you to Bilbo the Elder ...

Dad was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1923. Like everyone else in his generation, he lived through the Great Depression and still managed to go to art school. He was a very talented sketch artist (more on that later), and this may have helped shape his military service during World War II, in which he was an aerial combat photographer ... when not manning a machine gun to defend his B-24 bomber, he was lying on the deck of the airplane, taking photos of their attacks to help assess their bombing accuracy. Dad won his Purple Heart during one mission in which their aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire while he was on the deck taking pictures ... the turret gunner above him panicked, thinking they'd have to bail out (they didn't), released his harness, and dropped to the deck below, landing with both feet on the back of Dad's head and knocking out his front teeth! Here's Dad as the manly young stud who took the war to the Nazis in the skies of World War II Germany ...


The time Dad spent in England during World War II led to his life-long love of all things English. He was a particular fan of the performer Stanley Holloway (who you may know as the father of Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle from the film version of My Fair Lady), and memorized many of the wonderful monologues Holloway performed featuring the Ramsbottom family. Dad knew these by heart, delivered them in a dead-on English accent, and was still performing them for his friends well into his eighties. You can listen to Stanley Holloway perform one of Dad's favorites, Albert and the Lion, here.

Coming home from the war, Dad worked in the art department at Kauffman's department store in Pittsburgh, taking their advertising photographs. It was there he met Mom, who delivered a package to his shop one day that included - among the official papers - a nickel and a note saying "Call me." He did, and the rest is history. Here's their wedding day ...


Dad left Kauffman's and started his own business as a advertising illustrator ... he preferred to call himself an "illustrator" rather than a "photographer" because there was so much more to the business than just shooting the picture: he built the sets, found the models, and figured out how to create exotic visual effects in the days before PhotoShop. We led an interesting and fascinating life in which we met all sorts of people in the course of Dad's search for props and models ... we met circus performers, demolition experts, professional wrestlers, junk dealers, the 200+ pound go-go dancer who became Miss Olde Frothingslosh*, and many other fascinating characters. Our house and his studio were crammed with all sorts of exotic stuff that he collected because it might be needed someday as a prop for a photo.

Dad was a very talented artist, and drew many wonderful pictures for us. He did one series of caricatures featuring various puns on the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex: Tierannosaurus Rex wore a garish tie with a glittering stickpin; Tiredrannosaurus Rex was napping against a tree; Tire-rannosaurus Rex had a huge Firestone body; and Tyrannosaurus Wrecks was painfully slamming at full speed into a tree. We were at a restaurant for dinner one time, and Dad - who hated waste - was eating everything the rest of us left on our plates. We laughed at that, and Dad whipped out a pen and drew a sketch on his napkin of a battered garbage can with a jaunty hat and a remarkable resemblance to him, walking away from the table with a satisfied burp.

I was stationed in what was then walled-in West Berlin in the early 1980's, and Dad visited me there. We had a genuine adventure when we were driving back to Berlin from a visit to my sons in Wiesbaden: there was only one route approved for American, British, and French personnel to drive into the city (the Helmstedt-Berlin Autobahn), and we had to check in with the Russian guards at each end. When we arrived at the Berlin checkpoint, a Russian military officer came out of the guardhouse and talked with me, trying to convince me to visit him in East Berlin since he wasn't allowed to travel to the West. Dad watched all this (the conversation was in German and Russian, neither of which he spoke), and when we left and arrived at the American checkpoint and I reported the contact to our security people, Dad offered to draw sketches of the Russian officer ... he turned out several very detailed front and profile pictures that helped to identify the man as a known Russian military intelligence officer. He was always proud of that story. Here's a picture of Dad in Berlin with my sons Jason and Matthew ...


Dad was a marvelous cook, famous for his steak sandwiches and roasted vegetables. I got my own love of cooking from him ...


Dad also loved fishing. We had a cabin on the Allegheny River near Franklin, Pennsylvania, where he loved to go out at the crack of dawn in search of the catch of the day ...


He had a wonderful sense of humor, as did Mom. Where Mom was a great punner, though, Dad was a master of the Shaggy Dog Story. You can read a couple of the great shaggy dog stories I learned from him in this blog post from back in April of last year.

As his children married, Dad became the patriarch of an ever-expanding clan. We tried to get together twice a year - at Memorial Day and at Thanksgiving - for family celebrations, and Dad was always a hit with the swelling number of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In this 2007 blog post, I showed you two pictures that encompassed five generations of the family. Here's dad in 2011 with just a few of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren ...


I could go on, but this will give you a short introduction to the life and legacy of the man I'm proud to say was my father. Whatever you see in me that's good, I owe to him. Everything else is my own fault.


Have a good day. Honor your parents while you can ... they leave us far too soon.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* "The pale, stale ale with the foam on the bottom."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Poetry Sunday


It's a sad weekend at our home, as my father passed away on Friday night. It was not completely unexpected, but is - of course - sad for those of us left behind to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

Dad was very fond of the work of the Welsh writer and poet Dylan Thomas. Listening to our recording of Thomas reading his classic prose poem "A Child's Christmas in Wales" was always a highlight of our Christmas season, and I know that Dad would also appreciate one of the most famous of Dylan Thomas's poems as we celebrate his life and the legacy he leaves behind.

Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


So long, Dad. We'll miss you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cartoon Saturday


There are five Saturdays in the month of January. That's a lot of cartoons, and God knows we need them ...

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died this past week at age 90, to be succeeded by his younger (?) brother, Crown Prince Salman (age 79); a large asteroid is scheduled to fly by the earth on Monday, but will miss our planet by approximately 745,000 miles*; the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the hands on its Doomsday Clock up two minutes, so that it now reads three minutes to midnight, the "latest" it's been since 1984; two former athletes are suing the University of North Carolina and the NCAA, claiming they represent hundreds of thousands of college athletes who were promised an education but don't get one because they were enrolled in “paper classes.”**; and the US Air Force has declassified nearly 130,000 pages of files on UFO investigations and sightings, which are now available for viewing online.

In honor of the heroic efforts by the GOP to get rid of Obamacare without having a plan to replace it or help Real People deal with high medical care costs, this week's collection of theme cartoons deals with doctors and medical care ...

The walletectomy is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in America ...


Some things never change ...


And here I always thought a chiropractor was a doctor who practiced in Egypt ...


The cure for a common 21st Century malady ...


Details of the GOP replacement for Obamacare are starting to emerge ...


Looks as if Crown Prince Salman got in just in time ...


Now, here's a guy with an image problem worse than mine ...


That's one way to cut corners ...


When you have cheap medical insurance, this can be the result* ...


And finally, a question I've often asked myself ...


So here we are: four Saturdays down and one to go as we struggle valiantly toward the end of January. Here in NoVa, it's going to be a very hectic weekend ... this afternoon, Agnes leaves for another two weeks in Germany to take care of her ailing father, and we are expecting yet another winter storm to roll through the area by tomorrow evening.

When it rains, it pours, as the old Morton Salt advertisement used to say.

Have a good day and a great weekend. Stay warm, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. More thoughts then.

Bilbo

P.S. - because of a personal situation, my posts may be a bit erratic (in terms of time posted ... they're always erratic in terms of content) over the next week or so. Keep coming back ... it'll get back to normal soon.

B.

* This reminds me of an interesting semantic question: why, when we want someone to do us a favor, do we say "Can you do me a solid?" Why don't we say, "Can you do me a liquid?" Of course, I can think of lots of reasons why we wouldn't ask someone if they can "do me a gas," but the question is nevertheless valid.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Left Cheek Ass Clown Award for January, 2015


It's been two weeks since we announced our first Ass Clown dishonoree for the month of January, and it's time to dig deep into the slime to find a new individual or group worthy of the citation.


As it happens, the choice was relatively obvious (at least, to me), and this month's

Left Cheek Ass Clown* Award

goes to 

South Carolina State Representative
Alan D. Clemmons


In a state whose education system ranks dead last in a survey conducted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Representative Clemmons (who is, as you probably suspect, a Republican) struck a blow for educational excellence by introducing a bill - The Second Amendment Education Act - in the state legislature. The bill would mandate three full consecutive weeks per year of instruction in the Second Amendment and gun rights, and designate December 15 ... one day after the anniversary of the massacre of 20 young children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 ... as “Second Amendment Awareness Day,” on which schools would be required to hold mandatory poster or essay contests at every grade level on the theme "The Right To Bear Arms; One American Right Protecting All Others." The curriculum for the three weeks of instruction, according to the text of the bill, would be "developed or recommended" by the National Rifle Association

Representative Clemmons' bill may have considerable support among hard-core conservatives and gun rights advocates, but considering that the South Carolina Supreme Court recently ruled that students in many of the state’s school districts have not received even a ‘minimally adequate education’ as mandated by the state constitution, it seems that the state ought perhaps to spend educational resources on teaching things like ... say ... reading, math, and science. Wishing for more training in critical thinking is probably a waste of time.

Ladies and gentlemen, for his utter ignorance of the real educational needs of his constituents, shameless pandering to the far-right gun lobby, and nearly unbelievable lack of good sense and decency in designating the day after the Sandy Hook Massacre anniversary as "Second Amendment Awareness Day," Alan D. Clemmons has richly earned the designation of Left Cheek Ass Clown for January, 2015. Given the type of education he supports, it's not a wonder that someone like him could be elected.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday.

Bilbo

* You may recall that I was concerned about what to call an award given out every two weeks, but long-time reader and fellow blogger John came to the rescue by suggesting that we call the two awards per month the "Right Cheek" and "Left Cheek."** Thanks, John!

** In this case, the adjectives "left" and "right" do not have any political significance. Just wanted to clear that up.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Eighth Circle


If you've read Dante's Divine Comedy, and specifically the first volume, Inferno, you know that Dante imagined Hell as an inverted cone divided into nine circles to which sinners were assigned depending on their sins. The circles grew smaller in diameter as one neared the lowest depths of Hell, and at each descending level the punishments of the damned souls grew worse according to Dante's assessment of the severity of their sins. At the ninth - lowest - level, Satan was imprisoned in ice for all eternity.

But it's the eighth circle I want to talk about today, because I think it's the circle that is uniquely suited for many of the characters that plague us today.

Unlike the other circles of Hell, the eighth was divided into a number of subcircles for a particularly loathsome group of condemned sinners, lumped together under the general sin of fraud; it housed those condemned for the sins of:

Flattery;
Political Corruption;
Hypocrisy;
Theft;
Fraudulent Rhetoric;
Divisiveness; and,
Falsification.

It occurs to me that all of these are especially rampant in our present-day political culture. Flattery, Fraudulent Rhetoric, Divisiveness, and Falsification are staples of political speechifying and news coverage*, while Hypocrisy, Political Corruption, and Theft are rampant at every level of politics.

The eighth circle also includes sinners condemned for sins somewhat less associated with politics:

Pimping and Seducing**; and,
Sorcery***.

One last category of sin punished in the eighth circle is Simony (the abuse of power within the Church). While Dante was particularly focusing on things like the venal sale of Church offices and blessings, one might also consider simony today to include the sexual abuse of children by priests and - beyond the Catholic Church - clerics and adherents of religions who incite violence against those who observe faiths other than their own.

Where's Dante when you need him****?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* Particularly on Faux News.

** Although our elected reprehensives practice this on us, particularly in election years.

*** Although much conservative economic theory depends on it.

**** The satirical newspaper The Onion back in 1998 ran an article that announced the expansion of Hell to squeeze in a new tenth circle - Corpadverticus, The Circle of Total Bastards - between levels eight and nine. The expansion was made necessary, according to a spokesdemon for Hell interviewed for the article, because “… a majority of the new arrivals possessed souls far more evil than the original nine circles were equipped to handle. Demographers, advertising executives, tobacco lobbyists, monopoly-law experts retained by major corporations, and creators of office-based sitcoms–these new arrivals represent a wave of spiritual decay and horror the likes of which Hell has never before seen,” the spokesdemon said.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Be Afraid, But of the Right Things


There was a very interesting article in this past Sunday's issue of Parade Magazine titled Fears 2015. It's worth your while to read, so go ahead and do it while I finish drafting this post. I'll be done by the time you finish reading.

Done? Well, if you paid attention while you were reading, you got the message that most of the things we spend a lot of time worrying about are not the things we ought to fear the most. Meteor impacts, mass murderers, and the zombie apocalypse are things that are vanishingly small dangers in comparison to things that represent real threats. The article featured a "fear this, not that" chart that summarized the difference between the things we fret about and the things that are truly dangerous. Here's my cleaned-up version of the chart:


The point of the article is one that is pretty obvious, and yet generally overlooked. We tend to fear the things that are gruesome and play well to credulous audiences, and not the things that are the real immediate and long-term threats we really ought to be worrying about. You are far more likely to die in a car crash caused by your need to send that life-or-death text message than you are to die in an airplane crash, yea though the airplane crash is far more likely to get lots of media coverage because of its visual impact and large body count. There are relatively few mass murders engineered by crazy people with guns, but there is a real epidemic of low-level gun violence that kills thousands of people each year. We fret about the possible side effects of vaccines and stop using them ... and then die of the diseases they prevent. True enough - these are all things to worry about. But which are the ones most likely to be real dangers? 

How do we start worrying about the right things? According to one expert quoted in the article, we can watch less television news* ... she notes that "The media loves to tap into the fear response because it doesn't engage with the rational mind. Scary headlines and disturbing images are captivating." Rely on facts when weighing relative risks. As another expert quoted in the article says, "When fear sets in, try to let your rational brain have a voice. If you do, your choices will be healthier."

You can kill two birds with the proverbial one stone by just shutting off Faux News, where rational thought doesn't play to the desired audience.

Have a good day. Worry about the things worth worrying about ... like a Congress full of irrational, drooling wingnuts.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* I remember a political joke I learned when I was studying Russian in college: the two major newspapers in the former Soviet Union were Pravda ("Truth") and Izvestiya ("News"), and Russians used to say that in "Truth" there was no "news," and in "News" there was no "truth."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Terrible Curses


One of the staples of horror fiction is the Terrible Curse, of which there are many sorts. You may recall Steven King's novel Thinner, or the terrifying short story "Lukundoo" by Edward Lucas White just to name two classic examples. The basic story is always the same: someone (the cursee) does something bad to the curser (not the cursor, that's another story), and the curser brings down some horrific revenge.

There are lots of types of curses to be found in literature and in the real world, but one of the worst that can be inflicted upon anyone is a curse about which my friend and fellow blogger Peggy has already written ... I refer, of course, to the Curse of Glitter. For those of you who haven't read Peggy's post, or are too lazy to go there and do it, she writes about a hysterically funny website* called ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com, which offers - for a mere 9.99 in Australian Dollars - to ship an envelope full of glitter to your enemies, no matter where in the world they might hide.

Now, you might think that an envelope full of glitter isn't much of a curse. But if you think that, then you clearly have no idea what mind-boggling havoc an envelope full of glitter will wreak upon your life and environment. You will never be rid of it once it escapes the envelope. It will be in your clothes, your hair, your carpets and furniture, and the innards of all your electronics forever. Thousands of years in the future, archaeologists excavating your grave or the site of your home will find themselves infested with the glitter that has lain dormant for all that time, patiently waiting for a new victim.

As I wrote in my comment to Peggy's post, I have considerable personal experience at being cursed by glitter.

Our granddaughters have lots of princess costumes that consist of a yard or two of cheap fabric and sixteen pounds of glitter that shower everywhere every time they move. They also have do-it-yourself tattoo kits which include glitter tattoos that take years to wear off the skin of hapless grandparents**. And glitter, for whatever reason, seems to be a primary component of every toy manufactured for young girls

If you are a man who is into ballroom dancing, you will also find yourself subject to the Curse of Glitter. Someone for whom Dante should have designated a specific circle of Hell once invented "Body Glitter," which many ladies sprinkle liberally on their exposed arms, shoulders, and backs so that they will sparkle beguilingly under the spotlights on the dance floor. Of course, that glitter immediately migrates to the nearest black tuxedo, where it will remain until the sun goes nova, no matter how many times you send it to the dry cleaners. Trust me ... it is embarrassing to wear your tuxedo to a formal dinner on another occasion and have people stare at you because you are glittering.

Given a choice of curses between being strangled in a cesspool by a rotting corpse, or receiving an envelope full of glitter in the mail, I think I'll happily dive into the cesspool.

Have a good day. Keep your %@#! glitter.

More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

* Well, funny if you're not the one being glittered.

** And result in great fun and merriment at work, let me tell you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What the Teacher Says, and What She Really Means


Now that conservative Republicans control the majorities in both houses of Congress and the majority of state governments across the country, we need to get ready for some significant changes of direction in social and governmental philosophy. One of these is the desire of state and local-level conservatives to get rid of national education standards, the belief being that the topics and skills taught and degree of education required of children should be decided at the local level and not by - God forbid! - gummint bureaucrats in Washington.

Let's face it ... teaching is a difficult and often thankless job. Teachers are underpaid and overworked, often having to purchase supplies for their classrooms from their own pockets. School budgets are the first things cut during economic downturns. Class sizes are too large for effective instruction. Parents resent honest grades and evaluations of their children (who are all well-behaved geniuses, of course) while they expect teachers to function in loco parentis ... except when they don't want them to function that way. I often wonder why people want to go into teaching as a profession, but I'm glad they do, in spite of all the obstacles we put in the way of their work.

In honor of our underappreciated, underpaid, and overworked teachers, here's a handy guide for parents to help you understand what the teacher is actually telling you during those conferences you really don't want to attend ...

Your son has a remarkable ability to gather information from his classmates.
He cheats on tests.

Karen is an endless fund of energy and viability.
She's a hyperactive windmill who can't sit still for five minutes.

Fantastic imagination! Unmatched in his capacity for blending fact with fiction. 
He's definitely one of the most creative liars I have ever met. He has a brilliant future in politics.

Margie exhibits a casual, relaxed attitude to school, indicating that high expectations don't intimidate her.
She hasn't completed a single assignment all term.

Her athletic ability is marvelous. Superior hand-eye coordination.
She hit me with a rubber band from 15 feet away.

Nick thrives on interaction with his peers. 
Your son needs to stop socializing and start working.

Your daughter's greatest asset is her demonstrative public discussions. 
The classroom lawyer. Why is it that every time I explain an assignment she creates a class argument?

John enjoys the thrill of engaging challenges with his peers. 
He's a bully.

An adventurous nature lover who rarely misses opportunities to explore new territory. 
Your daughter was caught skipping school at the park.

Unlike some students who hide their emotion, Charles is very expressive and open. 
He must have written the Whiner's Guide.

I firmly believe that her intellectual and emotional progress would be enhanced through a year's repetition of her learning environment.
She is not ready for high school and must repeat the 8th grade.

Her exuberant verbosity is awesome!
She never shuts up.

Those of you who are teachers will appreciate this. It will soar grandly above the heads of many others.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo