Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Guest Post

Hi, there!

My name is Clara. For some reason, Bilbo hasn't gotten around to introducing us yet, so I've got to take matters into my own paws. Nice to meet you, and thanks for dropping by.

I usually live with Bilbo's grandchildren down in Manassas, but since they're on vacation with their Mom, I'm staying with Bilbo and Agnes for a few days. I've been here before, so I've already had the chance to scope things out and find the right places to get into trouble have fun. They have a nice sofa right in front of the windows in their living room, which is the perfect place for me to stand guard and protect them from mailmen, door-to-door salespeople, and traveling politicians. And no other dog is getting into this yard, let me tell you! They also have a really nice king-sized bed for me to sleep in. Well, they really would rather I slept somewhere else, but hey, that's a lot of space for just two people, right?

You may have noticed that I'm a Pit Bull. I hope that didn't turn you off, because I'm actually a very nice dog. I really like most people (especially children), but everybody's afraid of me because they think that we're all serial killers or something. I know that some of us have been trained to be nasty, but it's not how we really are ... it's just how someone made us. I ask you ... is this a picture of a vicious dog?

We need to hire the PR guy that those dumb Labrador Retrievers hired to polish their image.

Anyway, Bilbo's not here right now, and I know that he used to let Nessa post from time to time, so I thought I'd go ahead and give it a shot myself. It isn't that hard, and I guess I can do at least as good a job as some of the humans I've seen writing stuff on this Internet thing.

So tell me, what is it with comments that make you humans so crazy? It seems as if when one person writes something on the Internet, a bunch of other people have to jump in with a bunch of comments that are really nasty and insulting, most of which doesn't have anything to do with what was originally written. What's up with that? And who's this Hitler guy that everyone compares people who don't agree with them to*?

We dogs may bark at each other, but then we just sniff each other's butts and go off to chase each other and fetch sticks and roll in smelly stuff and have fun. All you do is bark at each other, and never move on to the fun stuff. You people really need to get lives.

Well, okay, that's it for now. I'm sure somebody will leave a comment about this. But just remember, my name is Clara ... not Hitler.

As Bilbo would say, have a good day. He'll be back tomorrow with more of his own thoughts, and I'll be back whenever I can sneak into his study.



* I don't know who he is, but from how you all talk about him, he sounds like one of the few people I'd bite just on principle.

Monday, March 30, 2015

In Praise of Offensive Language

Along with all the other rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution* is evidently a new one: the right not to be offended.

You have probably heard about the brouhaha over the Texas DMV's decision to disallow issue of a commemorative license plate bearing the Confederate battle flag - the "stars and bars" - because the agency's regulations permit it to “refuse to create a new specialty license plate if the design might be offensive to any member of the public” (the emphasis is mine). The case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court** for a decision on where limits may be placed on free speech when that speech might offend someone.

I happen to be a very strong believer in freedom of speech, and I've written about it in this space many times before ... most recently last month. I'm very concerned that we are allowing this most important of our freedoms*** to be chipped away not necessarily by government encroachment, but by a misguided desire to protect our collective feelings.

The best argument about the importance of our First Amendment right to free speech - even when it's offensive - was provided in a friends-of-the-court brief from the Cato Institute, among whose authors was the noted satirist and comedian P.J. O'Rourke. My old friend Ed, an attorney who has argued cases before the Missouri Supreme Court, turned me on to this brief, and now I want to share it with you. You can read the full text here (and you should), but if you have better things to do than thinking about about the importance of free speech, here are several of what I believe are the most important excerpts. I apologize for the lengthy citations of words other than my own, but they're important and I urge you to read them if you don't read the entire brief ...

"If this were simply another instance of governmental hypocrisy, we would not be here. There’s no constitutional provision forbidding hypocrisy, which Americans have come to expect from government officials. But Texas’s actions were more than merely hypocritical. They violated the basic constitutional principle—one that Texas had to reaffirm when it was readmitted to the Union—that a state cannot protect the sensibilities of some by restricting others’ freedom to speak."

"Such is the problem with trying to eradicate offensive speech: everything offends someone ... Texas’s law is not just unconstitutional, it is unwise. In a free society, offensive speech should not just be tolerated, its regular presence should be celebrated as a symbol of democratic health—however odorous the products of a democracy may be."

"... it is axiomatic that the First Amendment exists to protect unpopular, unusual, and controversial expression. Moreover, the protections traditionally offered to offensive speech are being slowly and dangerously eroded. The law challenged here imbues the DMV with stunning discretion, and it exemplifies how our increasing cultural timidity—a personal-political correctness—is turning into a frightening movement to suppress and eliminate “offensive” speech."

"A free society should not walk on eggshells, it should sleep on nails. Freedom produces barbs, points, and rough edges, and any attempt to sand those down will not only result in less freedom, it will create a less interesting, dynamic, and robust society."

"If no one ever offensively says 'the Emperor has no clothes' then a society may be condemned to dynasties of naked emperors, and that would be truly offensive."

"A society that protects its most sacred objects and beliefs from offense is one that will soon be ruled by naked emperors."

"We use barbed speech to undermine not just political dictators but the petty oppressors of everyday life: the tyrannical boss, the sanctimonious preacher, the blowhard at the bar, the neighborhood enforcer of stifling norms."

"Even more than 'mainstream' speech, offensive speech helps define us. Our commonalities do less to define our personalities than our eccentricities, offensive or otherwise. If speech is squelched by the government because it 'might be offensive to any member of the public,' then the government has closed off an important avenue for self-expression."

"Letting people define themselves through offensive expression also benefits others. It’s good to know who the offensive people are and, thus, who you’d like to avoid. Lukianoff, Unlearning Liberty, at 29 ('Prohibitions on hateful speech do nothing to stop hate, but they let resentment simmer, and they also prevent you from knowing who the hateful people even are.'). Exposed Nazis are better than hidden ones because most people would like to avoid associating with them. Similarly, if someone is offended by gun-rights supporters, pro-choice advocates, University of Texas fans, or, yes, Confederate sympathizers, allowing offensive people to speak can enhance the freedom of association."

"Attacks on free speech on college campuses, in particular the freedom to offend, have risen to the level of an epidemic. Students are being taught that 'real' freedom of speech necessitates censorship ... These speech-repressive campus regimes are not just harming students while on campus. Those students will become censorious voters, and 'offensive' speech’s days might be numbered. As Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has written: 'Administrators have been able to convince well-meaning students to accept outright censorship by creating the impression that freedom of speech is somehow the enemy of social progress. When students began leaving college with that lesson under their belts, it was only a matter of time before the cultivation of bad intellectual habits on campus started harming the dialogue of our entire country. The tactics and attitudes that shut down speech on campus are bleeding into larger society and wreaking havoc on the way we talk among ourselves.'"

"Unfortunately, speech codes are popping up in colleges and universities, the very places where speech should be 'uninhibited, robust, and wide open.' New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270 (1964). And 'uninhibited, robust, and wide open' debate 'may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks' on orthodoxies and received wisdoms."

The brief concludes with these words:

"It would be offensive to the First Amendment for this Court allow Texas to tell us what is offensive. After all, one man’s offensive speech is another’s exercise of social commentary or personal expression. This Court should affirm the judgment below and let putative offenders be judged in the court of public opinion."

As it happens, I am grievously offended by much of the stupid language coming out of the mouths of our political "leadership" lately. It may not contain individual offensive words**** per se, but it's profoundly offensive to me because it lacks evidence of such concepts as intelligence, forethought, compassion, and common sense.

Does this mean it should be outlawed? Using the formula of the Texas DMV, it should. And that's scary ... because if I can't hear our politicians being stupid, how do I know how to cast my vote?

Have a good day. Offend someone, even if it's me.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* And there are other ones besides the right to be armed to the teeth, believe it or not.

** Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, docket #14-144.

*** Sorry, Second Amendment fans.

**** Such as those in the famous George Carlin routine "Seven Words You Can't Say on Television." Of course, nowadays not only can you actually say those words on television (at least on HBO and Showtime), but you can even hear them in places like preschools. Times change.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Poetry Sunday

My long-time readers will know that one of my great loves is ballroom dancing, and those who have known me still longer will also know that this was hardly a pre-ordained thing. As a typical young American man, I had no particular interest in dancing ... I only learned the American clutch-and-shuffle because my mother patiently taught me in the basement to get me ready to take to the dance floor at my high-school junior prom* back in the mid-jurassic era. It wasn't until I met and married Agnes that I was introduced to the art and sport of ballroom dancing ... a sport that, unlike most others, doesn't involve getting sweaty and miserable in a gym, but learning endurance and grace while holding on to a beautifully-dressed lady. What's not to like?

Which brings us to the subject of today's poem by Margaret Atwood ...

by Margaret Atwood

It was my father taught my mother
how to dance.
I never knew that.
I thought it was the other way.
Ballroom was their style,
a graceful twirling,
curved arms and fancy footwork,
a green-eyed radio.
There is always more than you know.
There are always boxes
put away in the cellar,
worn shoes and cherished pictures,
notes you find later,
sheet music you can’t play.
A woman came on Wednesdays
with tapes of waltzes.
She tried to make him shuffle
around the floor with her.
She said it would be good for him.
He didn’t want to.

If you don't dance, try it out. There's no telling what skills and what enjoyment are in those boxes put away in your mental cellar. And good luck and best wishes to my friends who are competing this weekend in the River City Ballroom Dance Competition in Richmond, and in the USA Dance Nationals in Baltimore. Break multiple legs!!

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* I hope that, after all these years, Nancy's feet have finally recovered from the stomping I gave them.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cartoon Saturday

They say that March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb. I think we need to check someone's definition of "lamb."

Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States has refused to rule out the possibility of the kingdom developing its own nuclear weapons if Iran also develops them*; the copilot of a German airliner apparently locked the pilot out of the cockpit, then deliberately crashed the aircraft into the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board; an explosion apparently caused by a gas leak destroyed a building in Manhattan's East Village, injuring at least 19 people; the Boulder County, Colorado, prosecutor announced that a former nurse's aide who allegedly attacked a pregnant woman, cut her open, and removed an unborn baby from the mother's womb will not face murder charges because Colorado state law does not recognize a fetus as a person; and in the latest example of Congressional hypocrisy, two GOP senators - Marco Rubio of Florida and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who would normally rail against Big Government interference in local affairs - have introduced legislation that would undo strict gun control laws passed by the District of Columbia's government.

This week's collection of theme cartoons deals with fortune tellers ... no, not economists, the other kind.

Don't you sometimes wish for truth in fortune cookies?

Bowling for fortunes?

At least there isn't a Colonel named Sanders in her future ...

How politicians get into the business ...

Medium salsa ... over to you, Gonzo Dave ...

Turning to other cartoon subjects, it's Spring Break season ...

No evidence ... sounds like the basis of the Faux News scandal du jour ...

This one reminds me of one of my favorite posts - The Degree of Gasp ...

The one that got away ...

And finally, I think this is an affliction that affects most members of Congress and those who slavishly follow a particular point of view ...

And there you have it - the last Cartoon Saturday for March. Hope you enjoyed it. Later this morning, Agnes and I will be headed to our daughter's home for the fifth (already???) birthday party for our granddaughter Elise. Time flies, doesn't it?

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


* Great news - two religiously intolerant and fanatical nuclear armed states ... what could possibly go wrong? No, don't answer that ... next thing you'll know, Texas will allow open carry of nukes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Left-Cheek Ass Clown of the Month for March, 2015

As we move into the closing days of March, it's time to grit our teeth and seek out an appropriate dishonoree to receive our Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month award ...

Two weeks ago we gave the head-shake and sigh to the 47 GOP senators who sent a stupid and arguably treasonous letter to the government of Iran that even the Iranians didn't take seriously. It's difficult to pick a single awardee that can beat such an achievement, and so today we announce a TIE for the award. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the co-winners of the Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month for March, 2015:

Senator Ted Cruz


First, let's look at Ted Cruz ...

Senator Cruz (Republican, Texas) is often described as a "firebrand" for his noisy, take-no-prisoners approach to his job, evidently not realizing that uncontrolled firebrands frequently result in very destructive fires. This past week, Senator Cruz announced his candidacy for president in 2016, indicating his heartfelt desire to be able to expand his buffoonery to a larger stage. He demonstrated his readiness to lead and his keen understanding of law and politics by strongly advocating the repeal of a Federal law which does not exist.

In a Twitter message he sent on March 15th, Cruz thundered to his supporters,

He evidently does not realize that "common core" is not a Federal law that can be repealed, but a set of educational standards developed at the state level and voluntarily accepted by 43 states and the District of Columbia. The federal government played no role in creating the standards and did not require states to adopt them*. 

Co-awardee Dr Ben Carson, is an author and a retired neurosurgeon famous for his work in separating conjoined twins, and has formed an exploratory committee for a presidential run in 2016. To prove his conservative credentials, he has accused President Obama of being a psychopath, compared the Affordable Care Act** to "slavery," claimed that homosexuality is obviously a choice because some people enter prison straight and leave it gay***, and suggested that legalizing gay marriage would pave the way for legal bestiality and pedophilia****.

Ted Cruz and Ben Carson - our co-winners of the Left Cheek Ass Clown Award for March, 2015 ... because I really couldn't make this stuff up.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


The Department of Education did, however, offer fiscal incentives to the states as an incentive to adopt the common core standards ... which is not the same thing as requiring that they be adopted.

** Also known colloquially as "Obamacare."

*** To be fair, he has since apologized for that statement.

**** He has since apologized for that one, too, and claims his remarks were taken out of context and misunderstood.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

About Face

From the Department of I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up comes this story datelined Chicago: Chicago's Mud Facial Bar Adds 'Breast Milk Facials' To It's List Of Add-Ons.

Yes, Dear Readers, if you are in the Windy City and in need of a good facial treatment to rejuvenate your tired, wrinkled visage, for a mere $10 added to the basic $40 cost of your facial you can add a "breast milk substitute" that is advertised to "clear the skin and make it smooth by healing the underlying skin problems." The owner of the bar said she had been inspired by reading mommy blogs that extolled the virtues of breast milk, presumably for reasons other than nourishing hungry infants. She said that, "I really wanted to come up with something that is quick, effective, that appealed to the urban city girl.”

The active ingredient that allegedly makes breast milk good for the skin is lauric acid (C12H24O2), a saturated fatty acid that has a faint odor of bay oil or soap. It is said to boost the levels of "good" cholesterol in the blood and to have a beneficial effect on skin that has been damaged by sunburn, eczema, and acne.

So, if you're tired of shelling out enormous amounts of money for overpriced cosmetic skin treatments, you should consider going natural ... after all, if it's good for little babies, it's ought to be good for you, right?

And the active ingredient comes in such nice containers, too.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow, when we'll name our Left Cheek Ass Clown of the Month.

More thoughts then.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where to Hide, Where to Hide?

There was an interesting story in the news the other day about the discovery in the remote jungles of Argentina of the ruins of a "secret Nazi hideout" ... a safe haven for higher-ups of the Third Reich who hoped to escape justice for their crimes.

All things considered, it doesn't look like much of a comfy bolthole, but I guess if you're running from people who are angry about the millions of deaths you caused, you can't be choosy ...

Now that's interesting as an historical sidelight, but it got me to thinking about other people who talked about making plans to escape.

In 2014, Kanye West threatened to leave the United States because "I’ll be damned if I raise my daughter around ignorance and flat-out blatant racism.” Last time I checked, he was still here.

In 2010, Rush Limbaugh said he would move to Costa Rica if Obamacare passed, because it would ruin America and be the end of the world as we know it. He must not have had a place prepared there, because he's still here. Dammit.

In 2008, comedian George Lopez and actress Susan Sarandon, among others, announced plans to move to Canada if George Romney beat Barack Obama. I guess it's a good thing for them that Obama won, because there is a serious lack of jungles in Canada to build hideouts in.

In 2000, director Robert Altman and actor Alec Baldwin threatened to move to France if George W. Bush was elected. He was. They didn't. However, the late former presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger also threatened to move to France if Bush was elected, and he actually did. He died in France in 2004.

I'm really pissed off at a lot of politicians of both parties, but not to the point that I'm ready to threaten to leave the country. But if I did, I wouldn't live in some backwater Argentine jungle. I'd go for something a little more comfy ...

... and with an Internet connection.

Have a good day. Let me know if you decide to leave the country ... maybe one of us can hold an extra room for the other.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should Voting Be Mandatory?

There was a minor stir last week when President Obama suggested that one way to help minimize the influence of big money donors on our electoral process would be to make voting mandatory, as it is in at least 26 other countries, among them Australia and Belgium.

Should voting be mandatory? I don't think so.

For one thing, there are those on the far right who would refuse to vote just on principle, because they object to laws requiring them to do anything.

For another, I was always taught (and firmly believe) that voting is a civic duty - one of the foundations of our democratic society that allows us to choose our leaders, rather than submitting to rule by a family* represented by the reigning king or emperor.

And from a practical standpoint, how would you administer such a law? Who would be responsible for tracking down and arresting those who didn't vote? What would be an appropriate penalty - a fine, jail time, community service, or - what we might call the Saudi Arabian approach - chopping off the finger that should have been used to push the "vote" button on a machine, or the hand that should have wielded a pencil to place an X in the right block?

On the plus side, it might require rabid partisans at both ends of the political spectrum to finally agree on a fair and workable system for voters to identify themselves at the polls, minimizing the ludicrous spectacle of "poll watchers" practicing gotcha politics ... scrutinizing every voter in the hopes of maximizing their party's advantage while undermining the other party.

We live at a time and in a country where our most important civic duties are less important that what we demand as our rights. How many of those who - for example - demand totally unrestricted gun ownership because they feel threatened by the government nevertheless ignore their responsibility to vote for those who represent them in that government? And how many people who actually do vote cast their votes on the basis of a single issue or belief (no gay marriage, no abortions, no restrictions on gun ownership, get rid of unions/support unions, etc), without looking at the larger responsibilities of government or the interests of other citizens?

No, we don't need mandatory voting. We need citizens who are responsible enough to fulfill their duty to the country, rather than sitting at home on election day and then bitching about how awful the government is that they didn't bother to help elect.

Have a good day. Remember that your responsibilities are every bit as important as your rights ... if not more so.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Such as the Bush, Clinton, Adams, Roosevelt, or Rockefeller families, no?

Monday, March 23, 2015

If It's on the Internet, It Must Be True ... Right?

I suspect you may have seen this recent news article: "Google has Developed a Technology to Tell Whether ‘Facts’ on the Internet Are True."

We all know that the Internet* is awash in manufactured facts, phony quotes, doctored photographs, and other "facts" that are invented and trumpeted by partisans of one political party or religious persuasion or another to prove the righteousness of their beliefs. Here's an example ...

Most people are lazy, and will accept Internet search results without critically examining them or questioning their provenance. Others would like to evaluate information more thoroughly, but either don't know how or don't have the time or energy to do so.

Happily, a team of computer scientists at Google may have discovered the Rosetta Stone of Internet truthfulness ... a theoretical way to rank search results not by how often the individual results have been accessed (which is how search results are normally presented), but by their factual accuracy.

The article I linked to above gives a good summary of the theoretical basis of the Google truth evaluation technology, which you can read at your leisure. My concern is more with the practical effect of such a disruptive new technology on society ...

- It could mean the death of Faux News and MSNBC.

- Bar bets could be conclusively settled once and for all, leading to reduced income for tavernkeepers.

- Extreme right- and left-wing partisans would have to face the horror of seeing their absolute truths convincingly debunked ... leading to a spike in psychiatric hospital admissions**.

- Benghazi would go back to being just another backwater city in North Africa.

- The lunatic fringe would finally have to accept that President Obama actually was born in the United States.

If you ask me, Google needs to get moving on perfecting this technology. We need it desperately ... preferably before the 2016 election season moves into high gear.

Have a good day. Remember that reading it on the Internet doesn't make it true***.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Not to mention Faux News and MSNBC. 

** Not covered by most health insurance plans, by the way.

*** Even here! I don't deliberately lie or distort facts (unlike some "news" services I could name), but I do try to be even-handed and logical ... which pisses some readers off, but that's okay.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Poetry Sunday

This past Tuesday we celebrated Saint Patrick's Day, when everyone celebrates all things Irish ... especially beer, leprechauns, and shamrocks. But every bit as much a part of the Irish as those things is the humble potato. It was, after all, the six-year potato famine that began in 1845 that killed more than a million people in Ireland and forced another million to flee the country - most of them to America, where they became the despised minority of the day (Google "No Irish Need Apply" if you doubt me*). And so, for this week's Poetry Sunday offering, we offer an homage to - the potato ...

Ode to the Potato
by Barbara Hamby

"They eat a lot of French fries here," my mother
   announces after a week in Paris, and she's right,
not only about les pommes frites but the celestial tuber
   in all its forms: rotie, purée, not to mention
au gratin or boiled and oiled in la salade niçoise.
   Batata edulis discovered by gold-mad conquistadors
in the West Indies, and only a 100 years later
   in The Merry Wives of Windsor Falstaff cries,
"Let the skie raine Potatoes," for what would we be
   without you—lost in a sea of fried turnips,
mashed beets, roasted parsnips? Mi corazón, mon coeur,
   my core is not the heart but the stomach, tuber
of the body, its hollow stem the throat and esophagus,
   leafing out to the nose and eyes and mouth. Hail
the conquering spud, all its names marvelous: Solanum
   tuberosum, Igname, Caribe, Russian Banana, Yukon Gold.
When you turned black, Ireland mourned. O Mr. Potato Head**,
   how many deals can a man make before he stops being
small potatoes? How many men can a woman drop
   like a hot potato? Eat it cooked or raw like an apple
with salt of the earth, apple of the earth, pomme de terre.
   Tuber, tuber burning bright in a kingdom without light,
deep within the earth where the Incan potato gods rule,
   forging their golden orbs for the world's ravening gorge.

Have a good day. Enjoy your potatoes, whether mashed, fried, french-fried, home-fried, pan-fried, boiled, au gratin, hash-browned, or whatever. They're yummy.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Peggy, this is an oblique answer to the question you asked in your comment on my St Patrick's Day post.

** Yes, there are also lots of cartoons about Mr Potato Head, who has been featured on Cartoon Saturday several times, such as here and here.