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.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

July isn't over yet?

All 298 people on board a Malaysian Airways jetliner were murdered when their plane was shot down over Ukraine, apparently by a missile launched by pro-Russian separatists; Israel and Hamas continued their bloody exchange of rockets and missiles in Gaza; Islamic extremists belonging to the group ISIS have told Christians in areas of Iraq they occupy that they must either convert to Islam, pay protection taxes to Islamic Sharia courts, or be killed; super typhoon Rammasun, having killed at least 64 people in the Philippines, is now bearing down on China; and in Washington, Congress continued to accomplish absolutely nothing except stale political theater.

In lieu of someone putting us out of our misery, how about some cartoons?

This week's set of theme cartoons, in honor of Godzilla, ISIS, and other beastly creatures, features monsters ...

Things are bad when a monster can't even get a decent drink ...

Even monsters should keep their hands clean before eating ...

And there are monsters who have problems with love just like you and I ...

Werewolves can have problems at bedtime ...

GOP zombies ...

Turning to other topics, some people just aren't cut out to be lawyers ...

When you're part of the 1%, you know exactly what you want ...

Is it that obvious? ...

I'll see you there between 5 and 7 ...

And finally, there's always somebody who doesn't get the memo ...

So ends another week as we march our way toward the end of summer. We're expecting a pretty nice weekend here in NoVa, weather-wise, and so perhaps I can get some work done in the yard. Or perhaps I can sit on the deck with a gin and tonic and read. Any idea which way I'm leaning?

Have a good day and a great weekend. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. 

More thoughts then.


Friday, July 18, 2014

Yet More Great Moments in Editing

Just when you thought it was safe to open your eyes and look around ...

Forget Voldemort ... now it's time for the middle-aged Harry Potter to face a new enemy ...

And the enemy is preparing for the event ...

Special discount for good spellers ...

Perhaps this is a requirement that we could apply to Congress ...

Well, that sounds like a good reason to get rid of the other guy ...

Brain not included at this price ...

I wonder what they used to serve ...

You'd think that bankers would be a little better with figures ...

I think this is blatant discrimination against tall people ...

This is just one of the ways that the medical profession is trying to bring down the high cost of health care ...

Have a good day. Send your examples of great things found in print to yours truly. And don't trust spell-check.

See you tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Things You Won't Regret When You're Older

Last month I ran across a Buzzfeed article called 27 Things You Won't Regret When You're Older. I thought it was an intriguing topic, but that 27 is an awfully large number of things to deal with all at once. Here's my pared-down version of that list, with the usual commentary:

Turning Off Your Phone When You're At Dinner. Mealtime should be a chance to enjoy the company of whomever you're with ... not a time to spend hunched over the phone. Of course, when Agnes and I eat at home by ourselves, we're almost always reading, so I guess I shouldn't talk too loudly.

Waking Up Early and Getting Stuff Done. One of the things I inherited from my father is an internal clock that gets me up at the crack of dawn. I am absolutely a morning person, and think the morning is the very best part of the day. As I get older, I find that I enjoy sleeping in on weekends ... but to me, "sleeping in" is pretty much anything after about 6 AM.

Not Going to Your High School Reunion. I disagree with this one. The caption in the original article said, "Unless you had the very best time in high school, don’t bother. You’ll keep in touch with the people who mattered, and you won’t with the ones who didn’t. No awkward dance party will change that." Once we leave high school, we spread to the four winds and lose touch with each other, and time gives us a perspective that helps us to make friends we missed the first time around. Of course, you still run into some of those ass clowns that made your life hell, but they're fewer than you remember ... and time usually hasn't been good to them, heh, heh, heh.

Telling Your Family How Much They Mean to You As Often As You Can. You'll be dead for a long, long time ... you need to share the love before it's too late.

Keeping a Photo Album Filled with Your Favorite Moments. I've got a great collection of pictures on my iPad that's the equivalent of the stereotypical pushy grandparents' photo album. It's not just pictures of the children and grandchildren, but of moments from my life that mean something to me. Just the thing when you run across an old friend and need a way to organize many years of catching up.

And ...

Expressing Yourself Creatively in Some Way. Everybody should be creative. Agnes makes quilts, does cross-stitching, works in stained glass, does beautiful matting and framing, and does amazing things with PhotoShop. I blog, enjoy photography, and write world-class letters*. We dance together and collaborate on cooking mean gourmet meals. If you can't be creative, you're nothing more than a sponge sucking up oxygen that could be better used growing trees.

What about you? What are the things you don't think you'll regret when you grow up? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Life's too short for regrets.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* He said, modestly.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Past Exonerative

If you aren't a person with a degree in linguistics, the uses of the passive and active voice probably aren't something you spend too much time thinking about. But that's why you have me.

The difference between the active and passive voices involves the identification of who or what performs the action being described, as in this simple example:

"Mary won the Nobel Prize for Physics" is a sentence in the active voice. It's clear that Mary won something, and what that something was. On the other hand, "The Nobel Prize for Physics was won by Mary" is a sentence in the passive voice. In this version of the sentence, we're stressing the importance of the prize by putting it up front, before mention of Mary.

Most of the time, the active voice is preferable, because it clearly denotes who took what action. But sometimes, particularly in the worlds of politics, news reporting, and the avoidance of lawsuits, we don't always want to specify who did what. Consider this example:

I made a mistake (active voice).
Mistakes were made (passive voice).

In the second sentence above, who was responsible for the mistake? We don't know. Use of the passive voice in this case allows the speaker to admit that something went wrong without admitting who was responsible. For this reason, use of the passive voice in admitting wrongdoing has been called the "past exonerative tense," and is much beloved of politicians and celebrities who find it necessary to sort of apologize for something without actually doing so.

I thought about the whole passive voice thing yesterday when I read this article in the Washington Post: The Curious Grammar of Police Shootings. The article, by Washington Post blogger Radley Balko, looks at the way in which police departments report incidents in which their officers shot people - whether on purpose or by accident. It's fascinating.

First of all, Mr Balko points out that in police news releases, police officers never actually shoot anyone. There is, instead, an "officer-involved shooting." He notes that in many reports, the actions of the alleged criminal are presented in the active voice, while those of the police officers involved are presented in the passive ("When the suspect continued to advance on the officer while refusing to comply with his repeated commands, an officer-involved shooting occurred"). 

The best (if I can use that adjective in this context) example Mr Balko cites is this one, taken from the description of an incident in Georgia by a local television station:

"... a deputy, who was not named, was approaching the property when a dog ran up to him. The deputy’s gun fired one shot, missing the dog and hitting the child. It was not clear if the gun was accidentally fired by the deputy."

As Mr Balko points out, guns don't usually go off without someone pulling a trigger. And note the use of the passive voice:

"It was not clear if the gun was actually fired by the deputy" says more or less the same thing as "It was not clear if the deputy actually fired the gun," but it doesn't sound as if the deputy actually did anything wrong.

The point here isn't to cast aspersions on police officers, but to point out how the language can be used obscure the truth and blur responsibility for one's actions. 

The past exonerative ... the official tense of Congress and the media.

You are passively wished by me a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Color Coding

Yesterday, Angel put up an interesting post that discussed the signals (perhaps unwitting, perhaps not) a woman sends when she wears red or pink clothing. The idea is that she may be advertising her sexual availability or her period of prime fertility by her choice of clothing color, in much the same way that some female animals change the color of their external genitalia to signal that they are in their fertile period ("in heat," as the common expression goes). I'm thinking that Chris deBurgh may have had a hot date in mind when he sang this song ...

The whole subject of color is interesting, and has applicability far beyond the examples Angel provided in her post. As I noted in the comment I left, red is often considered a "power color" (as in a man's wear of a red tie with a gray suit) that supposedly establishes dominance - possibly hinting at a willingness to spill blood*. Red also is the traditional color of warning and danger. It may have been no accident that the heroine of "Gone with the Wind" was named Scarlet.

Other colors send signals as well: for example, black often symbolizes mystery, death, or mourning in western cultures. White sends that message in China, while in western cultures white denotes purity or chastity. Consider this song by Uriah Heep ...

We use the symbology of color in every aspect of our lives. Boys tend to be associated with blue; girls with pink. Cowards are yellow. People are green with envy. When we are depressed, we're blue ...

... but when we're angry, we see red. When we're healthy, we're in the pink.

In religion, green is the color associated with Islam.

In politics, we've divided ourselves into red and blue factions

In my own case, being color-blind (actually, color-deficient) makes life interesting. I can usually tell colors apart with no trouble if they're different enough ... my problem is with distinguishing dark colors or pastels from each other. Dark Blue, dark brown, and black look pretty much the same to me, as do all pastel shades. I've told you before about how I always try to have Agnes check over my clothes each evening so I won't look too garish at work the next day. Unfortunately, she isn't always there to save me from myself.

A while back, we needed new protective covers for our iPads, and she sent me to the store to buy them. She wanted a red one, which I found successfully, but the bright yellow one I thought that I'd bought for myself turned out to be green, or so I'm told. It still looks pretty yellow to me.

Oh, well ... how about we wrap up this discussion of colors with a little something from Petula Clark?

Have a good day. Don't be blue. More thoughts tomorrow.


* There's an old joke about two generals surveying the field before a major battle. The first general turns to his orderly and says, "Bring me my red shirt!" The other general asks him why he wants to wear a red shirt, and the first man explains that a red shirt will help hide the blood if he gets wounded, so that his men won't lose heart. The second general thinks about this, then turns to his orderly and says, "Bring me my brown pants!"

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ass Clown of the Month for July - Part 2

The best-laid plans ...

It was only a few days ago that I announced my plan to begin a new system for designating recipients of the Ass Clown of the Month Award, announcing the award recipients every other Friday, alternating with the Great Moments in Editing feature ...

... and here I am, already violating my new system. I would have liked to wait to make this announcement, but I really don't want two weeks to to pass before giving due dishonor to this amazingly well-qualified nominee, brought to my attention by my daughter, who was quick to notice the level of award-winning ass clownery represented by this - ready for this one? - elected official.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the second Ass Clown of the Month Award for July, 2014 is presented to

In a speech last week condemning the Obama administration’s new Environmental Protection Agency carbon emission regulations, Senator Smith* (who also owns a mining company called Mohawk Energy) claimed that man-made climate change is scientifically implausible because Mars and Earth are exactly the same temperature. In his speech, Senator Smith said:

"As you [an official of the Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet] sit there in your chair with your data, we sit up here in ours with our data and our constituents and stuff behind us. I won’t get into the debate about climate change but I’ll simply point out that I think in academia we all agree that the temperature on Mars is exactly as it is here. Nobody will dispute that. Yet there are no coal mines on Mars. There’s no factories on Mars that I’m aware of."

Senator Smith has obviously not checked his information with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which notes that the average temperature on Earth is 57 degrees Fahrenheit, while the average temperature on Mars is -81 degrees Fahrenheit ... a difference of 138 degrees. You can check out the current weather on Mars here**.

For his almost unbelievable example of scientific illiteracy and utter ignorance of the science of climate change, Kentucky State Senator Brandon Smith is designated as our second Ass Clown of the Month for July, 2014.

Have a good day. Be careful who you vote for.


* Does it surprise you that he's a Republican?

** Please pass the information to Senator Smith.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Poetry Sunday

I have often reflected that I've been a much better grandfather than I was a father. I didn't get to see my sons grow up, but that didn't mean that I didn't think about them all the time and wonder about their adventures and the advice I might have given them before it was too late and they had all the advice they needed. This poem by Micheal Milburn talks about some of the things I might have said if I'd had the chance ...

To My Son's Girlfriend
by Michael Milburn

I'm tempted to ask
what you see in him.
Although you probably
see the good that I see
I wonder if you realize
how much he is my handiwork,
or which of the qualities
you daydream about in class
are the ones that I take pride in,
his cordiality, for example,
or love of silliness.

It's uncomfortable for me
to think of anyone else
loving him the way I do,
possessing him in a way
that only his mother and I
have ever possessed him,
and I can't deny being jealous,
not so much reluctant
to share or relinquish him
as resolved to remind you
that he's been around
longer than your love,
under construction if you will,
and that each cute trait
or whatever occurs to you
when you hear his name
I feel proprietary about,
like a woodworker
who makes a table
intending to sell it
but prays that no buyer
will recognize its worth.

Those of you who have sons ... or daughters ... will understand.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.